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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam Hussein: The Making of a Monster

It's official. The Iraqi High Tribunal announced its verdict of guilty in the trial of Saddam Hussein for the killing of 148 Shi'ite Iraqis in 1982. (#1) Of course, the official case against Saddam and today's guilty verdict only act as a proxy for a much greater history of crimes against humanity committed by Saddam during his brutal rule over Iraq as itemized by GlobalSecurity.org (#2):

  • murdering scores of political rivals between 1968 and 1978

  • use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war which killed at least 150,000 Iraqis and 430,000 Iranians

  • the deaths of 1,000 Kuwaitis in his 1990 invasion of that country

  • at least 30,000 Kurds killed in 1991 as he attempted to regain control of Iraq after U.S. forces withdrew after the Gulf War

There is no lesson to be learned from Saddam's conviction by Saddam or his fellow tribesman and pan-Arabic megalomaniacs. Anyone familiar with his life of brutality who believes he remains the rightful leader of Iraq is a lost cause and needs to be watched carefully and eliminated if they interfere with peaceful Iraqis trying to pick up the pieces of their country.

There ARE lessons to be learned from Saddam's conviction by the rest of the world and, in particular, the United States and supporters of the Iraq War and the larger War On Terror (TM).

Iraqis Have the Courage to Secure Their Freedom

The trial of Saddam bore absolutely no resemblance to any other war crimes tribunal ever conducted in modern history. In other trials, defendants were either tried in locations far away from the locations of their crimes or in an environment where the security of the judges, jury members and prosecution and defense staff was not a material issue. In Iraq, two of Saddam's defense attorneys were murdered, presumably by Shi'ite factions, and two relatives of the trial judge were murdered by Al Quieda terrorists. (#3)

Even if you believe America was pulling strings behind the scenes, it was Iraqis who actively and (for many of them) publicly participated in the trial and accepted the very real threat of murder to pursue the case. There are similar examples of Iraqis fearlessly pursuing prosecution of corrupt officials in post-Saddam Iraq who face similar danger every day. The continued work of these officials and the arrival of new Iraqi citizens at police training camps when they know they are targets for murder is a sign of hope that there are enough Iraqis who can make a difference under the right circumstances.

Monsters Aren't Born, They're Made

As I watched the video of Hussein's reaction to his conviction, my main thought was: This is the monster? He's an incoherent, feeble old man. This isn't a doubt about the acts he committed (see above), but a comment on the real manner in which great social / political / military tragedies come about. Monsters aren't born, they are made. They are made by the people and circumstances around them.

Adolf Hitler didn't kill over six million people in twelve years of Nazi rule by himself. He identified core economic and social fears within his generation that were created by the shame and anger over Germany's loss in World War I. He then found language that promised those failures could be avoided and even avenged by a pure Germany free of racial impurities, thus scapegoating everyone else and especially Jews for problems Germany brought upon itself. If Hitler was the only German with dreams of mass genocide and ethnic purity, no one would have ever heard of Adolf Hitler and Adolf would still be a common German first name.

Josef Stalin didn't kill over ten million Russians between 1922 and 1953 by himself. He leveraged the political and social unrest in early Communist Russia to concentrate his own power while pitting enemies against each other to weaken their influence and control. The result? At least four million people killed via purges and repression and at least six million killed by famines induced by flawed strategies for collective farming and a refusal to recognize their consequences or allow Russians to relocate on their own to avoid the famines. (#4)

So Who Made the Saddam Monster?

First and foremost, the Iraqi people created the Saddam Hussein who became the tyrant who started three wars and brought so much suffering to Iraq. As with the other examples above, it is impossible for one person to initiate so much death and destruction without help from "enablers." This is a lesson the Iraqi people must absorb and internalize as an outcome of Saddam's trial and similar trials of other players within his regime.

Sadly, this is also a lesson that was lost on the United States in planning the invasion of Iraq. Our plan assumed a quick invasion that removed Saddam would solve our problem. We completely ignoring the fact that his power was sustained by an entire cabal of equally corrupt, murderous thugs who would not magically or willingly transform into fair and just civil servants in an open democracy. Recent interviews with notable neo-conservatives such as Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman indicate they now blame Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney for creating such an obviously flawed strategy for post-invasion Iraq that has led to the current mess. In other words, the idea was brilliant, the execution was incompetent. (#4)

Do not be fooled. There isn't a single neo-conservative who was involved in the dreaming and planning of the Iraq invasion who understood the need to transform the entire "infrastructure" of corruption and cronyism within Iraq. Our plan was "topple / kill Saddam, stabilize oil production, nail down some oil deals, and get the hell out." PERIOD. There are numerous civilian and military people who understood this at the time and fought for a more coherent plan but they were completely ignored by the neo-conservatives staffing the "Office of Special Plans" within the Pentagon that hatched this entire disaster.

The case of Saddam Hussein merits extra consideration by Americans because the United States played a significant "enabling" role in in Saddam's reign as well. Saddam attacked Iran in 1980 to exploit the chaos in post-revolution Iran. Saddam assumed with tragic results that Sunni Muslims within a militant Shi'ite Iran would prefer being under Saddam's tyrannical thumb to being under a repressive Shi'ite thumb. The Carter Administration repeated a mistake common to America's history in assuming the enemy (Iraq) of my enemy (Iran) is my friend and did nothing to limit the fuel applied to the war. Beginning in 1982, the Reagan administration began six years of active financial support of Saddam by arranging for the sale of weapons and equipment worth billions of dollars to ensure Iran did not defeat Iraq. (#6) Saddam was viewed as a strategic ally (albeit a worrisome, murderous, borderline-psychotic ally) by the United States until he surprised us by invading another ally, Kuwait.

Americans and our leaders need to think long and hard about the verdict on Saddam Hussein and what it means. There is already a direct corollary from the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" lesson of the Saddam fiasco. The United States is currently avoiding direct actions to stop the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan because we believe the Sudan government might eventually share additional information on Osama bin Laden. We are essentially sacrificing hundreds of thousands of innocent Sudanese in the hope of getting information on one terrorist who killed 2793 innocent Americans. If the government of Sudan was truly willing to "play ball" or had any information of value, do you think we would still be waiting for crucial information five years after the attack? Here's a quote from a Los Angeles times story that summarizes this insanity in one simple sentence:

The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. (#7)

What are people in Africa learning about America's morality from that "strategic" calculation? I suppose they're not important. They don't have any oil, right?

The most important lesson from the conviction of Saddam Hussein seems very obvious, however. It is far too easy to create a monster and frightfully difficult to replace one.


#1) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061105/ap_on_re_mi_ea/saddam_verdict

#2) http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/saddam.htm

#3) http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp?id=144230

#4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin

#5) http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2006/12/neocons200612

#6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._support_for_Iraq_during_the_Iran-Iraq_war

#7) http://www.globalpolicy.org/empire/terrorwar/analysis/2005/0429sudan.htm