Rumsfeld's Dealings With Saddam
WASHINGTON, D.C.Now that Richard Perle has surrendered his role as Chairman of the Defense Advisory Board (thanks to Seymour Hersh's reporting in The New Yorker), will anyone in the spastic Congress have the guts to inquire into Donald Rumsfeld's curious role in the '80s as a go-between for Saddam and top officials in the Reagan administration trying to negotiate an oil pipeline project? A key foreign policy adviser for Bush, Perle gave up his Chairmanship yesterday in the wake of allegations that his involvement with a telecom company created a conflict of interest. Perle has denied the charges.
Under Jimmy Carter the U.S. applied sanctions to Iraq because of its human rights violations. Reagan removed the sanctions shortly after he became president. In the early 1980s, as Saddam was gassing the Kurds, Rumsfeld, acting as a special envoy for Reagan, turned up on the dictator's doorstep in Baghdad, and talked about how the U.S. needed Iraq and vice versa. Rumsfeld promised Saddam that the U.S. would support his rule, negotiating cheap loans and providing equipment of various sorts. He never raised the issue of poison gas. In fact, when the UN undertook consideration of an Iranian resolution condemning the use of gas, the U.S. worked against it.
Reagan was later condemned for cynical realpolitik diplomacy intended to set Iraq against religious fanatics in Iran, who were threatening to export their revolution across the Middle East. But it turns out cynical politics may not have been the only factor at play in explaining Rumsfeld's trips to court Saddam in Baghdad. Researchers at the Institute for Policy Studies have been combing documents from the period, and they recently discovered Rumsfeld was errand boy, and perhaps participant, in a behind-the-scenes oil deal which would make Perle, in his current predicament, look like a piker.
It worked like this: George Schultz was Reagan's secretary of state. Reagan had recruited him from the uppermost ranks of the Bechtel Corp, the huge international engineering and construction company. The documents suggest that behind the scenes Schultz was pushing an oil pipeline from Iraq across Jordan to the port of Aqaba. Bechtel would construct it. According to IPS, documents show that Schultz prepped Rumsfeld for his meetings with Saddam. At the time, Saddam was gassing the Kurds, and if the U.S. were to come down against him on that score, then the pipeline most certainly would go down the drain. Beginning with Rumsfeld, Reagan top officials hoping to make the deal kissed Saddam's ass, sidestepping the poison-gas issue, and snuggling up with the man they now say is a vile dictator. In the end, Saddam turned down the pipeline.
From then on, the U.S. government primly rewrote the history of our earlier dealings with Saddam so much that Rumsfeld and the other Bush cronies can say this second Persian Gulf war has nothing to do with oil. They say it is meant solely to remove the dictator and save the Iraqi people from the horrors of weapons of mass destruction, gas being the main one, even though the U.S. never cared about poison gas when it stoop to make money off an oil pipeline. And guess what? Bechtel is one of the few companies asked to play a key role in the reconstruction of Iraq after the war.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.