Saddam Hussein is a ‘malignant narcissist’

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By Barbara Ferguson, Arab News Correspondent
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2002-12-14 03:00

WASHINGTON, 14 December 2002 — It’s certainly no understatement to say serious folks have lost sleep wondering what makes Saddam Hussein tick. Now, an expert in psychological behavior says he knows. “Saddam is a ‘malignant narcissist,’ which is the most dangerous of any so-called ‘personality disorders.’ This kind of person uses whatever aggression is necessary to achieve his goals, and has no constraints of conscience,” says Dr. Jerrold Post, who has focused his entire career on ‘political psychology.’

For 21 years, Dr. Post worked with America’s Central Intelligence Agency where he founded and directed the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, an interdisciplinary behavioral science unit which provided assessments of foreign leadership and decision making for the president and other senior officials.

During the 1978 Camp David accords, he was asked by then-President Carter to present a psychological analysis of both Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin. His analysis was so good he received the Studies in Intelligence Award in 1980.

“The Western media has failed to understand the impact the Gulf War has had on Saddam Hussein,” said Dr. Post, president of Political Psychology Associates, based in Bethesda, Maryland. “He always harbored dreams of glory, and the Gulf War propelled Saddam into the world’s spotlight — where he became recognized as a world leader.

“Saddam caused the Dow Jones stock market to drop and oil prices to rise — he had the world by the throat, which actualized his dreams of glory.”

To understand Saddam, it is important to look at his childhood. The young Saddam “endured one of the most dreadful childhoods” possible.

“When his mother was pregnant with him, his father died of cancer. When she was eight months pregnant, her 12-year-old son died of childhood cancer. She became very depressed and tried to both abort her pregnancy and commit suicide.”

“When Saddam was born, his mother rejected him due to her continued depression,” Dr. Post told an audience this week at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “His uncle took care of him for the first three years of his life. Then, Saddam’s mother remarried a distant relative and took Saddam back. From that day, until Saddam left home at the age of 10, the stepfather continuously abused him, both psychologically and physically.

“This left great scars on him,” said Dr. Post. “His adult underlying insecurity and ‘wounded self’ is all from his mother.”

Just look at Iraq, said the psychiatrist. “All the streets are named after him, and countless giant street paintings, statues and posters line the streets and hang in office buildings — all this is a testimony to his fragile ego.”

At the age of 10, Saddam asked to be educated, and his parents refused. So he fled to his uncle, “who filled him with dreams of glory.” It was his uncle who brought him to Baghdad at 15, at the time of Gamal Abdul Nasser’s revolution in Egypt.

“Saddam wanted to inherit the mantle of the young Nasser, and to be a hero to the radical Arab world,” said Dr. Post. The psychiatrist rejects the West’s attempts to write Saddam off as a madman. “I really despair over America’s need to have a ‘madman du jour’ in the Middle East. First they named (Libyan leader Muammar) Qaddafi as a madman, then it was Iran’s Khomeini, then Saddam Hussein, then Osama Bin Laden, and now we’re back to Saddam again.

“Saddam Hussein has been characterized as ‘the madman of the Middle East.’ This pejorative diagnosis is not only inaccurate but also dangerous. Consigning Saddam to the realm of madness can mislead decision makers into believing he is unpredictable when in fact he is not.

“Saddam is by no means psychotic, he’s a pragmatic, rational calculator who has made some miscalculations; he is by no means irrational, but is dangerous to the extreme,” said Dr. Post, co-author of a study of the politics of illness in high office, “When Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King,” (Yale University Press, 1993), and “Political Paranoia: The Psycho-politics of Hatred,” (Yale, 1997). He is also editor and author of “The Psychological Evaluation of Political Leaders: Method and Application,” University of Michigan Press (in press).

“Malignant narcissism” is the term Dr. Post gives Saddam’s personality; “He shows extreme self-absorption and grandiosity, with no capacity for the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people; he cannot empathize with his adversaries, and is overly optimistic about his own chances of success, which is part of his narcissism; he has no constraints of conscience and shows no scruples; he is not psychotic, but has a strong paranoid orientation, and believes his enemies are out to get him, wherever he is.”

“Saddam rose to power, in part, because he has a penchant for violence. He was abused as a child, and refuses to let anyone ever abuse him again — which he compensates for by being extremely violent,” said Dr. Post. He rose to power in the Baathist Party not as a military man, but as an assassin, and not a very good one.

“In 1959, for example, he led an assassination attempt against the British-imposed ruler with Brig. Abd Al-Kareem Kasim. Saddam has created his own mythology, but he really exercised a basic failure in ‘Assassination 101,’ as he was wounded in the crossfire by one of his own shooters.”

In 1968, Dr. Post said Saddam engineered a coup against Abd Al-Salam Aref with the assistance of Iraq’s intelligence chief, Abdul Razzaz Al-Naif, who played a crucial role. “This man should have had a top position in the new regime as a reward for services rendered. Instead, he was exiled, and assassinated two years later. That’s one of Saddam’s rules, ‘never trust a co-conspirator.’”

In 1979 Saddam was vice president, and successfully ousted President Ahmad Hasan Al-Bakr. Three years later Al-Bakr died, believed to have been poisoned by Saddam

Half-joking, Dr. Post said “The Godfather” is reported to be Saddam’s favorite movie and training manual.

Saddam has surrounded himself with sycophants, which is another big problem, said Dr. Post. “This has resulted in him being politically out-of-touch with reality because he’s surrounded by a group of ‘yes men’ who tell him what he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear.”

This caused Saddam to misjudge America’s determination during the Gulf War, which resulted in devastating consequences for his country. “Not yielding to UN inspectors after the Gulf War, it is estimated that sanctions against the country have cost Iraq $193 billion.”

Despite the “murky message” from US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, Dr. Post said Saddam went into the Gulf War believing the US was suffering from a ‘Vietnam complex.’

“Saddam thought that if he could endure the air bombings, there would be protests and demonstrations at the White House and Pentagon, and he would be a hero in the radical Arab world for standing up to the US.”

But, by the end of 1991, Saddam was gravely weakened: His military was a mess, Iraqi armed forces (including special units) were disillusioned with Saddam; the standard of living for soldiers reached lowest level ever; the no-fly zone over the north and south was humiliating; Kurdish control over north was a reminder that Iraq was powerless and at the mercy of the United States; the weapons inspections were humiliating; and there were rising desertions in the military.”

In March 1995, two regular army brigades suffered severe losses from clashes with Jalal Talabani’s Kurds and The Iraqi National Congress (INC), which further humiliated Saddam and the military. Redemption and the restoration of morale came courtesy of the Kurds, notes Dr. Post. In August 1996 Saddam Hussein authorized attack on Irbil following the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)’s securing of limited military assistance from Iran. The Republican Guards smashed the PUK and the US-backed INC, as well as some CIA operations in Kurdistan.

The seizure of Irbil was a major success, and restored the morale of the Republican Guards (and their faith in Saddam). He demonstrated that his regime was still very much in control and was a major power throughout the country, and he showed the fractered nature and impotence of the opposition movements in Iraq.

Dr. Post said this was a major turning point for the regime in terms of restoring its position. But, “had the Guards not taken Irbil it is likely that Saddam’s support would be so undermined and that his position would have been in grave jeopardy.”

Saddam has also lost the support of his most powerful political allies — his military, his family and the tribes around Tikrit. “All three are not as secure as they used to be.”

“Distant cousins, many tribe members and Tikritis are still placed in very important security positions, and they are indispensable as a security shield for the regime, but except for his younger son Qusai, the role of extended family has been reduced.”

Saddam has suffered a severe split in tribal loyalty, with coup plots by three of the major Sunni tribes, all of which revolted against him, said Dr. Post.

“In 1990, the Jubbari tribe attempted an assassination plot against him; it involved the Jubbar members of the Republican Guards and regular military units; in 1993-94 the Ubayd officers were involved in coup plotting; and in 1995, the Dulaym tribe revolted against Saddam.

“The Dulaymis and Ubayids continue to serve in the Republican Guards in key security posts, but they have been removed from the most sensitive positions, and are closely watched.”

Jawa’inah and Al-Bu Nasser are two other tribes that have been involved in coup attempts.

Overall, Dr. Post said the threat of a large-scale tribal uprising remains remote, “but when the regime is on the verge of collapse, many in these tribes and ‘houses’ are likely to defect.

Many of the Shiit tribes in the south are collaborating with the regime, “but only few, if any, are fully committed.”

The instability in Iraq as seen in a weakened military and fractures in tribal loyalty is also clearly seen in Saddam Hussein’s immediate family. His eldest son Uday is known as the “Bad Boy of Iraq,” and is greatly feared among the population of Baghdad.

In 1988, Uday attacked one of Saddam’s favorite valets, Hanna Jojo, during a party for Egypt’s Suzanne Mubarak — and beat the valet to death in full view of all the guests. Saddam jailed Uday and put him on trial for murder.

Family members of the victim “pleaded for leniency,” so Saddam released and exiled Uday to Switzerland. A few months later Uday was declared persona non grata by the Swiss authorities because he attacked a Swiss policeman.

In 1995 Uday shot his maternal uncle, Watban Ibrahim Hasan in the leg. He also played a central role in the defection of Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s cousin who was married to Udayy’s sister.

Significantly, not only has Saddam relieved Uday of all his duties, but he even burned down a garage with his son’s most cherished (and expensive) vintage cars.

In December 1996, an assassination attempt was made on Uday’s life. His car was raked with automatic gunfire, and he was bedridden for at least six months with both his legs paralyzed. Dr. Post says he seems to have recovered from most of the adverse effects of his injuries — but says there are reports that he was left impotent.

“It is said that if one of Saddam’s children want to see him, they must submit a written request, and are often kept waiting weeks before being granted an audience.”

Dr. Post says it is Saddam’s younger son, Quasi Hussein, who is now the heir apparent.

Qusai is responsible for Saddam’s security, and is in charge of Iraq’s non-conventional weapons.

“Hussein has the supreme authority for ‘prison cleansing,” and authorizes executions of military and security officers suspected of disloyalty. He is a member of the Regional Leadership (RL) of the Baath party, and deputy secretary of its important Military Bureau (Al-Maktab Al-‘Askari).”

It is also important to note that in 1990, Saddam employed a new survival tactic. He changed his image to become more Islamic. “He has presented himself as the Slave of God (Abd Allah), his speech style started to sound like militant preacher (khatib) at a Friday sermon in the mosque, and he promised to eradicate all corruption and destroy all the corrupt leaders of the Islamic world, and a few million Qur’an copies were printed in Iraq and given away for free,” said Dr. Post.

Since 1989, Saddam “pretends to pray five times a day. He stops meetings and retires to another room to pray. His Saddam Mosque is reported to be the biggest or second biggest in the Middle East after the Haram in Makkah.”

But it is the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that are most important to Saddam. He believes he was confirmed as major world leader because of them. In simple terms: ‘Big boys have big toys.’

“Saddam uses WMDs to demonstrate to his army as part of an ongoing contest for prestige and authority. His nuclear weapons, and WMDs in general, are a double-edged sword,” said Dr. Post.

“For a person with tremendous insecurities such as Saddam, these weapons are offering security that cannot be matched by any other. He defies the international community with a regular reminder to the military that he has not and will not capitulate. “He is a pragmatic survivor, and not a man like Idi Amin (a former dictator of Uganda) who will accept a graceful exile. He has the capacity to bob, weave, cheat and deceive while appearing to be accountable. But if pushed into a corner — which is what the US has done by declaring a regime change policy — no one can predict if he will use his chemical and biological weapons against troops and countries in the region.” And if forced out, he could conceivably set fire to his own oil fields, and possibly those of other Gulf states, said Dr. Post who recommends the United Nations, and not the United States, hold him accountable.

“Saddam wishes to be seen as a respected world leader, and it is much more of an incentive for him to have work with the UN, than the US going it alone.”

Arab News Features 14 December 2002

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