Hussein and Putin: Ruthless brothers of different mothers

By Lt. Col. James Zumwalt

Comparing the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, similarities and dissimilarities exist.

Similarities include:

  • In 1990, Iraq was led by Saddam Hussein, a blood-thirsty tyrant who had manipulated what was a republic form of government 11 years earlier to secure dictatorial powers for himself. Russia, led by a similar tyrant, Vladimir Putin, managed to manipulate what was supposed to be a budding democracy after the Soviet Union fell in 1991 to secure dictatorial powers for himself today.
  • Hussein saw himself as the leader of a greater Pan-Arab nationalistic world while Putin sees himself leading a reconstituted Soviet Union.
  • Hussein, having surrounded himself with “yes” men, believed he could easily invade Kuwait as the international community would be quick to condemn him but would do nothing militarily to challenge his actions. Putin was told by his inner circle of “yes” men that he could invade Ukraine and secure victory in a matter of days.
  • For both Iraq and Russia, the targeted countries were border states, resulting in relatively short invasion routes which, they believed, by using overpowering military force, would quickly fall.
  • On paper, Hussein had a well-equipped military force ranked fourth-largest in the world. In 2022, Russia’s military was ranked as the second-most powerful. However, both armies proved to be overrated mostly due to incompetent leadership.

Dissimilarities include:

  • Hussein was right about Kuwait – his army quickly overpowered its militarily inferior opponent. Putin was wrong about Ukraine – its people have shown their determination to drive the Russians out as the war is now in its second year with no signs of ending soon.
  • Hussein was wrong about the U.S. response, still believing 48 hours before Washington led a military coalition against Baghdad that it would not happen. The U.S.-led coalition quickly drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Meanwhile, Putin was right about his actions not triggering a military response from the U.S. and its allies. While his invasion did result in their implementing sanctions against Russia, Putin, with the help of China, has managed to undermine them to some extent, limiting the expected devastating economic impact. Not wanting to get directly involved, the U.S. and its allies have been supplying Ukraine with weapons such as the Patriot missile system, which has had great success in shooting down Russian hypersonic missiles Putin had boasted were the most advanced in the world.

One more similarity/dissimilarity is left to play out.

It would require a second Persian Gulf War in 2003 to end Hussein’s aggression. On the run, the filthy and unshaven leader was discovered nine months later hiding in a spider hole. Tried, convicted and executed in 2006 by the Iraqi government that replaced his own, Hussein was quickly buried in his birthplace in Tikrit.

Interestingly, Hussein’s gravesite over the years was vandalized, burned, attacked and otherwise desecrated. When the government ordered the body be moved elsewhere, it was discovered to be missing, one report claiming it had been fed to dogs. Quite an inglorious ending for a ruthless leader.

This raises the question, as Putin continues to be embarrassed by a determined Ukrainian military that has inflicted upon Russia an estimated 200,000 casualties, both dead and wounded, what will be his fate? He has already been the target of several assassination attempts as his people grow hostile to his self-glorifying effort to create a new Soviet empire. Some critics believe his days are numbered.

Like Hussein, will Putin too suffer such an ignominious end or, foreseeing what might befall him, will he rein in his aggression, recognizing his dream of empire is not to be realized?

Hussein and Putin had different mothers but clearly they are brothers in sharing the same negative attributes of dictatorial ruthlessness and vainglorious personalities.

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