SADDAM Hussein is dead. The mighty dictator met a criminal's end on the gallows. The murderer responsible for 1 1/2 million corpses is just a bag of bones.Of course, the handwringing over the execution is already in swing. For example, this morning's New York Times notes that Saddam's trial -- chaotic, politicized, and inconclusive -- may not advance the cause of international human rights. Underlying the debate is a moral self-questioning over the propriety of victor's justice, with the most important precedent the war tribunals following World War II:
For decades, the world pandered to his fantasies, overlooking his brutality in return for strategic advantages or naked profit. Diplomats, including our own, courted him, while the world's democracies and their competitors vied to sell him arms.
Saddam always bluffed - even, fatally, about weapons of mass destruction - but the world declined to call him on his excesses. Massacres went unpunished. His invasions of neighboring states failed to draw serious punishment. He never faced personal consequences until our troops reached Baghdad (a dozen years late).
As long as Saddam paid sufficient bribes and granted the right concessions to the well-connected, the world shut its eyes to his cavalcade of atrocities. Even when his soldiers raped Kuwait, the United Nations barely summoned the will to expel his military - and the alliance led by the United States declined to liberate Iraq itself from a tyrant with a sea of blood on his hands.
Everything changed in 2003. For all of its later errors in Iraq, the Bush administration altered the course of history for the better.
It may be hard to discern the deeper meaning of our march to Baghdad amid the chaos afflicting Iraq today, but President Bush got a great thing right: He recognized that the age of dictators was ending, that the era of the popular will had arrived. He and his advisers may have underestimated the difficulties involved and misread the nature of that popular will, but they put us back on the moral side of history.
Bush revealed the bankruptcy of the European-designed system of international relations. An unspoken code agreed between kings and czars, emperors and kaisers, had protected rulers - however monstrous - for centuries, while ignoring the suffering of the masses. The result was that any Third World thug who seized a presidential palace could ravage his country as long as his crimes remained within his "sovereign" borders.
Supported by other English-speaking democracies, Bush acted. Breaking Europe's cynical rules, our forces invaded a dictatorship to liberate its population.
And suddenly, the world was no longer safe for tyrants.
No matter the policy failures in the wake of Baghdad's fall, the destruction of Saddam's regime remains a historical turning point. When our troops later dragged the dictator out of a fetid hole, every other president-for-life shivered at the image.
Tonight, none of those other oppressors will sleep well. They may try to console themselves that America is failing in Iraq, that we've learned our lessons. But no matter what they tell themselves, they'll never feel safe again.
We set a noble precedent, and the critics who insist that deposing Saddam was a mistake are rushing to a very premature judgment.
We did a great thing by overthrowing Saddam. We may have done it poorly, but we did it. We also revealed the hypocrisy of those governments who sold out their professed values for oil money (and pathetically cheaply, too).
From Paris and Berlin through Moscow and Beijing, many will never forgive us. We should be honored.
At that time, as now, debates raged over whether the trials conducted by victorious forces were morally wrong or whether they were politically and psychologically indispensable. Some argued that those trials of the late 1940s did more harm than good and should never have taken place. Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader, had always urged that the Nazi leaders be executed, without trial.Read the whole New York Times piece. It's a good example of the moral relativeness of the global rights advocacy network.