Peter Arnett, the CNN International Correspondent who has spent as much time in
Iraq as any foreign journalist, in a recent dispatch tried to analyze the
motives of Saddam Hussein.
He of course is not alone, the State Department and Foreign Offices around
the world have all tried to come up with explanations for Saddam's so-called
Questions are obvious, the answers have been tentative at best. Is he mad, a
megalomaniac, completely out of touch with the "real world"? Why is he spending
billions on lavish palaces, whilst his people starve? The experts come up with
very non satisfying answers. One actually went so far as to make the following
"He has believed for many years that he belongs up there in the pantheon
of great socialist leaders: Mao Tse-tung, Castro, Tito. But until the Gulf
crisis, he had been overlooked."
Where do they get this stuff?
The fact is that Saddam above all is a student of history, particularly
Babylonian and Assyrian history. He sees himself as the inheritor of a great
tradition and his obligation to carry on where the greatest of his ancestors
Above all he models himself on one of the greatest, Nebuchadnezzar II and all
his actions confirm that analysis.
Nebuchadnezzar II (Nebuchadrezzar II 604-562 BC) you will recall is the great
Babylonian King who destroyed Solomon's Temple and took the remnants of the
Children of Israel who had not already been exiled by the Assyrians, back to
Babylon. Thus we see the first reason for Saddam's obsession with Israel which
has nothing to do with either Islam, nor his State's proximity to the Jewish
State. Saddam after all began his career as a secular socialist, a member of the
Ba'ath Party which at the most paid lip-service to Islam.
Let us look further into the life of King Nebuchadnezzar who is described in
the following way by "The Cambridge Ancient History", vol. III page 212.
".......(he) was a vigorous and brilliant commander, and physically as well
as mentally a strong man, fully worthy of succeeding his father. He was to
become the greatest man of his time in the Near East, as a soldier, statesman
and AN ARCHITECT (emphasis mine)."
Much has been said about Saddam's lack of knowledge of the world. However it
is often forgotten that he obtained his law degree at the University of Cairo
and his rise up the ranks of the military, considering he was just a country boy
from the provinces ( he was born in Tikrit in 1937) was not due solely to his
It is somewhat ironic that much of what we know about Nebuchadnezzar comes
from the Bible. The King was one of the great builders of history but his own
inscriptions are somewhat sparse. Jeremiah was to prophesy about this King:
"All the nations shall serve him, and his son and his son's son, until the
time of his own land shall come." Jeremiah 27:7.
We will spend some time in later lectures discussing the Babylonian exile and
its ramifications, suffice it to say that the exploits of Nebuchadnezzar had and
have a profound effect on how Saddam views the world in general and Israel in
particular. Ancient Iraq eventually conquered Egypt, and all of the Near East
was in the control of the Great King by the time he was an old man.
Unlike many of Kings in the ancient world, Nebuchadnezzar was not one to keep
extensive archives nor to boast of his exploits in great inscriptions, instead
he was the pre-eminent architect and builder of history. He built many
magnificent palaces and temples. His reconstruction of Babylon was extolled far
and wide and his magnificent Hanging Gardens were regarded as one of the Seven
Wonders of the World. His temples built mainly for the god Marduk were spread
around the country. In Borsippa, Sippar, Larsa, Ur, Dilbat, Baz and Uruk he
built the most magnificent of edifices and on each brick he had his name
It is no wonder that Saddam has also undertaken a massive building programme
unsurpassed since the time of the great King. He too has his name inscribed on
the bricks and tiles and marbles that he uses to adorn his palaces. This is not
a man building magnificent homes, this is a man obsessed with emulating his
A few quotes from the great historian Rogers will round out the profile of
- "A man of blood and iron."
- "His punishment of Zedekiah is to be placed with the very worst instances
of savagery in all that history."
- "He was, however, careful to pay homage to gods many and lords many in
different cities of his empire, and to these, as we have seen, he likewise
- "His building operations were so extensive that in this particular he
outranks all who preceded him, whether in Assyria or Babylonia."
- "For the most part these works were beneficent, though the execution of
them must have cost much human life and terrible suffering of fatigue and
The picture could not be more startling clear. Saddam has used as a blueprint
for his life, the exploits of Nebuchadnezzar. The question is whether it is
possible to predict from this what Saddam will do in any given circumstance.
The evidence is clear, he will sacrifice everything for his ambition to destroy
Israel, to become the leader of the Middle East and to leave a legacy of
greatness in his buildings. Thus the morality of using "weapons of mass
destruction" ( what a terrible phrase by the way, we should all stop using this
hypocritical expression as if bombs and missiles or even automatic machine guns
are not also weapons of mass destruction) does not even enter into his thinking.
The interest to him is only whether they can be used or threatened in order to
increase his power.
Lying and cheating are not moral issues, only ways of achieving his goals.
Thus to negotiate with him is by definition an exercise of futility as are
agreements and treaties. Like his predecessor there is only one way he will be
stopped, perhaps first by madness but eventually only by death.
To Be Continued.........
© Michael S. Sanders
February 21, 1998