Saddam Hussein... just another Saladin wannabe

On the banks of the Tigris , in Tikrit, Kurdish chief Ayyub was presented in 1138 with a son destined to become the Glory of Islam: salâhu d-din yussuf, Saladin to most of us.

One year short of eight centuries later, another ruler was also born in the environs of Tikrit, one who also would achieve celebrity status, but in an infamous way: Saddam Hussein.

Saladin and Saddam, both sons of Islam and political power achievers, yet only one would be able to combine power with wisdom.

Saladin’s achievements in both economic and military fronts earned him the love and admiration of his people; and what’s historically uncommon, the respect of his enemies. Whether in the annals of history, or in both Eastern and Western folklore, the figure of Saladin is uniformly considered in a positive light. Not controversial at all.

In contrast, Saddam’s deeds earned him, among a great majority of his people, the hatred and rancor accorded a tyrant. And his repudiation extended worldwide, not just with the Iraqis he governed.

It was Saladin’s wisdom that made him more remarkable than many great historical figures. He welcomed his father’s mentoring, putting his advice to good use. He also assumed power at the proper time, with dignified keenness; and engaged in military action with the certitude of holding a winning hand, never with a bluff.

In contrast, Saddam’s key military-political decisions were always prematurely taken, with little or no counsel from those closest to him. Where Saladin surrounded himself with Kurds he could trust, Saddam took it a step beyond, surrounding himself with an incestuous clique of Tikrit yes-men.

Patience and planning were Saladin’s virtues, most evident where they truly counted- in difficult military situations. It took him thirteen years to organize the necessary military might that could challenge the Crusaders. A series of conquests- Damascus , Aleppo , Mosul … became necessary before he would attack the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and capture the city.

In contrast, Saddam’s misguided calculations in assuming a non-existing long-term support suckered him into committing the two mega-blunders which define his thirty-four years in power, and that would do him in. And, to add insult to injury, the two American presidents he misread are presidents likely to be placed in history books in “the least gray matter” group.

First it was Reagan in 1980 which probably saw Iraq ’s cross-border attack to annex the Shatt al-Arab waterway, as a way to get even with the Ayatollah Homeni and his affront to American power. But after an eight-year struggle, Saddam’s glory-seeking excursion was over, as was his assumed friendship with America . The Cold War was becoming history, and so was Saddam as an ally of the US .

Then it was Bush I in 1991 that Saddam misjudged to have given an implied consent to his Kuwait invasion. We all know what happened next.

Many will claim that Saddam’s despotic nature was instrumental in holding together a disparate nation of Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ia… a nation of secular Baahtists and Muslim fundamentalists. However, there is no political virtue in having fear as the glue that holds people together.

As great as the need may have been during the past half-century for exceptional Arab leadership, the political reincarnation of Saladin has yet to emerge… for Saddam Hussein was not it. Perhaps more than the hope for a political savior, the need rests in greater human and political understanding by the leaders of Western nations, particularly the United States .

A more evenhanded foreign policy towards the problems of the Middle East , starting with the Israeli-Palestinian feud, will dispense with the need for a Saladin reincarnate. And as collateral benefit, it could likely provide the means for terrorism to drown in the waters of human understanding and goodwill.

In December 2003 Saddam turned in his Saladin mask without firing a single shot… the play was over for the wannabe.