Saddam Hussein is gone. He got his, the just deserts for 30 years of brutality and tyranny, violence and oppression unleashed against his own people and anyone else within reach. By this point, everyone knows the big irony: The tyrant brought low by us, the nation that once upon a time saw fit to encourage his designs–as long as those designs injured a common enemy and didn’t rebound against us.

Ancient history. And now, the morbid fascination of Saddam’s departure. The New York Times says that part of the pre-hanging procedure involved preparing a “red card” to inform the condemned man he was about to be executed. The red card is part of the vengeance exacted on Saddam, as his regime reportedly invented the practice of presenting the notices to the thousands it condemned to death.

So Saddam hangs. Surely, there’s some kind of justice in that–even if only the score-settling kind that Iraqi Shiites and others Saddam suppressed will savor. But after Saddam? It’s difficult to believe his execution matters much in a large sense; that it will end extinguish a dire threat to the world or bring peace or freedom to Iraq or do much to assuage the victims of his crimes.

And his crimes: Beyond ruling by fear and murder, he launched wars that visited untold suffering on people inside and outside Iraq. He aspired to the part of regional power broker, and player on the world stage, and in a sense got his wish. He became our president’s Public Enemy No. 1, and Bush is said to have the pistol Saddam was carrying when he was captured, mounted and on display in his private White House office. And look at the headlines now: Not just any two-bit gangster gets this kind of attention when he takes a fall.

The one thing you can say for Saddam at the end, though: He was held to account for his crimes and paid the price. Not to equate the actions of Bush & Co. to Saddam’s; I can express my opinion and go to sleep without fearing much what the next day may bring. But I wonder whether Bush and the people around him–those who led us into a war that has little to show for it beyond hanging Saddam Hussein–will ever be held to account for their deceit, for their violation of trust, for the lives and treasure they’ve thrown away,

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Counting the many blessings of citizenship this election season, one of the things I’m most grateful for is the fact our barely elected president is such a patient guy. I know because. now that the heat is really on in Iraq, he keeps saying how patient he is. When he talked to George Stephanopoulos a couple weeks ago, he said when asked about the situation in Iraq, “I’m patient.” And in his press conference yesterday, he said “we’ve got patience” in working with the Iraqi government,

The more interesting thing the president says when he talks about patience is the footnote he adds. He told Stephanopoulos that “I”m not patient forever, and I’m not patient with dawdling.” And yesterday, he added that our patience–nice of him to speak for me–is “not unlimited.”

What does that mean, exactly? We’ve spent several hundred billion dollars and thousands of lives for the Iraqis to elect a government. The Iraqis themselves are enduring a bloodbath and various sorts of appalling privations. When our patient president says his patience might run out and that he won’t stand for dawdling–who could blame him, three and a half years after he declared victory–what’s he thinking? If the tide refuses to halt, what then?

A reporter tried to ask him about that yesterday: “What happens if that patience runs out?”” he inquired. Tricky formulation in that it’s not clear whose patience “that patience”” is.

The president’s answer:

See, that’s that hypothetical Keil is trying to get me to answer. Why do we work to see to it that it doesn’t work out — run out? That’s the whole objective. That’s what positive people do. They say, we’re going to put something in place and we’ll work to achieve it.

I’m not sure I understand all that, especially the positive thinking part of it, but: Apparently, saying his patience won’t last forever is just a verbal tic. It doesn’t suggest anything. If it did, that would open up “hypothetical” ground the president refuses to tread (“Mr. President, what happens if they don’t throw bouquets at us when we get to Baghdad?”). We’ll just have to trust the president’s instincts and insights to get us through if his patience wears out. Works for me.

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Happy anniversary, Shock and Awe. What I remember about the first day of the Iraq War — it was early the morning of the 20th in Baghdad, really — is the attempt to kill Saddam Hussein with a massive opening strike. In a way, it’s an episode that’s emblematic of the whole course of the war: The CIA reported it had good inside information about Saddam’s whereabouts, and President Bush decided to try to “decapitate” Iraq’s government and perhaps abbreviate the war. Initially, rumors flew that the strike had narrowly missed Hussein — reports circulated that a grievously injured Saddam had been pulled from the rubble of a bunker. But that, like so much that was perhaps wishfully reported about the war, turned out to be untrue. Three weeks later, a U.S. air strike flattened a Baghdad apartment block that housed a restaurant where Saddam was supposed to be. After an intensive effort to identify the remains of the score or so of people killed in the attack, the conclusion was that if Saddam had been there, he was gone by the time the bombs struck.

Maybe we’re past all the illusions we had about Iraq at the beginning, all the shaky information about the threat Saddam and his henchmen posed, the premature projections of victory, the shortsighted decisions about how to handle the occupation. Maybe we have given an elected government a precious opportunity to take root, and maybe Iraq will flourish even after U.S. troops are no longer there to maintain a semblance of order. All I can be sure of is that, after spending two years, tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, Iraq and the United States are different from what they were when we launched that first strike, and it’s far too early to tell what all the consequences will be.