In a new book due to hit shelves later this month, John Nixon, a former CIA officer who was responsible for interrogating Saddam Hussein after he was captured in 2003, admits being convinced by the fallen dictator that he was best suited to rule Iraq. Per an excerpt published in Time Magazine, Nixon recalls an encounter with Hussein in which he warned that America would fail in Iraq because “you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.”
When I interrogated Saddam, he told me: “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq.” When I told him I was curious why he felt that way, he replied: “You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.”
While Nixon found Hussein “thoroughly unlikeable,” he admits to walking away with a “grudging respect” for the fallen dictator’s ability maintain the Iraqi nation through forced consensus.
Although I found Saddam to be thoroughly unlikeable, I came away with a grudging respect for how he was able to maintain the Iraqi nation as a whole for as long as he did. He told me once, “Before me, there was only bickering and arguing. I ended all that and made people agree!”
Saddam used every tool in his repertoire to maintain Iraq’s multi-ethnic state. Such tools included murder, blackmail, imprisonment, threats, and these were to be used to cow his enemies. For his friends, Saddam would dole out patronage to tribal leaders and supporters in the form of cash, elaborate gifts, land, and other largesse that was the lifeblood of an oil rich state. Today’s Iraq has been riven by deepening sectarianism that always seems to be only a step away from igniting again, as it did after Saddam’s overthrow.
Saddam also would have inevitably maintained a hostile stance toward Iran; he was very proud of his opposition to the Islamic Republic and reserved special contempt for the Shia in Iraq who would follow Iran’s guidance over his. Iraq is now very much the junior partner to a much emboldened Iranian regime that has expanded its military and security influence in the chaotic aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow and the aborted Arab Spring.
Of course, Trump has made similar comments about Hussein, comments that have drawn a lot of heat from the mainstream media.
“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right? He was a bad guy. Really bad guy. But, you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were a terrorist it was over.”
“Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq.”
Finally, Nixon concludes that Trump has the opportunity to help shape a new regional order in the Middle East, though it will “require making tough decisions and, ultimately, recognizing that we may have to deal with people and leaders that we abhor if we want to help bring stability back to the region and limit the scope of terrorism’s reach.”
Our incoming president has the opportunity to play a very large role in shaping a new regional order in the Middle East. This will require making tough decisions and, ultimately, recognizing that we may have to deal with people and leaders that we abhor if we want to help bring stability back to the region and limit the scope of terrorism’s reach. Most of all, it will require placing diplomacy back into our foreign policy. President-elect Trump has shown with his election victory that he is a believer in “the art of the deal.” Maybe his administration can use this negotiating skill and end our involvement in the forever war.
Without opining on the merits of the strategy, certainly if there’s one thing we know for sure about Trump, it’s that he’s never shy to make the difficult decisions that will draw endless criticism from the mainstream media.