Saddam Hussein
March 14, 2006 9:19 AM   Subscribe

"Questioning his dictates brought great personal risk."

huh. reminds me of somebody else, but i can't quite put my finger on it.
posted by keswick at 9:38 AM on March 14, 2006

"Iraq is now winning and . . . the United States has sunk in the mud of defeat." At that moment, U.S. tanks were a hundred miles south of Baghdad, refueling and rearming for the final push.

He didn't sound so delusional as much as he did sound overconfidant until this point. The most shocking thing is, he was pretty accurate about what would happen up until the actual invasion.

I guess he didn't count on Dubya's stubbornness.
posted by Doorstop at 9:40 AM on March 14, 2006

What struck me as ironic that in a report highlighting how self delusion and overconfidence can ruin military planning there is this paragraph.

One of the precautions he took to prevent and, if necessary, quell a future disturbance was to create private armies made up of politically reliable troops: the Saddam Fedayeen, the al Quds Army, and the Baath Party militia. Ironically, these organizations actually worsened national security by making army recruitment more difficult and by stripping the military of needed equipment. And when they eventually went to battle against the onrushing coalition forces, they were obliterated in short order.

By all independent analysis, the U.S. forces bypassed the Fedayeen, leaving them completely intact and inviting the organized resistance we see today.

I guess writing what der leader wants to see is not restricted to Saddam.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2006

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." — George Orwell
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on March 14, 2006

[Footnote #1] For many months after the fall of Baghdad, a number of senior Iraqi officials in coalition custody continued to believe it possible that Iraq still possessed a WMD capability hidden away somewhere (although they adamantly insisted that they had no direct knowledge of WMD programs). Coalition interviewers discovered that this belief was based on the fact that Iraq had possessed and used WMD in the past and might need them again; on the plausibility of secret, compartmentalized WMD programs existing given how the Iraqi regime worked; and on the fact that so many Western governments believed such programs existed. [emph added]

What a fascinating feedback loop! The US would not be stupid or stubborn enough to insist on attacking if iraq did not have weapons, therefore Iraq must have weapons, which is why the US insists on attacking.
posted by allan at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2006

How does this square with previous reports that the Iraqi resisance was planned before the invastion?
posted by kirkaracha at 11:19 AM on March 14, 2006

Screwed himself out of the job Hussein did.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2006

Right from the beginning it was baffeling at how tactically inept Hussein was. I knew his commanders wouldn't dare cross him, but I thought that he would at least listen to some rational suggestions for protecting his government.
From the time the first airstrikes started, to the invasion itself, all the way up through the middle of Iraq and into Baghdad itself I kept telling myself: 'Well, he'll figure out he's an idiot now and let his military do something, anything to try to obtain some kind of victory.' and day in and day out he proved himself for the complete and utter deluded fool that he was. I don't think that any other war in history will be judged to be the cakewalk that this one was. At least until the insurgency started up anyway. . .
posted by mk1gti at 12:33 PM on March 14, 2006

And a complete lack of any kind of air force? He should have just pulled the plug and said 'I surrender' right then and there. . .
posted by mk1gti at 12:34 PM on March 14, 2006

One of the precautions he took to prevent and, if necessary, quell a future disturbance was to create private armies made up of politically reliable troops: the Saddam Fedayeen, the al Quds Army, and the Baath Party militia. Ironically, these organizations actually worsened national security by making army recruitment more difficult and by stripping the military of needed equipment. And when they eventually went to battle against the onrushing coalition forces, they were obliterated in short order.

PissOnYourParade & kirkaracha: The "when they eventually went to battle against the onrushing coalition forces, they were obliterated in short order" refers to the military army and not the Fedayeen.
posted by semmi at 12:37 PM on March 14, 2006

kirkaracha: The article implies Saddam didn't plan for the occupation, but the military did. Unlike their boss, they didn't believe they'd do well in a conventional firefight. The phrase doesn't mean that they were all eliminated, but that their conventional fighting capability was short-lived whenever they were engaged by US forces.

One of the questions I had after the invasion was why Hussein had clung to his positions when it had seemed certain his regime would be destroyed. This article seems to answer many of those lingering curiosities. I never thought he was "crazy" but I did think he was in a practical sense delusional -- clinging apparently to one or more lucky breaks or just possibly really believing he had a WMD program to protect from UN inspectors. At a certain point the sclerosis of his rule meant that he was completely surrounded by yes-men and was incapable of receiving objective reports.

I forbade the intelligence outfits from deducing from press and political analysis anything about America. I told them that [this] was not their specialty, because these organizations, when they are unable to find hard facts, start deducing from newspapers, which is what I already know. I said I don't want either intelligence organization to give me analysis -- that is my specialty

Oh, my, is there an echo in here? There are differences in the handling of Open Source Intelligence between us and them (the Bush strategem, apparently, was to use flimsy OSI to create analysis that competed with analysis from confidential sources that it didn't like). But at the top it's the same basic issue: they thought they knew better than the professionals.

the U.S. forces bypassed the Fedayeen

Only at first. March 24:

FRANKS: As you know, our forces have been moving rapidly. We've intentionally bypassed enemy formations to include paramilitary and Fedayeen. And so you can expect that our clean-up operations are going to be ongoing for -- across the days in the future. We know that the Fedayeen has in fact put himself in a position to mill about, to create difficulties in rural areas, I can assure you that contact with those forces is not unexpected.

April 8:

American troops met stiff resistance Tuesday morning from Iraqi paramilitary forces for control of an agricultural complex on the outskirts of the central town of Hillah.

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade engaged in an hour-long firefight with Iraqi soldiers believed to be members of Saddam Fedayeen 50 miles south of Baghdad, said CNN's Ryan Chilcote, who is travelling with the unit.

It was the fact that the invasion force bypassed the urban redoubts of the Fedayeen that they were then free to engage our logistics forces in the rear, such as the 507th.

Anyway, I've got to run some errands. One observation I have is that I hope the troops on the ground have a clearer picture of the insurgency than the domestic-consumption simplicities the White House spins. It seems to me that there's always been more than one "insurgency" -- at best the Sunnis are largely working in consonance but probably without coordination. The Shi'ites and Kurds have different agendas and are somewhat invested in the possibility of long-term political control of the country, but that's not the same as saying they like the occupation, which may even hinder their ability to thrown it down on the Sunnis. But ultimately the problem with the Iraqi military as a fighting force is that it's riven by tribal factionalism, and they have slightly less possibility of overcoming this than the short-term needs of an anti-occupation force.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 PM on March 14, 2006

Nice comment dhartung
posted by Smedleyman at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2006

dhartung for Secretary of State! It seems he's one of the few that knows what's going on over there and can summerize it quite nicely.
posted by mk1gti at 1:29 PM on March 14, 2006

I'm still reading the article, but had to post my suprise that nobody round here found the following paragraph on page 5 remarkable:

The Saddam Fedayeen also took part in the regime's domestic terrorism operations and planned for attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East. In a document dated May 1999, Saddam's older son, Uday, ordered preparations for "special operations, assassinations, and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas [Kurdistan]." Preparations for "Blessed July," a regime-directed wave of "martyrdom" operations against targets in the West, were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.

I always used to scoff at those armchair warrior types who would point to Saddam's payments to suicide bombers' families in Palestine as evidence of a serious inclination towards terrorism from the regime. Looks like I, and many on this site I'm sure, may have been seriously wrong, no?
posted by Onanist at 2:14 PM on March 14, 2006

I think there's a really great business book buried in all of this: "Management Secrets of Saddam Hussein." It would be a best-seller in the Harvard book store, I'm sure.

I'm not really joking. I'm struck by the strong resemblance between Saddam and a lot of Ivy-MBA managers I've encountered over the years. Particularly passages like this:
Compared to previous defense arrangements drawn up by professional military staffs, this new plan was amateurish. It paid no attention to basic military factors, such as geography, nor did it explain how all the units would be able to retreat simultaneously from one ring to the next while being engaged on the ground and assaulted from the air. Even after Qusay and the Republican Guard's chief of staff briefed their officers on the concept, the senior military leadership did little to arrange for it to be implemented. For Saddam, issuing a decree was considered enough to make the plan work.
"Just make it work." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that, or heard that the person who's in charge has to take responsibility for success or failure, regardless of other factors, I could pay off my car for sure.

Of course, there's a genuinely good book to be written about what not to do, given Saddam's example -- or Stalin's, or Hitler's, or Machiavelli's, for that matter.

There's also a really valuable contrast to be made here between how Iraq functioned, as a country, and how Iran functions.
posted by lodurr at 2:18 PM on March 14, 2006

Aw, shucks. Thanks, guys. I wish I had been as accurate three years ago.

One thing that persuaded me at the time was the pathological constance of deception faced by UN inspectors. Now, I weighed the possibility that the strategy was an Iraqi reworking of Nixon's madman theory involving a bluff about nuking Hanoi. Thus, even when inspectors showed up at a wholly clean site, they would face evasions, missing evidence, and the flight of mysterious convoys. This would preserve the legality of Iraqi compliance while heightening the worry of the United States and allies. You still might say this "worked", only without the intended result. This article seems to imply (at least in the non-classified portion we see) that Hussein was more concerned about neighbor states, especially Iran and Israel, than the US and UN. (One category error I made at the time was dividing Iraqi propaganda into two types -- for domestic and international consumption. I should have considered a regional category separate from the broader international community.) There was the possibility that aides cooked up a paper WMD program which gave him the confidence to bluff, but I didn't consider this practical for such a long-ensconced dictator with spies and counter-spies.

In any case, as I did say at the time, there was too little thinking outside the box by the Security Council members on both sides. The US could have endorsed armed inspections (which would likely have led to war anyway, with UN imprimatur); France et al. could have proposed a Plan B occupation, which would have left Hussein's regime intact in the center of the country, and relieved the Shi'ites in the south of the effects of the sanctions, and permitted international inspection without interference from Baghdad. And so on. I did believe at the time that a possible purpose of the US was to destroy the credibility of the UN. This requires assuming that the White House actually believed there were real WMDs to be found, though, and I no longer consider that assumption credible.

Again, without being able to see the classified portion it's uncertain. This article may be intended or promoted or circulated with the hope that it will reduce pressure on the administration in re things like the 16 words and the yellowcake document, but I don't think the part that we see really does any of that. The intelligence was cooked, there's no doubt now, and the only question is whether it was deliberately cooked by the PNAC wing (beginning back in the Clinton presidency), or whether they were rooked by someone else (Chalabi) for purposes unknown (President Chalabi). Or perhaps the operative phrase is knowingly rooked -- as half the power of a scam is the mark thinking he's getting one over on the grifter.
posted by dhartung at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2006

France et al. could have proposed a Plan B occupation

France, Germany, and Russia proposed increased inspections on February 24, 2003. President Bush rejected them, and later certified that further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone wouldn't lead to the enforcement of the UN resolutions. Iraq was a imminent grave and growing threat and we couldn't afford to wait. (Of course, after the invasion the adminstration changed its tune and said we couldn't rush our own inspections.)

Thus, even when inspectors showed up at a wholly clean site, they would face evasions, missing evidence, and the flight of mysterious convoys.

On February 14, 2003, Hans Blix suggested in his report to the UN that ,"The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity." On March 7, 2003, he reported that Iraq was cooperating with the UN inspectors.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:06 PM on March 14, 2006

“Looks like I, and many on this site I'm sure, may have been seriously wrong, no?” - posted by Onanist

There was evidence he was pursuing relations with terrorists since before gulf war one - but even then he was being rebuffed. I posted something on this a bit back. He sent out several offers to terrorist orgs and got mostly silence. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to anyone shoving money at you. But Hussein was never going to be trusted. A. he was a tool and had been our tool at that. B. he was a political strongman. Terrorists are essentially idealists and radicals. No one becomes a suicide bomber for profit. Hussein was not only far more secular but antithetical to the entire outlook. He was a force for the status quo. They might take his money, but serve his political ends? No.
Particularly after he attacked Kuwait. He was on everyone’s shit list. Not a very nice thing George the Greater did in pretending he was going to look the other way. But that little two step revealed Hussein for what he was to the Arab world.
Anyway, people knew all this. You don’t say “weapons of mass destruction program related activites” if you think he actually has the bomb. If there was evidence he was linking up with terrorists we’d have seen it as proof. He wasn’t a serious threat, but he was a pain in the ass. Were the Fedayeen going to start screwing with the oil supply? Maybe. Reason enough to take him out? Maybe. It’s the move - joggle the supply enough, do enough damage to change the flow and control the timing of that and you control the price. You make more money, and screw the others over.
Doesn’t justify anything, and certainly how the whole thing was prosecuted was ass-backwards, and - why the hell do we have to do all the work, spend our treasure, spill the blood of our people, and why did we allow so much profiteering, etc. ad nauseum. So were people wrong? Bottom line? No.

Many people here I disagree with in certain particulars, but we reach similar conclusions.
Of all the conservatives here, I probably take the least amount of shit, for that reason.

“You still might say this "worked", only without the intended result.”

Yep, totally screwed himself out of the job.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:09 PM on March 14, 2006

I’d add that Hussein was more likely to use asymmetric warfare after we demolished his army the first time.
If you strike a scorpion - you’d better crush it.

But there were probably political realities there. Like holding hands with a sheik or whatever. Stuff I’m not too clear on.
Bush the greater wasn’t stupid. Maybe we dodged a bullet in not taking Hussein out then. Maybe it would have aligned other countries against us.
...I don’t know why we’re screwing that up now though.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:18 PM on March 14, 2006

I remember reading a back page news report at the time of the US assault that the last foreign official to leave Iraq was a high ranking Russian general, and I was thinking at the time that the general was probably giving advise on guerilla (partisan) warfare techniques to the Iraqi Baathists since they can't win a war against the US, and to repay the US for their interference in Afghanistan. I still think it's naive to think that the "Cold War" is over, that the Russians just simply gave up, particularly with an old KGB expert at the helm.
posted by semmi at 8:06 PM on March 14, 2006

I still think it's naive to think that the "Cold War" is over, that the Russians just simply gave up, particularly with an old KGB expert at the helm.

I sort of agree with you, but: The "cold war" of the 20th C was geopolitical. The "cold war" of the 21st century is geo-financial. In the former war, ideological purity (or at least convincing lip-service to it) was crucial; in the latter war, ideological purity is a weakness, a luxury.

Putin is a creature of realpolitik. I once met a man who'd known Putin in his KGB days, when Putin was assigned as a political officer in the sport directorate. He was astonished that Bush thought he could 'take his measure': "The man is a gangster! He is trained to lie to your face. How can he be trusted?" In other words, Putin was the one 'taking measure', not Bush. And since we all know how good Bush is at listening to subordinates (who might be able to add a little of the old "verify" to the President's trust)....

Also, the modern reality of the Russian military seems to be that in order to do more than just basically survive, you have to have something on the side. If there was a Russian general advising Iraqi insurgents, it was most likely because he was getting paid by someone not in Russia to do it.
posted by lodurr at 5:16 AM on March 15, 2006

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