« Promoting Democracy | Main | Another Stupid Open Thread »

April 04, 2006


It was the lead front page story, in fact, on Monday, until Tuesday's stories replaced it.

"The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis."

It was obvious that the "reconstruction of Iraq" was going to go wrong from the "flush, early days" when things like this were happening: reconstruction contracts that should have gone to Iraqi companies were being handed to US companies.

"These terms, among the most generous possible for contractors, were meant to encourage companies to undertake projects in a dangerous environment and complete them quickly."

Me, November 2003, stating what I thought was a "d'oh!" requirement that was I alarmed to see evidently wasn't: "Third, make a firm policy that wherever possible, reconstruction contracts in Iraq are to go to Iraqi firms".

Riverbend, August 2003:

One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !! link

Naomi Klein, September 2004:

It was only after I had been in Baghdad for a month that I found what I was looking for. I had traveled to Iraq a year after the war began, at the height of what should have been a construction boom, but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and humvees. Then I saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district I thought that I was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything—not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULAH: HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia. (read the rest)
None of this is news. We've known that this was happening - or, rather, what was not happening - for years. It's worth saying it, of course - but you have to wonder why these stories weren't running on the front page during the 2004 election campaign. Bush set up the Iraqi "reconstruction" to make US companies a lot of money: initially planned, perhaps, to be paid from Iraqi oil, but as it turned out, and as was clear well before 2004, paid direct from the US taxpayer. Yet you get Republicans still claiming that the big financial scandal is Oil For Food, which did at least achieve its goal of feeding Iraqis: unlike this scandal, which - it was obvious before 2004 - was not achieving a thing except to make US taxpayers poorer and (mostly) American shareholders better off.

I've been to school board meetings, regional transportation meetings, charter school meetings, homeowners association meetings, dinner parties, well, any venue you want to throw out and have sat quietly (well, once I didn't) while whining, angry, bullying conservatives harangued the room and elected officials and public servants about government waste, the superiority of private sector over public sector, and most of all, inevitably, their victimhood at the hands of thieving tax collectors who use the implicit force of the gummit to steal their hard-earned (probably through government contracts) money.

Tax revolt, anyone? A massive and final one.

Tom Tancredo is my Representative. Which is to say I'm not represented. I could dress up like Mogwa (sp?) and fill the Gulf of Mexico with tea and that tax-hater would keep stealing my money for his Party's party in Iraq.

I want my effing money back. Every cent, in arrears.

In regards to your title, it reminds me of an old saying which paraphrased would be "What if they painted a school and nobody came."

Per Juan Cole today:

"Sectarian violence is interfering with the schooling of children. The truancy rate in Iraq is up to about a third of students, who are afraid to come out because of the fighting. The proportion of students in Baghdad who do not go to school is even greater. In neighborhoods like Dora and Ghazaliyah, violence is endemic."

There is a fun related story Here

Following up on John Thullen's comment...

I used to believe that a realistic view of human vices (greed, envy and pride, especially) was an important aspect of conservative thinking. If anything, my impression was that the danger was an overly cynical view.

In Iraq we had large amounts of money being spent quickly in a chaotic and poorly supervised manner. This situation tends to attract -- well -- a certain type of behavior.

Incompetence may account for part of it, but it was very easy to predict.

If I'm not mistaken, this Parsons also got a contract to reconstruct parts of New Orleans.

Yet you get Republicans still claiming that the big financial scandal is Oil For Food, which did at least achieve its goal of feeding Iraqis: unlike this scandal, which - it was obvious before 2004 - was not achieving a thing except to make US taxpayers poorer and (mostly) American shareholders better off.

And, referring back to an earlier thread: depending on how one adds these things up, it's quite possible that this kind of grift is both larger than the Oil For Food scandal and the oil-smuggling kickbacks under Saddam, and the largest single "event" of governmental corruption in US history. Not that we'll ever know, I suppose, since it ain't corruption if it's legal.

I used to dismiss sheer corruption and graft to Republican donors as a major objective of the invasion and occupation. Now I think it's right up there with the bases and the electoral boost.

"Next day I saw the Smiths off at the airport. There was no sign of Petit Pierre, and yet surely the departure of a Presidential Candidate rated one paragragh in his column, even though he would have had to omit the final macabre scene which took place outside the Post Office. Mr. Smith asked me to stop the car in the centre of the square, and I thought he intended to take a photograph. Instead he got out, carrying his wife's handbag, and the beggars approached from all directions -- there was a low babble of half-articulated phrases, and I saw a policeman run down the steps of the Post Office. Mr. Smith opened the handbag and began to scatter notes -- gourdes and dollars indiscriminately. 'For God's sake,' I said. One or two of the beggars gave high unnerving screams: I saw Hamit standing amazed at the door of his shop. The red light of the evening turned the pools and mud the color of laterite. The last money was scattered, and the police began to close in on their prey. Men with two legs kicked down men with one, men with two arms grasped those who were armless by their torsos and threw them to the ground. As I hustled Mr. Smith back into my car, I saw Jones. He sat in a car behind his Tonton driver and he looked bewildered, worried, for once in his life lost. Mr. Smith said, 'Well, my dear, I guess they won't squander that any worse than I would have done.'"

"The Comedians"
Graham Greene.

I used to dismiss sheer corruption and graft to Republican donors as a major objective of the invasion and occupation. Now I think it's right up there with the bases and the electoral boost.

Graft is their core competency. It's the only thing they succeeded at in Iraq. Based on that they probably cared more about the money than anything else.

"Tom Tancredo is my Representative."

Huh. Mark Udall is mine. We're practically neighbors (2nd/6th). What county are you in? We should do lunch; have your people call my people.

ral wrote--

"I used to believe that a realistic view of human vices (greed, envy and pride, especially) was an important aspect of conservative thinking."

Yeah, I thought so too. Conservative Christians in particular are fond of saying that they have a realistic understanding of human sinfulness, whereas the secular liberal/left believes in the perfectability of man and utopia on earth and consequently give us failed welfare states at best and Pol Pot's Cambodia at worst. This seems plausible to me--it's why we need checks and balances and why revolutions usually end up going sour.

But what some conservative Christians really mean is that they have a firm belief in other people's sinfulness, not their own.

I used to dismiss sheer corruption and graft to Republican donors as a major objective of the invasion and occupation. Now I think it's right up there with the bases and the electoral boost.

I don't; it just happens to be the one thing they're actually good at. Well, that and lying.

I used to dismiss sheer corruption and graft to Republican donors as a major objective of the invasion and occupation. Now I think it's right up there with the bases and the electoral boost.

It's not just AS important as the base and the electoral boost, it's MORE important; it's the MOTIVE for keeping the base happy and getting the electoral boost.

THE raison d'etre of the Republican leadership is making their wealthy constituency wealthier. They'll bamboozle the fundies, co-opt the libertarians, invade the occasional unthreatening country, shred our political dialectic, bankrupt the Treasury, impoverish the unfortunate, and do whatever else is necessary to accomplish this central, entirely rational, historically consistent end.

I feel a little like Michael Biehn in Terminator here.
It's what they do. It's ALL they do!

and the largest single "event" of governmental corruption in US history.

Certainly the most brazen that I can recall. Flying in billions in untraceable cash to pay people off is a new low.

Zeyad of the blog "Healing Iraq" has a story in the Guardian blog about working in a dental
clinic. The gist is corruption has made things impossible.


As relates to the Riverbend story above, Iraqi enigneers with experience were not hired because they worked for firms that were government owned. This was a no no in the politically correct (rightwing) occupaton which vetted the Americans who worked in the Green Zone.

The story of US corruption much of it with Iraqi oil money will dwarf the UN food for oil scandal and as Zeyad has noted the controlled degree corruption under Saddam has been replaced by a system were *everyone* gets a piece and no one has a personal interest in the functioning of the system as a whole.

However this will not effect the right which lives in faith based reality and was announcing record electric production last week even when the authorities announced it was at it's lowest since we took over.

True that this is a debacle, but it does not negate the reality of the gloom-and-doom, bleeds-it-leads coverage in Iraq. Parsons gets the splash but other stuff like...

There were virtually no cell-phone subscribers during Saddam Hussein's reign. Today, there are more than 5 million.

Eighty percent of the Saddam Hussein-era debt has been forgiven by Iraq's debtors.

Women comprise 25 percent of the Iraqi parliament, which is the highest proportion in the Arab world and one of the largest percentages worldwide.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides training on industrial equipment enabling Iraqis to operate and maintain equipment and power systems throughout the country.

Nearly 100 percent of Iraqi children have been vaccinated.

In March of 2003, per capita income in Iraq was $500. Today it has risen to $1,200.

More than 30,000 new businesses have been registered in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.

In education, 3,000 schools have been rehabilitated, 9 million new textbooks distributed, and 36,000 teachers have been trained.

The country has more than 2,000 Internet cafes, and a free press.

The country's electrical output is near pre-war levels, and demand for electricity has doubled.

...gets a ripple (cite).

There were virtually no cell-phone subscribers during Saddam Hussein's reign. Today, there are more than 5 million.

Shorter CB: Sure it's a debacle, but can you hear me now?

Well, Charles, when that list is a single sourced (from Centcom) list from an article that seems to be filled with things like this

Iraqis are increasingly providing information against terrorists. In one instance, an Iraqi turned in a relative, who was eventually detained on charges of participating in drive-by attacks against coalition forces.

I don't think one can blame the media.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a little time with a very beautiful English-language coffee table book about Iran. There was a section on water irrigation systems and how cleverly managed, a section on different religious communities in their beautiful mosques, churches, and synagogues, a section on all the exciting industrial projects, a section on the fashionable and dignified royal family... you see where I'm going with this, so I'll just skip to the punchline. Publication date: 1978.

We had to destroy the country to save it...

The country's electrical output is near pre-war levels

You are aware that according to the brookings Iraq index, the country's electrical output has remained relatively unchanged since 2004?

The highest output at any time was August 2004.

The hours of electricity per day are also continuing to fluctuate, with no clear improvement. So the current state of electricity generation in Iraq could not really be called a sign of progress.

If anyone wants to put this in context, the latest Iraq Index (pdf) is here. The number of cell phone users is up. Electricity seems to have just reached pre-war levels, though Baghdad only gets 8 hours a day on average. Inflation is around 20%. The number of people with access to potable water seems to have declined by about a third since before the war. Unemployment is still extremely high. And the debt reduction, according to Brookings, is nothing like what Charles reports Centcom as saying. (Maybe one of those pledge/reality gaps.)

We are currently rolling up our reconstruction spending, after having done very little to rebuild the country. And as for media bias, read this transcript of Howard Kurtz interviewing Laura Logan, a reporter in Baghdad:

"I look at just the last couple of weeks of your coverage. Besides covering the Saddam trial, you reported on allegations that U.S. troops had killed a group of civilians. Then you reported an attack on a police station, the bombing of a police convoy, you talked about the threat of a civil war. All legitimate stories. But critics would say, well, no wonder people back home think things are falling apart because we get this steady drumbeat of negativity from the correspondents there.

LOGAN: Well, who says things aren't falling apart in Iraq? I mean, what you didn't see on your screens this week was all the unidentified bodies that have been turning up, all the allegations here of militias that are really controlling the security forces.

What about all the American soldiers that died this week that you didn't see on our screens? I mean, we've reported on reconstruction stories over and over again, but the order to (ph) general for Iraqi reconstruction says that only 49 of well over 100 planned electricity projects happened.

So we can't keep doing the same stories over and over again. When a police station's attacked, that's something new that happened this week. If you had any idea of the number of Iraqis that come to us with stories of abuses of U.S. soldiers and you look at our coverage over the last -- my coverage over the last few weeks, or even over the last three years, there's been maybe two or three stories that have related to that.

So, I mean, we have to do the stories that when we've tested them and tested them and checked all our sources, and that they are legitimate stories on that day, that that is the biggest news coming out of Iraq, then that's what we have to do. (...)

I mean, our own -- you know, our own editors back in New York are asking us the same things. They read the same comments. You know, are there positive stories? Can't you find them?

You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack.

Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.

I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country. Reconstruction funds have been diverted to cover away from reconstruction to -- they've been diverted to security.

Soldiers, their lives are occupied most of the time with security issues. Iraqi civilians' lives are taken up most of the time with security issues.

So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here? "

"So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here? "

Because Bush and his acolytes would prefer you to look at the freshly-painted schools. No Bush supporter wants to admit that Iraq is a disaster and the Iraq war and occupation is what created that disaster: indeed, clinging to the idea that Iraq can somehow be defined as a success if you only look at the right facts (and only at those facts) is pretty much how to diagnose a Bush supporter.

Publication date: 1978.

So, Iraq was paradise, pre-Saddam. Ok, then.


Actually, Saddam was the defacto ruler from the early to mid 70's. Of course, 1983 was about the time where the picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam took place. Funny, that.

Given that Saddam wasn't even a general until 1976, I'm thinking that there are gradations to his power that are not being explored, here. Any proposals that Saddam was de facto ruler prior to, say, 1976 will need some bolstering.

Not that I consider myself knowledgeable in this area, mind, but claims of Saddam being the seat of power since the early 1970s...well, you're going to have to show me.

And, really, is there anyone above the age of 13 who doesn't know that yes, once upon a time Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam? Am I going to have to dig up photos of Roosevelt rubbing elbows with Stalin? Carter shaking hands with Castro? Oh, heck, we can even throw Jimmy's wife rubbing elbows with John Wayne Gacy for good measure.

And, really, is there anyone above the age of 13 who doesn't know that yes, once upon a time Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam?

After Ronald Reagan had taken Iraq off the list of terrorist nations because Iraq was such a good market for arms sales.

It's always worthwhile to keep reminding everyone that when governments make "hardheaded business decisions" and claim "realpolitik" as an excuse for supporting atrocious dictators or atrocious decisions, this will come back to bite the whole nation in the ass and prove that the starry-eyed softheaded idealists with no idea of practical politics were actually dead right all along.

Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein is right now the perfect image to remind us of that lesson: he's still Secretary of Defense, and Saddam Hussein is still on trial. It's a current image. It's a current lesson.

Of course, Jesurgislac. And by that logic, here's evidence of UN complicity in Saddam's crimes.

"Women comprise 25 percent of the Iraqi parliament, which is the highest proportion in the Arab world and one of the largest percentages worldwide."

That would be great, Charles, if the parliament had ever actually met more than once to take their oath of office (and shut down the entire city of Baghdad for a day in the process, with all traffic being forbidden to move that day). Do you have any idea how insane it is to quote this sort of stuff in the context of, you know, reality? Do you actually read the Iraqi bloggers these days? Do you find them pointing out this sort of cheery reassurance?

"Not that I consider myself knowledgeable in this area, mind, but claims of Saddam being the seat of power since the early 1970s...well, you're going to have to show me."

Slart, you're just displaying ignorance here; any book on the history of Iraq will show you. Here is a take from a source with an axe to grind, but the documents are what they are. Though pretty much only this and this are relevant.

More to the point, just go to a bookstore or library and pick up any book on the history of Iraq, including any done back in the Eighties, and they'll tell you all you want to know about Saddam becoming the strongman of Iraq circa 1969 or so; anyone who was paying attention to Iraq in the Seventies was perfectly well aware of this; see also all contemporary newspaper reports of the time. (As someone who was avidly following news of the Middle East, and reading hundreds of books on the topic in the Seventies and Eighties, I give you my word on this, for whatever little that's worth.)

I imagine I could google around to find confirmation for you, but with all due respect and friendship, my time isn't in fact infinite, and I'm a bit reluctant to spend time doing your own research for you on something that is perfectly well-known and uncontroversial.

If you like, you can just read the Wikipedia account on what he was doing during the Seventies.

In July 1968 a second coup brought the Ba'athists back to power under General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, a Tikriti and a relative of Saddam, who by this time had become an interrogator and torturer at the infamous "Palace of the End," the cellar of the former palace of King Faisal II. The Ba'ath's ruling clique named Saddam vice-chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and vice president of Iraq.


As Iraq's weak and elderly President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became increasingly unable to execute the duties of his office, Saddam began to take an increasingly prominent role as the face of the Iraqi government, both internally and externally. He soon became the architect of Iraq's foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations. He was the de facto ruler of Iraq some years before he formally came to power in 1979.


On June 1, 1972, Saddam Hussein led the process of expropriating Western oil companies, which, at the time, had a monopoly on the country's oil. A year later, world oil prices rose dramatically as a result of the 1973 world oil shock, and Saddam was able to pursue an all-the-more ambitious agenda through skyrocketing oil revenues.

Within a period of just a few years, the state provided social services to Iraqi people that were unprecedented in other Middle Eastern countries. Saddam initiated and controlled the "National Campaign for the Eradication of Illiteracy" and the campaign for "Compulsory Free Education in Iraq," and largely under his auspices, the government established universal free schooling up to the highest education levels; hundreds of thousands learned to read in the years following the initiation of the program. The government also supported families of soldiers, granted free hospitalization to everyone, and gave subsidies to farmers. Iraq created one of the most modernized public-health systems in the Middle East, earning Saddam an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). [1] [2]

In order to diversify the oil-dependent economy, Saddam oversaw and advocated a national infrastructure campaign that made great progress in building roads, promoting mining, and development of other industries. The campaign effected a comprehensive revolution in energy industries. Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, including many communities in the countryside and far outlying areas.

Before the early 1970s, the majority of the population resided in the countryside, where Saddam himself was born and raised; and peasants accounted for roughly two thirds of the populace. This number would decrease dramatically, though, during the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Iraq in the 1970s, which was propelled by Saddam's channeling of oil revenues into the rapidly growing Iraqi industrial sector and the new Ba'athist welfare programs.

Nevertheless, Saddam focused intensely on fostering loyalty to the Ba'athist government in the rural areas. After nationalizing foreign oil interests, Saddam supervised the modernization of the Iraqi countryside, the mechanization of agriculture on a large scale, and the distribution of land to farmers.6 He broke up the large holdings of the landowners and gave land to peasant farmers. The Ba'athists established farm co-operatives, in which profits were distributed in accordance with the labors of the individual peasant and the unskilled were trained. The government's commitment to agrarian reform was demonstrated by the doubling of expenditures for agriculture development in 1974 — 1975, a policy that Saddam largely spearheaded. Moreover, agrarian reform in Iraq improved the living standards of the broad strata of the peasantry and increased production, though not to the levels for which Saddam had hoped.

Saddam became personally associated with Ba'athist welfare and economic development programs in the eyes of many Iraqis, thus widening his original popular base of support while co-opting new sectors of the Iraqi population. Part of a combination of "carrot and stick" tactics, expanding government services forged patron-client ties between Saddam and his support base among the working class and the peasantry and within the party and the government bureaucracy.

Saddam's ruthless organizational prowess was credited with Iraq's rapid pace of development in the 1970s; development went forward at such a fevered pitch that two million persons from other Arab countries and Yugoslavia worked in Iraq to meet the growing demand for labor.


To maintain his regime Saddam Hussein tended either to provide them with benefits so as to co-opt them into the regime, or to take repressive measures against them. The major instruments for accomplishing this control were the paramilitary and police organizations. Beginning in 1974, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a close associate of Saddam, commanded the People's Army, which was responsible for internal security. As the Ba'ath Party's paramilitary, the People's Army acted as a counterweight against any coup attempts by the regular armed forces.


He made a state visit to France in 1976, cementing close ties with some French business and conservative political circles. Saddam led Arab opposition to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel (1979). In 1975 he negotiated an accord with Iran that contained Iraqi concessions on border disputes. In return, Iran agreed to stop supporting opposition Kurds in Iraq.


After Saddam had negotiated the 1975 treaty with Iran, Shah Pahlavi withdrew support for the Kurds, who suffered a total defeat. Nearly from its founding as a modern state in 1920, Iraq has had to deal with Kurdish separatists in the northern part of the country. Saddam did negotiate an agreement in 1970 with separatist Kurdish leaders, giving them autonomy, but the agreement broke down.

Etc. Is this enough showing?

Slarti: And by that logic, here's evidence of UN complicity in Saddam's crimes.

Wait, you're saying that a photograph of the Secretary General of the UN meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss the Security Council timetable for the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait is somehow the same kind of evidence as a photograph of Donald Rumsfeld meeting Saddam Hussein representing the US on a sales tour of Iraq? That's the kind of logic that continues to show you're still a Bush supporter at heart, Slarti, no matter what you try to claim.

Not seeing the relevance, Gary. It's not as if I said anything like "Saddam Hussein had no power prior to 1976" or even "Saddam Hussein had little power prior to 1976". Neither did I, of course, say anything that's yet to be supported, such as "Saddam was the defacto ruler from the early to mid 70's".

It's certainly possible that I missed something alluded to in diplo-speak that essentially says just that; I'd appreciate it if you could point that out. Equally likely is that I missed an outright reference, being inclined to both ignorance and early-morning lapses in reading comprehension.

Hey, J, a handshake means approval. Or didn't you get the memo?

Oh, and characterization of it as a "sales trip" is rather disjoint from this:

Soon thereafter, Donald Rumsfeld (who had served in various positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as President Ford's defense secretary, and at this time headed the multinational pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co.) was dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy. His December 1983 tour of regional capitals included Baghdad, where he was to establish "direct contact between an envoy of President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein," while emphasizing "his close relationship" with the president [Document 28]. Rumsfeld met with Saddam, and the two discussed regional issues of mutual interest, shared enmity toward Iran and Syria, and the U.S.'s efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq's oil; its facilities in the Persian Gulf had been shut down by Iran, and Iran's ally, Syria, had cut off a pipeline that transported Iraqi oil through its territory. Rumsfeld made no reference to chemical weapons, according to detailed notes on the meeting [Document 31].

Rumsfeld also met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, and the two agreed, "the U.S. and Iraq shared many common interests." Rumsfeld affirmed the Reagan administration's "willingness to do more" regarding the Iran-Iraq war, but "made clear that our efforts to assist were inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us, citing the use of chemical weapons, possible escalation in the Gulf, and human rights." He then moved on to other U.S. concerns [Document 32]. Later, Rumsfeld was assured by the U.S. interests section that Iraq's leadership had been "extremely pleased" with the visit, and that "Tariq Aziz had gone out of his way to praise Rumsfeld as a person" [Document 36 and Document 37].

So, some realpolitik going on, almost certainly, but hardly a sales trip. Quoted from one of Gary's links, which also happens to be the same place that LJ linked to upthread.

As for being a Bush supporter, I support Bush where we agree, and oppose him where we disagree. And of course I see this as far more logical than reflexive opposition, and of course I anticipate that you disagree with me on this point with some amount of vigor, and I also anticipate this is one of those areas of disagreement that we're not ever going to resolve, so that back-and-forth flurry of increasingly emotional and cutting comments and replies: consider it done.

"Not seeing the relevance, Gary."

Well, whatever, Slart. Believe what you like.

Here is one last account.

If any period of Saddam's life was distinguished by genuine achievement, it was his 11 years as vice-president. Using billions of dollars of oil revenues, he launched a huge modernisation campaign.

Baghdad was transformed from a crumbling backwater into a modern city, complete with tower blocks, motorways and flyovers. Saddam began one of the world's most ambitious literacy programmes, building schools across Iraq and compelling adults to attend classes on pain of three years' imprisonment. Unesco gave him a prize.

In contrast to most of his co-tyrants, Saddam proved himself a gifted administrator.

But his idea of national greatness did not rest on building schools. By the mid-70s, he was obsessed with the ambition that was to consume his rule. Saddam wanted to dominate the Middle East through the possession of oil and nuclear weapons. Allah had given him the former, it was up to Iraqi ingenuity to acquire the latter. He began spending the oil money on an ever larger military machine.

In 1975, he visited France and Jacques Chirac, then prime minister, took him on a tour of Provence. M Chirac went on to sell Saddam a nuclear reactor for £2 billion and signed a Nuclear Co-operation Treaty.

This agreement bound Paris to help Saddam's nuclear programme and also excluded "all persons of Jewish origin" from participating, whether in France or Iraq.

M Chirac insisted that the nuclear reactor and technical help were for civilian purposes. Saddam was more honest. "The agreement with France is the first concrete step toward production of the Arab atomic bomb," he said.

While seeking arms abroad, Saddam ruthlessly undermined his political rivals at home. By the mid-70s, he had become de facto ruler of Iraq. In July 1979, Saddam was confident enough to insist that al-Bakr retire and hand over the presidency.

As I said, you can simply go to a bookstore or library and find any biography of Saddam, or history of Iraq, or read any and every newspaper and magazine and journal account of Iraq from the Seventies to see Saddam Hussein referred to as the "de facto ruler of Iraq."

If you prefer not to believe me, fine.

(Note that this is irrelevant to any notion that shaking hands with someone means you get their cooties; that the U.S. had dealings with Hussein, and gave his regime some mild support during the Iran-Iraq War doesn't make the U.S. responsible for him, of course; there's an extremist leftist view that anyone the U.S. has ever had dealings with or supported was therefore somehow the creation of the U.S. and nothing but a puppet; this is, overall, nonsense, though it doesn't serve to dismiss the lesser responsibility the U.S. has for its actual various levels of support for various nasty characters and regimes at various times and places; but noting the actual degree and specifics, rather than regarding it as some sort of all-or-nothing deal, is, of course, crucial to proper understanding. I don't point out that Saddam was indeed de facto ruler of Iraq in the early Seventies to support a claim that somehow the U.S. was responsible for him; I merely was agreeing with LJ's statement of fact about Hussein, that he was de facto ruler of Iraq during the early and mid-Seventies, which everyone knows.)

far more logical than reflexive opposition

Not saying there aren't other kinds of wide-ranging opposition, mind you. On rereading, that seemed to be the implication.

So, Iraq was paradise, pre-Saddam. Ok, then.

I hope that we can agree that your implication is 1978 was pre-Saddam, and "you're going to have to show me" is a request to demonstrate that this isn't true. Here goes.

Well, since the Ba'ath party took over in 1968, Hussein, who I think was in exile in Cairo until the Ba'ath coup, took a seat as Vice-President on the Revolutionary Command Council and was generally recognized, because of his ruthlessness, as the power behind the president, Ahmed Hassan Bakr, who happened to be his relative from Tikrit. I believe that is pretty much consensus.

I'm not sure what sort or level of documentation would satisfy you, but the wikipedia entry on Bakr has this

Al-Bakr is best known for appointing Saddam Hussein, his Tikriti cousin, as his Vice President. As the president got older, more and more authority was gradually usurped by Hussein, and by the mid-1970s the vice president had established virtual de facto rule over the entire nation, leaning on al-Bakr to resign.

On July 16, 1979 the 65-year-old Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr stepped down, ostensibly on health grounds, and Saddam Hussein assumed the presidency in a move that was widely regarded as little more than a formality.

And the global security site has this

Although Bakr was the older and more prestigious of the two, by 1969 Saddam Hussein clearly had become the moving force behind the party. He personally directed Baathist attempts to settle the Kurdish question and he organized the party's institutional structure. Hussein was put into control of the internal security apparatus, and within a decade, he had created a police state within Iraq that was so oppressive that it has often received criticism from moderate Arab states. Between 1968 and 1973, through a series of sham trials, executions, assassinations, and intimidations, the party ruthlessly eliminated any group or person suspected of challenging Baath rule.

Despite Baath attempts to institutionalize its rule, real power remained in the hands of a narrowly based elite, united by close family and tribal ties. By 1977 the most powerful men in the Baath thus were all somehow related to the triumvirate of Saddam Hussein, Bakr, and General Adnan Khayr Allah Talfah, Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law who became minister of defense in 1978. All were members of the party, the RCC, and the cabinet, and all were members of the Talfah family of Tikrit, headed by Khayr Allah Talfah. Khayr Allah Talfah was Saddam Hussein's uncle and guardian, Adnan Khayr Allah's father, and Bakr's cousin. Saddam Hussein was married to Adnan Khayr Allah's sister and Adnan Khayr Allah was married to Bakr's daughter. Increasingly, the most sensitive military posts were going to the Tikritis.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Bakr was beset by illness and by a series of family tragedies. He increasingly turned over power to Saddam Husayn[sic]. By 1977 the party bureaus, the intelligence mechanisms, and even ministers who, according to the Provisional Constitution, should have reported to Bakr, reported to Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, was less inclined to share power, and he viewed the cabinet and the RCC as rubber stamps. On July 16, 1979, President Bakr resigned, and Saddam Hussein officially replaced him as president of the republic, secretary general of the Baath Party Regional Command, chairman of the RCC, and commander in chief of the armed forces.

Also of interest for the older ties to America and the CIA is this Frontline special on Hussein which has has a number of interesting points.

I see Gary has weighed in, but I think these links are different from the ones he gives. If you require more documentation, I'll do my best, but if you could tell me how this fails to demonstrate that 1978 was not pre-Saddam, but actually as a de facto power, then I could try to dredge up the appropriate links.

Not disputing mid '70s, Gary, but early '70s is something not even your article (By the mid-70s, he had become de facto ruler of Iraq) doesn't say. Not saying it's not implied, or claimed elsewhere, just nowhere that I've read, yet.

And yes, I'm fabulously ignorant of some of the particulars of Hussein's coming-to-power. Not proud of that, but there it is.

But Slarti, we were talking about 1978, not the early 70's or even the mid 70's. Certainly meditations on gradations of power are useful, but they would most likely mitigate against bald suggestions that things can be dismissed by drawing an arbitrary line separating pre-Saddam coming to power and post-Saddam coming to power.

I'm baffled as to how that might be relevant to a book on Iran published in 1978, even if Saddam was effectively God-King in 1972. Did Iraq invade Iran on some earlier occasion that I don't know about? As far as I know, 1978 still precedes the Iran-Iraq war by a bit and therefore characterizing 1978 Iran as pre-Saddam might be supportable.

I could be wrong, Slart, but possibly you're the only one in the room talking about Jackmormon's comment. Possibly not. I certainly know I wasn't, though.

Her point was rather obscure to me, incidentally. Regimes do propaganda? Until things change they haven't changed? I dunno, I'm dense.

Then your reply was equally obscure to me.

What any of that has to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein was de facto ruler of Iraq in the Seventies, I have absolutely no idea.

(And, sure, the precise degree of evolving power is hard to say; but he was considered to be a key semi-ruling, power-behind-the-(nonliteral) throne figure by November, 1969, and only rapidly increased his power from then on.)

"Did Iraq invade Iran on some earlier occasion that I don't know about?"

Many times, going back to the Hittites and Babylonians. How does that relate to your comment

"Publication date: 1978.

So, Iraq was paradise, pre-Saddam. Ok, then."?

Whoa. Perhaps I should re-rail this thread.

I was talking about the 1978 book on Iran because it was so optimistic, so positive, filled with so many wonderful projects, and so utterly unrepresentative of the economic or political reality of the country's conditions.

There were perhaps four pictures of poor people, and the poor always looked healthy and happy and dressed in colorful clothes--when in fact desertification and poor policy in the countryside had sent throngs of starving Iranians into urban slums. And in historical perspective, the photographs of the queen's lovely European dresses just make me feel a bit queasy.

It wasn't a US publication: it was produced by Iranians close to the Shah who were promoting their country as a great place to park US capital funds. And looking at all those pictures of industrial projects underway, and educational reforms undertaken, I might have thought 1978 Iran under the Shah was a great place to put a spare million. Looked great!

Which is to say that I was making an analogy.

The voice of Emily Litella in my head says "never mind."

I'm imposing a 24-hour ban on myself. I'm not sure what else to do; suggestions are welcome.

Here's why: not because I'm arguing from ignorance (pretty much a way of life with me) but because I lied. I lied about what point I was making upthread. It wasn't even a very good lie, but the point is that not only did I attempt to mislead, but I came very close to claiming that the Iraq was paradise comment was really a typo, and that I meant Iran.

I view this sort of dishonesty as a serious breach of trust. How I got to the point where I think I need to lie to save face, I don't know, but I'm going to do some soul-searching on that point. I'm not going to try to justify myself because there is no justification.

All I can offer are my apologies, and commitment that this won't happen again.


Maybe I should be bummed that just about everyone seems to think I'd make a Iran-whoops-I-meant-Iraq typo or that I believed the Hashemites were still in power in Iraq in the late 1970s. Or whatever various people seemed to be arguing. Which is to say, you weren't alone, Slart, in reading my comment way way off the track I'd intended it to take. Thanks for the apology--though I doubt it's I who needs it.

In solidarity with Slart, I'm banning myself for 48 hours for being thoroughly confused about what just transpired here AND for being too lazy to figure it out.


I am confused by your self-ban, and not merely because such a voluntary action should be viewed more as an exile or cooling-off period than a ban. I suspect many of us get so frustrated and convinced we cannot express ourselves clearly in ways that would not violate the posting rules that we don't post at all. I know this happened to me on von's Onward thread, where any time my temperature lowered to merely boiling, I re-read the thread and it rose again.

At what point did you realize your confusion between Iran and Iraq? If it was later than your initial post, I think the intent to deceive was not there. Although I have no power within the kitten, I think your confession of confusion is enough for me to pass over it.

Color me embarassed. I thought we were talking about Iraq and coming back to read JM and then Slarti, see that it was Iran. I'm giving myself a 6 hour ban, which just happens to coincide with my bedtime. Night all.

Who's on first.

This thread has established:

1. 1978 was not pre-Saddam.

2. Everyone makes mistakes. Slarti, uncharacteristically, made two in one sentence: getting the date of Saddam's ascension to power wrong and confusing Iran for Iraq.

(given the direction of the thread, i too thought that the original iran comment was a typo; it took the history lesson to reveal that there was no iraQi royalty to issue the picture book in 1978.)

3. As usual, Slarti has acted honorably once discovering his error.

Come back any time, Slart.

"Come back any time, Slart."

Sure. I was tempted to try a joke about being embarassed by the fact that the only thing I had to be embarassed about by what I said in this thread was that I had nothing to be embarassed about, but I was afraid I'd get the emotional temperature wrong, and come off as self-rightous or something. But looking forward to Slarti's return as soon as he's comfortable, which would be fine with me if that's as soon as cross-posting with this comment, gives me a hook.

As might be inferred from my comment about Jackmormon's comment, I sort of vaguely grasped her point, but only very vaguely, and definitely without any surety at what she was precisely going for, until she further explained. But my own response was strictly in regard to Slart's arguing with LJ about whether Saddam was or was not commonly regarded as the de facto ruler of Iraq in the early/mid-Seventies, which seemed to me perfectly reasonable to be unaware of, but when faced with reasonable people asserting, with some evidence, that this well-known fact was so, to be something like demanding proof that Deng Xiaoping really was paramount leader in China circa 1979, since he didn't have the titles. One can demand others supply one with proof, but it's a bit silly (but not worse), in the face of the well-known facts.

"Maybe I should be bummed that just about everyone seems to think I'd make a Iran-whoops-I-meant-Iraq typo or that I believed the Hashemites were still in power in Iraq in the late 1970s."

Um, not me. (I only mention this because I like to think I'm part of "just about everyone," as a rule, but am a tad insecure about it.)

Speaking of the Shah's Iran right before it imploded, JM, have you read this piece by Joe Kraft from 1978?

Thanks, Gary: that's a fascinating article.

"Whoopee. I wonder why the MSM don't cover our marvelous reconstruction successes more often, ha ha ha."

Why do you hate America?

/Freeper mode

"Thanks, Gary: that's a fascinating article."

Yeah, I thought (the sort of thing in the back of my head when I remarked elsewhere about the large amount attention American finally started to show in Iran in 1978, and then zooming overwhelmingly, of course, in 1979; though I'm not sure how old you are, so maybe you were too young to be paying attention; quite likely, I guess).

I also thought it epitomized Joe Kraft, an ultimate insider I-will-instruct-you-Mr.President-on-what-to-do journalist when he started off the piece explaining to the Shah that things were much better than the Shah seemed to think, and, of course, Joe Kraft was talking out of his ass, and, strangely, it's almost as if the Shah had a better idea of what was going on in his country than Joe Kraft did, but Joe Kraft certainly couldn't believe that.

And, of course, this is entirely the way so many contemporary pundit/bloggers write about Iraq. Say, have you heard the good news about the number of cell phones? The Iraqs are truly happy and satisfied now! The Iraqi bloggers don't know what they're talking about.

Back on Iran, don't know if you saw this from Joseph Cirincione.

Don't feel bad Slarty, most Americans don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran either.

Simple hint: Iraq = Arabs
Iran = Persians

"Don't feel bad Slarty, most Americans don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran either."

Y'know, insulting him while he's out of the room isn't the nicest approach.

Ah, I see JM did see the Cirincione piece. Sorry.

Why, yes, I did see that piece. (You commented on that thread, Gary!)

That interview with the Shah is pretty awful. By then he would have known that he was probably dying and would have suspected that he'd screwed everything up irrevocably and that this time nobody was going to come in and save him. Too much evil was done in his name for me to feel too sorry for him, but I can't imagine what it would be like to intimate the catastrophe that was coming.

About Kraft's cluelessness. From my reading, it sounds like nobody in the US paid much attention to Iran between 1953 and 1977. When Carter came in, the Shah feared that the declared human rights priorities of the US would restrict his military purchases and regional hegemony, so he lifted some press prohibitions and announced a fat reform package---which took not so long to lift the lid on the simmering discontent, etc.

Kenneth Pollock's research suggests that few people in the Carter administration could quite understand why the Shah was having so much difficulty taking action, and that they were begging him to crack down, declare martial law, anything to regain control over his streets. Pollack himself guesses, in retrospect, that the Shah knew that he couldn't pass his throne on to his son without massive bloodshed and had essentially given up.

(I wouldn't have been walking yet when Kraft's article was published; my boyf would have just barely been sent out of Tehran by his parents.)

"From my reading, it sounds like nobody in the US paid much attention to Iran between 1953 and 1977."

Well, experts, and people who paid lots of attention to foreign policy, who were far fewer in those days than now, I suspect (though could be wrong; I'm just guessing that the internet has helped that a lot, but I really don't know), but before 1977, I don't think there was a ton of general attention in the U.S. to Iran (excluding the whole Mossedegh crisis in the Fifties, that is), yeah.

"...so he lifted some press prohibitions and announced a fat reform package---which took not so long to lift the lid on the simmering discontent, etc."


"Kenneth Pollock's research suggests that few people in the Carter administration could quite understand why the Shah was having so much difficulty taking action, and that they were begging him to crack down, declare martial law, anything to regain control over his streets."

As I recall, and as has subsequent accounts retell it, yup. Then there was the whole debate over whether to allow the Shah into the U.S. for medical treatment, a lot of allegations that he had no serious medical problems and it was all just a cover for another plan to restore him (this was a highly popular belief on the left, by the way), and so on.

Then, of course, the storming of the embassy; I don't recall anything like the reaction to that at any other time since, and I don't think there's really anything else in American history to well compare it to. I mean, Nightline was invented solely to follow the crisis ("America Held Hostage," as it was originally called, to give you the flavor), and to say it dominated the news every day for more than a year is an understatement; certainly the coverage of the Iraq war, or the 1991 war, have been next to nothing in comparison to the obsession America had with the hostages.

"Pollack himself guesses, in retrospect, that the Shah knew that he couldn't pass his throne on to his son without massive bloodshed and had essentially given up."

Now that I've finally gotten around to getting a library card, and am starting on catching up to some of the Vital Books Of Recent Day, both of Pollack's books are high on my list (I used to read the excerpts in The Atlantic online before it went subscription-only). But, yeah, that conforms with what I recall/know.

"(I wouldn't have been walking yet when Kraft's article was published; my boyf would have just barely been sent out of Tehran by his parents.)"

I sometimes forget how every ancient and senile I am. (I turned 20 on November 5th, 1978, and had been a fanatic newsjunkie for at least a decade; 1968 was where I really started my newsjunkiedom, though I already had been closely following the Six Day War the previous year.)

I suspect one of the reasons few people paid much attention to Iran before 1977 was that Nixon had essentially declared the Shah the "policeman of the Mideast," opened up the arms catalogue to him, and ignored his internal affairs. Most serious FP eyes were on Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, and most serious citizen political observers were concerned with those, Soviet affairs, nuclear arms, and domestic troubles within the US--no?

And those Americans who were interested in the Mideast would probably have been concerned primarily about Israel--and the Shah had signed a treaty with Israel, so seemed like one of the good guys in that respect.

Pollack's book is well worth reading. Although it left me wanting more detail, more anecdotes, more views from the ground, it really is well written: a good mix of historical synopsis and specific policy analysis. For me the surprises were learning more about what happened to Iran during the two World Wars, and how decently Carter comes off. His policy recommendations were made before the recent election in Iran, although it's not clear yet to me how important in internal decision-making that election was.

It is very much written from the point of view of an American insider, though: Pollack does not speak Persian and never been to Iran, although he has spent years reading scholarly and government material on the country. This perspective leads him into certain annoying tics, repeated statements along the ligns of This demonstrable American intervention into Iranian affairs only fed the widespread paranoia felt by Iranians about American meddling in Iranian affairs. After a couple of instances of that sort of statement, a reader starts to wonder what an Iranian history of similar events would look like.

Anyway, read it yourself! My current reading project on the revolution is The Turban for the Crown, by Said Amir Arjomand. It's more scholarly, so it's a bit slower going. I'd love to get my hands on some analysis of Mosseddeq's visit to the UN; it sounds like that was quite a show!

I'm confused about what Slarti was apologizing for--something about the misreading of Iraq for Iran. I saw that happen but didn't think it mattered.

Anyway, on the Rumsfeld/Saddam handshake and analogies to Roosevelt/Stalin, I have a few things to say from on top of my own soapbox.

First, there ought to be some sort of extension of Godwin's Law to cover any use of WWII alliances to justify more recent policies. In WWII, the choice was to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler, or else to let Hitler win. Churchill said he'd have made an alliance with Hell to beat Hitler--personally, I think that's going slightly too far (though just slightly), but it does convey the seriousness of the situation. To invoke our WWII alliance with Stalin to justify an alliance with some more recent villain implies that there is someone like Hitler who needs to be stopped by any means necessary. So I hereby declare it to be an implicit violation of Godwin's Law and will prosecute violators with all my power. Having none, I can be safely ignored.

Anyway, the fact that we allied ourselves with Stalin to save Europe and maybe much of the rest of the world from the worst ruler in history doesn't mean it's okay to be buddies with any psychotic killer who happens to be the enemy of one of our enemies.

And no, the fact that the US was pals with Saddam doesn't mean he was our puppet--it just means that his criminal war of aggression and his mass killings and his use of poison gas didn't mean a whole lot to us because we thought it was more important to contain Iran. Besides, it became known we'd also been supporting Iran, so apparently our concerns over its containment weren't all that serious. I wasn't surprised at the time because Chomsky talks about it in his 1983 book "The Fateful Triangle", which I had read just before the Iran Contra "scandal" broke in 1986. Apparently Moshe Arens had talked about Israel supplying weapons to the Khomenei regime with the connivance of Washington. Washington heatedly denied it at the time. Chomsky's reference is to Boston Globe stories in October21,22, and 23 of 1982. (One of the reasons why in pre-blog days I was a fanatical reader of Chomsky's books.)

Anyway, the analogy between our alliance with Stalin and our alliance with Stalin completely breaks down unless A) Iran was as dangerous to us as Hitler and B) we were actually supporting both sides in WWII.

"I suspect one of the reasons few people paid much attention to Iran before 1977 was that Nixon had essentially declared the Shah the "policeman of the Mideast," opened up the arms catalogue to him, and ignored his internal affairs. Most serious FP eyes were on Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, and most serious citizen political observers were concerned with those, Soviet affairs, nuclear arms, and domestic troubles within the US--no?"


"For me the surprises were learning more about what happened to Iran during the two World Wars, and how decently Carter comes off."

I'm, I think, fairly familiar with the general history of Iran during the 20th Century (I dare say I'm reasonably familiar with the history of most places in the 20th Century; it was kind of one of my various focuses of my lifelong personal autodidactic curricula, though of course the amount left to learn in detail about everywhere and everything is always infinite; I'm next most good on the 19th Century, and then my knowledge tends to diminish as we go backwards, with some occasional isolated pockets of exceptionalism; and I'm better about some regions than others; the Middle East has certainly been one of my major lifelong foci), but may have things to learn from Pollack in that regard; but I'm curious as to why you found Carter coming off well surprising.

I can understand it, of course, if one goes by current right-wing opinion, in which he ranges from a demon to a complete wimp and failure, and pretty much gets no higher grades than that.

But that's entirely ludicrous, of course. For one thing, as I alluded to in another thread the other day, the folks who are full of praise for Reagan's arms buildup conveniently forget that it was Carter who began it, as well as who began, for better or worse, the reconfrontation with the Soviets, as well as continuing the same efforts at making arms treaties with them that Reagan later dramatically succeeded at.

That the hostages didn't come out until the day Reagan was inaugurated was, of course, pure Iranian spite; it certainly wasn't because of sympathetic magic by Reagan; that the Desert One mission failed was a tragedy, but if it had succeeded, Carter would very very likely have won re-election, and been seen as an ultimately successful two-term President, I think; I think his presidency crashed with those choppers and the C-130; maybe the mission was too ambitious, or maybe more choppers should have been sent, or a thousand maybes, but I don't see how any of them are Jimmy Carter's personal fault.

And mostly I think he was a pretty good President. Certainly when graded on a curve against most of the others, at least.

Of course, I'm a muddle-headed liberal, so whaddya I know? (And I just missed being able to vote for him when he won by four damn days, damnit [this can happen when you're born the day after Election Day].)

But since you weren't able to pay attention when Carter was President, you may not have read much detail about Those Ancient Days before, so I'm not surprised that you're surprised at finding that he came off well. (Not that he was perfect, of course; just pretty good compared to every other President of my lifetime, particularly Johnson, Nixon, Bush, Reagan, and Bush, although I also -- unrepentent person that I am, also think pretty well of President Clinton, relatively speaking, and highly imperfect as he was; big surprise, eh?)

"...it just means that his criminal war of aggression and his mass killings and his use of poison gas didn't mean a whole lot to us because we thought it was more important to contain Iran...."

"Us" starts to break down here a bit, unless one starts to focus with more granularity on particular actors in government at the time. But the favored line of the time (usually attributed to Kissinger) was that it was a pity they couldn't both lose.

Beyond that, a lot of discussion starts to break down into a semantic war over what's the most appropriate adjective to describe one government's level of contact with another; this is not a terribly interesting or fruitful discussion, as a rule, in my experience.

Another rule is that governments have contacts with unpleasant governments, and sometimes cooperate in some things; sometimes in ways that are vastly immoral and not worth it, and sometimes in ways that are merely common realpolitik; sometimes the details are a bit obscure, or at least require going into considerable detail to fully appreciate; sometimes not. Certainly a picture of people shaking hands is proof of nothing other than that it conveys an utterly simple image; making more of it is utterly silly.

The question of whether America should have done what relatively little it did to mildly help Iraq in the Iran war is certainly a valid one; but the truth is also that it did, relatively speaking, comparatively little; ditto Iran (really, if you or anyone feels a need to list specifics of shared intelligence, and such, don't do it on my account; I seriously doubt it's not anything I've not read a great deal about). And that both actions were kept sub rosa falls into the category of "duh."

Bottom line: I'm, of course, not opposed to pointing out that there was mild sub rosa aid given to the Hussein regime -- if anyone still needs to be informed -- but making more of it than what it was is making more of it than what it was.

It's also hardly necessary to make an argument for what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld have done horribly wrong as regards Iraq in the last 5 or so years.

The conventional wisdom among so many FP analysts since I've paid attention to things is that Other Countries have decided that Americans can't bear casualties.

Vietnam is one part of that calculus--although we bore more casualties for a wrongheaded cause than I can even fathom in contemporary terms--and our more hamstringed confrontations with Iran in the embassy hostage situation and the proxy war in Lebanon are the other part.

Since these latter are more relevant to our conflicts today, these latter strategic retreats are coming under more scrutiny.

(But of course it doesn't suit anyone's purpose right now to question St. Reagan's withdrawal from Lebanon.)

The most right-wing of analysts would have of course preferred that Carter write off the hostages and bomb the hell out of Iran in retribution. They are quick to declare that the rise of Islamic radicalism could have been stayed had such an horrific policy been pursued.
[On preview: I'm responding to Gary's continuation of the debate about Carter's handling of Iran, and it's too late in the evening for me to continue further.]

Maybe it's because most journalists seem to begin the history of our Iran policy with the Carter administration (ie, with the Iranian Revolution) that the impression of his mismanagement has persisted.

Anyway, Pollack's book cleared up the Carter administration's decision-making processes fo
r me, and for that I'm grateful to it.

I feel the ridiculous need to correct the last sentence in my previous post--one of the "Stalins" should read "Saddam".

I'm about Gary's age and feel roughly the same way about Carter. I thought he was treated very harshly by the press and it says something unpleasant about our country that a much bigger Presidential failure like Bush (yes, in some ways I do see Carter as a failure) could get so much better treatment for so long.

Carter's biggest failure, to me, was his betrayal of the Timorese. I don't understand that. Of course that had no political importance in the US. He was despised for his apparent mishandling of the economy and for the Iranian disaster and for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It's not clear to me to what extent any of these things were his fault.

I was depressed at how much this basically decent man was hated--I think it says something bad about American political culture that a man like Bush, whose Presidency makes Carter look like a candidate for Mt. Rushmore, was treated for so long with much more respect. I remember watching a Donahue show sometime during the later Reagan era and they had a chart up showing the inflation and unemployment rates in recent years. They had it wrong--they had both the high inflation and the highest unemployment rates occurring under Jimmy Carter. (The inflation rate was highest under him, but unemployment peaked around 1982.) Nobody in the audience caught it. Everyone took it for granted that things were at their absolute worst under Carter.

Still being agog at Charles post yesterday of 07:31 PM, I take note of this article in the WSJ on Zeyad's hoped-for coming to America to study journalism, and this quote:

Zeyad's early essays were full of optimism, but his writings now detail the impact the daily violence is having on his physical and mental well-being. "I used to think that the media wasn't reporting the good news from Iraq, but now I think it's the opposite," Zeyad says in a phone interview. "You have the deportations, kidnappings and sectarian killings. But you don't hear about them. All you hear about are the bombings."
With all due respect to Charles, that's what an Iraqi blogger (long praised by the American right) thinks of the "good news" about Iraq from Americans.

Since no one here has posted a link to Zeyad's followup to the WaPo story that Hilzoy originally blogged about, I'll link to my own post with a link to it. I'd be happy to read Charles' finding more Good News From Iraq in it to tell us about (no, I just can't get over the fact that as of April 5th, Charles is still pushing that line; I just can't; April 1st would have been different).

Someone--maybe someone here--had a good comment recently about good news from Iraq that boils down to "they haven't all died and in some ways life continues." Of course life continues. People seldom lie down and die en masse, and once they've decided not to seek death actively, they're going to need to try and do something for all the necessities of life. They'll even seek--and find--some entertainment along the way. Many will have jobs, and some will get paid for it. Many will have shelter, and only some will get picked up by capricious officials looking for people to wring tribute, faked confessions, and other things out of.

None of this means the news is actually good. After all, people managed such things in Berlin in 1945, and in places and times worse than that.

What I really want is for some of the people insisting the big picture is good to go to Iraq and show us. I will respect that--do it themselves, or sponsor someone else to go there and tour the streets of Bagdad, drive to towns in various parts of the country, mingle with the people, and do it all without heavy security, body armor, and such. If that's all panic, it should be possible to expose it. But I don't expect this any more than I expect those so ra-ra for the war to enlist.

The comments to this entry are closed.