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Egomania is a disease, all right - a disease of the go. Saddam Hussein had it made as dictators go. He was rich, had absolute power, and the corruption he instigated didn't hurt his standard of living. But his ego got much too large, and he met a bitter end. The death of Saddam Hussein is a lesson in egomania case studies.


 
Home / Egomania Case Studies  /
Egomania Case Study: Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein

From living it up to barely living:  the price of egomania


I was in college in 1991 when Saddam Hussein stood up to the West and refused to vacate Kuwait.    No one was gullible enough back then to believe that the West really cared about Kuwaiti sovereignty.   If the Kuwaitis had been exporting taro and sugar cane instead of oil, Saddam would still be alive and building palaces and lining up mistresses in Kuwait City.

Here's the remarkable thing about Saddam.   He met a bitter end by the Americans, yet he was no stranger to the Americans or their ways.   He'd worked with the CIA as far back as 1959 in a failed attempt to assassinate the then Iraqi prime minister Abdul Karim Kassim.   The CIA then helped his party get into power in 1963, and thereafter Saddam shacked up with the Americans to insure Iraq was a bastion of anti-communism.    When the Shah of Iran was overthrown in an Islamic Revolution in 1979, not only the Americans backed him in his invasion of Iran, but also the Soviets, the Europeans, and the Persian Gulf Arab states.   

So, I suppose in some ways, Saddam could be forgiven for later marching into Kuwait and thinking he could get away with it.   He had friends in high places, and none of those powerful friends ever accused him of compromising Iranian sovereignty by storming into Iran in 1980 and renaming Iranian provinces.   His Western allies didn't scold him.   Quite the opposite.   They offered him enough financial assistance to carry on the war for eight years.   By 1990, Saddam had some sensible reasons for forging into Kuwait.   He claimed the war with Iran had spared Kuwaiti derrieres from Iranian pressure and domination.   Besides that, he added, Kuwaiti territory was historically Iraq's.   It was only British control of the region in the 1920's that had partitioned Kuwait off as a separate nation, stealing what would have been prime Iraqi seafront property.    Saddam just couldn't be absolutely sure the Americans would care if he invaded Kuwait.   He was then getting U.S. assistance in the multibillions.    He was, officially, a "buddy," and we tend to cut our buddies a lot more slack when they break the rules.   

In this case, Saddam calculated wrong.   The U.S. did care.   Kuwait had the equivalent number of oil reserves to Iraq, and if Iraq controlled Kuwait, a fifth of the world's oil would be in Saddam's hands.   Saddam had bullied the wrong nation.   He should've invaded Zimbabwe instead, removed the mentally demented Robert Mugabe from power, and annexed the tobacco fields.    The world wouldn't have blinked.

I don't know about you, but if my benefactor who'd put me into power and aided in my subsequent power plays told me to do something, I'd do it.   Never mind if that benefactor is hypocritical and corrupt and puts its own citizens' lives at risk in wars that benefit only a chosen few.   Saddam had been in bed with the U.S. for years and knew how the game was played.   Perhaps it could be argued that Saddam was in the moral right -- that Kuwait was sneaking oil out of Iraq's reserves   by slant drilling on their border or that Kuwait should've forgiven a share of the debt Iraq racked up in its war with Iran.   In the end, it doesn't matter who's right.   In the real world, might is right.   When the U.S. told him to get out, he should've sat down in secret negotiations with the Americans and worked out a face-saving way of extricating himself from the mess he'd started.   

It's not like Saddam was taking a moral stand against the U.S. either.    He'd long ago sold himself to the highest bidder.   Saddam was no Omar Torrijos or Jaime Roldós, former leaders of Panama and Ecuador, respectively, who Confessions of an Economic Hit Man author John Perkins maintains were knocked off by American forces in 1981 because they refused to do as Uncle Sam commanded.   Up until 1990, Saddam had been doing exactly what Uncle Sam said, with Uncle Sam's financial support, and reaping the rewards.

There are so many perks to becoming a dictator.   You can pilfer national wealth and not worry about being reported, caught, or fined.   You can kill or sleep with anyone you want whenever you want. The job is yours for a lifetime, too, if you know how to keep it.   Notice:   renewal isn't automatic or easy.   Someone else always wants your job.   At least if you're President of the United States, the wannabes have to wait 4 years until they can try to take your position   If you're a dictator, you can be booted out, usually by assassination, at any time.   The dictators of the recent past have pragmatically discovered that teaming up with a bigger pal and doing its bidding, while providing a minimum of domestic disturbance, is the best way to get a dictatorship position renewed.   

You don't lose a dictatorship position and then apply or get transferred to a new one, like some sort of dictatorship-CEO network.    Dictatorship jobs just don't grow on trees.   Saddam Hussein had to know that.   And after the Gulf War of 1991, he had to know that the renewal of his dictatorship application wasn't a foregone conclusion anymore.   I honestly believe the Western forces could've had him sent on a one-way ticket to Assassination Row in 1991 if they'd really wanted to.   They didn't desire a power vacuum in the region, and everyone probably felt that Saddam, once taught a painful lesson, would fall into line.   

I know if I were a corrupt dictator, I would've heeded the lesson well.   In 2003, Forbes estimated Saddam's net worth at US$2 billion, four times the wealth of the Queen of England.   He possessed eight presidential compounds.   That's a nice deal.   The President of the United States just leases the White House.   He doesn't get to keep it.   If I were on a probationary period with the West for causing problems, I would've been on best behavior thereafter.    "Sorry, guys, for the mess I stirred up.   Won't happen again.   Can I have another $10 billion of assistance in the meanwhile to keep the region stable?"

In 2003, the American and the British governments cooked the books to document that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and to justify another invasion there to terminate Saddam's dictatorship post once and for all.   Saddam knew all along they could rig the game.   Still, he had a third chance to get out of the situation with his neck unhung.   "Guys, I know you want me out of power.   No need to invade.   How about if I step down instead?   I only have a few conditions.   Let's just have a little public confrontation in the media where I look like I'm standing up to you, so I don't step down looking weak.   Behind the scenes, I'll be happy to consult with you to in order find a new suitable dictator to fill the void.   All I ask is uninterrupted exile in [Monte Carlo, Switzerland, the Caribbean], and an annual stipend of US$200 million per year."   Believe me, he would've been granted his demands.   I've read estimates on the web that the war which finally did get waged has cost the American taxpayer $600 billion so far and is likely to eventually top $3 trillion.   Hussein was pushing 70 before the 2003 war began.   If he lived to the ripe old age of 95, his total 'unemployment compensation' would only come to $5 billion, a trifle next to what's been spent, and stability in the region would've been maintained.   At the very minimum Saddam could've walked away with a golden handshake of $30 million, which is what the U.S. government spent as a bounty on Saddam Hussein's two sons.   

Absolute power really must destroy all sense of logical reason.   How many of us, if we had a net worth of $2 billion, would futilely opt to cling to power and then be forced to hide out, lice ridden, at a farmhouse until we were caught and hanged, when we could instead retire to the luxury locale of our choice in style, write best-selling books about our years in power, and work as a highly paid Middle East dictatorship consultant for the U.S. government?   If you had ethics, morals, and principles, you might take your chances, resist, and die a martyr.  Well, poor Saddam didn't possess ethics, morals, or principles any more than he possessed common sense.   His three surviving daughters fled to Jordan, and I doubt anyone remaining behind in Iraq waxes nostalgic about the "good old days" when Saddam ruled the roost.

Maybe the U.S. State Department should learn from all their mistakes and sponsor a Dictatorship Institute.   All aspiring dictators in all the undeveloped nations would be eligible to attend, with the most promising from the poorest nations awarded scholarships.   These would-be-dictators would learn that, while they can rape their countries with impunity and, in Saddam's eldest son's case, rape the female citizens as well, in the bigger picture they should do what they're told by those who put them in power.   They should occasionally throw the poor guy on the street a bone, like build a few hospitals or show up at a national tragedy with tearful eyes so that their people might genuinely like them.   Doing something nice for the locals is a lot cheaper than engineering a hero worship phenomenon through expensive propaganda.   Altruism should be encouraged among all the dictatorship students:   horde a smaller percentage of the national wealth -- pocket only $1 billion or so instead of several billion -- and redistribute the difference to the people through better schools, roads, and education.   There would be advanced courses offered in quitting while you were ahead -- that is, while you still had a head.   

Saddam's last stand (before he falls through a hole in the floor with a noose around his neck) is available for viewing on YouTube.    Anyway you dress up the setting, it doesn't look look like the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas or St. Barts, all places a more sober Saddam could've ended up.   

Rest in peace, Saddam.   Egomania can sure be a killer.   


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