News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Ford and Saddam: different leaders, different countries

The contrasts could hardly be greater between two leaders who died in the last full week of 2006.

Former President Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, had the American presidency thrust upon him. He probably would never have run for the job, which many others seek relentlessly. Mr. Ford led the nation with modesty, honesty and dignity. People remember him with fondness and respect.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was hanged Saturday at age 69 by his own people after being deposed by American troops, was arrogant and ruthlessly ambitious. He was responsible for thousands of deaths, all for the purpose of maintaining his own power. He stunted his nation’s development and wasted its human and natural resources. Few will mourn Saddam Hussein.

We have ruthless politicians in the United States, too, but by “ruthless” we usually mean they’re willing to use political dirty tricks or maybe dishonest tactics — rarely violence. When the New York Post ran a headline that said “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” everybody knew it was a figure of speech. “Drop dead” in Iraq could be taken literally.

In the United States, we are willing to play by the rules and accept the consequences peacefully, even in a crisis. Because of our rules, the public interest sometimes wins out over ambition and competition. This is what President Ford meant when, just after our 1974 regime change, he declared the end of Watergate: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

Saddam Hussein’s death, unfortunately, did not end the national nightmare in Iraq, where violence continues and government is unstable. Iraq’s history, traditions and values differ from ours. We would like to think that Iraq has the potential for a working democracy, but this remains to be seen.

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