Similarities between
Bush and Hussein

and the
U.S. and Iraq


PressInfo # 179

 March 26, 2003


Jan Oberg, TFF Director


While President Bush and President Hussein surely differ in many respects, this piece of homespun philosophy argues that they also display surprising similarities. Bush and Hussein, as well as their respective bands of cheering supporters, try to convince the rest of us that they share absolutely no characteristics and have nothing in common with each other. This is undoubtedly part of the (subjective) truth, but it is never the whole truth about a conflict.

While not denying the differences, this article turns the spotlight on the similarities.

Conflicts usually put the disagreement between the parties on display, and the parties to a conflict usually emphasise how different they themselves (the good guys) are from the others (the bad guys). Thus, it is perfectly normal that conflicting parties deny that there could be any similarities between "them" and "us"!

But professional conflict-analysts know that no conflict is possible unless the parties also share something. A quarrelling wife and husband may share the fact that they are married or have children; they quarrel because these things are important to them, because the other is an important person in their lives. Why should they engage in conflict and sometimes even violence if the thing fought for is not important? Two countries struggling to control the same territory may share an interest in, say, the resources within that territory.

It must be permissible to speak about these things even if most of us, including this author, have met neither George W. Bush nor Saddam Hussein in person. Modern visual media can be very helpful when we try to analyse their ways as politicians-cum-human beings, but that is not to deny that the scholar would feel better if he or she had also met them in person.

No doubt, it is easy to see that they are different. Bush is a Christian, Hussein a Muslim. Bush has had a short experience in being president; Hussein's been there for a long time. Bush's father is still alive, whereas Saddam never knew his father who seems to have disappeared, died or was killed before he was born. Bush lives in a nuclear family; Saddam's family is an extended one, clan or tribe-based.

But let's try to sketch some of the similarities between them and their countries.


Similarities between Bush and Hussein

1. They are men, Bush born 1946, Hussein in either 1937 or 1939.

2. They are both presidents at the peak of their career; sooner rather than later, life is likely to go downwards for them.

3. They are likely to be concerned about their image in future history books.

4. They have children and marriages of long duration.

5. They believe in military strength as an important instrument in their exercising power and to achieve their nation's goals. They share the philosophy that "might makes right."

6. They have members of their own family involved in politics and make use of them.

7. They came to power without being democratically elected.

8. They strongly believe that they are themselves Good and that the other represents or is Evil.

9. They believe they have some kind of mission - namely to stand up to or eradicate Evil.

10. They are political fundamentalists in the sense that they believe that they are 100 per cent right and the other 100 per cent wrong, morally and otherwise.

11. They are both deeply religious personalities. Their God is guiding them, and in a crisis this God, and the mission He has handed down to them, becomes even more important.

12. A certain degree of macho attitudes. Saddam Hussein likes to be portrayed as physically strong, athletic and usually handling swords, guns and rifles. Bush doesn't match that but plays on being at the helm of the strongest military power in history.


Similarities between the U.S. and Iraq

1. Monotheism. They are based on two Western religions that propagate that there is only one God and one Truth, which could lead to a low level of tolerance with those who are different or "against us."

2. Militarism. Militaristic political cultures. One has a military-industrial-scientific complex with a global reach; the other has sought to develop a similar complex at least on a regional level.

3. Mass-destructive weapons. Both governments believe in the utility of mass-destructive weapons.

4. Acceptance of war and interference. Propensity to fight wars on somebody else's territory or otherwise interfere in foreign countries to serve various kinds of national, historic or other interests as well as self-aggrandisement.

5. Civilising mission. A clear sense of civilisational, moral superiority vis-a-vis countries and nations assumed to be lower ranking.

6. Great power ambitions. One global, the other regional.

7. Chosen people. Convinced about being a culture and society that is chosen by God to play a particular role, a leadership role, in history. Thus, one vis-a-vis other Arab nations, the other of the West or whole world.

8. Modernisation. High level of modernisation, achieved through education and investments in modern science and technology.

9. Fascination with the West. Everything coming from the West, including its science and technology and modern consumption and cultural production.

10. A sense of being hurt - wounded lion. The Americans feel hurt and humiliated because of September 11. Iraqis feel misunderstood, that they are treated without respect and as lower-ranking. The West never really cared about their suffering, for instance due to sanctions.

11. Israel. Both see Israel as very important in the Middle East; the US sees it as an ally, Iraq as an enemy, the main threat.

12. Civil liberties and human rights. After September 11, civil liberties have been reduced considerably in the United States. As a foreign policy actor, the Bush regime cares very little for international law. Civil liberties have consistently been subordinated to power and expansion in Iraqi politics, and international law ignored, e.g. at the moment of the invasion of Kuwait.

13. Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. While everybody knows about the cultural diversity of the United States, few seem to be aware of the ethnic, religious, national, clan-related and other aspects of the Iraqi society.

14. Oil is essential to both countries. Iraq needs oil to get rid of its huge debt and develop Iraq in the future. The U.S. needs oil to maintain its life-style; that implies that its dependence on imported oil will increase from a good 50 per cent today to over 70 per cent by 2025.

15. Few-party system. There are basically two political parties in the United States. In Iraq, the Baath Party is the de facto ruling party, but there do exist a few other parties too. In neither Iraq nor the US is it easy to create new political movements and institutionalise them, although the methods through which fundamental political change is prevented differ.


So, 27 individual and collective similarities. There are surely many more. How come they are virtually overlooked in politics and media? Could the reason be that we still know too little about conflicts and the methods of analysing and understanding them.


Obvious differences

Knowledge about the other. The Iraqis know much more about the West than we do about them. Many speak French and English, have been educated in the West, watch American movies every evening on TV and have learned about the West in school.

Free education and health. Iraq's government provided this to all its citizens in the 1980s.

Classes. There used to be very few poor people in Iraq; it used to be virtually one big middle class that was built on a welfare state ideology. The U.S. has never emphasised such justice-based, socialist or semi-socialist principles, nor is it a welfare state.

Length of civilisation. The United States has had a somewhat brief period of civilisation compared to Iraq, which is based on a civilisation of some 7,000 years.

De facto military capabilities and interventionism. US military expenditures are more than 300 times that of those of Iraq. And it is the US that is now invading Iraq, not the other way around.

In short, the parties share many underlying assumptions, cultural characteristics and aspirations. They share fundamentally important images of themselves and the other. One may say that they are, to quite an extent, mirroring each other. They seem strengthened when they have an enemy onto which they can project, psychologically, their own dark sides.

More about that in a forthcoming PressInfo.


© TFF 2003



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