Thursday, December 18, 2003

An article of faith among most Arab policymakers is that the U.S. gave Saddam Hussein a yellow-to-green light to invade Kuwait in 1990. Some of them will concede, albeit off the record, the yellow light was probably inadvertent and a reflection of inept diplomacy. Others state flatly, also off the record, that it had switched from yellow to green and that it was deliberate.

The option of a U.S. red light that signaled clearly “do not cross the Kuwaiti border” is dismissed out of hand. No such signal was ever given by the U.S. There is also much evidence that coddling a tyrant became the better part of valor for three U.S. presidents — Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush (41).

Yellow or green will almost certainly be in the arsenal of any Saddam defense team. A group of Jordanian lawyers has already volunteered to organize a legal defense fund for the former Iraqi president. Jordan was one of two nations, with Yemen, who declined to join the coalition of almost 30 nations assembled by George Bush the elder (41).

The Arab world’s conspiracy theorists argue that when 100,000 troops and 300 tanks were poised at Kuwait’s border in late July 1990, about to attack, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, April Glaspie, gave Saddam the distinct impression the U.S. didn’t care what happened. She had just returned to the U.S. Embassy from a meeting at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry when she got word that she was to come back to the ministry immediately. Without any explanation as to where she was going, she was taken to see Saddam. It was her first meeting with the president.

In a much-reported exchange, Miss Glaspie told Saddam “your inter-Arab disputes do not concern the United States but we strongly believe they should be settled peacefully.” Next day, Miss Glaspie left Iraq to pick up her mother in London and begin a long planned home leave.

On July 31, two days before the balloon went up, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly testified before Congress that the U.S. had no defense treaty with Kuwait or other Persian Gulf countries. On Aug. 1, the Bush 41 administration approved the sale of advanced data-transmission devices to Iraq. And the day after that, Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam gave his generals the green light to invade Kuwait. Throughout the Arab world’s 22 countries, present and former policymakers believe this was the direct result of that ill-fated meeting with the U.S. ambassador when she flashed what Saddam interpreted to be either a yellow or green light.

Ask Arab interlocutors, again off the record, why the U.S. would have wanted Saddam to take over Kuwait? The answers are usually variations on the same theme: As a pretext to bring America’s full military power into the Gulf to establish a protectorate over its vast oil resources

Saddam’s defense team, whether Jordanian and/or Iraqi, is bound to produce transcripts of conversations Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted with Saddam on Dec. 20, 1983. Mr. Rumsfeld was then on a presidential mission for Ronald Reagan. Iraq was already three years into the war it launched against Iran and which was to last eight years. Those were the days when the U.S. shared intelligence with Saddam, including spy-in-the-sky photos of Iranian units. Washington also authorized sales of equipment that could have both civilian and military use.

The U.S. was clearly hoping Saddam would prevail over Iran and sweep out the recently established theocracy whose clerical regime had humiliated U.S. diplomats and held them hostage for 444 days — until the day Mr. Reagan was sworn in as president.

Those were also the days when Iraq was spending lavishly on Washington lobbyists, lawyers and flacks to enhance the image of the self-styled Arab knight, depicted on murals in Iraq riding a white horse in battle against the infidels. Britain, France and Germany also have embarrassing secrets a defense team would not hesitate to surface.

At the height of Iraq’s war against Iran, France was selling Baghdad 10,000 battlefield flares a day. German and French firms made a bundle selling Iraq components for Saddam’s then embryonic nuclear program.

On Oct. 2, 1989, President Bush signed a top-secret National Security Directive that allowed closer diplomatic ties with Saddam’s regime. It also authorized continued economic assistance to Baghdad. A month later, Secretary of State James A. Baker III began pressing the secretary of agriculture to approve new loan guarantees for Iraqi purchases of U.S. food products.

In April 1990, when Saddam’s resort to chemical warfare against Iraqi Kurds was already well known, a delegation of five Farm Belt senators led by Bob Dole of Kansas, then the Republican leader in the Senate, met with Saddam in Mosul. The senators’ main concern was to keep open the Iraqi market for American growers of rice and other grains. Mr. Dole told Saddam President Bush had asked him to say that “he wants better relations, and the U.S. government wants better relations with Iraq.” Sen. Alan Simpson, Wyoming Republican, explained to Saddam that Iraq’s problem was with the “haughty and pampered” Western media, not with the U.S. government.

That very same day, back in Washington, Mr. Baker instructed Ambassador Glaspie to inform Saddam that “as concerned as we are about Iraq’s chemical, nuclear and missile programs, we are not in any sense preparing the way for a pre-emptive military unilateral effort to eliminate these programs. She was also to remind Saddam that when Israel, in 1981, bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant, “we condemned the 1981 raid. And would do so again today. We are telling Israel so.”

Appeasement continued even when the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) discovered a secret Iraqi military procurement network operating in the U.S. Its nub was an Iraqi front company in Cleveland.

Some of Saddam’s former close friends in Paris and London have suggested the recently created International Criminal Court should try Saddam. This might help the worst tyrant the world has seen since Josef Stalin avoid the death penalty. But many prominent Europeans and Americans would get splattered with past favors they would rather forget about.

Saddam is frequently referred to as a latter-day Adolf Hitler. His role model was Stalin who said “one death is tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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