Friday, July 02, 2004
Saddam Hussein - Man, Myth, Both?
During the lead-up to the Iraq war, the war itself, Hussein's capture, and his recent public appearance, various public pictures have been painted of Hussein, often by the same people. He is an iron-fisted tyrant, actively building a WMD arsenal under the noses of the western world, and between whose purges and his cabal of close henchmen had tight control over the entire nation, obviating any chance of revolt by generals too cowed by his network of spies and secret police to ever dream of defying him. He is an out-of-touch dreamer, whose generals actively lied to him about the state of his nation and his paltry weapons arsenal, as he indulged in Viagra and penned romance novels, and has been unable to produce any useful intelligence information despite months of U.S. interrogation. He is a coward, begging for his life (in English) as he was captured by U.S. forces. He is a strong-willed man, in control of his faculties, denouncing his imprisonment as being the result of an illegal war.
I have long been of the impression that some of the pre-war information about "Saddam who cannot be toppled except by outside military intervention" was puffery meant to overstate the necessity of invasion. It is now well-known that the U.S. was in active negotiation with numerous Iraqi military leaders about the possibility of orchestrating a coup, or a prompt surrender in the event of invasion, and it appears that one such officer was Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh of the Republican Guard - the guy who we recently put in charge of Fallujah. At the same time, it would not be at all surprising if a leader such as Hussein took on some megalomaniacal features over time, and there is plenty of evidence of that in his statutes, paintings, Viagra stash, and romance fiction. The coward who tried to surrender while pleading in English? That reeks of manipulation - an (understandable) effort to diminish Hussein's standing in the eyes of the Arab world.
I heard that a recent opinion poll of Iraqis is split, to put it mildly, with about 40% of Iraqis wanting Hussein executed, and another 40% wanting him freed. If true, the trial (and presumably the subsequent execution) of Hussein could prove quite divisive inside Iraq, and could cement his status as a martyr against the west in parts of the Arab world. Whose myth will win?
I have heard it commented that the fact that Hussein will even stand for trial, as opposed to being summarily executed by the new regime, indicates how far Iraq has progressed. But there is a reason why the new regime is often quick to execute the leaders of the old - and it has nothing to do with its "crimes". A quick execution without trial prevents the old regime from using a public trial as a bully pulpit, and from denouncing those members of the "new" regime who are at least as culpable as those on trial from the "old" regime - but just happened to be on the right side of the successful coup.
One thing seems rather clear - the man who used to be Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh's boss, and who was photographed in an infamous handshake with Donald Rumsfeld, possesses a lot of information which could be embarrassing to a lot of Iraqis and western political leaders. Will this trial drag on, Milosevic-style, while all the world watches? Or will the new Iraq's justice be more focused on outcome than on due process? We shall see.