Five years ago tonight, the United States military acted on a tip and peered into a narrow hole in the ground to find a cowering dictator hiding from the disaster he had wrought on his own country.   The capture of Saddam Hussein set off celebrations across the US and Iraq and brought us the apex of national unity on the military adventure that ended the reign of one of the bloodiest tyrants of our generation.  In the end, Saddam couldn’t even bring himself to fight with the pistol he held in his hand:

Eight months after Baghdad fell, U.S. soldiers found the disheveled former leader of Iraq six feet under, hiding in a hole in the ground. Saddam was captured Saturday night about nine miles from his hometown of Tikrit and on the other side of the Tigris River from one of his lavish palaces.

Saddam had a pistol but was taken into custody without firing it.

“Here was a man who was photographed hundreds of times shooting off rifles and showing how tough he was, and in fact, he wasn’t very tough, he was cowering in a hole in the ground, and had a pistol and didn’t use it and certainly did not put up any fight at all,” Rumsfeld said.

“In the last analysis, he seemed not terribly brave,” he said. …

U.S. forces found weapons and about $750,000 in U.S. $100 bills with the former dictator, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who leads coalition troops in Iraq. Troops also found two AK-47s, a pistol and a white and orange taxi.

At the time, I had just started blogging, and I awoke to the news of Saddam’s capture the next morning, as did most everyone else.  I wrote this as a first reaction:

The Iraqis immediately broke out into spontaneous celebrations, firing guns into the air and chanting, “Death to Saddam!” Even the Iraqi reporters started screaming and celebrating at the press conference when video of him in custody was played.

This should put a stop or at least severely dampen the “insurgency” in Iraq. Without Saddam as either the symbolic or operational head to their efforts, and with the vast majority of Iraqis opposing the actions of the Fedayeen, it should be rather easy to roll up the rest of their operation.

But that’s later. For now, let’s celebrate a wonderful victory.

Unfortunately, that prediction proved wrong.  The US failed to follow up its spectacular military victory in 2003 with an occupation that built stability and put men to work.  Instead, we limped through the next two years until the insurgency exploded in 2006.  Not until late in that year did we finally resolve to undertake a serious counterinsurgency strategy and finally bring the terrorists under control in Iraq, a failure that cost thousands of lives and wasted time and goodwill from Iraqis.

Still, we have produced a stable and representative government in Iraq after years of fits and starts.  We ended the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein and his sons, who got killed by acting with a little more bravery than their father.  Iraqis now control their country, and while we remain in the country, we now do so with their approval and under conditions they negotiated.  Instead of having to decide whether to support a brutal tyrant against a messianic mullahcracy in Tehran, we now have a natural counterweight to all kinds of tyranny in the region, and eventually a natural ally, if not now already.

What are your thoughts on this fifth anniversary of Saddam’s capture?  What were your thoughts then? And thanks to Stop the ACLU for inspiring this post.

Addendum: In checking back on my post five years ago, I note with some amusement that one of my links went to Allahpundit, who’s now my partner on this blog.  Also, one of the best reactions I saw that week came from South Park, which folded it into a hilarious story line within four days of Saddam’s capture. Here’s the payoff from Season 7’s “It’s Christmas in Canada”: