jimsleeper.com » Obama bin Dustbin?

Obama bin Dustbin?

By Jim Sleeper – May 2, 2011, 10:45AM

There’s something valid in “great man” versions of history, including those focusing on the diabolically great: Without Adolph Hitler, it’s unlikely that German racism, especially anti-Semitism, would have become as shattering and unspeakable as it did. Without Osama bin Laden, Islamicist terrorism probably wouldn’t have become as maniacally effective and widespread as it has.

But while these men had tremendous catalytic or poisonous effects on the societies they touched, that was partly because they were channeling dark, swift undercurrents that were already running in those societies. And that’s partly why the damage such leaders do in harnessing the dark undercurrents so often outlasts them.

Learning of Osama bin Laden’s demise, I can’t help but recall L. Paul Bremer III’s announcing in Baghdad the capture of Saddam Hussein: “Ladies and Gentlemen, We got him!” And our troubles in Iraq were over, right?

They were only beginning. From the moment we toppled Hussein’s statue in April, 2003, thousands of Iraqis had come forward, knowing, as the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins recalled two years later, “that they had to seize the moment, that it might not come again. And they knew… how difficult it would be to carry their broken and brutalized country with them. So they started newspapers, they organized political parties, they called meetings to start a national conversation.

“And now, today, many of these Iraqis…. have been shot, tortured, burned, disfigured, thrown into ditches, disappeared. Thousands of them: editors, lawyers, pamphleteers, men and women. In a remarkable campaign of civic destruction, the Baathists and Islamists who make up the insurgency located the intellectual heart of the nascent Iraqi democracy and, with gruesome precision, cut it out. As much as any single factor, the death of Iraq’s political class explains the difficulties of the country’s rebirth. The good guys are dead.”

One might ask why this was America’s problem. Saddam Hussein had murdered or terrorized democrats every day, and, after he was gone, it certainly wasn’t American GI’s or the Young Republicans playing at governing in the Green Zone who kept murdering “the good guys.” It was Baathists, terrorists, tribal warlords and gangsters.

But it was George W. Bush, another of history’s “great men” – remember “unitary executive” power? — who had cast Saddam and his loyalists as Baathists, terrorists, tribalists and gangsters, all rolled into one, and who had claimed that we’d liberate Iraqis for democracy by decapitating the regime through which Saddam Hussein had been channeling all those currents.

The currents remained, and they’d been set running in the first place partly because the West, including the U.S., had done a lot to mix and stir them. Decapitation hasn’t gone far toward resolving the consequences.