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The guy in the picture looked like a panhandler, scruffy, pathetic, and careworn. Before I could work up much sympathy, however, I realized he was the Evil One, the Butcher of Baghdad himself. The guy the U.S. Army has been alternately trying to kill and capture for the last six months.

I turned on the TV news. The chattering heads were in a delirious swoon, cavorting like Munchkins around the Ruby Slippered feet of the Wicked Witch of the East. I remembered why I never watch TV news. Take me to Oz, Dan. Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.

My guess is Saddam already wishes he’d gone out like his sons did, guns blazing. His trial and execution will rid the world of someone the world will be well rid of. But not before the Bush administration has rubbed off every last speck of propaganda juju and Hussein has reveled in the Mother of All Trials.

I cringe thinking of the flood of noble platitudes and gruesome photographs that will wash over us before Saddam is in the ground. I marvel at the fortuitous timing of his capture. It could hardly have benefited the administration more. The glorious triumph eclipsed two US air strikes that killed a dozen Afghani children. It swept away reports of rising American casualties in Iraq. It helped us forget UN peacekeepers will abandon Afghanistan soon if those nasty goat-eaters don’t stop shooting peacekeepers. I wonder what the Russians would advise.

Mr. Bush has even managed to shove Howard Dean off the stage for a while, though probably not for long. The talking heads are too busy offering earnest insights and snappy sound bites about evil and tyranny to keep going on about Dean. The surprise endorsement Dean got from the once-famous bark smoocher and inventor of the internet, the amazing talking robot AlGore, has been upstaged by the bust in the desert.

To those of us paying for the most expensive arrest in history, however, capturing Saddam Hussein provides more symbolism than practical help in ending the war. His capture works better as a storybook ending to the fairy tale that justified our invasion than a blow to the growing resistance.

A man hiding in a hole in his backyard couldn’t have been much help to an organized insurgency. Our government still faces the daunting task of creating a benevolent democracy where none has ever existed and doing it by force of arms. No one can fault the U.S. government for lack of ambition.

As a loyal, patriotic American you might wonder, “What is my role in this great undertaking?” Well, you get to pay for it. Not by yourself, of course. Your kids and their kids will all chip in. We will pay for freeing Iraq in treasure, blood and our own liberty for generations to come.

Our government believes that liberty and prosperity can be transferred like plasma from a donor to a patient. Perhaps it can. We can send money, even if it’s borrowed. We can send our friends and family to bleed and die for Iraq. I’m not so sure we can export freedom like we do bales of cash or crates of MRE’s.

War can’t be waged without limiting freedom in the country waging it. What remains unclear is how reducing our freedom will increase anyone else’s.

Can we drain enough liberty, blood and wealth from America to revive Iraq before America itself expires? I don’t know. Iraq is small and poor. America is large and rich. Maybe we can help them. I hope we can. But unless Hussein has a few nukes squirreled away somewhere, his capture will probably be the last good news to come out of Iraq at least until we hear the Marines are coming home.

Symbolically Saddam’s capture may well be one of those crucial extraneous events that so often mark turning points in history. Economically and politically, we’ve taken our best shot. The war was good for business, confirming the common wisdom. The stock market is up 30%. Interest rates have been cut to the bone. Taxes are lower too. Spending could hardly increase, although Congress never runs out of ideas on how to buy our votes with our money. Our little bottle of economic stimulants is empty. The only thing we are exporting as fast as dollars is jobs.

Uncle Sam is borrowing a million dollars a minute and spending it the only way such a vast, recklessly borrowed sum can be spent ― like there is no tomorrow. American consumers are equally deep in the thrall of the painted lady, Personal Debt. Hardly any encounter with her fails to become a torrid affair. We throw ourselves into her arms with the eager hunger of young lovers, unconcerned we may end in a suffocating bear hug… untroubled that she might stab us in the back for our dalliance in Baghdad.

The old investor’s saying goes, “Buy on bad news, sell on good.” Whether the arrest of Saddam Hussein is the good news on which we should sell or the start of a new era of liberty and prosperity I cannot say, but it’s hard to see where better news will come from. Pulling that sorry, murdering dirt bag out of a hole in the sand may be the high point of the war and the high water mark for the warriors.