Halabja's Shadow

The slowly building story concerning the actual status of Saddam Hussein's WMDs promises to upset a lot of apple carts in politics, the media, and international diplomacy. Testimony by former Iraqi officers  and WMD
investigators, along with a 'smoking gun' tape revealed this week in which Saddam himself discusses the weapons, have revived a story long considered closed in some influential circles. This comes as a relief to many of us not only for its bearing on the legitimacy of the Iraq War, but in validating a rational view of how the world actually works. 

The 'no WMD' argument was based on certain very flawed assumptions. One of the major examples — which went completely unmentioned by anyone involved —— was the assumption that Saddam Hussein was something other than the kind of man he obviously had to be. 

Consider Saddam's record. Here's a man who left a trail of bodies behind him stretching back to his days as a Baath party assassin. A man who saw threats everywhere, and consistently acted the same with each one he discovered. A man whose alacrity at placing bombs aboard the helicopters of his over—ambitious aides made him a laughingstock within Arab ruling circles. (Egyptian president Hosni Mubharak is supposed to have taken him aside at one meeting of the Arab League and told him, 'Please, Saddam... no more helicopters.') A man who turned his country into the 'Republic of Fear', one of the most tightly regulated and closely watched states since Stalin's USSR. 

The term for this is 'paranoid personality'. Paranoids act in certain predictable ways, and usually don't change — that is to say, they don't suddenly flip over into open trust or good fellowship. When their suspicions are stimulated, they can always be depended on to slip the bomb aboard the helicopter.

Now let's move on to the WMDs. One particular class of these is the war gases — nerve gas, mustard gas, and others of their odious type. Saddam possessed a large quantity of these. We know that because he used them against his own people. On March 13, 1988, the Iraqi Air Force struck the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan with a mix of war gases — both mustard and nerve gases, from the survivor's accounts. Something of the order of 5,000 people were killed, with thousands more severely injured. And the damage goes on — babies are still being born with birth defects to this day. (Halabja was a substantial town, by the way, not the 'small village' that the media insisted on calling it. Small villages don't produce 5,000 corpses when they're attacked. But, as history teaches us, the fate of small villages is easier to overlook than that of more substantial places.)

What the Halabjans did to bring this down upon themselves is beside the point. Saddam's government insisted they were 'restive', and on the 'verge of revolt', but it doesn't matter. They caught the attention of a paranoid, one with the power to do something about it, and he did. It might well have been the next town over, or one at the far end of the Euphrates valley. It makes no difference. 

What does matter is what Saddam himself thought about it. It didn't take two weeks to subdue Halabja. It didn't take two days. It took minutes — a couple of swift passes by Iraqi MiGs, and the problem was solved. And solved for all time, as far as Saddam was concerned, because nobody who lived through the horror of that afternoon would ever again dare raise a hand against Saddam Hussein, not for a generation or longer. 

Saddam must have rested easy that night. Slept the sleep of a man with not an enemy in the world. At least the part of the world comprised by Halabja.
 
And yet we're supposed to believe, as we've been told by the media, by the Democratic Party, by assorted diplomats, by the Europeans, and by the peace movement, that this man, this paranoid, acted completely against his essential nature and got rid of these weapons at some vague point between 1988 and 2003. Why? The explanation has never quite gotten that far — because he was overawed by the UN, I imagine.
    
Of course he did no such thing — it wasn't in him to do any such thing. Instead, he did what a paranoid would do. He hid them. Hid them with a paranoid's cleverness and attention to detail, hid them where no one would ever find them, hid them so well that some of the best—trained technicians in the world couldn't come up with a trace of them. So well that they're only turning up now.
 
And if they do turn up, as I believe they will, it will comprise a golden teaching moment for the people of this century. An opportunity to learn what the people of the last century never did. Namely that these types, these half—men, these twisted near—psychopaths, are exactly what they seem to be, and nothing else. Whenever one of them appears — a Hitler, a Qaddafi, a Milosevic, a Saddam Hussein — the chorus begins: they're rational men, no different from anyone else, they can be dealt with as rational men, the same as we would deal with anyone else....
 
But they're not rational, and they can't be dealt with. That must become the basis of action with these people. That they are what they seem to be — paranoids, megalomaniacs, and psychopaths — and need to be handled on the international scene the same as we would in our daily lives. So when the next one appears — say, a man shrieking that he'll nuke Israel at the first opportunity — we'll know exactly how to respond.

That is the least we can do for the memory of Halabja.

Among many other things, J.R. Dunn was the editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.

The slowly building story concerning the actual status of Saddam Hussein's WMDs promises to upset a lot of apple carts in politics, the media, and international diplomacy. Testimony by former Iraqi officers  and WMD
investigators, along with a 'smoking gun' tape revealed this week in which Saddam himself discusses the weapons, have revived a story long considered closed in some influential circles. This comes as a relief to many of us not only for its bearing on the legitimacy of the Iraq War, but in validating a rational view of how the world actually works. 

The 'no WMD' argument was based on certain very flawed assumptions. One of the major examples — which went completely unmentioned by anyone involved —— was the assumption that Saddam Hussein was something other than the kind of man he obviously had to be. 

Consider Saddam's record. Here's a man who left a trail of bodies behind him stretching back to his days as a Baath party assassin. A man who saw threats everywhere, and consistently acted the same with each one he discovered. A man whose alacrity at placing bombs aboard the helicopters of his over—ambitious aides made him a laughingstock within Arab ruling circles. (Egyptian president Hosni Mubharak is supposed to have taken him aside at one meeting of the Arab League and told him, 'Please, Saddam... no more helicopters.') A man who turned his country into the 'Republic of Fear', one of the most tightly regulated and closely watched states since Stalin's USSR. 

The term for this is 'paranoid personality'. Paranoids act in certain predictable ways, and usually don't change — that is to say, they don't suddenly flip over into open trust or good fellowship. When their suspicions are stimulated, they can always be depended on to slip the bomb aboard the helicopter.

Now let's move on to the WMDs. One particular class of these is the war gases — nerve gas, mustard gas, and others of their odious type. Saddam possessed a large quantity of these. We know that because he used them against his own people. On March 13, 1988, the Iraqi Air Force struck the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan with a mix of war gases — both mustard and nerve gases, from the survivor's accounts. Something of the order of 5,000 people were killed, with thousands more severely injured. And the damage goes on — babies are still being born with birth defects to this day. (Halabja was a substantial town, by the way, not the 'small village' that the media insisted on calling it. Small villages don't produce 5,000 corpses when they're attacked. But, as history teaches us, the fate of small villages is easier to overlook than that of more substantial places.)

What the Halabjans did to bring this down upon themselves is beside the point. Saddam's government insisted they were 'restive', and on the 'verge of revolt', but it doesn't matter. They caught the attention of a paranoid, one with the power to do something about it, and he did. It might well have been the next town over, or one at the far end of the Euphrates valley. It makes no difference. 

What does matter is what Saddam himself thought about it. It didn't take two weeks to subdue Halabja. It didn't take two days. It took minutes — a couple of swift passes by Iraqi MiGs, and the problem was solved. And solved for all time, as far as Saddam was concerned, because nobody who lived through the horror of that afternoon would ever again dare raise a hand against Saddam Hussein, not for a generation or longer. 

Saddam must have rested easy that night. Slept the sleep of a man with not an enemy in the world. At least the part of the world comprised by Halabja.
 
And yet we're supposed to believe, as we've been told by the media, by the Democratic Party, by assorted diplomats, by the Europeans, and by the peace movement, that this man, this paranoid, acted completely against his essential nature and got rid of these weapons at some vague point between 1988 and 2003. Why? The explanation has never quite gotten that far — because he was overawed by the UN, I imagine.
    
Of course he did no such thing — it wasn't in him to do any such thing. Instead, he did what a paranoid would do. He hid them. Hid them with a paranoid's cleverness and attention to detail, hid them where no one would ever find them, hid them so well that some of the best—trained technicians in the world couldn't come up with a trace of them. So well that they're only turning up now.
 
And if they do turn up, as I believe they will, it will comprise a golden teaching moment for the people of this century. An opportunity to learn what the people of the last century never did. Namely that these types, these half—men, these twisted near—psychopaths, are exactly what they seem to be, and nothing else. Whenever one of them appears — a Hitler, a Qaddafi, a Milosevic, a Saddam Hussein — the chorus begins: they're rational men, no different from anyone else, they can be dealt with as rational men, the same as we would deal with anyone else....
 
But they're not rational, and they can't be dealt with. That must become the basis of action with these people. That they are what they seem to be — paranoids, megalomaniacs, and psychopaths — and need to be handled on the international scene the same as we would in our daily lives. So when the next one appears — say, a man shrieking that he'll nuke Israel at the first opportunity — we'll know exactly how to respond.

That is the least we can do for the memory of Halabja.

Among many other things, J.R. Dunn was the editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.