Orwell and Iraq

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As Brian Doherty noted yesterday, the Washington Post's December 30 story on the U.S.' close, supportive dealings with Saddam Hussein in the '80s are a reminder of how intervention can "often be careless, amoral, and ultimately harmful."

There's also something Orwellian about it, especially the way alliances change over time, with virtually no acknowledgment that current enemies were once the tightest of pals and vice versa. You've got to figure that due to all sorts of factors, alliances will change; it's the lack of acknowledgment that's really weird and strange. (Indeed, Iran is now a champion of Iraq, after the two countries spent the go-go '80s waging one of the bloodiest wars in recent history.)

Toward the end, the Post story reintroduces one of the great missing persons from the Gulf War: April Glaspie, then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who gave more clues than Agatha Christie that America wouldn't butt in if Hussein invaded Kuwait. Not long before Iraq moved on Kuwait, Glaspie told Hussein, "United States had no view of Arab-Arab territorial disputes"; afterward, she was quoted as saying she didn't think he'd take all of Kuwait.

Back in the day, the debate raged over whether Glaspie was following Geo. Bush the First's orders (or, same thing, James Baker's) or whether she was off the reservation. It's strange that she hasn't resurfaced–I haven't even been able to find anything on where she is these day. Maybe James Baker can track her down–he's easy enough to find these days, even if his policy institute wants to forget the past and jaw about a "post-conflict policy in Iraq"

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  1. Here’s one attribution for the interpretation that the US gave Saddam the go-ahead on Kuwait:

    http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~fjgil/transcript.html

    This guy’s got a lot of contrarian ideas about U.S. interventions. Personally, I don’t see it. Reading diplomat-speak is like listening to lawyer-talk.

    The real story here is how Bush’s insider trading of Harken stock was timed to take advantage of advance knowledge of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq that occurred on August 2, 1990.

    US intelligence knew Iraq was massing troops on the Kuwaiti border by June, 1990.

    Bush sold 212,140 shares of Harken on June 22, 1990, for $848,560.

    GHW Bush tipped off GW Bush to sell his Harken stock to avoid the inevitable loss of revenue that would result from hostilities. GHW Bush’s appointee to head the SEC saw fit to not pursue an investigation into this insider trading. In addition, they’d always be able to invoke “national security” to hold off any investigation indefinitely.

  2. NG: There’s also something Orwellian about it, especially the way alliances change over time, with virtually no acknowledgment that current enemies were once the tightest of pals and vice versa.

    JS: Orwellian–but you could also use the adjective “pro-wrestlingesque” since bosom buddies switching sides and fighting it out is a wrassling cliche.

  3. That’s why I don’t understand this US/UK friendship thing. We were bitter enemies less than 200 years ago. And what’s up with the Russians? Against them 1n 1920, with them in 1942, against them in 1947, with them now. Crazy, I tell you! It’s not as if things change!

  4. I never implied Bush was a competent inside trader.

  5. John K — “the inevitable loss of revenue”

    If he knew there would be hostilities, he would have held, since the price of oil and revenues are directly related.

  6. Paved, that may be true but Harken didn’t have any oil in hand. They were drilling test wells for Bahrain.

    Lloyd’s of London raises the cost of covering anything to do with oil–drilling, refining, shipping–when the guns come out. This cuts profits.

    Bush dumped the stock because he knew Harkin was already in bad shape.

  7. Yeah John K, that Bush sure is clever. If he would have waited a year to sell that stock for $7 a share instead of the $4 he got, people would have been suspicious.

  8. I was curious about the Glaspie quote (according to NG, ‘Glaspie told Hussein, “United States had no view of Arab-Arab territorial disputes”‘) and I found the source of the quote from the Christian Science Monitor.

    “From a translation of Iraq’s transcript of the meeting, released that September, press and pundits concluded that Ms. Glaspie had (in effect) given Saddam a green light to invade.”

    I repeat “From a _translation_ of _Iraq’s transcript_ of the meeting _released that September._”

    Aargh. What this seems to be is not an April Glaspie quote, but a Saddam Hussein quote, not what she said but what Hussein said he thought he heard. If you read the Monitor story, you’ll notice she denied it.

    By the way, is the Ambassador _supposed_ to threaten war if one Arab country invades another?

    http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1999/05/27/p23s3.htm

    From a translation of Iraq’s transcript of the meeting, released that September, press and pundits concluded that Ms. Glaspie had (in effect) given Saddam a green light to invade.

    “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts,” the transcript reports Glaspie saying, “such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction … that Kuwait is not associated with America.”

    The Persian Gulf War began Jan. 17, 1991. But before the official end of the war (April 11), Glaspie was called to testify informally before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    She said she was the victim of “deliberate deception on a major scale,” and denounced the Iraqi transcript as “a fabrication” that distorted her position, though it contained “a great deal” that was accurate.

    “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts,” the transcript reports Glaspie saying, “such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction … that Kuwait is not associated with America.”

    The Persian Gulf War began Jan. 17, 1991. But before the official end of the war (April 11), Glaspie was called to testify informally before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    She said she was the victim of “deliberate deception on a major scale,” and denounced the Iraqi transcript as “a fabrication” that distorted her position, though it contained “a great deal” that was accurate.

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