The capture of Saddam Hussein by American forces last weekend puts a final nail in the coffin of a regime that for 24 years terrorized and brutalized its people in a way most Americans are unable to imagine. Saddam's capture is a victory for coalition forces in Iraq and a milestone for the Iraqi people. Attacks on allied forces in Iraq by our enemies will continue, and the road to Iraqi reconstruction and democracy remains long and difficult. But Saddam's capture is a serious blow to opponents of a free Iraq.
It is an important reminder of why our men and women in uniform are serving there. It highlights the interest we share with a majority of the Iraqi people in building a free and prosperous country that will serve as a model of democratic reform in the region, with a government and body of law that will protect them and their neighbors from ever again suffering the depredations of a bloody tyrant whose weapons and wars destabilized the world's most strategic region for decades.
It is impossible to overstate the way Saddam's rule traumatized his people. Nearly every Iraqi has a story of mistreatment at the hands of Saddam's secret police, or of the imprisonment or murder of an innocent loved one by Saddam's apparatus of terror.
In Saddam's Iraq, the regime pressured children to inform on their parents; wives were powerless to stop the uniformed men who came in the night to take their husbands away; innocent people disappeared into the regime's gulag; women were picked up off the street and raped by Saddam's son; and political opponents, real or imagined, had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut off, were forced to watch their loved ones being raped or shot, or were fed alive into a human shredding machine.
The degree of Saddam's tyranny and psychological control over his people was demonstrated by the effect news of his capture had on Iraqis: journalists jumped up and punched the air in triumph; adults burst into tears in the knowledge that the long nightmare of his rule was finally over; people took to the streets waving portraits of brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers who had been murdered by the regime. No one testified more eloquently about the significance of Saddam's capture than the Iraqi people, all of whom were his victims.
Until Saddam's capture, Iraqis had not had the assurance that he would not return to power. As long as Saddam Hussein was alive and free, plotting his revenge and hoping to outlast the Americans, they thought, why risk openly supporting the U.S. occupation? Saddam's capture ends any hope among his minority of supporters for his restoration and should encourage the Iraqi people to more openly support our efforts to help them build a free and peaceful country.
Saddam's capture should improve the security of American forces in Iraq. Saddam's money and symbolic leadership helped fuel the Baathist resistance. Although attacks against U.S. troops continue, our forces have now cut off the head of that resistance.
By ending the possibility of Saddam's return to power, we have made it much more difficult for Saddam's thugs to motivate their fellow Iraqis to attack coalition forces in his name. We have defeated their strategic goal of regime restoration.
On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said that the capture of Saddam had not made America safer. I strongly disagree.
The threat Saddam Hussein posed to the region and the world forced the United States into two major wars, costing hundreds of American lives. It required the peacetime deployment of hundreds of thousands of American troops in the Persian Gulf at enormous cost over more than a decade to contain Saddam's aggression.
Saddam Hussein not only developed but used weapons of mass destruction against his people and his neighbors; attacked five neighboring countries, including close American allies, in wars of his own making; killed at least half a million of his fellow citizens in peacetime; spoke openly of his ambition to destroy Israel; tried to assassinate an American president; and aspired to control the world's strategic oil reserves in the Middle East to paralyze the West. Yes, the capture of this man mattered, for Iraq, America, and the world.
Saddam's capture has already had a beneficial effect on the United States' diplomatic relations with our European allies. France and Germany, with whom our diplomatic relations have been strained since the war, hailed Saddam's capture as a unifying event that will benefit the Iraqi people and contribute to Iraqi reconstruction, and they pledged to write off significant debt owed them by the former Iraqi regime.
When Saddam is put on trial in Iraq for his crimes against humanity, the world will learn much more about his persecution of his people, his torture chambers, his use of poison gases against innocent civilians, and his documented, aggressive efforts to develop banned weaponry that has no place in modern warfare. As we learn more from Saddam's war crimes trial, I suspect people around the world who doubted the savagery of his rule and therefore opposed our war to liberate Iraq may come to understand better our reasons for waging it.
The capture of Saddam Hussein by American forces, and the emotional outpouring of celebration among the Iraqi people over his demise, remind us that our common goal of creating a free, stable, and peaceful Iraq is indeed achievable.
The President and especially all the American and coalition forces serving in Iraq deserve enormous credit for the progress we have made to date in helping Iraqis build a democratic future. We have a lot more to do.
Saddam Hussein's capture should encourage all of us to redouble our commitment to that goal. We have brought down the dictator, but we have not yet accomplished our larger mission of putting in place the security, economic and political conditions that will create the basis for Iraqi self-rule. We should accelerate efforts to make that possible, including deploying additional American forces rather than planning for a premature and dangerous military drawdown.
But I am confident that the American people, as they increasingly understand how much is at stake for the United States in Iraq and why we must win, will support the President's commitment to staying in Iraq until it is secure, stable and free. Saddam's capture by U.S. forces makes achieving that goal more likely. It makes America more secure. And it should make Americans proud.
John McCain, a Republican, is the senior senator from Arizona.