Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who is Saddam Hussein?

I recall this story from an episode of PBS Frontline several years ago. Joseph Stalin was a hero of Saddam Hussein during Hussein’s youth. He kept a poster of Stalin on his wall. Saddam was also an opponent of communism. When someone finally informed him that Stalin was a communist, he was very surprised.

Saddam was on tolerable relations with the US before he invaded Kuwait. We have all seen the famous picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with him in the eighties. Saddam badly needed cash after his long and expensive wars with Iran. Kuwaiti oil seemed a sure way to get it. He misread US reactions when he did it.

After Saddam’s defeat in the first gulf war, Islamic elements in his country tried to overthrow his regime. Generous truce terms allowed him to maintain control of the country. He kept helicopter gun ships that helped suppress rebellions in the country. Islamic leaders led these rebellions.

Saddam at the time of his downfall was not on good relations with his neighbors or Islamist extremists such as bin Laden. Saddam, if anything at all, was the prototypical case of the strongman dictator. No one believed any ideological pronouncements coming from him. Saddam’s ideology was what was in the interests of Saddam.

Linking the Saddam regime to Islamist organizations seems a big stretch given his biography. Under his control, Iraq was a rogue state, but it was certainly one of the old-fashioned kinds, one with a strong man dictator with no ideological axe to grind. One wonders why the US could not have dealt with him as it often does with other strongman dictators, which usually end on agreeable terms to both parties. It worked with Gaddafi.

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