November 16, 2007
Suicide by Cop - Saddam and A'jadBy James Lewis
Next time you're speeding and see a flashing red light behind you, don't take out that black metal flashlight and point it at the cop. It's an invitation to suicide. It doesn't matter that you're not pointing a gun: If it looks like a gun, it'll be treated like a gun.
So what do you say about somebody who deliberately provokes a shootout that ends in his own demise? That's exactly what Saddam Hussein did when he threatened the cop on the beat in the Gulf region with WMDs. He pointed that empty gun at the United States and his neighbors, and lost everything as a result. It was suicide by cop.
That's why I beg to doubt the conclusion of a new book by Ronald Kessler claiming that Saddam Hussein pretended to have WMDs because he was trying to bluff the mullahs next door. Mark Goldblatt summarized the theory on National Review Online:
Well, we need to be a little skeptical about Saddam's deathbed confession. Mr. Piro wouldn't be the first to be conned by Saddam.
What's wrong with Kessler's explanation is that Saddam could have picked up the phone to George W. Bush at any time over the years, and explained his need to bluff the mullahs.
W sends George Tenet to Saddam. Checks out all his WMD sites in the middle of the night, escorted by Uday and Qusay. They travel to all the potential WMD sites in Iraq. Tenet goes back to DC to report to George W. Bush: No WMDs!
Bush declares peace, his poll ratings skyrocket, the Dems change the subject. The Republicans keep the Congress in 2006. Everybody's happy.
So why didn't Saddam do that?
Because the premise is wrong. Saddam didn't need to bluff about WMDs to keep off the mullahs. The Iran-Iraq war was a massive disaster for both sides. Nobody wanted to repeat it. Saddam had a big enough conventional army to stave off any plausible threat from Tehran. Instead, from Saddam's point of view, the real threat was the Americans. That's what everybody else in the world believed, and he was not stupid.
So Ronald Kessler and his FBI source George Piro are telling us why a Western politician might risk committing suicide by cop. Chances are that they do not understand the real Saddam.
So why did Saddam provoke suicide by cop? Here are some possibilities.
One is that he wanted to keep the option open to reconstitute his WMD capacity by having all the ingredients and trained engineers ready. Bush wouldn't have let him do that. So he couldn't ask Bush to check if he had WMDs.
A second possibility is that Saddam was in denial about the threat posed by America and a coalition. But Saddam was under no illusions that his army could withstand the American invasion. That's why he let 100,000 criminals out of jail, and set up all the conditions for a post-invasion insurgency. It wasn't denial.
So we still don't have an answer that makes sense. Provoking suicide by cop is not rational for Western minds.
There is a third possibility, however: Arab pride and shame. That is, after all, why Saddam's old Sunni supporters have kept fighting and dying for the last four years. There was a kind of suicidal willingness in Saddam to risk everything for his Arab warrior's honor. Maybe he really believed all those chintzy wall posters of Saddam as Saladin on his white horse. Whatever it was, in his own mind he needed to be a big hero. After the 1992 war, he required revenge, and in the Arab mindset, it was a family vendetta against the Bush dynasty.
Being a dead hero rather than a living sultan may not be rational by Western standards, but it fits the "heroic" narrative of Saddam's imagination. Remember that when thousands of Baath honchos fled the country in 2003, Saddam stayed behind, hiding in holes to evade American troops. He didn't have to do that: It was just asking for suicide by cop. In the end, we remember him looking like a homeless bum, sticking out of a hole in the ground. Death before disgrace.
That's how an honor-and-shame culture acts. It might be admirable if it were not in the cause of a bloody-minded bully.
Saddam's honor code was like the Sicilian code of the Mafia -- they think omerta is honorable, but it's only done in the cause of extortion, prostitution, beatings, murders, drug running and bullying the weak. It's an honor code on behalf of small-time tyranny.
All this is relevant today, because the mullahs next door have an even more medieval ideology than Saddam did. We may not understand why they believe it, but that doesn't change their bizarre beliefs. There are lessons to learn from Saddam Hussein.
A'jad just-arrested Iran's former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mosavian, for treason. That's a hugely significant event. Hossein Mosavian was former President Khatami's appointee, a pragmatist by mullah standards. So A'jad has charged a major ally of the pragmatic faction with an offense that could see him hang. Already Ahmadi-Nejad has given a speech about "traitors" and about some influential figures who were trying to save him.
The London Times wrote that "There is no suggestion that Mr Mousavian is accused of being in cahoots with British intelligence officers." So this is being seen as a power struggle, with Mosavian's neck on the line. Since A'jad has now appointed radicals to most of the power positions, he now seems to feel strong enough to threaten others within the regime with execution. That's either another suicidal gamble, or, more likely, a reflection of the power A'jad now has accumulated.
We know that a lot of pragmatists see A'jad's provocative talk about nukes as a huge risk for the regime. That's why they are speaking up against his nuclear brinkmanship. Rafsanjani loves nukes just as much as A'jad does, but might seek a way to sneak them through without making a public fuss.
A'jad is different. He needs the drama, not just the nukes. There are important similarities to Saddam among others who are willing to court suicide for their pride.
Consider another big risk-taking self-proclaimed "hero": Adolf Hitler. It was part of Hitler's psychology to have a Götterdammerung in that bunker at the end, after sacrificing millions of his hapless subjects to a two-front war he could not win. Hitler's Last Act had to fit the Wagnerian story line. Indeed, some years before, psychologists employed by the Allies predicted that he would commit suicide rather than surrender.
A'jad has been drilled in the martyrdom creed by Ayatollah Khomeini himself, and passed it on to thousands of others. To understand A'jad, look at Hamas TV for children, which indoctrinates innocent toddlers into the glories of martyrdom for Allah. Chances are that A'jad is also looking for Götterdammerung, just like the Rev. Jim Jones and David Koresh, General Tojo and the Omshinrikyo sarin cult in Tokyo. He's looking for a final victory over the infidels, or magnificent personal martyrdom culminating in the coming of the Mahdi.
But as part of that narrative, Tehran must be attacked by the infidels, even though it's perfectly innocent of any crime. So A'jad wants war, but he also wants it to arouse the final Muslim jihad against all the infidels. It's Armageddon, but on his terms. That is why he needs to threaten the West again and again in public. He will provoke and provoke again, and escalate his rhetoric, until he can either explode his own nuke bomb or die.
Ahmadi-Nejad is not a normal, rational politician. He lives in a different world. Call it honor, or pride, or an inverted inferiority complex. Call it a Wagnerian opera. A'jad is Saddam with a martyrdom complex. Westerners will try and try to explain him in rational terms. But it's the wrong template.
When you see A'jad, think Jim Jones or David Koresh. Think Tojo or Hitler, or Ayatollah Khomeini. Here is a man who is ready to die and kill for his creed, as mad as it is. He doesn't go for carrots and sticks. His provocations are designed primarily to maneuver the West into his own psychodrama. If he were standing on a ledge on the Empire State Building we could let him jump. But he's clever enough to realize that we cannot ignore nukes in the hands of a martyrdom fanatic. Like Saddam, he has a kind of suicidal streak. He's willing to go if he takes others with him. It's his lack of rationality (by our standards) that makes him so dangerous.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/