Saturday, September 09, 2006

The true Iraq appeasers (Peter Galbraith)

Donald Rumsfeld, a man who bears a large share of responsibility for the mess that the Bush administration has made of post-Saddam Iraq, recently compared critics of the Bush administration to those who supported appeasement of fascist dictatorships during the 1930s. OK, that fits some of them (more in Europe than in the US). But as Peter Galbraith correctly points out, this is a pretty shameless gambit for someone like Rumsfeld, since he and others like him helped to implement the systematic and large-scale "appeasement" of Saddam Hussein's fascist regime in Iraq by the Reagan and Bush I administrations throughout the 1980s, at a time when Ba'athist Iraq was known to be committing war crimes and other crimes against humanity on a massive scale. (The same was true, incidentally, for other Reagan and Bush I officials who later opposed the 2003 Iraq war on "realist" grounds.)

[Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein in 1984]

This is a shameful story, and since it doesn't seem to be familiar to everyone, Galbraith's account of it is worth reading. At the same time, a few background points need to be made to put this story into perspective.

=> First, it is important to remember that the US was far from alone in its support for Saddam Hussein & his regime during and immediately after the Iran/Iraq war. Ba'athist Iraq, contrary to widespread mythology was primarily a client of the Soviet Union (later Russia) and France, and was hostile to the US for a decade and a half after the 1968 seizure of power by the Ba'ath Party. That was still pretty much true when Saddam Hussein started the Iran/Iraq war by invading Iran in 1980.  In the period after 1982, when Iraq seemed to be threatened with defeat by Khomeini's Iran, the resulting international panic led almost the whole world, including all the major powers, to support, fund, and/or arm Iraq. Again contrary to popular mythology, Iraq's arms continued to come overwhelmingly from the Soviet bloc, France, and China, with the US providing a relatively trivial amount--though the US did provide other significant forms of assistance, including intelligence information. (For some details, see Who armed Saddam? - Some reality checks.)

This almost universal 'tilt' toward Iraq during this phase of the Iran/Iraq war could perhaps have been justified, under the circumstances, as an unavoidable necessity on grounds of realpolitik. (After all, the US & Britain were allies of the Soviet Union during World War II.) Be that as it may. What was more appalling was that all these governments, including the Reagan and Bush I administrations, also largely turned a blind eye to Ba'athist Iraq's increasingly blatant war crimes, including the massive use of poison gas first against Iranian soldiers and then against Iraqi Kurdish civilians.

=> Second, Galbraith has the moral credibility to accuse someone like Rumsfeld on these grounds because Galbraith was a sincere, long-time, vocal critic of the crimes of the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, starting before Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. (As a Senate staffer, Galbraith helped to draft the Prevention of Genocide Act condemning the genocidal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan and threatening sanctions, which was passed unanimously by the US Senate in 1988). When the crunch came in 2002-2003, he supported military action to remove Saddam Hussein & his regime--though he has, quite appropriately, been an unsparing critic of the spectacular incompetence and irresponsibility with which the Bush administration actually planned and conducted the 2003 Iraq war and its aftermath.

People who, on the contrary, actively supported leaving Iraq under the control of this genocidal fascist dictatorship (some of whom actually refer to the collection of fascist thugs and jihadi fanatics who have been systematically murdering Iraqi civilians for the past several years as a "resistance") do not, in my opinion, have much moral credibility in these matters.

["Left-wing" "anti-war" British MP George Galloway, admirer of Stalin and self-described "good friend" or Tariq Aziz, with Saddam Hussein in 2002]

This holds even more true for officials in governments (such as the French and Russian governments) that steadily supported and armed the Iraqi Ba'athist regime over the decades, and that continued to collude with and encourage Saddam Hussein right up to the very last moment in 2002-2003.

[Saddam Hussein at a nuclear reactor in France in 1975. Jacques Chirac is at right in the glasses. Saddam wanted a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. France supplied its Osiris reactor which was named Osirak (Osiris + Iraq]. It was being erected when it was destroyed in a Sunday strike [June 7, 1981] by the Israelis, timed to save the lives of the French scientists helping with the construction. - World Tribune]

For such people to harp on Rumsfeld's famous handshake with Saddam Hussein is just nauseatingly hypocritical (to put it generously).

=> Those of us who believed (and continue to believe) that the 2003 Iraq war was necessary and justified--in light of the realistically available alternatives--are precisely the ones with the most reason to be outraged at the incompetence, irresponsibility, and frequent dishonesty with which the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld gang actually planned, organized, and conducted the war and its aftermath.

At the very least, any government with a minimal sense of responsibility and a minimal grip on reality would have fired Donald Rumsfeld years ago. The fact that he continues to shoot off his mouth in such an arrogant and idiotic way, making it clear that he has no understanding of the disasters for which he is responsible, is infuriating and (as Fareed Zakaria recently suggested) almost surreal.

--Jeff Weintraub

Boston Globe
August 31, 2006
The true Iraq appeasers
By Peter W. Galbraith
In his most recent justification of his Pentagon stewardship, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reached back to the 1930s, comparing the Bush administration's critics to those who, like US Ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, favored appeasing Adolf Hitler. Rumsfeld avoided a more recent comparison: the appeasement of Saddam Hussein by the Reagan and first Bush administrations. The reasons for selectivity are obvious, since so many of Hussein's appeasers in the 1980s were principals in the 2003 Iraq war, including Rumsfeld.

In 1983, President Reagan initiated a strategic opening to Iraq, then in the third year of a war of attrition with neighboring Iran. Although Iraq had started the war with a blitzkrieg attack in 1980, the tide had turned by 1982 in favor of much larger Iran, and the Reagan administration was afraid Iraq might actually lose. Reagan chose Rumsfeld as his emissary to Hussein, whom he visited in December 1983 and March 1984. Inconveniently, Iraq had begun to use chemical weapons against Iran in November 1983, the first sustained use of poison gas since a 1925 treaty banning that.
Rumsfeld never mentioned this blatant violation of international law to Hussein, instead focusing on shared hostility toward Iran and an oil pipeline through Jordan. Rumsfeld apparently did mention it to Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, but by not raising the issue with the paramount leader he signaled that good relations were more important to the United States than the use of poison gas.

This message was reinforced by US conduct after the Rumsfeld missions. The Reagan administration offered Hussein financial credits that eventually made Iraq the third-largest recipient of US assistance. It normalized diplomatic relations and, most significantly, began providing Iraq with battlefield intelligence. Iraq used this information to target Iranian troops with chemical weapons. And when Iraq turned its chemical weapons on the Kurds in 1988, killing 5,000 in the town of Halabja, the Reagan administration sought to obscure responsibility by falsely suggesting Iran was also responsible.

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.

In 2003, Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld all cited Hussein's use of chemical weapons 15 years before as a rationale for war. But at the time Hussein was actually doing the gassing -- including of his own people -- they considered his use of chemical weapons a second-tier issue.

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. Hussein, having watched the United States gloss over his crimes in the Iran war and at home, concluded he could get away with invading Kuwait.

It was a costly error for him, for his country, and eventually for the United States, which now has the largest part of its military bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. Meanwhile the architects of the earlier appeasement policy now maintain the illusion that they have a path to victory, if only their critics would shut up.

Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia, is author of ``The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End."