SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? I'm not talking about the future of Iraqi democracy, the state of Iraq's economy, or who will be its next leader. But rather, what happens to the old leader and the 54 other thugs now listed on a deck of cards to assist coalition troops in the manhunt? Where do they go, what do they do? How far will they get? Let's face it, there's no coming back to power for Saddam and his sons (if they are still alive) and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz certainly won't be going back to his ransacked villa.
Such questions were also on the minds of another nefarious group some 60 years ago: It was 1945 in Berlin and the Red Army was rapidly advancing towards the heart of the city. The crumbling leadership of the Reich had to decide what to do, knowing full well that time was running out. Now Saddam and his henchmen find themselves in the same bind. Based on the Berlin model, they've got just a few options:
(1) Flee the country. This is the most likely course of action, as it has been already reported that Saddam and others may already be hiding out in neighboring Syria (or seeking asylum at the Russian embassy). Escape was the clear choice for many in the Third Reich. The problem then was there was no neighboring country like Syria that would take them. Instead, everyone wanted to head down to South America. (Who doesn't?) For years it was speculated that Hitler and his confidant, party chief Martin Bormann, made their way to Brazil. That obviously didn't happen. Hitler died in the bunker and Bormann (along with Hitler's physician) only made it a few blocks to Invalidenstrasse before deciding to swallow poison. On the other hand, the notorious Adolf Eichmann, head of the "Jewish Evacuation Department," managed to land in Argentina, though not for long. In 1960, Israeli agents kidnapped him right off the street in Buenos Aires and made him stand trial in Jerusalem. He was found guilty, hanged, and cremated.
(2) Disguise yourself and try to blend in. Everyone knows Saddam Hussein has several doubles (not that these guys would still want to look like him). And a large number of Iraqi men sport his type of bushy mustache. He could maybe lose weight and dye his hair (what color, one wonders-perhaps auburn?). But if he tried to disguise himself and remained in Iraq, eventually someone would rat him out. Or he would one day let his guard down. This was the option pursued by SS head Heinrich Himmler after realizing his "peace efforts" weren't going to be taken seriously by the Allies. (Himmler was so delusional he pondered whether he should shake Eisenhower's hand or bow.) In the end, he shaved his beloved Hitler-wannabe mustache (would've been a dead giveaway) and dressed down in a Wehrmacht sergeant's uniform. But it didn't take the British long to figure out who he really was and in desperation, Himmler killed himself with an ever-popular potassium cyanide capsule.
(3) Play let's make a deal. Aziz and the others may very well think there is enough wiggle room for them to turn themselves in and hope for light sentences. This is likely not an option for Saddam and most of his key advisers, though they may think differently. Certainly each of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials thought he had a shot at an acquittal because he was simply following orders. When they got desperate, they started to play the blame game, heaping even more damning testimony on each other. While a few, such as Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen, were acquitted, most of the others never stood a chance and were hanged.
(4) Make the ultimate sacrifice. In the spirit of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," the remaining Baathists could go down in a hail of bullets. If so, it would most likely take place in the city of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. It wouldn't be pretty. Or, they could die by their own hands, the way the Führer, his bride, and Joseph Goebbels and his wife did in the bunker. (Goebbels also had his six children killed by drugging them and having a doctor crush vials of prussic acid in each of their mouths.)
It may be years, if ever, before we learn what is going to happen in these final days of Saddam's regime. With any luck, somewhere in that Ministry of Information are the complete transcripts of the last Cabinet meetings. Such was the case with the recently translated stenographic records from Hitler's military conferences, carefully compiled by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz. Their book, "Hitler and his Generals," is over 1,000 pages long, and the transcripts make for compelling reading. Throughout these minutes there is an element of fear and subservience, probably not all that different from meetings with Saddam. Hitler would be calling for divisions that no longer existed and his staff just played along. You could imagine the looks on the faces of Saddam's advisers when the dictator asked about his beloved Nebuchadnezzar division or when he said, "Quick, to the airport!"
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.