We watched the BBC World News from a couple hours before Saddam was hanged, and the correspondent referred to us as the Iraqis’ “American overlords”. After a couple beats (I almost missed it) I turned to Peter, “Did he just say ‘overlords’?” and Peter, eyebrows way up, nodded and deadpanned, “And I, for one, welcome our new American overlords.” Ah, the Beeb. Pure comedy.
Only a minority of modern dictators have been executed for their crimes. The most bloodthirsty of all, Stalin and Mao, died in full possession of their powers, if not their faculties. Franco pulled off the same trick. Hitler cheated the hangman with a bullet in the bunker. Pol Pot lost power, but was never brought to justice and died in his bed, as did Idi Amin.
Slobodan Milosevic stood trial for his crimes, but died of a heart attack in March with 50 hours of testimony still to be heard. Augusto Pinochet, too, suffered the indignity of arrest; three weeks ago he also expired naturally before prosecution could even begin. Suharto is another fallen dictator who has avoided standing trial on the grounds of ill health. And let’s not forget that dwindling band of dictators who are still alive and in power: Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi.
Dictators, by definition, have absolute power. For a dictator to end his life hanging from a rope, or facing a firing squad, therefore requires a rather rare combination of wickedness and stupidity: enough of the former to incur the hatred of his countrymen, enough of the latter to take on armies mightier than his own. Both these qualities Saddam Hussein possessed in abundance. That is why, in the wake of his execution at dawn yesterday morning, he deserves to be remembered as the Mussolini of Mesopotamia — if not the Ceausescu of Baghdad.
I don’t recommend reading the rest.