We now approach the 22nd anniversary of a troubling handshake in Baghdad; December 22nd, 1983. President Ronald Reagan’s Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, was in town meeting with Iraq President Saddam Hussein in what was nothing short of slanted real politik.
Several overtures had been extended toward Iraq. It was removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist states in February 1982 . Reagan’s administration then seeded Hussein’s regime with loans , financing and even military and intelligence assistance – in direct conflict of stated policy of neutrality regarding the Iran-Iraq war. This was followed by White House policy writs ahead of reviving full diplomacy during November 1984. Clearly at that time, his atrocities meant little or nothing to the Reagan Administration or the general political establishment.
Sure, Hussein is someone you don’t want to cross paths with given his history. But obviously that did not stop the U.S. from pursuing , upgrading and maintaining relations despite being fully aware of intelligence verifying claims from Iran of the deployment of incendiary weapons by Iraq. A declassified memo (available at dated November 21, 1983 discussing the Iraqi weapons program stated “We have recently received additional information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons (CW). We also know that Iraq has acquired a CW production capability, primarily from Western firms, including possibly a U.S. foreign subsidiary’. Furthermore, the official reaction was ” It is important to make our approach to the Iraqi’s on the issue as early as possible, in order to deter further Iraqi use of CW, as well as to avoid unpleasantly surprising Iraq through public positions we may have to take on this issue”. Why the political concern over ‘surprising Iraq through public positions’?
The current Bush administration continues to make much fanfare about Saddam Hussein’s past of biological and chemical weapons in making the case for war and occupation in Iraq. Why does the Bush administration refuse to speak with candor about U.S. foreign policy towards Iraq in its full scope? What’s the harm in addressing the historical record? Perhaps, some details would be embarrassing or bothersome. The administration has cornered itself and now is reeling from numerous setbacks and blunders in the Iraq war and certainly poll numbers here and Iraq are stacked against business as usual and staying the course.
At best, the administration is only dangerously incompetent. At worst, its chief players blatantly went to all lengths to sell the war and of course woefully insinuate that Iraq posed a threat in the ‘neighborhood’ or around the world. From alleged links to al-Qaeda, to the phantom mobile weapons labs , and the supposed stockpiles of a broad, dynamic and capable weapons programs, much of the rhetoric is ringing hollow given that things are not turning out as advertised. The bubbly predictions of a quick successful war in which our troops would be greeted as liberators proved to be fleeting.
Our past ventures doomed this war to failure before it even started. We turned the blind eye to Hussein’s atrocities throughout the 1980s. On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the elder Bush administration, met with Saddam Hussein a week ahead of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (thus in effect, green lighting it) relaying, “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America”. At the conclusion of the Gulf War, the U.S. government stood by idly as a popular rebellion was brewing in Iraq. Given the public record why would the U.S. government assume that we maintained any level of moral authority or trust in Iraq?
Fault certainly lies with the Bush administration for the quagmire we’re in. However , an alarming majority of Congress (Republican and Democrats) gave the green light . An explanation is in order. Millions of ordinary Americans and many more around the world did not need security clearances, cherry-picked intelligence and typical bi-partisan Beltway blather to form a sound position against the war. At this point, it is time support our troops with an unconditional immediate pull-out, followed by a real candid national discussion on exactly how and why we got in this mess. It is time for accountability and answers.
JONATHAN CRONIN is an Austin resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .