The First Saddam Hussein
September 10, 2002
A well-known conservative pundit, an old and dear
friend, told me the other day that Islamic fundamentalism poses a
greater threat to the United States than the Soviet Union ever did. I
was amazed to hear him say this. Then I remembered the difference of our
I was born in 1946; my
friend was born in 1962. I was a boy of 16 when he was an infant during
the Cuban missile crisis. The 9/11 attacks destroyed two buildings and
damaged a third. Horrible enough, but they dont bear comparison
with the Soviet threat. In October 1962 we feared that every major
American city, at any moment, might become a white-hot nuclear crater.
The Soviets had more
than box-cutters. They had nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them.
They also had a willing ally in Cuba, Fidel Castro, who even now remains a
ruthless Communist dictator. Today we accept him as an annoying part of
the international landscape, but in his day he seemed to pose a far worse
danger than most Americans can now imagine. In 1961 and afterward the
Kennedy administration tried to overthrow and kill him, notably with the
Bay of Pigs operation, an American-backed invasion by anti-Castro Cubans
who were easily and ignominiously defeated.
The Bay of Pigs is still
one of the most notorious foreign-policy disasters in American history. It
was what would today be called a pre-emptive strike
against Cuba. The Kennedy administration believed it would spark a
popular overthrow of Castro; it didnt. It merely made the United
States appear to the world as a feckless aggressor. And it led, the
following year, to the terrifying missile crisis that young Americans no
On paper, the Bay of
Pigs operation may have seemed like a good idea. Castro had made Cuba a
hostile Communist beachhead only 90 miles from Florida. American hawks
wanted to get rid of him before it became an active Soviet military base.
Yet the operation backfired. The danger only increased.
Yet after the missile crisis, tensions between the United States
and Cuba gradually subsided. The two governments came to regard each
other with a sort of patient hatred. Castro remained a fanatical
Communist (as he still is), but he was no madman. And today he is no
threat at all.
Hussein with Castro. He is on the other side of the globe. At first he
enjoyed U.S. support. Far from evincing hostility toward this country, he
invaded Kuwait only after he thought the United States would have no
serious objection to his doing so. It is the U.S. Government that has
insisted on treating him as a dangerous enemy an absurd position,
since he is now unable to attack his own neighbors.
The 9/11 attacks were
evidently motivated by Islamic hatred of the United States. But there is no
sign that Hussein takes umbrage at real or imagined affronts to Islam; on
the contrary, extreme Islamists hate his secular regime. An alliance
between him and them would be awkward at best, and the Bush
administration has been unable to produce evidence of such an alliance. If
there is a global Islamic jihad against the United States, he is not part of
it. The administration is simply seeking an excuse, however feeble, to
make war on Iraq.
doesnt act as if he is afraid of Saddam Hussein; he acts as if he is
afraid of Israel. In this he is no different from most American presidents
since Lyndon Johnson; oddly, his own father was one of the few recent
presidents who dared to stand up to the Israelis and their lobby here. It
may have cost the elder Bush his chance of re-election in 1992.
The younger Bush is
afraid to rebuke the Israelis for their defiance of United Nations
resolutions, afraid to say that they threaten peace in the Middle East,
afraid to mention their possession of the nuclear weapons he finds so
menacing in the hands of Saddam Hussein.
His silence is the
measure of his fear. He would rather make war on Iraq than speak a harsh
word about Ariel Sharon. His cowardice may soon lead us into a disaster
that will make the Bay of Pigs look like a minor faux pas.