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The Crimes Poppy Bush Failed to Punish

by JASON LEOPOLD

President Bush started beating the war drums Saturday in an attempt to win support for a war that many people here and throughout the world believe is unjustified. In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush dug deep into the past; reminding the public that last weekend marked the 15-year anniversary of the poison gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabia by Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein.

The attack was indeed an act of brutality and a gross violation of human rights. But what Bush failed to tell the world in his radio address was that it was his father, the former President Bush Sr., who punished Saddam Hussein with a mere slap on the wrist because Bush Sr. did not want to jeopardize United States-Iraqi relations. Today, Iraq does not pose an imminent threat to the U.S. Evidence to suggest otherwise is non-existent. Simply put, this is a case Bush tidying up unfinished business. It’s these past crimes, that Bush’s father turned a blind eye to, that the current president believes gives him the right to start a war with Iraq today. But there is no justification for waging such a war now.

Since Bush is so eager to sway public opinion in his favor by drudging up Saddam’s past crimes in hopes of getting the public to back a war against Iraq, it’s equally as important to highlight how his father’s administration refused to hold Saddam accountable for his acts of aggression at a time when the Iraqi president was becoming a threat to countries in the Middle East.

The day before Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs John Kelly was on the Hill trying to persuade Congress not to impose economic sanctions against Iraq for its human rights violations against the Kurds and threats to decimate Israel.

Two years earlier, in October 1988, a bill passed by both houses calling for economic sanctions against Iraq died in conference. An amendment added the following year to the annual foreign-aid bill by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) passed both houses after a rider was added allowing the president to waive the sanctions if he determined they were not in the “national interest.” Former President Bush issued such a waiver in 1990, shortly before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Saddam received more arms and more aid from the Reagan and Bush administrations, despite the fact that Saddam’s regime systematically violated the Geneva Convention.

In February 1990, the human rights group, Middle East Watch, said despite findings by its group that showed Iraq’s record of brutality, the Bush administration never raised with Iraqi authorities its own findings of murder, extralegal detention, torture and disappearances.

The report accused presidents Bush and Ronald Reagan of putting “the nurturing of newly friendly relations with Saddam Hussein’s government well ahead of the violent and repressive nature of his regime.”

Washington is reluctant to risk a break with Baghdad because of “Iraq’s enormous oil wealth … and the prospect of lucrative trade,” the report said.

Several top-level Reagan and Bush administration officials also had strong ties to either Iraq or Saudi Arabia, which consistently backed Arab Iraq throughout the eight years of its war with Persian Iran.

Before he became secretary of state in 1982, George Shultz headed the Bechtel Corp., the largest construction company in the world, and won the contract to build a new oil pipeline from Iraq through Saudi Arabia.

In the Reagan administration, Shultz presided over the warming of relations with Iraq, including the reopening of a U.S. embassy there for the first time in more than 20 years.

Richard M. Fairbanks III, a former assistant secretary of state and special negotiator in the Middle East peace process, left the Reagan administration in 1985 to become a partner in the prestigious Washington law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, which, between December 1985 and March 1990, was a registered agent for the government of Iraq. Fairbanks was listed as personally handling the firm’s Iraqi account.

President Bush took Fairbanks’ views so seriously that he named him co-chairman of a group of Middle East experts to advise him during the 1988 presidential campaign.

“The first Bush administration came to office convinced that Saddam could change. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the State Department offered the view that Bush could persuade Saddam to become a useful citizen of the world,” wrote Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post in April 1990.

The administration provided Baghdad with $1 billion in guaranteed credits in 1989 to enable Iraq to buy U.S. food supplies while pouring money into missiles, chemical weapons production and the search for an atomic bomb. After Congress voted at the end of 1989 to bar U.S. Export-Import Bank credits to Iraq, President Bush signed a waiver on Jan. 17. He said it was in America’s national interest to continue providing Baghdad with $200 million a year in subsidized financing, Hoagland reported in the Post.

But once Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to dominate the world’s oil supply everything changed. That’s the reason behind the first Gulf War. Saddam’s brutality during the Reagan-Bush era was small potatoes when compared with U.S. interests. How else could one explain why presidents Reagan and Bush turned the other cheek while innocent Iraqi’s and Kurds were being wiped out?

Here’s the proof that the coming war in Iraq is about cleaning up Bush Sr.’s mess.

Fast-forward to 1997. The far-right Republicans who served under former presidents Reagan and Bush and helped Saddam build an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and strengthen his military saw the monster they created that is Saddam Hussein–who at this point was well contained–and started lobbying President Clinton to attack Iraq and overthrow the regime. Those men, who include current Bush administration officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney, claimed that Saddam’s regime needed to go and the only recourse for this action was through military force. Like today, they offered no evidence to justify starting a war and Clinton rebuffed the pleas saying that he was focusing on dismantling al-Qaeda cells.

In 1999, while President Bush was campaigning for the presidency, he said on “Meet the Press” that if elected one of his first orders of business would be to “take out” Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times highlighted this point in an editorial on Dec. 12, 1999.

“Gov. George W. Bush of Texas talks about contingencies in which he would use American military power to ”take out” Iraq’s illegal weapons” if elected president, says the Times editorial.

In 2000, the right-wing think-tank Project for a New American Century, a influential group of neocons whose members included Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, issues a report called “Rebuilding America’s Defense Strategies,” which says that regime change in countries such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea would be difficult for the U.S. to achieve unless “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor” took place in the U.S.

The terrorist attacks on 9-11 became the catalyst for a war against Iraq even though the U.S. did not have any intelligence information to link Iraq to 9-11. As recently as January, Bush has mentioned Iraq and 9-11 in the same sentence in an effort to lead the public to believe Saddam was involved.

Not one person will deny that Saddam is a brutal dictator and that Iraqis are far better off without him. Bush Sr. failed miserably at holding Saddam accountable for crimes against humanity in the 1980s. President Bush and his administration have gone to great lengths to try and justify an attack now, even though Iraq does not pose an imminent threat to the U.S. But a war now, one that doesn’t have the support of the public or the international community, is not the answer.

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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