Stop Confusing Bashar al-Assad With Saddam Hussein

People in the last week have done it more than you'd think.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in court in Baghdad on Dec. 21, 2006. (National Journal)

Syria is not Iraq. Nor is it Libya. But that hasn't stopped people from the occasional Freudian slip in the debate over whether to respond militarily to alleged chemical-weapons use in Syria.

The Obama administration, in its attempts to sway lawmakers to support a resolution that would give the president the power to strike the Syrian government, has been adamant in listing the differences between this conflict and others that have happened in the region. Secretary of State John Kerry, in his statement laying out the evidence against the Assad regime, had to say a military response "will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya."

However, in the past week, several members of the national media and commentators on those programs have mixed up the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Like Rep. Chris Van Hollen to CNN's Jessica Yellen on Aug. 29:

Jessica, I think the president was absolutely right to establish the red line he did. If Saddam Hussein is shown to have used chemical weapons, it's a gross violation of international conventions against the use of poison gas. The United States and the international community have an interest in deterring that activity in the future, both from Saddam Hussein and others who may contemplate that use in future conflicts. So, I think it's important that we take this action. Obviously it's better if we take the action collectively, but I think the president was right to lay down this marker.

Or MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, twice, on Aug. 27:

But trying to degrade the delivery system so that Saddam Hussein "“ excuse me, different war.

Anything that degrades Saddam Hussein "“ there I go again, sorry. Anything that degrades Bashar al-Assad's commands and control does help the rebels.

Or even retired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, a Fox News military analyst, on Monday:

Saddam's — or Saddam — Assad's army is on the move and this cannot play out well 10 or 11 days from now when we conduct this strike.

And Paul Bremer, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Aug. 30:

I'm not an expert on what the target set might be. But it seems to me there ought to be a no-fly, no-move zone along the borders. We should target the air force which is, after all, a way in which Saddam has done a lot of his indiscriminate killing of his own citizens is with the air force. There's a lot of talk about how fancy the air defenses are. The Israelis have been in and out at least four attacks that they've admitted to in a last year without apparently losing any aircraft. So I think a lot more can be done to suppress Saddam's ability to indiscriminately attack his own people.

Or, finally, Bobby Ghosh, the deputy international editor for Time magazine, on Aug. 27 to CNN's Brianna Keilar:

I don't think going in "“ I don't think a big stake involves putting "“ I'm sorry to be mixing metaphors "“ boots on the ground here. It is people to use the weapons that are being discussed right now, cruise missiles mainly, to take out larger parts of Saddam "“ I beg your pardon "“ Assad's arsenal, not simply to sort of sort of slap him across the knuckles, but take out big chunks of his airpower, his artillery.

In fairness, both men have reportedly used chemical weapons on their own citizens, killing thousands of innocent people in their respective Middle Eastern nation. Syria and Iraq border each other. And the idea of getting involved militarily in another country from the Muslim world, like the United States did in Iraq, is overwhelmingly disconcerting to many people, regardless of their political leanings.

But mixing the two men up, still, is inherently incorrect.

And so is mixing up Syria and Libya, which has happened a couple of times, as well, in the last week. Take journalist Andrew Sullivan, who tweeted:

I hate to describe Obama as worse than Bush on anything, but he's going that way on Libya:

— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) September 4, 2013

Or Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., who sent a letter to his colleagues asking them to sign on to a letter to President Obama, urging him to seek congressional approval before striking Syria. The problem, among other spelling and name errors, was that the headline of his letter read:

Rigell Leads Bipartisan Effort Urging President Obama to Get Congressional Approval Before Striking Libya

Not quite, and Rigell later sent out a corrected release. While the U.S. played a supporting role in the Libyan effort against dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, and Libya is a Muslim nation, it is not Syria.

And while these errors are easy to point out, one of the possibly broader reasons why folks are having such a difficult time keeping it straight might have to do with the fatigue surrounding war and the conflicts that continue to stem from that region.

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