Friday, October 11, 2002
It all depends on your point of view: The New York Times' intrepid correspondent/columnist, Nicholas Kristof, has returned from Iraq just in time to accuse Vice President Dick Cheney of aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein.
[P]resident Bush and Vice President Cheney portray Saddam Hussein as so menacing and terrifying that one might think they've lain awake at night for years worrying about him.
But when Mr. Cheney was running Halliburton, the oil services firm, it sold more equipment to Iraq than any other company did. As first reported by The Financial Times on Nov. 3, 2000, Halliburton subsidiaries submitted $23.8 million worth of contracts with Iraq to the United Nations in 1998 and 1999 for approval by its sanctions committee.
Now let me say right up front that this wasn't illegal ? or even, in my view, sleazy. This was legitimate business conducted through joint ventures that had been acquired as part of a larger takeover in September 1998. Zelma Branch, a Halliburton spokeswoman, says that the subsidiaries completed their pre-existing Iraq contracts but did not seek new ones.
It's not illegal, but Kristof is bringing it up....why?
So this is not evidence of scandalous conduct or egregious misjudgment. This is not like a politician being found, as former Gov. Edwin Edwards of Louisiana put it, in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.
But as we debate whether to go to war with Iraq, it's a useful reminder of how fashions change in our perceptions of rogue states. Public Enemy No. 1 today is a government that Mr. Cheney was in effect helping shore up just a couple of years ago.
Is Kristof actually suggesting that the U.S. government ever thought Saddam was a good guy? In the 1980s Iraq was at war with Iran. Iran had taken Americans hostages for more than a year from 1979 to 1981. Iran was stronger militarily than Iraq, so we helped Iraq. It was a case of the U.S. hoping to even the battlefield so both Iraq and Iran would wipe each other out.
Either Kristof's memory is faulty or his critical thinking skills are wanting. (Can both be true?)
Q: Besides, what is Halliburton?
A: An oil services company.
Q: How does Iraq get money to buy food and medicine for its people?
A: By selling oil through a U.N. program.
Q: Did Saddam Hussein redirect money for food and medicine toward building palaces and weapons programs?
A normal person would blame this on Saddam, or perhaps the U.N., but it takes a liberal like Kristof to blame the company that worked on the oil wells for the problem.
But Kristof doesn't stop there.
More broadly, the U.S. has a long history in which Saddam, though just as monstrous as he is today, was coddled as our monster. In the 1980's we provided his army with satellite intelligence so that it could use chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers. When Saddam used nerve gas and mustard gas against Kurds in 1988, the Reagan administration initially tried to blame Iran. We shipped seven strains of anthrax to Iraq between 1978 and 1988.
Well, according to this report it was actually eight strains -- but there's another difference. Kristof makes it sounds like someone from the Centers for Disease Control packed this stuff up and hand-delivered it to Saddam.
However, according to this report, it was a private company, American Type Culture Collection, that did the deed. Now, I'm sure that export licenses and other legal measures had to be taken to get the stuff out (at least I hope that was done). It's possible that this anthrax export was a government snafu (see: Arab terrorists getting visas).
If the transfer of anthrax to Saddam was government approved -- it was stupid.
Kristof isn't the first liberal to make the point that we helped Saddam during the '80s -- as if that means we're forbidden from doing anything to topple his regime now. Instead, logically, we bear more responsibility to rid the world of him.
These days, we see Iraq as an imminent threat to our way of life, while just a couple of years ago it was perceived as a pathetic dictatorship hardly worth the bother of bombing. What changed? Not Iraq, but rather our own sensibilities after 9/11.
A couple of years ago it was perceived as a "pathetic dictatorship" because you had Bill Clinton in the White House who saw Iraq's only use as a target to drop bombs on when it was beneficial to steer attention away from his domestic problems.
"What is driving this?" asked Raad Alkadiri, an analyst at the Petroleum Finance Company in Washington. "It's not driven by any Iraqi provocation. You've got a regime there that has kept its head down. It's been driven by a domestic constituency in the U.S."
Domestic constituency? Is that some sort of codename for "the American people?"
If Iraq has "kept it's head down," then it's got a funny way of doing it -- with all of the firing on American and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones. Then there's the funding of Palestinian suicide bombers. Oh yeah, the continued creation of weapons of mass destruction.
It's kept its head down, if you ignore all that other stuff.
We need to be wary that we are not just pursuing the latest fashion in monsters. Iran was the menace of the 1980's, so we snuggled up with Iraq. The Soviet threat led us to cuddle with Islamic fundamentalists like those now trying to blow us up.
In 1994 the vogue threat changed, and hawks pressed hard for a military confrontation with North Korea. We came within an inch of going to war with North Korea, in a conflict that a Pentagon study found would have killed a million people, including up to 100,000 Americans.
Does the phrase "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" ring a bell?
Regarding North Korea, who is Kristof kidding? Obviously Kristof's definition of "pressed hard" is far different than anyone else's. If that's "pressing hard" I'm curious what superlatives Kristof would use for the current policy towards Iraq.
If we spent money on hypocrisy detectors as well as anthrax detectors, they would be buzzing. For example, Republicans are trying to defeat the Democratic senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota by running commercials featuring Saddam Hussein.
Yeah, and it's only OK to suggest that someone is gay if you're a Democrat using the issue against a Republican. There's hypocrites everywhere -- even in the Democratic party. Surprise, surprise.
(When I was writing from Iraq lately, some peeved readers suggested I stay there for good; they might have had their wish if they'd been shrewd enough to have sent effusive e-mails thanking me for the fine spying, signed George Tenet.)
The fact is that neither Tim Johnson nor any lily-livered columnist ever bolstered Saddam's government the way Vice President Cheney did ? perfectly legitimately ? in 1998-99.
Bolstered Saddam's government -- or helped the Iraqi people buy food and medicine -- even if Saddam has stolen much of it.
Before we prepare to go to war, we need to take a deep breath and make sure we are doing so to overcome a threat that is real and enduring, not one that we are conjuring in part out of our trauma of 9/11.
Old monsters like Libya, North Korea and Iran have proved ? well, not ephemeral, but at least changeable, less terrifying today than they used to be. And the Iraqi threat, for which we're now prepared to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of American casualties, just a few years ago was simply another tinhorn dictatorship where C.E.O. Cheney was earning his bonus.
Just because Kristof thinks they're "less terrifying" doesn't make it so. Libya, Iran and North Korea are all on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Iran still supports terrorism against Israel. North Korea exports missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. Libya -- well, I don't think Kristof's really naive enough to believe that Ghaddafi is a nice guy now.
You would think that a columnist for the Times would go after the big fish -- those who bear a lot of responsibility for the danger Iraq has become -- like Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Surely someone who had the power of the American military to wield for eight years bears more responsibility than some guy who was just the CEO of an oil-services company.