TAKING IT FROM THE TOP 

The poltical "experts" go hog-wild over Saddam's capture.

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES Maybe it's because it was Sunday morning, when they dutifully come out of the woodwork anyway. But the pundits and analysts were all over the television airwaves within minutes, it seems, of this morning's announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture outside Tikrit. "A dark and painful era is over," President Bush later told America and the world. The commentators, liberal and conservative alike, seemed to stumble all over themselves to agree, and zealously tried to find the appropriate level of hyperbole to define such an era-ending event. I for one remember watching the 1969 Moon Landing, and I can honestly say, the rhetoric surrounding that era-beginning event was dishwater-mild in comparison to what I saw, read and heard this Sunday morning. In opining that Saddam's arrest was a watershed event of the first order, the commentators used words like "huge," "enormous," and "profound" to characterize the impact his capture would have on the domestic poltical scene. One of those experts, Professor Allan J. Lichtman, a historian at American University, gave the New York Times his quick read on the situation: "My first reaction was, you might as well call off the (2004 presidential) election." Respectfully, Professor Lichtman, my first reaction is to ask: what in the world have you been smoking? Despite its superb theatrical aspects -- a grizzled Saddam, for example, looking for all the world like King Lear on a bad day, stumbling out of his lair -- there is absolutely nothing of long-term significance involved in today's glorious events. End of an era or not, the situation on the ground in Iraq is as muddled today as it was yesterday. And while it made great television, the capture of a clearly broken tyrant will be seen, when the real historians get around to writing this all up, as much ado about nothing. In the meantime, of course, the Bushies will bask in the glory of the day's great "success." Who can blame them? More power to them, and to their formidable ability -- with the help of a compliant media -- to shape the American political agenda in ways never before witnessed in this country. They have precious little good news of any kind coming out of Baghdad these days; let them enjoy this little respite. But, seriously: does anyone honestly think that the scruffy buzzard we saw on television today was the guy somehow calling the shots in this Iraqi intifaddah in which we are currently embroiled? Does anyone seriously believe that Saddam of late has been functioning like The Joker -- Batman's nemesis -- pulling all the strings from some high-tech subterranean lair? Do all these analysts who think that today's capture was some kind of "breakthrough" have any evidence to back it up? Will we all in the next month or two witness a glorious end to armed resistance in Iraq, the coming together of the Iraqi people as one, and the triumph of American democracy in the streets of Baghdad, now that the Evil One is behind bars? All the evidence suggests that many if not most Iraqis have over the past six months been perfectly capable of holding two thoughts -- hatred of Saddam and hatred of the occupying Americans -- in their heads at the same time. Now that Saddam is "gone," does this mean they'll stop hating the Americans? Don't bet on it. Now, today's events, so glowingly portrayed on our television screens, will certainly convince tens of millions of Americans that we have "won" the war in Iraq. It will help keep those same folks happy as clams while they continue their last-minute holiday shopping, decorating their Christmas trees, and preparing for the truly most-important event in American life -- the Super Bowl -- next month. And with the help of a supplicant tv media, the Bushies may indeed even be able to keep the positive energy from today's events flowing well into the election season next fall as well. But caveat emptor. While the scriptwriters are probably already hard at work on the made-for-tv movie that will give today's Great Victory the golden glow it deserves, there is still a real world lurking out there, beyond the movie scripts. Indeed, I think the Bushies will come to rue the day that Saddam Hussein didn't go out in a blaze of unglory like his sons. After all, dead men tell no lies, and Saddam's capable of spinning more than a few. He may be disheveled and disconsolate, but he's very much alive. And very much capable of drawing upon some indisputable facts that will make his own future fabrications all the more palatable, at least in some quarters. Unlike that other jailed megolomaniac, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam will be able to paint himself as a genuine victim of bad circumstance, a reformed tyrant who was trying to play by the international community's rules until the US made its own rules about what made him a menace to society. Those were the vaunted WMDs, remember? And while Fox News will scoff at the argument, Saddam will insist that, since there were demonstrably no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the real war criminals were the folks who took unilateral action against his country under false pretences and killed thousands of innocent civilians in the process. Laugh if you will, but I know lawyers who would be happy to take this case. Exactly who will pass judgement on Saddam Hussein? The American military? Right. A jury of his Iraqi peers, appointed by the Provisional Governing Authority? That might play in Peoria, but it sure won't in Pakistan, Palestine, and plenty of other places. And you can bet the UN -- ignored from the get-go last March -- won't touch the Trial of Saddam with a ten-foot pole. So if you're a devout Bushie, enjoy the day. But ignore silly instant analysis from talking-heads like Professor Lichtman. This isn't the happy ending of the "Democracy in the Desert" movie, folks; it's only the intermission. ( Kenneth Neill is the publisher/CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., the parent company of The Memphis Flyer.)

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