Thursday, February 12, 2009

"We made Saddam"? — Actually, no

David Rothkopf is one of the more intelligent, interesting, and illuminating bloggers writing regularly for Foreign Policy. So it's a pity that in a recent piece he recycled a standard cliché that is widely taken for granted but happens to be incorrect. It might be worth the trouble of reminding everyone that it is, in fact, incorrect. So here's a friendly admonition I e-mailed to David Rothkopf.

--Jeff Weintraub

Dear David Rothkopf,

In your entertaining, thought-provoking, and partly on-target blog post about America's worst allies: friends we could've lived without, you begin the section on Saddam Hussein by asserting: "We made Saddam."

Actually, we didn't. This notion belongs in the category described by your more recent post on Things I know to be true that aren't.

But you're not the only one. This is a widely believed myth, but a myth. The Iraqi Ba'athist regime was always more a client of the Soviet Union and France than of the US--and, until Saddam's back was to the wall after 1981-1982, it was a generally anti-American regime as well. AFTER Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran had backfired, when it looked as though Khomeini's Iran might capture Basra and topple the Iraqi regime, the US did increasingly "tilt" toward Iraq, in ways that included shamefully letting Saddam Hussein get away with massive use of poison gas and other war crimes. But so did just about every other significant power, as well as the entire Arab world (minus Syria, for its own special reasons), most European countries, etc., etc. The Iranian regime had terrified everyone up the point where they were willing to do almost anything prop up the Iraqi Ba'athist regime as the lesser evil.

However, even during the period when the US was actively supporting Saddam Hussein (roughly 1982-1991), it was still true that his arms came overwhelmingly from the Soviet Union (& the rest of the Soviet bloc), France, China, etc.--and only a tiny proportion from the US. He also received massive financial support from the Arab oil states (some of whom, e.g. Kuwait, wanted to be repaid afterward, with unfortunate results). And so on. Anyway, by that time Saddam Hussein was already in power, so it would be hard to say that US support after 1982 (however thoughtless and misguided) is what "made" Saddam in the first place.

Again, I recognize it's widely believed that Saddam Hussein was one of "our" dictators, but this belief happens to be incorrect. For more details, in case you're interested, see:

Who armed Saddam? - Some reality checks

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub