March 18, 2023

What I Failed to Understand About Saddam’s Iraq—and American Power

A foreign correspondent tries to see the world in shades of gray, not in black and white. Despite the simple labels of many pundits, the world is not neatly divided between exemplary democracies and demonic dictatorships. There are quite a few illiberal and shambolic democracies in the developing world, as well as autocracies where the rule of law functions somewhat. It is the messy complexities of foreign states that usually dominate a foreign correspondent’s intellectual life.

Iraq, rather than permanently traumatizing us, has proved to be a great teacher.

But Iraq under Saddam Hussein, before the U.S. invasion launched 20 years ago this week, seemed to me like an exception. I had made several reporting trips to Iraq in the 1980s to cover the Iran-Iraq war and a Kurdish insurgency against Iran that was based in northern Iraq. From the moment I landed in Baghdad on each occasion, I was shocked by the pulverizing silences. The country was like a vast penitentiary, lit by high-wattage lamps. Morose men in suits bulging with small firearms were all over the airport and in the Meridien Hotel lobby, where I stayed. Massive photos of the dictator covered virtually every vertical surface.

Read the full article from The Wall Street Journal.