For the record

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, 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.

36 thoughts on “For the record

  1. The phrases that comes to mind are “error of judgement”, “lack of basic human compassion”, “track record” and “no discernment whatsoever.” I’m so annoyed that I’m having trouble putting them together in a coherent sentence.

  2. Rather than a simple error of judgement, the Bush administration’s track record (which displays a complete lack of basic human compassion) proves that they have no discernment whatsoever.

  3. Recalling an edition of the US “Frontline” show on SBS, the US relationship with Saddam Hussein goes way back, way before he was ever anything more important in the scheme of things than as a street thug in the Baghdad of the ‘sixties. The “talent” was spotted early by the Company, and a paternal relationship established.
    By the time Saddam’s predecesor was over thrown in his favour in the late seventies, it seemed from the “Frontline” account that the US was at the very least complicit if not actually actively involved, including in the actual events of the coup, in Saddam Hussein’s rise to power.

  4. Cold War tradeoffs or ‘soft power’ perhaps? There’s no doubting their resolute and consistent approach nowadays though, but that seems to be a problem for the nostalgia buffs.

  5. But on all the evidence, Saddam shouldn’t be alone in the dock in Baghdad today.

    I seem to recall reports that if Saddam is found guilty of any of these crimes then he will hang rather than face court on further charges. However if this is true the fact that he is now facing court over the gassing of Kurds would suggest that he has been found innocent of the earlier charges or that both cases are running in parrallel. Can somebody help put this in perspective. Was he found guilty or innocent on the earlier counts?

    I have trawled the article on this at Wikipedia however I don’t feel too much wiser. It seems to suggest that the cases are now running in parrallel but it is not explicit about it.

    A few other question come to mind:-

    1. who is killing his lawyers and why?
    2. why is the prosecution allowed to call him as a witness?

    Personally I don’t think that using gas in a civilian area during an intense battle in the midst of a war where the enemy has occupied the territory is particularily different to arial bombardment. The UK used mustard gas against the Iraqis and the Afghans in the 1920s. I understand that it was Pentagon official Pete Williams that said “I don’t mean to be flippant, but there’s no nice way to kill somebody in war”. He was refering to reports that during the first Gulf War Iraqi soldiers were buried alive by US forces. Certainly the targeting of soldiers is different to the targeting of civilians, however there is at least some evidence that it was enemy forces that were the primary target of the mustard gas attack in Halabja. There is a good case to argue that if Saddam is on trial for the gassing in Halabja then almost every leader in history that has prosecuted a war should probably be in the dock. Certainly western war time icons like Churchill would have some explaining to do.

    Saddam was a thug, however this trial seems to me to be more about winners writting history. As such I think that a summary execution would have been a more honest approach, although perhaps not the most politically appropriate.

  6. I wonder whether the second invasion of Iraq had something to do with settling a person grudge on Rumsfeld’s part with Saddam Hussein. I suppose that Saddam was never the kind of bloke on who’s word you could count. Couple that with a “I mean what I say” threat, and everything depends on going in, boots and all. The excuses could be made up to measure after the event. This is just a guess. The effect of the second invasion of Iraq on the US alone has already been immense.

  7. The Dujail trial is still proceeding and the legal position appears to be that Saddam could be convicted and executed without a resolution of the more serious charges relating to the Anfal campaign (not that Dujail isn’t serious, but if a government leader can be executed for ordering reprisals after an assassination attempt, they’d be shooting presidents every other week).

  8. In his most recent speech, Bush.The Boy Emperor ,mentioned Osama Bin Laden 18 times in 45 minutes,according to Maureen O’Dowd of the NYT.
    Osama has made a spectacular return to the White House rhetoric…poor old Saddam,once a stock Bogeyman,went unmentioned!

    This must be a new policy..Bush also said they had to fight the “terrrrists”in Iraq or the streets of USA cities..Wow. Imagine the Insurgents in Fifth Avenue!
    It was a steal from an old Menzies policy re the Red Menace from China,circa 1966!!
    Nowadays Liberals pollies just love China,but nor then.
    In desperation Bush has dragged Osama out of the closet for a return season.
    What’s the betting on some”incident” set up by Bush.Cheney and the other accomplices ! on the eve of the November election.
    It’s called “The Burning the Reichstag Strategy “

  9. brian – “It’s called “The Burning the Reichstag Strategy “”

    Why not – they have already passed the Enabling Act.

  10. John,

    Thanks for sharing details on the trials.

    You last sentence could be read to mean that reprisals are necessary to avoid assinations and if presidents were not allowed such reprisals then there would be assisinations every other day. However I don’t think that was the meaning you intended.


  11. Just a small note. Why wasn’t the thug of Baghdad (he might be a b*****d, but at leat he was ours) sent to the International Criminal Court for trial and sentencing? Could it be that it might have been a tad inconvenient for the COW, if there was a public, accessible airing of the issues surronding the career of this one time friend of the freedom loving West? I suspect he will be summarily executed, buried and quickly ‘forgotten’ as the GWOT drags on its weary, mendacious and lethal trajectory, shoring up domestic power and supplying convenient distractions to last the next scouple of electoral cycles in the the US and Australia. Blair’s demise means that its utility in this respect, is nearly over for New Labour. However I think we can confidently predict it will be rescuccitated by the UK Tories the minute it seems electorally useful. Yawn

  12. The meeting was comparable to combat-averse Pig-Iron Jack Curtin meeting with and attempting to appease an emissary of Japan in 1941. (Despite what was known about the Rape of Nanking). Neither case admirable or courageous perhaps but both represent realpolitic for the times, abandoned when no longer viable, appropriate or sustainable.

    The Reagan Administration preferred not to see Iran overthrow Saddam’s regime and that looked like a distinct possibility by 1982. Nevertheless, during Rumsfeld’s 1983 visit, he met Tariq Aziz and “made clear that our efforts to assist were inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us, citing the use of chemical weapons, possible escalation in the Gulf, and human rights.” The following year, the US publicly condemned Iraq’s chemical weapons use: “The United States has concluded that the available evidence substantiates Iran’s charges that Iraq used chemical weapons.” Furthermore,

    Briefings for Rumsfeld’s meetings noted that atmospherics in Iraq had deteriorated since his December visit because of Iraqi military reverses and because “bilateral relations were sharply set back by our March 5 condemnation of Iraq for CW use, despite our repeated warnings that this issue would emerge sooner or later.”

    Saddam probably killed 500,000 people. The Democrats still believe his removal from office was “unlawful.” Ergo: that he is still the legal President of Iraq. None have called for his reinstatement to power.

    Governments – unlike Oppositions and Congressional minorities – sometimes have to make these sort of tough calls. There is, for example, the case of How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen:

    [Zbigniew] Brzezinski believes that funding the mujahadeen — even at the price of unleashing Islamic fundamentalism (“some stirred-up Moslems”) as a force throughout the Middle East and Central Asia — was well worth the price of defeating the Soviet Union. Of course, he said all this a full three years before the World Trade Center attack.

    Osama bin Laden has a lot to thank Jimmy Carter for. A lot to thank Bill Clinton for too. Clinton did nothing to deal with bin Laden for several years. and on one occasion it seems, actually let bin Laden escape.

    Carter and Clinton: thanks for 9/11.

    There is no evidence the Howard government was “double-dealing” with Saddam Hussein before the invasion, as John knows.

    There is evidence, however, that the Labor Party once sought to be funded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Ba’ath Party.

  13. CL, I’ve refuted just about all of these silly talking points at length, but the only one that surprises me coming from you is your endorsement of the deplorable slander campaign aginst John Curtin. Search the site and you’ll see a lengthy discussion of what rubbish it is.

  14. Ya know cl, I wouldn’t be quoting good old Zbigniew if I was you. It looks a tad like the ends condemning the means in this case, even if it seemed like a great weeze at the time. Oh and BTW, looking forward to the final accounting of the merits of the destruction of Arab secularist regimes undertaken sine the 1950’s by your cold war warrior mates in the US. Looking pretty good so far. So good in fact that we are now apparantly locked in a war with Islamo-fascists, the moral equivalence of which, we are assured is at 1 with the second world war. Wow! How good is that!

  15. Just a small quibble but when Galbraith wrote this in 2004 April 26, he was

    “As a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I (along with Chris Van Hollen, now a Maryland congressman) interviewed hundreds of survivors in the high mountains on the Turkish border.�

    And another, the picture of Rumsfeld, while not suggested that it was taken in 1988, it is worth reminding it was taken in December 1983.

    Of course The US had a very different view of Iraq in 1983, and in 1988, to the one they hold now, as it was very much informed by their difficulties with Iran. The Iran embassy prisoners were only released in Jan 1981. Then there was the deaths of the US and French marines in October 1983, the reason that Rumsfeld was appointed as a Special Envoy to the Middle East, a position he filled from Nov 1983 to March 1984 only. His first visit to Iraq was as part of a round tour of ME capitals, his second was in March 1984 and after the US had publicly stated that they had concluded that available evidence substantiated Iran’s charges that Iraq used chemical weapons. How important would Rumsfeld and his activities then be now if he had fallen off his perch before becoming Bush junior’s Secretary of Defence. His role then is mightily magnified by views of him now.

    As a result of the attacks in Lebanon the French launched an air strike in the Bekaa Valley against Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions. If I had known this at the time, I had forgotten it, but it highlights the difference in the western response to Iran to the one advocated now. And reminds why Saddam was treated as a more tolerable character then, aside from the fact that many of his murderous attacks on his own people were yet to happen. A very different world.

    From Carter to Bush junior there are relationships and decisions that can be seen with hindsight to have been less than wise. But even if different decisions had been made, we cannot know what these imagined better acts would have resulted in. It is necessary to learn from the outcomes of responses to tensions of the past, but even now it is not necessarily clear what the causes of the outcomes of now were.

    Not a big fan of executions, but Saddam’s death might have a powerful effect on the barbarism in Iraq. His dear daughters might stop handing over millions to the Baathist killers and their allies for starters, if he was no longer around to be saved.

    Very interesting to read Galbraith’s account of his activities with the Kurds

    “Chapter 8, “Kurdistan,� is by far the most interesting part of the book – not primarily for what it says about that area, but for its blunt and autobiographical account of how a US intellectual became deeply engaged in fuelling Kurdish ideas about breaking ranks with the rest of Iraq. In considerable detail Galbraith explains how he personally fostered many of the specific Kurdish demands for federalism, including principles which in one form or another would later find their way into the current Iraqi constitution. (These include the residual powers of the regions in the federal system, the idea of the supremacy of local law over federal law, and the right of local authorities to manage future oil fields – all apparently drafted by Galbraith as far back as in the period August 2003–February 2004.)�

    And the Kurds are playing the Constitution to the utmost, just as it seems he advised them to. Small thing, but though they have been flying only the Kurdistan flag for some time, now they have made it official, it is the only flag.

  16. Its hard to say what effect Saddams execution will have, obviously he is important to some as they keep killing off the legal team but whether this is a “free Saddam” gesture or just another action designed to disrupt and weaken normal life has to be seen.

  17. C.L it’s incorrect to claim that to assert someone was removed from office unlawfully is to assert they are still in office. A removal doesn’t have to be lawful to be effective.

    You can hardly condemn the Democrats for funding the mujahadeen without condemning the Republicans for doing likewise. The Republicans have been all too happy to claim credit for the “defeat of communism” and openly link their support of the mujahadeen to the Soviet’s defeat in Afghanistan and thence to their collapse.

    It’s untrue that Clinton did nothing about bin Laden. He authorized an ineffective attempt to kill bin Laden with cruise missiles, see

  18. Yes it does, John. And what it described in the late 90s followed the Clinton Administration’s failure to act after the embassy attacks, the bombing of the USS Cole etc etc etc. Clinton’s preferred policy was to fire missiles at empty buildings and aspirin factories – something, aprt from anything else, which is known to have emboldened bin Laden.

    The official 9/11 Commission included a declassified Presidential Daily Brief that showed President Clinton was advised on Friday, December 4, 1998: “Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.�

    Even that didn’t lead to resolution.

    The CIA reported on December 18 that Bin Ladin might be traveling to Kandahar and could be targeted there with cruise missiles. Vessels with Tomahawk cruise missiles were on station in the Arabian Sea, and could fire within a few hours of receiving target data.

    On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Ladin would be spending the night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor’s residence in Kandahar. The chief of the Bin Ladin unit, “Mike,� told us that he promptly briefed Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA’s Gary Schroen advised: “Hit him tonight-we may not get another chance.� An urgent teleconference of principals was arranged.

    Nothing was done.

    “Mike’s� reaction: “I’m sure we’ll regret not acting last night.�


    The capture operation was then given over to Afghan tribals. Later still, the plan was changed to include the Northern Alliance:

    On this occasion, however, President Clinton crossed out key language he had approved in December and inserted more ambiguous language. No one we interviewed could shed light on why the President did this. President Clinton told the Commission that he had no recollection of why he rewrote the language.

    That left everyone in the loop confused.

    Early 1999, still nothing accomplished. Interestingly, Richard Clarke was then unaware of later Democrat orthodoxy which insisted bin Laden had nothing to with Iraq:

    He wrote Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin’s having met with Iraqi officials, who “may have offered him asylum.� Other intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar, had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein’s service, and it would be “virtually impossible� to find him.

    On it goes:

    “Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even this.�

    “Though Berger and Clarke continued to indicate interest in this option, the AC-130s were never deployed.�

    “Schoomaker proposed to Shelton and Cohen that Special Operations become a supported command, but the proposal was not adopted.�

    “Lieutenant General William Boykin, the current deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence and a founding member of Delta Force, told us that ‘opportunities were missed because of an unwillingness to take risks and a lack of vision and understanding’.�

    FINALLY, they’ve got bin Laden!

    “Clarke wrote to Berger’s deputy on February 10 that the military was then doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be in position to strike the following morning.�

    No strike was launched.

    “The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief, “Mike,� agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Ladin before 9/11.�

    The ABC mini-series has been far too charitable to President Clinton and his bumbling, cowardly advisers.

  19. Honestly, CL, I read the whole thing. For every one of these missed opportunities, there was a large group in the military saying that the attempt would certainly fail – and of course the shot Clinton took at bin Laden, seen as the best chance, did fail. You seem to have forgotten that, even after 9/11, Bush hopelessly bungled his chance, sending in tribal allies some of whom naturally found it in their interest to let OBL get away.

    Clinton certainly made mistakes, but given the spectacular fiasco Bush has delivered, it takes some cheek to make a big deal out of them.

  20. “…sending in tribal allies some of whom naturally found it in their interest to let OBL get away.”

    That strategy was pioneered by Clinton, not Bush.

    But what was Richard Clarke’s excuse?

    “Richard Clarke, the nation’s counterterrorism chief, may have blown it by calling the United Arab Emirates to express his concern about the their officials associating with bin Laden at the hunting camp. Being no fools, the terrorists within a week had ‘hurriedly dismantled’ and deserted the camp, the report said.”

  21. CL, I’m prepared to put the catastrophes of the past few years down to Republican (more specifically Bush) incompetence and dishonesty. You apparently think Clinton and his team just as bad, implying that America is incapable of electing an honest and competent leader. Fair enough, but it’s a depressing view of the world.

  22. At least good old Rummy never tried to borrow money from Saddam. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Gough Whitlam.

  23. I must admit that I am a little perplexed at all the attention given Rumsfeld’s sinister handshake with Saddam Hussein considering:

    1. Rumsfeld was on a routine diplomatic tour of every Mideast capital save Tehran;
    2. The United States accounted for 0.5% of the conventional military arms sold to Iraq;
    3. All told, American support accounted for something less than one percent of the military/financial/dual-use aid given to Saddam Hussein’s government.

    When will we get to see three years of angry denunciations of Vladimir Putin, the Russian government, and Russia itself, for being the main suppliers of Saddam and for pressuring the other Warsaw Pact governments to also trick the Republican Guard out?

    When will we get to see three years of angry denunciations of Jacques Chirac, the French government, and France itself, for being a close personal friend of Saddam, having him over for slumber parties, working tirelessly to end sanctions while Saddam was living up to none of his obligations under UNSC 687?

    You know, Hitler moved pretty quick on that Enabling Act. Odd how five years later, what with Bush channelling his ghost or whatever nonsense you boys are peddling, you’re not in some secret CIA political reeducation camp, isn’t it? I mean, I at least would want the facsists to be a little more, ah, ADEPT at being fascists.

    Oh and John when are you going to mention how your confidence in Karl Rove being the Plame “leaker” was completely unfounded? Never? Sounds about right to me.

    The double standards and hypocrisy of the anti-American fringe are so blatant, yet they wonder why they can’t get political power.

  24. “When will we get to see three years of angry denunciations of Vladimir Putin, the Russian government …, the French government …”

    Umm, RTFP, particularly the sentence denouncing the Russian and French governments.

  25. On Plame, I wrote three posts mentioning this issue, twice dismissing it as of little interest, and the third time, saying, that Rove had leaked Plame’s name (as I recall, this was confirmed by a correspondent for Time, and is not changed by recent news that someone else leaked the name first) noting the lack of media coverage and saying “If I thought this meant that US journalists were going to give up covering scandal and focus on serious issues, I’d be cheering them on, but there’s no indication of this.”

    Links are here, here and here.

  26. Chaos, with all the current focus on talking to problem regimes, such as Iran’s at the moment, one would think Rumsfeld talking to Saddam in the 1980’s would be seen as a positive. It’s tough to square complaining about that, while advocating doing the exact same thing with Iran.

    Also, I don’t believe that a single meeting with Saddam indicates US agreement with any and everything the man ever did. Yet that’s the way some seem to read the situation.

  27. Fascinating Mr. Quiggin.

    Robert Novak broaches the topic of Valerie Plame to Karl Rove and Karl Rove said (an exact quote is hard to pin down) something extremely similar to “Oh, you know about it.”

    A stunning, unambiguous example of sinister leakery, a perfect example of the capriciousness of the Bu$hCo. Cabal-Junta-Neo-Fascist Backyard Block Party.

    Give me a break Mr. Quiggin.

    Next I hope you – or anyone – will actually present evidence that there was ever a conspiracy considering that Richard Armitage – if the ridiculous conspiracy charge is to be believed – inadvertently accomplished what Dick Cheney and Karl Rove allegedly needed a conspiracy to try to accomplish.

    What a terribly unartful dodge on your part Mr. Quiggin.

  28. As you can see, I am a fan of your name though. Remember: you should always read what you just wrote before hitting that Submit button.

    Mr. Quiggin (I can’t help myself)

  29. Other than Armitage’s own admission that he did so, no one else has been accused by Fitzgerald of leaking anyone’s name.

    The Wilsons, unable to let go after their 15 minutes are up, have added Armitage to their lawsuit as a plaintiff.

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