December 26, 2003

A Blast From the Past

From the days when Donald Rumsfeld told Saddam Hussein's lieutenants that the U.S.'s opposition to the use of chemical weapons did not mean that the U.S. was in any way upset about Iraq's use of chemical weapons...

Documents: Rumsfeld Made Iraq Overture in 84 Despite Chemical Raids: ...As a special envoy for the Reagan administration in 1984, Donald H. Rumsfeld, now the defense secretary, traveled to Iraq to persuade officials there that the United States was eager to improve ties with President Saddam Hussein despite his use of chemical weapons, newly declassified documents show. Mr. Rumsfeld, who ran a pharmaceutical company at the time, was tapped by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to reinforce a message that a recent move to condemn Iraq's use of chemical weapons was strictly in principle and that America's priority was to prevent an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq war and to improve bilateral ties.

During that war, the United States secretly provided Iraq with combat planning assistance, even after Mr. Hussein's use of chemical weapons was widely known. The highly classified program involved more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who shared intelligence on Iranian deployments, bomb-damage assessments and other crucial information with Iraq... a private nonchalance toward Mr. Hussein's use of chemicals in warfare. Mr. Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials have cited Iraq's use of poisonous gas as a main reason for ousting Mr. Hussein.... Since the release of the documents, he has told members of his inner circle at the Pentagon that he does not recall whether he had read, or even had received, the State Department memo... the chief of the American interests section reported that Mr. Aziz had conveyed Mr. Hussein's satisfaction with the meeting. "The Iraqi leadership was extremely pleased with Amb. Rumsfeld's visit," the memo said. "Tariq Aziz had gone out of his way to praise Rumsfeld as a person."

When news emerged last year of the December trip, Mr. Rumsfeld told CNN that he had "cautioned" Mr. Hussein to forgo chemical weapons. But when presented with declassified notes of their meeting that made no mention of that, a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld said he had raised the issue in a meeting with Mr. Aziz....

Pressure mounted on the Reagan administration, which had already verified Iraq's "almost daily" use of the weapons against Iran and against Kurdish rebels, documents show. In February, Iraq warned Iranian "invaders" that "for every harmful insect there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it." Within weeks, the American authorities intercepted precursor chemicals that were bound for Iraq. Finally, on March 5, the United States issued a public condemnation of Iraq. But days later, Mr. Shultz and his deputy met with an Iraqi diplomat, Ismet Kittani, to soften the blow. The American relationship with Iraq was too important -- involving business interests, Middle East diplomacy and a shared determination to thwart Iran -- to sacrifice. Mr. Kittani left the meeting "unpersuaded," documents show. Mr. Shultz then turned to Mr. Rumsfeld. In a March 24 briefing document, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked to present America's bottom line. At first, the memo recapitulated Mr. Shultz's message to Mr. Kittani, saying it "clarified that our CW [chemical weapons] condemnation was made strictly out of our strong opposition to the use of lethal and incapacitating CW, wherever it occurs." The American officials had "emphasized that our interests in 1) preventing an Iranian victory and 2) continuing to improve bilateral relations with Iraq, at a pace of Iraq's choosing, remain undiminished," it said...

Posted by DeLong at December 26, 2003 12:53 PM | TrackBack


All of which brings one to ponder the upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein: one assumes that his defense against charges of crimes against humanity will be the claim that he was acting as an American agent at the time, the designated hitter against wicked wicked revolutionary Iran. Pity he won't be able to subpoena Reagan's and Rumsfeld's files from the period...

Any way we can make sure the trial gets going before November '04?

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on December 26, 2003 01:52 PM


Don't worry, David; this administration understands the term 'show trial'. And I'm positive that the trial and execution will be over before the election. I can't think of anything that this administration considers more important than winning the election.

Posted by: Barry on December 26, 2003 06:20 PM


Where can one view a copy of these documents?

I have been told that they don't exist and are a "tool of Tomfoolery"(sic) used by liberals to smear the greatest prez of all times (yeah, right).

Anyway, if you could point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it.


Posted by: David on December 27, 2003 03:10 PM


There's nothing inconsistent or embarassing in this imho. When Saddam wasn't an obvious threat to American interests, America tolerated his getting chemical weapons. It protested strongly against his using them on his own people in 1988, and extracted a promise that this wouldn't be repeated.

When he developed nuclear weapons and became a threat to America and its allies, those weapons became much more worrying. America and England haven't seriously objected to Israel or even France developing nuclear weapons either. And Pakistan and India got off with slaps on the wrist. Chemical weapons were never the worrying ones - nuclear and biological weapons are far more troubling in the hands of a man like Saddam.

Posted by: What scandal? on December 28, 2003 09:28 AM


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