Donald Trump has accomplished another first: He’s the first presidential candidate to praise Saddam Hussein during this campaign. (And you thought Trump’s glowing words about Vladimir Putin were alarming?!)
Trump’s comments about the former Iraqi dictator came during his disjointed press conference on Monday where he shrieked that Ted Cruz was an “unstable person” and a “liar” whom he will sue unless Cruz grovels to Trump with a public apology. Trump then turned his ire to George W. Bush, who was hitting the campaign trail Monday in South Carolina to help brother Jeb.
And that’s where Trump started talking about Hussein. He started out accurately enough, saying, “You know, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.” Trump should’ve stopped there and then focused on the intelligence errors leading up to the Iraq War. But, of course, he didn’t. Instead Trump then praised the former Iraqi leader saying, “But one thing about him: He killed terrorists.” He even said it a second time: “Saddam Hussein understood and he killed terrorists.”
Look, you can (and should) criticize the Iraq War as a horrible mistake. But praising Hussein for anything is like saying Pol Pot was bad, but you have to admit that he was great at reducing crime. Hussein was barbaric. There’s absolutely no place for even the slightest place for praise of this ruthless dictator who publicly supported terrorism and tortured and killed his own citizens.
Could it be that Trump was so caught up in slamming George and Jeb Bush that he again lost control and inadvertently began putting a positive spin on Hussein? As we have come to learn, once Trump gets emotional, reason goes out the door. Even Rush Limbaugh said the same after Trump’s over-the-top performance at last Saturday’s GOP debate. Rush Limbaugh noted on Monday that when Trump gets revved up he has “emotional incontinence” and flies “out of control.” (Not the best quality for someone who wants to be our nation’s commander in chief.)
Or equally as disturbing is whether Trump is actually uninformed about what the man known as the “Butcher of Baghdad” did to his own people and his supporting of terrorism. Hussein was like ISIS to anyone who dared object to his polices. This is a man who horrifically used rape as a political weapon. As was widely reported, Hussein’s forces would rape female relatives of suspected dissidents or political opponents and then threaten to release videotapes of these rapes in an effort to blackmail the male relatives to cooperate with Hussein.
And as the world (but maybe not Trump) knows, Hussein’s security forces would systematically torture people who did not do exactly what Hussein wanted. We are talking ripping out of fingernails, dripping acid on skin, burning people with blowtorches and the like. Or could it be that Trump—who recently stated that if he was elected president he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” isn’t troubled by these techniques because it’s what he has mind to use?
And as most except Trump are apparently aware, Hussein infamously gassed his own citizens. The worst of this took place in March 1988 in the small town of Halabja, located on Iraq’s northeastern border. Hussein let loose a barrage of mustard and sarin gas on the Kurdish population there. After it was all over, nearly 5,000 people were killed. And thousands of survivors to this day suffer horrible physical ailments.
Putting aside this barbarity, what about Trump’s claim that Hussein killed terrorists? Well, that would depend on your definition of terrorist. I’m sure to Hussein those who opposed or questioned him were terrorists and deserved to be killed. But I imagine that few of us would concur.
I’m sure all of us agree that suicide bombers who detonate themselves inside restaurants or cafés, killing innocent men, women and children, would be considered terrorists. Only thing is Hussein didn’t kill those people. Rather, he supported them. As has been well documented, Hussein would pay $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who slaughtered Israeli civilians in coffee shops, on buses, etc. Estimates are that Hussein paid millions out to these suicide bombers’ families over the years, and harbored other terrorists who had killed innocent people in the West.
Yet despite this history of Saddam’s barbarity, human-rights violations and even openly supporting terrorism, Trump still sees a silver lining with Hussein. This is not much different than Trump’s public bear hug of Putin. Although not to the extent of Hussein, Putin also boasts an appalling record of human-rights violations. Plus Putin has done all he can to crack down on journalists who dare criticize him. In fact, in terms of press freedom, Russia ranks at 180 out of 199 countries, actually putting it behind Iraq, and Putin may have even had reporters killed. (Which Trump actually defended by stating, “Our country does plenty of killing also.”)
Are there other brutal dictators that Trump admires for their strongman tactics despite human-rights violations? As president, would Trump alarmingly crackdown on dissent like Putin and Hussein? We simply don’t know yet but we do know that Trump publicly defended his supporters beating up a black protester in November and just yesterday praised two supporters who tackled a man who dared give Trump the middle finger at his rally in South Carolina.
But the most immediate question is will any of this matter to Trump supporters? Stop laughing. Trump is probably right that he could shoot Americans on Fifth Avenue in New York City and he would still not lose votes. And that very truth may be the scariest thing of all.
Updated: 9:13 a.m. to add new details