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Hussein execution end of unique era

Published: January 26, 2007
Section: Opinions


In what was probably the single most bungled moment of the War in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was executed a few weeks ago, ending a unique era for both American History and our young generation as a whole. For 15 years, Hussein was the personification of evil, and even though his demise is by no means undeserved, it is nevertheless strange to think of a world without him existing as the de-facto bogeyman of sorts to the American people. But even during his execution, Saddam remained the same defiant and scowling presence that he has been throughout his lifespan within our shared psyche, while the image and definition of what Iraq means to the average American has changed significantly in less than five years.

Mr. Husseins image remains one of my first vivid memories from childhood. In 1991, when he ended his symbiotic relationship with the United States by invading Kuwait, his face soon became an inescapable part of the burgeoning 24-hour cable news networks. In between the booming introductions by James Earl Jones, there was Saddam Hussein, standing defiantly in front of military presentations of his elite Republican Guard. As a country, we watched TV in massive numbers for the first major deployment of American Troops since Vietnam (and only two years after destruction of the Berlin Wall) in fearful anticipation to the threats awaiting US troops in the desert. Unbeknownst to the majority of those watching CNN at that time was the fact that Saddam was, if anything, a horrible strategist (politically and militarily) and the entire Desert Storm operation proved to be incredibly easy. The war cost a minimal number of US and coalition lives (that time we actually had a military coalition) and, at the end of the war, a sense of patriotism and military pride awoke throughout the population that had been dormant since Vietnam.

But Saddam remained in power after the war, mostly due to the fact that then President George H.W. Bush realized that invading Baghdad and occupying Iraq was a huge and dangerous undertaking. Hussein soon saw the economic prowess of his country (along with his own political control) diminish greatly as the US and UN installed no-fly zones and forced him to give up his stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in 1994. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam engaged in irregular skirmishes with American forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, every once in while prompting a small air strike from President Clinton whenever it was politically viable. Saddam became the target of popular culture, as everything from Saturday Night Live to South Park poked fun at the murderous tyrant in military garb, demonstrating the new world reality of rivalry where we no longer feared those who we engaged in war. The Cold War was over, we won, and now the only person who could supposedly oppose us was a crazy wannabe Stalinist with limited military prowess.

By the tenth anniversary of the original invasion in 2001, Iraq was synonymous with success, efficacy, and supremacy. The History Channel ran specials on Desert Storm showing American Stealth Bombers, Abrahams Tanks, and Patriot missiles completely dominating their mismatched and badly positioned Iraqi opponents. The documentaries on the subject were remarkably similar to highlights of a Super Bowl game where the arrogant and unsportsmanlike coach Saddam Hussein sat and watched as his team was humiliated by the well prepared American squad. But that would change in little more then two years.

When the war in Afghanistan failed to yield the definitive results of success that most Americans would have liked (i.e. Osama and his lieutenants), the second President Bush decided to go into Iraq again. But, like most sequels, the excitement and genius of the first installment failed to capture the success of the first, and the disaster that has unfolded since that fateful decision by the Bush administration has become progressively worse everyday. Saddam was overthrown and later saw his two sadistic sons die at the hands of his enemies;

later, he was captured in December of 2004.

Saddam experienced a full role-reversal soon after his capture. Before the eyes of the media-savvy American people, he was checked for lice and medically examined in front of a camera. This destroyed the machismo Stalinist image that he built (with US help when we wanted him to counteract Iranian influence in the area) and forever changed the way that the people of my generation viewed this once vaunted and outright scary dictator.

When it became known that Saddam was dead, Iraq Shiite population danced in the streets and celebrated while he was largely mourned in the predominantly Sunni neighborhoods from which he drew his power. This came in stark contrast to the image of a united Iraq pulling down statues of the dictator in 2003 (which, by the way, was completely staged) and completely obliterates any argument that Iraq is not in a civil war right now. We have effectively created an image of a sacrificed hero to one group in the country from a man who was nothing more than a vicious thug whose success came as a result of having no soul. The shouts of Muqtada (as in Muqtada al-Sadr) as Saddam was dropped from the gallows marks the obvious fact that the guard has changed and the powerful cleric is now the strongman in charge of Iraq (until he meets his violent death).

Saddam Husseins aura is not the only thing that has changed since 1991. Generals used to brag about the success in Iraq, coming close at times to calling it a perfect war. But this perfect war was achieved after those in charge of strategic planning for the sorts of undertakings acted on the lessons learned from Vietnam, while the ongoing conflict has morphed into a seemingly never-ending disaster. Many of the central problems of this war come as a result of things that we supposedly overcame long ago, such as pre-war planning, cultural ignorance, and the inability to bring in the rest of the world as allies in combat. Simply put, in 15 years since the US government and military planned and executed what many believe to be the most effective and efficient war in modern history, we have obviously put people in power whose lack of conceptual history or strategy has resulted in our nation's young soldiers being placed in an inescapable quagmire. At the same time, however, the influence and image of Saddam Hussein will one day hopefully be forgotten, but for now he stands as the only person who was ever able to hold together the devided population of Iraq, doing so through becoming one of the worlds most despotic modern dictators. With Hussein dead, the situation in Iraq is absolutely no better then it was when he was just in US custody and we have participated in only fueling the partisan fighting that plagues Iraq by martyring a person who has absolutely no reason to be glorified or celebrated.