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Tuesday, February 10, 2004


The following commentary was prompted last night by an email from one of 120 students enrolled in an undergrad political science class of mine, The US in the War on Terrorism . . . even if the formal title of that course, political science 129, is different: The US, Asia, and Europe. The student asked for a buggy view of some website claim that the CIA put Saddam Hussein and the Baathists in power after 1958 and that . . . well, all sorts of other extravagantly hyperbolic claims with no evidence, only a video and a string of florid, undocumented assertions set out in a cocksure fruitcake manner. The student wasn't to blame: he only wanted my view. That view was duly delivered to the students (and others on the gordon-newspost listsever), along with several other comments about US foreign policy that might be of interest to others . . . not least because it deals with morality and its tradeoffs in the conduct of diplomacy.

From a student in PS 129

Prof Bug:

I'm in your PS129 class and I was hoping you could check out this link and confirm its historical accuracy. I'd appreciate it, since I consider you an expert on the subject.

Thanks, N

The site: http://www.bushflash.com/thanks.html



1) Flipped-Out Paranoia

Haven't the foggiest idea what the site's driving at, other than to vent deliriously concocted scuttlebutt of the usual paranoid sort, full of conspiracy-mongering. Be sure you're very careful with this and other likeminded web sites in the future. Wacked-out paranoia flourishes on the Internet, where extremist pathologies --- left-wing, right-wing, Islamo-extremist, racist, anti-Semitic, or what have you --- swarm like cockroaches in a derelict building chock-a-block with filth. Why would the CIA have been interested in overthrowing the Iraqi monarchy, friendly to the US and the West, in 1958, and replace it with Baathist fascists . . . the Baathist parties in both Syria and Iraq, with roots in the interwar period, exact copies of Italian fascism and German Nazism?

The claim is all the more screw-loose because Iraq, under the Baathists, soon drifted into the Soviet camp, and the Soviet Union became its major arms supplier and diplomatic buddy. In 1976, France --- its Prime Minister Jacques Chirac at the time --- then buddied up to the Saddamite regime by selling it a nuclear reactor plant that even Moscow balked at doing when Saddam approached it first. I would urge you strongly to avoid these conspiratorial websites: they are intellectually a disaster.


[Sidebar Clarification: Recently, documents seized from the captive former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, showed that around 130 foreigners were given huge kickbacks, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for signing contracts with Iraqi agents . . . 11 of them French. One of those 11 was and is a close confident of Jacques Chirac, up to his neck in other forms of corruption. His predecessor, Francois Mitterand --- who ran France for 14 years as if he were Louis XIV reincarnated (and had a compulsive tendency to lie about everything, according to a former Socialist Premier of his, Michel Rocard) --- had a son, a gun salesman, who became a billionaire selling arms to French client-states in Africa and the Middle East. Alain Juppe, Chirac's close associate --- a former Prime Minister of his, a former aide when Chirac was mayor of Paris, and the likely successor on the right to run for Chirac's office in 2007 --- was found guilty of corruption by a panel of three judges. An uproar has followed. Juppe had already been found guilty three or four years earlier of similar charges: that time, a little fine followed, nothing else. This time, he said he would quit politics only to retract that the next day and appeal his case.

A wager: it will not be hard to final a panel of three ambitious judges who overturn the punishment of Juppe, who --- among other things --- must know enough about Chirac to sink him once he's out of the presidency and no longer immune to criminal prosecution. Remember here: three investigating magistrates, after years of seeking to get to the bottom of Chirac's corruption, quit in disgust in the spring of 2002. Stonewalled at every turn, they went public and claimed that what they had discovered astonished them: there are two rules of law in France, one for ordinary citizens and one for the powerful. Meanwhile, people might wonder how Jacques Chirac --- who does not come from a wealthy family --- has, among other things, acquired a lavish chateau in the Loire valley. Chirac has been a civil servant or politician all his working life. It is illegal under American law for politicians to accept gifts beyond a trivial sort from anybody that might affect their performance.]

2. Iraq and West European Support, Not Just American, in the 1980s

In the 1980s, when Iraq invaded Iran, we --- along with the West Europeans and the Sunni Arab countries --- supported the war, fearing the Shiite revolution in Iran. The Soviets and the West Europeans supplied far more arms than us --- Kenneth Pollock, the CIA expert who was the specialist on the Gulf region in the Clinton Administration, is good here, though there are also sources on the arms shipments --- but we supplied some critical technologies in the form of surveillance. In the mid-late 1980s, as the war stalemated and the Iraqis then escalated, our position moved toward trying to end the war. (Pollock, in the Atlantic Monthly recently, January I believe, tried to assess why the CIA was wrong probably about the stockpiled WMD).

Here is a BBC survey of the rise of Saddam and the Baathists: it's in an interview form and easy to follow: Also a good brief overview of the Iraqi emergence as a country after 1918 is at gordon-newspost. Here is David Brooks and some other sources on the fascist origins of the Baathist parties in Iraq and Syria. As for the clear parallel and overlap between European fascism and Islamo-extremism of the fundamentalist sort today, see the lengthy buggy analysis of last year.

Here is the buggy prof on European fascism and how Islamist-extremism of the fundamentalist sort overlaps with it in most respect: buggy stuff.


3. Morality and US Foreign Policy: Iraq and Other Cases

Our major moral failure in the Saddamite era over Iraq --- a distressing one, no way around it --- was not to protest vigorously when Saddam used poison gas against the Iranians in the early 1980s . . . this, despite Congress moving a resolution that had big support to condemn him (the Reagan administration opposed it). The failure was repeated, only worse on our part, in the late 1980s when he then used poison gas and biological agents against several hundred Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq, followed by huge massacres committed by Baathist security forces. Again, Congress moved to condemn the action, and again the Administration urged its being blocked. The resolution was withdrawn.

Neither France nor West Germany --- for that matter, none of the West European countries --- condemned the Iraqis either, continuing instead to do nice business with the regime. As for France, in 1980 its companies delivered 170 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to Saddam, an episode written about at length, with first-hand interviews on the ground, by Winston S. Churchill --- the grandson of the famous British Prime Minister in WWII, a former British Member of Parliament himself, and a practicing journalist who happened to be in Baghdad at the time. It was the delivery of that uranium that led the Israelis to pre-emptively destroy Saddam's nuclear reactor, setting the program back a decade or so in development.

The moral?

The only way to rectify moral failures of this sort is to combat the vicious regime that commits grotesque human rights violations . . . preferably at the time, but later is better than never. And the same goes for the lesser moral failures of cozying up to the Saudis, another brutal human-rights violator, even if on a lesser scale than Saddam --- a gangster regime of 4000 Royal Mafioso thugs who have squandered trillions of dollars in oil revenue even as the country's per capita income is one third of its 1980s level and unemployment among men --- men only --- is around 25-30%. The regime, or part of it, was clearly financing Islamo-terrorism, including, it seems, Al Qaeda. There are some reforms under way. We need to push the regime harder.

In the Sudan, where a brutal, mass-murdering Arab government in the North has been engaged in huge repression against Tropical-African Christians and pagans and even some Muslims in the South, we have had some noticeable influence of late, encouraging the war to wind down. Congress passed a resolution condemning the regime's lengthy record of mass-murder and slavery in 2000 or 2001.


4. Genocide

Our worse moral failure of all in the last few decades occurred in the Clinton era, when a clear genocide --- not just mass-murder, but attempted extermination of a whole people --- flared throughout the spring of 1994 in Rwanda, and we did nothing. Whatever the regime, and wherever it is, we should always --- always, no exceptions --- take energetic diplomatic and military action to stop it. It did little good for the hundreds of thousands of Tutsi (and moderate Hutu) in that country that Clinton later apologized. The behavior of the French and Belgians, who had peacekeepers in the country when the extermination started --- and withdrew them pell-mell --- was no less reprehensible. The whole episode --- our cravenness, the French and Belgian cowardly withdrawal of their troops, the failure of the European Union to do anything, likewise the UN --- is a source of moral disgust from start to finish, and still fills me with dismay and anger whenever I reflect on it.

Otherwise, yes --- short of genocide or brutal mass-murder on a vast scale as in Iraq in the late 1980s --- morality does need to be considered for its diplomatic and security tradeoffs.


Ponder some examples. We sided with the monstrous Stalinist regime in WWII to fight the even more monstrous Hitlerian regime. No alternative really. Similarly, we had an informal alliance with Mao's China after 1972 until the cold war wound down, aimed at the Soviet Union; and it was a monstrous regime too. Those trade-offs were unavoidable. Note, too, that after 1979, the post-Maoist regime in China --- though repressive (with ups and downs) --- is nothing like the Maoist regime in brutality and viciousness. It's a good idea to do what we do in the UN on the Human Rights Commission all the same: criticize the regime for its violations. None of the EU countries or Japan have joined us in doing so the last several years --- fearful of the economic consequences --- but we should continue to hold China's government accountable even as we work for a way, diplomatically, to maintain a workable relationship as that country remains in the throes of its epochal transformation.

At some point, that regime will either have to relinquish its Communist monopoly --- something hard to imagine, what with all the privileges and power that 60 million Chinese CP members enjoy (wealth on a vast scale too) --- or face the prospect that its economic modernization will grind to a halt without radical power-sharing, decentralization, and a rule of law.


5. The EU and the UN Again and Human Rights Brutalities

As for the EU, its craven refusal even to criticize the Chinese regime in the UN for its human rights violations ought, you'd hope, lead thoughtful Europeans to ponder their own failures. Denmark was the only hold-out country: long and justifiably known for its human rights record, it had joined the US as late as the end of the 1990s to condemn Beijing for its marked violations. Chinese bluster then forced even the Danish government to back down. Right now, of the 50 or so UN members on the Human Rights Commission, about 15 are serious serial violators . . . many on a mass brutal scale. Their aim in being on the UN Commission is to block any criticism. They manage to do that effectively.

In the meantime, those of you who have followed the buggy analysis of mainstream EU reportage --- especially on the Continent --- will not be surprised to learn that the media there hardly even paid attention to their countries' behavior in the Commission. Maybe they were too busy trying to find moral lapses in US behavior. Or possibly seeking to promote the latest utopian breakthrough-craze if it weren't for the US, globalizing forces, Jewish control of them, or Israel.


6. Iraq, WMD, and US Failures: Intelligence and Political

David Kay, our recently retired chief WMD hunter in Iraq --- formerly the head of the inspection team under UN authority (UNSCOM) in charge of biological weapons -- made it clear in his November report to Congress and the Bush administration that Saddam had a vigorous missile development program that apparently included a contract to buy mid-, long-ran missiles from North Korea. It was only the fear of North Korea over the consequences that led that country, it seems, not to follow through with the delivery. German intelligence went public in 2001 with the warning that Saddam would have missiles with nuclear warheads ready for use in 2005. Those missiles could strike all of Europe. See buggy articles: one and two Don't expect the critics of the Bush administration to know any of this either --- or to report it. They're too busy trying to find some conspiracy and deliberate lying in the White House. (German intelligence, for what it's worth, also went public in the fall of 2002 after the SPD-Green re-election in September, warning that the government had deliberately played down its reports of biological threats to the country from abroad.)

Since then, Kay has recently decided after months of careful scrutiny that there were no stockpiled WMD. Fine. An admirable figure public servant -- very bright, very dedicated to his work, very dedicated too to ensuring that we have the best intelligence agency possible --- he was right to call for a careful, non-political investigation into our intelligence failures. Kenneth Pollock is no less admirable..

Note though: what exactly happened to the stockpiles of WMD still remains a mystery. Kay says no definitive account can be given, and maybe can't, what with the destruction of the documents in the pillaging last April in Baghdad. He was the man in charge of the biological WMD inspections for the UN when two of Saddam's sons defected, then spilled the story of the biological weapons stockpiled to Kay and others. Saddam's regime then admitted it had them. They were inspected by the UNSCOM team and it found several thousand pounds of chemicals and biological agents, all produced illegally and in the hands of a mass-murdering regime that had used both against its own Kurdish citizens. Where did they go? Will we ever know?