To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
Five years ago at this time, 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 of “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 him away.
The press conference formally announcing the capture was a moving moment. “Ladies and gentlemen,” declared 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 in which 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 at the time 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 their 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 his 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.
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