Deterring Democracy Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter 6: Nefarious Aggression Segment 7/14
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4. Steady on Course

Some problems arose in dealing with the fact that U.S. allies are not a particularly attractive lot; there is, after all, little to distinguish Saddam Hussein from Hafez el-Assad apart from current services to U.S. needs. An inconvenient Amnesty International release of November 2 reported that Saudi security forces tortured and abused hundreds of Yemeni "guest workers," also expelling 750,000 of them, "for no apparent reason other than their nationality or their suspected opposition to the Saudi Arabian government's position in the gulf crisis." The press looked the other way, though in the case of Arab states, there is no shortage of commentators to denounce their evil nature.30

The alliance with Turkey -- the "protector of peace" in Cyprus (see p. 188) -- also required some careful handling, in particular, because of the question of the Kurds in northern Iraq. It was difficult not to notice that Iraqi forces facing U.S. troops would be severely weakened if the U.S. were to support a Kurdish rebellion. Washington rejected this option, presumably out of concern that a Kurdish rebellion in Iraq might spread to Eastern Turkey, where the huge Kurdish population (not recognized as such by the Turks) suffer brutal oppression. In a rare notice of the issue in the press, the Wall Street Journal observed that "the West fears that pressing the `Kurdish question' with Turkey, Syria and Iran... could weaken the anti-Iraq alliance." The report adds that "the U.S. administration pointedly refused to meet with an Iraqi Kurdish leader who visited Washington in August" to ask for support, and that "Kurds say Ankara is using the Gulf crisis and Turkey's resulting popularity in the West as cover for a crackdown."31

Even on this dramatic issue discipline was maintained. Hardly a word was to be found (perhaps none at all) on the willingness of the Bush administration to sacrifice many thousands of American lives -- even putting aside the plight of the Kurds, who have been exploited with the most extraordinary cynicism by the government and the media.32

It was also necessary to deal somehow with the fact that prior to Hussein's attack on Kuwait, the Bush administration and its predecessors treated this murderous thug as an amiable friend, encouraging trade with his regime and credits to enable it to purchase U.S. goods. Before that, Washington had supported his invasion of Iran, and then tilted so far towards Iraq in the Gulf War that military forces were sent to "protect shipping" from Iran (the main threat to shipping having been Iraqi), persisting in this course even after the USS Stark was attacked in 1987 by Iraqi aircraft. As the nation rallied to destroy the beast, Texas congressman Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the House Banking Committee, charged that one Atlanta-based bank alone extended $3 billion in letters of credit to Iraq, $800 million of it guaranteed by the Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation, which underwrites bank loans to finance exports of U.S. farm products. Gonzalez charged further that there is clear evidence that armaments, possibly including chemical weapons, were obtained by Iraq under the deal. "There is no question but those $3 billion are actually financing the invasion of Kuwait," he said. "There is no question that the greater portion of that was dealing with armaments."33 The new initiatives of the Bush administration to bolster Saddam Hussein that were announced as Operation Just Cause was launched to defend the world from Manuel Noriega's iniquity, and the lack of notice or reaction, have already been discussed.

This unpleasant matter was difficult to evade entirely. On August 13, the New York Times finally acknowledged that Iraq had reached its heights of power "with American acquiescence and sometimes its help," including "a thriving grain trade with American farmers, cooperation with United States intelligence agencies, oil sales to American refiners that helped finance its military and muted White House criticism of its human rights and war atrocities." From 1982, Iraq became one of the biggest buyers of U.S. rice and wheat, "purchasing some $5.5 billion in crops and livestock with federally guaranteed loans and agricultural subsidies and its own hard cash." It also received about $270 million in government-guaranteed credit to buy other U.S. goods, despite loan defaults. According to 1987 data, the latest available, over 40% of Iraq's food was imported from the United States, and in 1989 Iraq received $1 billion in loan assurances, second only to Mexico. The U.S. became the main market for Iraqi oil, Charles Glass reports, "while the U.S.-Iraqi Business Forum, headed by prominent American businessmen and former diplomats, were praising Saddam's moderation and his progress towards democracy." The Reagan and Bush administrations scarcely reacted when Iraq purchased U.S. helicopters and transferred them to military use in violation of promises, used poison gas against Iranian troops and its own Kurdish citizens, and relocated half a million Kurds and Syrians by force, among other atrocities.34

Just a mistake in judgment, one of those ironies of history, according to the official story. Nothing is said about why the Times is reporting this now, after Washington had turned against Iraq, not before -- for example, at the moment of the Panama invasion -- when the evidence was readily available and might have helped fend off what has now taken place.

Another assignment was to suppress the fact that Iraq's excuses for its flagrant violation of international law bear comparison to those accepted -- even lauded -- by the media in the case of benign aggression by the U.S. and its clients. Iraq alleged that its economic health was severely threatened by Kuwait's violation of the OPEC agreement on oil production quotas, harming Iraq's attempt to recover from the war with Iran. That these violations were extremely harmful to Iraq is not disputed. Iraq's complaints on this score were largely ignored, along with its charge, prior to its attack, that Kuwait's drawing oil from fields at the border, allegedly draining Iraq's own fields, constituted "theft tantamount to military aggression." This seems not to have been reported at the time, though a month later there was a belated recognition that "whether [Saddam Hussein] is Hitler or not, he has some reason on his side" and from Iraq's viewpoint, the Kuwait government was "acting aggressively -- it was economic warfare."35

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30 AI, AP, Nov. 2, 1990.

31 Tony Horwitz, "Gulf Crisis Finds Kurds in Middle Again," WSJ, Dec. 3, 1990.

32 See Necessary Illusions, 286f.

33 AP, BG, Aug. 5, 1990.

34 Michael Wines, "U.S. Aid Helped Hussein's Climb," NYT, Aug. 13; 1987 data, Larry Tye, "Food embargo may be an effective weapon," BG, Aug. 22; Glass, Spectator, Aug. 25, 1990.

35 Liesi Graz, Middle East International, Aug. 3; Thomas Hayes, NYT, Sept. 3, 1990, quoting energy specialist Henry Schuler. See also Laurent Belsie, CSM, Aug. 9, noting that "Kuwait was one of the most flagrant violators of the quota system, oil analysts say." Iraq also condemned Kuwait for insisting that Iraq pay the huge costs of defending the Arab world, including the Kuwaiti elite, from Iran.