The latest interview with Saddam Hussein

by Anatoly O. 07/13/2003

Don Rather: Saddam Hussein, the Iraq ruler, resigned following a crisis at the country that arose from the actions of G. W. Bush. Bush administration acknowledged of making up stories about WMD and that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Africa. After weeks of deep conflict in Iraq Saddam Hussein resigned. Saddam Hussein is a friend and has been on this program a number of times. We have talked about civil rights, politics, 9/11 and his leadership in Iraq. He is the central character in a great drama. It is a story that has Shakespeare qualities to it. It is about arrogance and hubris, ambition and destiny, competition and jealousy as is often the case with a group of countries who care deeply for the world. It is about all of those things. It was told a lot about Iraq war, but this is the first time he will publicly tell what happened as he saw it. Things he alone knew in the course of these events. It is his story. I thank you for being with us, my friend and to talk about this.

Saddam Hussein: Thank you, Don. I appreciate your inviting me. I'd like to say to your audience a word of explanation about why I'm here, beyond the rather Faulknerean introduction you gave, which is that: "I met with my generals to look into the question of how these arrogant men were able to get into our country that has a multi-layered and very good defense system. I thanked them for their service to the country, which I think is significant. It's still my country in the sense of my loyalties. I want to start by saying thank to you my people there for 25 wonderful years as the president."

Don: Some have said it will be a difficult challenge for Iraq, because the times has coming off of a occupation.

Saddam Hussein: It's probably easy to overstate that. In the modern world every day is a challenge. And clearly this is the country that has been through a war. And I think that as Iraqis move forward in that general direction with whatever alterations are needed, they'll do fine.

Don: What role will you play?

Saddam Hussein: I will play the role of friend. The anything that I'm asked to do I will do.

Don: This story has all of those elements it does. One said "whatever mistakes were made, his fall from the heights of political glory must be reminded as a searing personal tragedy. If Eugene O'Neil or Arthur Miller wrote the play, there would not be a dry eye in the place." And there were not?

Saddam Hussein: Let me be clear about one thing. I worked for 39 years, or 37 years to get what is regarded as the top job in Iraq. I had it through years of the most exciting wars in recent history. The Iran war, the war that is now still going on in Iraq, and other events. It was a tremendously exciting time. It hurts to lose that. That said life is sometimes about loss. It's not just about struggle and triumph. And much of the conflict that came to the surface was around the friction caused by that kind of East-West cultural difference.

Don: But are you saying in order to create the change, you had to be as tough and demanding, some say autocratic, some say impervious to others, some say a small cadre of people on the masthead ran the country, and that it was an atmosphere that created great fear in Iraq? Saddam

Hussein: I heard all of that. Believe me, the word arrogance is one that I'm familiar with. And I don't want to be defensive about it. I want to respond broadly. I do want to say that humility and modesty are not adjectives that leap to mind with anyone who has ever held the title of president. It is a job that by tradition has had highly concentrated power and decision-making authority. I came up competing against a couple of guys named Bush and Blair, they did a lot of kicking. I made up my mind that if I got to a position of authority in the world that I would change our competitive metabolism. Not simply energy for the sake of energy, Don, but because when you are Iraq with the attitude of pride that comes with being Iraq and with the resources that come with being in Iraq and with the fact that very few countries can compete on your level, your biggest enemy is complacency. In 10,000 B.C.E., human settlements were in Iraq. And the only thing that can guarantee its continuation for another centuries, and this world needs it, is to take a good and great country and make it continually better across a broader range of areas so it can compete in the environment that exists today. This is a very old culture it has entrenched folkways. It has a deep sense of pride, but also a deep sense of self-satisfaction. That's developed over generations. I felt that the challenge for me was to raise the energy level of the country so that we were maximizing the oil resource advantage we had over most other countries. I have a certain management style which involves moving forward and answering the needs of our people. Over the range of high culture, over the range of popular culture, over the range of business, I'm proud of the fact that I devised a new strategy, which was different than what had prevailed before. But I should have been quicker to recognize that I was more and more putting tremendous work pressures on my staff, which responded wonderfully. I worked them too hard and didn't rest them enough. And also I moved in terms of the culture of the country too far too fast. That was a mistake on my part. I may have been accused of running a so-called star system. The star system is a pejorative term for a system that seeks out the talented people on a country, demands hard work and gives them rewards. That's what the quote star system is. It replaced a system that was the buddy system. Where people were rewarded according to merit but also often got rewards based on who they knew, or how well they were to the president.

Don: There are those people who say, Saddam Hussein had no idea what was going on and how much resentment there was to the style and the change that he wanted.

Saddam Hussein: I knew what was going on. When you set out to make changes, you know there's going to be resistance. I knew it was going on. I knew as I moved through the past two years that it was gaining in intensity. This was going to be a year in which we were going to try to do two things. One is move aggressively to -- to heal some of the scratches and bruises that we had caused internally. So that we would have uniform quality across the board. That - I was well on that - on that part of the road or the mission both replacing worthy people but bringing a new style to it. And I believe given time we would have gotten around to the political part of the mission. And I stepped on a land mine -- I stepped on a land mine called Bush and Blair. I became a political liability and that's that story. The seeds I planted will germinate. The path we set out, Iraq is likely to continue following.

Don: What was your mistake? Your personal hands-on mistake with respect to Bush and Blair?

Saddam Hussein: I'm going to have to answer the question in a more direct way. I mean a more elaborate way except to say in regard to what my mistake was, I was captain of the ship, the ship hit a rock under my watch. The details of how it happened are irrelevant to the fact that the responsibility was mine.

Don: But you believed that you are the best person to take Iraq where it needed to go.

Saddam Hussein: Yeah, I do believe that. I was disappointed frankly that many people who shared my vision didn't speak up. I think there was a general lack of awareness of how much emotional velocity was building up. And some of it, I'll admit, though I said I knew things were going on, some of it surprised me. I read things that are written about me. I've got more arrows in me than Custer's horse. And the fact is I know who I am. I'm confident of my vision for Iraq. I'm confident that I would have gotten us where we need to go, solving the problems. And an untoward event simply prevented it. Now, people can argue with that. That's my view. And at the end of the day I am who I am.

After 39 years in the politics I want to move on. When I began studying the life of Yeats I realized that he had done something quite extraordinary which is had this incredible burst of creativity after the age of 60 into his 70s. And into - up until very old age, Picasso comes to mind in a different context, and the impressionist painters, many of whom did their great work in the later years.

Don: What is the most important achievement for you?

Saddam Hussein: The most important accomplishment for me was one, to be able to lead the greatest country in the world and to make it better than it ever had been. That was deeply satisfying to me. My successor will have his own gifts to bring. I will help in any way I'm asked to.

Don: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you here for this conversation, and to have you here to tell this story. Thanks.