Saddam’s Choice

Something in this slow and laborious American warfare build-up against Iraq sounds very much like a bomb clock system. Once set up to explode at a determined hour, nothing can stop it anymore. The Arab League and the whole Arab regional system maybe definitely against such a development. So many signs have been sent to Washington. Another war is really a worrisome matter and a big, very big concern indeed for the neighbors. Even Iran opposed it. But to no avail. The American administration is determined to put an end at Saddam story.

It is awful!  Why should things arrive to this point? Some people believe that the US endeavor is autistic and non-indulgent in respect of all the states that are opposing the military invasion of an Arab country.

At which attitude the US replies that Mr. Saddam Hussein is the only person who can help to find an appeasement and avoid another war. How could he do that? The answer is: give up power.

It seems obvious that the Americans would simply abandon their belligerent plans if the Iraqi President accepts to negotiate an honorable exit. Why not after all? It was Mr.Hosni Mubarak who, some years ago, had suggested to host the Iraqi President in Egypt, if he wants to leave Iraq.

Today, is such a deal still possible? Or had we reached the point of non-return?

Those who support this proposition believe that Mr. Saddam can still avoid war, not only by accepting the return of the UN inspectors, but also by relinquishing power. For obviously, even with the acceptance of the return of the weapons inspectors, sanctions would not be automatically lifted. What is behind all this mess is more likely linked to the person of Mr. Saddam, who is no longer admitted as a man officially in charge of a country’s destiny. Indeed, one may retort that the destiny of Iraq is neither the US nor the UN business. Which is true only at one condition: that Iraq abandons its aspiration to be a player among others in the regional or/ and the international system. The realities of our world being what they are, a state can hardly pretend to live a normal life if it does not indulge in compromising with neighbors and allow some concessions to the International community. These are facts, not hypotheses.

People, who think that Saddam should better leave power willingly in this moment, are not necessarily embracing the American point of view.

A great leader is not only recognizable by his sagacity and wisdom, but also by his ability to sacrifice his own safety for the sake of his nation. It is Iraq that is today threatened by invasion and war, not the person of Saddam, although he is the cause of the current impasse. That is why he still may save the situation in pulling the carpet off the American feet.

He should say: if it is my presence that is the cause of these continuing sanctions and this looming war, then I will quit power. And let’s see whether the Americans will be still willing to invade the country.

The people who hold this view think for example of the black apartheid fighter, Nelson Mandela, who accepted to spend 25 years in jail only because he believed that his sacrifice will one day be profitable to his people and its cause. His example is the most recent, though not unique in history. They may cite also Nasser who publicly resigned in 1967 after he claimed and acknowledged total responsibility for the defeat of the Egyptian army.

Put in the same situation as Mr. Saddam today, would Mandela or Nasser opt for remaining in power if they knew that the only way to avoid more harm for their peoples is to abdicate?  There is no answer for Nasser, whose regime was not a model of democracy either, but we all know how Mandela chose to leave power when nobody could really challenge him. Why is it so hard for Mr. Saddam to face the realities he has personally helped to create and to respond of the consequences of his acts, as a responsible leader should do?

True, the American policy is cruel and vindictive. There is é alas- nothing to do about it, for even the most sympathetic to the Iraqi plight among the Arabs and the closest to the American administration, are dramatically helpless: they just cannot decide for the Americans. Repeated petitions and pressures achieved nothing more than gathering some compassion in the media and the civil society institutions. Yet, even organizations such as Voices in the Wilderness or Citizens concerned for the people of Iraq and likewise all the activists close to these organizations or to the network for ending the sanctions against Iraq, inside the USA and outside it, are not necessarily fans of Saddam. Far from it, if they are ready to defend the cause of the Iraqi people and the thousands of children dying of ill nutrition and other diseases, I know not one of them who would claim innocence for the Iraqi president or defend his overstaying power.

This is not a matter of democracy or autocracy. None of those people, many of them travel regularly to Iraq, is concerned by the internal struggle. Every reasonable person would acknowledge that it is up to the Iraqi themselves to consider changing or not changing their government. However, acting for the end of sanctions and war against Iraq does not include necessarily white washing Mr. Saddam’s hands from responsibility. These are two different things. For many people in the USA and the West, as in the Arab and Islamic world, do believe that the sanctions victimize only the population, without really harming Mr. Saddam.

In fact, though Mr. Saddam is said to be unpredictable, he could not be so hard to read.

In his own logic, nothing worse than what happened can still happen to him. He has been isolated in the region as nobody had been. He is no longer able to attend the Arab summits. He has ceased to be considered as a model for the Arabs, since he had rashly assaulted an Arab state, thus behaving as an alien invader. How many Arab leaders are today ready to welcome him again in their reunions, and how many have visited him in the last decade? Of course, now and then he would send his ministers to tour some Arab countries, explaining his viewpoint. Of course, he had succeeded to reestablish some loosen relationships with some of them. But, these little overtures cannot really be considered as an important success, and much less as rehabilitation. There is still a problem with Kuwait. The consequences of the invasion have not been wiped out yet.

So, at this stage of his life, what is the sum of his winnings?

The real winnings of the political leaders are not the millions and the billions they stock in the Swiss banks, for they know that the money would not be of much help to them if they find themselves in the streets facing an angry mob. Mr. Saddam is well placed to know this truth, he who has always taken pride in the fact that he had tried once to kill the former Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Karim Kacem. He failed. But the latter had been slain by the mob in the streets of Baghdad.

The real winnings of the leaders are their legitimacy, their credibility, and their popularity. If a leader has succeeded to grant himself at least two of these advantages, he would be able to cross the street serenely, accompanied by love, respect, and admiration. If not, at least one of the three. If none of them is available, then the shrewd man (or woman) should better prepare his suitcases and ready himself to leaving his palace.

In the first British elections after the end of World War Two, Mr. Churchill who had then every reason to believe that he would win another mandate as Prime Minister, as he was actually the great hero of the war and the winner, was hardly astonished when he was being told that the British people had chosen another leader. Were the British ungrateful? That was not the point. As Lord Moran reported it in his diaries, the people did not reelect Mr. Churchill, because they did not want to make of him a dictator.

Churchill remained a great man in history, and the pages of his rule have not been stained by any important deviation, as far as I know.

Now, without attempting a comparison between two quite different countries, can we measure the distance between the two situations?

In the first- the Iraqi that is- we have a leader who not only triggered a war, but also lose it, with all the consequences we know for his people. Still, he is sticking to power at the risk to have his country bombed and re-bombed until it was turned to stones.

In the second case- the British- we have a winner who is merely dismissed by his people so that he can never forget that é winner or not é he was nothing but the servant of the country, not its master.

Between these two attitudes lies the whole problem of the post écolonial states since the acquisition of independence.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.