The execution of Saddam has caused the expected complaints from the left along with some unexpected unease amongst the right. As has been well publicized, the complaints and unease center around the taunts and jeers leveled at Saddam by the Shiite members of the execution crew and the speed with which the execution occurred. Even my favorite columnist Mark Steyn is a bit unhappy with the behavior during the execution. While I agree the execution could have been better managed, I don’t agree that there was anything particularly wrong with the execution.
When a people are tyrannized so ruthlessly and for so long, it is difficult for them to contain their rapturous joy at the demise of their former tormentor. This is not a cultural thing but human nature. The handling of Mussolini by an Italian mob is perhaps the most famous such incident. In the off chance you don’t know that he was hung up on a meat hook along with his mistress, here’s a picture. To further compound the crass spectacle, Mussolini was then posed dead with a scepter. Hitler decided to kill himself after seeing how Mussolini was dealt with to prevent the same from happening to himself. As an example of how regicide was handled in European history, King Louis XVI of France was beheaded in front of a cheering and certainly jeering crowd in 1793. Though Western Europe has been bereft of such executions since 1945 it’s simply because it’s been bereft of tyrannous leaders who deserve it.
The other complaint has focused on the "rushed" execution. Since it’s been 3 years since Saddam was captured this is primarily about the quickness from his conviction and sentencing or from the scheduling of the execution to the actual execution (about 7 weeks and 3 days respectively). Whichever standard is used it is still ages compared with the swiftness that Iraqi leaders King Faisal II and Col. Qassim were executed (less than a day for both). In recent European history there is the execution of the Ceausescu’s that took place mere days after his overthrow. Unlike Saddam, none of these leaders received a regular trial or any appeals. We also didn't hang Saddam's wife along with him. I'm not quite sure why Europeans and Arabs saw a need to kill the women around the dictator along with the dictator but that is definitely going too far.
Despite the fact that I think Saddam should be considered lucky to have gotten off with only a few insults prior to his execution, it still could have been managed better by us. I agree with Mark Steyn that our inability to comprehend the importance of the execution goes hand in hand with our declining ability to comprehend power politics and the world beyond America and Europe. I thought Saddam should have been executed within months of his capture. His trial should have consisted of no more than a very, very long reading of the names of everyone killed during his reign concluding with his conviction and sentence of death. Instead we had him treated like some common criminal. When it became apparent that this approach was going to be dragged out ad infinitum by Saddam’s American lawyers (how did we allow that one to happen?), they decided to do a rush job and end the problem in a way that left a bad taste in many people’s mouths.
Steyn writes that the execution should have said "Time to move on, says Government of Free Iraq", not "Payback's a bitch, says local enforcer." That’s all well and good, and but for our post-modernist peacenik null-think we could have managed to send a better signal. Nevertheless, I’m satisfied with the region’s despots simply hearing, "Payback's a bitch, says local enforcer."