Building the beast of Baghdad: Saddam Hussein's capacity to unleash weapons of mass destruction is doubly horrifying when one considers that past administrations have helped him develop that technology. (Foreign Quarrels).
At 2:40 p.m. on September 11th, according to notes taken from a participant in the meeting, Rumsfeld told his subordinates that he wanted the "best info fast. Judge whether [it's] good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].... Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not." As CBS News summarized, Rumsfeld "was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq -- even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks."
The history of Rumsfeld's dealings with Saddam perfectly encapsulates Frederic Bastiat's maxim that governments grow by creating the poison and the antidote in the same laboratory. As a member of George W. Bush's cabinet, Rumsfeld insists: "No terrorist state poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq." But nearly 20 years ago, as a presidential emissary on behalf of Ronald Reagan, Rumsfeld helped facilitate the military, technological, and financial aid from Washington that effectively built Saddam into a regional menace.
As reported in these pages more than four years ago (see "Arming Saddam" in our March 30, 1998 issue), Rumsfeld visited Baghdad on December 17, 1983 bearing a handwritten letter for Saddam from President Reagan. "In it Reagan offered to renew diplomatic relations and to expand military and business ties with Baghdad," reported investigator Alan Friedman in his expose Spider's Web.
The supposed justification for the U.S. "tilt" toward Baghdad, as summarized in a recently released 1983 diplomatic cable written by Rumsfeld, was that "the U.S. and Iraq shared interests in preventing Iranian and Syrian expansion." Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, beginning a brutal war of attrition that would claim over a million lives by the time it ended in August 1988. During that conflict, the U.S. "gave Iraq vital battle-planning help ... by providing detailed information on Iranian military deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments," summarized an August 18th account on MSNBC.com.
In a January 1995 affidavit, former National Security Council staffer Howard Teicher testified:
In June 1982, President Reagan decided that the United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran. President Reagan decided that the United States would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.
President Reagan formalized this policy by issuing a National Security Decision Directive ("NSDD") to this effect in June 1982.... The NSDD, including even its identifying number, is classified.... Pursuant to the secret NSDD, the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.
The foreign aid floodgates opened for Iraq shortly after Rumsfeld's December 1983 visit to Baghdad. In 1984, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) provided a $500 million loan guarantee to Iraq to build the Aqaba oil pipeline, a project that earned the personal attention of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. But even more prodigious amounts of aid flowed from Washington to Baghdad via the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).
Notes Peter Mantius in his book Shell Game: "As relations between the United States and Iraq began to thaw in 1983 and 1984, the White House sliced Iraq a giant piece of the CCC pie. Between 1983 and early 1990, Iraq received $4.98 billion in farm loan guarantees from the CCC." Since Iraq depends entirely on agricultural imports, these credits "were important to an increasingly cash-starved [regime]," noted Middle East analysts Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie in their book Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf. The program gave Saddam's regime three years to repay the loans, and put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for any default.
The CCC loans weren't only being used to import grain and other foodstuffs. "By padding the cost of [agricultural] shipments, Iraqi agents were able to skim large sums that could then be used to purchase weaponry," observes Friedman. Thanks to CCC subsidies, Iraq acquired a grain surplus that was bartered on the international black market for Soviet-made weaponry -- and, as Friedman points out, many of those deals involved U.S. intelligence assets.
Building the WMD Threat
The most serious potential threat posed by Saddam's regime consists of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) -- nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. "Imagine, a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction," intoned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a September 14,2002 television interview. "It's not 3,000 [casualties]; it's tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children."
This is a horrifying prospect -- doubly so, when one realizes that both Washington and Moscow helped build up Saddam's WMD capacity.
Following the Rumsfeld-brokered opening to Baghdad, the Reagan administration encouraged the shipment of "dual-use" technology to Iraq. According to Newsweek's September 23rd issue, Commerce Department export-control documents from the mid-1980s show that Saddam's "shopping list included a computerized database for Saddam's Interior Ministry...; helicopters to transport Iraqi officials; television cameras for 'video surveillance operations'; chemical-analysis equipment for the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC); and, most unsettling, numerous shipments of bacteria/fungi/protozoa to the IAEC. According to former [U.S.] officials, the bacteria could be used to make biological weapons, including anthrax."
While Washington was providing Iraq with the raw material for biological warfare, Moscow provided Baghdad with lethal expertise. In November 1983 -- about a month before Rumsfeld met with Saddam -- Vladimir Mordvinov, deputy chairman of the USSR Committee for Foreign Economic Relations, visited Baghdad. During that visit, Saddam asked for Soviet help to develop a Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) capacity. Shortly after that visit, Saddam warned Iran that he had a "secret modern weapon" to counter Teheran's human-wave attacks.
The meaning of Saddam's warning became clear after the battle of Majnoon in southern Iraq. Doctors who treated survivors reported that Iraq had used both mustard gas and a flesh-eating mycotoxin called T-2 -- more commonly known as "Yellow Rain." Although the T-2 residue clearly showed Soviet involvement, the Reagan administration did its best to cover the Soviets' tracks. "Central Intelligence Agency sources warned reporters not to trust the findings of the Belgian specialist Aubin Heyndrickx, who was treating the Iranian victims of Majnoon," wrote James Ring Adams in the March 1998 American Spectator. "The State Department fell silent about Yellow Rain." It was after Saddam initiated CBW attacks against Iran that Washington began its overtures to Iraq.
Defenders of the Reagan administration's policy contend that it was necessary to support Saddam to contain Syria and block Iran from seizing the critical Straits of Hormuz. If this were true, the Reagan administration's covert program of selling arms to Teheran makes no strategic sense. Furthermore, by 1986 intelligence analysts had concluded that Iraq would not lose its war with Iran -- but military aid continued to pour into Baghdad nonetheless.
BNL/Atlanta, a U.S.-based affiliate of the Italian Banco Nazionale de Lavoro, played a key role in funneling CCC subsidies to Saddam. In 1988 and 1989, BNL/Atlanta provided $2.1 billion in loans to purchase high-technology machine tools, high-performance computers, and other equipment associated with Iraq's "Project 395" -- a program intended to develop ballistic missile technology. Additionally, notes Friedman, "The Iraqis would frequently order BNL to provide funds to finance a huge petrochemical company called PC2," located about 30 miles south of Baghdad. This "dual-use" plant, built by the California-based Bechtel Corporation, "would be able to generate chemical compounds needed to make mustard gas and nerve gas," writes Friedman.
On August 4, 1989, the FBI raided the office of BNL/Atlanta, seizing numerous boxes full of Iraq-related documents and arresting the bank's general manager. By this time, accounts of Saddam's drive to develop weapons of mass destruction had seeped into the press. Nonetheless, on October 2nd President George Bush (the elder) issued National Security Directive (NSD) 26, declaring: "Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East." NSD 26 authorized the government to "pursue, and seek to facilitate, opportunities for U.S. firms to participate in the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy" -- and even conduct some joint U.S.-Iraqi military exercises.
As the criminal inquiry into BNL/Atlanta proceeded, Secretary of State James Baker asked State Department attorney Abraham Soafer to compose a memo defending continued CCC subsidies to Iraq. Wielding the presidential NSD 26 decree, Baker and his minions "bulldozed over concerns that Iraq was a poor credit risk and ignored the fact that Saddam was hurrying to prepare weapons of mass destruction," records Mantius. CCC subsidies to Iraq actually continued after Saddam's August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait. After the invasion, and President Bush's imposition of a freeze on Iraqi assets in the United States, Saddam defaulted on a $1.9 billion CCC-insured debt, thereby forcing U.S. taxpayers to "cough up the money, plus interest," observes Mantius.
The Establishment's Role
Many of the key players in the U.S. government's campaign to build the Iraqi war machine share membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, the most visible element of the partially submerged international power elite. Peter Mantius notes that many of the most egregious deals involving loans for Iraq's WMD programs were arranged by Kissinger Associates, "a forhire team of international policy experts" created by CFR stalwarts Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Lawrence Eagle-burger. "In utmost secrecy," writes Mantius, "the three counseled an exclusive group of multinational corporations and banks that paid them huge fees. Kissinger's client list was a guarded secret. The firm insisted on giving briefings orally rather than on paper."
Henry Kissinger became a BNL advisory board member, a position he resigned on February 22, 1991 -- more than a month after the Gulf War broke out. Scowcroft handled the BNL account and went on to become George H.W. Bush's national security adviser during the Gulf War. Eagleburger graduated from Kissinger Associates to a position as James Baker's deputy secretary of state, in which capacity he "helped Iraq win up to $1 billion in loan guarantees" in 1989, reports Mantius.
About a week after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, President Bush (the elder) signed a federal conflict-of-interest waiver on behalf of 11 members of his administration -- including Baker and Scowcroft -- whose investments might be affected by the impending war in the Gulf. As congressional investigators began to peer into the covert network that had helped create Saddam, "President Bush, using the vast power of his office, tried to stall the probes long enough for the American companies that supplied Iraq to blend quietly into the crowd," writes Mantius. In 1995, the Clinton administration issued a document entitled Final Report on Iraqgate, described by Middle East affairs analyst Kenneth Timmerman as "little more than a whitewash of the entire affair."