In Saddam Hussein, Bush Had a Perfect Foe

March 10, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

President Bush couldn't have invented a more perfect enemy than Saddam Hussein.

With every act, the defiant 53-year-old Iraqi president and leader of the ruling Baath Party seemed to turn American sentiment more stridently against him: from his initial invasion of Kuwait to his taking of hostages (whom he called "guests"); from his deliberate oil spill in the Persian Gulf to his Scud missile attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia; from his torching of Kuwait's oil fields to his torture and execution of its people.

In the end, he had spawned so much outrage among Americans and those in the allied countries that the war seemed to be about one thing -- squashing Saddam Hussein, the man once called the "Butcher of Baghdad," the man who dropped poison gas on rebellious Iraqi Kurds in 1988, the man George Bush equated with Adolf Hitler.

With the world's fourth largest army assembled, and the threat of chemical and biological weapons as a trump card, Mr. Hussein predicted his confrontation with the U.S.-led allied forces would be "the mother of all battles."

Mr. Hussein further angered U.S. leaders by trying to link the issue of the war -- his annexing of neighboring Kuwait in order to stop it from overproducing oil and driving prices down -- with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He rejected proposed dates for a meeting with Secretary of State James Baker before the United Nations' Jan. 15 deadline. And, after the air attack had begun, he vowed to defeat "the Satan in the White House."

His own defeat was so stunning and swift that his once sturdy hold on Iraq -- earned through his reign of terror, as well as moves to modernize the country and relax some traditional Muslim strictures -- now appears tenuous.

Middle East experts, some of whom have called the Iraqi dictator a megalomaniac, believe his missteps in the gulf crisis stemmed in part from a lack of knowledge about other parts of the world (he's made only one trip to the West) and his intolerance of disagreement from those around him (he's said to have murdered a health minister who questioned his conduct of the Iran-Iraq war).

Born in poverty, abused as a child and influenced by an uncle who taught him to use violence as a political tool, he rose to power in Iraq through coups, assassinations, torture and mass executions. Upon becoming Iraq's president in 1979, after rising through the ranks of the vaguely socialist Baath Party, his first order of business was to execute 21 senior officials whose loyalty he questioned.

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