down memory lane: WWII thru Reagan…

Posted on Wednesday 29 November 2006

In World War II, England and the United States forced the Shah of Iran to abdicate in favour of his son, fearing that Iran would side with the Nazis. The younger, pro-Western Shah ruled Iran until 1979 when he was deposed in the Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian Hostage Crisis in which Americans were held captive for over a year was a major force in the defeat of Jimmy Carter and election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 in this country. 

Reagan and Saddam

Concern about the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a gradual warming of relations between Iraq and the United States. American National Security Advisor Zbignew Brzezinski publicly encouraged Iraq to attack Iran and take back the Shat-al-Arab waterway. Most American foreign service officers despised the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran for having held diplomats of the US embassy hostages for 444 days. The "Carter Doctrine" was established in 1980, stating that America would intervene militarily in the region to assure its access to oil. In that same year, Saddam’s armies invaded Iran, instigating a ruinous war that lasted for eight long years. The invasion was prompted as much by American urging as it was by Saddam’s dislike for Islamic fundamentalism.

There was a sea change in relations between America and Iraq when Ronald Reagan became president. Fearing the rise of Soviet influence in Iran, and fearing an Iranian takeover of the region, the Reagan administration began actively arming and supporting Saddam. By 1982, Iraq was removed from the list of terrorist sponsoring nations. By 1984, America was actively sharing military intelligence with Saddam’s army. This aid included arming Iraq with potent weapons, providing satellite imagery of Iranian troops deployments and tactical planning for battles, assisting with air strikes, and assessing damage after bombing campaigns.

Following further high-level policy review, Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive (NSDD-114) on November 26, 1983, concerning U.S. policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The directive reflected the administration’s priorities, calling for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, and measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

Soon thereafter, Donald Rumsfeld, the head of the multinational pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co. at the time, was dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy. His December 1983 tour of regional capitals included Baghdad, where he was to establish "direct contact between an envoy of President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein." Rumsfeld met with Saddam, and the two discussed regional issues of mutual interest, shared enmity toward Iran and Syria, and discussed U.S efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq’s oil. Rumsfeld made no reference to Iraq’s chemical weapons.

The Reagan administration allowed the Iraqis to buy a wide variety of "dual use" equipment and materials from American suppliers. The shopping list included a computerized database for Saddam’s security police, helicopters to transport Iraqi officials, television cameras for video surveillance applications, chemical-analysis equipment for the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), and numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" to the IAEC. The bacteria cultures were used to make biological weapons, including anthrax.

A US Senate inquiry in 1995 accidentally revealed that during the Iran-Iraq War the United States had sent Iraq samples of all the strains of germs used by Iraq to make biological weapons. The strains were sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Type Culture Collection to the same sites in Iraq that UN weapons inspectors later determined were part of Iraq’s biological weapons program.
U.S. support for Iraq blossomed further in 1983 when the United States provided economic aid to Iraq in the form of Commodities Credit Corporation guarantees to purchase U.S. agricultural products ($400 million in 1983, $513 million in 1984, and climbing to $652 million in 1987). This allowed Iraq to use money it otherwise would have spent on food to buy weapons and other military supplies. With Iraq off the terrorism list, the U.S. also provided quasi-military aid.

An example of U.S. sales during this time of germ warfare and other weapons to Iraq included "deadly pathogens," with government approval, some from the army’s center for germ research in Fort Detrick. The British government also conceded after the Scott Inquiry Report was published that it continued to grant licenses to British firms to export materials to Iraq usable for biological weapons at least until December 1996.

So strong was the hold of pro-Iraq lobby on the Republican administration of President Reagan that it succeeded in getting the White House frustrate the Senate’s attempt to penalize Baghdad for violating the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons, which it had signed. This led Saddam to believe that Washington was firmly on his side, a conclusion that paved the way for his invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War.

On April 18, 1988, the United States conducted Operation Praying Mantis. In response to Iran’s mining of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy engaged the Iranian Navy in the Gulf, sunk two of Iran’s biggest surface ships and crippled a third. On July 3, 1988 U.S. forces once again engaged some of the remnants of the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormuz and an Iranian civilian jet strayed over the battle area. The USS Vincennes mistook the airliner for an Iranian fighter and shot it down. Although it was a mistake, in Tehran it was viewed as a sign that the United States was now actively allied with Iraq and would take any action to defeat Tehran. In August 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had resisted all previous pleas to end the war, was forced to concede that Iran could not fight both Iraq and the United States any longer. Tehran accepted a cease-fire with Iraq that brought the war to an end.

The most reprehensible of Saddam’s actions that the Reagan administration chose to overlook was his campaign against Iraq’s Kurds known as al-Anfal, a twisted reference to a verse in the Koran. In March 1987, Saddam appointed his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, as governor of northern Iraq. Less than six weeks after his appointment, Majid employed chemical warfare to wipe out several towns in the Balisan valley, where one of the Kurdish opposition group was located
When the campaign finally ended in 1989, some two hundred thousand Kurds were dead, roughly 1.5 million had been forcibly resettled, huge swaths of Kurdistan has been scorched by chemical warfare, and four thousand towns had been razed. The U.S. Senate passed a bill to impose sanctions on Iraq, but the Reagan administration prevailed upon the Congress to drop the matter.

When I read the Neoconservative writings about the glorious Reagan Era, when we were strong militarily, I don’t really know what they are talking about. What I knew back then was that we were heavily involved in supporting the Afghanis in their war with the U.S.S.R.. And then there was the strange Iran-Contra Affair, where Reagan’s people sold weapons to Iran and used the money to support the Contras in Nicaragua to get around Congress, whatever that was all about. But I had no idea that we were financing Hussein’s war with Iran.

I guess that the U.S. had been so burned by the Viet Nam War and Watergate that the government’s continued intervention in the world was kept from us. But what I do know is that the people who were to be called the Neoconservatives were all wrapped up in the Reagan Administration’s wheelings and dealings – including George H. W. Bush. And they sure thought it was the hey-day of something. I guess they thought they had brought down Russia in Afghanistan and stopped the Iranians in the Iraq/Iran war. They were certainly on a high on what they were manipulating, and moved seamlessly into the first Bush’s Administration.

    November 29, 2006 | 8:34 PM

    You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”

    The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

    How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be – Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

    Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

    From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

    This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

    This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

    We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

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