You'll have to forgive us for not rushing to post instant reactions to the capture of Saddam Hussein. It's clearly a chit for the American forces, and it's obviously a chance to deliver a little justice to one of the world's more brutal tyrants. Beyond that there's not much anyone can conclusively say, which helps explain why some bloggers are already obsessing over such peripheral-at-best matters as whether the media are secretly sad to see Saddam in custody.
But that should change over the next few weeks. For those of us who make our living trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the world, the most satisfying thing about the capture of Hussein might be that we'll soon learn the answers to some of the more vexing questions surrounding this war. This may require us pundit types to stop talking out of our asses and actually take some new data into account, but I figure that's a small price to pay.
I'm not talking about the possibility that he'll tell us something new about the alleged links between Iraq and Osama bin Laden, or the fate of those programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. (Anything Saddam might say on those topics will be too self-serving to take without salt, short of helpfully pointing the Pentagon to the exact point where those purported weapons were shipped or stored.) I'm talking about the measurable real-world consequences of his capture. Will the resistance start to fade with the realization that—in the words of one pro-war blogger—"Not even the Big Guy was safe; you're next"? Or will it actually gain strength, absorbing new support from Iraqis who bristle at the occupation but were worried that with the Americans gone Hussein might retake power? The answer depends on questions we could only speculate about before now—issues like How much control does Saddam wield over the insurgency? and How contingent is Iraqi support for, and opposition to, the occupation?
For whatever it's worth, today's description of Saddam's secret hideout does not sound like the control center for a war:
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday night near his hometown by U.S. soldiers who found him hiding, haggard and disheveled, in a hole in the ground in a small, rural compound…He appeared "disoriented" and "bewildered" when he was brought out of his hiding place, a hole that was covered by a styrofoam trap door and a rug.
But hey, looks can be deceiving—and initial reports can be grossly misleading. In this, as in so much else, we'll have to wait and see. The difference now is that the answers we're waiting for might actually be on their way.