Just to clarify, the time to deal with Saddam would have been before we propped up yet another petty dictator (something which our long track record of doing gave us ample evidence as to what the outcome might be), whom we recklessly supplied with illegal chemical and biological weapons (hey Rummy, we’re looking at you), and encouraged them to use. Barring that, in 1984 when it became clear that Saddam was going to use its U.S. supplied arsenal in ways both illegal and counter to the general prevailing morality it behooved the U.S. to have joined the rest of world in condemning and controlling its puppet turned murder rather then standing behind our boy, and condemning Iran’s “intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective” of getting gassed to death. Given that the government was distracted in the mid-80s running guns and drugs, and propping up terrorist in Central and South America (the “moral equivalent of our founding fathers” according to Reagan), not to mention Afghanistan, then it might have been time to intervene in 1988, when, after concluding its war with Iran, Iraq escalated a decade old pattern of attacks and abuse against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, including 40 separate incidents of gas attacks leading up to Halabja massacre which shocked even those who predicted that a Kurdish crackdown would be Saddam’s next act (and it was predicted), an attack which can only be described as genocidal and killed almost as many people as the number who died in Bhopal in the first hours of a gas attack perpetuated by the criminal negligence of a man who is still protected by the U.S. Then, then might have been a good time to act, especially as the abuse continued unabated for another year destroying an estimated 4,000 villages. At that point I can see the military intervention of U.N. peacekeepers being warranted as the last resort of an outraged global community that had already brought its considerable economic and moral might to the situation. (a similar intervention would have been useful in our nearby ally Turkey for similar gross, and still ongoing, attacks) The U.S., which controlled a significant portion of Iraq’s income, as well as being the major supplier of a majority of Iraq’s food imports, could have been very effective with limited effort, without evening passing the proposed bill of sanction that died quietly in Congress as President Bush Sr. threatened to veto it. That, that might have been a good time to act. So when, without any attempt to peacefully solve Saddam’s border infraction in 1991, and without any coherent understanding of what we hoped to accomplish, and without any repudiation of the past policies which had brought us, unnecessarily, against the better advice or wiser minds, to this point in history, the U.S. fully mobilized an invasionary force against Iraq, that was not our brightest moment, and perhaps not the best time to intervene. But, we were there, we had invaded, we largely controlled the country. We can speculate that Saddam was confused, and probably hostile at this sudden reversal of policy, especially after, the potentially apocryphal phone call the day before the invasion which we can only assume was his attempt to get an “ok” for the re-annexing of a territory that Iraq had always considered its own (though Kuwait, and just about everyone else hotly disputed the point for very valid reasons) This was going to be a much harder negotiation. At that point its harder to see a simple and clear way out of the problem, we can only speculate what might have happened if we hadn’t raced off to cowboy a war in the desert. Perhaps it would have gone the same if we would have gone through the international channels, perhaps Saddam would have been just as intractable. We do know that the second mostly commonly cited of Saddam’s atrocities, the war against the Marsh Arabs wouldn’t have happened, if we hadn’t encourage the uprising and abruptly withdrawn. If, as the U.S. seems to want to do, we were going to insist on a military solution to the problem we had created, then in 1991, with wide spread if by no means universal support of the global community, a clear set of goals, and a popular uprising inside Iraq, if we were going to bring democracy at the end of a gun, that was the time to do it. Instead we waged a war of limited engagement, a bombing campaign against civilian infrastructure of the type forbade by the Geneva convention, which we then followed up with brutal sanctions which the man put in charge of running them described as “punishing the Iraqi people for a crime they did not commit.” Through out the 1990s the U.S. maintained these sanctions which led to the deaths of millions of Iraqis for lack of food, shelter, and clean water all while making no meaningful attempts to find a solution to the standoff we found ourselves in of an understandably peeved former ally who had no reason to believe his life would be spared if he gave up near total power of his admittedly crumbling empire. The U.N. sanction were brutal but relatively effective at shutting down Saddam’s war making ability (it shut down much of Iraq’s ability to do anything), and generating a needed sense of “being tough” for a Democratic president, a much needed boost for any Democrat trying to maintain popularity with a bloody thirsty populace. At this point the situation was pretty much, and predictably fucked beyond repair, but it could have been handled with humanity, as repeated calls for more intelligent sanctions which would have reduced the collective punishment aspect of the sanctions while still crippling Saddam’s formerly U.S. backed ability to wage war proposed. Such sanctions also would have cut down on the flow of cheap oil coming out of Iraq. (a useful stick to wield against other OPEC countries) So forgive me when I have a hard time working up a celebratory demeanor over the capture of a man that costs nearly $100 billion dollars, and as yet uncounted (by new, official Pentagon policies) lives, that could have been averted with a phone call by many of the men of are currently running this country, as they were 20 years ago when we got into this mess. Now we’re stuck with the situation of what to do with him, a decision made harder by the U.S. decade of repeated vetoes of the International Criminal Court, which exists now but a shadow of the original intent. And we are faced with cleaning up the mess we made of Iraq, both in our most recent invasion, and over the last two decades, a challenge we are rising to marvelously with our “Christmas has come early for Halliburton” approach to needs assessment, and bridge building, literal and metaphorical.