Sunday, December 31, 2006

Worth the cost?

My feelings about Saturday's execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein closely track those of PoliBlog's Steven Taylor: For whatever flaws Hussein's trial may have had, the outcome ultimately was correct. Hussein was a mass-murdering piece of garbage, and if anyone in the world deserved the death penalty, it was him. It would have been nice to see him formally convicted for his killing of tens of thousands of Kurds, but historians will assign him that liability in the end.

Ideally, Hussein's execution would have been a universal moment of liberation for the millions of Iraqis -- Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis alike -- who suffered under his tyrannical rule. Instead, the brutal thug officially was hanged only for the murder of 148 Shiites and not also for his killing and torture of tens of thousands of Kurds and Sunnis. That circumstance unfortunately could leave those victims and their family members wondering just how vindicated they should feel right now.

Hussein got what he deserved, but a cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq war remains. Even by President Bush's admission, Hussein's death probably will do little in the short term to alleviate the rampant sectarian violence and disorder taking hold of too many Iraqis' lives. Further, the sight of witnesses at his execution chanting their support for militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wasn't a comforting long-term omen. Neither were the four lethal bombings in Shiite areas mere hours after the hanging.

The United States has lost 3,000 soldiers in a war that looks likely to stretch well beyond 2007. Public support for the war that distracted from our mission in Afghanistan is at an all-time low. Bush plans to send even more troops to the desert next year. Hussein is gone, but his death hardly ended the bloodshed in a nation mired in civil war.

Was it worth it? That's for each and every American to judge.

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