Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Monday, December 15, 2003
The scraggly man pulled from a hole yesterday was Saddam Hussein. His end was roughly as auspicious as his rule, his docile surrender symbolic of his threat to the United States. In the wake of 9/11, his towering reputation was enough to scare Americans into supporting a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Even before the situation in Afghanistan was resolved, and long before we had begun to put into place a reasonable offensive against international terrorism, the administration started calling him America's greatest threat.
Every shred of evidence since the invasion has shown Saddam to be the pathetic figure who crawled from his hole two days ago. Before the invasion, the international community argued that he was that pathetic figure. A despot, yes, but a threat--far, far from it. The United States didn't listen. Instead, they aggrandized Saddam's reputation far better than he could. They called him a nuclear threat. How else could he have gotten that reputation? Americans announced that they were terrified of Saddam. How else could he have accomplished that?
Saddam's threat existed because we believed in it. In the news conference the President is holding now, he continues to maintain that after 9/11, Saddam represented a "gathering threat." Even the language has the purple tint of mythology.
Saddam always wanted to be thought of as the man who reunited Arabia, the leader who sparked the rise against the west. But beyond these delusions, he was a petty thug. Every accomplishment he can point to, the US was involved. He fought a long and pointless war against Iran using US arms and training. He stayed in power because of powerful friends in Washington. He invaded Kuwait and attracted international attention (but could only muster 100 hours of war). And then, after 12 years of being the big man of Arabia even while his country whithered under sanctions, he pulled off the remarkable trick of bringing his mythology to life. He had become a nuclear power, America's greatest threat. What a remarkable barometer of success.
Saddam was a weak thug, but we created a mighty antihero. The guy who crawled out of the hole was the real Saddam. Now we're left with the mess our collective delusions have wrought.