How Will Saddam's Trial Affect the White House and Iraq?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," October 19, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: When U.S. forces captured him about two years ago, he was just a former strong man hiding in a spider hole, but Saddam Hussein (search) decided to play the tough guy on the first day of his trial, probably ignoring the fact he could end up hanging for his crimes. So what does this mean for the White House and future of Iraq? Here to talk about it, Tony Blankley the editorial page editor for The Washington Times.

I would think this would be a huge demarcation point for the American people. This is the reason we have an Iraq war, we went to get this guy. We got him and now, finally, his trial is beginning.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: It would be if the media were a different media than the one we have.

GIBSON: You mean, other ...

BLANKLEY: Other than FOX.

GIBSON: Other than FOX.

BLANKLEY: And my paper, The Washington Times, which I think gives it the kind of coverage it deserves. The truth is it is probably a bigger story in the Middle East. And it has a bigger, deeper impact. And I would think there are other leaders of countries in the Middle East who have to be a little uncomfortable by the idea of a former president being in the dock. Now, not that there are other war criminals of his dimension, but certainly there are other authoritarian regimes there that don't stay in by the popular will.

GIBSON: If the popular will is watching this and hanging on the edge of its seat every night and every day to see what happens in Saddam Hussein's trial, that is, people all over the Middle East, how does that affect the perception of what we did in Iraq?

BLANKLEY: My own view is, that over time, this is a good news story for us, because — I understand the people in the Middle East would be skeptical of our intentions. The world is always skeptical of the most powerful nation. Whether it was the British 100 years ago, or us now. But I think as they see, increasingly, that we really are creating democracy; that they are making their own decisions; that it is, in fact, Iraqi lawyers and judges who are prosecuting the case and Iraqis who are going to be making the sentencing decisions. I think we are going to see that he is going to end up being convicted, although it's a difficult start. This is a judiciary that's just being created now. We have had 200 years and our court system can be pretty slow and difficult from time to time.

GIBSON: If the Iraqis could convict Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis go on to execute him, does embattled George Bush get any political points out of seeing this thing through to that point?

BLANKLEY: Bush, you know, in the history books, yes. Whether he is going to get it in the next six or eight months, I rather think it's going to take a longer time. Because the public is now, I think, become doubtful of the wisdom of the project. I'm not, I still think it made sense and it still makes sense and we are making pretty good progress. But it will take a number of years for the public to see the wisdom of it, assuming things continue to progress well.

GIBSON: And what about among — we don't see any effort on the part of Middle East leaders. You don't see Mubarak (search) trying to keep his people from seeing what is going on in Baghdad?

BLANKLEY: I don't think that, as a practical matter, possible. Technologically, it is not possible.

GIBSON: How are they explaining this to their people, saying Saddam is an aberration and we are normal?

BLANKLEY: The short answer is, I don't know. But I mean, obviously, they are not masked killers, they are simply standard authoritarian rulers in a land that has known little but authoritarian rulers. Some of them nastier than others. Saddam is in a category by himself.

GIBSON: You talk about this stuff in your book — the book is titled?

BLANKLEY: "The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilization?" And what I focus on there is, I believe that we are complacent in the West. That we haven't come to grips with how great the threat is. And therefore we are not doing enough to protect ourselves. Iraq is one piece of the story, it is only one piece. The larger threat is the increasing grassroots of buy into radical Islam in Europe and beginning now in America.

GIBSON: How can more be done when a president, who did even this small amount, is under such attack for it?

BLANKLEY: I understand. The president couldn't even get the Patriot Act (search) reauthorized without Republicans in the Congress watering it down. My book is one small little bit of an effort to try to convince the public that they need to give this president and the next president, whoever it is, the kind of powers they need to protect us. Right now, we are — like democracies often do at the beginning of dangerous times — we are basically asleep.

GIBSON: Tony Blankley, author and editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Tony, thanks. Good to see you.

BLANKLEY: Thanks very much.

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