Ah, the lair of a dictator. The great Australian commentator Clive Owens once pointed out how bone-crushingly boring a dinner at Berchtesgaden, or Stalin’s summer home in Sochi, must have been. The presence of untrammeled power, along with a five-course meal, topped off by a screed. Pass the salt, please.
A new book promises some thoroughly engaging dictator dinner talk – to be read to your guests just as the summer braai season heats up. In “The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant’s Regime”, editors Kevin M. Woods, David D. Palkki, and Mark E. Stout have done the Cambridge University Press’s bidding by transcribing hundreds of hours of the ex-strongman’s conversations. This gargantuan, selfless task, for which the three gentlemen deserve a heretofore un-awarded literary prize, has resulted in some new insights into the old regime.
Vanity Fair’s blog recently released a small preview, in which they asserted that Hussein was possessed of unique and rare insight into the workings of America’s military and economy. That’s a little rich, considering the fact that Saddam was vanquished twice by the Yanks, the second time resulting in him being pulled from a rat hole and hung by a rope until dead. “Saddam Hussein predicted in 1993 that America would overspend disastrously on foreign wars”, blared the header.
That America hasn’t overspent disastrously on foreign wars – that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represent a fraction of America’s overall spending, and that the collapse of the financial system has far more to do with the cowboy financial insanity of the last several decades – appears nowhere in Saddam’s disquisitions, at least none of those released to date.
Rather, we get this sort of thing, in reference to then-President Clinton’s adventure’s in Somalia circa the Blackhawk Down episode in the early nineties (and shortly following the first Iraqi invasion):
“Saddam: “If the Americans continue such politics, they are going to face major troubles. Why would anyone want to elect an American? What did he say to him to influence him? He will probably say to him that he promises to improve the economic situation. How could he improve the economic situation with American soldiers spread all over the world?
Their economy will never improve with the expenses they spent in the Gulf and in Europe. They spent $68 billion in the Gulf, and in Europe, they spent $128 billion. If America does not withdraw its troops from all over the world, its economy could never improve. America is not in its youth phase. America is at the edge of elderliness and at the beginning phase of old age. This is nature, once you reach [inaudible]. The man might delay the deterioration; however, I cannot imagine the deterioration continuing. I mean it is impossible to give up its role of interference and influencing, and the latest foolishness made people apprehend it more and forced the blocks to move faster than before.
If America implemented a good policy, made a political difference in the world, emphasized improving the economy, etc, America would earn more respect from the rest of the world; however, it is not afraid at all. This means it is not aware of the consequences. That might result in close relations with China, the Soviet Union and India, Japan with Asia. Germany will develop to be an industrial threat and France will overspread the world markets. It will cause a major chaos all over the world.”
Unidentified Man: “Sir, yesterday, as Your Excellency knows, the American president stated that the first thing he needs to do is allocate funds for the American troops overseas, [inaudible]. He made such a statement yesterday at the conference.”
Saddam: “It is impossible for him to do that in order to improve his economy. He could save a billion dollars from here, a million dollars from somewhere else, another two million from another place that could be useful, but it would not heal his wound that is so deep it cannot be healed unless he turns to the military budget.”
Admittedly, this is gold. What the “Saddam Tapes” promise is more of the same – the revelation of what existed inside the Baghdad bubble, where grovelling courtiers, like the abovementioned “Unidentified Man”, treated every word from the dictator’s mouth as gospel. The transcription is from thousands of hours of tapes, meticulously assembled by the Institute for Defense Analysis, and they will one day be of extraordinary historical value. But ascribing wisdom to Saddam’s economic outlook? C’mon.
One does suppose he had plenty of experience on dropping insane amounts of cash on foreign engagements, given that he drained the Iraqi treasury in a lengthy war against his archenemy and next-door neighbour, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The war lasted from 1980 to 1988, and if it weren’t for their bountiful oil reserves, both countries would resemble Chad about now.
That said, the iMaverick eagerly awaits the release of “The Saddam Tapes”, but hopes the pundits keep clairvoyance stuff to a minimum. I can just see the Paul Krugman headline: “Saddam got it right; the GOP got it dead wrong.” Snore. DM
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