How to Become a Tyrant (2021) s01e02 Episode Script

Crush Your Rivals

[theme music plays]
[narrator] So, you've seen
how following the tyrant's playbook
can help you rise from obscurity
and seize total control of your nation.
But, believe it or not,
gaining power was the easy part.
From day one of your reign,
you'll be beset by enemies
and treacherous rivals
eager to bring your regime to a quick
and likely violent end.
It's a lesson one of history's
most famous leaders learned the hard way.
[machine gun fires]
Killed by former allies
less than two years
after naming himself dictator for life.
That too ancient for you?
How about Laurent Kabila of Congo?
Assassinated by one
of his own child soldiers
who got out of line.
And then there's Liberia's Samuel Doe.
[machine gun fires]
Captured and tortured on camera
before being murdered by a rival warlord.
But you can avoid their fate
by using the playbook
to put potential rivals in their place.
And nobody did this better
than the Butcher of Baghdad:
Saddam Hussein.
Who ruled Iraq for 24 years
[gun blasts]
by never forgetting the mantra
all tyrants must follow:
"Kill or be killed."
[ominous music plays]
[speaking Arabic] I will pick up my gun
and fight to the end.
Saddam Hussein was a brute.
His way to stay in power was to make sure
that anybody he even vaguely suspected
might be an opponent, would be dead.
[narrator] But before we get into
how Saddam masterfully
used the playbook
to stay one step ahead of his rivals,
here are some fast facts
about how he made it to the top.
From a very early age,
Saddam Hussein believed in power.
When he was young,
Saddam would carry a metal rod,
and he'd use this metal rod as a way
to threaten and intimidate others.
But he also used it
to torture small animals.
[Joseph] Saddam participated
in the assassination attempt in 1959
of the leader in Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim.
And that really gave him
a badge of honor within the Ba'ath Party.
After the coup, one of his cousins,
Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr,
becomes the president.
And Saddam was appointed vice president.
[narrator] But Saddam was destined
for bigger things.
[woman] Saddam was
a vice president for ten years,
but in the meantime,
he's actually taking alliances
and creating friendships
with different aspects of the government.
[Joseph] Saddam went one day
to Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and told him,
"You're getting older.
I hear your health is not in great shape."
"Time for you to retire."
[narrator] Or to put it another way…
[Zainab] You have a choice
of either be executed
or have a peaceful transition of power.
The next day, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr
goes on TV and says, "I'm retiring."
[machine gun fires]
[narrator] So, now you know
how Saddam rose to power,
let's talk about how he kept it.
Starting with the first crucial period
of any tyrant's reign,
when you'll have to show what it means
that there's a new sheriff in town.
[gun blasts]
[electronic music plays]
[woman] There are certain rhythms
to dictatorships.
Right after they seize power
is actually a very unstable time.
[Bruce] In order to stay in power,
you have to be ever vigilant.
You have to make sure that anybody
who is a potential rival is controlled
and put in their place.
[narrator] And those will even include
some of your first and closest allies
with dangerous ambitions of their own.
[gun shots]
[Bruce] Even a minor slight,
if not dealt with,
may be a signal to rivals that,
"Oh, this guy is vulnerable."
[narrator] These fair-weather friends
are now waiting in the wings
to try to take you down.
[gun blasts]
So don't give them the chance.
These guys didn't.
[Bruce] Every general
on The Great March with Mao
was dead
within a few years.
[crowd cheering]
Almost everybody
who fought the revolution in Cuba
on behalf of Fidel Castro
was dead within two years.
[narrator] How about Joseph Stalin's
original comrades in the USSR?
All gone…
…in a short time.
[narrator] But Saddam did them one better
with a surprise move for the ages.
[machine gun fires]
One of Saddam's friends tells him
that there are people
who are murmuring and not happy
about Saddam's takeover from al-Bakr.
So then Saddam does this call for everyone
in the Ba'athist party to attend Congress.
And Saddam comes with his famous cigar.
And he says,
"There are people in this room
who are opposing my leadership."
The dreams of the conspirators are many.
[Benjamin] And then a man
by the name of Mashadi,
a senior member of the Ba'ath Party
who was highly regarded,
begins to give a rehearsed speech.
[speaking Arabic]
And in it, Mashadi confesses
to having plotted a coup or conspiracy
against the Iraqi leadership,
including Saddam Hussein.
[narrator] Which, in truth,
was entirely made up.
We know through accounts
that Mashadi had been tortured.
Saddam brought Mashadi's wife
and daughters to the prison,
and he told Mashadi he had a choice.
He could either sit there and watch
the guards rape his wife and his daughters
and then kill them,
or he would confess.
[narrator] Mashadi chose option two.
And one by one,
Mashadi begins to read out the names
of Ba'athist officials
who were, according to him,
accomplices and conspirators.
[Mashadi speaking Arabic]
[in Arabic] Get out.
And then a member
of the police dressed in plain clothes,
the security force,
would come and escort out this person.
Some of these men are begging him,
like, "Please, no, no."
[shouting in Arabic]
[Benjamin] And it was
a bizarre spectacle of feigned loyalty…
[in Arabic] Long live the party!
Long live Saddam Hussein!
[Benjamin] …but also fear.
You could see the fear
in the eyes of many of these men
who felt at any moment
their names could be arbitrarily read.
[narrator] Outside the meeting room,
the purged party members learn their fate.
More than 20 are sentenced to die.
The rest get prison time.
They think they're lucky
until they're forced
to conduct the executions themselves.
A sadistic twist?
But it extinguishes any doubt
about what Iraq's new leader is
willing to do to protect his authority.
[gun blasts]
And in case anybody didn't get the memo…
The video of that meeting
was sent all around,
including to Iraqi embassies abroad.
And the message was, "Look what happens
when people are betraying
the regime and their leader."
"That's the way they're gonna end."
[narrator] What better way
to kick off a new era?
Now that your rivals know
what you're capable of,
they'll have no choice
but to raise their game as well.
How do you make sure
you keep the upper hand?
To survive as a tyrant,
you need to have eyes,
ears, and muscle you can rely on
For a dictator to keep any threat
to his power from rising up,
the only way to do that effectively
is to do it in the shadows.
[narrator] That's why
every dictator's best friend
is an effective
and ruthless secret police.
During the Great Terror of the late 1930s,
Joseph Stalin's secret police, the NKVD,
presided over the arrest and execution
of nearly a million
so-called enemies of the people,
accused of opposing Stalin and his regime.
In Uganda, Idi Amin enforced loyalty
through his State Research Bureau,
which was staffed by members of his tribe,
as well as local criminals
and mercenaries from abroad.
Haitian dictator
"Papa Doc" Duvalier's enforcers
were nicknamed
"the Tonton Macoute" or "Bogeyman,"
after a character in folklore
who kidnaps and eats unruly children.
The idea of a secret police in Iraq
began in 1964 with the Jihaz Haneen,
which was a security apparatus
that Saddam helped found.
After Saddam ascends to the presidency,
he creates a special secret,
secret police, a sub-unit.
And it's comprised entirely
of members of the tribe and family
that are bound by blood
and oath loyalty to Saddam Hussein.
[Joseph] In Iraq in the 1970s,
everyone knew these people.
They drove the same kind of cars,
they dressed kind of the same.
They even had the same mustache.
[narrator] So much for the secret part.
But no matter how much
you empower your secret police,
you need something else
to show your rivals
that there's nowhere to hide.
A trusty network of informants.
In Saddam's Iraq, spying was everywhere.
Everyone spied on the other.
The Ba'athists are
everywhere spying on you.
So, in my own family, for example,
the only way my parents would speak is
in the middle of the garden,
blast out the radio far away from them,
and then they would whisper to each other.
And that's how they talked
with each other in the '80s.
[narrator] Now when the playbook says,
"Be everywhere,"
it's not just talking about
inside your borders.
[Benjamin] When dissidents would make
their way into other parts of the world,
Saddam would not hesitate to demonstrate
that they were reachable to him,
regardless of where they were.
[narrator] Which leads us to Iraq's former
Prime Minister Abd ar-Razzaq al-Naif.
Al-Naif was a progressive politician,
and Saddam's longtime nemesis.
But after Saddam
and the Ba'athists seized power…
[rain pouring, thunder rumbling]
…al-Naif was forced
to flee with his family.
He moved to Great Britain
and started speaking out,
publicly criticizing the government.
Unamused, Saddam begins exploring options
for how to silence his worst critic.
A pair of friendly neighborhood assassins
pay al-Naif a visit.
[elevator dings]
But they hit al-Naif's wife instead.
She survived, by the way,
and the gunmen were ultimately arrested.
[siren wails]
So now Saddam sends elite agents
from his secret police
from Iraq to London.
Where these skilled professionals
tap their informants
to keep track of al-Naif's every move,
waiting for the opportunity to strike.
[gun cocks]
This time, they don't miss.
[gun shots]
[tires screeching]
The assassination leaves behind
a chilling message for Saddam's critics.
No matter where you run,
Saddam will find you.
Murder and mayhem are always a solid play.
But Saddam didn't rule by fear alone,
and neither should you.
For the next tactic in the playbook,
you'll see how to appeal
to another of your rivals' soft spots.
Their greed.
Whoever said you can't buy affection,
probably didn't try hard enough.
What an inner circle needs to stay loyal
is actually very simple.
They need to get more from the leader
than they believe they can get
from anybody else.
The efficient way to stay in power is
essentially giving the coalition bribes
and opportunities to be corrupt.
[narrator] Sounds pricey.
So where's the money coming from?
Most of these regimes are
highly sophisticated operations
of kleptocracy.
[narrator] What is kleptocracy exactly?
I'm not talking about that kid at school
who got busted
for shoplifting wine coolers.
Kleptocracy involves stealing
the resources of your entire nation.
Step one.
Nationalize your natural resources.
Oil, gold, natural gas.
If it's valuable,
it needs to be controlled by the State,
aka you.
Step two. Put your people in charge.
You'd never play a big game
without paying off the referee.
So don't start despoiling your country
without making sure
all decision-makers are
on your team first.
Step three. Control all trade.
Set artificially high prices,
hold back goods to create demand,
tack on some exorbitant taxes.
Then watch the cash flow in.
By mastering this technique,
Saddam Hussein,
once a penniless shepherd's son,
got his net worth up to
a cool two billion dollars.
Not bad.
But as tempting as it might be
to keep the riches to yourself,
a smart tyrant knows the value of sharing.
Saddam was able to plunder the resources,
the oil wealth of the State.
But he used these proceeds
to not just enrich himself,
but also as a form of patronage.
He bought the loyalty
of other senior party officials.
All this generosity isn't cheap.
But ignore this tactic at your peril.
Some tyrants find that they have wasted
so much of the government's money,
so much of the people's money,
that they don't have enough left over
to take care of their inner circle.
They wind up dead very quickly.
[narrator] And if you're smart,
you'll also set aside a little extra
to share with the common people.
[Zainab] One famous,
famous Saddam would do,
he would surprise Iraqis
by visiting someone's home.
And the first thing he would do is
open their refrigerator.
He had this image of himself
that he is the man
who would bring all Iraqis food.
And when he sees an empty refrigerator,
he makes sure that he shows
that there are people
being loaded with gifts.
So that's the charm,
but it's mingled with the fear.
[indistinct chatter]
[woman] The end goal is to make people
in the public say that,
"No, actually everything is a-okay."
"This dictator is a good man."
"He's doing the right things,
right policies. I like him."
[narrator] Who doesn't want to be liked?
But don't go soft now.
Once your inner circle
gets a piece of the action,
they're going to keep demanding more.
Time to develop a new skill,
to remind them you're still the boss,
and they're not.
[big band music plays]
[Ruth] Most successful dictators
engage in ritual humiliation
of everyone around them,
including their closest collaborators.
And they do this very early on so that
the rules of the game are understood.
Are you gonna be on my side
if I let you up?
Sure, Dick, sure.
I'm on your side.
Just let me up. I'll do anything you say.
[narrator] And why are these displays
such a key part of the tyrant's playbook?
'Cause they're pathological narcissists.
Tyrants are deeply insecure.
Their response
to any sort of criticism is attack.
You don't want somebody thinking
that "I have a better way to do things."
Ideas are very bad for dictators.
[narrator] Keeping your rivals scared
and off-balance is so much better.
Saddam told friends how he killed
one of his best friends,
who was a minister.
His wife went to Saddam and said,
"Please release him." And he said,
you will find him at your home."
The next day…
[gun blasts]
Saddam sends his body cut in pieces,
in a coffin, to his wife.
[Benjamin] Stories like this
were a form of control.
Whether or not they were true
was not the point.
The point was to demonstrate
that he could do these things.
The potential was there.
[narrator] Let me tell you a story.
One day in the early '80s,
Saddam orders a group of top ministers
to report for a trip
to destination unknown.
They load onto a bus
with blacked-out windows
that slowly drives them
in circles around Baghdad.
They arrive at a remote palace
outside of the city.
The men are directed to put all belongings
into envelopes marked with their names.
They're made to wash with disinfectant,
then forced to wait in silence for hours.
-[tape pauses]
-[narrator] Uh…
wait a minute. For you to understand this,
you have to know
what was happening at the time.
-[gun blasts]
-[machine gun firing]
[machine gun firing]
[Benjamin] In 1979,
under Ayatollah Khomeini,
you had the Islamic Revolution in Iran,
which Saddam looked at with great concern.
[all shouting]
[Benjamin] So, there was now
this new Iranian regime
that was calling for
a rebellion, an uprising,
an overthrow of Saddam.
And it actually had
the resources to make it happen.
Saddam decided
to preemptively attack Iran.
[bomb detonates]
[Joseph] He really believes
that it is going to be a short war,
that within a month,
the regime will collapse.
Saddam Hussein's war against Iran
has now lasted not three days,
but ten long months.
There was a lot of rumblings
among some ministers.
"This is a dead end."
"Where is it going to end?"
[narrator] So, before his restless allies
got any bad ideas,
Saddam decided to give them
a little attitude adjustment.
Let's get back to the palace
where Saddam's ministers
have been waiting
in silent terror for hours.
Finally, Saddam arrives.
He speaks for 30 rambling minutes.
Having seen
their leader's brutality firsthand,
the men prepare for the worst.
Instead, Saddam invites them
to a lavish supper.
Gives them one thousand dollars each,
and has them driven home.
But the message is clear.
Next time they might not be so lucky.
It was his way of instilling fear,
of projecting his power and authority.
It was a form
of psychological manipulation.
What he was doing is keeping fear alive.
And he did it with intention.
[narrator] When times get tough,
sometimes fear is all you have.
[Joseph] The Iran-Iraq War
lasted eight years.
He lost a lot of soldiers.
And at the end,
Khomeini was far more popular
and stronger in the whole world.
[narrator] How frustrating.
When your ill-fated plans
lead to national disaster,
you can count on facing
even graver threats to your rule.
Some from the most unexpected places.
Time to show how far you're
willing to go to preserve your power.
Surviving as a tyrant
means making tough decisions.
And you can't allow your emotions
to get in the way,
even when it comes to blood.
[Benjamin] Saddam had zero tolerance
for any hint of rebellion or betrayal
from members of his own family.
And he would not hesitate
to arrest them, detain them,
execute them, torture them,
whatever he needed to do.
[narrator] Is it too much to ask
for your family to stick by your side
no matter what?
Of course not.
[bombs detonating in distance]
After being crushed
by coalition forces in the first Gulf War,
Saddam needs
to quickly reaffirm his authority.
Even if that means taking on
his nearest and dearest.
Saddam's two daughters were married
to Hussein Kamel
and his brother Saddam Kamel.
They were all third cousins,
second cousins.
[narrator] Saddam placed
the older brother, Hussein Kamel,
in charge of Iraq's
nuclear weapons program.
[Joseph] Saddam really was
almost besotted with him.
Saddam thought that,
"This is a great young man,
who might be even one day my successor."
[narrator] Which came as unwelcome news
to Saddam's eldest son
and notorious psychopath Uday.
Uday was truly cruel and sadistic.
He was jealous of Hussein Kamel.
Hussein Kamel is beginning to sense
that Uday is going to make it
more and more difficult for him.
You know, sooner or later, kill him.
[narrator] So, one night
under the cover of darkness,
the brothers flee to Jordan
with their wives and children.
Hearing the news,
Saddam is less than pleased.
Especially when he learns
Hussein Kamel is demanding asylum
and talking to CIA agents
about Iraq's chemical weapons program.
But Saddam knows just how to respond.
He calls his daughters
and swears the Kamels
will be forgiven if they return home.
He must have been pretty convincing,
since they all returned to Baghdad.
But Saddam greets them
with something other than open arms.
[overlapping screaming]
[narrator] He forces his daughters
to divorce the Kamels.
A few days later, Saddam's government
claims the brothers are killed
in a shoot-out
with vengeful relatives
at the family estate.
But others tell a different tale.
That Saddam sent a death squad,
led by his own sons Uday and Qusay,
to take the Kamel brothers out.
What did you expect?
Actions have consequences.
The aftermath is even more dramatic.
[Zainab] They take the dead bodies
and attach them to a car,
and drive the car,
dragging the dead bodies
of Saddam's son-in-laws
into the entire city.
He horrified the entire country.
That, "This is
what I can do to my sons-in-laws
if they disobey me."
[narrator] Coldhearted? Sure.
But that's how Saddam
kept his rivals underfoot
until the last days of his reign.
Nothing lasts forever.
But to survive nearly this long…
[machine gun fires]
…you're going to need to deal with threats
even more challenging
than treacherous rivals.
Because they're coming
from inside your population.
Fear not.
The playbook has some handy tricks
to keep any restless citizens
under control.
But they're not pretty.
Next stop, Uganda,
to meet the man who mastered
the art of terror to preserve his reign.
Are you ready to follow his lead?
What will happen to these people?
[Idi Amin] I think they will be sitting
like they're sitting on the fire.
-[reporter] What will you do to them?
-You will see.
[all laughing]
[theme music plays]
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