We nabbed him—now what?

The irony that Saddam Hussein, who had built so many opulently furnished underground bunkers to hide in, ended up being caught in a rodent-infested, dirt-walled “spider-hole” boggles the mind. How far the mighty can fall.

No matter how we might feel about the war in Iraq, it’s impossible not to rejoice in Saddam’s capture and the fact that he will be brought to justice for his crimes against the Iraqi people. The man was a brutal megalomaniac responsible for the deaths of more than a million people, particularly in the bloody eight-year war with neighboring Iran in the 1980s that he provoked.

For the Bush administration, however, Saddam’s capture may hold hidden risks. It would be fascinating to hear what the Butcher of Baghdad has to say about his dealings with past U.S. presidents, including George W.'s father, who extended $1.2 billion in credits to Saddam after he killed more than 5,000 Kurds with poison gas, and current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in 1983 worked out terms of cooperation with Saddam that encouraged him to attack Iran.

And we will now be able to learn, once and for all, what happened to all those weapons of mass destruction that we went into Iraq to find and destroy. Nowadays the invasion is being portrayed as a rescue mission to liberate the Iraqi people, but that certainly wasn’t the original rationale.

In the larger context, Saddam’s capture does little in the short term to lesson the danger from terrorism, which after all has its primary source in Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who remains at large. Nor has Saddam’s capture stopped the Iraqi resistance, which in fact increased in violence this week.

Long term, the prospects, or at least the possibilities, offer some hope. If Iraq against all odds does become a peaceful, relatively democratic state capable of realizing its vast economic potential, it could become a stabilizing influence in the Middle East. But it will take many years and hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars to make Iraq stable, and much can go wrong in the meantime.

Which raises one last question: How much longer can this country afford to go it alone?