Against Frankensteinism: Saddam Hussein
There's a wide-spread myth among some people that the U.S. created Saddam Hussein, that he was our monster, our puppet, and that the U.S. turned against him when he could no longer be controlled. I think this is a simplistic fantasy that bears little relation to the truth. Nevertheless, it is popular belief, summed up by Michael Moore. "Saddam was our good friend and ally. We supported his regime. It wasn?t the first time we had helped a murderer. We liked playing Dr. Frankenstein."
I call this American Frankensteinism - the belief that the U.S. creates monsters that it must destroy later when they get out of control. We provided the Soviet Union with material support during WWII because the Nazis were worse but I don't anyone, even the most conspiracy minded tinfoil hat wacko, thinks of the Soviets as our creation and Stalin as our puppet. Support is not creation. Allowing a nation to buy weapons does not make it a puppet. The real world is dirty and confusing and often there are no good guys, just lesser bad guys. Saddam played Stalin to Khomeini's Hitler. As the saying goes, "too bad they couldn't both lose."
To debunk this myth regarding Saddam Hussein I offer quotes from The Persian Puzzle by Kenneth Pollack. He worked for the National Security Council under Bill Clinton. He is currently a scholar for the Brookings Institute. I don't think anyone would call him a neo-con warmonger.
This is from page 206-208, a section of the book that deals with the the Iran-Iraq war.
"For the first few years of the war, the United States remained largely aloof. Neither combatant was a particular favorite of Washington. (snip) In fact, although the United States had absolutely no contact with Iraq regarding Saddam's decision to invade - and never even discussed an invasion with Saddam's government, let alone gave it a green light - many in Washington took great private satisfaction that the mad mullahs and their followers were finally getting what many Americans saw as their just rewards."
Remember, this was during the hostage crisis. The hostages were the top news every day for over a year.
"Nevertheless, at first there was no love lost for Saddam Hussein's regime either. (snip) The problem was that he was not one of our odious tyrants, and we believed that he was actually one of their odious tyrants." (emphasis in original) This was the Cold War for those too young to remember. It wasn't pretty.
"Iraq had been receiving weaponry from the Soviets since 1958 (although it had started buying from the Europeans, particularly the French, in the 1970s, after Saddam and the Ba'ath took power in Baghdad). It signed a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviets in 1972."
It's hard to appreciate now but the Iranian Revolution was an earthquake, even for someone like me who was just a kid at the time. Khomeini was determined to export his revolution throughout the Muslim world. For example he create Hizbullah to be his Revolutionary wing in Lebanon, undergoing a civil war at the time.
"American officials considered Iran one of the greatest threats to American interests in the planet: it was maniacally anti-American and highly aggressive (snip) By mid-1982, the Iraqis were not the only ones who were afraid that Iran was about to conquer Iraq , overthrow Saddam's regime, and then mount subsequent invasions of Jordon adn Israel and/or the Gulf States. After the systematic way in which the new Iranian armies had shredded Iraq's better-equipped ground forced and driven them out of Iranian territory, there were wide-spread fears that Iran would be able to export the revolution on the shoulders of the Pasdaran infantry."
This starts the so-called 'tilt' toward Iraq. In February 1982 the Reagan administration removed Iraq from its list of terrorism-supporting states. "Soon thereafter Washington began passing high-value military intelligence to Iraq to help it fight the war, including information from U.S. satellites, that helped Iraq fix key flaws in the fortifications protecting al-Basrah that proved important in Iran's defeat the next month." (Defeat in the Battle of Basrah, nor in the war itself.)
In 1983 the U.S. provided credits for Iraq to purchase U.S. agricultural products. In 1985, the U.S. "began issuing Baghdad high-tech export licenses". But in war, intelligence matters. "Perhaps more than anything else, the high-quality intelligence the United States regularly furnished Baghdad regarding Iranian forces and operations proved vital to Iraq's conduct of the war."
"In its terror that Iran was going to win the war, the United States was willing to ignore whatever the Iraqis believed was necessary to hold on, including using chemical warfare - which did seem to be fairly useful in stopping Iran's human-wave attacks. Thus, it was not so much a conscious decision to condone Iraq's use of chemical warfare against Iran, although some officials did do precisely that, as much as it was a general lack of interest in whatever horrible things were befalling the Iranians."
Chemical weapons are terrible but what of human-wave attacks? Tens of thousands of children with plastic "keys to paradise" racing across a battlefield, canon folder meant to overwhelm the Iraqi defences and deplete their supplies before the real infantry attacked. Lovely. Like I said, there were no good guys.
Certainly there are more details to the story but that's as good an overview as you're likely to find. Saddam came to power without the help of the U.S. The Iraqis attacked Iran without help from the U.S. much less under our orders. The U.S. government provided intelligence and material to the Iraqis during the war only because their enemy was worse.
No go back and look at the article by Michael Moore if you can stomach it. "America used to like Saddam. We LOVED Saddam. We funded him. We armed him." Funded and armed, but loved? (Notice how quicky Frankensteinism, like the Doctor in the story, lapses into sentmentality and emotionalism.) Let's repeat for those who missed it the first time. From Wikipedia:
"Iraq's army was primarily armed with weaponry it had purchased from the Soviet Union and her satellites in the preceding decade. During the war, it purchased billions of dollars worth of advanced equipment from the Soviets and France as well as from the People's Republic of China, Egypt, Germany, and other sources. ... Much of Iraq's financial backing came from other Arab states, notably oil-rich Kuwait and Saudi Arabia."
Does Moore blame France for Saddam? France helped build the Osirek nuclear plant. France supplied Iraq with 133 Mirage F1 jet fighters. In 1980 40% of French arms sales went to Iraq. No, it is America, always America, America the Mad Scientist, America the Puppet-Master.
Frankensteinism is the irrational belief that American, always and only America, creates monsters, for unknown and nefarious reasons. It's an anti-faith in America. It forces a narrative onto the facts with a willful disregard for history. I consider it the sign of a lazy mind. At best.
tags: blog rants politics history iraq