Gassing Our Own People II

There are reports that the Turkish assault of Syria has already killed more than 100 Kurdish fighters. The Trump-sanctioned genocide has begun. And, of course, by now we’ve all heard Trump’s excuse for why we don’t owe the Kurds anything:

The Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand. They’re fighting for their land and as someone wrote in a very, very powerful article today: They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example… but they’re there to help us with their land. And that’s a different thing. And in addition that, we’ve spent tremendous amounts of money on helping the Kurds, in terms of ammunition, in terms of weapons, in terms of money, in terms of pay. With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.

I take it slaughtering Kurds is not something Trump considers to be off limits, as I see he is taking no steps to obliterate the economy of Turkey.

But I was thinking this morning of how we’ve come full circle, and how an attack on the Kurds was used as an excuse to start our endless Middle Eastern wars.

You might remember that in the period before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, right-wing hacks on the cable politics talk shows babbled incessantly that Saddam gassed his own people! G.W. Bush brought it up frequently in his own arguments for the invasion. Saddam gassed his own people! He’s thumbing his nose at the world!

And you might remember that the “his own people” Saddam Hussein gassed were Kurds living in Iraq.

I think a lot of Americans got the impression that the gassing was an ongoing thing, and we had to ride to the rescue. But the gassing had occurred many years earlier, mostly during the Reagan Administration. The gassing of the Kurds began in 1987 and continued into 1989. The worst episode was the massacre at Halabja on 16 March 1988. An estimated 5,000 people, mostly women and children, were killed by poison gas dropped from Iraqi jets.

And the Reagan Administration was just fine with this. In fact, the Reagan Administration fabricated evidence to argue that the gas had been dropped by Iran, not Iraq. Iran was our enemy at the time; Saddam Hussein was considered an ally. I wrote an article about this for Democratic Underground back in 2003.

I got one thing wrong in the DU article; Reagan didn’t veto the The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, but his Administration lobbied so hard against it that it failed. The bill, sponsored by senators Claiborne Pell, Jesse Helms, Christopher S. Bond, Wendell H. Ford, Al Gore, Carl Levin, Richard G. Lugar and William Proxmire — almost all Republicans, you might note — would have sanctioned the hell out of Iraq, and Reagan (or whoever was running things in the face of Reagan’s creeping dementia) wasn’t having it. We needed Sadam Hussein on our side, The Reaganites thought. Note that one of those Reaganites was Gen. Colin Powell, who served as National Security Adviser from 1987 to 1989.

Protecting Saddam Hussein was the official policy of the George H.W. Bush Administration as well, until Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. Some said (under their breath) at the time that Saddam had come to believe the U.S. would sign off on anything he did.

See also tthe original Gassing Our Own People post from The Mahablog archives, June 26, 2006.

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.

And nothing seems to change. Well, one thing has sorta changed. A great many prominent Republicans, including many serving in the Senate, are livid about Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. They still aren’t supporting impeachment, but they are breaking with him regarding Turkey and Syria. Well, sorta. They are calculating this won’t come at a political cost.

 “The litmus test for Trump is the personal politics,” a GOP Senate aide told Power Up of the way their boss views handling differences with the president. “People who want to come out against Access Hollywood, or tweets about the Squad, or impeachment — that is the test. Not policy. So you can break with [Trump] on policy if it’s a position on principle, you just can’t break with him on the little stuff he cares about.”

How pathetic is that?

It should be noted that senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Van Hollen have introduced a bill to impose financial penalties on Turkey’s political and military leaders, including Trump’s buddy President Erdogan, since Mr. Great and Unmatched Wisdom isn’t likely to do anything about it.

The bill introduced on Wednesday, then, aims to compel Turkey to end its airstrikes and ground invasion. Graham’s spokesperson Kevin Bishop told me he’s unsure if there will be other similar efforts pushed in the Senate, but he “expect[s] our bill will have bipartisan, bicameral support.” A Senate Democratic aide, however, told me this was the main effort in that chamber.

Bishop also noted the legislation wasn’t written in conjunction with the White House, but it seems to have the president’s support anyway.

“I do agree on sanctions, but I actually think much tougher than sanctions if he doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible,” the president told reporters on Wednesday when asked about Graham’s sanctions legislation. Trump doubled down on that position Thursday, tweeting “I say hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules! I am watching closely.”

And if thousands of ISIS fighters escape because the Kurds aren’t able to guard them, that won’t be a problem, says Great and Unmatched.

Asked whether he was concerned about ISIS fighters fleeing Kurdish custody and becoming a threat elsewhere, Trump said during a press conference on Wednesday: “Well they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes.”