Ready for a Rematch

Michael Byers

The family feud is rarely mentioned as a factor in contemporary politics, perhaps because its tribal character does not fit well into the ‘rational actor’ model favoured by political scientists and pundits. Yet the American political system, in particular, operates on quasi-tribal lines, to the point where ideological affiliations play an overt role in judicial appointments. Tribalism may soon become the determinating factor in White House decision-making as well, for George W. Bush and his entourage don’t deal in shades of grey. As far as they’re concerned, the distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, us and them, are perfectly clear; and within this world of absolutes the family feud is alive and well. After eight long years of waiting, the Bushes have a score to settle with the Husseins.

Saddam Hussein, who has ruled Iraq since 1979, was born in Tikrit, the birthplace of Saladin. Raised by an uncle who had taken part in a pro-Nazi revolt against the Iraqi monarchy in 1941, Saddam, like Saladin, sees himself as the rightful leader of the Arab world. He is just as ruthless, too: purges are common and even potential opponents are crushed. In 1988, he used poison gas on the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing more than four thousand people. When two of his sons-in-law fled the country in 1995, he lured them back with promises of mercy then promptly had them put to death.

Saddam has two sons. Uday is a trigger-happy, 36-year-old playboy who, in 1988, killed one of his father’s closest aides with a battery-powered carving knife. At a party in 1995, he shot and killed six dancing girls. Uday was heir-designate to the Presidency until 1996, when he was shot and partially paralysed in an assassination attempt. Although he still wields enormous power, his younger brother, the 34-year-old Qusay, has since acquired a more prominent role as head of the Iraqi secret service. He has been named his father’s deputy and appears alongside Saddam at meetings of the Armed Forces Command. If recent reports concerning Saddam’s ill-heath are correct, Qusay is well-positioned to succeed him as President.

In 1980, Saddam cemented his hold of power by invading Iran. The invasion sparked a ten-year war in which more than a million people died. Then, in 1990, he turned his attention to the south, invading Kuwait and prompting a war with the US and its allies that, in many respects, continues today.

Like Saddam, George Bush Sr is accustomed to power. Director of the CIA in the late 1970s, he served two terms as Vice-President to Ronald Reagan before riding into the Oval Office on the coat-tails of the great communicator – and of Reagan’s somewhat inadvertent victory in the Cold War. But Bush and his advisers were caught offguard by the massive geopolitical shifts brought about by the demise of the Soviet Union, as well as being hamstrung by a failing economy and burdened politically by Dan Quayle. The Administration made numerous foreign policy mistakes, not the least of which was sending mixed messages to Saddam – whom they had supported in his war against Iran – when he began asserting territorial claims to Kuwait.

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