Stop Confusing Bashar al-Assad With Saddam Hussein

People in the last week have done it more than you’d think.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in court in Baghdad on Dec. 21, 2006.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros and Lucia Graves
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Matt Vasilogambros Lucia Graves
Sept. 4, 2013, 12:32 p.m.

Syr­ia is not Ir­aq. Nor is it Libya. But that hasn’t stopped people from the oc­ca­sion­al Freu­di­an slip in the de­bate over wheth­er to re­spond mil­it­ar­ily to al­leged chem­ic­al-weapons use in Syr­ia.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, in its at­tempts to sway law­makers to sup­port a res­ol­u­tion that would give the pres­id­ent the power to strike the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, has been adam­ant in list­ing the dif­fer­ences between this con­flict and oth­ers that have happened in the re­gion. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, in his state­ment lay­ing out the evid­ence against the As­sad re­gime, had to say a mil­it­ary re­sponse “will bear no re­semb­lance to Afgh­anistan, Ir­aq, or even Libya.”

However, in the past week, sev­er­al mem­bers of the na­tion­al me­dia and com­ment­at­ors on those pro­grams have mixed up the late Ir­aqi dic­tat­or Sad­dam Hus­sein and Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad.

Like Rep. Chris Van Hol­len to CNN’s Jes­sica Yel­len on Aug. 29:

Jes­sica, I think the pres­id­ent was ab­so­lutely right to es­tab­lish the red line he did. If Sad­dam Hus­sein is shown to have used chem­ic­al weapons, it’s a gross vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al con­ven­tions against the use of pois­on gas. The United States and the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity have an in­terest in de­ter­ring that activ­ity in the fu­ture, both from Sad­dam Hus­sein and oth­ers who may con­tem­plate that use in fu­ture con­flicts. So, I think it’s im­port­ant that we take this ac­tion. Ob­vi­ously it’s bet­ter if we take the ac­tion col­lect­ively, but I think the pres­id­ent was right to lay down this mark­er.

Or MS­N­BC’s An­drea Mitchell, twice, on Aug. 27:

But try­ing to de­grade the de­liv­ery sys­tem so that Sad­dam Hus­sein ““ ex­cuse me, dif­fer­ent war.


Any­thing that de­grades Sad­dam Hus­sein ““ there I go again, sorry. Any­thing that de­grades Bashar al-As­sad’s com­mands and con­trol does help the rebels.

Or even re­tired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, a Fox News mil­it­ary ana­lyst, on Monday:

Sad­dam’s — or Sad­dam — As­sad’s army is on the move and this can­not play out well 10 or 11 days from now when we con­duct this strike.

And Paul Bremer, former U.S. am­bas­sad­or to Ir­aq, to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Aug. 30:

I’m not an ex­pert on what the tar­get set might be. But it seems to me there ought to be a no-fly, no-move zone along the bor­ders. We should tar­get the air force which is, after all, a way in which Sad­dam has done a lot of his in­dis­crim­in­ate killing of his own cit­izens is with the air force. There’s a lot of talk about how fancy the air de­fenses are. The Is­rael­is have been in and out at least four at­tacks that they’ve ad­mit­ted to in a last year without ap­par­ently los­ing any air­craft. So I think a lot more can be done to sup­press Sad­dam’s abil­ity to in­dis­crim­in­ately at­tack his own people.

Or, fi­nally, Bobby Ghosh, the deputy in­ter­na­tion­al ed­it­or for Time magazine, on Aug. 27 to CNN’s Bri­anna Keil­ar:

I don’t think go­ing in ““ I don’t think a big stake in­volves put­ting ““ I’m sorry to be mix­ing meta­phors ““ boots on the ground here. It is people to use the weapons that are be­ing dis­cussed right now, cruise mis­siles mainly, to take out lar­ger parts of Sad­dam ““ I beg your par­don ““ As­sad’s ar­sen­al, not simply to sort of sort of slap him across the knuckles, but take out big chunks of his air­power, his ar­til­lery.

In fair­ness, both men have re­portedly used chem­ic­al weapons on their own cit­izens, killing thou­sands of in­no­cent people in their re­spect­ive Middle East­ern na­tion. Syr­ia and Ir­aq bor­der each oth­er. And the idea of get­ting in­volved mil­it­ar­ily in an­oth­er coun­try from the Muslim world, like the United States did in Ir­aq, is over­whelm­ingly dis­con­cert­ing to many people, re­gard­less of their polit­ic­al lean­ings.

But mix­ing the two men up, still, is in­her­ently in­cor­rect.

And so is mix­ing up Syr­ia and Libya, which has happened a couple of times, as well, in the last week. Take journ­al­ist An­drew Sul­li­van, who tweeted:

I hate to de­scribe Obama as worse than Bush on any­thing, but he’s go­ing that way on Libya: ht­tp://­fYvb2

— An­drew Sul­li­van (@sully­dish) Septem­ber 4, 2013

Or Rep. Scott Ri­gell, R-Va., who sent a let­ter to his col­leagues ask­ing them to sign on to a let­ter to Pres­id­ent Obama, ur­ging him to seek con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al be­fore strik­ing Syr­ia. The prob­lem, among oth­er spelling and name er­rors, was that the head­line of his let­ter read:

Ri­gell Leads Bi­par­tis­an Ef­fort Ur­ging Pres­id­ent Obama to Get Con­gres­sion­al Ap­prov­al Be­fore Strik­ing Libya

Not quite, and Ri­gell later sent out a cor­rec­ted re­lease. While the U.S. played a sup­port­ing role in the Liby­an ef­fort against dic­tat­or Muam­mar el-Qad­dafi, and Libya is a Muslim na­tion, it is not Syr­ia.

And while these er­rors are easy to point out, one of the pos­sibly broad­er reas­ons why folks are hav­ing such a dif­fi­cult time keep­ing it straight might have to do with the fa­tigue sur­round­ing war and the con­flicts that con­tin­ue to stem from that re­gion.

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