President Bush purges the CIA and the State Department of any who may
disagree with his views on foreign policy, the reasons for the Iraq war
will drift further int obscurity and the one great question regarding
the war will never be analyzed, scrutinized or discussed openly: How did
Saddam Hussein end up in a hole in the ground with a rug and a fan? How
is that possible? How could anything so absurd happen?
This question may very well hold the key to all that has happened in Iraq.
When his time was up, Uganda's Idi Amin sneaked away to Saudi Arabia.
When the shah of Iran was overthrown, he went to Egypt. When push came
to shove, other dictators left their respective countries to live in
comfort. But not Saddam Hussein. He decided to hide in a hole in the
ground with a rug and a fan. Here was a powerful man with an estimated
$10 billion in his personal account who came up with an exit strategy
that completely lacks any logic.
Was it members of Mr. Hussein's
inner circle who thought this up or agreed with his hiding arrangement?
Did they debate the pros and cons of living in a hole with a rug and a
fan? One of them must have suggested, "Why not have plastic surgery,
live on a yacht and enjoy the rest of your life? Travel." There must
have been other proposals considered.
It was widely thought that
Mr. Hussein might pay up to $4 billion to live a luxurious life in
exile. In fact, there were all kinds of rumors and various scenarios as
to what he might do. Everyone assumed there must be some ingenious plan.
But Mr. Hussin finally said, "Get me a house in an average
neighborhood, dig a hole, get me a rug and a fan ... and a million
dollars in case I have to order out."
And no one in his inner circle disagreed with him?
Could there have actually been a worse plan? In all the years, with all
the enemies and all that time to consider the worst-case scenario, is
this the best they could come up with? This was the best exit strategy?
Is that possible?
I don't think so.
Why? Because I don't believe Mr. Hussein ever entertained an exit
strategy. He never believed he would have to leave. He never believed
the United States would ever attack Iraq. Why? Because he was complying
with the United Nations. He was destroying his weapons. He had no choice
but to comply. The threat of attack was clear. There was resolve. His
weapons had to be destroyed. He got the message.
The only thing
he hung on to was his puffery. He needed to strut and look defiant. He
needed the appearance of being the military power in the region. But it
was all an illusion to keep his neighboring enemies at bay. And he
thought we knew that. The inspectors couldn't find the weapons of mass
destruction because they didn't exist, and the threat that they did
exist gave him power in the region. He was afraid of an attack by Iran.
Afraid of being attacked by terrorists if they smelled weakness. So the
shell game continued. The United Nations inspected. Mr. Hussein
complied. And yet he remained defiant to the outside world.
It was a game. It was political face-saving.
Was Mr. Hussein afraid the United States would ever attack? No. There
was nothing there, and he thought we knew that. Would the United States
ever launch an attack without world support? No, he thought. Would the
United States ever topple his regime and risk a power vacuum in the
region? No, Mr. Hussein thought.
After all, with him gone, the
region would erupt into a firestorm of destabilization. Kurds against
Shiites, Shiites against Sunnis, the entrance of terrorists, his
Baathist followers fighting for power and the average Iraqi fighting
anyone who invaded their country. Such chaos would never be allowed to
happen, he thought. It would be too absurd. The United States would
never make such a colossal mistake.
And Mr. Hussein had
precedent on his side. President George H. W. Bush, during the Persian
Gulf war, with a large coalition and a massive army pushing toward
Baghdad, stopped. He understood the terrible risks of toppling Mr.
Hussein's regime in that way.
So if Bush Senior understood the
dangers, reasoned Mr. Hussein, so would Bush Junior. After all, Mr.
Hussein had two despicable sons just like himself, so by that logic Bush
Junior would show the same restraint as Bush Senior. After all, the
apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It made sense to Mr. Hussein that
Bush Junior would be as informed about Middle East politics as Bush
Senior. Besides, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was a general
in the gulf war, was influential with this administration, and he had
explicitly advocated against regime change, warning, "If you break it,
you own it."
So Mr. Hussein thought he was safe to play his
shell game. To continue to posture, to show his bravado and to live the
lie as the powerful Menace of the Middle East. A war was simply too
illogical. Too absurd. But sometimes the absurd happens. And that is how
Saddam Hussein ended up in a hole in the ground with a rug and a fan.
Barry Levinson is a writer, film director and native of Baltimore.
© 2004 Baltimore Sun