Saddam’s Arms Dealer Looks Awfully Familiar

Just what the hell is going on? What is the story on Iraq, and what are George W. Bush’s motives? The following less-than-reassuring story recently appeared on the front page of The Washington Post : “A U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition.

“Although senior Bush administration officials say they have not begun to focus on the issues involving oil and Iraq, American and foreign oil companies have already begun maneuvering for a stake in the country’s huge proven reserves of 112 billion barrels of crude oil, the largest in the world outside Saudi Arabia.

“The importance of Iraq’s oil has made it potentially one of the administration’s biggest bargaining chips in negotiations to win backing from the U.N. Security Council and Western allies for President Bush’s call for tough international action against Hussein. All five permanent members of the Security Council-the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China-have international oil companies with major stakes in a change of leadership in Baghdad.

“‘It’s pretty straightforward,’ said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. ‘France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them.’

“But he added: ‘If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.'”

Apparently, some people involved in this much-yearned-for war couldn’t care less about weapons of mass destruction. Oil, it seems, has raised its greasy head, and it’s being suggested that if the world’s major powers go along with obliterating Dr. Saddam and his collaborators, the United States is willing to divide the loot.

Let’s not dismiss concerns about weapons of mass destruction-but who gave them to Saddam, and who taught him how to use them? Another recent article, this one in the U.K.’s Sunday Herald , points out that the “US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction …. Reports by the US Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs-which oversees American exports policy-reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.

“Classified US Defense Department documents also seen by the Sunday Herald show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxine can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas.”

It does not follow that because a newspaper prints something, it is true. This report may be a fabrication, but it smells true-and if it is, it goes a long way toward explaining why George Bush is so sure the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. His old man sold the stuff to them.

Mere denial by the Pentagon will not suffice. This is a place where the truth is not always told, as the man who runs it boasts. If you don’t believe me, read The Christian Science Monitor : “In a press briefing last September, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted occasions during World War II when false information about US troop movements was leaked to confuse the enemy. He paraphrased Winston Churchill, saying: ‘Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies.'”

The Pentagon’s record for truth-telling vis-à-vis Iraq’s military dispositions is less than unblemished. In 1990, it was caught in what we might call a gross exaggeration of the size and potency of the Iraqi army allegedly readying itself to plunge into Saudi Arabia. The St. Petersburg Times bought photographs taken by Russian satellites which showed that instead of a great host, Saddam Hussein had positioned little more than a corporal’s guard on the border.

More generally, somebody’s been doing a lot of lying or misdirecting or disinforming about the history of the United States, Iraq and the use of the weapons Bush II decries, as a recent New York Times article tells us: “A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.

“The covert program was carried out at a time when President Reagan’s top aides, including Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and Gen. Colin L. Powell, then the national security adviser, were publicly condemning Iraq for its use of poison gas, especially after Iraq attacked Kurds in Halabja in March 1988.

“Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq’s employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, the American military officers said President Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program, in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.”

For the nonce, let’s stay off our moral high horses and ask instead what all of this says about what’s happening now. Obviously, a lot of men in high places misjudged the situation and made a bunch of bum decisions which have come back to bite us on our fannies. We are up against the classic question once again, which is: Do the men and women with the power to get us killed and drain away our money know the difference between the posterior opening of their alimentary canals and a hole in the ground?

More broadly, will the underlying hypothesis which the Bush administration is proceeding from work? Basically, the Bush position is that the United States should have a monopoly on weapons of mass destruction and should decide which other countries, if any, can be entrusted to have such weapons. If you go back to the late 1940’s, that was the American position on atomic weapons-us and only us.

That idea didn’t fly. The Soviets had a bomb of their own five years after the American bomb had destroyed Hiroshima. In due course, other nations shattered the duopoly of atomic power. The situation has been made more precarious for another reason: the production of thousands upon thousands of atomic weapons for which there was never a military necessity, but which now-even after they are gradually decommissioned-continue to threaten us because they can be stolen or illegally sold.

Is that the case with biological and chemical weapons? Are we producing weapons or weaponable substances which those who do not love us have ever-more-ample opportunities to wrest away and ultimately kill us with? If it’s true that we put Saddam into the poison-gas and biological-warfare business, then the answer is absolutely yes. Are we continuing to do the same? Are we sneaking these abominable weapons to people with whom we may have a falling out a few years hence?

That’s an unanswerable question, but we ought to give a second look to that American-monopoly hypothesis. Our monopoly on weapons of mass destruction is only as good as our ability to preserve it. Perhaps we might look into the possibilities of making changes in the U.N., or look toward the creation of an international agency which controls these damn things and really has the power and means of inspecting every country on the planet to make sure nobody is cheating.

Does that sound utopian and impractical? Yes, perhaps-but the practical, realistic approach we’ve relied on thus far has worked so well that we now live in an abject state of permanent terror.