He was known as a dictator, but he always wanted to write.
Killer of Kurds, dedicated novelist. Georgios Kollidas / Shutterstock.com

CIA analyst John Nixon's new book, Debriefing the President, reportedly presents a number of facts that completely undermine the Bush administration's justification for starting another war with Iraq (which has been pretty, pretty, prit-ty undermined already), a decision that destabilized the region and fertilized the ground for the rise of ISIS. One of these surprising facts is that Hussein didn't order Halabja to be bombed with mustard gas and sarin back in 1988. (Nixon claims a battlefield commander made the call.) But, perhaps most surprisingly, Nixon says Saddam didn't have time to be the "master manipulator" the CIA thought he was because he was too focused on his novel.

Bush II & Co. beat the drums of war right up to the UN's front door, claiming that Hussein oversaw an active weapons of mass destruction program, and that he was willing to use them. Even if he wasn't, he was willing to sell them to terrorists who would. Colin Powell made the case before the assembly, holding up a vile of fake anthrax and declaring that Iraq had produced thousands of liters of the stuff. Saddam was hiding stockpiles.

But from Nixon's point of view, the dictator was so out of the picture at the time that he “appeared to be as clueless about what was happening inside Iraq as his British and American enemies were.”

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez sat down with Nixon on Democracy Now this morning. Take a sec and watch the interview. The disconnect between the picture of Hussein drawn by Bush following the events of 9/11 and the one drawn by this interrogator is hard to fathom.

Support The Stranger

Nixon's description of Hussein as "an aging Iraqi grandfather" strikes me as being a touch too kind to a man who seized power by having his political opponents executed. And the fact that Nixon was surprised that a dictator could have charisma makes me question the depths of his insight into the man despite his many years of study. But I have no trouble believing that Hussein largely gave up his powers in order to assume the mantle of the omnipotent, omniscient author.

I've known novelists. Once they latch onto an idea, they have the ability to lock themselves in a room for weeks and months to write and/or to worry about writing. Indulging this habit would make running a country impossible.

From 2000-2003, Hussein wrote four novels: Zabibah and the King; The Fortified Castle; Men and the City; Begone, Demons. The books have been widely panned, of course, as poorly written vehicles designed to promote his political ideology. (If you have a moment, Daniel Kalder's take on Zabibah and the King, an overwrought romance novel that includes bear fucking, is worth a read.) But that kind of yearly production suggests he was in the zone. Though this fifth novel likely remains unfinished, it seems it's realer than the WMDs.