“Every day, there were fewer and fewer kings.”
March 28, 2024 1:42 AM   Subscribe

The Achilles Trap doubles as a surprisingly sympathetic study of a man who, as his powers slipped away, spent the last decade of his life jerry-rigging monuments of his own magnificence. Coll draws much of his material from extensive interviews with retired American intelligence officers and former members of Saddam’s bureaucracy, as well as from a previously unavailable archive of audio tapes from Saddam’s own state offices. What emerges is a portrait of Saddam as an eccentric in the mold of G.K. Chesterton—if Chesterton were bloodthirsty, paranoid, and power-mad—a man driven ultimately by deep reverence for the sense that hides beneath nonsense. from Saddam’s Secret Weapon, a review of The Achilles Trap by Steve Coll [The American Conservative]
posted by chavenet (12 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I hate giving any juice to an outfit called "The American Conservative" but I did read it. I was not too surprised to find that the conclusion was, so to speak, what if the crazy violent self-serving dictators are the true artists and heroes? Meaning, of course, by extension, Putin and Trump. This is well written garbage, which places itself at the pinnacle of Conservative thought by the fact of being well written.
posted by rikschell at 5:41 AM on March 28 [12 favorites]

I think I'll pass on sympathy for torturing tyrants. Maybe once their extinct.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 7:20 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]

Did we read the same article? The conclusion I took was that Saddam was a deluded man that was smarter than his public image in the west indicated, fighting a pointless moral battle and losing the real one, but so obsessed with his myth he didn't care.
posted by thedaniel at 7:29 AM on March 28 [9 favorites]

I thought it was a good article. I definitely learned some stuff about Saddam, such as his writing - although clicking around the rest of the site, there’s an op-ed in defence of facist thinking and another saying we should give trump another term after this one, as a treat, for being the bestest president ever.
posted by The River Ivel at 7:53 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]

> demanding a full accounting of Saddam’s secret nuclear weapons program, even after the scientists told the inspectors repeatedly, and, after a fashion, truthfully, that the nuclear weapons program never existed

the phrase "after a fashion" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. it's a load-bearing after-a-fashion.

> His sentences were long and tangled, like something out of the novels of William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon. Saddam would frequently begin with a straightforward declarative phrase, slash through the middle of the sentence with a parenthetical digression, and then conclude with a wry comment, a bitter observation—always something unexpected.

it's way too early in the morning to cope with having a writer from the american conservative inform me that the sentence structure that i
  1. most love
  2. use like literally all the time
is in fact a hallmark of saddam hussein's writing style.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 8:24 AM on March 28 [12 favorites]

I see no mention of Kurds or Halabja, what a curious omission from the American Conservative, it is a mystery, hmmm.
posted by mhoye at 8:54 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]

"So you talk about mobs and the working classes as if they were the question. You’ve got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists, as you can see from the barons’ wars."

- The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
So yeah, The American Conservatives can keep G.K. Chesterton's name out of their goddamn mouths.
posted by mhoye at 8:57 AM on March 28 [10 favorites]

Saddam was a deluded man that was smarter than his public image in the west indicated

Yes, and in that depiction, it really worked to try to make Saddam sympathetic in a way that "conservatives" of the Bush era would have found reprehensible. There was a lot of work done in this article to humanize the man, while not leaving out the fact that he enjoyed watching dogs literally consume one of his enemies. This is the sort of leadership the American Right reveres now.

I don't find the fact that this particular monster had literary ambitions to really move the needle on my impressions of the man. There are plenty of horrible people who have managed to write books. Rich and influential people like to portray brutality and violence as a blue-collar low-class Sopranos sort of characteristic, but just because they rarely publicly get their hands dirty. That doesn't make them not monsters.
posted by rikschell at 2:59 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]

Bah, goofy article. Back then, I assumed that Saddam's threatening WMDs were leftover chemical weapons from the Iran-Iraq War. But he was just bullshitting, like the pathetic asshole dictator that he was. Of course, USA left him planted in place after the first Gulf War, so Bush 1 could leave something around for his foolish son to play around with.
posted by ovvl at 4:53 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]

I liked this. The stuff about the novel was weird, but that made it interesting. I didn't see a defense of Hussein.

It did make me look for other reviews of the book. Spencer Ackerman covers the more political aspects and from a leftist perspective. He, too, notices that the book does a lot to "humanize" Hussein, in the way any biography would have to relative to the bulk of media coverage through 2003.

So yeah, The American Conservatives can keep G.K. Chesterton's name out of their goddamn mouths.

Chesterton was a traditionalist English Catholic who is loved by a certain type of modern conservative for good reason. I like his fiction, but for all the bouts of eloquent humanity he doesn't fit into the progressive tradition: As the most accessible example, when he complained about rich people he wasn't only complaining about Jews, but he was complaining about Jews. I tried to ignore that in the Father Brown mysteries, but it got harder the more I read. By the time I got to his less famous works, like The Man Who Knew Too Much, which had Jewish bankers bringing the honest British into WWI, I had to give up pretending otherwise.
posted by mark k at 9:07 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]

Saddam frantically writing allegorical novels as the Americans break down his doors is kind of incredible, and idk what sort of reading issues you need to have to think this is some kind of hagiography. Great link, ty
posted by Sebmojo at 10:58 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]

Thank you for posting this, it was an extremely interesting article and one that, given its source, I wouldn't have encountered otherwise.
posted by tavegyl at 11:41 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]

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