U.S. Tolerated, Then Villified Saddam

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 30, 2006; 11:19 PM

WASHINGTON -- When U.S. leaders decided it was time to despise Saddam Hussein, he made the perfect villain.

He was cocky and cunning. He looked dangerous and deranged standing at rallies firing a gun into the air, conduct unbecoming a head of government.

He was "Hitler revisited," as the first President Bush put it, lacking the endless armies, but close enough for U.S. purposes. He had a history of atrocities. His black mustache heightened the aura of menace.

America's quarter-century entanglement with the Iraqi leader ended Friday at the gallows.

His hanging closed the books on a man who dealt with and benefited from the United States, then defied it, then ran like a rabbit into a hole in the ground, reduced to his own army of one.

Saddam's capture Dec. 13, 2003, was a rare day of triumph for the United States after the Iraq invasion. In contrast, his execution brought worries that violence would spike beyond its usual chaotic level.

Scores more people were killed in attacks Saturday, but those are daily occurrences in Iraq and there was no sign of a feared Sunni uprising in retaliation for the execution.

Saddam was vilified by the U.S. government probably more than any dictator since Adolf Hitler.

And this is a country with a long and still-active tradition of personalizing its enemy, making conflicts less about competing interests than about specific madmen and loose cannons _ Manuel Noriega, Slobodan Milosevic, Moammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro, the wanted-dead-or-alive Osama bin Laden.

While others cry "death to America," America assembles a rogues gallery.

Colin Powell, writing in his memoirs about the lead-up to the first Gulf War, objected to the portrayal of Saddam as the "devil incarnate" by the elder President Bush and aides.

"President Bush has taken to demonizing Saddam in public just as he had Manuel Noriega," said Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Gulf War, then secretary of state for the Iraq war. He suggested U.S. officials "cool the rhetoric. Not that the charges were untrue, but the demonizing left me uneasy."

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