With Saddam Hussein’s first appearance in an Iraqi court, legal observers (both professional and amateur) are eagerly racing to comment. Far be it from me to miss out on all the fun. In the extended section, I’ll spell out my idea for a defense for Saddam. I also invite other ideas in the comments.
One of the most fascinating facts about sharks is their respiratory system. They cannot breathe on their own; they constantly need water flowing through their gills. They are in constant motion to maintain the water flow, even when sleeping. When a shark stops moving, it starts dying.
The United States military has a policy called “up or out” for officers. In essence, as I understand it, officers are limited to how much time they can serve at each rank. At the end of that period, if they have not won promotion, they are forced to retire. The idea seems to be that the best officers should be promoted, and lesser ones set aside to make room for other outstanding officers to move up and through those positions. An officer who “peaks” and tries to hold their position is blocking the course of subordinates who want to move up and through that position.
Both these situations have similarities to tyrannical governments. Those within that government can never grow complacent, never be content to maintain their position. They have to keep moving upward in the system, or they will be cast aside. However, dictatorships seldom have pension plans like the U.S. military; it’s usually more like the shark. The person serving the state must continue to move higher, or be killed.
Saddam Hussein fits this mold perfectly. He was a part of an incredibly brutal, repressive system. Resignation or simple survival were not options. He had to keep rising within the system, eliminating his rivals before they eliminated him, until he reached the peak and became dictator of Iraq.
And once he was in power, he had to maintain his power. A quiet retirement was not possible, and exile has a spotty history. He was riding the tiger, and there’s no easy way to get off. He had to keep his subordinates competent, to protect himself, but not ambitious, to keep them from killing him (as he had done on his rise to the top).
In that context, a case can be made for every single one of his actions as simply being an extension of the “self-defense” argument. He was part of a system that didn’t merely encourage brutality, but required it as a means of survival. Terror and violence were facts of everyday life. Mercy is derided as “a disease of dogs.” “An eye for an eye” is considered lenient. Hussein’s only guilt is in being more successful at playing the game than many others, for many years.
So, that’s one defense argument I’d consider for Saddam. Any thoughts?