You can say this for Saddam Hussein: he meant what he said

A WYSIWYG dictator
A WYSIWYG dictator
Image: Reuters/Palestinan Authority/Handout
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When you hear a megalomaniac tyrant espouse a bizarre worldview, you think to yourself: “Surely this rhetoric is for public consumption, in service of political objectives. He can’t possibly say this stuff when the cameras are turned off… can he?”

In the case of Saddam Hussein, it turns out he could—and did.

A new study of the private tapes of the Iraqi dictator shows little significant difference between his public speech and what he said behind closed doors.

The tapes, discovered by US forces shortly after the 2003 invasion, contain thousands of audio recordings of Hussein’s private meetings and telephone conversations with Iraqi officials.

“While Saddam spoke extensively in public speeches during his decades in power, there had [been] few means by which to judge whether these were manipulative communications – until now,” co-authors Stephen Dyson, Associate Professor of Foreign Policy and International Relations at the University of Connecticut, and UC-Irvine doctoral student, Alexandra Raleigh, said in a release on the paper.

The US based researchers collected Saddam’s public speeches and interviews on international affairs from 1977-2000 and produced a data set of 330,000 words from the huge trove of information. From transcripts of Saddam’s private conversations, they compiled a set of 58,000 words.

The transcripts cover issues of national security, like the Iran-Iraq war and first Persian Gulf war, to UN sanctions and, finally, to relations with Hussein’s enemies: the US, Israel and Iran.

The researchers found Hussein’s public and private beliefs remained virtually intact in all areas they examined. In his opinions on the US, Iran and Israel, his private beliefs were in line with his overall worldview.

The only difference, they noted, was that he could sometimes display a more complex and nuanced view of international affairs in private. For instance, he acknowledged a lower ability to control Israeli actions, as compared with what he said in public.

The findings were published in the latest edition of the UK journal, Research and Politics.