Monday, March 27, 2006

Saddam Hussein trial watch

The trial of Saddam Hussein has gone idle as civil order in Iraq continues to deteriorate. The most recent question addressed by the Grotian Moment blog is Issue #35: What Happens to the Saddam Trial if Civil War Consumes Iraq.

David Scheffer authors the principle comment, published a week ago, which is followed by several others reflecting various alternative views. I'm not sure what to make of the significance, if any, of the absence of any remarks by Michael P. Scharf himself, lead council for the prosecution.

If you have time on your hands this makes an interesting read, including arguments about the death penalty. There is something surreal about the image of a high-profile trial in which every measure is being taken to insure the safety of all participants, against the specter of the breakdown of order -- such as it was/is -- in the country. Scheffer's opening paragraph concludes with a pragmatic assessment of the situation...

Whether the trials remain open or closed, witnesses increasingly will fear giving testimony. One can imagine the threats to judges, prosecutors, and defense counsel rising and, with their families at risk, many may abandon their important roles in the trials or be killed or wounded trying to fulfill their duties. Even journalists will find it very difficult to cover the trials each day, particularly if their editors and producers deploy them to cover the civil war and a potentially crumbling government, or pull them out of Iraq all together for their own safety. Trial delays will multiply. As the American security umbrella begins to fold, security will become increasingly problematic.

"As the American security umbrella begins to fold..."

It begs the question: security for whom? The individual who supposedly triggered this war is now the beneficiary of a higher level of security than almost anyone else in Iraq. These are strange times indeed in which we live. I want to write something that will help my grandchildren understand what is going on but I cannot find the words. There are too many contradictions. They will have the advantage of hindsight, knowing the eventual outcome, but at this moment we live in a cloud of unknowing. That phrase "fog of war" doesn't come close to the blindness of our condition.

This essay at 3Quarks by Mark Blythe is instructive.

(Mark Blyth is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He has also been a visiting professor in the UK, France, Germany, and Singapore. He is the author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century and is currently working on three projects: a book on party politics and political economy in advanced welfare states called The New Political Economy of Party Politics, an edited volume on constuctivist theory and political economy entitled Constructivist Political Economy, and a series of papers on probability, randomness, and epistemology in the social sciences, which may or may not end up a book.)

An oft heard remark about Iraq today (at least where I hang out) is something along the lines of “Well, it may be bad over there, but at least they (the Iraqi people) are better off than they were under Saddam.” Such a response strikes me as simultaneously reasonable (it may be true) and false, insofar as it may be little more than the ‘last line of defense’ justification of many folks for what is increasingly seen as a losing proposition. Bush’s recent declaration that finishing the war will be effectively ‘someone else’s problem,’ seems only to strengthen the latter interpretation. But let’s take the claim of “at least they are better off than they were under Saddam” seriously for a moment. For if it is true, then one might hope that the future is not so bleak after all.

He takes a look at several indicators comparing life in Iraq before and after Saddam. Tucked into the narrative is this piquant metaphor:

...if you throw yourself out of a building and break both your legs... the ability to crawl away on your elbows...could be considered a success -– on average.

He was discussing economics, but the image really applies to the whole circumstance of Iraq. His concluding paragraph falls short of optimistic. I want to argue with him, but I can't.

Overall then, conditions in Iraq may be ostensibly better today than they were in the past, on average, but they may feel worse, and that’s what counts. Even though the body count is lower, even though there is more electricity, and even if there is more wealth in the country, such factors, and focusing on such factors, may be less important to understanding where Iraq is heading than we think. The Iraqi people “may be better off now then they were under Saddam”, but if it doesn’t feel any better to the people on the ground, we should not expect less bodies and more wealth –- on average –- to really make a difference.

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