But He Gassed His Own People!

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

CNN found some interesting recently declassified documents from the 1980s:

Declassified U.S. government documents show that while Saddam Hussein was gassing Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. opposed punishing Iraq with a trade embargo because it was cultivating Iraq as an ally against Iran and as a market for U.S. farm exports.

According to Peter Galbraith, then an idealistic Senate staffer determined to stop Hussein from committing genocide, the Reagan administration “got carried away with their own propaganda. They began to believe that Saddam Hussein could be a reliable partner.”

I don’t believe in economic sanctions, even for brutal regimes.  Mostly because they don’t usually  work, and end up punishing the people of those countries, not their governments.  Still, the whole “Saddam gassed his own people” line we heard over and over again as a justification for the war rings a bit hollow given that the U.S. was grooming Saddam as an ally while one of the more brutal gassings was actually taking place.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

28 Responses to “But He Gassed His Own People!”

  1. #1 |  Rationalitate | 

    This is unsurprising. After the Halabja chemical attacks (the worst of the attacks that the US supposedly invaded because of), Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld engaged in an active disinformation campaign to blame the attack on the Iranians.

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070910/cockburn

  2. #2 |  MacGregory | 

    “I don’t believe in economic sanctions, even for brutal regimes. Mostly because they don’t usually work, and end up punishing the people of those countries, not their governments. ”

    I agree. It’s a simple matter of the food chain. Who eats, who doesn’t. While I support the lp’s platform of “staying the hell out of other country’s business, ” it’s difficult to just sit back and watch. The question then becomes “which villain do we aid and abet?”
    These situations get the democrat’s panties in a bunch and make the republican’s little dicks hard.
    This shit would be funny if it weren’t real.

  3. #3 |  David Nieporent | 

    Radley,

    You imply hypocrisy, but I don’t see why it “rings a bit hollow,” given that “the U.S.” is not a single entity. You’re talking about different administrations; if Reagan tolerated the attacks on the Kurds, that doesn’t mean that Bush is hypocritical or inconsistent if he criticizes them.

    (That doesn’t mean Bush _isn’t_ insincere, but not for that reason.)

    Moreover, the circumstances (the Iran-Iraq war) were different, and I see no reason why consistency requires treating Iraq the same at two different times under two different sets of circumstances. Consider this analogy:

    “It rings a bit hollow for Truman to criticize the Soviet Union for human rights issues, given that just a few years earlier, the U.S. was actually sending military aid to Stalin even knowing what he had done to the kulaks.”

  4. #4 |  Edmund Dantes | 

    It’s the same logic that allows people to say “The U.S. doesn’t torture people” even though the crimes we tried and convicted Nazis, Japanese Soldiers, and assorted others for “Torture” were for techniques the U.S. now calls Enhanced Interrogation.

  5. #5 |  Michael Chaney | 

    So, doing the right thing is wrong because we did the wrong thing before we did the right thing? Am I missing part of the logic here?

  6. #6 |  Tokin42 | 

    Maybe people should read the memo’s for themselves. None of the 3 say anything about saddam being a “reliable partner”. 2 of 3 are state dept memo’s making the case for using a small loan as either a carrot or a stick and the underlying issues for both. (Isn’t that what everyone has been complaining bush jr. should have been doing for the last 8 years?) The other was a memo discussing the state depts view of what was likely to happen in Iraq with the ending of the Iraq/Iran war.

    HA argues that the brutality visited on portions of Iraq’s Kurdish population demands that we strongly oppose this proposed increase in Iraq’s Exim Bank credit facility

    Doesn’t seem they were turning a blind eye to saddams behavior. Where’s the smoking gun?

  7. #7 |  jwh | 

    You’re losing the context of the relationship. Reagan inherited Iran as an enemy from Carter, and Iraq was engaged in a war with Iran for most of the 80’s. Iraq was the logical choice of countries to back in that conflict at that time.

    You cannot project today’s reality back 25 years and say Reagan was wrong…..not if you want any credibilty, that is.

  8. #8 |  MikeL | 

    When I want to punish an evil dictator for gassing his own people, I using look at lending them money. That really gets the message across.

  9. #9 |  MassHole | 

    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/press.htm

    Ahhh memories….

  10. #10 |  Les | 

    Iraq was the logical choice of countries to back in that conflict at that time.

    Neither was the logical choice for those who believe in limited government.

    You cannot project today’s reality back 25 years and say Reagan was wrong…..not if you want any credibilty, that is.

    I don’t think you’re allowed to talk about credibility if you’ve claimed than no one at Guantanamo was innocent.

  11. #11 |  David Gross | 

    We didn’t need classified documents to learn this. This was all being done publicly as well, was in the news at the time, and didn’t end in the 1980s (but quickly forgotten in the run up to Desert Storm).

    Here’s what I wrote for my campus paper back in 1991, based on what I could find in The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature (what people used in the horse-and-buggy days before Google News):

    http://groups.google.com/group/alt.desert-storm.facts/msg/18c8317e93445438?pli=1

  12. #12 |  Andrew Williams | 

    “I don’t believe in economic sanctions, even for brutal regimes.”

    Then what, save war, are the alternatives?

    Seriously, I’d like to know. We’ve got to find alternatives to either imposing sanctions or going to war if we’re going to make it through the XXIst century.

  13. #13 |  Michael Pack | 

    Reagan’s main concern was the defeat of the Soviet Union.Helping Iraq at the time simply kept two bad actor fighting each other rather than our allies.Heck,we supported Stalin with lend lease during WW II and he’s one one the 3 great butchers of all time(with Hitler and Mao ).No one wanted a victory by either Iran or Iraq.It ended in a stalemate.As for embargoes ,F.D.R stopped oil and steel shipment to Japan and I’d say he did the right thing .There are times you need to cut off trade.

  14. #14 |  Matt | 

    Commenters make good points; realpolitik can indeed be defended, but (paraphrasing Orwell) only by arguments too brutal for most people to face, with the result that we must have a leadership that lies to us continually about the real reasons for their actions. So we talk about human rights, but not when our guy his gassing his own people. Defeating communism was a worthy goal, but what is the effect of having such a deeply cynical leadership? What does this say about the viability of democracy?

  15. #15 |  angulimala | 

    You imply hypocrisy, but I don’t see why it “rings a bit hollow,” given that “the U.S.” is not a single entity. You’re talking about different administrations; if Reagan tolerated the attacks on the Kurds, that doesn’t mean that Bush is hypocritical or inconsistent if he criticizes them.

    -David Nieporent

    I have to agree with this in good measure.

    One of the consistent problems in politics is that people too frequently make the mistake of (often selectively) thinking about large multi-agent systems as though they’re more like individual entities than they really are.

    This sloppy thinking underlies a lot of the political hostility in this country. It is what makes people see conspiracy where there is really only coincidence and deliberation where there is really only reaction and improvisation.

  16. #16 |  Buck | 

    To starve or to bomb, that is the question.
    Whether ’tis nobler to kill quickly or slowly
    Piss on how they die, which is the cheapest?
    The citizens of brutal regimes must be destroyed, one way or another.

  17. #17 |  Lee | 

    So, doing the right thing is wrong because we did the wrong thing before we did the right thing? Am I missing part of the logic here?

    “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” – John Quincy Adams

    The context of this quote is liberty, a standing military, central banking and destruction of wealth as a result, etc. Team USA has for too long been in search of monsters to destroy. There will always be monsters that the US “government” targets for destruction, therefore you get perpetual war, which leads to loss of liberty, etc. which is precisely what we are seeing and it is very likely to get much worse in the coming years.

  18. #18 |  Andy Craig | 

    Has there *ever* been a government that collapsed because of economic sanctions? Or even the more extreme case of a blockade? I can think of cases where such actions weakened the government, making it easier to be overthrown at some later point by outsiders. But I can’t think of a single case where deliberately inflicted economic hardship enabled an internal revolution or some other kind of regime change that wasn’t dependent on further action from outside the country. As often as not, you see what we’ve seen in Cuba and Iran- the sanctions simply provide a rallying point for whipping up support for the existing regime.

  19. #19 |  Jason | 

    The fact that the U.S. helped to create the monster only adds to the responsibility to take him out.
    http://rightklik.blogspot.com/

  20. #20 |  dsmallwood | 

    i think everyone is getting a little too in depth here.

    the hypocracy that Radley is describing is from people like Rumsfeld, who was “shocked and concerned” about Iraq and its bellicose ways. even though they had been aware of these tactics for years.

    had Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc, candidly said “this one time useful actor has out grown his use and now must be dealt with …” these documents would be a bit less scandalous.

    the documents lare bare the grandstanding of this govt. they didn’t think they could win on reason, so they employed scare tactics to motivate the public. and when the facts were inconvenient, they ignored or glossed over them. and that’s too bad

  21. #21 |  chnce | 

    “Has there *ever* been a government that collapsed because of economic sanctions?”

    Usually collapse or regime change is not the real goal, just some type of behavior change or degradation of capability. Libya finally complied with UN resolutions at least part to get rid of sanctions against them.

    Personally, I’m on the fence. On the one hand I agree sanctions are rarely useful and really just hurt the people rather than the leadership. On the other hand, I wouldn’t buy the argument that I might as well shop at the local mafia owned business just because my “sanction” is ineffective, and really only hurts the innocent workers.

  22. #22 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “I don’t believe in economic sanctions, even for brutal regimes.”

    Then what, save war, are the alternatives?
    =================================

    This might be taken to propose that a government MUST take an action (for some definition of action). Why? Because it seems like a good thing to do? Extend that and you have today’s US Government and our constantly-at-war history.

    First: One man’s brutal regime is another man’s champion of the cause (see Shah: Iran).

    Second: Not everything has a pretty “solution” with government action as the hero. I disagree with the statement “Something must be done to save those people” when the “something” is physical force of one country against another.

    Third: If I’m a brutal dictator, I grin myself to sleep at night if the US uses economic sanctions against me. Poor people are much easier to control.

    It seems a whole lot of people like to opt for the easy bomb button to blow up the bad guys rather than work at true change thru revolution of ideas and growth of knowledge in those countries.

  23. #23 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #20 Dsmallwood
    Nicely put. Why was this confusing for people?

  24. #24 |  tesla | 

    Do sanctions “work”? If the goal of sanctions is to topple regimes, they don’t have a good track record. But that’s a bit of a straw man argument. Sanctions are intended to be a punishment and on that account they succeed. They limit the resources that a rogue state has at its disposal.

  25. #25 |  David Nieporent | 

    Sanctions are intended to be a punishment and on that account they succeed.

    But Radley’s argument, and it’s a fair one, is that it punishes the wrong people. It punishes the citizens of the country, not the thugs running the country. The latter don’t suffer; even in the dystopian nightmare of North Korea, Kim Jong Il lives well. But the people starve.

  26. #26 |  hexag1 | 

    Radley,
    Are you just now learning about all of this?

  27. #27 |  Andrew Williams | 

    “It seems a whole lot of people like to opt for the easy bomb button to blow up the bad guys rather than work at true change thru revolution of ideas and growth of knowledge in those countries.”

    QFT. We could start with Bucky Fuller’s World Game, which was designed to, in his words, “advantage all without disadvantaging any.” In other words, Country X has a surplus of something that Country Y needs, and vice versa. That’s the simplest example, but hopefully you get the idea.

  28. #28 |  Eric H | 

    Saddam was the least worst option in the region. Now he has been toppled. Just a matter of time now until the Iranian theocracy comes up against the Saudis and Israelis. The better option would have been to leave them all the hell alone – not very humanitarian, but now “we” are responsible for the mess that is to come as well as partly responsible for the mess that was.

    Did sanctions helped bring down the apartheid government in South Africa? Or was that just the “official” story?

Leave a Reply