THE MADNESS OF SADDAM
With the bruising experience of the Gulf War behind him, where he was forced out of Kuwait by US-led coalition forces at a staggering loss of 30,000 men and billions in treasure, how do we explain Saddam Hussein’s intransigence and brinkmanship in the face of an impending US/UK invasion where he was about to lose everything? With 250,000 troops amassed on his southern border and no chance of military success what could have been going through Saddam's crazy Arab head that he took things to the brink then recklessly plunged himself, his sons and his Stalinist regime into the abyss of defeat and death? Before Operation Iraqi Freedom ended Saddam's 23 year reign three things I believe were at work in his head: 1) the delusional belief in his historical destiny as the savior and unifier of the Arab World, 2) the divided ethnic, tribal and religious composition of Iraq (which he forcibly kept together) and 3) the threat of Islamic-Shiite Iran which aspires to regional hegemony.
In the early days after 9/11 when the United States was fighting in Afghanistan and threatening to invade Iraq the Baathist dictator bet his power, fortune, family and life that George W. Bush was bluffing; that in reality he was no different from his father and predecessor (Bill Clinton); that though he was threatening regime change by invasion like them he’d try to overthrow him from within (through insurrection or assassination). Saddam, in effect, was cocksure that Bush had the good sense not to invade Iraq because of the possible catastrophic consequences: the unleashing of sectarian, tribal and ethnic strife destabilizing the region and empowering Iran.
Indeed, with Dick Cheney as Bush’s VP an invasion was inconceivable to Saddam...however tough the Vice President was talking of war and regime change at the time. For this was the same Dick Cheney who repeatedly defended Bush 41’s decision against invasion during the Gulf War, who studied and understood the sectarian and other differences dividing Iraq, and who told David Brinkley that “an invasion could trigger a civil war that would bog down our troops in a quagmire [like Vietnam].” Indeed, this was the same Dick Cheney who said on C-Span in 1994 that “the 146 troops killed in the Gulf War was an enormous loss,” and that the overthrow of Saddam “wouldn’t even be worth that many causalities” because of the “turmoil it could bring to the region with Iraq breaking apart.” In short, Cheney was a realist when it came to Iraq and fully understood the possible devastating consequences of an invasion and that Saddam remaining in power was the best of many bad options. In other words, with Cheney at Bush’s side and warnings from his dad on the hazards of such an undertaking George Bush would do nothing more serious than stage a second Desert Fox: attack Iraq with punishing missile strikes at military targets, suspected WMD sites and palaces which Saddam would easily survive.
KING OF ALL ARABIA
In other words, Iraq’s inherent cultural conflicts and the regional threat of Iran protected Saddam from such a thing, he believed. It was a double guarantee against invasion. Surety that he would continue to rule and live to realize his destiny and grandiose dream of becoming "King of all Arabia" with a dynasty of terror (the House of Hussein) lasting generations. What American president would be so foolish as to destroy the region’s only buffer to Iranian power and ambitions? Among the three Axis of Evil States (as the Israelis said at the time) revolutionary Iran was by far the greater threat to U.S. interests in the region, by far a greater threat to the Persian Gulf and moderate Arab oil states. With Iraq’s large Shia population potential allies of Iran no American president would dare cross the line, invade Iraq and liberating its Shiites tip the scales of power in the region enabling and empowering Iran. No American president would so recklessly destabilize the status quo and reverse 1000 years of Mideast politics. No one, that is, except George W. Bush.
Saddam didn’t change after 9/11 but perceptions of him did; magnified a thousand times by 3000 deaths and billions in damage Saddam began to look more menacing than ever taking on the dimensions of the man he worshipped, emulated and copied, the idol of his intoxicating dreams: the mass murdering Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Suddenly Saddam became larger than life and more frightening than ever not only in Bush's mind but in the public imagination. After 9/11 Saddam became a collective obsession of a coming terrorist nightmare worse than 9/11. Afterall, wasn’t this the man who recklessly invaded two neighboring states, used chemical weapons on Iranians and Kurds, and gave safe haven to Ramsi Yoeseff the Iraqi terrorist who masterminded the first bombing of the World Trade Center? Wasn’t this the man branded by Bill Clinton as a major funding source of international terror? and was accused by Janet Reno of assisting bin Laden and al Qaida in chemical weapon’s development? Wasn’t this the man who submitted an inventory list to the UN claiming to have stockpiles of WMDs, enough to kill multitudes? And didn't he keep his hundreds of nuclear scientists and technicians on the government payroll (while in possession of 550 metric tons of yellow cake uranium (see) raising reasonable fears that they were secretly at work building the bomb? Why would he keep these people and pay them millions if going nuclear wasn't his goal?
THE MOST FEARED MAN ON EARTH
In short, Saddamophobia existed well before 9/11 and was understandably amplified thereafter not so much by the Administration and its many real and fanciful fears as by Saddam’s continued headstrong defiance of the US and international law-in contrast to Iran which became more accommodating and compliant fearing US wrath because of its links to several 9/11 terrorists (see). The President, Cheney, Rice, Powell, the entire Administration and nation with few dissenting voices, became alarmed and wanted action demanding Saddam’s menacing head before he could develop the capability of striking us with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Before the storm clouds gathered and reigned down death he must be stopped; 9/11 must be the last mass murder attack on US soil-Bush, Cheney and the rest were hell-bent on making sure that they'd be no other.
SADDAM MORE DANGEROUS THAN BIN LADEN
Indeed, what was the fugitive, stateless, relatively impotent Osama bin Ladin compared to the Butcher of Baghdad, the dictator of an oil rich nation of 25 million the size of Texas, with billions at his disposal, tons of WMDs, uranium and the expertise to develop the bomb? What, in truth, was al Qaida compared to the most powerful army in the Arab World? Who seemed the greater threat after we invaded Afghanistan and wrecked havoc on al Qaida and the Taliban? Though a secularist who put his racial identity above his faith, and his destiny above both, Saddam was bin Ladin tenfold…a bin Ladin with billions and a global reach far exceeding the powers of the hunted impotent terror master. Bin Ladin was one man hidden away in a vast region running from cave to cave difficult to find-the head of an organization that was being defunded, broken and smashed. But Saddam, on the other hand, was moving from palace to palace openly defying everyone and pissing off a fearful George Bush over his continued, headstrong non-compliance on WMDs, retention of nuclear scientists and funding of terror. Where was the comparison with the cave dwelling, on the run bin Laden? In the public mind there was none. Though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 he was a different face of the same menacing Middle East enemy at war with America and the West; all of our insecurities, animosities and fears crystallized by 9/11 settled on Saddam turning him into the Avatar of Arab Evil planning to strike.
To be continued.