Saddam Hussein was obsessed with his status in the Arab world, dreaming of weapons of mass destruction to pump up his prestige. And even as the United States fixated on him, he was fixated on his neighboring enemy, Iran.
That is the picture that emerges from interrogations of the former Iraqi leader since his capture last December, according to the final report of the chief U.S. arms inspector, which gives a first glimpse into what the United States has gleaned about Saddam's hopes, dreams and insecurities.
The report suggests that Saddam tried to improve relations with the United States in the 1990s, yet basked in his standing as the only leader to stand up to the world's superpower.
It says Saddam was determined that if Iran was to acquire nuclear weapons, so was Iraq.
And it says he was a narcissist who cared deeply about his legacy, making sure bricks were molded with his name in hopes people would admire them for centuries to come.
Weapons hunter Charles Duelfer had access to information from U.S. interrogations of Saddam over several months. The former Iraqi dictator apparently talked not because he wanted to help the United States, but because he was concerned with his legacy, the report says.
Much of his motivation in the quest for weapons of mass destruction came from neighboring Iran and the two countries' "long-standing rivalry over the centuries," including the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
"From Saddam's viewpoint, the Persian menace loomed large and was a challenge to his place in history," the report says.
"This was an important motivation in his views on WMD — especially as it became obvious that Iran was pursuing the very capabilities he was denied," said the report, which found no evidence that Iraq had produced any such weapons after 1991.
Saddam was angry that other Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, enjoyed good standing in the West.
"His regime views the Gulf Arabs as undeserving," the report said. "They did not earn respect; the West simply wanted their oil."
Iran, as much if not more than the United States, motivated his interest in nuclear weapons.
"Nuclear programs were seen by Saddam as both a powerful lever and symbol of prestige," the report. "He also did not want to be second to the Persians."
"My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world. I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes."
So proclaimed novelist Margaret Drabble in the London Daily Telegraph. Her screed continued for 700 words — words like "grotesque" and "hideous" made appearances, along with the ritual denunciation of burgers, Disney, Coca-Cola and imperialism.
Drabble is hardly alone. The hate-America club is not at all exclusive, and many of its dues-paying members are Americans themselves. But while Sen. John Kerry is quite worried about our standing with Europeans like Drabble, and castigates President Bush for not doing more to suck up to the French and Germans, most of us look at anti-Americanism and see one thing above all others — envy. The Europeans held sway in the world and practiced true imperialism within living memory. Not only can they still recall the taste of power, they have yet to part with their self-importance.
How else to account for this virulent America-hatred in so many European hearts? When you look out at the world from Vienna or Stockholm or Manchester and search for something to deplore, what do you see?
You see Russia spiraling down into dictatorship after a brief interlude of struggling democracy. You see North Korea, arms salesman to the world's criminals, boasting of nuclear capability. You see genocide in Darfur. And of course, you see the ghastly face of terrorism in Madrid, Bali, New York, Washington, Tel Aviv and most especially Baghdad, where terrorists grab and behead innocent Americans and Europeans, and proudly videotape their savagery. But where do many Europeans focus their wrath? On the United States.
Dick Cheney played the sober judge in last night's debate while John Grisham Edwards played the sophistical trial lawyer, long on cheap rhetoric, short on real responsibility. "Senator Gone," as Cheney called him (quoting a North Carolina newspaper), can't even claim experience in the Senate because he is almost never there to experience anything.
Without a record Edwards fell back on rhetoric, leveling convoluted charges too insider baseballish to keep the audience from turning to real baseball on another channel. John Edwards treats the American people like an audience at a Michael Moore movie, expecting them to respond robotically to the sound of "Halliburton."
Cheney's substance only highlighted Edwards' lack of any. He looked hollow, gesticulating in proportion to his lack of sincere thought. Cheney made Edwards look like a smart-alecky ass when Edwards tried to score political points by sneering at the Iraqis' contribution to the war effort. Like a grandfather scolding a mindless teenager, Cheney suggested to Edwards that he treat the sacrifice of Iraqis with a little more respect.
Some debaters master details and miss the big picture. Other debaters get the big picture and stumble on details. Cheney is pretty good at both, making him a deadly debater against a demagogue like Edwards who thinks canned lines are a substitute for convictions.
The essential cheapness of Edwards was seen in his use of family members (both his and Cheney's) as political props. When he wasn't using Cheney's daughter to score political points against his opponent, he was telling bizarre stories about his undereducated father "learning math on television." Then he added patronizingly, "I was proud of him." Edwards's subtext: My father was a loser, I am a winner who rose from a family of losers through hard work, vote for me.
Why do we need to know that his father learned math by watching "Sesame Street"? And what possible relevance could Cheney's daughter have to national policy? The lifestyle choices of vice-presidential daughters now drive television debates? There is no bottom to the superficiality and stupidity of American politics under the influence of Democratic demagoguery.
Three years after the Taleban finished pushing life back to the Middle Ages, the clock has wound forward with equal speed as Kabul sees a plethora of stylish restaurants, bars and night spots catering to Western tastes - and foibles.
Despite the odd car bomb, rocket attack and threat from Taleban remnants, the Lai Thai restaurant apparently has some of the best spring rolls outside Bangkok, while at the German-run Deutscher Hof, a mini-version of the beer-swilling Munich Oktoberfest has just got underway.
And for those who overdo it, either in work or play, a trained counsellor from Chicago offers personal analysis sessions - and twice-weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
But with most Afghans struggling beneath the poverty line, the birth of "Islington-on-Kush", as one aid worker dubs it, has not been universally welcomed. Among locals especially, criticism is now mounting that the country’s estimated 2,000 aid agencies and non-governmental organisations - NGOs - spend too much time and money enjoying themselves and not enough on those they are here to help.
"Most will not give ten Afghani [11 pence] to a beggar, but they will spend a hundred times that on an evening out," said Najeem Massoud, a taxi driver.
So well-developed is Kabul’s expat world that it has now spawned its own magazine, a well-read weekly title called Afghan Scene with news, columns, and restaurant and bar write-ups. It even has a "Be Seen" page featuring snapshots of charity workers, UN officials and diplomats attending functions, book signings and restaurant openings - a kind of Hello! for the aid world.
For locals, though, such hobnobbing is just another extravagance by what they dub the "Toyota Taleban", a sly reference to the 4x4 sports utility vehicles favoured by UN staff.
The "assistance community", as it prefers to call itself, insists such criticisms are unjustified, pointing out that aid workers are spending their own salaries in restaurants rather than that earmarked for aid. In doing so, they say, the city’s economy also gets a much-needed boost.
But in the dirt-poor streets and bazaars, the perception remains - rightly or wrongly - that much of the money earmarked for them does not get beyond the aid agencies’ heavily guarded headquarters.
Part of the problem is the sheer number of NGOs operating here. With most forced to cancel operations in Iraq, Afghanistan now enjoys something approaching a surplus.
One thing seems certain: "Islington-on-Kush" seems here to prosper.
"When I first arrived here 18 months ago there was virtually nothing to do at night at all," said one NGO worker. "Now I’ve got friends in Britain asking me if they can come out here for holidays."
Congressional investigators have uncovered new information showing how Saddam Hussein's government systematically purchased military-related goods for the seven years of the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Investigators from the staff of the House International Relations Committee disclosed details of their probe, one of several being carried out by Congress, including new details on Saddam's bribes to U.N. officials and officials of foreign governments.
A second investigation, led by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations, has found that Saddam ran the Iraqi side of the food program as a "cash cow" that let him buy weapons with some of the $10 billion he siphoned off, according to a report by the investigators.
The governments of Russia, France and China also blocked U.S. efforts within the United Nations to stop abuse of the program, which was designed to get food and medicine to Iraqis through limited sales of oil.
"As the program developed, it became increasingly apparent the French, Russians, and Chinese had much to gain from maintaining the status quo," a staff subcommittee memorandum states.
The Shays investigation also concluded that the U.N. officials, including executive director Benon Sevan, also abused the oil-for-food program.
The report makes another charge of corruption, about nepotism involving Kojo Annan, the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a former employee of the Swiss-based company Cotecna.
The report stated that Cotecna, which the United Nations hired to monitor goods entering Iraq under the oil-for-food program, "was guilty of a wide variety of abuses," including overcharging the United Nations and failing to inspect goods entering Iraq.
A U.N. audit revealed that up to $111 million was missing as a result of Cotecna's work in northern Iraq, the report said.
Investigators for Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee, said their panel's probe has uncovered lists of companies favored by Saddam that profited from the illicit oil and humanitarian goods trade.
The panel also uncovered blacklists of firms that were denied lucrative contracts because of suspected links to Israel or because they refused to go along with corruption.
The Hyde investigators said there are signs that Saddam's government used money obtained under the U.N. program to buy arms from Russia and Belarus or on the international black market through middlemen in Jordan and Syria.
"Mr. Secretary General, honored member states, and everyone else: For the week of 10 October 2004 through 16 October 2004...the United States is formally rescinding all niceness. We will be complete motherfuckers for that period of time just stated. That gives you roughly a week to get ready. You'll need it. Some more than others. Thank you."
::Slaps French delegate on the way out:::
"Mon dieu! Eet ees not even October 10th yet!"
"Ha ha! That was preemptive. I'm Rick James, bitch!"
The terror masters could not possibly stand by and permit an easy triumph in Iraq, for that would seal their own doom. For them, the battle of Iraq was an existential conflict, the ultimate zero-sum game. If we won, they died. But, blinded by our obsession with Iraq, we did not see it. For once, the president's intuition failed him. This failure to recognize the enormity of the stakes, and hence the intensity of the coming assault, was heartbreaking, for us and the other members of the Coalition, and for the Iraqi people. It was the ultimate intelligence failure, a pure failure of vision.
Had we seen the war for what it was, we would not have started with Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of al Qaeda, the sponsor of Zarqawi, the longtime sponsor of Fatah, and the backbone of Hamas. So clear was Iran's major role in the terror universe that the Department of State, along with the CIA one of the most conflict-averse agencies of the American government, branded the Islamic Republic the world's number one terror sponsor. As it still does.
Moreover, the Islamic Republic was uniquely vulnerable to democratic revolution, for, by the mullahs' own accounting, no less than seventy percent of the Iranian people hated the clerical fascist regime in Tehran, and hundreds of thousands of young Iranians had shown a disposition to challenge their oppressors in the streets of the major cities. Had we supported them then and there, in the immediate aftermath of Afghanistan, when the entire region was swept by political tremors of great magnitude, the evil regime might well have fallen, thereby delivering an enormous blow to the jihadis all over the world. I do not think we would have needed a single bomb or a single bullet.