Jennifer Roback Morse
It was the headline that did it: “Hussein dwells on own predicament, not on testimony.” I’m thinking, I know this guy. He sounds a lot like some of the kids I’ve seen in my years around the foster care system. This guy is a socio-path, most probably with reactive attachment disorder.

Far too many people treat him as if he were the guy next door, who just happens to run a third world dictatorship. But he isn’t. Normal people don’t aspire to run third world dictatorships. And normal modes of dealing with him will not get you what you expect or want.

The classic case of attachment disorder is a child without a conscience, with no capacity for empathy with other people. What causes it? Typically, the attachment disordered child had his primary attachment with his mother disrupted during infancy. Infants normally become aware of other people as their mothers pick them up, rock them, feed them, and meet their needs. In the process, the child comes to make the deep connection that human contact assures his survival. This initial bond forms the foundation for the later development of the conscience.

According to Karl Zinsmeister’s Boots on the Ground, Saddam’s father abandoned him before he was born. His mother went to her brother’s house near Tikrit to give birth, and then abandoned the baby, leaving him to be raised by his uncle’s family.

What are these kids like? Kids with reactive attachment disorder are exquisitely sensitive to the slightest injury to themselves, and completely oblivious to any harm they inflict on others. Listen to this account of Saddam’s trial: “Three witnesses testified about abuse they ... suffered in Hussein’s jails. Speaking from behind a curtain to conceal their identities, they gave long and chilling accounts of beatings and deprivation.

Hussein appeared more concerned with his own plight.”

This kind of child does whatever he thinks he can get away with, no matter the cost to other people. They lie if they think it is advantageous to lie. They steal if they can get away with it.

Think of the billions Saddam and his cronies siphoned from the Oil for Food program. Normal people can barely imagine stealing on that scale. But an attachment disordered child has to be monitored every minute. (Experienced and savvy parents call it, “line of sight supervision.” ) So because the world assumed Saddam was a normal guy, we set up the Oil for Food program without properly monitoring it. To add insult to injury, Saddam had the nerve to blame the embargo for starving Iraqi children, when he himself could readily have fed his people. That is chutzpah far beyond the imagination of a normal person.

Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at

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