Well, one thing’s for certain: Saddam Hussein has not hired David Frum and Peggy Noonan as speechwriters.
After Iraqi state television announced “Saddam to Address Nation Tuesday Night,” the big event turned out to be a bureaucrat reading boilerplate to a camera. That’s like promising the finale of The Bachelorette and getting a rerun of The Dating Game.
(And isn’t it telling that when Saddam’s regime sends out a flack to read a statement or to interview a fellow propagandist such as Peter Arnett, he wears a uniform. When they send soldiers out to fight, they’re more likely to be dressed in civvies.)
The Saddam no-show has to be seen as a major flub by what had seemed to be a pretty shrewd public-relations shop. Ever since the current stage of the conflict kicked off with the March 19th bombing of one of Saddam’s lairs, questions have been raised by senior members of the Bush administration about whether Saddam had been seriously wounded or even killed. Although Saddam has not been seen in anything but taped video since the fighting started, those questions sounded like they might be an effort to smoke the tyrant out into the open. Now those questions are credible. Where in the world is Saddam?
It’s also revealing to note the extent to which the purported Saddam statement employed religious themes and imagery. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf announced that “jihad is a duty” of Muslims everywhere. Clearly jihad was being used here in the Islamist sense of a bloody holy war against the infidels, not in the moderate Islamic sense of an inner struggle for self-improvement or a search for peace. What tips you off is when Sahhaf added that Americans “are aggressors, evil, accursed by God.”
At times, Saddam’s spokesman sounded almost like a QVC pitchman. He told Iraqi fighters that the war now underway offers “your chance for immortality” and that, if they acted now, there would be this special bonus: “Those who are martyred will be rewarded in heaven.”
Sahhaf concluded by saying that “the aggression that the aggressors are carrying out against the stronghold of faith is an aggression on the religion, the wealth, the honor and the soul, and an aggression on the land of Islam.” That line alone raises the possibility that some of the earliest victims of the U.S. bombings of Baghdad may have been editors — a tragedy that will not be mourned by all reporters everywhere.
But the point is this: Remember all the opponents of the war who argued that Saddam is not a jihadist but rather a secular socialist and pan-Arabist whose agenda could not possibly mesh with that of Osama bin Laden? Are they still making that argument?
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and an NRO contributor.