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June 06, 2006

Norman Solomon Is Smart Because He Agrees With Me

Here's a genuinely interesting take on Tariq Aziz from Norman Solomon, who (as he mentions) met Aziz in pre-war trips to Iraq. Note in particular the part in bold:

As Iraq's most visible diplomat, Aziz was a smooth talker who epitomized the urbanity of evil. Up close, in late 2002 and early the following year, when I was among American visitors to his office in Baghdad, he seemed equally comfortable in a military uniform or a business suit. Serving a tyrannical dictator, Aziz used his skills with language the way a cosmetician might apply makeup to a corpse.

Aziz glibly represented Saddam Hussein's regime as it tortured and murdered Iraqi people. Yet after the invasion, news reports told us, a search of his home near the Tigris River turned up tapes of such Western cultural treasures as "The Sound of Music" and "Sleepless in Seattle."

The likelihood that he enjoyed this entertainment may be a bit jarring. We might prefer to think that a bright line separates the truly civilized from the barbaric, the decent from the depraved.

But the man could exhibit a range of human qualities. Reserved yet personable, he could banter with ease. His arguments, while larded with propaganda, did not lack nuance. Whether speaking with a member of the U.S. Congress, an acclaimed American movie actor or a former top U.N. official, Aziz seemed acutely aware of his audience. He would have made a deft politician in the United States.

We like to believe that American leaders are cut from entirely different cloth. But I don't think so. In some respects, the terrible compromises made by Tariq Aziz are more explainable than ones that are routine in U.S. politics.

Aziz had good reason to fear for his life -- and the lives of loved ones -- if he ran afoul of Saddam. In contrast, many politicians and appointed officials in Washington have gone along with lethal policies because of fear that dissent might cost them re-election, prestige, money or power.

I agree with all this, although the motivations of Aziz may have been even closer to those of our own lovable leaders than you'd think. Aziz of course lied constantly (to others and surely himself), but this is how he described his situation according to the Duelfer Report:

Tariq ‘Aziz said that he opposed the invasion of Kuwait, but could not dissuade Saddam. Asked why he did not resign in protest, he denied he thought he would be killed, but said, “ . . . there would be no income, no job.”

At least he didn't talk about how he could have more influence "on the inside."

Posted at June 6, 2006 11:22 AM | TrackBack

Actually what Aziz said was: "At this time, I don't feel the need to spend more time with my family."

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 6, 2006 12:19 PM

I don't have anything insightful, witty, or wise to add, but I thought some of y'all might be interested in a video of the latest Eurovision winner. It rocks!

Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah

Posted by: BRG at June 6, 2006 12:34 PM

Oh, wow, finally - I completely disagree. I was thinking about this for years: deranged megalomaniacs or cynical opportunists?

Deranged megalomaniacs or cynical opportunists?

I see you opt for the 'cynical opportunists' answer here, but that's completely wrong, you're way, way off.

The right answer is, of course: "deranged megalomaniacs".

Posted by: abb1 at June 6, 2006 01:15 PM

This is an appropriate post to follow the Torture Awareness post, because one reason some Americans can't believe we're committing torture is because they believe one has to be a sadistic monster to do so. But when I read the line "We might prefer to think that a bright line separates the truly civilized from the barbaric, the decent from the depraved" I remembered research done with Greek torturers in the early 1970s. One interesting fact the researcher found was that none of the men doing these horrible acts at work spanked their children at home.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 6, 2006 01:50 PM

Jonathan: Aziz glibly represented Saddam Hussein's regime as it tortured and murdered Iraqi people.

Some of whom were members of Tariq Aziz's own family. That's according to the Cockburn book, I believe, or maybe Makiya's.

Not to excuse him, exactly. But more was at stake than just an income and a position. That's why I maintain the burning scorn I do for our own class of aggressive-war-enabling pundits and functionaries -- who really do have nothing more at stake than op-ed space in the Washington Post, book deals, and other forms of mainstream cred.

Posted by: Nell at June 6, 2006 04:10 PM

Sorry, Jonathan. The quoted bit is from Norman Solomon, not you.

Posted by: Nell at June 6, 2006 04:11 PM

Maybe old Tariq had a mortgage to meet. "Thank You for Smoking" has its protagonist call that the yuppie Nuremberg defense.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 6, 2006 05:48 PM

Tarek Aziz obviously was worried for his life and those of his relatives, as that regime made a habit of murdering its ex-employees. Of course, he would nto say so. after working for them for so long, lying must be like breathing for him.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at June 7, 2006 12:17 AM

Worrying about your mortgage isn't so very different from worrying about your life, especially without the buffers of savings, supportive family, some level of unemployment and state welfare, and the like. In fact, I think many people who might be brave if they thought they only risked an excessive exposure to crazy gunment might be much more cowardly in situations that would definitely or almost definitely cause inconvenience, discomfort, and even actual penury for them and their families.

Posted by: Saheli at June 7, 2006 02:55 AM