I spent 90 minutes last week watching Peter Arnett's chilling interview with Saddam Hussein on CNN - not long after watching George Bush's State of the Union address - and some interesting things occurred to me.

In some ways, Saddam did not appear too starkly different from other national leaders - including Bush. On the same evening on television, each called the other a tyrant who is guilty of aggression. Each projected a strong, self-assured demeanor, reflecting a man who knows what he is doing is right.I kept trying to imagine that I was climbing into Saddam's skin so that I could see things as he sees them. When he said Bush was low to attack a small country of 18 million people, it was possible to understand his viewpoint.

One thing is sure - the Saddam interviewed on CNN was not a hassled, worried, defeated man. When asked if he had doubts about a victory, he said, "not even one in a million."

I was struck with his complete composure. He did not appear underslept. He was resolute. He used gestures that suggested a relaxed man at peace with himself if not with the world. He frequently rested his chin or his cheek on his fingers in a confident, easy manner.

The only possible sign of unease was the constant darting of his eyes.

This was a man who is comfortable with war.

In fact he took great pains to point out for Bush's benefit that this war will have more casualties than most Americans have suspected.

"Lots of blood will be shed, lots of blood - we are referring to blood on every side, American, French, Saudi blood, and Iraqi."

He said it was the return of corpses that would cause a change of heart for Americans. He also played into the hands of American right-wingers by suggesting that the one hope for ending the war would be people protesting against their leaders. He said all the people of Iraq "are grateful to noble souls in America demonstrating against the war."

Whenever we have been at war, American presidents have been uncomfortable with and intolerant of internal dissent. Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon illustrated that tendency in its extreme. People who were critical of the war were accused of "aiding and abetting the enemy."

Now Saddam Hussein has given that destructive theory credibility. When people express dissent, politicians can rightly say that it is exactly what Saddam wants. Fortunately, President Bush seems determined to defend the American right to dissent as one of the marks of a democratic society.

After an eight-year war with Iran, Saddam is in a war-groove. He may even be happier with war - especially this war - because it is exciting and unpredictable and because it gives him a world stage.

To Saddam, war presents exciting opportunities that normal life fails to offer - an assertion that has been convincingly made by biographers of both Benito Mossolini and Adolf Hitler.

He also thinks God is on his side. The war, he said, is a clear case of good vs. evil, of God vs. the devil.

This can be proved, he said, by the allied prisoners who allegedly began crying while expressing repentance for their actions in waging unjust war. On the other hand, he said, Iraqi soldiers are happy and satisfied.

We all know, of course, why allied POWs might seem repentant to him - and it has nothing to do with perceptions of an unjust war.

Frequently, Saddam smiled sarcastically, especially when directing his advice to Bush. In fact, it seemed to me that when Saddam used the name Bush - without George or President attached to it - it was done sarcastically, as if it were a dirty word.

Even though I don't understand the Iraqi president's language, I could sense the sardonic tone reserved for the American leader. He almost spat his name out.

For his part, in the State of the Union address, President Bush mispronounced Saddam's name, seemingly on purpose, with the flat A. The two leaders obviously hold each other in identical contempt.

It's going to be a long war.