The Washington Post has devoted an article to analyzing President Bush’s off-the-cuff remarks, such as when he said that Saddam Hussein tried to kill his dad. The Post wondered if this suggested that Bush had a personal grudge against the Iraqi dictator that was driving U.S. policy. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was considered an ally of the U.S. during much of the Reagan Administration and early into the Bush 41 administration.
ABC’s Nightline program on September 17 explored that in an excellent program titled “Ally and Enemy.” It described through commentary and interviews how Iraq became our friend. We all know that Bush 41 turned on Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait. But it was Bush’s predecessor, President Reagan, who cultivated Hussein as an ally out of fear of Iran.
The show noted that formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iraq were restored in 1984 and that Iraq was removed from the State Department’s list of nations that support terrorism. The war between Iraq and Iran had begun in 1980. In addition, Chris Bury reported, “the United States eased up on its own technology export restrictions to Iraq, which allowed the Iraqis to import supercomputers, machine tools, and even strains of anthrax.” On April 18, 1988, he added, the U.S. military destroyed much of the Iranian navy just as Iraq launched a major offensive. Iraq was on its way to victory. America’s tilt toward Saddam had kept him in power.” The war ended that year.
In his book, Spider’s Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq, Alan Friedman describes a secret operation to assist Iraq in the war. He reported that the Reagan administration “sent a team of high-ranking officers to Baghdad, including an admiral, to begin sharing strategic information with Iraq about movements in the Gulf. In U.S. military circles, the purported reason for these visits was to improve understanding and avoid a repeat of the Stark incident.” That was the “accidental” Iraqi attack on a U.S. frigate which cost the lives of 37 Americans. “The reality,” Friedman said, “was that it was a black operation, in which cryptographic radios were provided to Iraqi pilots, allowing them to communicate with American petty officers stationed on ships in the Gulf.” The communications enabled the Iraqis to “choose their targets” and bomb tankers and ships trading with Iran.
Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, was Reagan’s special Middle East envoy and flew to Baghdad on December 17th, 1983, with a handwritten letter to Saddam Hussein in which the president promised renewed diplomatic relations and expanded military and business ties. Two years after that, biological cultures were sent to Iraq that included West Nile Virus, E. coli, anthrax and botulism.
Asked about this, Rumsfeld told Senator Robert Byrd during a recent congressional hearing that he was not aware of those shipments. Senate Democrats are bringing up such matters for partisan reasons or because they oppose another war with Iraq. But facts are facts, and U.S. policy toward Iraq has clearly been one failure on top of another.