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Informed Comment - Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Rumsfeld, Bechtel and Iraq

Well, the Democratic Party seems too nice or inept to do anything with it, but as the Washington Post points out, the good folks at the National Security Archive are continuing to document the long history of Republican Party coddling of Saddam Hussein, and their hypocritical winking at his use of weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s.

The Archive incidentally shows that the Bechtel Corporation actively connived to subvert 1988 Congressional sanctions on Iraq for using weapons of mass destruction by seeking non-US subcontractors. Bechtel was awarded an Iraq reconstruction contract by US AID last spring worth at least $640 million. Yup, some American corporations have long been deeply concerned about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and the moral evil of genocide.

It turns out that Don Rumsfeld actually went to Iraq twice, once in 1983, and again in 1984. The work Rumsfeld did in 1983 of beginning a rapprochement between Reagan and Saddam was detracted from by a strong State Department condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Schultz told Rumsfeld to explain to Saddam [warning: PDF] that the Reagan administration did not actually, really have any serious objections to, like, exterminating Iranian troops like cockroaches with poison gas. It was just a general, unspecific blanket condemnation of that sort of thing, you know, to keep up appearances. Sort of like when the US was against genocide in general but didn't really mind so much the one conducted in Indonesia against hundreds of thousands of leftists in 1965. So, Saddam should feel comfortable about Reagan's desire to continually improve bilateral Reagan-Saddam relations at a pace of Saddam's choosing, and not be put off by the unfortunate but necessary pro forma condemnations of him as a war criminal issued at silly old Foggy Bottom.

The document also reveals two other things on which the press hasn't widely remarked. George H. W. Bush was deeply involved in this Saddamist démarche, he was the one who extended an invitation to high Baathist official Tariq Aziz to come to Washington.

And, Schultz told both Rumsfeld and Saddam that the US was trying to curb weapons flows to Iran. Yet it is well known that Israel was supplying Iran with weaponry in return for Iranian oil. Only a little over a year later, Schultz double-crossed Saddam by getting on board with the Iran-Contra weapons exchange, which was suggested by the Israelis in the first place. The White House illegally sold Iran hundreds of powerful TOW anti-tank and HAWK anti-aircraft weapons [which Reagan came on television and told us were shoulder-launched weapons!], for use against Washington's newfound ally, the Iraqis, who were being assured that the US was trying hard to "prevent an Iranian victory . . ."

These weapons sales contravened US law, under which Iran was tagged as a terrorist nation. (Even today I can get into trouble for so much as editing a paper by an Iranian scholar for publication in a US scholarly journal, but it was all right for the Republicans and Neocons to send Khomeini 1000 TOWs!) Not only that, but Reagan's team then turned around and used the money garnered from these off-the-books sales to support the contra death squads in Nicaragua. In the US Constitution, how to spend government money is the purview of Congress, and Congress had told Reagan "no" on funding the death squads. So Reagan's people essentially stole weapons from the Pentagon storehouses, shipped them to Israel for transfer to Ayatollah Khomeini, and then took the ill gotten gains from fencing the stolen goods and gave them to nun-murderers in Latin America.

Here's the timeline:

July -- An Israeli official suggests a deal with Iran to then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane, saying the transfer of arms could lead to release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon. McFarlane brings the message to President Reagan.
Aug. 30 -- The first planeload of U.S.-made weapons is sent from Israel to Tehran. Two weeks later the first American Hostage is released.
Dec. 5 -- Reagan secretly signs a presidential 'finding,' or authorization, describing the operation with Iran as an arms-for-hostages deal.

Jan. 17 -- Reagan signs a finding authorizing CIA participation in the sales and ordering the process kept secret from Congress.
April -- Then-White House aide Oliver North writes a memo outlining plans to use $12 million in profits from Iran arms sales for Contra aid.

Where are they now?

George P. Shultz is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was sworn in on July 16, 1982, as the sixtieth U.S. secretary of state and served until January 20, 1989. In January 1989, he rejoined Stanford University as the Jack Steele Parker Professor of International Economics at the Graduate School of Business and a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a member of the board of directors of Bechtel Group, Fremont Group, Gilead Sciences, and Charles Schwab & Co. He is chairman of the International Council of J. P. Morgan Chase and chairman of the Accenture Energy Advisory Board. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, on January 19, 1989. He also received the Seoul Peace Prize (1992), the Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service (2001), and the Reagan Distinguished American Award (2002).

Schultz strongly supported the war against Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

Elliot Abrams, a convicted criminal who lied to Congress about the shady goings-on in Central America and a long-time supporter of the far rightwing Likud Party, was appointed by W. as the National Security Council advisor for Arab-Israeli affairs. Perhaps it was Abrams who told W. that Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut, is "a man of peace."

Donald Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense of the United States, and supported the war against Iraq, partially on the grounds that Saddam had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

George H. W. Bush is the former president of the United States. His invitee, Tariq Aziz, is in a US prison at the Baghdad Airport.

Oliver North, a convicted criminal, has been given a cushy job on Fox television by its owner, eccentric far rightwing Australian billionnaire Rupert Murdoch.

Saddam Hussein is in a US prison at the Baghdad airport.

Ronald Reagan is being considered above criticism by the US Right, which pressured CBS to cancel a mini-series on his life that was anything less than absolutely adoring, and is now being proposed as a replacement on the US dime or 10 cent piece for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the defeater of the Axis.