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Freud's Take On A Madman

Reader comment on item: About Those Iraqi WMD

Submitted by John R. (United States), Apr 27, 2006 at 22:02

YOU: The great mystery of the 2003 war in Iraq - "What about the WMD?" has finally been resolved. The short answer is: Saddam Hussein's persistent record of lying meant no one believed him when he at the last moment actually removed the weapons of mass destruction.

ME: Whether Sadaam actually had WMD or not, removing him was the right thing to do. And the probabiliy, likely as we saw it, of him having weapons of mass destruction at the time made removing him a necessity, as we saw it, because it was a threat to our security. In a way too we are trying to be the policeman of the world. Many policemen actually because there are other representatives there from other countries; they support us. I agree with you that we have won a war. We have removed Saddam. People talk as if we're a failure totally. Saddam is gone, that is one victory. We are just having a hard time, or we need more time, to restore order and create a democracy in Iraq. This is no victory yet.

YOU: In a riveting book-length report issued by the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, Iraqi Perspectives Project, American researchers have produced the results of a systematic two-year study of the forces and motivations shaping Saddam and his regime. Well written, historically contexted, and replete with revealing details, it ranks with Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear as the masterly description of that regime. (For a condensed version, see the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs.)

ME: He's a madman. That is the reason. Why is he a madman? Do we really need to dig deep into that ? There simply are madmans.

YOU: It shows how, like Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union, Saddam's Iraq was a place of unpredictably distorted reality. In particular, Saddam underwent a change in the mid-1990s, developing a delusional sense of his own military genius, indeed his infallibility. In this fantasyland, soldiers' faith and bravura count far more than technology or matériel. Disdaining the U.S. military performance from Vietnam to Desert Storm, and from Somalia to the Balkans, the tyrant deemed Americans a cowardly and unworthy enemy.

ME: Another interpretation is he is what he is because he's a madman.

YOU: Also about this same time, Saddam began insisting on only good news, isolating himself further from often harsh realities. As ever-fewer underlings dared to contradict the boss's perceptions, his determined self-deception wreaked havoc outward from the presidential palace to the entire Iraqi government and beyond. The lead author of Iraqi Perspectives Project, Kevin M. Woods, and his four co-authors note, "By the mid-1990s, most of those near the regime inner circle recognized that everyone was lying to everyone else." Deceits were reinforced and elaborated. In the words of an air defense officer, "One [officer] lied to another from the first lieutenant up, until it reached Saddam."

ME: Sounds like something for the psychiatrists. Actually it is because he's a madman. Could we have prevented the psychology, the processes, of how he became a madman? I do not think so. We just have to accept the fact that there is a delusional person ruling Iraq. Or I think you are simply trying to say he posseses the qualities of a madman, or simply he's a madman. We probably say the same thing but I say it concisely: He's a madman.

YOU: That no one really knew what was going on was symbolized by the widespread credence in the wartime nonsense spouted by the Iraqi minister of information (mockingly dubbed Baghdad Bob by Western reporters) as he regaled the world with glowing accounts of Iraqi victories; "from the point of view of Iraq's leaders, Baghdad Bob was largely reporting what they were hearing from the front." A militia commander confessed to being "absolutely astonished" on encountering an American tank in Baghdad.

ME: There was nothing we could have done about how he became a madman.

YOU: The same situation extended to the military-industrial infrastructure. First, the report states, for Saddam, "the mere issuing of a decree was sufficient to make the plan work." Second, fearful for their lives, everyone involved provided glowing progress bulletins. In particular, "scientists always reported the next wonder weapon was right around the corner." In such an environment, who knew the actual state of the WMD? Even for Saddam, "when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth."

ME: ... Sadaam is a madman therefore he cannot be trusted.

YOU: Iraq's strategic dilemma complicated matters further. Realizing that perceptions of Iraqi weakness could invite attack, from Iran in particular, Saddam wanted the world to think he possessed WMD. But eventually he realized that to fend off the coalition, he needed to convince Western states that his regime no longer possessed those very weapons. As coalition forces geared up for war in late 2002, Saddam decided to cooperate with the United Nations to establish that his country was clean of WMD, as he put it, so as "not to give President Bush any excuses to start a war."

ME: Interesting I have to say though.

YOU: This lucid moment, ironically, fell victim to his long history of deceiving the United Nations; Iraqi steps to comply with the inspections regime had the paradoxical effect of confirming Western doubts that the cooperation was a ruse. For example, intercepted orders "to remove all traces of previous WMD programs" were misinterpreted as yet another ploy, and not the genuine effort they really were.

ME: The intrigue continues.

YOU: Saddam's belated attempts at transparency backfired, leading to what the report authors call "a diplomatic and propaganda Catch-22." Monumental confusion followed. Captured senior Iraqi officials continued for many months after the 2003 war "to believe it possible … that Iraq still possessed a WMD capability hidden away somewhere." Coalition intelligence agencies, not surprisingly, missed the final and unexpected twist in a long-running drama. Neither those agencies nor Western politicians lied; Saddam was the evil impostor whose deceptions in the end confused and endangered everyone, including himself.

ME: .... these sound like a script, a story, for a Hollywood movie. A movie that deals with..... wait.... I suddenly had a thought. You can actually use these information to give to authors who might write an autobiography of Saddam Hussein. A book. A movie. How did a man become what he is today. You know that James Bond movie, Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig? You see they are making it different from the rest of the Bond films. They want to create a movie that explains why James Bond is what he is today as opposed to the rest of the James Bond movies that make us simply accept what he is. How did I end up talking about Hollywood now?


YOU: Apr. 25, 2006 update: I have received many questions about the disposal of the WMD - Syria? Belarus? - and wish to clarify that I purposefully did not deal with this question in the above article (just as the Iraqi Perspectives Project did not). The topic here is exclusively the functioning of the Saddam Hussein regime in relation to the WMD mystery. Any thesis of what was done with the WMD is compatible with the above background explanation.

ME: Yes, like you said, mystery. That is another element for a movie on Iraq. Hollywood is listening to you, Dan. Although there's nothing we can do about it, it makes for a very good movie.

John R.


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