Five Years Ago: The Beginning of the End for Saddam—and George W. Bush

Five years ago this week, something remarkable happened, which has been conveniently forgotten: On December 13, 2003, one of history’s worst dictators, Saddam Hussein, was captured by U.S. troops.

America awakened to the news on Sunday, December 14, as a grateful President George W. Bush readied for church. In fact, the secular left had become so ferocious, so emotional, and so uncharitable that Bush decided to skip church to avoid images of going to a house of worship just after Saddam’s capture. His staff feared a New York Times editorial with a title to the effect, “Bush Thanks Jesus After Saddam’s Capture.”

Saddam Hussein, who had asked his men to fight the “mother of all battles” against Americans, had dug a hole near a farmhouse and hid. During the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam set up lines of fire to keep frightened troops from retreating against the mightiest military in history. Army deserters were penalized with ear amputations. Saddam asked Arab brothers to be suicide bombers. Now, when it was his turn to fight, the Butcher of Baghdad hoisted his arms in the air, not reaching for the pistol in his holster.

Colonel James Hickey said U.S. Special Forces were seconds from pitching a grenade into Saddam’s hole but stopped when the despot held up his hands and said in English: “I am Saddam Hussein, I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate.” They replied sarcastically, “President Bush sends his regards,” and led Saddam away.

The press conference formally announcing the capture was a moving moment. “Ladies and gentlemen,” announced an emotional L. Paul Bremer III, administrator of Iraq’s governing coalition, “We got him.” The room became positively electric when video of a bedraggled Saddam appeared. The Iraqi reporters couldn’t control their emotions; they wailed and wept tears of joy.

Dr. Adnan Pachachi, acting president of Iraq’s Governing Council, declared a national holiday. His council’s official statement read: “We thank God the tyrant has been arrested.” An Iraqi reporter followed Pachachi by thanking “the brother Americans” in the name of Allah. Another Iraqi reporter was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t formulate a question.

The Iraqi press, made up of hundreds of emergent newspapers in the wake of Saddam’s fall-the first fruits of freedom in 35 years-now fully demonstrated to the world that newfound liberty. Iraqi writer Abd Al-Hamid Al-Sa’ih called Saddam’s seizure the “mother of all arrests,” writing: “His friends believed that he would resist like the knights until the last poisonous bullet in his conscience. But nothing of this sort happened.”

Iraqi and Arab writers alike focused on Saddam’s surrender, calling the “beast” and “Prince of Darkness” a coward, a “hyena with no teeth,” noting that his sons and even grandson fought more valiantly. The leading independent Iraqi daily Al-Zaman editorialized, “The fall of Saddam is complete and the Sun has returned to shine on Iraq.” Abd Al-Bassit Al-Naqqash, the editor-in-chief of the daily Al-‘Ahd Al-Jadid, wrote an editorial called, “The Blessed Editorial,” where he asserted: “This is the clearest and most beautiful morning in my country, Mesopotamia.”

Amazingly, though, not everyone was happy. Howard Dean, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, and a rallying point for hatred of George Bush, was characteristically displeased. “The capture of Saddam has not made America safer,” Dean snarled.

That reaction turned out to be quite significant. Howard Dean’s insatiable displeasure symbolized what lay ahead for Bush.

Unfortunately, 2005 and 2006 were bloody years for U.S. troops reconstructing Iraq-prior to the remarkable turnaround in 2007. To Bush’s permanent detriment, the media that went wild with every nugget of bad news in 2005-06 did not counterbalance its coverage with the flow of excellent news from 2007-08. Further, because of unrelenting attacks by vicious opponents, and, more so, because of his maddening inability to effectively respond and communicate his vision, President Bush’s popularity took a freefall from which it never recovered.

The seizure of Saddam in December 2003 illustrates this in a nutshell: A genuinely fair, unbiased media, as well as genuine, honest critics, should have hailed the wondrous capture-and Saddam’s subsequent execution and removal from the land of the living. For his part, President Bush should have served up this reminder repeatedly as the liberal media and critics did not. The president’s communications team-assuming one ever existed-should have constantly promoted images like this (another was the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003) as the visual equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They did not, and their president’s support crumbled like that wall.

In the end, the leader who benefits the most is Barack Obama. He will reap the huge plus of an Iraq without Saddam, much like the first George Bush handed to another Democratic presidential successor an oil-rich Kuwait without Saddam. Not only is Saddam guaranteed to never return but-also once unthinkable-his criminally insane would-be successors, sons Uday and Qusay, are gone forever, as are the world’s onetime most-wanted terrorists harbored in Iraq: Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, and Al-Zarqawi, to name a few. All are dead for one reason alone: George W. Bush invaded Iraq.

And now, we can sit back in amusement and amazement at the spectacle of Barack Obama-with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state-pursuing the same plan in Iraq as George W. Bush, with the screaming left not uttering a peep of protest.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • Catherine

    I have often wondered what would have happened had Bush listened to the Pope when he had tried to disuade Bush from entering into a second armed conflict in the Gulf. I don’t mean to take anything away from what Bush accomplished–I’m on his side for the most part. But I am putting my two-cent’s worth here because of a talk I heard recently, given by European MP Rocco Buttiglione, Professor of philosophy and history. This was over the radio in Italy. And for well over an hour (without interruptions) he told the story of Soviet comunism in Poland from the time of WWII to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was such a fascinating talk that I obtained a transcript and hope to produce a translation of it. His talk was a magnificent illustration of how a very brutal and immense war was won with persevering prayer, patience, Holy Mass, the sacraments, faithfulness to the Church and to God’s commandments, and not least of all, indeed not least of all, by the people’s profound devotion to the Madonna of Czestochowa.
    I am sure that when the Pope asked Bush not to proceed with the war, he did not expect Bush to pray instead to the Madonna of Czestochowa. But, John Paul II had been through very mean history, and he had seen God intervene where men had made a decision, for the love of God, not to fight back with violence against the physical, spiritual and moral violence that had been perpetrated on Poland by the Nazis first and then by the Red Army and by the Soviet government and its comunist poison afterwards. We know who won that war–awe know that not a shot was fired in defense of the nation and her people. And they won.

  • Catherine

    correction: We know who won that war–we know that not a shot was fired in defense of the nation and her people. And they won.

  • Joe DeVet

    As I recall the history of Poland vis a vis the Nazis and the Red Army, many shots were fired in defense of Poland in 1939. A large number of Poles died in the battles, and many many more in the aftermath, both during and after WW II. One can further state that the main reason Poland’s independence was not fought over after the Red Army took over is that the US, the Polish people, and all others who might have thought of fighting did not because they rightly recognized the unlikelihood of military success.

    All this does not deny the power of prayer and sacrifice. But let’s not sugar-coat the actual history. It was violent, brutal and tragic to 2 or 3 generations of Poles.

    I have long wondered about John Paul II’s exhortation not to fight Iraq. The only rationale I heard from him was that he believed negotiation should be tried. This seemed to me a very weak argument, for negotiation had famously failed, over a 14-year period, to keep Sadam from doing his evil. Didn’t the Holy Father recognize this?

  • Catherine

    Well, to say that “not a shot was fired” is to say, there was not per se an organized armed up-rising. The point I had wished to make was this: that John Paul II had seen enough violence and enough of men to know how both functioned very well. But he also had a well practiced faith in God and in the Blessed Virgin to know how they too functioned. He knew very well (by the grace of God!by the light of the Holy Spirit!) that evil is not stronger or smarter than Heaven, it is not stronger or smarter than the saints or than the Blessed Virgin, and it is certainly not stronger than God. Karol Wojtyla had been through the same hell and anguish as his country men–so how come he had been able to stand up to the comunists with such calm strength–even with good humor and with something like child-like wit and cunning? Where did he get that from? Where did he get that incredible confidence that made him move ahead always full of hope towards a bleak and hopeless horizon? Through all those years when he was just a priest and a bishop and a Cardinal, he kept telling his countrymen one thing over and over: love God, love the Blessed Virgin, love your enemy: do not take up arms against him. Ignore him and turn your face to God–and your hearts: He will save us! Don’t be afraid! Now–doesn’t that sound like highly delusional talk to our highly refined way of thinking? Karol Wojtyla was saying the same thing then as he said later to Bush: talk it out, negotiate, find a way to meet them.
    Wojtyla had experienced the power of faith and had seen first-hand the mercy and goodness of God who never abandons His children. When Karol Wojtyla became Pope he met a world that was very much in need of his broad experience with evil and with God. When he spoke to the West he was speaking to a West that had lost God because it had lost its faith in God. It had put its faith in money and in weapons. And he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. Many times John Paul II warned with apocalyptic words: man has come to a fork in the road and he must now choose either the total destruction of the planet, or God–there is no more middle road–it is now either with God or against God.
    John Paul was speaking words though that the West could no longer comprehend–and even less so today. And so John Paul II came off looking like the perfect Pollyanna by urging Bush not to go to war against Saddam Hussein.
    The Holy Father understood everything perfectly well. But see, the sad thing is that the state of our faith is such that we cannot even believe this–and we think instead that poor John Paul II had become a doddering old man, at least in the arena of world politics. Well, I can assure you, he was sharp as he had ever been right to his dying breath. He had seen everything perfectly well. There was nothing wrong with his vision–it is the rest of us who are not seeing very well–and that’s because we are navigating with a compass that does not have God as True North (and that’s why we can’t even read the stars correctly anymore).

  • Catherine

    PS I would furthermore add something that is not insignificant. We Americans have a very great blindness–in fact, it is so great that we often do not even see it: we think we know most everything about everything. Being every bit a product of my country, I used to think this way as I traveled around the world and noted how much the rest of humanity was behind us.
    And my faith went the way of my thinking. Using ‘Americanism’ as the standard (being an American, how could I use anything else?), it was easy to pick out the flaws in Catholicism and in the holy Father. How glad I am to have been purged of such thinking–it had thoroughly undermined true wisdom and vision and true joy. But I worry for America–I worry for our short-sightedness. I urge people to pray the Rosary more–I don’t know what else could help us so quickly and effectively. Our vision is distorted and yet we are convinced that we are really seeing things as they are…and we insist upon driving the car ourselves.