|The Evening Standard
10 February 1998
|Inside the mind of Saddam
by Gerald Segal
When you are about to go to war, the first maxim of the strategist must be "know your enemy". So what do we know about Saddam Hussein and his motives?
He is not crazy, but he is ruthless. His past is not merely that of a military officer; he was also an assassin who saw the whites of the eyes of the men he killed.
He is better described as "crazy like a fox", and therefore a man who has an innate sense of the chase and subterfuge. No wonder he reportedly never sleeps two nights in the same place and periodically has some of his massive entourage killed in order to scare the rest into blind obedience.
The result is a wily man often cut off from unpleasant realities but with an absolute priority on ensuring his own survival.
Why is Saddam so keen to hang on to chemical and biological weapons?
In 1990 Saddam saw CW and BW as a way of forcing his enemies to submit to his will, and to deter the West from rolling back his invasion of Kuwait.
CW and BW still serve as a deterrent and he probably thinks they will help scare Israel into staying out of a war.
But in the end, Saddam probably also sees CW and BW as a way to ensure the West never really pushes him out of power. Few can doubt that a cornered Saddam will use everything at his disposal to stay in power.
Isn't he bothered by the threat of attack from the US and its allies?
We brought more than 500,000 troops to his door and across the threshold, fired our fanciest technology at him, and in the end we went home, he stayed in power, and President Bush and Prime Minister John Major are in retirement.
He is probably right to assume that we will not repeat the scale of our military operation in 1991 and our technology is not that much smarter than it was seven years ago. He knows we would have killed him if we could have done so already.
The country he probably fears most is Israel - they have the greatest desire to see him dead.
How can he prevent or delay an allied attack?
He got his timing wrong in 1991 when he should have pulled out of most of Kuwait before we struck. This time it might suit him to take a hit in order to demonstrate the depths of the evil West, and then make a decent concession after the first bombing pause.
We could then see some inspections by Unscom (UN Special Commission for Disarmament) but not many and nothing that is effective. He knows that we will hit any CW or BW site that is closed to Unscom but he believes we cannot get at all his CW and BW capacity.
Even if he lets Unscom back, he is unlikely to allow much better access than it had a month ago.
He would then dare us to have another go, with all the expense of gearing up again for combat and all the political exertions of building support.
He thinks we do not have the stomach or the stamina for a long struggle.
He believes that the longer he drags us out, the weaker Unscom and Western cohesion will be. As our will fades, he will be more able to resume a major program for CW, BW and eventually nuclear weapons.
Assuming he is prepared to suffer a strike, how might he react?
If we hit only his old anti-aircraft sites and some military camps, he will hunker down and make brave broadcasts from 12 storeys down in his safe bunkers. He will ensure CNN and the BBC have pictures of dead children and smoking hospitals.
If we hit anything terribly important, such as large parts of his most loyal troops or his family in Baghdad or his home area of Tikrit, he might become angrier.
But his calculation is that we cannot hurt him that badly and it will be just a matter of days before public opinion in the West calls a halt to the killing.
What if the strike really does hurt him?
Saddam is unlikely to go after Kuwait or Saudi Arabia because he still wants support from other Arabs. But killing Israelis would earn him points in the Arab world and cause serious political problems for the Western powers.
But wouldn't Israel then hit back?
If the pain grew, it would grow harder to keep the Israelis out, although it is far from clear that the Israeli military could do much more than the Western powers.
But if this crisis really gets out of hand, with a CW or BW attack on Israel, then all bets are off. Under such circumstances no one should rule out massive Israeli air attacks on dams that might flood Baghdad or the use of neutron weapons. But by then we enter the uncharted and deeply scary world of war with weapons of mass destruction.
We are not there yet, and Saddam has little reason to take us that far but we could get there faster than many people expect.
Has Saddam any reason to fear internal opposition?
There are various ethnic and religious opponents scattered around his country, but the ones he really fears are those near his entourage which might pose a real personal threat.
Saddam kills family members and close colleagues and in many respects has sustained a system of fear akin to Hitler or Stalin.
This is not a man with a stable political system, but neither is there a real sign that his grip on power is lessening.
It is one of those places where you should not be surprised to see a coup or to see him stay in power for decades.
In ruthless systems, literally anything is possible. But from our point of view, we should not count on Saddam being removed by internal opposition.
And even if he was, it might not necessarily be a step forward. There are no prospects for Iraq becoming a liberal democracy. A successor might end up following the strategy Saddam should have followed, and still can follow, the strategy of nominal compliance. This would truly be a clever fox-let Unscom find some things but when they go, rebuild your weapons of mass destruction.
Can't we just ignore him?
But when you mix it with such a character, the risks and uncertainties must inevitably be high. Fasten your seatbelts.
Gerald Segal is Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and co-author of "Anticipating the Future"
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 10 February 1998