No one seeks to clearly understand how Saddam’s political ideology informs his apparently reckless and irrational choices. With the focus of debate on Iraq’s weapons, we fail to see that Saddam’s ideology of ongoing bloody revolution and amoral political ascendancy prevent any possibility for peace without fundamental regime change.
Unfortunately, news reporting and debates predominantly from a quantitative “what happened” approach diminish a needed emphasis on qualitative aspects of identity, ideology and perception. Attention to these aspects of the Iraqi regime (and our own) are essential for predicting the perils of conflict and prospects for peace.
Developing a deeper understanding of the construction of Iraqi identity under Saddam’s Baath regime would help other nations know how to deal with Saddam, Iraq, and potential regime change.
Decades hence, Saddam brought the secular Baath ideology to ruling power in Iraq, with its vision of Arab racial superiority and an ongoing bloody revolution marking the ascendancy of Arab global domination. The Baath party principles state: “The Baath is a revolutionary party. It believes that its principal aims in realizing an Arab national renaissance and of building socialism will not be attained except by revolution and struggle.”
Saddam’s eldest son Uday anticipates and accepts no possibility for peace, saying, “Our conflict with America will continue for the next 20 years due to our ideological, religious and fundamental differences.” The expectation and provocation of armed and bloody struggle, expressed in revolutionary terms, is one of the foremost characteristics of the ruling Baath party ideology.
Ignorance of Iraqi Baath motivations is pervasive, even among political and media elites. David Brooks of The Weekly Standard recently wrote, “Very little attention has been paid to what Saddam wants and what Saddam believes.” Saddam was tutored in the Baath party ideology by one of its founders, Michel Aflaq, who especially admired Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin and the Russian Communist party. He synthesized these philosophical ideals, tinted by a conviction of Arab racial superiority, into an ideology that envisioned ongoing violent revolution and a transcendent political messianism.
Aflaq taught Hussein that history, truth and values must all be erased and superceded according to the needs of the Revolution, which seeks to achieve an era of global Arab domination. Saddam has stated that the goal of Revolution “is ascension, ascension and ascension.” The Baathist ideology issues a call for bloodshed in ever-widening conflict that disregards law and permits the mass murder of racially inferior groups. Only in recent years has Saddam clothed this originally secular ideology in Islamic religious language to convey his vision.
The evolving Iraqi Baathism has integrated a tendency to deify President Hussein. Ofra Bengio’s incisive look at Iraqi politics, Saddam’s Word: Political Discourse in Iraq, describes Saddam’s rule as a horrible regime that uses terror to cow and coerce the Iraqi people into messianic idolatry of His Excellency. In recent years, despite the broad pauperization and Iraqi civilians, Saddam is increasingly compared with the Prophet Mohammed. Bengio further describes Saddam’s use of the media, artists and poets as propaganda peddlers who conform history and truth to Saddam’s whim.
As Saddam quipped to one of his henchmen, “What is politics? Politics is when you say you are going to do one thing while intending to do another. Then you do neither what you said or what you intended.”
His Excellency has murdered all his political opponents, even his own family—sometimes pulling the trigger himself. Millions have died and millions more suffer under his tyrannical dictatorship.
Saddam has infused Orwellian lies and indoctrination, co-opted Hitler’s racial vision into triumphant Pan-Arabism, and reified a leader-worship analogous to Stalin or Mao. Fortunately, Hussein’s domestic success has been shackled by resistance to an Iraqi national identity founded in the thriving tribalism of Iraq’s many Shiites and Kurds. Moreover, his continued defiance of United Nations resolutions has brought down heavy economic sanctions, which have drained Iraq of potential wealth, subsequently weakening his own economic power.
Western observers have failed to understand Hussein because they have mistaken him for a self-interested thug rather than a zealous ideological missionary. Our academics are blinded by a stubborn and myopic secularism that overlooks the vast global political influence of religion, culture and ideology.
Unfortunately, given the strength of this ideology amidst the ruling elite, simply disarming Saddam today will not prevent his future attempts to promote terrorism and revolution. Without real regime change, other Baath leaders will continue to hoist the poisonous Baath flag of violent revolution.
If peace with Iraq lies in the future, we must disarm Saddam not only of his weapons and chemical warfare, but also of his caustic and virulent ideology of bloody revolution. Unfortunately, taking this dictator’s cherished toys away now will not stem his ongoing pursuit of them.
The Revolution demands the leader’s amoral pursuit of ideological and political ascendancy whether through outright war, secret weapons programs or illicit state-funded terrorism.
Richard T. Halvorson ’03 is a philosophy and government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.