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Saddam’s Humiliation is National, Not Personal

19 December 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Americans are asking themselves whether they unnecessarily humiliated Saddam Hussein by broadcasting the details of his capture and ensuing throat examination in front of the cameras.  And if Saddam was humiliated, did this enhance or damage their relationship with the Arab world?

In order to find the answer one must first identify “Saddam Hussein”.  The definition is two fold.  Saddam the man was a bloodthirsty, murderous tyrant who butchered his opposition and anyone he thought would get in his way.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed and maimed in an eight year (1980-88) war with Iran, while millions of Kurds and Shi’ites were massacred, expelled and/or maimed because of their opposition to his Ba’ath regime.  Within Iraq Saddam the Stalinist style dictator was truly despised by a terrorized population.  His only real support came from his Sunni minority but even among his own kin he was feared.  Such hatred was directed at Saddam the man.

Throughout the Arab/Moslem world, including within Iraq he was the symbol of defiance of the West, especially the US.  The 1991 Gulf War left him with the aura of victory against the Allies, despite his battlefield failures.  The Arab/Moslem world saw his invasion of the oil rich American backed Kuwaiti “lackey” as fully justified in the continuing efforts to implement pan-Arabism, not only in word, but in deed.  The fantastically wealthy Beduin sheikhdom would cease to exist and its wealth spread throughout the Arab world.  One can only recall the pro-Saddam demonstrations which shook the Arab world 13 years ago.

Saddam was truly an Arab/Moslem hero battling Western crusading forces.  The “weapons of mass destruction” reason given by the Bush administration to topple him only infuriates the Arab/Moslem world.  With the US, Britain, France and Russia as members of the nuclear club Saddam’s attempts to gain non-conventional weapons is seen as legitimate.  Add to that the Israeli arsenal (known yet denied) and it appears to the average Arab fairly impossible to deny the Iraqis the right to develop their own atomic program.  The American argument of Saddam’s irresponsibility does not hold water since President Bush is seen as the great irresponsible war-mongering cowboy.  In short, Arabs see no reason to deny them their nuclear potential.

Being short sighted the Americans erred in publicly humiliating Saddam.  In the long run his crimes against humanity (Iranians, Kurds, Shi’ites) will be forgotten and he will be revered as a great Arab/Moslem leader who suffered degradation at the hands of the West.  Saddam the symbol of a resurgent Arab/Moslem world will greatly overshadow the personal Saddam, the tyrant.

A generation from now, the Arab/Moslem world will view the American treatment of Saddam as a national affront if they have not already.  Certainly Saddam needed to be captured but the outright conceit and gloating in victory will make the episode a point of unresolved contention between the US and the Arab world.  Paraded around as a disheveled bum he represented lost Arab pride and dignity.  His humiliation is national, not personal.

One can expect the Arab/Moslem world to seek vengeance for the historic insult.