Opponents of capital punishment may have contemplated Saddam's execution by recalling Groucho Marx's quote about never forgetting a face: For you, I'll make an exception.
One might argue that the trial could have been less farcical; one might have enjoyed seeing Saddam answer for all his crimes, including the deaths of 100,000 Kurds in 1987-88. In the end, however, he had but one neck to give for his country, and he proved that no man is above the law. Especially the one concerning gravity.
Tyrants in other countries might have felt a pang of unease at his end; all that money, all that power, all those glorious implements of fear and oppression at his disposal, and it still added up to a drop, a jolt, an ignominious yank captured on shaky cellphone video. No doubt tyrants have drawn the correct conclusion, too: Confiscate all the cell phones.
It felt oddly anticlimactic, though. Not that anyone expected it would end the violence.
Iraq's problems won't end until the terrorists' sponsors open the window one fine bright morning to find a Tomahawk sailing in their direction. But the Bush administration has decided to leave Iran and Syria alone, perhaps to make the ruination of Iraq an example of international cooperation for the 21st century.
Iraq's problems will be solved when the warring groups are suppressed once and for all, but that sort of horrible force plays poorly on CNN International. Besides, the Ethiopians are rather busy at the moment.
Only fools expected Saddam's death to solve the violence; that wasn't the point. It was justice, and it was justice's half-brother, vengeance. It was a tentative step toward the rule of law, but the real work will take decades. Ideally, you ought to be able to change leaders without hanging the last one.
It'll take a decade of peaceful transitions of power to make Iraq a true democracy, which is why Saddam's death won't immediately strew flowers throughout the Middle East. But that's OK. Imagine telling the Italians after the death of Mussolini that their governments would rise and fall like the tides of Venice, and the only effect on the citizens would be the distribution of patronage. Their response: Really? You promise?
This is not the time to lament the dictator, but of course that's what many did. As his appointed hour grew nigh, the humanitarians of the world found a new champion.
"He held the country together!" Well, if President Bush gassed New York and California and outlawed the Democratic Party, he could impose the same sort of remarkable cohesion.
"He was a counterweight to Iran!" Yes. But perhaps it's better to have a struggling democracy with American bases as the counterweight. If the U.S. had occupied Iraq in the 1980s, it's doubtful that millions of Iraqis would have been sent to their death so Ronald Reagan could wear a military uniform and wave a shotgun for the cameras.
"We put him in power!" Hmm. How did that work, exactly? Right: We smuggled him into the country in Donald Rumsfeld's steamer trunk with instructions to buy Russian weapons and a French reactor, then invade countries we really liked.
"He was relentlessly opposed to Islamist terrorists!" Except for those he paid and sheltered, of course. If he was sending money to people who blew up buses in New York instead of Jerusalem, people might have been more exercised.
If this was a peaceable world, with no Darfurs or Hezbollah wars or Somalia clan-spats or auto-explosive jihadis anxious to perforate infidels on G-d's behalf, Saddam would have stood out as a throwback, an anachronism, a monstrosity who taxed the conscience of the just.
In this world, however, he had television correspondents seek his company and call him Mr. President. If his death seems anticlimactic, it may reflect the shame of a world that shrugged at his thuggery.
"We had him in a box!" some said. That was debatable, then. Now he's in a box for real. It does not solve the problem of Iraq. But it solved the problem of Saddam.