Monday, November 14, 2011

The life of a dictator

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been isolated from his people his whole life, thwarting his ability to relate to them and read the political upheavals happening in his country. (AFP photo)
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt once gave Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah a tip: Step outside your bunker, or risk losing touch with reality. Hiding in an undisclosed location since the 2006 July War, Nasrallah has yet to heed the advice, and he has grown dependent on his confidantes for his news of the outside world. Nasrallah, however, is not unique. Before him, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Qaddafi also shielded themselves from the world, and today, Syria's Bashar al-Assad has become yet another secluded autocrat who shows an inability to comprehend or deal with the real world.

Saddam led a reign of terror that ended up cloistering him. The more Iraqis he killed, the more revenge he feared, forcing him to tighten his security and depend on his cronies to keep him in touch with life outside his bubble. Fearing for their lives, Saddam's men always told him what he wanted to hear.

Saddam's misunderstanding of world affairs proved fatal for his rule. His meddling in military affairs cost the Iraqi army unnecessary losses in their endless wars that Saddam, a self-ordained soldier who never went to military school, started. In addition, his misunderstanding of economics led to financial problems for the nation.
Libya's Moammar Qaddafi led a similar life. Whereas Saddam saw himself as the successor of Iraq's ancient king, Hammurabi, and strived to emulate Iraq’s old glory by erecting edifices honoring his demi-god status, Qaddafi's perception of his grandiose stature rested on his presumed intellectual prowess.

But did Saddam and Qaddafi believe the lies they created?

George Piro, Saddam's Lebanese-American FBI interrogator, wrote that Saddam requested sponges to tape to the arms of his plastic chair in prison to make it worthy of his status as president. Saddam also ordered wet wipes for his hands. Saddam's lawyer, Khalil Duleimi, unintentionally confirmed Piro's reports. Duleimi said that while in prison, Saddam insisted on being addressed as "Mr. President," and that he was expecting Washington to offer him his position back in order to "stabilize" Iraq.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi's many long, confused speeches betray a deeply troubled mind. The Libyan autocrat said the rebels who rose up against his rule were drugged by "pills in their Nescafe" and accused NATO of coming after Libya's "roads and air conditions.”

In the words of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her meeting with the former Libyan leader, "I came away from the visit realizing how much Qaddafi lives inside his own head."

While not as brutal, Nasrallah also lives in his own head. Perhaps because his supporters have elevated him to sainthood, he seems to believe that he has the authority to give the final word on all of Lebanon's issues, and everything else.

But who died and made Nasrallah king?

Nasrallah became a "resistance" guerilla fighter at an early age and rose quickly through the ranks. He never graduated from school, entered college or held a job. He has been in hiding for so many years, one must question his ability to read real-world situations.

Finally, Assad might be the most detached of the delusional leaders. Unlike Saddam, Qaddafi and Nasrallah, Assad was born pampered, sheltered and spoiled. He was never forced to ascend party or military ranks. On the contrary, Assad was quickly promoted to succeed his ailing father Hafez.
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