American troops digging a literally lousy Saddam Hussein out of a hole in the ground is certainly a cause for celebration. And those astonishing pictures of the fearsome Nebuchadnezzar wannabe looking like a Bowery bum getting a checkup at a Salvation Army shelter are a reason for jubilation. But as Churchill would have said (and did say in November of 1942): "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
It's also an occasion for these quick thoughts:
On the military/tactical front: This is the moment to intensify the pressure on Saddam loyalists — but also to give them a chance to come in from the cold. It should be made clear that if they continue to fight, big sticks will be used against them. But if they surrender and fully cooperate, some carrots may be on the table. The fact is there are some unsavory types who can be remolded into very useful intelligence assets.
On the military/strategic front: There is a chance that with Saddam gone, the foreign jihadis will now feel obliged not just to assist the war against the Coalition, but to take it over. That offers two opportunities: (1) an opportunity to destroy some of the world's best trained terrorists (who will have to be fought somewhere eventually) and (2) an opportunity to appeal to the patriotism of Iraqis. It should not be hard to persuade the average Iraqi of the truth, which is that if al Qaeda types were to win, there would be no getting them out. By contrast, Americans are only too eager to leave Iraq as soon as they can while also leaving Iraq as free and strong as possible.
On the political front: This is a speed bump for Howard Dean, not a dead end. Editorial writer Ruth Marcus in today's Washington Post observes that to those driving the Democratic-party primary process, "it's the president, stupid." That hasn't changed.
On the news front: Saddam's capture has overshadowed Con Coughlin's potentially debate-ending piece in today's Sunday Telegraph. Here's the top:
"Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.
"Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
"The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day 'work programme' Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal's base in Baghdad.
"In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta 'displayed extraordinary effort' and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be 'responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy'."
And there's even this: "The second part of the memo, which is headed 'Niger Shipment', contains a report about an unspecified shipment — believed to be uranium — that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria."
Perhaps Saddam himself will soon have something to say about all this.