US: Saddam – Made in the USA

How the Reagan/Bush Sr. administrations backed Saddam

With all the bellowing from George W. Bush about the dangerous dictator Saddam Hussein, it is worth reminding this "freedom-loving leader" that Saddam’s government only exists because of the backing of previous US administrations.

ABC News Nightline opened on June 9, 1993 with the truth for a change: "It is becoming increasingly clear," said a grave Ted Koppel, "that George Bush [Sr.], operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980’s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam’s Iraq into the aggressive power that the United States ultimately had to destroy."

But where was the US concern about "Saddam’s human rights record," "democracy," or "weapons of mass destruction" then? Why would the US support Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s?

The New York Times explained this mystery: "For ten years, as Iraq developed a vast army, chemical weapons and a long record of brutality, the Reagan and Bush [Sr.] administrations quietly courted Hussein as a counter-weight to Iran’s revolutionary fervor." (8/13/90)

Washington feared the spread of Iran’s theocratic, anti-Western ideology, which threatened imperialist interests in the region. So the US armed and financed Saddam during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war which cost over one million lives and an astronomical $1.19 trillion. The US supplied Iraq with military intelligence, $5 billion in food subsidies, $2.5 billion in export loan guarantees, and $141 million in direct export subsidies. According to Senator Robert Byrd in recent Congressional testimony, the US also sent Saddam a "witches’ brew of pathogens" including anthrax, botulinum, and West Nile virus. (West Virginia Gazette, 9/27/02)

"The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern," explained Col. Walter P. Lang (retired senior Defense Intelligence officer) in a recent interview with the New York Times. An anonymous "senior U.S. officer" further commented that the Pentagon "wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas. It was just another way of killing people – whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make a difference." (8/18/02)

1991 Gulf War

Although remaining capitalist, Iraq nationalized its oil in 1972. On this basis, the increase in oil prices in the 1970’s allowed the government to provide universal medical care, good universities, and other basic social services. By 1989, Saddam was the head of the most industrialized society in the Middle East.

At the same time, Saddam’s reactionary, militaristic dictatorship was and is marked by extreme brutality. Trade unions and opposition political parties are banned. Saddam used chemical weapons to put down internal rebellions, including in 1988 when he used poison gas and rat poison to massacre 5,000 Iraqi Kurds.

At the end of the costly Iran-Iraq war, Saddam’s government was in trouble. Massive debts had been accumulated, and a boiling rage was building among the Iraqi people against the reckless policies which had led them into war and economic disaster.

Fearing for his future, Saddam looked to stave off anger at home through a popular diversionary foreign adventure, invading Kuwait in August 1990. This allowed Iraq to cancel its debts and seize control of 20% of the world’s known oil reserves.

Shortly before the invasion, Saddam called a meeting with then US ambassador April Gillespie, who told Saddam: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." She went on to say: "James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction." (San Francisco Examiner, 11/18/02)

The US was prepared to turn a blind eye to Iraq seizing disputed oilfields on the Iraq-Kuwait border. However, Saddam overplayed his hand, occupying all of Kuwait. American big business was totally unwilling to allow Saddam to have such control over global capitalism’s oil supply or the ability to push up the price of oil. The US also feared that Iraq could now attack Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer.

With the collapse of Stalinist block in 1989 Washington saw an opportunity to assert its new global dominance and establish a "new world order." On January 16, 1991 the US launched "Desert Storm," killing 100-200,000 Iraqis in the most intensive bombing campaign in history.

Why the US Didn’t Topple Saddam in 1991

After driving Iraq out of Kuwait, the US made a conscious decision not to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein because it feared the potential consequences of such an action. A ground invasion posed the danger of radicalization and social upheavals throughout the Arab world, as well as unpopular heavy US causalities.

Removing Saddam ran the risk of leading to the break-up of the Iraqi state, which would seriously destabilize the region. To avoid such a scenario, the US would have had to occupy Iraq to maintain stability – which Bush Sr. was unwilling to do. Ever since, the right-wing of the Republican Party has been obsessed with the apparent failure of US power to remove Saddam and has consistently campaigned for the US to "finish the job."

With US imperialism temporarily strengthened after 9/11 and its rapid victory in Afghanistan, and with the hawkish Rumsfeld wing dominating the Bush administration, they see the opportunity to finally solve the "Iraq problem" which they view as a source of annoyance and embarrassment.

Now Bush wants to make ordinary Iraqis and Americans suffer through yet another war on Iraq for the power, prestige and profits of US capitalism.

From Justice, journal of Socialist Alternative, CWI in the US.

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February 2003