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Postcards from the Edge Saddam Hussein is a Hero in Jordan BY JOHN BURNETT IN THE EYES of most Americans, Jordan spoiled an otherwise perfect war. Nobody could figure out King Hussein. Here was an old, dependable ally, married to a blond Princeton graduate, monarch of one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East. Yet he thundered against America’s “unjust war” and pledged his loyalty to “brother Iraq.” Within Jordan, Saddam Hussein has been transformed into a folk hero. Jordanian men cut their mustaches in the bushy style of the Iraqi president, they name their newborn sons “Saddam,” and they walk the streets wearing Scud missile lapel pins. “He will go down as the greatest Arab leader who ever lived,” declared an elderly Jordanian, daring me to respond. Americans remain mystified by Jordan’s cult of Hussein. An acquaintance in Austin put it to me bluntly: “How can that country take our money all these years and then turn around and support that criminal?” The answer is complex, but not necessarily illogical. And it will offer no comfort to proponents of the “crazy A-rab” theory, who hold forth in the grocery checkout line. Most people attribute Jordan’s tireless cheerleading for Saddam to the country’s Palestinian majority. From the moment he tried to link his invasion of Kuwait to the issue of Israel’s occupied territories, the Palestinians looked on him as their savior. Because of television’s addiction to rowdy street demonstrations, however, the frequent images beamed from Jordan of scowling Palestinians waving their fists tended to exaggerate their actual contribution to the country’s pro-Iraqi climate. History played an equally important role. The nation of Jordan is 45 years old, about the size of Indiana, and it suffers from a monstrous inferiority complex. It has neither the 5,000-year history of Egypt, nor the vast oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. It lacks the military might and ambitions of Syria, Turkey, and Iran. And the overpowering presence of Israel to the west is a constant reminder of Jordan’s military defeats. Since the time of Christ, Jordan has been occupied by one or another world power beginning with the Romans, the European crusaders, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the British. Like most other Arab countries, Jordan owes its size and shape to the whims of John Burnett is a Southwest correspondent for National Public Radio who spent six weeks in Jordan during the war. the British and French colonialists who carved up the region under the Sykes -Picot Agreement of 1916. In so doing, Britain broke its promise to grant full independence to the Arab entities. It wasn’t until 1946 three decades later that British mandate ended and the sovereign nation of Transjordan came into being. “From the time they go to school, Jordanians learn about the Sykes-Picot Agreement the way we learn about the U.S. Constitution,” said an American diplomat in COURTESY JOHN BURNETT Postcard sold on the streets of Amman during the Gulf War Amman. Even though Jordan admires U.S. popular culture, the Gulf War brought a festering antiWestern resentment into the open. Here was an Arab neighbor, Iraq, pitted against the colonial grand daddies, Britain and France, along with the upstart imperialist, the United States. That was enough to send the Jordanians into orbit. George Bush’s “new world order,” which resonates with democracy and freedom at home, sounds ominously like a new era of colonial domination to Jordanians. In his fervent pro-Iraq speech of February 6, King Hussein predicted that the postwar divisions of the Arab world would be “far more dangerous” than the results of SykesPicot. Jordan, along with Yemen and the North African countries of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, were the only Arab nations openly to side with Iraq. To nationalist Arabs, Saddam Hussein symbolized the long-sought leader who would unite an artificially segmented Arab world and lead it to greatness. In Jordan during the war, it was common to hear him called the “modern-day Saladin,” a reference to the legendary Muslim leader who drove the crusaders out of Palestine in 1174 and reclaimed it for Islam. “My children came home from school today and told me the other kids were saying the same Arabic letters that spell `Saddam’ also form Saladin’,” said a Jordanian woman, rolling her eyes. She was one of the few skeptics I met. But what seemed to impress the Jordanians most was Saddam’s apparent defiance and fearlessness in the face of the West’s stern demands that he withdraw from Kuwait. “The man on the street is really proud,” said Hustafa Hamarneh, a historian at the University of Jordan. “We’re dealing with an Arab country that means business, unlike other Arab leaders who were very bombastic and never delivered. Saddam doesn’t talk much, but he delivers much.” In the middle of the war, a plumber in the southern city of Madaba said mockingly, “Your great army has been fighting for almost a month and they haven’t reclaimed an inch of Kuwait.” S THE WAR dragged on and it became clear that Iraq was staggering under the non-stop bombardment, I kept waiting for the Jordanians’ defiance and jubilation to turn to defeat and despondence. It never did. I came to appreciate the power of information in their case, false information. Will Rogers would have been a Saddam-ite if he had followed the war through the Jordanian media. The slant was relentlessly pro-Iraq and antiU.S. Every night, Jordanian TV parroted the wildly inflated claims of civilian casualties and allied losses broadcast by Baghdad Radio. The heavily censored reports of CNN’s Peter Arnett were treated as gospel. Jordanian newspapers and televisions left the impression that the West’s vaunted armies were flailing helplessly in a great sandstorm, while Saddam shrewdly and stealthily picked them off. Jordanians thirsted so mightily for panArab pride, they gulped down the reports. The allies played the same game. In the Arab nations that were members of the antiIraq coalition, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria, the pro-government press villainized Iraq and hyped the allied campaign. Moreover, the Pentagon craftily used military censors and the poor reporting system to ride herd on the 700 journalists based in Saudi Arabia. This does not exonerate propaganda wars by either side. But it does show that when the war is over, those who 12 APRIL 19, 1991