So Much For a "Quagmire"

Mackubin T. Owens

December 1, 2003

Al Gore must be thinking life is pretty unfair about now. After dominating the news by endorsing Howard Dean, thereby making a play for the pro-Saddam wing of the Democratic Party, he is unceremoniously swept aside by the news that U.S. soldiers have captured Saddam Hussein. Oh well. Unless your approach to investing is to buy high, sell low, and make up the difference in volume, you probably shouldn’t take financial advice from the guy who recently asserted that the war in Iraq is a “quagmire” and the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of the United States.

Of course all is not lost for Al, Howard, and the other Saddamite Democrats. As CNN’s Christine Amanpour helpfully has pointed out, Osama bin Laden has not yet been caught.

What will happen now that Saddam has been captured? Will attacks against the Coalition and our Iraqi allies decline? The answer is probably “yes,” but such an outcome is by no means guaranteed. The good news is that Baath-party dead-enders will probably lose hope, as loyalists in the Romanian Securitate did following the 1989 revolution against the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In that case, the dictator’s praetorian guard continued to resist those who had ousted Ceausescu in the hope that they might restore him to power. Resistance ended after the dictator and his wife were executed and their bullet-riddled bodies shown on television.

It is also likely that even Baath-party loyalists will now conclude that it is in their interest to turn in the foreign jihadis, whose continued actions can only now make life more miserable for all Iraqis, even those who can no longer hope for a return to their privileged status under Saddam. The bad news is that German resistance to the allies after World War II continued for three years although it was common knowledge that Hitler was dead.

So what will be Saddam’s fate? He will probably be tried in Iraq for crimes against humanity. Then I would vote for a national lottery to be held in which relatives of those killed by Saddam would vie for the right to execute him in a manner of their own choosing. Maybe he could be drawn and quartered, with one part of his remains going to the Kurds and another part to the Shia.

This of course puts me at odds with certain “human-rights activists” who are, according to a Knight-Ridder dispatch, “worried that Iraqi war crimes tribunals… will be a kangaroo court in which victims will seek retribution against their former persecutors.” I’m guessing that Wes Clark would not approve either, given his comments on Hardball with Chris Matthews the other night. Here’s what the good general said about America’s other most wanted, Osama bin Laden, when asked by Matthews if he thought Osama bin Laden should, when caught, be tried in the United States or The Hague:

I would like to see him tried in The Hague, and I tell you why. I think it’s very important for U.S. legitimacy and for building other support in the war on terror for trying them in The Hague, under international law with an international group of justices, bringing witnesses from other nations. Remember, 80 other nations lost citizens in that strike on the World Trade Center. It was a crime against humanity, and he needs to be tried in international court…

…I think that you can adequately punish Osama bin Laden, and you’ve got to look beyond simple retribution against an individual. You have to look at what’s in the long-term security interest in the security in America and you have to look at how we handle the war on terror from here on out.

Speaking of Clark, I had an uncomfortable feeling about him long before he became a Democratic candidate for president. For one thing, I never met a single Army officer who had a favorable opinion of him. I cannot recall any comparable example of such nearly unanimous disdain for a senior officer.

It only recently hit me why this is the case. The answer is to be found in Anton Myrer’s epic novel, Once an Eagle, a riveting account of life in the U.S. Army from before World War I until the early days of Vietnam. The protagonists are Sam Damon, the selfless, honorable, and competent leader who rises to general after receiving a battlefield commission, but who never forgets his roots as an enlisted soldier; Courtney Massengale, a brilliant, smooth, and ruthless West Point graduate who epitomizes the careerist officer, out for himself and no one else.

Once an Eagle has long been required reading for both Army and Marine Corps officers (I read it when I was a young Marine lieutenant) because it so clearly illustrates two competing archetypes of officership and military professionalism. Wesley Clark is Courtney Massengale. Fortunately for the republic, most American officers adhere more closely to the Sam Damon school of leadership than to that of Courtney Massengale. That’s why our soldiers caught Saddam and that’s why we will prevail in Iraq.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center, is an associate dean of academics and professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-1969.