Madman, crazy, insane and maniac are the adjectives of choice to describe Iraq President Saddam Hussein. But they all betray a lack of understanding of the Middle East mindset in general and Hussein in particular.

He is worse than mad. Hussein is a liar. At least a madman can be trusted to do the unpredictable. A liar cannot be trusted at all, but his victims don't figure that out until they have believed him enough times to be victimized.

George Bush and Ronald Reagan bought Hussein's line at least once. And the mistake will be to their everlasting humiliation. They believed Hussein when he said he was sorry about the "accidental" attack by Iraqi fighters on the USS Stark in 1987. The Reagan administration accepted Hussein's "heartfelt condolences" in a letter.

"Sorrow and regret are not enough," Hussein continued. How he must have chuckled as he penned the words. As we reported in April, the Central Intelligence Agency was a little more skeptical and did some nosing around. Now the CIA believes that Hussein may have paid $35,000 to the Iraqi pilot responsible for the bombing, and given him the use of a Mercedes Benz.

The CIA also suspects that Hussein sent two planes on the attack just in case the first one botched its role. Thirty-seven U.S. sailors died, but the United States did nothing because it believed Hussein was sorry and because he offered $27.35 million in compensation.

We have spent the last year calling attention to Hussein's flaws.

There was the poor cabinet minister who believed Hussein just wanted to chat about a difference of opinion when the president invited the official to step outside the door of a meeting. Hussein shot the man in the head.

There was the defense minister who believed Hussein was his friend. But when the minister, the brother of Hussein's wife, chided Hussein for taking a second wife, he died mysteriously in a helicopter crash.

Helicopter crashes are a Hussein specialty. One of the more dangerous jobs in Iraq is being a helicopter pilot for the president. After the last crash, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a tactful letter to Hussein asking him to stop sending his enemies for chopper rides. Sen. Robert J. Dole {R-Kan.}, recently recalling his own visit to Iraq, noted that at least he had the sense not to ride in one of Hussein's helicopters.

There was the son who believed Hussein, his father, loved him, but learned otherwise when the son accidentally killed Hussein's favorite bodyguard in a fight. Hussein ordered his son executed and then stayed the execution and banished the son.

More recently, there was poor President Mubarak who believed Hussein when he said he would not invade Kuwait. But it was not nearly as embarrassing as the Bush administration's attempts earlier this year to pass off Hussein as a changed man. State Department cables from Iraq had been painting Hussein as inexplicably charming. He smiled and made small talk, not at all like a maniac.

If Hussein is a maniac, he is a megalomaniac and that is where the Bush administration has misjudged him.