Not a Madman’
Profiler Says Saddam Is Dangerous, But Not Insane
Feb. 25 — Saddam Hussein may be a dangerous and brutal dictator, but don't make the mistake of thinking he's insane.
That's the assessment of Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler who has developed a psychological portrait of the Iraqi leader by extensively studying his biographies, his speeches, his record of policy decisions, and interviews with people who have met him.
"This is not a madman. Let me be clear," Post said. "This is a psychologically whole person in terms of not being insane, but he represents the most dangerous political personality type, what's called malignant narcissism."
Post, who pioneered the CIA's use of the controversial discipline known as political psychology, believes Saddam's actions are guided by rational calculation — which is potentially predictable — rather than arbitrary whims.
"He is not crazy. … He is quite understandable. And in order to deter a leader, to work in crises against a leader, you have to have a nuanced understanding of what makes him tick."
In the 1960s, Post started a pilot project inside the CIA for developing personality profiles of world leaders. During two decades with the government, he studied the leading international figures of the day, though he cannot talk publicly about the profiles.
He can, though, talk about his profile of Saddam, which he developed after he left the government.
Profile: Born to a Depressed Mother
Post believes the roots of Saddam's personality lie in his childhood — as far back as his birth. "One cannot imagine a worse entrance into this life than Saddam had," he said.
Both Saddam's father and his eldest brother died while his mother was pregnant with him. Citing an account given by the family's neighbors, Post said she became "gravely depressed" and repeatedly tried to commit suicide and to abort the pregnancy. When Saddam was born, she did not even want to look at him, Post said.
The infant Saddam spent the first three years of his life in the care of a loving uncle, but was then returned to his mother, who had remarried. Her new husband was a distant cousin.
Difficult Childhood Leads to ‘Wounded Self’
According to Post, Saddam's new stepfather was psychologically and physically abusive to him, producing in the boy what Post calls "the wounded self" — a fragile personality who is very sensitive to perceived slights.
"He's really very fragile under this arrogant facade. One of the important implications of this — which is felt very painfully by his subordinates — is how sensitive he is to slight. He cannot accept criticism of any kind," Post said.
"He is so consumed by compensatory self-adoration, messianic ambitions, grandiose self-concept," Post said, "that he has no capacity for caring for his own people. No capacity for the pain, the suffering of others."
Post believes Saddam's childhood and his treatment by his stepfather left him with a ruthless determination: "Never again will I yield to superior force."
"One way I think he has compensated for the violence done to him when he was so helpless was to be the perpetrator of violence to others," said Post. "He's used violence and a total readiness to do whatever to anybody as his way of controlling his environment."
Visions of Greatness
At the age of 8, according to Post, Saddam ran away from his mother and stepfather and returned to his uncle, who gave him an education and told him he was destined to be a great Arab leader.
Saddam took that to heart, Post said. "He sees himself as having this heroic role to play on the world stage, and that has haunted him over the years, because while he saw that, he never got that recognition in the world until the Gulf crisis of 1991."
That was the year that Saddam's forces defied the U.S.-led international coalition by refusing to withdraw his troops from neighboring Kuwait, leading to the Gulf War.
Profiling Seen as Controversial
Now that Saddam is facing another potential war, Post believes his psychological profile can offer hints about the Iraqi leader's possible actions.
Others are not so sure. Post's type of profiling is controversial, and many historians and psychologists dismiss it as pseudo-science, saying it is impossible to develop an accurate psychiatric profile without examining the subject in person.
The American Psychiatric Association once told Post his profile of Saddam may have violated its ethics ban on members offering public diagnosis of subjects they have not examined in person. The ban was instituted after a notorious 1964 article in which hundreds of psychiatrists denounced that year's Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, as psychologically unfit for office.
Post's critics also note that when he testified before congressional committees in 1990, he predicted — erroneously — that Saddam would back down if the international community threatened to use military force.
Post maintains that his characterization was accurate at the time, but that Saddam's position changed when he learned there was a possibility the United States intended to eliminate him. He said his political profiling should not be seen as psychiatry per se, but as "an art form … informed by my education as a psychiatrist."
Profile Suggests Possible Fight to the Death
The important lesson for the future, Post said, is that Saddam will — if he feels his cause is lost — try to take down as much of the world with him as he can. In 1991 that meant setting the Kuwaiti oil fields on fire as he was forced to abandon them. But if there is another war and Saddam believes he is doomed, Post believes he might use weapons of mass destruction as his swan song.
Post doubts Saddam would consider giving up his rule and going into exile. "It is only power that drives this man … and life without power is not life," he said.
But he does believe that Saddam might knowingly enter a war he knew would end in his own demise.
"He's not a martyr. He's very prudent. He doesn't want to have conflict. But when he has his back to the wall, that's when he can be very dangerous and lash out," he said.