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December 29, 2006

Santa Hussein

(In light of Saddam Hussein’s hanging in the middle of last night, I thought you might appreciate this BAGnewsNotes post that originally ran December 17, 2003  following the pre-Christmas capture of Saddam Hussein.  It was titled “Santa Hussein” and is reposted here word-for-word.)


The spinmeisters at the White House get especially crafty around the holidays. Taking advantage of slow news periods (Congress away, lull in Mid-East violence, Arnold laying low), you can count on them to deck the halls with faux news filled with not-so-subliminal themes and political auto-suggestions. 

After doing a wonderful job hijacking a group of reporters to cover a stage managed “George Bush Thanksgiving Special In Iraq” (“Top that, Bob Hope!” “Take that, Hilary!”), they got a yule tide bonus this weekend when Saddam Hussein fell into their laps still early in the weekend (unless that was staged managed too).  By sitting on the story for 16 hours, the White House was able to completely control the story, the images and the timing. More impressively, because the announcement came just after the press deadline for most major newspapers, the administration guaranteed itself a huge splash for two full days, the first day on TV, the next in print.

Of course, the capture of Saddam has spurred a tremendous amount of speculation about whether it really helps or hurts the administration in the middle- and longer run. Although this the logical place to take speculation, it actually departs from the way this administration functions.  In Bush World, there is no “longer term.” As an organization that acts almost entirely on impulse, with various sub-constituencies pursuing contrary agendas, the “reason for being” of Bush and Company is primarily to spin the best narrative around the latest calamity.

In the case of the Saddam capture, the issue for Bush is not what this implies for some greater strategy. It’s about milking the story for as long as possible, as well as using it to demonstrate that (once again) we’re winning and somebody else is losing. 

So, if your looking for what the capture of Saddam Hussein meant most to the President, it’s this: Christmas arrived early in Washington.

  • Darryl Pearce

    Once is unique.
    Twice is a coincidence.
    Three times is a trend.

  • tina

    Fox News, right away, showed everything but the drop. Sick. Sick. Sick. We’re no better than he was when we do that. Don’t we get that yet?

  • ummabdulla

    The association with Christmas is appropriate, because this was done on the morning of Eid Al-Adha, one of two holy days in the Islamic year – similar to Christmas morning for Christians. We went to the special early morning Eid prayer and came home to hear about this… I find it disgusting that they picked this day; they couldn’t have waited a few more days? Was there some reason why they wanted it done by the end of this year?
    Saddam knew this was the way people would remember him, and he played it pretty well. I certainly couldn’t have been so composed if I was walking towards the gallows.

  • Cactus

    If I can remember what I’ve been learning (hearing?) Saudi Arabia is Sunni, the government of Iraq is now (mostly) Sunni. Saddam was Ba’ath party, which was a sect (?) or off-shoot (?) of Shia. Since we know that Saudi’s are calling the plays, even to the point of summoning the VPUSA to their kingdom, my guess would be that Saddam’s quick execution is their choice. However, I did detect a certain visceral nervousness around W’s presence the past few days. That usually means he wants something to happen NOW and someone or something is thwarting his goal-seeking activities. So, I wonder, were the Saudi’s holding something over his head until the execution? Why would they want it on the morning of Eid, if the Sunni’s are the more religious of the Muslims? Or did W order it on that day just to spite the Saudi’s? All these questions (and more) and the pieces just not fitting like one would expect, leads me to think that there is something behind this that has not seen the light of day……..yet. There were rumors that Saddam had written down or told someone all the past dealings he had with the US. But if he didn’t, maybe a quick death is to ensure silence. Or maybe they thought no one (here) would notice what with Ford’s funeral being drug out for a week. (Is that one day shy of Regan’s? Well, he was never elected, you know. Poor Carter will be lucky to get two-minute’s notice in the 6 o’clock.) As for the Christmas hanging……well, Christmas is SO last week. And, hey, there’s a game tomorrow, no worries.

  • ummabdulla

    Cactus, Saudi Arabia is mostly Sunni and ruled by Sunnis, but there is a Shia minority, mostly concentrated in the Eastern Province (the part closest to Bahrain and Iran, and where much of the oil is).
    The government of Iraq is now mostly Shia; Shias make up the majority of the population.
    The Baath party is an Arab nationalist, Socialist, secular party. It had nothing to do with Shiism. The people who ran Iraq under Saddam – the Baathists – were mostly Sunni, but included Shias and Christians (like Tariq Aziz).
    The Sunnis aren’t more religious; there are religious Sunnis and nonpracticing Sunnis, as well as religious Shias and nonpracticing Shias.
    (And if you know that much, you know more than the members of Congress and “intelligence” officials put together, lol.)
    Whether or not the Saudi rulers wanted Saddam executed, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have wanted it done on the first day of Eid al-Adha, while there were still up to three million people near Makkah doing the hajj rituals. For one thing, pilgrims should be concentrating on the spiritual aspects. But also, the hajj is a tremendous logistical challenge, for which the Saudi prepare year-round; the day he was hanged (Saturday) was when pilgrims “stone the devil”, the ritual which has seen stampedes in recent years. They wouldn’t have wanted any extra problems. A friend of mine was surprised when I told her late yesterday afternoon that Saddam had been hanged; she had been watching the hajj on Saudi TV all day and said that they hadn’t even mentioned it. (According to Juan Cole, Shias didn’t consider Saturday the first day of Eid, though; for them, it was today – Sunday.)

  • Cactus

    ummabdulla, thank you for setting me straight. I guess I just proved the dangers of paying attention to commentators, etc., on this side of the pond. Your point about the Saudis not wanting to further complicate the hajj makes sense. So, who was behind ordering the execution when they did? If the Saudis didn’t want it, but W did so that it was over before the new congress, or while media were preoccupied with Ford & Brown funerals, that might explain his nervousness of late (displeasing the Saudis). OTOH, is there anyone in the Bush cabal smart enough to figure all that out instead of their usual self-interest. I don’t see how Saddam spilling the beans to Congress would be a factor since I don’t know how that could happen. But if he was put on trial for the genocide of the Kurds, for instance, then Poppy’s role (along with that of Rumsfeld/Cheney) could conceivably come out and the media would almost HAVE to report it. That just might be worth angering the Saudis.
    Guess I still just have the feeling there is something else behind it that we don’t yet know.

  • ummabdulla

    I don’t understand what was behind the timing. The BBC said that Maliki (Iraq’s Prime Minister) had told reporters a while ago that it would be done before the year ended, but that most of them didn’t think it would actually happen that quickly. And I read somewhere that Maliki had wanted to do it on Friday, but couldn’t get the procedures finished quickly enough. (Friday would also have been bad timing; that’s the day of the most emotional ritual of the hajj, and those Muslims all over the world who aren’t on hajj are encouraged to fast that day.) But of course that would assume that Maliki had control over when the execution took place.
    I just read that the death toll of American military in Iraq has hit 3000; maybe Bush wanted something to distract from the coverage that would come with that? Another artificial “milestone” in Iraq instead of that real milestone?

  • Cactus

    judging by the usual BCF mindset, that just could be it. A simple-minded solution for a simple-minded CIC. Guess it’s ’simple is as simple does.’

  • Cactus

    This evening I heard an interesting comment on the Chris Matthews ’show’ on MSNBC. He had on two politicos and toward the end of the show he said something like: Okay, the Ford funeral is over so now we can talk about this. Then he proceeded to talk about the Saddam execution. My first thought was, who told him not to discuss Saddam during the Ford funeral events? Was that why the execution was ‘pushed’ so quickly????

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