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Is Saddam Hussein A Great Leader?

Ninth in the Making Peace series

Copyright © 2003 Dorian Scott Cole

For years I have been working on a story set in Iraq. The biggest obstacle to my working on it is that I can't set it in modern day Iraq - it isn't friendly. Small pain for me, but representative of the broad impact of a repressed Iraq. I have written a number of articles on this Web site about achieving peace, both from an individual point of view, and internationally. I have also seen conflicts continue to grow. And now the US is on the brink of military action in Iraq. War is a very hard thing to bear, but making peace before military action is almost more difficult to bear. It takes great leaders. The question is, can Saddam Hussein, who in his private conception of leadership features himself to be a great leader, actually be a great leader?

The US and the world certainly have justification for proceeding with military action against Iraq. But justification doesn't dictate a course of action. President Bush cast this conflict as part of the US War on Terrorism, with the goal of disarming a terrorist state which could use weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors, own citizens, or could give them to terrorists to strike against targets across the entire world. The backlash from such state assisted terrorist attacks would possibly draw the entire world into war.

Going to war with Iraq carries some of the same dangers as leaving Iraq alone. Saddam Hussein is a rogue leader who seems intent on creating grief for the world no matter whether he continues in defiance of the world or dies in war.

As we stand on the brink of military action, the question is whether the conflict is inevitable, or if there is another solution. Some seem to believe that Saddam is capitulating to UN demands and with more time and pressure he will completely disarm. But even other leaders in Persia and the Middle East believe he must go. Yet those countries won't do it for fear of backlash in their own countries, and none of them want to see the US and other militaries on Iraqi ground.

War is a horrible thing to bear, and the consequences are horrible. The world targets that Saddam Hussein could strike through terrorists (drawing on an ample supply of willing Al Qaeda), targets around the world, which I won't mention, could be far more devastating than the World Trade Center, and would likely ignite a massive war with... again I won't mention. Various leaders are warning us all of these possible consequences from a desperate Saddam with nothing to lose and left only with vengeance.

On the one hand, military action against Saddam might be over quickly as the paper tiger folds like an origami cutting, with most of the world applauding. The smashing of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan might be the measure of world response.

On the other hand, Saddam hides behind the threat of terrorists and potential weapons of mass destruction. Is he a bully with a hugely inflated sense of self, and no real threat to anyone? Or is he a maniac who is determined to destroy anything that he feels is appropriately sized to his vision of himself, which will draw others into the conflict? We don't know, and what else can you do with someone who has proven over and over that he is unrelentingly defiant and can't be trusted? What do you do when a rogue bear is loose in a park? One way or another, it has to leave for the park to be safe.

Most of us would like the world to be friends with the Iraqi people. We would like relations to be normal. We would like to see the Iraqi people prosper and reach their potential. Saddam Hussein stands in the way. I think that the US and many other countries have had enough of trying to contain Saddam Hussein now that we are in an era in which he could support terrorist activity in any part of the world. He is no longer a regional problem, he is a world problem. The risks of allowing Hussein to stay are greater than the risks of taking him out.

The military machine that has been threatening Saddam is difficult to stop once it has built up momentum and reached strike potential. If Saddam is smart, he will avoid the destruction of his nation's infrastructure and government, he will avoid the destruction of his nation by surrendering, revealing the location of his weapons of mass destruction, and then running as fast as he can before his own people kill him.

The question is, will this conflict ultimately be about the pride of Saddam Hussein, or will he actually turn into the great leader that he wants to be?

What would happen if Saddam Hussein did want to normalize relations with the rest of the world, and get himself and his nation far removed from the list of countries that support terrorism and aggression? We like the idea of the possibility of peace, but I'm not at all sure that Saddam Hussein is capable of going there. I'm also not sure that anyone could be receptive to him. His overture months ago to normalize relations with the US was judged to be a delaying tactic to allow Saddam to continue to play cat and mouse games with the rest of the world. His reputation precedes him.

It would take a great leader within Saddam Hussein to accomplish this. He would have to overcome and confront years of hatred that he has built up and promoted. This is not an easy task even for the greatest leaders and most religious. It would take a man like Nelson Mandella, who after years of imprisonment for political reasons in South Africa, had no ill-will toward his captors.

Saddam Hussein would have to confront his own people, who he impresses by fighting windmills (imaginary enemies), and keeps them in control through fear. Respect from people is earned by promoting their welfare and addressing their problems, and recognizing all of the people, not just some, as do the Kings of Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt. Saddam would have to find the great leader within himself to do this and survive.

Saddam Hussein would have to work toward peace with real commitment. Unlike sly leaders like Yasir Arafat, who mouth the word "peace," but fail to intervene to stop violence effectively, knowing that organizations stand nearby with hidden weapons and troops. Hussein would have to dig his weapons out of their sand holes without anyone asking, and allow their destruction to be monitored. Nations like the US and the former Soviet Union, and others who have had weapons of mass destruction, have voluntarily reached agreements that put an end to the poisons and reduced nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein would have to find the great leader within himself to do this, or remain being considered a rogue, and possibly rabid, dog.

Saddam's people would have to cease living in fear from their own government, and the borders would need to be open to international travel for citizens and foreigners. The Soviets found it within themselves to do this. China is doing it. Great civilizations and great leaders don't live in fear and isolation. They reach out to others and are enriched by it. Saddam would have to find the great leader within himself to do this.

The future of Saddam Hussein and his regime is as certain as tomorrow's sunrise. Whether it plays out as a fitting tribute to a two-bit megalomaniac, or as the unselfish act of a great leader, is up to him.

If Saddam Hussein actually did want to move toward peace, as outlined above, he would earn the admiration of his people and other leaders. He would be an example to them. If Saddam Hussein wants to avert war and become the great leader that he aspires to be, then he needs to step forward now, say so, ask the UN for help with the transition, and institute immediate change that is unmistakable in intent.

Peace is not the absence of conflict. Conflict between human beings with different needs is inevitable. Peace is the result of being able to work out conflict over legitimate objectives in a peaceful way.

- Scott

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