George W. Bush gives the final order to invade Iraq -- a nation that has
not threatened the United States -- the American people might want a few
facts about the real history of U.S.-Iraq relations. Missing chapters from
1980 to the present would be crucial in judging Bushs case for war.
But Americans dont have those facts because Bush
and his predecessors in the White House have kept this history hidden from
the American people. When parts of the story have emerged, administrations
of both parties have taken steps to suppress or discredit the disclosures.
So instead of knowing the truth, Americans have been fed a steady diet of
distortions, simplifications and outright lies.
This missing history also is not just about minor
details. It goes to the heart of the case against Saddam Hussein,
including whether he is an especially aggressive and
unpredictable dictator who must be removed from power even at the
risk of Americas standing in the world and the chance that a war will
lead to more terrorism against U.S. targets.
For instance, George W. Bush has frequently cited
Saddam Husseins invasions of neighbors, Iran and Kuwait, as
justification for the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq. By defeating this
threat, we will show other dictators that the path of aggression will lead
to their own ruin, Bush declared during a speech in Atlanta on Feb. 20.
Leaving aside whether Bushs formulation is
Orwellian double-speak aggression to discourage aggression there
is the historical question of whether Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan and George H.W. Bush actually encouraged Saddams aggressions for
geopolitical reasons or out of diplomatic incompetence.
Carter's 'Green Light'?
This intersection of Saddams wars and U.S. foreign
policy dates back at least to 1980 when Irans radical Islamic
government held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran and the sheiks of the
oil-rich Persian Gulf feared that Ruhollah Khomeini's radical breed of
Islam might sweep them from power just as it had the Shah of Iran a year
The Iranian government began its expansionist drive
by putting pressure on the secular government of Iraq, instigating border
clashes and encouraging Iraqs Shiite and Kurdish populations to rise
up. Iranian operatives sought to destabilize Saddams government by
assassinating Iraqi leaders. [For details, see An Unnecessary War, Foreign
Policy, January/February 2003.]
On Aug. 5, 1980, as tensions mounted on the Iran-Iraq
border, Saudi rulers welcomed Saddam to Riyadh for the first state visit
ever by an Iraqi president to Saudi Arabia. During meetings at the
kingdoms ornate palaces, the Saudis feted Saddam whose formidable
Soviet-supplied army was viewed as a bulwark against Iran.
Saudi leaders also say they urged Saddam to take the
fight to Irans fundamentalist regime, advice that they say included a
green light for the invasion from President Carter.
Less than two months after Saddams trip, with
Carter still frustrated by his inability to win release of the 52
Americans imprisoned in Iran, Saddam invaded Iran on Sept. 22, 1980. The
war would rage for eight years and kill an estimated one million people.
The claim of Carters green light for the
invasion was made by senior Arab leaders, including King Fahd of Saudi
Arabia, to President Reagans first secretary of state, Alexander Haig,
when Haig traveled to the Middle East in April 1981, according to top
secret talking points that Haig prepared for a post-trip briefing of
Haig wrote that he was impressed with bits of
useful intelligence that he had learned. Both [Egypts Anwar]
Sadat and [Saudi then-Prince] Fahd [explained that] Iran is receiving
military spares for U.S. equipment from Israel, Haig noted. It was
also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green
light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.
Haigs talking points were first disclosed at
Consortiumnews.com in 1995 after I discovered the document amid records
from a congressional investigation into the early history of the Reagan
administrations contacts with Iran. At that time, Haig refused to
answer questions about the talking points because they were still
classified. Though not responding to direct questions about the talking
points, Carter has pooh-poohed other claims that he gave Saddam
encouragement for the invasion.
But before the U.S. heads to war in 2003, both Carter
and Haig might be asked to explain what they know about any direct or
indirect contacts that would explain the Saudi statements about the
alleged green light. Saudi Arabias longtime ambassador to the
United States, Prince Bandar also might be asked to give a complete
account of what the Saudi government knows and what its leaders told
Saddam in 1980.
secret" talking points have been posted on the Web for the first time
Reagan's Iraqi Tilt
Through the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, as first one
side and then the other gained the upper hand, the Reagan administration
was officially neutral but behind the scenes tilted from one side to the
When Iran appeared to be winning in 1982, Reagan and
his advisers made a fateful decision to secretly supply Saddams
military, including permitting shipments of dual-use technology that Iraq
then used to build chemical and biological weapons. Tactical military
assistance also was provided, including satellite photos of the
While congressional inquiries and press accounts have
sketched out some of these facts over the years, the current Bush
administration continues to plead ignorance or question the reliability of
Last September, for example, Newsweek reported that
the Reagan administration in the 1980s had allowed sales to Iraq of
computer databases that Saddam could use to track political opponents and
shipments of bacteria/fungi/protozoa that could help produce anthrax
and other biological weapons. [Newsweek issue dated Sept. 23, 2002]
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va,, asked Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld about the Newsweek story at a Senate hearing on Sept. 19.
Did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of
biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq war? Byrd inquired. Are we,
in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown.
not to my knowledge, Rumsfeld responded. I have no knowledge of
United States companies or government being involved in assisting Iraq
develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
So even the current U.S. secretary of defense who
served the Reagan administration as a special envoy to the Middle East in
1983-84 and personally met with Saddam says he doesnt know about
this secret history. Promises of further investigation last September also
havent brought answers to Byrds questions.
Senior Bush's Advice
Beyond those dual-use supplies, other
unanswered questions relate to whether then-Vice President
George H.W. Bush urged Saddam to use greater ferocity in waging his
war with Iran, advice that led the Iraqi air force to bomb civilian
centers in Tehran and other Iranian cities in 1986.
A lengthy article by Murray Waas and Craig Unger in
the New Yorker in 1992 described the senior Bush passing on advice to
Saddam, through Arab intermediaries, for this more aggressive bombing
campaign. Yet the historical question has never been settled. The senior
Bush has never been subjected to a careful questioning, though it is true
that Saddam did intensify his air campaign after Bushs trip.
The answer would be relevant now as the younger Bush
asserts that Saddams penchant for military aggression justifies a new
war. If Bushs father actually was counseling Saddam to be more
aggressive, thats a fact that the American people ought to know.
Waas and Unger described the motive for the Reagan
administrations tactical advice as a kind of diplomatic billiard shot.
By getting Iraq to expand use of its air force, the Iranians would be more
desperate for U.S.-made HAWK anti-aircraft missile parts, giving
Washington more leverage with the Iranians. Irans need to protect their
cities from Iraqi air attacks gave impetus to the Reagan
administrations arms-for-hostage scheme, which later became known as
the Iran-contra affair. [See The New Yorker, Nov. 2, 1992.]
Another 'Green Light'?
The devastation from the Iran-Iraq war, which finally
ended in 1988, also set the stage for the Gulf War of 1990-91. The
eight-year war had crippled the Iraqi economy and left Saddams
government deeply in debt.
Having been egged on by the oil-rich sheikdoms to
blunt the revolutionary zeal of Iran, Saddam felt betrayed when Kuwait
wouldnt write off Iraqs debts and rejected a $10 billion loan.
Beyond that, Saddam was furious with Kuwait for driving down world oil
prices by overproducing and for slant-drilling into Iraqi oil fields. Many
Iraqis also considered Kuwait, historically, a part of Iraq.
Before attacking Kuwait, however, Saddam consulted
George H.W. Bushs administration. First, the U.S. State Department
informed Saddam that Washington had no special defense or security
commitments to Kuwait. Then, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam,
we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border
disagreement with Kuwait.
As Foreign Policy magazine observed, the United
States may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is
effectively what it did. [Foreign Policy, Jan.-Feb. 2003]
While Glaspies strange diplomacy drew some
congressional and press attention during the previous Gulf crisis, the
full context of George H.W. Bushs relationship with Saddam which
might help explain why the Iraqi dictator so disastrously misread the U.S.
signals has never been made explained.
A Clinton Cover-up?
Beyond that missing history of U.S.-Iraq relations,
theres the secondary issue of cover-ups conducted by the
administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Democratic sources say Clinton heeded personal
appeals from the elder Bush and other top Republicans to close the books
on the so-called Iraqgate investigation as well as probes into
secret Reagan-Bush dealings with Iran soon after the Democrat defeated
Bush in the 1992 election.
Some Democrats say Clinton agreed to shelve the
investigations out of concern for national security and the countrys
unity. Others suggest that Clinton was tricked by the wily elder Bush with
promises that a pullback on the Iran-Iraq investigations might win Clinton
some bipartisanship with the Republicans in Congress, a tantalizing
prospect that turned out to be a mirage.
Whatever the reasons, Clintons Justice Department
did bail out the Reagan-Bush team in the mid-1990s when more disclosures
about the secret dealings with Iraq flooded to the surface. Perhaps the
most important disclosure was an affidavit by former Reagan administration
official Howard Teicher that was filed in connection with a criminal trial
in Miami in 1995. The Teicher affidavit was the first sworn public account
by a Reagan insider of the covert U.S.-Iraq relationship.
Teicher, who served on Reagans National Security
Council staff, traced the U.S. tilt to Iraq to a turning point in the war
in 1982 when Iran gained the offensive and fears swept through the U.S.
government that Irans army might slice through Iraq to the oil fields
of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
In June 1982, President Reagan decided that the
United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran,
Teicher wrote in his affidavit. Teicher said he helped draft a secret
national security decision directive that Reagan signed to authorize
covert U.S. assistance to Saddam Husseins military.
The NSDD, including even its identifying number,
is classified, Teicher wrote in 1995.
The effort to arm the Iraqis was spearheaded by
CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert Gates,
according to Teichers affidavit. The CIA, including both CIA
Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and
assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and
vehicles to Iraq, Teicher wrote.
In 1984, Teicher said he went to Iraq with Rumsfeld
to convey a secret Israeli offer to assist Iraq after Israel had concluded
that Iran was becoming a greater danger. I traveled with Rumsfeld to
Baghdad and was present at the meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi
Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz about Israels offer of assistance,
Teicher wrote. Aziz refused even to accept the Israelis letter to
Hussein offering assistance because Aziz told us that he would be executed
on the spot by Hussein if he did so.
Another key player in Reagans Iraq tilt was
then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, according to Teichers affidavit.
In 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message to
Saddam Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air war and
bombing of Iran, Teicher wrote. This message was delivered by Vice
President Bush who communicated it to Egyptian President Mubarak, who in
turn passed the message to Saddam Hussein.
Similar strategic operational military advice was
passed to Saddam Hussein through various meetings with European and Middle
Eastern heads of state. I authored Bushs talking points for the 1986
meeting with Mubarak and personally attended numerous meetings with
European and Middle East heads of state where the strategic operational
advice was communicated.
Teichers affidavit represented a major break in
the historical mystery of U.S. aid to Iraq. But it complicated a criminal
arms-trafficking case that Clintons Justice Department was prosecuting
against Teledyne Industries and a salesman named Ed Johnson. They had
allegedly sold explosive pellets to Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos
Cardoen, who used them to manufacture cluster bombs for Iraq.
Prior to trying the Teledyne case, Clintons
Justice Department declared that its investigation did not find
evidence that U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq. But the
review noted, curiously, that the CIA had withheld an unknown number of
documents that were contained in sensitive compartments that were
denied to the investigators. Despite that denial of access, the Clinton
investigators expressed confidence in their conclusions.
Two weeks after that exonerating report, however,
Teichers affidavit was filed in federal court in Miami, embarrassing
senior Justice Department officials. After taking the word of former
Reagan-Bush officials and agreeing not to examine the CIAs sensitive
compartments, the Justice Department officials looked gullible,
incompetent or complicit.
They took their fury out on Teicher, insisting that
his affidavit was unreliable and threatening him with dire consequences
for coming forward. Yet, while deeming Teichers affidavit false, the
Clinton administration also declared the document a state secret,
classifying it and putting it under court seal. A few copies, however, had
been distributed outside the court and the
text was soon posted on the Internet.
After officially suppressing the Teicher affidavit,
the Justice Department prosecutors persuaded the judge presiding in the
Teledyne-Johnson case to rule testimony about the Reagan-Bush policies to
be irrelevant. Unable to mount its planned defense, Teledyne agreed to
plead guilty and accept a $13 million fine. Johnson, the salesman who had
earned a modest salary in the mid-$30,000 range, was convicted of illegal
arms trafficking and given a prison term.
Before a U.S. invasion of Iraq begins, former
President Clinton might be asked whether he was approached by George H.W.
Bush or a Bush emissary with an request to drop investigations into
Reagan-Bush policies in the Middle East.
Teicher, who has since 1995 refused to discuss his
affidavit, could be given a congressional forum to testify about his
knowledge. So could other surviving U.S. officials named in Teichers
affidavit, including Gates and Rumsfeld. Foreign leaders mentioned in the
affidavit also could be approached, including former Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Mubarak and Aziz.
Junior Bush's Hidden Records
George W. Bush also has some questions he should
answer before missiles start crashing into Baghdad. When he took office in
2001, one of his first acts as president was to block the legally required
release of documents from the Reagan-Bush administration.
Then, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a
stunned nation rallied around him, Bush issued an even more sweeping
secrecy order. He granted former presidents and vice presidents or their
surviving family members the right to stop release of historical records,
including those related to military, diplomatic or national security
secrets. Bushs order stripped the Archivist of the United States of
the power to overrule claims of privilege from former presidents and their
representatives. [For details on Bushs secrecy policies, see the New
York Times, Jan. 3, 2003]
By a twist of history, Bushs order eventually could
give him control of both his and his fathers records covering 12 years
of the Reagan-Bush era and however long Bushs own presidential term
lasts, potentially a 20-year swath of documentary evidence.
As the junior Bush now takes the nation to war in the
name of freedom and democracy, he might at least be challenged to reverse
that secrecy and release all relevant documents on the history of the
Reagan-Bush policies in the Middle East. That way, the American people can
decide for themselves whether Saddam Hussein is an aggressive leader whose
behavior is so depraved that a preemptive war is the only reasonable
course of action.
Or they might conclude that Saddam, like many other
dictators through history, operates within a framework of
self-preservation, which means he could be controlled by a combination of
tough arms inspections and the threat of military retaliation.
Without the full history as embarrassing as that
record might be to the last five U.S. presidents the American people
cannot judge whether the nations security will be enhanced or
endangered by Bushs decision to put the United States on its own
aggressive course of action.
As a correspondent for the Associated Press and
Newsweek in the 1980s, Robert Parry broke many of the stories now known as
the Iran-Contra Affair. To buy his latest book, Lost History, go to
Amazon.com or to the