Guilty, guilty, guilty

Just before 11 p.m. Beirut time (GMT +0200), Saddam Hussein was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

“Long live the people, down with the traitors, down with the conquerers!” shouted Saddam Hussein after the verdict was read. “Damn you and your court.”

Right this moment, Baghdad is under an uneasy and indefinite curfew. I just spoke with my old TIME colleagues who are there, and they reported a lot of violence around them. However, CNN is reporting only sporadic, celebratory gunfire. The two bureaus are in different parts of Baghdad, however, so they may both be right.

Anyway, yippee. I guess we can all agree the invasion, the destruction, the looting, the thousands of Americans slain, the tens of thousands wounded, and the possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, the destruction of the Iraqi state, the collapse of Iraqi society were all worth it.

Well, if the GOP maintains its edge in Congress, I’m sure someone in Washington will think it was worth it. (I’m looking at you, Karl Rove.) But they may be the only ones on the planet.

Did anyone really think this would come out any other way? I covered this trial for a bit before I quit the Mesopotamian charnel house, neé Iraq, in March and the Americans have stage-managed this trial from the get-go. The trial is considered a joke in Iraq and around the region. No one took it seriously. And now, Saddam Hussein, a man who no doubt deserves harsh punishment for his crimes, will be brought to American-brokered justice. I can not emphasize enough how many Iraqis will see this as either revenge by Saddam’s enemies and an unjust, preordained outcome (most Sunnis), or a process that took too long and could have been avoided if the bastard had just been strung up when the Americans caught him in December 2003 (pretty much everyone else in Iraq.)

Not much room in there for a celebration of the Iraq’s shiny new rule of law.

And now, two days before the American midterm elections, Saddam gets the death sentence. Already celebratory gunfire is echoing across Baghdad, but soon after, Iraq will likely be an orgy of violence and blood as insurgents and supporters of Saddam respond. Will the verdict be worth the deaths from that violence, too?

So, to review: Americans invade Iraq, destroy the government, catch a butcher and put him in a show trial that was already marked by interference and showboating by all sides, and then watch gleefully as he’s sentenced to death two days before the political party that started this fiasco face almost certain defeat.

Several questions: For Iraqis, the question now is what happens in the appeal process. An automatic appeal starts 10 days from today, and will likely take a couple of months. Then, 30 days after the end of the appeal process, Saddam will die by hanging. (I don’t expect his appeal to be successful.)

For Americans, there needs to be some soul-searching, starting with the question I asked above: Was this verdict, as satisfying as it may be to some, worth the disaster that is Iraq? Are Americans still willing to send their sons and daughters there to keep Iraqis from each others’ throats for a few months more?

For the White House, they’re now anxiously watching the voters, asking the question, Do Americans still feel Saddam was a enough of a threat to reward the GOP now for getting this verdict? Will it rally the GOP faithful? Possibly. The whole GOTV thing, for me, is the big variable in this election. I just don’t know what will or won’t motivate GOP and Democratic voters to get out there.

That said, I think I know what they’re telling themselves in the West Wing, but I suspect (naïvely hope?) that most voters kind of figured what the verdict would be and have already factored that into their political choices. This electorally-timed verdict will do little to change their minds. Nor will it do anything to change the dynamic on the ground in Iraq. In fact, look for the violence to get worse in the next few day as Sunni insurgents weigh in with their opinion on the verdict and Shi’ite death squads respond.