In 1989, the State Department released a report that described in gruesome detail Iraq’s violation of human rights, specifically how Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein tortured his own people for allegedly being disloyal.
But despite the atrocities outlined in the report, which President Bush now refers to when speaking about his desire to remove Hussein from power, the United States, under the first Bush Administration, refused to vote in favor of a United Nations resolution calling for an inquiry into Iraq’s treatment of its population and possibly indicting Hussein for war crimes and human rights abuses.
The two people most vocal about refusing to go along with the U.N. investigation are now lobbying for a U.N. resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq and are highly critical of the countries that refuse to back a U.S. led coalition to use military force to remove Hussein from power. Those men are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
But in 1989, the first Bush administration refused to join the U.N. in publicly protesting the forced relocation of at least half a million ethnic Kurds and Syrians in the late 1980s, even though the act violated principles of the 1948 Genocide Convention, according to Middle East Watch, a human rights organization.
The Bush and Reagan administrations also declined to punish Iraq when it used poison gas against Iranian soldiers in 1984 and Kurdish citizens in 1988. Moreover, the U.S. did not oppose the fact that Hussein bought 45 American helicopters, worth about $200 million, with assurances they were for civilian use, then transferred them to his military.
Armitage said in 1990 that that “in retrospect, it would have been much better at the time of their use of gas if we’d put our foot down,” according to an August 1990 story in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Despite U.S. intelligence reports that showed Iraq’s capability of building weapons of mass destruction and its inhumane treatment of its own civilians, the Bush Administration turned a blind eye and instead focused on improving U.S. relations with Hussein. The U.S. removed Iraq from its list of countries supporting terrorism in 1983, which reopened the door to federal subsidies and loans to Iraq.
Saddam Hussein “made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world,” Rumsfeld said, who, as a Middle East envoy for the Regan Administration, reopened discussions with Saddam in 1983, according to the Daily News story. “It struck us as useful to have a relationship with him.”
The current Bush Administration, many of whom served in the Reagan and the first Bush administrations, refuse to acknowledge that their policies toward Iraq at the time backfired and we may be paying a price for it now. But at this point, Iraq does not pose a threat to the U.S. and threats against the nation appear to be purely personal.
Under former Rumsfeld’s watch during his years in the Reagan and Bush administrations, he and the former presidents allowed Hussein to build his army and a cache of chemical and nuclear weapons. In fact, many of the hawks that serve in the current Bush Administration assisted Hussein’s regime in reaching these goals during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For example, Judicial Watch said, according to the Daily News story, “that the U.S. extended $270 million in government-guaranteed credit from the Export-Import Bank to buy other American goods, despite repeated failures to make loan repayments on time. Since 1982, Baghdad has become one of the biggest buyers of U.S. rice and wheat, purchasing $5.5 billion in crops and livestock with federally guaranteed loans and agricultural subsidies and its own hard cash.”
“Iraq benefited from a thriving grain trade with American farmers, cooperation with U.S. intelligence agencies, oil sales to American refiners that helped finance its military, and muted White House criticism of its human rights and war atrocities,” the Daily News story said.
Armitage admitted in 1990 that the Reagan and Bush administrations were well aware of Hussein’s brutality, but still, the U.S. was more interested in maintaining a healthy relationship with Iraq because the country’s vast oil reserves was beneficial to U.S. interests.
“We knew this wasn’t the League of Women Voters,” Armitage said, referring to Hussein’s regime, according to the Daily News story.
JASON LEOPOLD is a regular columnist for CounterPunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org