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Historians' Take on the News: 9-25-03 to 1-2-04

On occasion this page will include, in addition to historians, political scientists and economists who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.

Note: Comments in some cases have been edited.

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Tom Engelhardt: The Bush Team's Playing at War (posted 1-2-04)

Tom Engelhardt, writing in www.tomdispatch.com (Jan. 2004):

[T]he neocon utopians who dreamed up our distinctly unpeaceful Pax Americana in deepest, darkest Washington and out of whole cloth seem to have imagined global military domination as something akin to the board game Risk. They too were, after a fashion, Risk managers, seeing themselves rolling the dice for little weapons icons (most of which they controlled), oil-well icons (which they wanted) and strategic-country icons (which they needed). They were consummate game players. It just so happens our planet isn't a two-dimensional gameboard, but a confusing, bloody, resistant, complex place that exists in at least three dimensions, all unexpected.

I mean if you think I'm kidding -- about children playing games -- just remember that we have a President who, according to the Washington Post 's Bob Woodward, keeps a"scorecard" in his desk drawer with the names/faces and personality sketches of al Qaeda adversaries (and assumedly Saddam) and then X's them out as they're brought in"dead or alive." Think tic-tac-toe here.

The president and his men, in short, have been living in a fantasy world that makes The Lord of the Rings look like an exercise in reality. Even before the Iraq war, this was worrisome to the adults who had to deal with them. This is why there was so much opposition within the top ranks of the military before the war; this was why there was no Pentagon planning whatsoever for the post-war moment (hey, you've just won the Iraq card in your game, now you fortify and move on); this was why, for instance, General Anthony Zinni, Vietnam veteran and former CentCom commander, who endorsed young George in the 2000 race, went into opposition to the administration; this is why a seething"intelligence community" has been in near revolt after watching our fantasists rejigger"intelligence" to make their"turn" come out right; this is why our great"adventure" in the Middle East pitched over into the nearest ditch.

2004 should be a fierce holding action for them. The question is -- as with Richard Nixon in 1972 -- can they make it through to November before the seams start to tear. They might be able to. But here's the thing: Sooner or later, the children will leave the stage and some set of adults will have to start picking up the pieces. If the 2004 election is theirs, however… well, sometimes there are just things, our planet included, too broken to fix.

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Arnold Beichman: Anti-Semitism Is Global (posted 12-31-03)

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Dec. 31, 2003):

I wonder why the thesis is rarely examined publicly that the Palestinians will never never never never never never never be allowed to make peace with Israel even if the Palestinians wanted to. Yasser Arafat, Hamas, Hezbollah and free-lance terrorists won't allow it to happen because they believe victory is at hand. The reason this thesis is not on anybody's public agenda is that were it considered a reality it would mean recognizing the futility of Oslo-Camp David-shuttle diplomacy.

To operate from such an approach would mean accepting that peace and stability in the area is inconceivable. I believe that Israel could close down all the settlements, home to 220,000 Jews, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and still the three-year Palestinian uprising would continue and intensify. Why? Because the PLO regards Israel as the Settlement, which has to be "relocated," as the PLO constitution has it, right into the Mediterranean Sea.

And the PLO's dedication to terrorism is fully supported by its neighbors. Their revolting propaganda, directed at their Arab citizenry and future generations of suicide bombers, underscores that belief. I have seen translations of schoolbooks used by Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian students. The books are anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli tracts. I have just seen on Syrian TV a horrible movie showing Arab actors costumed as bearded, nightmarish rabbis wielding butcher knives as they slash the throat of a Syrian Christian boy lashed on a gurney in order to drench matzoh flour in Christian blood. In other words, upcoming generations are being trained as future guerrilla warriors against Israel. I have seen translations of Friday mosque sermons that could easily compete with the worst obscenities of Julius Streicher's Nazi newspaper, Der Steurmer.

The latest piece of evidence of the unwillingness of the Palestinians to consider a peaceful settlement with Israel is what happened a few days ago to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher when he came to pray at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. He was pelted with the shoes of his co-religionists and had to be dragged out by his bodyguards and hospitalized. His crime? At Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's direction Mr. Maher had met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, to see if the so-called peace process could be revivified. The attack was a warning to Mr. Maher: shoes today, bullets next time. It was a reminder of the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after he signed an accord with Israel in 1979. The PLO will not allow the intifada, which began in October 2000, to end. Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Mr. Arafat criticized the shoe-pelters.

Why should the Palestinians give up hope and make peace where anti-Semitism has seen its biggest growth since the Hitler era, not just among skinheads but also among "the best people?" I'm thinking of those who use Israel as their cover for anti-Semitism, as the French ambassador to Britain did a few weeks ago. Why should the Palestinians give up hope when Matahir Mohammed at an international conference talks about Jewish control of the world and there is applause? Or when the best-selling book in Egypt is the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old forgery created in the tsarist era by the Russian gendarmerie?

The real problem for Israel is not that the Palestinians will not or cannot make peace with Israel but that a world of otherwise intelligent, literate people will not make peace with an entity called "the Jews."

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The Pill Did Was Not Responsible for the Sexual Revolution (posted 12-30-03)

Joshua M. Zeitz, lecturer in history at Cambridge University, writing in the NYT (Dec. 27, 2003):

Opponents of the emergency contraceptive, known as Plan B, say they are concerned that among other things, widening access to the morning-after pill will encourage sexual promiscuity, particularly among young people. It was this apprehension that led Dr. W. David Hager of the University of Kentucky to join three other committee members in voting against the recommendation. Dr. Hager said he worried that Plan B was no less revolutionary than the birth control pill, which he claims ushered in"a new day and age for the expression of sexuality among young people."

Dr. Hager's argument is a common one. Legalized by the F.D.A. in 1960,"the pill" has been widely described as starting a revolution in sexuality and morals. But that is based on a misunderstanding of the history of America's sexual revolution and the pill's role in it.

Before 1960, the story goes, the natural constraints of human biology held Americans to strict standards of sexual discipline; after 1960, and after the pill, Americans threw off the shackles (or, depending on one's political perspective, the civilizing influence) of sexual propriety. Ever since, we've been either slouching toward Gomorrah or, as Clare Boothe Luce once famously announced, living in an age when the"modern woman is at last free as a man is free, to dispose of her own body, to earn her living, to pursue the improvement of her mind, to try a successful career."

That's a lot of power for one little pill. In truth, this narrative is flawed. Though the pill surely made contraception easier, and while it gave women more power and responsibility in family planning, it hardly created a sexual revolution. American sexual habits had been changing long before the pill found its way onto the market. Early sex surveys revealed that about half of all women who came of age in the 1920's admitted to engaging in premarital sex (defined as coitus), a figure that held steady for women in later decades.

Americans were also practicing birth control long before the pill. As early as 1938 a poll commissioned by The Ladies' Home Journal found that roughly four of every five women approved of using birth control. Just over two decades later, on the eve of the pill's legalization, 80 percent of white women and 60 percent of nonwhite women reported practicing some form of family planning.

Even the heightened sexual permissiveness of the 1960's can't be attributed to the pill. Throughout the better part of the decade doctors generally prescribed the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, only for married women, who made up the drug's largest market share in its early years. As late as 1971 only 15 percent of unmarried women age 15 to 19 used the pill. Even in recent times, only about 23 percent of women age 15 to 24 report using it.

The pill, then, did not create America's sexual revolution as much as it accelerated it. And that revolution had been a long time in the making.

Over the course of the 19th century the average number of children born to married couples dropped to about four from about seven. Americans probably weren't having less sex. Instead, couples — particularly those in the growing middle class, whose families no longer required legions of children to work on the farm — were practicing birth control. They were coming to view sex as an activity that wasn't merely procreative, but also central to pleasurable and loving marriages.

In the early 20th century many Americans began experimenting with sex outside of matrimony — partly because they could. By the 1920's a majority of Americans lived in urban areas where they enjoyed greater anonymity and social freedom. Meanwhile, a growing leisure culture provided a host of places — from dance halls to movie theaters — where men and women could meet.

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Correlli Barnett: The Terrorists Are Winning (posted 12-30-03)

Correlli Barnett, writing in the Spectator (Dec. 13, 2003):

Last month, the sixth since President Bush proclaimed ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq, proved the worst so far in terms of American and ‘coalition' body bags: 81 in all. November was also marked by the bombing of a residential quarter in Riyadh, and by the four Istanbul car-bombs. In ironic contrast, this was the month dignified with President Bush's state visit to Britain, complete with his and Blair's defiant rhetoric about defeating ‘global terror'. All in all, now is surely a good time coolly to re-assess the state of play in this so-called ‘war on terrorism'.

First of all, we have to clear our minds of moralising political cant and media clichés. Thus it is misleading to talk of a ‘war on terrorism', let alone a ‘war on global terrorism'. ‘Terrorism' is a phenomenon, just as is war in the conventional sense. But you cannot in logic wage war against a phenomenon, only against a specific enemy. It is therefore as meaningless to speak of ‘a war on terrorism' as it would be to speak of a ‘war on war'. Today, then, America is combating not ‘terrorism' but a specific terrorist network, al-Qa'eda.

What's more, terrorist campaigns, whether conducted by al-Qa'eda, the IRA or ETA, are not at all irrational expressions of hatred, let alone manifestations of ‘evil' to be denounced from political pulpits, but instead are entirely rational in purpose and conduct. To adapt a well-known dictum of Clausewitz about conventional war, terrorism of any brand is a continuation of politics by other means. Al-Qa'eda's own political aim has been proclaimed by Osama bin Laden: to expel American military forces, bases and business corporations from Arab or Islamic soil, along with ‘corrupt' Western cultural influences. Furthermore, to adapt a second of Clausewitz's dicta about conventional war, terrorism is an act of violence intended to impose the terrorists' political will on their enemy.

The question for us today is this: which side is at present imposing its will on the enemy — the United States or al-Qa'eda? Which side enjoys the initiative? Objective strategic analysis can return only one answer: it is al-Qa'eda. ...

The truth is that the two military occupations (and especially that of Iraq) have simply opened up long American flanks vulnerable to increasing guerrilla attack: a classic case of strategic overextension. In Iraq, moreover, Washington has brought about the linkage between al-Qa'eda and Saddam's men which, despite Washington's claims at the time, never existed before the war. Major American combat divisions — airborne, armoured and infantry — are now tied down in Iraq in peace-enforcement operations, for which they have not been trained and wherein they are clearly floundering (viz, the random blasting of firepower in all directions when ambushed in Samarra the other week). These field divisions are of course no longer available for deployment elsewhere in the world. Result: the army of the world's single hyperpower is now seriously overstretched in terms of personnel, with reservists and National Guardsmen having to be posted to Iraq.

What is more, al-Qa'eda also holds the psychological initiative. By its acts of terror, it provokes fresh outbursts of grief and anger in the West (cf. the reaction to the Istanbul attacks) and a political response of windy rhetoric (cf. Blair and Bush at their joint press conference in London). But grief, anger and windy rhetoric are poor guides to shrewd strategy, as the ‘coalition' entanglements in Afghanistan and Iraq already go to demonstrate. As also demonstrated by these entanglements, an equally poor guide to strategy is the romantic vision of ‘neocon' ideologues in Washington like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz who want to revolutionise the entire Middle East, even the whole world, into ‘democracies'.

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Peter Maguire: The Myth of Nuremberg Is Warping the Debate About Saddam's Trial (posted 12-30-03)

Peter Maguire, who has taught the laws of war at Columbia University and Bard College, is author of Law and War; writing in Newsday (Dec. 28, 2003):

The captured Iraqi leader is the most significant single war-crimes defendant since Herman Goering took the stand at Nuremberg in 1946. Compared to Hussein's use of poison gas against Iranians and his own people, Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial in the Hague , is a relative small fry.

How ironic that the president who singlehandedly rolled back most of the international legal gains of the 1990s is now calling for a trial that will bear "international scrutiny." While a legitimate trial for Hussein could firmly establish his guilt in the eyes of his countrymen, any trial designed to "educate" the Iraqi people could quickly turn to farce as trials cannot be asked to teach historical lessons. Trials, at best, can only establish legal guilt or innocence.

The idea that war-crimes trials can "re-educate" societies is based upon the assumption that the Nuremberg trials did more than punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent - that they also transformed Nazis into law-abiding democrats. Neither assumption stands up to the analysis of a new generation of scholars. German historian J"rg Friedrich contends that the Nuremberg trials caused many to embrace their fallen leaders: "Yet although their guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the public simply chose not to believe it. The wedge of criminal guilt that was meant to be a wedge between the public and the defendants turned out to form a link between them."

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Frederick W. Kagan: We Must Win in Iraq (posted 12-30-03)

Frederick W. Kagan, the military historian, writing in the LAT (Dec. 28, 2003):

The capture of Saddam Hussein could be a turning point in the U.S. war on terrorism. Properly handled, it may restore momentum to flagging U.S. efforts to establish a stable democracy in Iraq . In addition, a Hussein trial might end, once and for all, the divisive and enervating argument over whether the war was justified in the first place. Above all, Hussein's capture and possible trial might become a new symbol of hope throughout the Middle East , hope that tyranny ultimately fails. Much, however, depends on how the U.S. moves from here.

One of the weapons in Al Qaeda's arsenal is the widespread feeling in the Muslim world that its rulers are corrupt and tyrannical. The effective disenfranchisement of most Muslims living in "managed democracies" -- or overt oligarchies or monarchies -- creates an attentive audience for Osama bin Laden's calls for jihad. One of Bin Laden's reasons for attacking the United States is its continuing support for such regimes. It isn't primarily a struggle about the distribution of wealth. There are, after all, many countries in the world less well off than, say, Saudi Arabia . It's a struggle about the distribution of liberty.

All this makes Iraq central to the "war on terror." By invading the country, President Bush bet that he could destroy one of the standard-bearers of Arab tyranny and replace him with a stable democracy. There is virtually no historical precedent for this in the Muslim states of the Middle East . Most Muslims have been able to choose only among varieties of despotism, and Bin Laden's theocracy might seem no worse to them than most. This lack of political options is a key element of Bin Laden's appeal.

If the U.S. succeeds in establishing democracy in Iraq , the situation would be fundamentally altered. No longer could Bin Laden claim that democracy was unsuitable for Muslims and could not work within the Umma, as the Islamic world calls itself. He would be forced to compare his authoritarian Islamic creed not just with tyrants and corrupt despots but also with liberty. That would be a much more difficult task. A democratic Iraq would thus undermine one of Bin Laden's central arguments. Failure to establish a stable democracy in Iraq , on the other hand, would add new power to Bin Laden's claims and new momentum to his movement.

It is unfortunate that this larger issue in the war against terrorism has been obscured by the debate over the legitimacy of the war. Critics who have fixed on the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction as evidence of a Bush deception miss this point. Removing one of the worst regimes of all time, one that traded in death and torture, sends a strong signal to corrupt and authoritarian Arab and Muslim governments that reform may be the better part of wisdom. Reform is bad news for Bin Laden and his terrorist network.

With the stakes so high, failure in Iraq is unthinkable.

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Bernard Lewis: Our Enemies Fear Democracy Will Succeed in Iraq, Our Friends Fear It Won't (posted 12-22-03)

Bernard Lewis, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 22, 2003):

The American military intervention in Afghanistan and then in Iraq has had two declared objectives: the first and more immediate, to deter and defeat terrorism; the second, to bring freedom, sometimes called democracy, to the peoples of these countries and beyond.

The sponsors and organizers of terrorism are of two kinds, with very different purposes, even though they can and frequently do cooperate. One of the two is local or regional, and consists of survivors of the former Iraqi regime, encouraged and supported by the governments of other countries in the region that feel endangered by what might happen in Iraq. The aim of these groups is to protect -- or, in the case of Iraq, restore -- the tyrannies under which these countries have lived so long. If, as many urge, the Americans decide to abandon this costly and troublesome operation and simply go home, this might just possibly be enough to satisfy the local sponsors of terror. Some of them might even offer the resumption of what passes for friendly relations.

But there are others who would see the eviction of the Americans from Afghanistan and Iraq not as the end but as the beginning -- as a victory not in a war but in a battle, one step in a longer and wider war that must be pursued until the final and global victory.

The Americans too, have proclaimed a larger and longer purpose for their intervention; not just to defeat and end terrorism, but to give to the long-oppressed peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and eventually other countries the opportunity to end the corrupt and oppressive regimes under which they have suffered for decades, and to restore or create a political order respected by and answerable to the people. This goal evokes strong support among many in the region. But, because of both past experience and current discourse, that support is understandably wary.

Certainly, the creation of a democracy in the Middle East will not be quick or easy, any more than it was in Europe or the Americas. There, too, it must come in gradual stages. Going too far, too fast would give an immediate advantage to those skilled in the arts of manipulation and of intimidation. As the example of Algeria demonstrates, it can even lead to a violent clash between the two.

The kind of dictatorship that exists in the Middle East today has to no small extent been the result of modernization, more specifically of European influence and example. This included the only European political model that really worked in the Middle East -- that of the one- party state, either in the Nazi or the communist version, which did not differ greatly from one another. In these systems, the party is not, as in the West, an organization for attracting votes and winning elections. It is part of the apparatus of government, particularly concerned with indoctrination and enforcement. The Baath Party has a double ancestry, both fascist and communist, and still represents both trends very well.

But beyond these there are older traditions, well represented in both the political literature and political experience of the Islamic Middle East: traditions of government under law, by consent, even by contract.

Changes in the spirit of these traditions would offer an opportunity to other versions of Islam besides the fanatical and intolerant creed of the terrorists. Though at present widely held and richly endowed, this version is far from representative of mainstream Islam through the centuries. The traditions of command and obedience are indeed deep-rooted, but there are other elements in Islamic tradition that could contribute to a more open and freer form of government: the rejection by the traditional jurists of despotic and arbitrary rule in favor of contract in the formation and consensus in the conduct of government; and their insistence that the mightiest of rulers, no less than the humblest of his servants, is bound by the law.

Another element is the acceptance, indeed, the requirement of tolerance, embodied in such dicta as the Quranic verse"there is no compulsion in religion," and the early tradition"diversity in my community is God's mercy." This is carried a step further in the Sufi ideal of dialogue between faiths in a common search for the fulfillment of shared aspirations.

The attempt to bring freedom to the Middle East evokes two fears: one in the U.S. and still more in Europe, that it will fail; and the other, among many of the present rulers of the region, that it will succeed.

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Iraq's Christian Heritage (posted 12-25-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Dec. 25, 2003):

For the history of Iraqi Christianity click here. Iraqis believe Christianity was brought to what is now Iraq, an Aramaic-speaking area, around 35 AD by Thomas the doubting apostle (some say Peter also preached in Mesopotamia). The religions of Iraqis at that time included Babylonian-style polytheism and star worship (including astrology), Zoroastrianism from Iran, Greek Gnosticism and Judaism. In the theological disputes that developed from the 400s, most Iraqi Christians are believed by historians to have favored the Nestorian branch of Christianity, founded by Nestorius (d. 451). By the time of the Muslim Arab conquest of Iraq in the 600s AD, what is now Iraq had a significant Christian population. Over time most Iraqis gradually converted to Islam and adopted Arabic, and contrary to popular Western belief, the conversion was for the most part peaceful. From the 1400s some Iraqi Nestorians accepted overtures from Rome and acknowledged the pope, becoming Catholics. They were allowed to keep their Aramaic liturgy. These Catholic “Uniate” Iraqis became known as Chaldeans, and had their own patriarch. Over time they became the majority (now 80%). Those who remained outside Catholicism may not be exactly identified as Nestorians any more by this period, but had historical roots in that branch of Christianity, and were called Assyrians. In recent decades there has been a push to unify the Chaldeans and the Assyrians. Iraqi Christians probably amount to between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals, about 2 or 3 percent of Iraqis.

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Juan Cole: Iraqis Should Be Leary About Putting Saddam on Trial in Iraq (And So Should We) (posted 12-22-03)

Historian Juan Cole, in the course of an interview published in the Ann Arbor News (Dec. 21, 2003)

Q: What concerns do you have about the suggestions of putting Saddam Hussein on trial?

A: There are several. The Bush administration and Iraqi interim Governing Council both seem to think it's a good idea to try him in Iraq, and I understand why. But one wonders at what cost this will come. A lot of Sunni Muslims in Iraq fear the fall of the government because it will place them in the vast minority to Shiites who were persecuted by Saddam.

Any trial is going to cover his acts of genocide against the Kurds in the late 1980s and Shiites following the first Gulf War of the early '90s. Spending months on these kind of investigations has the potential for provoking ethnic violence.

Q: What are other potential consequences of putting Saddam on trial?

A: I believe giving Saddam Hussein a stage or platform in Iraq through a trial is a bad idea because he's going to be defiant and still has Fedayeen and a loyal base active in the country. There also is the potential that Saddam may find ways to underline U.S. complicity in the atrocities, which could make it difficult to maintain support for the occupation forces.

Q: The atrocities you mentioned that are attributed to Saddam are what we know about. Is there a danger that such trials would reveal more that we don't know about?

A: Diplomatic historians say there are no secrets if you know where to look. We already know a great deal about the U.S. government's [complicity] with Saddam Hussein and his actions. There could be more.

Q: Would he focus on that compliance to mount a defense?

A: I don't know that he would. It certainly would hurt his stature in the Middle East and Arab world to make himself look like an agent of the CIA, so he may not want to. But when he can bring that information to light in self defense, I believe he could.

Q: International human rights organizations have been collecting data on Saddam's brutal regime for decades. With so much documentation, what kind of defense could he mount?

A: What we have seen in the cases of those dictators who have been tried for war crimes in the past is that they are impertinent. They blame subordinates, say things got out of hand and blame the victims. He's already been quoted as saying the bodies of those found in mass graves throughout the country belonged to thieves and traitors.

Q: Is it possible for him to get a fair trial?

A: That's another issue. One of the persons who is calling for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq is Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, current president of the interim Governing Council. Sixty-three members of his family were killed by Saddam Hussein. I'm willing to concede that the man is an upright man, but I don't know if saints exist to that extent in the world where he has no sense of vindictiveness about this. That's a problem that a lot of the people involved in this have talked about, and for those reasons I really think it is important that any trial occurs in The Hague.

Q: Are there other reasons why any trial should be conducted by the existing format of international war crimes tribunals?

A: There has never been such a tribunal in Iraq before. It's being created from scratch, most of the judges with long experience in Iraq are Baathists and there's no constitution in Iraq. Under what statutes can he be tried?

Q: Does it matter if he gets a fair trial?

A: I think it does matter. First, Saddam still has supporters, and to satisfy those supporters, it's important that any trial is conducted through a fair process. Otherwise, it could be construed that he was treated unfairly.

I also think it's important for Iraq. If there is going to be a new Iraq, it must be founded on the principles of law and fairness. It would not [. . .] bode well that the country's first act would be to railroad someone even as despised as Saddam Hussein.

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How the Republican Party Coddled Saddam (posted 12-20-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Dec. 20, 2003):

Well, the Democratic Party seems too nice or inept to do anything with it, but as the Washington Post points out, the good folks at the National Security Archive are continuing to document the long history of Republican Party coddling of Saddam Hussein, and their hypocritical winking at his use of weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s.

The Archive incidentally shows that the Bechtel Corporation actively connived to subvert 1988 Congressional sanctions on Iraq for using weapons of mass destruction by seeking non-US subcontractors. Bechtel was awarded an Iraq reconstruction contract by US AID last spring worth at least $640 million. Yup, some American corporations have long been deeply concerned about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and the moral evil of genocide.

It turns out that Don Rumsfeld actually went to Iraq twice, once in 1983, and again in 1984. The work Rumsfeld did in 1983 of beginning a rapprochement between Reagan and Saddam was detracted from by a strong State Department condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Schultz told Rumsfeld to explain to Saddam [warning: PDF] that the Reagan administration did not actually, really have any serious objections to, like, exterminating Iranian troops like cockroaches with poison gas. It was just a general, unspecific blanket condemnation of that sort of thing, you know, to keep up appearances. Sort of like when the US was against genocide in general but didn't really mind so much the one conducted in Indonesia against hundreds of thousands of leftists in 1965. So, Saddam should feel comfortable about Reagan's desire to continually improve bilateral Reagan-Saddam relations at a pace of Saddam's choosing, and not be put off by the unfortunate but necessary pro forma condemnations of him as a war criminal issued at silly old Foggy Bottom.

The document also reveals two other things on which the press hasn't widely remarked. George H. W. Bush was deeply involved in this Saddamist démarche, he was the one who extended an invitation to high Baathist official Tariq Aziz to come to Washington.

And, Schultz told both Rumsfeld and Saddam that the US was trying to curb weapons flows to Iran. Yet it is well known that Israel was supplying Iran with weaponry in return for Iranian oil. Only a little over a year later, Schultz double-crossed Saddam by getting on board with the Iran-Contra weapons exchange, which was suggested by the Israelis in the first place. The White House illegally sold Iran hundreds of powerful TOW anti-tank and HAWK anti-aircraft weapons [which Reagan came on television and told us were shoulder-launched weapons!], for use against Washington's newfound ally, the Iraqis, who were being assured that the US was trying hard to"prevent an Iranian victory . . ."

These weapons sales contravened US law, under which Iran was tagged as a terrorist nation. (Even today I can get into trouble for so much as editing a paper by an Iranian scholar for publication in a US scholarly journal, but it was all right for the Republicans and Neocons to send Khomeini 1000 TOWs!) Not only that, but Reagan's team then turned around and used the money garnered from these off-the-books sales to support the contra death squads in Nicaragua. In the US Constitution, how to spend government money is the purview of Congress, and Congress had told Reagan"no" on funding the death squads. So Reagan's people essentially stole weapons from the Pentagon storehouses, shipped them to Israel for transfer to Ayatollah Khomeini, and then took the ill gotten gains from fencing the stolen goods and gave them to nun-murderers in Latin America.

Here's the timeline:

July -- An Israeli official suggests a deal with Iran to then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane, saying the transfer of arms could lead to release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon. McFarlane brings the message to President Reagan.
Aug. 30 -- The first planeload of U.S.-made weapons is sent from Israel to Tehran. Two weeks later the first American Hostage is released.
Dec. 5 -- Reagan secretly signs a presidential 'finding,' or authorization, describing the operation with Iran as an arms-for-hostages deal.

Jan. 17 -- Reagan signs a finding authorizing CIA participation in the sales and ordering the process kept secret from Congress.
April -- Then-White House aid