America's Bad Books

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<b>Best to forget that Saddam Hussein was supported by the U.S. in wars against America&#146;s enemies</b>

As world leaders urge U.S. President George W. Bush not to rush into a unilateralengagement with Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney has attempted to support the plan with a history lesson on U.S.-Iraq relations.

Cheney reminds those of us who might be tempted to give diplomacy another chance and open the way for further weapons inspections, that Saddam Hussein is “the same dictator who has been on the [U.S.] State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for nearly two decades.”

Ahem. Perhaps what the vice president meant to say was that Saddam Hussein is the samedictator who should have been on the State Department’s list of statesponsors of terrorism for nearly two decades.

True, Iraq was on the annual list when it was first created in 1979 and is on the list today. But from 1982 until 1990, the Reagan and Bush administrations bestowed upon Iraq the honour of being the only country ever to be removed from the list, making the grand total of years on the list a mere fifteen. Nice try, Dick.

Why should we care? Because he’s right — a history lesson is in order.

So here it goes. Some of the most brutal acts of the Hussein regime occurred during the period in which U.S.-Iraq relations were the friendliest — in the “off-list” years. In 1984, the day before U.S. Middle East Envoy (now Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld arrived for an official visit in Baghdad, Iraq was accused of poisoning 600 Iranian soldiers with mustard gas. In 1988, the Iraqi forces gassed the Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5000 people, very likely using the Hughes helicopters sold to them by the United States in 1983.

With a decimated military and the enforcement of no-fly zones, today Iraq is utterly incapable of reproducing these kind of attacks. Yet the U.S. is preparing for a second Gulf War. What gives?

Perhaps Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior were willing to overlook Iraq’sgenocidal operations in the 1980s because Iraq was fighting Iran’s militantly anti-American regime that had just overthrown the Shah, another U.S.-friendly dictator. In 1990, the monster that the U.S. helped to create started to turn on its master, so moral outrage against Saddam Hussein was once again in the U.S.’s interest.

Cheney’s statement about how long Saddam Hussein has been in the State Department’s bad books is not a simple error in arithmetic. It is a whitewash of history designed to deliver the moral certitude needed by the American people to fight another war. Saddam’s eight-year rehabilitation has been swiped from America’s collective memory banks as the press reports Cheney’s misleading statements without comment.

As the general public forget about the long flirt with Saddam, so we forget about the CIA’s support for Osama bin Laden’s anti-Soviet activities.

The 1980s were a bad decade, I know. Do we have to bring all that up again? History can be such a nuisance. Best to forget that both bin Laden and Hussein — leaders of the “Axis of Evil” no less — were supported by the U.S. in order to fight wars against America’s enemies. It’s bound to cause anxiety right when we need to be convinced that the solution to terrorism is more military action.

Nevertheless, some of us, like Winston in George Orwell’s 1984, have this quirkypreference for historical accuracy. We are a little troubled by such collective amnesia:

It was rather more of a shock to him [Winston] when he discovered from somechance remarks that she [Julia] did not remember that Oceania, four yearsago, had been at war with Eastasia and at peace with Eurasia.... “I thought we’d always been at war with Eurasia,” she said vaguely. It frightened him a little.

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