Tied up in knots
When I first read this I was tempted to simply blast Greg Sheridan for Koutsoukis-style stupidity.
While Koutsoukis has a long record of stupidity, it's clear that Sheridan has had his thrust upon him. While Australian foreign correspondents in the late twentieth century were dismissive of the threat posed by communist regimes, Sheridan was the only foreign correspondent who took seriously the idea that a Soviet fleet was ready to invade Australia from Cam Ranh, Vietnam. He was wrong about that, but his coverage of significant figures in the Southeast Asian region like Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir Mohammad was nuanced and wise, rendering complex people balancing divergent pressures in an intelligent way rather than the tabloid wacko treatment dished out by most journalists published here.
These days Sheridan is the local head cheerleader for the Bush Is Always Right crowd, a relay station for Fox News talking points. There's a whole lot of them in the US - a brigade, to use a Hendersonism. Really. Every indicator of failure over the past three years has passed Greg by: the WMDs, the endemic violence, the ineffective and partisan army, the puppetry conducted by al-Sadr and other Iranian agents within the elected government of Iraq.
He has the occasional go at "a typical arrogance of the liberal elite in Western societies", but you can safely ignore this as you would the barking of a tethered dog: sounds ferocious but he's not going to do much or move far from his position. Elites are people who sit around the Cabinet table, Greg. Elites are senior editors at national newspapers - even a senile old duffer like Frank Devine is more "elite" than [insert name of "liberal elite Australian" here].
No amount of redefining terms or even stone-cold proof will sway Greg from his transmittive function - unless it accords with White House Talking Points, Sheridan won't buy it, and he won't run it either.
This is what happens when two schools of thought collide - an inherent belief in human dignity and a commitment to Bush Is Always Right. The death penalty thing was a bit troublesome but lashing out at those imaginary elites clearly works for Greg.
Remember those scenes from 2003 where ecstatic locals ripped down statues of Saddam? The way that Saddam's henchclowns died was absolutely in keeping with that, and with their lives, brutal and ugly. If they'd been torn apart by stray dogs it wouldn't have mattered but it would have made the Iraqi government look even more stupid. And yes, it's the stupidity and political failure that's the issue here, not some effete wailing about the cruelty of it all.
Let's get this straight: someone who is definitely guilty of massive crimes can't be tortured, even after his life has ended - but lesser functionaries with a few tidbits of information are fair game, eh Greg?
Sheridan is wrong to go the crocodile tears, which is veering close to yer bleeding heart "I am involved in mankind" territory. He is wrong to label the manner of these deaths as merely "propaganda victories" - they are yet further indications that Iraq is governed not by huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but by factional hacks.
Great cost in blood and treasure - and the political credibility of the US-UK-Australian alliance - is being squandered on a bunch of hacks. This is the unpleasant truth from which Greg Sheridan has flinched. It is the central failure of his analysis. He has done Oz readers no favours and diminished himself as an analyst of foreign policy realities in his own right.
I do agree with him about the necessary preconditions about the death penalty, about the absence of doubt about crimes, perpetrators and accused - preconditions which haven't existed in Australian criminal trials thus far, hence why there ought be no death penalty here.