Saddam Hussein’s mother of all bluffs

It looks as though Saddam Hussein, as has been increasingly suspected, pulled off the mother of all bluffs –one that not only changed the course of history but set off a chain reaction so violent it is anyone’s guess where and when it will end.

The late dictator told his FBI interrogators before he was turned over to Iraqi justice that he fooled the United States and half the world into thinking he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent to what he believed was a threat from Iran. He said his fear of Iranian fanatics was so strong he even contemplated seeking a security agreement with America, whom he did not see as a major enemy.

If true, and there is no reason to believe otherwise since the six-year war and occupation in Iraq has turned up no evidence that nuclear or biological capability existed, it is a verification of what critics of the Iraq invasion charged all a long, that about the only threat Hussein posed was to himself. It even seems that the often defiant former ruler realized in the end what a mistake he had made, openly suggesting to his captors that it would have been better to have let United Nation’s inspectors witness the destruction of his weapons stockpile after the 1991 Gulf War.

Well, no kidding. Because he did not, he convinced not only Iran but also half the world, mainly the Western half, he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. A naïve and paranoid Bush administration, innately convinced that Hussein was a major threat to global peace and supported in that misconception by horrible intelligence, bought the bluff and let loose the furies in this operatic tragedy. It has become clear now that the major believer of the Hussein "big bang" theory was Vice President Cheney who helped convince a compliant president that Iraq could be the catalyst for nuclear war.

Under the circumstances Cheney may ultimately be correct.

Summaries of 20 FBI interviews with Hussein in 2004 have been posted on the Internet by a non-governmental research institute, the National Security Archive, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act. Much of the material was redacted, including one summary that was completely so.

There was something hauntingly similar about Hussein’s confessions and those of former Defense secretary Robert McNamara who revealed in his memoirs that he had known very early that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. Like Hussein, he and others in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations did nothing to stop the process and the result was the loss of tens of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives. That war too was based on a fallacy, the so-called "domino theory" that held that much of Southeast Asia would fall to communism unless stopped.

The cost of the Iraqi dictator’s monumental acting job should be obvious to everyone. Apparently, not only was he fearful of the Iranians, he had absolutely no use for Osama bin Laden whom he labeled a "zealot." He told the FBI that he had no contact with al-Qaeda. The White House claimed a link between Iraq and the Islamic terrorist organization as another excuse for the invasion. There was really never any evidence to back up that contention either.

There is no question that the blustery, boastful former dictator would have liked to put the best face possible on his actions, to convince his American captors and the Iraqi courts that he was playing poker with them throughout the years. On the other hand, he had to be aware of what his fate was going to be no matter what. It also has been quite obvious for sometime that the premise on which the invasion took place was more than just tissue thin, it had no basis in fact and is only the least bit defensible because it was propounded in the aftermath of the second most traumatic event in the last 100 years, the first being the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

If Hussein had a "tell" as they say in poker, we didn’t see it.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)