For the record

by John Quiggin on September 7, 2006

Most of us have seen the picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam in the mid-1980s, but my recollections of the extent of Republican support for Saddam at that time have always been a bit cloudy.

Saddam and Rumsfeld

This piece by Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia, gives chapter and verse.

Here’s the money quote:

On Aug. 25, 1988—five days after the Iran-Iraq War ended—Iraq attacked 48 Kurdish villages more than 100 miles from Iran. Within days, the US Senate passed legislation, sponsored by Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, to end US financial support for Hussein and to impose trade sanctions. To enhance the prospects that Reagan would sign his legislation, Pell sent me to Eastern Turkey to interview Kurdish survivors who had fled across the border. As it turned out, the Reagan administration agreed that Iraq had gassed the Kurds, but strongly opposed sanctions, or even cutting off financial assistance. Colin Powell, then the national security adviser, coordinated the Reagan administration’s opposition.

The Pell bill died at the end of the congressional session in 1988, in spite of heroic efforts by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to force it through by holding up a raft of administration nominations.

The next year, President George H.W. Bush’s administration actually doubled US financial credits for Iraq. A week before Hussein invaded Kuwait, the administration vociferously opposed legislation that would have conditioned US assistance to Iraq on a commitment not to use chemical weapons and to stop the genocide against the Kurds. At the time, Dick Cheney, now vice president, was secretary of defense and a statutory member of the National Security Council that reviewed Iraq policy. By all accounts, he supported the administration’s appeasement policy.

I haven’t checked the claims here, and perhaps supporters of the current administration can find some extenuating circumstances. But on all the evidence I’ve seen, Saddam shouldn’t be alone in the dock in Baghdad today.*

  • Of course, plenty of others in France, Russia and elsewhere were just as complicit as Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and the rest of the Republicans. And the Australian government, through AWB, was double-dealing with Saddam right up to the invasion. They stand condemned too.

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a crank’s progress :: links for 2006-09-08
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1

harry b 09.07.06 at 3:15 pm

I think the UK government should be included in your note — isn’t that how Robin Cook made his name?

I remember finding room space for Kurdish activists to meet in LA who were organising to protest the genocide at the US Federal building, and joining a couple of the protests. Just a bunch of lefties as far as I remember, but maybe the local Republican elite were there in disguise.

2

Jason 09.07.06 at 5:04 pm

I’ve been watching Season Three of the brilliant show “Arrested Development” on DVD and one of the characters, accused of treason for aiding Saddam Hussein says (paraphrasing from memory), “Nobody can shake hands with Saddam Hussein and have it not ruin their career.” (And shows a picture of the guy shaking hands with Saddam, and then this picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands in 1983.) Good stuff.

3

jet 09.07.06 at 5:04 pm

Maybe somebody can reconcile this:

The Pell bill died at the end of the congressional session in 1988, in spite of heroic efforts by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to force it through by holding up a raft of administration nominations.

with this.

4

albert 09.07.06 at 5:37 pm

Jet-

What are we supposed to be reconciling? It looks like the bill died after being returned by the house. I don’t think there’s anything on the thomas summary that contradicts the account above.

5

kth 09.07.06 at 5:41 pm

As far as I can tell from Jet’s link, a watered-down version was passed in the House, then the bill died in conference committee.

The details on that point, of course, don’t alter in the slightest the main point about how pro-Saddam Reagan and Bush were literally until the eve of the Kuwait invasion, despite the atrocities for which Saddam was already known to be responsible.

You have to figure that at least some of Bush 41’s “moral clarity” regarding the Kuwait invasion had the object of obscuring this prior relationship; see also Noriega, Manuel.

6

BigMacAttack 09.07.06 at 6:06 pm

‘and the rest of the Republicans’

But probably not including Christopher Bond, Jesse Helms, and Richard Luger 3 out of the 7 sponsors. Right?

And when you say, ‘But on all the evidence I’ve seen, Saddam shouldn’t be alone in the dock in Baghdad today’

You are just proving you can top Peter Galbraith’s appeasement rhetoric. Right? You aren’t really laying out any kind of serious position or principal, right?

You don’t favor trade sanctions for China or this that or the other regime that abuses human rights?

And you certainly aren’t advancing any kind of principal that loaning money to human right’s abusers should be crime? Right?

You just felt like saying Republicans sux, right?

7

John Quiggin 09.07.06 at 6:32 pm

I’m happy to except those Republicans who supported the Bill. And I think the bill should have been passed which obviously would have made extending credit to Saddam a crime (as it was when AWB busted the sanctions later on).

As for the rest, I’ll throw it back at you. You’re unwilling either to endorse aid to Saddam or to criticise the Bushies so you resort to dishonest rhetorical questions. Right?

8

neil 09.07.06 at 6:41 pm

Surely the US deserves consideration for finally getting rid of Saddam. Those countries that actually did provide the bulk of the regime’s support all opposed the war. Chirac after all considered Saddam a personal friend.

9

MQ 09.07.06 at 7:09 pm

Yeah, but Iraq at this moment is worse off than it was under Saddam. It truly escapes me how anyone can even admit they were pro-war in the past, let alone in the present, without hiding their head in shame.

10

Adam Kotsko 09.07.06 at 7:12 pm

Bill Clinton travelled back in time to shake hands with Hitler and Stalin. Does that make him somehow “worse”? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

11

Thomas 09.07.06 at 8:38 pm

Extenuating circumstances? Well, one could begin by noting that the rationale for the policy is … the same one so many Democrats urge us to adopt as the basis for our foreign policy now. It’s the old Kissinger/Scowcroft plan, isn’t it? Not something I’d throw someone in the dock for, largely because I think it’s terribly important that we not criminalize the new Democratic platform.

One might also note that the Iraq-Iraq war did not begin during the Reagan administration, but during the Carter administration. Wikipedia claims that the Iran-Iraq war began after Iraq received “secret encouragement by the US administration (Jimmy Carter, conveyed through Saudi Arabia) which was embroiled in a dispute with the new regime in Iran.” (Carter into the dock? Well, maybe you’re on to something, JohnQ.)

I have no problem criticizing the Reagan administration for their error here. Absolutely they were wrong in continuing the Carter administration’s policies.

The more interesting question is when you think Galbraith went wrong. (Galbraith, for those who don’t know, was an original neocon. He was a prominent supporter of the invasion in 2003, and is now a prominent supporter of a partition of Iraq.)

12

Jon H 09.07.06 at 8:49 pm

neil writes: “Surely the US deserves consideration for finally getting rid of Saddam.”

At this point I’m inclined to think we would have been better off pressuring Saddam, and providing carrots, to get him to moderate and liberalize somewhat.

I mean, we know that his reason for pretending to have WMD was not to threaten *us* but rather to keep Iran and Iraqi factions at bay.

Frankly, we probably could have said “Saddam, we know you don’t have any WMD. If you do what we want, we’ll go along with your charade. If you don’t do what you want, we’ll make sure your enemies know you lack a WMD capability.

We probably could have obtained civil rights improvements in Iraq, to a point significantly better than exists *today* in Iraq, at the cost of a decade or two of faux WMD-site inspections staged for the benefit of Iran.

13

Randy Paul 09.07.06 at 9:46 pm

Samantha Power’s book, A Problem From Hell also references the doubling by Pappy Bush of the Commodity Credit Corp. credits for Saddam.

14

John Quiggin 09.07.06 at 9:53 pm

Glad to see your criticism of Rumsfeld, Cheney et al., Thomas. Presumably you’ll agree that supporting Saddam after he used poison gas on defenceless citizens of his own country makes this more than a mere continuation of Carter’s policy, wrong as that was.

15

Walt 09.07.06 at 10:02 pm

Neil: You’re thinking of the father from Arrested Development, not Jacques Chirac.

16

Thomas 09.07.06 at 10:26 pm

Oh, I don’t know, John. It seems to me that after you’ve supported the start of aggressive war with Iran that would end up costing half a million lives, the rest isn’t as big a step as you suggest. Certainly the same strategic policy interests were implicated.

My criticism wasn’t exactly a criticism of Rumsfeld and Cheney, since there’s not much evidence either was involved in the decision to continue the Carter policy during the Reagan years. But how refreshing to see you agreed to a criticism of Carter. Now perhaps we can examine how it was that the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives couldn’t be persuaded to follow the Senate’s lead back in 1988. We can trace the entire bipartisan history right through to 2003.

17

BigMacAttack 09.07.06 at 10:53 pm

‘I’m happy to except those Republicans who supported the Bill. And I think the bill should have been passed which obviously would have made extending credit to Saddam a crime (as it was when AWB busted the sanctions later on).’

Well fantastic. You think folks who violated a law that was never actually passed should be in the dock.

But you very generously don’t think folks who opposed a laws that was never actually passed should be imprisoned for not violating a non existent law. Very very generous of you.

‘As for the rest, I’ll throw it back at you. You’re unwilling either to endorse aid to Saddam or to criticise the Bushies so you resort to dishonest rhetorical questions. Right?’

WTF? Some very basic questions, not rhetorical, I actually want the answers you refuse to provide, designed to highlight the ridiculous nature of your rhetoric.

How we should treat regimes that fall far short of the liberal ideal is a serious question.

If you answered it seriously it would expose the ridiculous nature of your rhetoric.

18

John Quiggin 09.07.06 at 11:35 pm

Thomas, you don’t appear to have anything to refute the claim above that the bill was killed as a result of White House lobbying. I’m sure you didn’t intend to criticise Rumsfeld or Cheney, but the article I linked to gives the evidence that you seem unable to find.

Unlike you I haven’t got a party-political corner to defend here, not being a Democrat. I’ve got no problem with extending the condemnation to Democrats who backed Saddam, particularly if they subsequently used the crimes in which they were complicit as a pretext for supporting the recent war. As I said, there’s plenty of guilt to go around. But, since Republicans are the most prominent hypocrites in all this, and the ones who actually took us to war, I’ve picked on them.

19

Tom T. 09.08.06 at 12:06 am

Absolutely the continued extension of assistance to the Baathists after 1988 was reprehensible. The only remotely “extenuating” circumstance that I can think of is the judgment that Iran was still the greater overall danger, and Iraq a bulwark against it, but history has hardly been kind to that misjudgment.

The Congressional Record citation that Jet linked, however, does raise some questions that are not answered in Galbraith’s piece.

1) The bill passed the Senate by voice vote one day after it was introduced by bipartisan sponsorship. I’m not an expert in Congressional procedure, but to me this suggests that the measure was not meaningfully opposed (and may even have been generally supported) by Senate Republicans. It may be that the Administration opposed the bill, but it’s hard to see where that opposition manifested itself at the Senate level.

2) Following the links, one sees that the House then passed HR 552, which “expresse[d] the opinion of the House of Representatives that S. 2763, which imposes sanctions and calls for United Nations action against Iraq, contravenes the U.S. Constitution and is an infringement of the privileges of the House.” To me, this sounds like the House killing the bill. It may be that this was done as a result of Administration pressure, but why would the Democratically-controlled House give in to the Republican White House in this way, especially in an election year? At the least, this seems to extend culpability to the Democratic party as well as the Republicans.

3) In light of the above, what is the explanation for Sen. Kennedy’s “heroic efforts”? The bill passed the Senate without noticeable opposition; there does not appear to have been any filibuster or hold. Would he have imposed confirmation delays as a means of putting pressure on the House to pass the bill? That strikes me as very unusual. What was he trying to “force it through”? I have to wonder whether Galbraith is inadvertently conflating some action by Kennedy on a different bill with the history of this one. And if that’s so, are there other inaccuracies in his account?

As I said, I don’t have much knowledge in this area, and it’s entirely possible that I’m misreading the record. Moreover, the fact that I’m questioning aspects of Galbraith’s account of events shouldn’t obscure my full agreement with John Q’s overall point that the continuation of aid was a terrible mistake.

By the way, Wikipedia (as of today) gets the history of this bill wrong; it says that the bill passed. Someone might want to fix that.

20

Thomas 09.08.06 at 12:08 am

JohnQ, are you saying that the Reagan administration persuaded the Democrats in the House to adopt a different position from the position of the US Senate, and that that somehow absolves the Democrats involved of responsibility? How does that work?

It may also be worth noting that the article doesn’t actually claim that opposition from the Reagan administration killed the bill.

Rumsfeld was in private life during the Reagan years, serving only briefly as an envoy to the Middle East. That position, it seems to me, is an unlikely position from which to make basic decisions about US foreign policy. If that’s not right–if, in fact, Rumsfeld did have the opportunity to turn the Reagan administration off the Carter administration’s policy–that’d be surprising; in any case, it isn’t discussed in the linked piece. Cheney was in the Congress during those years, so he may or may not have been complicit with the Democratic leadership (and the spellbinders in the Reagan White House), but he certainly wasn’t responsible for the Reagan administration policy. The first mention of Cheney in the story is in detailing the week prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Surely that’s a bit late in the process to demonstrate real complicity, as the process came to an end that next week.

Why would using the crimes in which one was supposedly complicit as a “pretext” for the war be worse than, say, continuing in the appeasement? One is a dishonest reformation, while the other is a continuation of the original wrong. Isn’t Carter the worst monster–he caused this whole mess, and yet he opposed ending the appeasement. (Where does Galbraith stand on that question? Isn’t Galbraith a Democrat?)

How many Democrats voted for the war? In what sense didn’t they take us to war?

21

John Quiggin 09.08.06 at 12:32 am

Thomas, I’m not interested in defending Democrats, and you’re clearly not interested in anything other than defending Republicans. So I think there’s not a lot more to be said here. As your comments demonstrate, anyone who supports Bush has to be comfortable with hypocrisy.

22

abb1 09.08.06 at 3:05 am

The 9/11 changed everything. Everything, I tell ya.

Post-9/11 right is left, up is down, Kenndy is The Appeaser, Rumsfeld The Enforcer.

23

neil morrison 09.08.06 at 5:18 am

I’m just curious about how it’s the Republicans, who did gave Saddam a small measure of support – along with the Dems – but who eventually got rid of Saddam, get all the oprobrium, but the countries that were far more actively invloved in supporting Saddam – France, Russia, China (who just so happen to have oppsosed getting rid of him, funny that), are hardly ever held to account. I presume it’s because they opposed the war. Which is a rather strange judgement – consistancy wins out over changing one’s mind about Saddam?

24

Z 09.08.06 at 5:49 am

I’m just curious about how it’s the Republicans, who did gave Saddam a small measure of support – along with the Dems – but who eventually got rid of Saddam, get all the oprobrium

By small measure, you mean, “extensive political, military, diplomatic and economical help” right? They don’t get all the opprobrium: Chirac alongside his cronies gave extensive help to Saddam and they rightly deserves to end in prison for this (among other things). When the Bush administration said Saddam’s crimes deserved regime change, that was hypocrisy turned into an art form. When the Chirac administration said it wanted peace, that was hypocrisy turned into an art form as well.
However, reasonably well-informed persons in 2003 knew that Saddam had no significant military capacities and that invading the country using the proposed plan of battle would in all probability lead to massive sufferings, civilian deaths in the tens of thousands and a possible disintegration of Iraqi society (though on these three counts, I was rather surprised by the extent of damage). There was therefore very little ground to support the war.
I sincerely hope Chirac will end his life in jail, among other things for his involvement with dictators among the worst on earth. I am sure you Neil also hope that Rumsfeld and Cheney will end in jail for exactly the same crimes.

25

Thomas 09.08.06 at 6:57 am

JohnQ, as your post and responses indicate, anyone who wants to take your line must work very hard at not thinking clearly.

26

Andrew Reeves 09.08.06 at 8:02 am

The bringing up of China, Russia et al should clarify something that’s not being pointed out on this thread. Governments amorally advance their own interests. Capitalist governments, social democratic governments, and communist governments alike act not from the perspective of what’s moral, but what the government perceives is in its interest (and, if the citizens are lucky, in the interest of the citizenry).

If we are lucky, then what’s moral may map on to the national interest of a country (like stopping the holocaust), but it’s facile to assume that any one party or ideology is going to be more moral than another on the international relations front.

27

Uncle Kvetch 09.08.06 at 8:08 am

Why would using the crimes in which one was supposedly complicit as a “pretext” for the war be worse than, say, continuing in the appeasement?

Because some of us think that launching a war of aggression is a uniquely awful crime, Thomas. I realize that this needs to be pointed out repeatedly, because it’s a fact that tends to evaporate into thin air, but the pretext for the invasion of Iraq was not the gassing of the Kurds or other human rights violation, but its possession of nonexistent weapons.

A chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg has said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein. Benjamin Ferencz, who secured convictions for 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating the death squads that killed more than 1 million people, told OneWorld both Bush and Saddam should be tried for starting “aggressive” wars – Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international crime,” the 87-year-old Ferencz told OneWorld from his home in New York.

Source

But hell, I’m sure Ferencz is just a rabid partisan Democrat, desperate to whitewash the bloody crimes of the monstrous Jimmy Carter.

28

Uncle Kvetch 09.08.06 at 8:26 am

I’d also like to address this:

Well, one could begin by noting that the rationale for the policy is … the same one so many Democrats urge us to adopt as the basis for our foreign policy now. It’s the old Kissinger/Scowcroft plan, isn’t it? Not something I’d throw someone in the dock for, largely because I think it’s terribly important that we not criminalize the new Democratic platform.

Please provide evidence as to which Democrats are “urging us” to provide military aid to Saddam-like dictators, Thomas. I want specifics here.

I think I understand where you’re coming from here. When faced with a ruthless regime that brutalizes its own people, we have two, and only two, choices: (1) lavish them with financial credits, attack helicopters, and hearty handshakes; or (2) invade the country and overthrow the government, even if it means killing tens of thousands of people and touching off a civil war that effectively destroys the country. Craven appeasement or the “Bush Doctrine”: There Is No Alternative.

Life is a coloring book, and there are two crayons in the box: black and white.

29

Kevin Donoghue 09.08.06 at 8:35 am

…it’s facile to assume that any one party or ideology is going to be more moral than another on the international relations front.

Well, up to a point. I think that great powers are always “realists” of one sort or another; they all follow the maxim that necessity knows no law. But there are huge differences: in 19th century Britain or 20th century America, before some heinous action was undertaken, a case had to be made that it really was necessary. Not so in most autocratic regimes.

Galbraith ducks that issue when he says:

The Reagan and first Bush administrations believed that Hussein could be a strategic partner to the United States, a counterweight to Iran, a force for moderation in the region, and possibly help in the Arab-Israel peace process. That was, of course, an illusion. A ruthless dictator who launched an attack on his neighbor, Iran, who used chemical weapons, and who committed genocide against his own Kurds was never likely to be a reliable American ally.

Who’s he kidding? Stalin did far worse things, but when it mattered most he was the perfect ally: the guy who is prepared to shed his own troops’ blood to ensure the victory of the alliance.

To put it bluntly: Saddam could have remained an ally of the West if he had been properly managed after the Iran-Iraq war. The smart thing would have been to go on supporting him, but with the proviso that he behave at least as well as his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan. I suppose that’s what Pell & Co. had in mind. It stinks a bit, but a lot less than what the Administration did.

30

minneapolitan 09.08.06 at 8:47 am

I guess I’m not surprised, but just a little saddened, to see the tone of the debate here degenerate into this ridiculous formulation of: opposition to the Iraq War=uncritical support for the Democratic Party=a Chauvinistic level of Francophilia. Each can be, and often is, exclusive of the others, you know.

While I generally agree with Andrew in #27, I think it would be wise not to elide the very real differences in power and ideology of the state and non-state actors under discussion. Arms-dealing, G-8, permanent Security Council members like the US and France do have a significantly higher degree of responsibility for the global outcomes of their respective policies than, for instance, the Ukraine or Uruguay. And when their activities, in the form of sanctions, aid, war or diplomatic pressure, have serious, forseeable, negative consequences, then it’s the least we can do, as citizens, to protest and seek a redress of grievances. The fact that we do this does not necessarily imply partisan content to our speech. Nor of course does it imply a lack of partisanship.

Pretty much every politician everywhere should be in the dock right now for crimes against humanity, but that is hardly an argument against pointing out the most egregious violators (on which list I would certainly include the governments of the PRC and France and the UK and Russia as well as our own solons) in an effort to ameliorate at least some of the current and future harms they have caused.

31

Tom T. 09.08.06 at 9:23 am

John Q, I agree that it’s unproductive to be defending one party or another here, but that shouldn’t exempt Galbraith from scrutiny. Your post is titled “For the Record,” and my point in #19 is that the legislative record does not support Galbraith’s assertion that the Pell bill was strongly opposed by the Bush Administration. Which makes me wonder as well about the accuracy of his other assertion that the Bush Administration also “vociferously opposed” the 1990 bill. There are plenty of robust bases on which to criticize US policy toward Iraq, but Galbraith’s recollection may not be one of them.

32

John Quiggin 09.08.06 at 4:50 pm

Tom, I didn’t intend to exempt Galbraith from scrutiny and in fact asked for it in my post. You’ve raised some questions, but I don’t think you’ve established that Galbraith’s account was incorrect – my knowledge of US parliamentary procedure is even less than yours, but the story told by Galbraith, that the Administration maneouvred in such a way that the bill died in committee, still seems plausible.

Maybe someone can find newspaper reports of this.

33

jet 09.08.06 at 10:34 pm

Dr. Quiggin,
The Democrats held 60% of the House and only needed 26 of the 177 Republicans to go along with them to overturn a veto. If the Democrats would have even half-way wanted this bill, they could have had it (as it had passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate). Saying that Reagan strong armed the noble Democrat underdogs is silly. If Reagan was against this bill, he obviously had plenty of Democrat support.

34

John Quiggin 09.08.06 at 10:49 pm

“If Reagan was against this bill, he obviously had plenty of Democrat support.”

Maybe you missed the half-dozen previous comments where I said that I have no interest in defending Democrats on this. Based on my previous observations, the suggestion that House Democrats as a group offered only weak resistance to Reagan, Bush sr, Powell and Cheney on this crime, and that some actively collaborated, seems entirely plausible.

Given that the commenters who have pushed the line “the Democrats did it too” have passed up heaps of opportunities to condemn the Republicans’ support for Saddam, I think it’s clear that we can disregard anything they say about Saddam in future.

35

jet 09.08.06 at 11:03 pm

Dr. Quiggin, I should have expanded on what I meant. The implication here is that we have seen no proof of Reagan’s complicity. Google, Technorati, and Wikipedia appear useless as Galbraith’s article has clogged most avenues of easy information. But the Congressional record shows that this could possibly be laid at someone else’s feet besides Reagan.

I haven’t much interest in defending Reagan as he made some nasty deals with the devil in the name of stopping Communism. But this article looks like a mid-term hit piece on the Republicans.

And if you are looking for inconsistencies between Republican stances then and now, read some of Bush’s speeches about how maintaining the status quo was important then, but promoting Democracy is important now. The fall of the Berlin wall changed everything, it just took until 9/11 for the US government to realize it (clever eh? I just thought that line up with only this bottle of Jameson as help)

36

neil morrison 09.09.06 at 5:28 am

JQ, you yourself have passed up heaps of opportunites to condemn France, Russia and the PRC’s support for Saddam.

It’s only the less substantial US support that gets any attention at CT.

37

John Quiggin 09.09.06 at 6:43 am

“JQ, you yourself have passed up heaps of opportunites to condemn France, Russia and the PRC’s support for Saddam.”

RTFP, particularly the sentence condemning France and Russia. As for the PRC, see here (there’s plenty more where that came form).

Now, about that condemnation of the Republicans you were about to deliver …

38

Harald Korneliussen 09.11.06 at 5:23 am

Given enough eyeballs, no issues are shallow.

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