This morning when I opened my email, the first message was an offer from Amazon.com to download the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, an “instant classic” football game between Boise State and Oklahoma. For just $2.99, I could relive football history. Meanwhile, over on YouTube, I can watch the hanging of Saddam Hussein for free.
I have my choice of videos of Saddam’s execution. Some are filed under News & Blogs but feature catchy music and spontaneous dancing. Others, like this video phone recording, are somber enough but are nevertheless filed under Entertainment. There are even cartoon versions of the event — cheap, barbaric, and straining for levity under the weight of stupidity.
Nearly four years after invading Iraq, we still don’t get it. We still don’t understand the power of images like Saddam Hussein, eyes wide open, showing no fear, being hanged by hooded and heckling Shiites. Saddam’s Baathist government may have been secular, but he was himself a Sunni, and the Shiites and the Sunnis despise one another. They have fought for centuries, the Islamic world’s answer to The Orange and the Green. We don’t get that. We wring our hands and wonder how the hell we’re going to get out of Iraq, but we don’t think about the divisive power of this televised execution. The Butcher of Baghdad, the genocidal monster who gassed the Kurds, is now for many only the latest Martyr of the Middle East.
Try watching the video. Try to sit through the man’s hanging as you remind yourself over and over again that what you’re watching was not filmed on a soundstage in Hollywood. This is real. This is death. What do you see? No tears, no fear, no struggle. The only concession Saddam Hussein makes to his executioners is to allow his wool scarf to be wrapped around his neck in order to keep the noose from cutting through his skin. This is not Karla Faye Tucker, pleading with then-Governor George W. Bush of Texas for clemency, a plea Bush later mocked in an interview with Tucker Carlson.
But this is Bush still not getting it, still not understanding that actions — his actions — have consequences. And why should he? The first time George W. Bush had to interview for a job was during the 1994 campaign for governor of Texas. He was at that time 47 years old, and he hadn’t worked so much as a paper route. His acceptance at Yale was assured by his father’s legacy. His acceptance at Harvard Business School was assured by his father’s money. His jobs in the oil business were handed to him by his father’s friends, and his part-ownership and management of the Texas Rangers was a joke — little more than a good way to get permanent box seats.
Eight days after Saddam Hussein’s hanging, George W. Bush unveiled his new and improved plan for Iraq: more troops. First, he assured us that, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” Then, he offered up 20,000 more of our men and women in uniform to an unending war of attrition that he now admits we’ve been losing. So much for “stay the course.” So much for damning those “cut-and-run” Democrats. So much for Mr. Bush. At this point, I wouldn’t trust him to find his ass in the dark with both hands tied behind his back.
Maybe I should stay off YouTube. Maybe I should stop listening to presidential speeches. Maybe I should spend $2.99 on that “instant classic” football game. It doesn’t matter that as a loyal University of Idaho supporter, I can’t get too excited about Boise State winning anything. I want to spend a few hours in George W. Bush’s happy, insulated, unreal bubble, eating pretzels and pretending that the world as I want it to be is the world as it is.
If I were really clever, I’d Photoshop University of Idaho uniforms onto the Boise State Broncos and load the updated video onto YouTube. If I were the President of the United States, I’d get my generals and the Joint Chiefs of Staff right on that. Why not? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last six years, it’s that I can’t trust anything I see on television. Fantasy football. Fantasy war.