Saddam's War, and Ours


This story in today's Washington Post pulls together some old news, but pretty thoroughly and with decent timing, regarding the United States's—and Donald Rumsfeld's—role in helping Saddam's Iraq during a period when he was well-known to be using chemical weapons.

Post writer Michael Dobbs reports:
In principle, Washington was strongly opposed to chemical warfare, a practice outlawed by the 1925 Geneva Protocol. In practice, U.S. condemnation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons ranked relatively low on the scale of administration priorities, particularly compared with the all-important goal of preventing an Iranian victory.

Thus, on Nov. 1, 1983, a senior State Department official, Jonathan T. Howe, told Secretary of State George P. Shultz that intelligence reports showed that Iraqi troops were resorting to "almost daily use of CW" against the Iranians. But the Reagan administration had already committed itself to a large-scale diplomatic and political overture to Baghdad, culminating in several visits by the president's recently appointed special envoy to the Middle East, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

As the story reports, the U.S. government barely blanched even when Saddam began using chemical weapons "against his own people"—part of the bill of particulars that, nearly 15 years later, makes the U.S. government see the further murdering of thousands (at least) of Iraqis a well-nigh-unavoidable policy decision. Does this hypocrisy prove that Saddam is not now a mortal threat to U.S. security? No. But it does remind us once again that U.S. intervention in the world's military affairs can often be careless, amoral, and ultimately harmful—something worth considering as we are forced to contemplate our role in the world, and the way the rest of the world might reasonably perceive that role.