Rummy, Saddam, and the Lash

[This post's title is a play on Churchill's celebrated comment that Royal Navy runs on "rum, sodomy, and the lash."]

Saddam Hussein's death sentence emerged just days for the U.S. election. Coincidence or not, Bush has been gleefully making hay with it on the campaign trail.

What he doesn't say, though, is that the crimes Saddam was tried for occurred in the early 1980s--while he was a paid-up ally of the United States, years before he ran afoul of the Bushies. Indeed, Rumsfield--whose "fantastic job" as DOD head Bush recently hailed--visited Saddam soon after those crimes. Famously, he delivered not chastisements but rather a bronse-plated cowboy boot.

Here is Counterpunch:

Saddam Hussein has received a death sentence for crimes he committed more than a year before Donald Rumsfeld shook his hand in Baghdad. Let's reach back into history and extract these facts:

* On Dec. 20, 1983, the Washington Post reported that Rumsfeld "visited Iraq in what U.S. officials said was an attempt to bolster the already improving U.S. relations with that country."

* Two days later, the New York Times cited a "senior American official" who "said that the United States remained ready to establish full diplomatic relations with Iraq and that it was up to the Iraqis."

* On March 29, 1984, the Times reported: "American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name." Washington had some goodies for Saddam's regime, the Times account noted, including "agricultural-commodity credits totaling $840 million." And while "no results of the talks have been announced" after the Rumsfeld visit to Baghdad three months earlier, "Western European diplomats assume that the United States now exchanges some intelligence on Iran with Iraq."

* A few months later, on July 17, 1984, a New York Times article with a Baghdad dateline sketchily filled in a bit more information, saying that the U.S. government "granted Iraq about $2 billion in commodity credits to buy food over the last two years." The story recalled that "Donald Rumsfeld, the former Middle East special envoy, held two private meetings with the Iraqi president here," and the dispatch mentioned in passing that "State Department human rights reports have been uniformly critical of the Iraqi President, contending that he ran a police state."

* Full diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad were restored 11 months after Rumsfeld's December 1983 visit with Saddam -- who went on to use poison gas later in the decade, actions which scarcely harmed relations with the Reagan administration.

* As the most senior U.S. official to visit Iraq in six years, Rumsfeld had served as Reagan's point man for warming relations with Saddam. In 1984, the administration engineered the sale to Baghdad of 45 ostensibly civilian-use Bell 214ST helicopters. Saddam's military found them quite useful for attacking Kurdish civilians with poison gas in 1988, according to U.S. intelligence sources. "In response to the gassing," journalist Jeremy Scahill has pointed out, "sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most U.S. technology. The measure was killed by the White House."


Paul Hue said...

Tom: I have never understood this oft-repeated point from the peaceniks. Basically the Bushies used to follow the advice that you guys are giving them now: negotiate with, befriend, and conduct business with all tyrants. Well, they did that as you guys keep pointing out for many years. And what did that lead to? The Bushies responded to 911 by changing that strategy. Would you have had them support Hussein forever because they ever supported him?

Tom Philpott said...

There's a huge whole in that analysis: The Bushies were planning to invade Iraq pre-9/11. Cheney and Rumsfeld started bleating about "regime change" in 1998 or so. The point o my analysis isn't that leaders should coddle tyrants; rather, don't trust leaders who coddle tyrants when they claim they're waging wars of liberation. Clearly something else motivates them.

Tom Philpott said...

An argument could be made that in collaborating with Hussein's crimes, Rumsfeld belongs in the gallows beside him.

Paul Hue said...

Tom: If invading Iraq after 911 made sense, then it made sense before 911. The US military constructs and maintains plans to invade dozens of countries as part of contingency preparation (much as the NYT creates and maintains obituaries for notable living people); nobody has shown me that the Iraq and Afghanistan pre-911 invasion plans represented anything more than that. But if they did -- if the Bushies really were planning preemptive attacks on those countries -- then the 911 attack was prescient... unless you believe that Bush staged 911, in which case you will have to explain why they would bother to do such a thing without creating a clear link between the Taliban and the Iraqi Baathists.

You want to imprison Rummy for supporting Hussein in the past? Or you want to let off the hook all tyrants for crimes committed during periods of US support? Since Hussein's various US-supported crimes of the '80s, Hussein supporter Rummy has transformed his view from supporting tyranny in Iraq to supporting freedom. You would require Rummy either to fight every tyrant simultaneously, or none... and to fight no tyrants that he's ever supported?

I still don't get your view. If Rummy ever tolerated Hussein's tyranny, he must never fight against him? Isn't Rummy doing now what people like you and me wanted him to do in the '80s?

Paul Hue said...

Tom: The situation in Kurdaq proves to me that the Bushies genuinely want freedom and independence for Iraq, that they are waging no war on Iraqi's people, and that they seek to steal no petro.

Paul Hue said...

Tom: Very clever title for this post. I recognized it only after you pointed it out (it was a stretch, but I admire the effort). Can you or anybody explain why Saddam Hussein always gets referred to by his first name? This isn't true of any other Arab leader.

Tom Philpott said...

Rumsfeld would be more convincing if he came clean. "I supported Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds and other atrocities in the 1980s for xx reason; I changed my mind in the 1990s for y reason." He's never done that; guess he doesn't like the appearance of admitting a mistake. Here he is the 1998, along with a coterie of neocons, many of whom would follow him into DoD, urging Clinton to make a preemptive strike against Iraq. It's hard to imagine how such a thing would have prevented 9/11; evidence suggests that it might have made such attacks even more likely.

The idea that 9/11 affected the Bush's view of Iraq seems fanciful -- another lie among many.

Tom Philpott said...

I think much of Hitchens' case against Kissinger, whom Hitchens impugns for aiding and abetting Chile's Pinochet, likely apply to Rumsfeld wrt Iraq.

Paul Hue said...

TP: I agree that Rummy owes us an explanation on how he switched from Hussein-backer to opponent. A preemptive strike against Hussein under Clinton could only have helped prevent 911 if it had led to a democracy there, and subsequently to prosperity, proving that Arabs can obtain such via means other than an islamic crusade back to an imaginary paradise of circa 680ad.