We Got Saddam. Big Deal.

When Iraqi administrator Paul Bremer got up and announced to the world “We got him!” was he talking about Saddam Hussein or another four years with George W. Bush?

Hussein’s capture is a political windfall for the president during a time of increasing public opposition to the war. Disastrous fallout over barring non-coalition countries from reconstruction efforts. Thousands of wounded soldiers. Body bags that will not be televised. Silly Thanksgiving photo ops gone awry.

What better way to turn eight months of brutal subjugation around than by pulling the mother of all public relations coups?

In less than 24 hours, images of a disheveled and out-of-it Saddam Hussein have been broadcast on every local news outlet, across the cable channels and around the world. It even bumped Michael Jackson allegations out of the A block for a night, giving pundits the ability to blather ceaselessly over trivial Iraq minutiae instead of pondering celebrity justice over and over and over and over again. It’s the perfect way to distract the public from larger issues while still giving them the impression they’re engaged in world issues.

Even better, it’s one thing to cross off the checklist of things to do in Iraq, since the whole premise of being there — namely, finding “weapons of mass destruction” — has proven to be a complete bust. The Bush administration no longer even acknowledges that as a pretext for invasion, as the story has morphed over the past few months from weapons programs to weapons documents to intent to create weapons.

Forget that our troops are malnourished, poorly outfitted (families are buying flak jackets for their sons and daughters since the Army won’t), and deprived of the rotations they desperately need to maintain a family life as well as their sanity. All of these things are unimportant, after all. We captured Saddam.

A tattered, beaten man hiding in an 80-square-foot hole.

I hope I’m not the only one to see this as another cynical ploy to buoy Bush’s sagging public image with another burst of nationalistic fury. The election’s in November, and Democrats are starting to galvanize resistance to the corporate-friendly atmosphere at the White House. Protestors are slamming the image of an American Empire enough times the idea is taking hold.

Meanwhile, Bush is still invoking September 11 as his motive to “secure” America, when it’s been documented a thousand different ways Iraq had nothing to do with it.

Make no mistake — this country is still spiraling downward. Capturing a renegade despot won’t bring back jobs that have fled the country for cheaper pastures. And corporations still continue to undermine the environment and the democratic process thanks to campaign contributions that buy deregulation.

If Hussein’s arrest is such a cause celebré, can we now roll back all the freedom-infringing legislation that’s been passed over the past two years? The PATRIOT Act, the COINTELPRO-style powers granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the detention of hundreds of suspected terrorists without due process — all that can go away now, right?

Bush himself said yesterday at his (perfectly timed) final press conference of the year that his outline of goals regarding the liberation of Iraq was “to make this country more secure and the world more free.”

Well, Iraq’s secure and free now. The United States is certainly more secure without Saddam Hussein sitting around in a tiny bunker¬¶ uh, running around. There’s no need for the continued terror alerts, ridiculous security measures and a general sense of dread rumbling through the populace.

“You can understand why people feared him,” Bush said in the same speech. “After all, he stayed in power by fear — by ruling through fear.”

It’s fortunate that the people in the United States are never afraid of its government. I know I shouldn’t every time I see footage of people peacefully engaging in civil disobedience being shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed by police in stormtrooper outfits. When the government seizes my records, reads my e-mail, performs wiretaps, or looks at every book I check out of a public library for terror links, I don’t fear a thing!

And now, with Saddam Hussein in the gulag awaiting his inevitable trial and execution, I live a blissfully fear-free existence. The world is good. I don’t ever have to worry about the thousands of shortcomings our country faces financially because we’re paying to rebuild a country we devastated.

Because we captured Saddam. We took him, photographed him, searched him for cyanide tablets, and shaved his thick beard so he’d resemble the photos we’ve come to identify with pure evil. We mocked his stench, we praised the crack team for not only finding him, but also for supplying the movie-ready phrase, “President Bush sends his greetings.”

It feels good to bask in Americana. And now that we’ve rid Iraq of evil, we’ll naturally let the citizens of that free and promising republic govern themselves, right? We’ll be pulling out our troops and, of course, the pirating of their natural resources will end. After all, the Iraqis will gladly join together under an umbrella of democracy. Religious fundamentalism won’t result in brutal civil war at all.

Oh, wait. We’re going to “stay the course?” When are the troops coming home then? Their mission is accomplished.

They captured Saddam. Killing thousands, poisoning tens of thousands and destroying billions in property — it was all worth it. It will raise Dubya’s chances of getting re-elected.