Are we really surprised? The Saddam Hussein verdict, scheduled for October 16 and then suddenly delayed last month (supposedly because the Iraqi special tribunal needed more time) to November 5, the last news cycle before the US midterm election, has now come in and the former dictator (and monster) has been found guilty. The Bush administration, struggling desperately for face time in the media these last weeks, has one day of Iraqi front-page headlines and lead TV news stories of its dreams in an election season in which the Iraq War has more or less shoved every other issue off center stage.
The possibility that this particularly convenient verdict postponement might have been the result of Bush administration planning and pressure to create a November surprise for the midterm elections was first raised here at the Nation magazine’s “The Notion” blog on October 17. Since then the mainstream American media has failed to explore the subject.
Just to review for a second: Saddam’s trial, as the Washington Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer reported last January, was a key priority of the Bush administration, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars exhuming evidence for it, refurbished the courtroom for it, trained judges for it, provided security for it, and even drafted many of the statutes under which Saddam was to be tried. The trial has been significantly stage-managed and run on a daily basis by the US Regime Crimes Liaison Office, working out of the US embassy in Baghdad.
As the Media Matters website has ably reported, the Bush administration (think: Karl Rove) has a penchant for and a “history of timing national security-related actions to the political calendar,” thereby causing presidential approval ratings to providentially bump up at just the right moments; and White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow, when asked last week by CNBC’s Larry Kudlow whether the verdict would be a “November surprise,” even welcomed the question, as well as the prospective verdict, this way:
“[Y]ou are absolutely right, it will be a factor. But you know what, it may fit into a larger narrative about an Iraqi government that has been doing what the president has said all along which is developing the capacity to sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and to help us out on the war on terror.”
You would think that all this might have inspired the odd editor at the odd major (or even minor) newspaper to assign a story, however speculative, on the possibility of a Bush-manipulated Saddam-execution special, or that a major columnist somewhere might have commented, or that the odd reporter might have called someone other than the usual suspects. But no such luck, it seems.