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No More 'Saddam'

They say familiarity breeds contempt. Never has this been more true than in regard to America's favorite dictator, 'Saddam'. We find him so completely a part of our psycho-spiritual world that we feel comfortable enough to consider ourselves to be on a first name basis with him. When government officials, be it the President, the Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, or leaders of the Senate, speak of him, they often refer to him simply as 'Saddam' – even in official business at the United Nations. 'Saddam' this, 'Saddam' that. Even the talking heads on the network and cable nightly news programs follow this practice. He is likely the only leader in the world who is routinely referred to on a first name basis, perhaps like the villain in a soap opera or on 'reality TV.' We've seen him dressed in drag in Hollywood films and on the front page of the New York Post. We know all sorts of juicy details about his personal life, like his fondness for the music of Frank Sinatra or Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films. In our national obsession with him, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were able to transform him into a geo-political version of the Washington Generals – the squad of hapless opponents that the Harlem Globetrotters routinely toyed with – when their time came to “wag the dog” and appear presidential.

Now President Bush is looking to put an end to America's compulsion with 'Saddam' – not to mention satisfy his own obvious, and deeply personal, obsession with him – by ending his regime. Bush is offering no credible plan for how an Iraq without 'Saddam' will be governed, especially without the cloak of legitimacy afforded by a United Nations effort; and he continues to downplay the potential long-term costs to the nation of providing material for Bush's own Fall 2004 sweeps week programming. We hear no estimates from Bush or Cheney about the potential increase in terrorism, both here in the U.S. and around the world, as a result of canceling 'Saddam'. Nor do we hear any credible estimates about the actual cost to the U.S. taxpayer of such an invasion (especially after Larry Lindsey's estimate of $200 billion resulted in him being voted off Bush's island). We hear no plans about how the U.S. will respond when other nations decide to preempt international programming not to their liking. No, mostly everything we hear is material that can be used as sound bites on conservative talk radio, and allow less skeptical Americans to feel warm and fuzzy about this dangerous military adventure.

So from here on in, let's do away with 'Saddam'. His last name is Hussein. You can call him the evil Hussein, or the dictator Hussein, or the murderer Hussein, or just Saddam Hussein. But let's make our references to him reflect the reality of the relationship and the reality of war. And let's see the Bush Administration be honest about the true cost of this action in American dollars, prestige, and lives – both military and civilian, both in the context of the feel-good invasion episode, and the much sadder, potentially deadly, entire series run. And let's hope that future historians don't have to borrow Churchill's phrase to describe this proposed morality play programming - that is, "Triumph and Tragedy".

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2003. All rights reserved.

Originally published February 19, 2003.