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Friday, April 04, 2003


Andrew Sullivan gives further demonstration that his instinct for error is infallible. A post of his asks "Who armed Saddam" and links to a graph purporting to show that the United States was, as always, innocent.

The graph depicts "actual deliveries of major conventional weapons," a less-than-complete data set that would answer Sullivan's question in only the narrowest sense. But what about all the complements to naked arms transfers?

In my desk at the spacious Like Father Like Sun compund I keep a clipping from the March 11, 1991 Time that contains a magnificent capsule history of American complicity in the first Gulf War - of which the present war is a mere continuation, says David Horowitz. ""A Man You Could Do Business With," is a fascinating read, and its subheading - In Washington's eyes, Saddam was not always an enemy. In fact, three Presidents counted on him to keep Iran's brand of Islamic radicalism in check - makes you wonder why Hitchens isn't a bit more supportive of the fellow. On to that piece:
By 1986 the struggle between Iraq and Iran had degenerated into a bloody stalemate. To assist Iraq, the U.S., along with Israel and Egypt, began providing Baghdad with intelligence data on Iranian troop movements. Over the next year the U.S. became more directly involved in protecting shipping in the gulf. Thirty-seven American sailors perished after an Iraqi warplane accidentally attacked the frigate U.S.S. Stark with an Exocet missile.
It gets worse:
In 1986 [Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for International Economic Trade and Security Policy] Bryen learned of an application to export an advanced computer manufactured in New Jersey. Intelligence reports indicated that the computer's final destination was a research facility in Mosul, Iraq, known as Saad 16. There researchers were working to develop a ballistic missile with a longer range than the now familiar Soviet-supplied Scud.

Bryen raised his concerns with the Commerce Department, which insisted nonetheless on going ahead with the sale.
Someone alert Bill Quick. Not only did we provide the technology to facilitate the development of delievry mechanisms for WMDs, we did so cognizant of Saddam's willingness to use them:
The issue assumed greater urgency in August 1988 when the Iraqis used poison gas to kill thousands of their own citizens -- Kurdish men, women and children. At a White House meeting sponsored by the NSC, [Under Secretary for Export Administration] Freedenberg, troubled by the gassings, asked the State Department to impose "foreign policy controls" on exports to Iraq, which would have blocked the sale of militarily useful items like the computer. The Defense Department concurred. Although both the State Department and the White House acknowledged the atrocities of Saddam's regime, they argued that Iraq still played a vital strategic role and that U.S. influence to moderate Baghdad's conduct would be strengthened most by encouragement and trade, not bluster and confrontation. "They said, 'We have no concerns about Iraq; there is no reason to ask for foreign policy controls,' " Freedenberg remembers. "I was overruled by the State Department and the White House."

Since 1986, says Freedenberg, sales of American goods to Iraq have totaled more than $1.5 billion. All the while, other nations, including France, were feverishly selling weapons to Saddam -- without opposition from Washington. Reason: the U.S. was obsessed with making sure Iran would not win the war.

Bryen still ponders the question of the computer, which was sent to Iraq over his protests. "We created this monster," he says. "If you want to know who's to blame for all this, we are, because we let all this stuff go to Iraq."
Though Time reported it was "other nations, including France, [who] were feverishly selling weapons to Saddam," we should also note the Los Angeles Times' dogged February 1992 three-part series detailing unelected president Bush's father's determination to give Saddam the money with which he could feverishly buy those weapons. The opening paragraphs to the series' opening salvo is illuminating:
In the fall of 1989, at a time when Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was only nine months away and Saddam Hussein was desperate for money to buy arms, President Bush signed a top-secret National Security Decision directive ordering closer ties with Baghdad and opening the way for $1 billion in new aid, according to classified documents and interviews.

The $1-billion commitment, in the form of loan guarantees for the purchase of U.S. farm commodities, enabled Hussein to buy needed foodstuffs on credit and to spend his scarce reserves of hard currency on the massive arms buildup that brought war to the Persian Gulf.

Getting new aid from Washington was critical for Iraq in the waning months of 1989 and the early months of 1990 because international bankers had cut off virtually all loans to Baghdad. They were alarmed that it was falling behind in repaying its debts but continuing to pour millions of dollars into arms purchases, even though the Iran-Iraq War had ended in the summer of 1988.

In addition to clearing the way for new financial aid, senior Bush aides as late as the spring of 1990 overrode concern among other government officials and insisted that Hussein continue to be allowed to buy so-called "dual use" technology -- advanced equipment that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. The Iraqis were given continued access to such equipment, despite emerging evidence that they were working on nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.


And the pressure in 1989 and 1990 to give Hussein crucial financial assistance and maintain his access to sophisticated U.S. technology were not isolated incidents.

Rather, classified documents obtained by The Times show, they reflected a long-secret pattern of personal efforts by Bush -- both as President and as vice president -- to support and placate the Iraqi dictator. Repeatedly, when serious objections to helping Hussein arose within the government, Bush and aides following his directives intervened to suppress the resistance.
This, the Times suggested, was not merely part of the tilt away from Iran:
[C]lassified records show that Bush's efforts on Hussein's behalf continued well beyond the end of the Iran-Iraq War and persisted in the face of increasingly widespread warnings from inside the American government that the overall policy had become misdirected.

Moreover, it appears that instead of merely keeping Hussein afloat as a counterweight to Iran, the U.S. aid program helped him become a dangerous military power in his own right, able to threaten the very U.S. interests that the program originally was designed to protect.

Clearly, U.S. aid did not lead Hussein to become a force for peace in the volatile region. In the spring of 1990, as senior Administration officials worked to give him more financial aid, the Iraqi leader bragged that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and threatened to "burn half of Israel."
At the time of the piece's preparation, the authors indicated the U.S. was haunted by "the Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons programs carried forward with the help of sophisticated American technology."

The second part in the series demonstrated the steps taken by the president to "secure loan guarantees [which would] help Iraq build its war machine." Many of these loans were made at the close of the Iran-Iraq war, or even after, and the tale of the Welding System of Mass Destruction is typical:
For instance, a license was approved for the sale of a laser-guided welding system to Iraq for $1.4 million in January, 1988, at a time when the Iran-Iraq War was in its final months, even though the exporting firm acknowledged in its application that the system would be used for general military repairs on such items as jet engines and rocket casings.

When U.N. inspectors began examining Iraqi nuclear-weapons facilities late last year, they discovered that the welding system had been configured to manufacture centrifuges, a key component in Iraq's massive program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
The third part is particularly charming, noting that "On Aug. 2, 1990, the day Iraqi tanks swept into Kuwait, the Bush Administration was still debating whether to provide Hussein with the second installment of loan guarantees."
The new loans, pushed through at a time when U.S. intelligence reports indicated Hussein was spending heavily on developing nuclear weapons, were used by a credit-starved Iraq to feed its people, freeing up its cash reserves to finance the massive arms buildup that ended in war with the United States. The Bush Administration, apparently failing to understand the Iraqi dictator's intentions, indirectly helped pay for weapons that were ultimately used against American and allied troops.

And the Agriculture Department loans, which ultimately went bad just as officials of the department and others had warned, were no aberration.

Classified documents show that Bush, first as vice president and then as President, intervened repeatedly over a period of almost a decade to obtain special assistance for Saddam Hussein -- financial aid as well as access to high-tech equipment that was critical to Iraq's quest for nuclear and chemical arms.
The ink was barely dry on Sullivan's Harvard diploma as these stories broke. Did The New Republic circa 1992 not receive the LA Times in its newsroom? Sullivan may never come to realize that some of his readers are posessed of memories capable of recall past, say, yesterday.

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