One was defiant as the noose was tightened around his neck. The other was shot in the face while still in his pyjamas. Comparing the execution of Osama Bin Laden with that of Saddam Hussein, we learn something about ourselves, and our wider attitude towards the policy of regime change.
There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein was one of the great monsters of history. However, he was a conventional enemy and was treated with the conventional respect to a captured leader. He was arrested without a bullet being fired, put on trial by an Iraqi court, then hung by an Iraqi rope.
Although legally in the custody of Iraq, he was held by American guards who allowed him to tend a small garden in detention, and to write a letter to the Iraqi people before his execution. There was never any doubt that he was a fearless man, and his anger as he was physically dragged to the noose demonstrates this well.
Osama bin Laden on the other hand was in his pyjamas when he was shot in the face, leaving him so disfigured that the photo could not be released. He was unarmed. The crime of Sept 11th happened on American soil, so there is no legal reason why a trial couldn’t happen in America. But there was no need of a trial. It was a summary execution. They wanted it that way.
He had no chance of any last words. An American psychiatrist commenting on my blog offers the view that Bin Laden was in denial and was surprised they were coming to kill him, and may have uttered, “But I am a scholar.” However, we really don’t know. His life was ended with the casual manner that you or I would flick a light switch.
Saddam was evil, but as a conventional enemy, he was treated with conventional procedure. Bin Laden was a fanatic, who attacked American civilians. In response he was swatted like a fly, but interestingly, he was then buried with respect. Perhaps once he was dead, the bogey man no longer exists to the Americans and they reverted to the convention of respect for the dead.
These are not the actions of an individual President or administration. The crimes date back ten years and the incumbent President who pressed the button on the Pakistan operation is the same one who was elected as a pacifist. Yet on that night, May 2nd 2011, the sword of the American President smoked with bloody execution.
Hague was wrong to argue that the Arab Spring was the most important event in recent history. Everything traces back to Sept 11th. Historians will remember the Iraq war like we remember the French Revolution: One of the great horrors of history, but very influential on our times.
Emboldened by The Arab Spring, the West is no longer a soft touch. The west has a twitchy trigger finger, as Colonel Ghaddafi discovered.
Any assumption that the UN would restrain the west has since been proven wrong. It may well be that it suited the Arab League to have the west distracted with their own quagmire, in order that they can run tanks over people without objection, but whatever the reason, no dictator can presume that the international community will make the west impotent.
The power battle within Iran used to be between the reformers and hardliners, with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, reluctantly backing his provocative President, Ahmadinejad. Now, a new power battle has broken out, after the President sacked a cabinet minister only for the Ayatollah to reinstate him. Ahmadinejad stormed off and wasn’t seen for two weeks.
There have been previous reports of tension between these two, over the danger of western intervention. In a meeting Khamenei silenced Ahmadinejad by asserting that “The threat is real”. Then, it was difficult to know the veracity of these reports. The current conflict between the two is very real and very public, and appears to have come about since the western intervention in Libya.
Regardless of fickle motives of the Libyan intervention, one outcome is already apparent. The weakness of the west, demonstrated by the disaster of Iraq, has now been reversed. The west is strong again. The west is feared again.
The policy of regime change is no longer a historic mistake, but now a modern reality. Sadly, with the Libyan intervention, it is not being used well. But it does at least exist and will be of future benefit to humanity as we move from a past age of tyranny, to a future age of democracy.