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Staying Power

Commentary

Published By

San Jose Mercury News

April 20, 2003

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When the bronze statue of Saddam Hussein crashed to the ground more than a week ago, the image joined a long series of unforgettable mental pictures marking the end of tyrannical rule. In much of the former colonial world, the retiring of a European flag followed by the hoisting of a new flag of independence captured the moment. And more recently, the chiseling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the crane uprooting secret-police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky's statue in Moscow in 1991 served as near-perfect metaphors for the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Those images provide the type of clarity that exists -- for a moment at least -- when a dictatorship falls. But it is probably no accident that there are no such lasting images of what comes next. The switching of a flag cannot capture the inevitable messiness of transitions from tyranny to some new political order, and the truth is that few such transitions have led quickly to more freedom -- or the democracy that the United States wishes for Iraq.

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