This writeup was written based on personal opinions. I am neither an American nor an Iraqi. I have tried to be neutral and objective. You might agree or not. As a matter of fact, the writeup contains lots of references which may inspire your thinking in some way. Don't take it too seriously. Enjoy.

Saddam Hussein is not a Loony

The US-led coalition invasion on Iraq has liberated the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship that had reigned in the region for more than three decades. Saddam’s regime in Iraq has led to a continual global concern for international security and safety especially on the issue of his alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme. His political rise has changed the diplomatic scene particularly in his relationship with the U.S. and how he challenges their role in the U.N.. The 2003 war on Iraq was a direct consequence of Saddam’s unyielding stance against the U.S., while the proposition suggests that Saddam was irrational on engaging in this un-winnable war against the U.S. without the WMD, this essay will prove the contrary with examination into Saddam’s reasoning in the events leading up to the War. His actions reflected much thought and pre-meditation and how showed logic in relation to achieving his goals, thus revealing the rational demeanor beneath.

Saddam is in fact an astute dictator refined in the craft of multi-dimensional warfare demonstrated during the periods of the Gulf War, the disarmament crisis and the 2003 war on Iraq, in which he was politically restricted, but was still able to undermine the U.S. and remain as a formidable dictator for an additional 15 years. Saddam’s ambition has always been to sustain totalitarian power in Iraq. His decision to defy the requests of the U.N. and to engage in war with the U.S.-led coalition was not made without its reasons. There are four main motivations that perpetuated his desire to remain defiant on the issue even when he was in the underdog position and was militarily disadvantaged.

  • The initial actions taken by the U.S. and the U.N. were not vigorous enough to suppress him, thus allowing him to delay penalization and continue his strengthening of authority while weakening the U.S.’s credibility.
  • He believes that a dictator should not be disgraced, hence war was the only prudent option when he confronted by Bush’s ultimatum.
  • To safe-keep his dictatorship, the best option was to go to war with the coalition upon confrontation.
  • He could still secure a victory in the War without the employment of WMD. These aspects allowed Saddam to choose retaliation as his strategy to survive another U.S.-led attack on his regime.

It would have been irrational if he went into war in haste without planning, but his past track record shows that instead, he is a methodical opportunist with a great deal of calculation and formidable prowess to go into war against the odds, because he was able to seize the opportunity to use the situation to his favor amidst conflict.

The Rationale Behind the Dictator's Decisions

1. "The U.N. can't threaten me!"

Saddam had never had any weapons of mass destruction that was discovered after the post-Gulf war period, so Iraq should enjoy peace by abiding to the U.N. resolutions. Contrary to that expectation, Saddam did not cooperate with the U.N. in return for him to remain in governance and regional peace. Saddam’s foreign policies concerning weapons inspection requested by the U.N. (headed by the U.S.) has been capricious and disrespectful often employing delay tactics to avoid the U.N. requests, even after suffering the Gulf war defeats and numerous sanctions. On September 17, 1997, an Iraqi military officer attacked an UNSCOM(The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) weapons inspector on board an UNSCOM helicopter while the inspector was attempting to take photographs of unauthorized movement of Iraqi vehicles inside a site designated for inspection.”This was no isolated incident but rather only the tip of the iceberg. Saddam’s unwavering stance was not a surprise and illogical since the U.N. had failed on many occasion to create any impending and credible penalty against his regime, which allowed him to consolidate his bargaining power once again through this explicit rebellion. For instance, on November 22, 1997, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling on Iraq to cooperate fully with the commission and said that failure to provide immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any site was an unacceptable and was a clear violation of Security Council resolutions. This statement did not constitute any credible warning that would force him to comply with the resolution and instead was regarded as “cheap talk” because it was not backed up by any detailed physical repercussions. Although later in February, 1998, the U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton had delivered a speech that re-opened the gateway for the U.N. inspections, it did not last long because no punitive action had been taken. In Clinton’s speech, he remarked that “Saddam's regime threatened the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of U.S. (the western world). Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act," highlighting how uncontainable Saddam’s influence was. Senate Democrats also passed Resolution 71 in 1998 that urged President Clinton to "take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its WMD programs," however no immediate corrective approach was taken. Saddam saw this as an opportunity for a complete dismissal of the U.N. resolution on weapons inspection. He was able to take advantage of the United States’ hesitant approach to the issue and consequently lead to his unilateral termination of the weapons inspection on August 5 in the same year.

2. "No one can disgrace my dictatorship!"

Saddam was a formidable dictator that did not give in to pressure and hence does not put himself in any position to lose face. The U.N. learned from its past mistakes in its restraint on Saddam and finally escalated their actions. A series of directed reprimand came into effect when Bill Clinton secretly approved an attack on Iraq on December 3, 1998. This was followed by U.S.-British led bombing raids on Iraq to disable Iraq's air defense network in February 2001. However, the raids to coerce Iraq for U.N. inspections were ineffective. In May 2001, three months after the attacks by Britain and the U.S., Iraq once again rejected U.N. weapons inspections proposals. Theoretically, Saddam should have resumed negotiations to accept the U.N. proposals through this concerted enforcement of chastisement. However, his uncooperative stance was still unshaken because he does not show signs of weaknesses, as a dictator, which will cause significant disgrace and therefore undermine his authority.

After the bombing raids, there were three possible options available to Saddam in response to the issue: either to allow full inspections to be re-engaged; or to resume negotiations to compromise for limited inspections; or to expel the inspectors completely and settle with no negotiation.

Saddam turned down the requests for the U.N. to ransack his palaces and other secret sites. Any form of inspection would intrude on the absolute power of the Iraqi dictatorship over its military and undermine him as a ruler, undercutting his authority and causing him to show signs of weaknesses. He had returned bargained with the UNSCOM over the sites that would be authorized for inspection, however, Saddam disliked full inspections while the U.S. was not satisfied with only limited inspections, thus forcing the negotiation to dissolve once again. Time Online Edition reported, on December 14 2004, that after Saddam’s capture by U.S. forces in his first interrogation he was asked whether Iraq had any WMD. According to an official, his reply was: "'No, of course not, the U.S. dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with U.S.. The interrogator continued along this line, said the official, asking: 'if you had no weapons of mass destruction then why not let the U.N. inspectors into your facilities?' Saddam’s reply: 'We didn’t want them to go into the presidential areas and intrude on our privacy.'” (Bennett, 2003). Destroyed sites could be rebuilt, but the honor of a dictator, once lost, could never be restored. During the first legal hearing on July 1, 2004, he declared that he was “still the president of the republic (Iraq) and the occupation cannot take that away.” He could have avoided the occupation by yielding to the U.S but he chose to avoid the direct undermining of his authority in spite of any destruction caused by the U.S.-British penal bombing. In retrospect, it was the best choice at the time that maximized his payoff which allowed him to remain in control without blunting the disgrace brought about from invasive inspections.

3. "War can be won by no weapon!"

Saddam understands that the War does not have to be won through the use of WMD. For Saddam, remaining in control in the position as the Iraqi dictator constitutes a victory in his situation, thus he does not require WMD or military preponderance to secure victory if he only needs to keep the U.S away from interrupting the Iraqi political affairs to and topple his regime. Wars can also be fought by the non-military means. The proposal of war on Iraq had already aroused a huge global sentiment. Protest demonstrations in opposition to the invasion of Iraq were held in Turkey, Egypt, Japan, Pakistan, Belgium, the Netherlands, Argentina, the U.S., and other countries. The protest was the largest ever, involving 10,248,560 protesters around the world. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) had also sent delegates to the White House in the hope of resolving the conflict without having to go to war. The global sentiment discouraged the U.S. from waging an immediate war on Iraq at the time. Also, the U.S. required the authorization of the U.N. to invade Iraq. It could not act on its own accord without U.N. approval being a permanent U.N. member without fueling more anti-war sentiments. The U.S war proposal would be under scrutiny in the U.N. given the negating global protests on the issue and strong opposition from countries with existing interest in the region. In January 2003, Turkey invited five other regional countries to a 'last-chance' meeting to avert a U.S.-led war against Iraq. This again highlighted the objection to any type of military war against Iraq, but it also provided Saddam with a virtual coalition that supported him, stronger than the military might of the U.S.. Saddam was able to intensify the level of local and global outrage via deliberate smearing tactics. According to British defense sources, it claimed that Saddam might use chemical weapons on his Iraqi people and blame the attacks on the coalition forces as part of a propaganda war. Earlier that year, Saddam equipped part of the Iraqi military with look-alike U.S. uniforms. This demonstrated that Saddam was able to adapt a multi-dimensional war against the U.S with propaganda and manipulate international pressure to his own advantage. These tactics has allowed Saddam to remain in his belief that the U.S. military proposal would be strangled by the U.N. and by other global pressures, thus relinquishing any chance of invasion. If the U.S had not gone off on a tangent, it would have to withdraw from Iraq and Saddam could have secured a political victory remaining in power and coming out unscathed. This was what Saddam wanted the most, a win-win situation through deliberate opposition.

4. "I want to remain in power!"

The only logical option for Saddam was to resist the U.S with the arsenal he has at his disposal since the U.S was already in Iraqi soil executing their plan on war against global pressures. Given the newly developed situation of an actual Iraqi war (2003), Saddam’s strategy would be to remain in power by forcing a U.S withdrawal rather than a military victory. The U.S. had surprisingly acted contrary to Saddam’s and the western world’s expectations. The U.S seemed to have ignored the voices of objection of its allies without U.N. support and insisted on resorting to military action. U.S. President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum to Saddam in a televised speech, on March 17, 2003. He gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to go into exile or face war. There were three possible options for Saddam: either to request the UNMOVIC to resume inspection and destroy all his potential weapons, or to accept to go into exile, or to refuse to go into exile and imply war. However, Saddam remained strong willed and did not accept any concession.

By this time, the situation has escalated to a point where Saddam has lost his bargaining power and creditability for any further inspection negotiations as a result of his previous expulsions of the U.N. inspection team and refusal to strictly comply with the resolution set by the U.N. Hence, the U.N. and the coalition are reluctant to settle on further negotiations based on his promises. The choice to re-open Iraq for inspection would also contradict with his dictatorship style as his authority would again be subjected to intervention from external authorities.

If Saddam was to go into exile, it would lead to an immediate loss of his absolute power. He would have given up his control over the country, his political prowess, and his invaluable properties (including his numerous presidential palaces). In addition, his lost power would also expose him to the retaliation by his opponents and anti-Saddam Iraqi rebel groups. His life would be at emphatically high risk. He would have lost any authority immediately and put his life at risk.

Saddam’s chance for victory was to resist the U.S with the resources available to him as a dictator since he would be powerless in exile. His Iraqi army could at least delay the coalition’s victory before its capitulation, which would prolong his dictatorship, waiting for the U.N.’s intervention on this ‘unjustified/illegal’ war lead by the U.S, with mounting objection from France and other permanent U.N. members. The final outcome would allow Saddam to be back in a negotiating position and avoid his political demise. It was the best choice available at the time that yielded the highest payoff (or maximized the utility), given the events that transpired. Although the choice could not ultimately assure him of insurmountable power, it did give him a chance to prolong his reign for an indefinite period of time until he is back in a bargaining position. This, however, only eventuated to three more weeks in reality.

Saddam Hussein is a Rational Actor

In conclusion, Saddam had rationally singled out the optimal option in each case. The fact that the U.N. had been indecisive to penalize his incompliance strengthened his bargaining power. Resisting the demand by the U.N.. would not result in any significant loss and threat to his dictatorship, it was a rational choice to defy U.N. resolution and expel weapons inspector without suffering any repercussions in order to consolidate his regime. Although the U.S responded later to the incompliance with a series of air raids, it did not change Saddam’s stance since his regime was able to survive the last defiance through the delay tactics. Saddam was able to demonstrate his unchallenged character and not yield to the demands of the U.S. and therefore be disgraced. To ensure that his sovereignty was not undermined, he chose not to concede and lose face in front of his enslaved citizens. Instead, he strategized a war that was fought on a number of mediums taking advantage of the global climate against the impending war to deter the U.S. attacks, and fuel public outrage via smearing and propaganda to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops without any WMD. Even after the ultimatum from G.W. Bush, he remained vigilant as this was the best choice to fight on in order to remain in control of the resources for survival since going into exile would lead to an immediate loss of power which would have lead to the toppling of his regime and put his life at risk. This would not have made sense to a dictator who still had maneuverable troops and conventional weapons at his disposal. Saddam cannot be deemed irrational when all his actions demonstrated intent and logical manipulation of his resources and global climate to achieving his political motivations as the Iraqi dictator, despite being in a disadvantaged position from U.N. sanctions. His decisions were obscurely rational and methodically chosen to attain the best outcome for his dictatorship whilst being able to achieve resistance against U.S. actions.

Reference cited:

Global protest against the war on Iraq,
Iraq disarmament crisis timeline 1996-2000,
Iraq disarmament crisis timeline 2001-2003,
Saddam Hussein (Trial),

Special Thanks to Sam for revising my writeup

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