I hope you won’t mind my going back in time a bit, but lots of threads to the past are converging these days. Recently this post generated some comments about support given to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s by St. Ronald of Blessed Memory, even as Saddam was going through his “gassing the Kurds” phase. I was reminded of this episode again today. Murray Waas posts a lovely bit of writing at Huffington Post in which he explains why he dedicated himself to exposing the Reagan-Bush I support for Saddam and his war machine. He also speaks to why he is dedicating himself to exposing the lies and manipulations that got us into Iraq. Be sure to read it; it’s very moving.
Back to the gas: You’ll remember that in the weeks before the Iraq invasion, a hoard of operatives infested talk radio and cable news, babbling about how Saddam “gassed his own people,” meaning the Kurds, which was why we had to invade Iraq right now. A month before the invasion I wrote this piece for Democratic Underground about why the “gassing his own people” talking point fell way short of a casus belli. And in that I linked to this 1993 Los Angeles Times article by Douglas Frantz and Murray Waas about how Bush I secretly continued to build Iraq’s war machine after the gassing of the Kurds. Just nine months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, President Bush I approved $1 billion in aid to Iraq. The Bush I Administration also provided Iraq with access to sophisticated “dual use” (military and civilian) technology, “despite emerging evidence that they were working on nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.” Frantz and Waas uncovered
…a long-secret pattern of personal efforts by Bush — both as President and as vice president — to support and placate the Iraqi dictator. Repeatedly, when serious objections to helping Hussein arose within the government, Bush and aides following his directives intervened to suppress the resistance.
The reason for this, ostensibly, was that while Saddam Hussein might have been an odious little toad, he was an enemy of Iran, which after the fall of the Soviet Union had moved into the #1 spot on the Real Bad Places list.
But classified records show that Bush’s efforts on Hussein’s behalf continued well beyond the end of the Iran-Iraq War and persisted in the face of increasingly widespread warnings from inside the American government that the overall policy had become misdirected.
Moreover, it appears that instead of merely keeping Hussein afloat as a counterweight to Iran, the U.S. aid program helped him become a dangerous military power in his own right, able to threaten the very U.S. interests that the program originally was designed to protect.
Clearly, U.S. aid did not lead Hussein to become a force for peace in the volatile region. In the spring of 1990, as senior Administration officials worked to give him more financial aid, the Iraqi leader bragged that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Nor did he change his savagely repressive methods. In the summer of 1988, for example, he shocked the world by killing several thousand Kurds with poison gas.
Even today, the Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons programs carried forward with the help of sophisticated American technology continue to haunt U.S. and United Nations officials as they struggle to root out elements of those programs that have survived the allied victory in the Persian Gulf War.
I remember when Halabja was gassed, in March 1988. I remember especially the photographs of dead mothers, their arms wrapped protectively around their dead babies. At the time I did not understand what was going on. But I remember there was some movement in the Senate toward doing something about it. Senators Claiborne Pell, Al Gore, and Jesse Helms introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Iraq, and the Senate passed a Prevention of Genocide Act, unanimously, just one day after it was introduced.
But the Reagan White House
vetoed the Act [lobbied against the Act so that it died in the House], and squelched any reprisals or sanctions against Saddam, and continued to shovel truckloads of money and technology to Baghdad. And President Bush I continued Reagan’s policies.
This part of the Franz-Waas article caught my attention:
What drove Bush to champion the Iraqi cause so ardently and so long is not clear. But some evidence suggests that it may have been a case of single-minded pursuit of a policy after its original purpose had been overtaken by events — and a failure to understand the true nature of Hussein himself.
Maybe Junior isn’t as different from Poppy as we had thought. Anyway, Saddam’s behavior was erratic and threatening, yet Bush I continued to treat him as if he were America’s Best Bud. I dimly remember hearing that when he invaded Kuwait, Saddam sincerely believed George Bush I wouldn’t mind.
And some of you will remember the glorious episode that occurred after the Persian Gulf War, in which President Bush I encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then stood by while Saddam crushed the rebellion, ruthlessly. I believe some of the mass graves found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion — the ones that didn’t date to the Iran-Iraq War or the Persian Gulf War — held the bodies of Kurdish rebels.
In 2003, before the invasion, I remembered Halabja, and I remembered the crushed Kurdish rebellion. The righties who were fired up to to go war had never heard of these things before; they seemed to think the Kurds were still being gassed, and we had to invade quickly to rescue them. And after the invasion, whenever troops found a mass grave of Kurdish rebels, the righties would dance about and yell See? We told you Saddam was evil. But the mass graves were no surprise. The righties were always oblivious to the rest of the story, and wouldn’t listen, and wouldn’t believe us if they did listen.
But it strikes me now that all of the trouble surrounding Iraq going back 20 years resulted from Republican presidents being soft with a ruthless dictator. Appeasing, even. It’s a damn shame the Dems didn’t push that point through the Noise Machine years ago, because not doing so allowed the next generation of soft little Republican fatasses to portray themselves as hardened he-men warriors, even as they call Democrats “weak” and swift-boat any real warriors who dare oppose them.