Finding Hussein doesn't make a wrong war right

December 21, 2003|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - It was, make no mistake, a very satisfying image.

Saddam Hussein, the erstwhile butcher of Baghdad, looking grizzled, frazzled and not unlike a homeless transient - which, come to think of it, he was - as he submitted to a medical examination, courtesy of his captors, the U.S. Army.

Iraq's former Fearless Leader was, we are told, plucked from a vermin-infested hole in the ground, an image that makes analogy superfluous. Though he was armed, this fellow who urged his followers to go out with guns blazing and whose sons died in just that manner, chose not to make a stand. Instead, he meekly surrendered, saying, incredibly, that he wished to negotiate.

Thus, the mighty fall. Thus, the grandiose become small.

As I said: a satisfying image.

The question of the week, however, seems to be whether it is satisfying enough to invalidate opposition to the war. Some pundits have suggested that it is. Indeed, Howard Dean made headlines simply for affirming that he still thinks invading Iraq was a bad idea - a statement his fellow Democratic contenders for the presidency jumped on as a starving man does an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, for instance, suggested that Dr. Dean had "climbed into his own spider hole of denial."

But it's Mr. Lieberman - and anyone else who thinks Mr. Hussein's humiliation validates the Iraq war - who's in denial.

You feel like an ant at a picnic for pointing this out. Indeed, the only thing that might feel more awkward than standing aside from the celebratory conga line would be to join it. Because joining it requires one to forget conveniently that the reason we went to war was not to find Mr. Hussein but to find weapons of mass destruction, which, we were told, represented a clear and present danger to our security.

Those weapons are yet to be found, and the suspicion is strong that they simply do not exist, that calamitous failures of intelligence led the nation to spend time, treasure and lives on a war that did not need to be fought.

From where I sit, the invasion of Iraq looks like a bigger and bloodier mistake every day. We have grabbed the proverbial tiger by the ears and can't let go. Meanwhile, our stated goal in doing so is unrealized and largely forgotten.

History being written by the winners, maybe that won't matter much 10 years from now. Maybe it will be accepted as fact that we went to war primarily to liberate the Iraqi people.

Forgive me if I find that possibility disturbing. This whole business of attack now, pick a justification later, squanders American prestige and undermines American moral authority. As does the tendency on the part of the nation and its leaders to claim Iraq as part of the "war on terrorism," though there is, as of yet, no proven connection between Saddam Hussein and the events of Sept. 11.

Yes, it does the heart good to know one of the most brutal tyrants of modern times was found hiding in a hole with other rats. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

We ought not pretend, though, that it means more than it does.

The image satisfies. It does not justify.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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