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December 17, 2003

Saddam was not a puppet
Mehdi Yahyanejad  [info|posts]

saddam_puppet.jpgSaddam's arrest and seeing his humiliation on the TV screen brought back a lot of memories from the years of Saddam's invasion of Iran. I remembered a lot of slogans against Saddam and a lot of other propaganda produced by the Iranian government to mobilize Iranians to go and defend the country against the invasion. I remembered how Saddam was often called "American Saddam" ("Saddam-e Amrikaayee" in Persian) and "Mercenary" ("Saddam-e Mozdour" in Persian) by the Iranian government controlled media.

It was not just the Iranian government who believed Saddam was a puppet but also a significant portion of Iranians believed so. However, they were less clear in spelling out whom he was a puppet of. Sometimes they would call him a puppet of America and other times of the Soviet Union. None of them wondered how someone could be a puppet of opposite forces in the Cold War.

The pictures of Saddam as homeless were so powerful that no one in their right mind can think that this was part of a script written by Americans for Saddam to act. Saddam has been humiliated, has lost his children, and has been homeless for a while. These pictures should dispel the myth that Saddam was an American agent.

It was Saddam himself who decided to invade Iran and Kuwait. If other countries helped him, it was because of their strategic interest at that moment, not because Saddam was their puppet. In fact, many countries sold weapons to both sides of the conflict.

The example of Saddam is not the only example. Iranians believed the Shah was an American puppet. However, they never wondered why a puppet should be insisting to buy more advanced weapons from its master while the puppet masters (notably JFK and president Lyndon Johnson) were reluctant to sell him those weapons. Other people in the region believe the Saudi king is a puppet. What kind of puppet is he when he has to spend millions on public relation firms to improve its image in Washington to keep himself a puppet?

The truth is that none of these dictators are puppets. They have lots of freedom in how to treat their people or what countries they trade with. They often choose whom to ally themselves with, and they can switch if they are not satisfied. For example, Aliyev of Azerbaijan shifted from a communist to a pro-American politician in his lifetime, and Saddam had an on-and-off relationship with America. At best, their relationship with the superpowers can be described as "partnership" or "temporary alliance". In most cases this partnership is highly in the interest of the superpowers and to some extent that dictator but not in the interest of the people who are ruled by that dictator.

It is true that there are areas of significant importance for superpowers such as flow of oil or strategic places such as Panama canal. If these dictators attempt to step on the feet of the superpowers in these cases, they get severly punished. But still there are a lot of things they can do without stepping on the feet of the big guys.

Why am I so concerned about saying that the right word to use is "partnership" (or unfair partnership) not "master-puppet relationship"? It is because believing that they are puppets has created a sense of invinciblity surrounding them that protects them from being removed by their people. People feel that to remove these dictators they have to go and fight with their masters (in many case it means America). While if they believe this is a partnership, they would limit their approach to the more practical solution of removing their dictators by directly fighting them and convincing the superpower that they (people) can continue the partnership as it is. In the long term, they can change the partnership to a fairer partnership.

-Mossadegh's mistake was that he was trying to remove an unfair partnership and a dictator at the same time.

Grand Vizier at December 17, 2003 01:32 PM [permalink]:

Is the era of the dictators over?

Señor Græd at December 17, 2003 02:11 PM [permalink]:

And if it is, who would hire an ex-Grand Vizier?

hazhir at December 17, 2003 07:33 PM [permalink]:

While I was not convinced by your argument that people stop fighting dictators in fear of their alleged masters (it might be more of personal bias), I liked your point about separating the accounts of dictator from superpowers and convincing the superpowers that you won't hurt their interests.
Now, a more descriptive question: why people tend to view these master-mercenary relationships where they don't really exit?
One hypotesis is that cognitively it is much simpler to deal with a simple world with only a few black and white figures. A realistic perspective that takes different shades of grey into account will be much harder to form, understand, and to make sense of. Therefore most people will form simplistic perspectives of the world, specially in matters that does not affect them (and therefore they don't get feedback on their erroneous view). Applying this theory to your case, it is much easier to have a simple map of world with 1 or 2 superpowers and their puppets. If you want to understand it more seriously, you will need to have multiple figures and a complicated relationship between them... but who cares about such detail as long as it does not affect his bread!

Mehdi Yah. at December 17, 2003 08:11 PM [permalink]:

Hazhir, I didn't say people should stop fighting the dictators. I am saying that believing the fact that these dictators are not puppets makes fighting them easier. Also, I am saying that people should focus on removing the dictators and not their foreign supporters. For example, Saudies don't need to wage war on America in order to remove Saudi regime. They can achieve removing Saudi regime more easily by focusing on Saudi regime and not giving the impression that the change of government in Arabia can result in the distruption of the flow of oil.

In fact, in the case of the Iranian Revolution, Iranian revolutionaries were concilatory toward Americans prior to the Revolution and as a result of this, Americans collaborated in the process or neutralization of Iranian Army.

It will be a separate discussion, but I believe the path to getting better treatment in Middle East goes through democratization and then later on confronting foreign powers for getting better deals. At the moment, we have to give the Western powers assurance that the democratization is not going to distrupt their energy sources. Then in the long run, democratic countries in the Middle East can resolve their differences and build a united bloc. In this outlook, Iran should resolve its problems with Persian Gulf Arab countries, and also Israeli/Palestinian issue should be resolved.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at December 18, 2003 03:19 AM [permalink]:

The topic is a very important one and I'm glad more people are shattering this nonesense of puppet-master relationships. I agree with most of what you said there.

Lola at December 18, 2003 09:29 AM [permalink]:

Just a correction - JFK was dead by the time Saddam took power. Yes, I know about that coup in 1969, but JFK was dead long before them.

Kaveh Kh. at December 18, 2003 09:50 AM [permalink]:

Lola, a correction on yours, I think Mehdi is talking about Shah of Iran, also an "alleged" puppet, when mentioning JFK.

Mike O at December 18, 2003 11:33 AM [permalink]:

I was born in the United States and there are many things about this country that I love. One thing that has always bothered me is the number of horendous governments, esp. in South America, that we have supported by doing business as usual with them. It may be pragmatic, but it certainly is in conflilct with the freedoms and values that we hold dear. Of course this country can't go around deposing every odious dictator in the world, still it bothers me.

Arash Jalali at December 18, 2003 01:01 PM [permalink]:

Mehid, I don't consider myself very well-informed about history, so I would just pose this as a question. You said:

"In fact, in the case of the Iranian Revolution, Iranian revolutionaries were concilatory toward Americans prior to the Revolution and as a result of this, Americans collaborated in the process or neutralization of Iranian Army."

Would you mind telling me which revolutionaries you are referring to?

M at December 18, 2003 05:55 PM [permalink]:

Your article reminded me of the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry the eighth. There is a part in the story about Cardinal Wolsey who was the lord chancellor of the king. Despite all his effort to keep the king satisfied,he falls from the grace, removed from the position and humiliated by the king. When a messenger comes to take the chancellorship chain from him he tells the messenger to tell the king that the way he served the king he did not serve his god!

I think this is somewhat the case with Saddam and people like him! The way he served America’s interest with his actions, he did not serve his people! All he brought for his people was destruction and misery and humiliation. I’m not saying that he woke up every morning thinking how to serve the US but as a direct consequence of his actions, his country is in ruin now and America got a pretext to install itself in the region.
When you have no popularity among your people but you know one thing for sure that you want to be in power, then you have no other choice but to turn to outside powers!

“In fact, in the case of the Iranian Revolution, Iranian revolutionaries were conciliatory toward Americans prior to the Revolution and as a result of this; Americans collaborated in the process or neutralization of Iranian Army."

I don’t think this statement is true! The US government was not sure about the nature of the Iranian revolution and at first they thought that they could make a deal with the revolutionaries, that’s why general Hiser (? Not sure about his name) was sent to Iran to meet them.

I’m not in particular in love with the current establishment in Iran! In fact some of my family members were either in the Tudeh party or the Freedom Movement before the revolution, but I have a feeling that Iranian government bashing is a popular thing these days! I think one should try to put aside his prejudice and try to look at things in an impartial way. Also, human societies are very complicated and can not be treated like an abstract object as some of you guys tend to do.

M at December 18, 2003 06:43 PM [permalink]:

One more thing!
There was an article in the New York Times, titled “Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War”! which explains how before the onset of “shock and awe” Saddam tried everything to avert the war! From free access to CIA to look for WMD and full support for the road-map in the Middle East to the right for American companies to exploit Iraq’s oil!
Now judge for yourself!

Mehdi Y. at December 19, 2003 11:51 AM [permalink]:


The people who were in charge of the Revolution (at least at the beginnig) had contacts with the US embassy. That was why they were not perceived as anti-American, and Americans thought they can deal with the new government. For example, right after the Revolution, when Fadaayan leftist militia had an armed attack on the US embassy, several members of Nehzat Azadi and even Beheshti immidiately showed up to ease the situation. In the following picture you can see Sullivan, the US embassador, being protected by members of Mojahedin who were called in to defend against Fadayaan gunmen.


It was later on in the Revolution, when Islamists groups also realized that they can take advantage of anti-American propaganda.

Mostashregh at December 19, 2003 12:48 PM [permalink]:

I agree with your "conclusion", however, I still think the term "puppet" suits those kind of leaders very well, much more than "partnership".

People call leaders "puppets" of superpowers, because most of them have come to power "by direct influence" of the super-powers. They maintain their position as the king or life-time president only and only because they are backed by (usually external) forces; and those external forces are strong enough to counter the power of people. Moreover, those leaders never make strategic decisions "without" consulting with their masters.

There are a lot of examples for this: Both first and second Pahlavi kings, were installed by the British and British-Americans at the first place. Read all the published memories about the Shah, he never made key decisions without consulting the US and UK embassadors. Look at Allende in Chile, he was killed and Pinoche was installed in his place by US. If Pinoche is not a puppet, then what is a puppet?

Some others may not be installed directly by superpowers, such as Saddam or Suharto, but superpowers play with them exactly like puppets in order to reach their own targets and implement their own plans, either by financial foreign aid, military aid, or ignoring their crimes. Using local forces (i.e. local dictators) is a "much cheaper" way for superpowers to implement their plans in a region. These leaders are again puppets, although you may want to call them "indirect" puppets.

A puppet is a doll or figure which is control by someone else using a number of strings. If the control is taken away or strings are broken, the puppet will fall.

Arash Jalali at December 19, 2003 06:17 PM [permalink]:

Dear Mehdi,
Thanks for the information and also the picture. The site is actually quite rich with pictures of events both before and after the 1979-revolution .

As I said, I am not quite well-informed about the history of the revolution, so I take your word for it when you say those guys in the picture are from the Mojahedin group trying to protect the hostages from Fadaeyan; but let's just go back to a few years before the time the revolution actually came to fruition. You mentioned that the Americans found the revolutionaries (and by that I assume you mean all those who actively opposed Shaah) worthy of collaboration, so they decided to help them by neutralizing the Army (and probably Saavaak?). I am not going to contend that they (i.e. the Americans) didn't do it, but I'm not sure if they did it because they thought they had found new sympathetic (or even conciliatory) partners.

The U.S. had always been in Khomeini's agenda ever since the early 1960's when he started to assume the role of "Immam", so to speak. The controversial legal immunity rights given to U.S. citizens was one of the key points Khomeini constantly used in his speeches to attack the U.S., and to depict Shaah as their puppet. This much for Khomeini and his followers at that time. There remains the pro-Mosaddeq nationalists who (to put it mildly) had every reason to hate, and at least be watched out for by the Americans , as well as some leftist/communist groups (some like the TOODEH party who were allegedly supported by then USSR) whom could not possibly be fancied by the U.S. for obvious reasons.

So, if indeed the U.S. did help the downfall of Shaah, then their reasons for doing that should have been a bit more complicated than what you pointed out.

student at December 22, 2003 02:50 PM [permalink]:

I agree with Mostashregh.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at December 24, 2003 04:14 AM [permalink]:

I think it is futile to argue 'against' puppet-master mentality or the conspiracy theories which are closely related.
Instead we can test a new aproach of 'taking it seriously' to show its irrationality.
An important factor in all of this is the uncritical assumptions behind it that should be brought to light and questioned.
WHat should be asked is ' suppose all you say is correct, this guy is a puppet, or there is really a conspiracy going on. Now tell us, what exactly is bad about that?'
That is a good place to start extinguishing this madness that unfortunately is an epidemic in Iran.
(After all we created the concept of the Devil, didn't we?)