The Cable

A Brief History of Donald Trump’s Love Affair With Saddam Hussein

The GOP presidential nominee isn’t shy about expressing his affection for the former Iraqi strongman.

TrumpSaddam

On a day when FBI Director James Comey’s sharp criticism of Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails while at the State Department handed Donald Trump a prime opportunity to question her qualifications as commander in chief, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee instead leapt at the chance to … praise Saddam Hussein.

“You know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” Trump said at a Tuesday night stop in North Carolina. “They didn’t read ’em the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist, it was over.”

Never mind the fact that Hussein actually offered reward money to families of terrorists who conducted suicide bombings, or that while Washington supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, Baghdad was listed by the American government as a state sponsor of terrorism. In fact, as the Associated Press pointed out, while there’s no clear evidence that Hussein killed terrorists “so good,” he did have a lengthy record of killing civilians, including gassing 5,000 Iraqi Kurdish men, women, and children.

Trump’s comments Tuesday came as some surprise to observers, as the New York businessman is supposed to be professionalizing his campaign and staying on message just weeks ahead of his official nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Even seemingly potential running mates are running for the hills. At the Tuesday rally in North Carolina, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, (R-Tenn.) introduced Trump in something of a tryout for the number-two spot on the ticket. On Wednesday, he said he’s taken his name out of the running.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’ll preside over the convention, once again found himself in the position of repudiating Trump’s remarks.

“He was one the 20th century’s most evil people,” Ryan said of Hussein in a Fox News interview Tuesday night. “He was up there. He committed mass genocide against his own people using chemical weapons.”

But Trump’s latest remarks were far from the first time he’s expressed admiration for the brutal strongman who ruled Iraq as president for decades before being overthrown after the U.S. invasion in 2003 — or for a host of other strongmen, for that matter. He’s praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, sanctioned for human rights abuses by the U.S. government for the first time on Wednesday; Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the U.S. is pushing to help negotiate a political resolution to the Syrian civil war; and Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, killed in the wake of an international coalition’s intervention there.

Yet Trump, too, was one of many initially rattling sabers against Hussein. Since the United States had decided to go in, “you have to take down Saddam Hussein,” he said in 2003 after the dictator’s capture, calling it a “huge day for this country.”

Still, he’s since said that while he was “a bad guy,” he should never have been overthrown. The real estate magnate claims he predicted the instability that would follow in his wake and later give rise to the Islamic State.

So here, for Foreign Policy readers’ viewing pleasure, a brief and not comprehensive history of Trump’s decade-plus rhetorical love affair with the man who was one of the Middle East’s most brutal leaders:

“He killed terrorists. He would shoot terrorists in the street. There were no terrorists.”

Oct. 9, 2006 appearance on “Larry King Live,” CNN

“They had very few terrorists, because he didn’t want terrorists in Iraq, and he killed terrorists.”

Oct. 15, 2008, “Situation Room,” CNN

“It’s not even a contest.”

Oct. 4 “Meet the Press” appearance, asked whether the Middle East would be better off without Hussein and Qaddafi

“Iraq used to be no terrorists. He would kill the terrorists immediately. It was like — now it’s the Harvard of terrorism, Iraq. If you look at Iraq from years ago — I’m not saying [Hussein] was a nice guy. He was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now.”

— Oct. 25 CNN “State of the Union” appearance

“Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘oh, he’s using gas.’ They go back, forth, it’s the same. And they were stabilized. And I said if you go after one or the other in this case Iraq you’re going to destabilize the Middle East, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Dec. 30 South Carolina campaign rally, referring to the Iraq-Iran war

“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but the one thing about him: he killed terrorists.”

— Feb. 15 press conference in South Carolina

“If these politicians went to the beach and didn’t do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Qaddafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, we’d be — at least they killed terrorists, all right?

And I’m not saying they were good because they were bad, they were really bad, but we don’t know what we’re getting. You look at Libya right now, ISIS, as we speak, is taking over their oil. As we speak, it’s a total mess.

We would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going into war.”

Feb. 25 Republican presidential debate in Houston

Photo credit: Gilles BASSIGNAC / Contributor

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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