Fat Steve's Blatherings

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A History of Plamegate So Far: Part I, Political Background


        Iraq and Kuwait were created by Britain in 1918, out of pieces of the Ottoman Empire.

  • Iraq has never been politically stable.

  • Britain tried to rule Iraq from 1918 till 1930, but then gave up and arranged for Iraq's independence in 1932.

  • From 1936 till 1968, there were continual coups and countercoups by the Iraqi military.

  • After the Ba'athist coup of '68, Saddam Hussein, cousin of the President, gradually consolidated all power in his hands.

  • Saddam's ambition was to take over the entire Arab world.

  • After his war with Iran, and his conquest of Kuwait and subsequent expulsion, he was allowed to stay in power, for reasons that seemed good at the time.

  • By 2001, he'd almost managed to get free of sanctions.  Then the election of Bush Jr. and 9/11 changed everything.

At Length:

        Well, after days of procrastination, research, and mulling, I think I've finally gotten an organization for the History.  I'm going to approach it by subject matter, but keep the dates chronological within each segment.  When I'm done, I'll weave it all together chronologically, in one huge post.

        To start with, some Iraqi history.  When the Ottoman Empire broke up, 3 Ottoman provinces were taken over as a mandate by the British.  Part of Basra province was split off to become Kuwait, the remainder of Basra and the other two were welded together to become Iraq.  There was strong Iraqi resistance to mandatory rule, and in 1930, Britain gave up.  Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent state in 1932, ruled by Faysal, former King of Syria till the French threw him out.  Within a few years, political instability became extreme, and the Iraqi military carried out its first coup in 1936.  In 1941, an attempt to ally with the Axis failed, as Britain invaded and occupied Iraq.

        After the war, Britain handed power back to the Iraqis, and the same political instability began again.  In 1958, a coup overthrew the monarchy, putting 'Abd al-Karim Qasim in power.

        Karim was neither very popular, nor very feared.  In 1959, an assassination attempt took place.  Among those participating was a twenty-two year old thug named Saddam Hussein.  Failing to kill Karim, Saddam fled to Cairo.  While there, he may have had contact with the CIA.

        The CIA was dominated by romantic fools who were afraid that the Arab world would go Communist, and who backed various Arab dictators as a 'stabilizing' influence (see Miles Copeland's book The Game of Nations: the Amorality of Power Politics, for a statement by a player).  The CIA is said to have been anti-Karim, believing him pro-Soviet.

        In February 1963, the military overthrew Karim and installed a nominally Ba'athist government.  In November, the Ba'athists were purged.  The Ba'ath Party leadership tried a coup in '64, failed, and were imprisoned, including Saddam.  Saddam is variously said to have escaped in '66 and to have remained imprisoned until the coup of 1968.

        When the Ba'athists came to power in '68, Saddam was well positioned for his eventual seizure of control.  His cousin, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, became President of Iraq.  Al-Bakr was not interested in administration, and turned things over to cousin Saddam.

        The important thing about Saddam was that his great hero in life was Jozef Vissarionovich Dzugashvilli, aka Stalin.  Saddam modeled himself after 'Uncle Joe' (as we called him during WWII), and became a focused, well organized, indefatigable administrator who would undertake tasks no one else would accept.  He ended up in charge of the Security forces, and many other things, and gradually put more and more of his relatives into high positions in the Army, to prevent another coup.

        In 1979, two things came together.  First, early in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah, and made Iran an "Islamic Republic."  When the Islamic militants began to fear rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran, they invaded the embassy and took our embassy personnel hostage.  The U.S. temporarily dropped its plans for good relations with Iran.

        Secondly, al-Bakr retired as President in July, ostensibly because of ill health.  Saddam had been de facto ruler for some time.  The new Iran was belligerent towards the U.S. and Iraq, and intended to export its Islamofascist regime to other Arab countries.  The Shi'a areas of Iraq were soon in near revolt.  In addition, there had been long-standing border issues between Iran and Iraq that weren't resolved.  In 1980, Saddam attacked Iran.

        With U.S. hostility towards Iran so high, Iraq got a lot of support from us.  But Iraq wasn't very popular with the U.S. either.  "It's a pity they can't both lose," as Kissinger said.  As another commentator put it:
        When two of the world's leading suppliers of oil go to war, the world has to take sides, but when the war pits a corrupt dictatorship against a fanatic theocracy, it's hard to know which side to take. As a purely practical matter, however, it's best to line up with corrupt dictatorships because they're usually more willing to work a deal. During the Iran-Iraq War, the world as a whole tossed in with Iraq. The two superpowers openly assisted the Iraqis, as did most centrist Moslem states such as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

        Still, the U.S. kept trying to patch up relations with Iran, secretly selling arms to "moderate" Iranians, and continuing negotiations.  It was fondly but falsely hoped that this would result in the release of U.S. hostages held by various Islamofascists that supported Iran.  These efforts failed, and in the end, the U.S. became more and more reconciled to an eventual Iraqi victory.

        Neither Iran nor Iraq had decent military commanders.  After all, competent commanders might overthrow the regime.  Horrendous bloodletting continued for years, but eventually Iraq more or less won.

        After the war with Iran ended, Saddam started eyeing Kuwait.  The idea that they are all one nation is strong among Arabs, and they would have united long ago if they could agree on who would rule.  Saddam decided that he should rule all Arabs, which he would accomplish by conquest.  Besides, Iraq was broke, and Kuwait had as much oil as Iraq.  On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi Army overran Kuwait, much to the surprise of the Kuwaiti government, other Arab governments, and, allegedly, the Iraqi Army, who had thought they might seize some border territory, or might just be blackmail to force Kuwait to agree to an adjustment.  Ambassador April Gillespie said nobody believed "the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait."

        Saddam's expectation that he'd be allowed to swallow Kuwait was a disastrous miscalculation, like his belief he'd beat Iran quickly.  Once the U.S. decided that Saddam would withdraw or be expelled, most of the world sided with us.  Saddam had finally been seen as dangerous.  But removing him and the Ba'ath Party was not seen as an option.

        The Saudis and Kuwaitis were against it.  They feared Iran, and saw Iraq as a counterweight.  Besides, it would offend Arab pride, make their rulers seem like USAmerican lackeys, and remove the only Arab power that could threaten Israel.  The U.S. had supported Saddam, and it would be betrayal to destroy him.  And if Iraq were de-Ba'athized, who would end up ruling?  The U.S. might inadvertently destabilize them!

        A lot of influential people in the government didn't like the idea either.  They still believed in dictatorship as a source of 'stability,' a fetish they worshiped.  They enjoyed behind the scenes maneuvers.  They embraced a hypocritical realpolitik that they couldn't sell to the U.S. people.  They hated the idea of the U.S. exercising power.  Or they just plain liked exotic foreign dictatorships.

        These considerations were reinforced by the Arab's bought and paid for 'Amen Chorus' of Mid-East scholars and former government officials.  Many of the anonymous stories in news reports are people getting paid big bucks by the Sauds, Lebanese, or other such regime, pushing the line that these tyrannies are our friends.

        Then there was the Bush 41 administration itself.  H.W. had just seen the Cold War end.  He was a man of the Establishment, who valued stability (and former head of the CIA, which also valued alleged dictatorial 'stability.')  The country had no grand strategy for foreign relations, having made the previous strategy, Containment, obsolete through victory.  Throwing Saddam out of Kuwait would require either Saudi and Kuwaiti cooperation, or a potentially high casualty amphibious assault.  Taking over Iraq would be expensive, require a long occupation, and lot of work.  Wouldn't be popular, wouldn't be prudent, occupying Iraq left us with no exit strategy — instead it would leave us where we are now, trying to build a stable, friendly Iraq at great expense.  Also, the desire for UN support led to a Coalition, with the typically weak policy coalitions have.  And nobody yet realized we were in a war with Islam.  So the Bush 41 Administration decided to push Saddam out of Kuwait, while trying to get Saddam assassinated or overthrown — without deciding that the war would not end while Saddam was in power, or being willing to back an uprising against the regime.  The result was Saddam's survival.  (The following links sum up the arguments fairly well).

        The Bush 41 Administration settled for sanctions against Iraq.  As one commentator said:
        RICK ATKINSON: I think that the notion that the Gulf war was being fought for a new world order was, in fact, intended to obscure the fact that it was being fought for very much the old word order: cheap petroleum, benign monarchies. There was no new world order that came out of the Persian Gulf War. In fact, I think that's proven to be mostly a pipe dream since then.

        Then H. W. lost his re-election campaign, and Clinton took over.  Clinton had no real interest in foreign policy, and hated the idea of getting involved in military matters.  His goal was to keep the sanctions in place, and use the UN to disarm Saddam's regime.  Military action was a last resort, and when four days of bombing in '98 didn't cause Saddam to collapse, Clinton ignored Iraq for the rest of his term.

        Meanwhile, in Iraq, Saddam took advantage of the limitless Arab/Muslim propensity for self-delusion by proclaiming his survival a great victory.  Obviously, the Coalition had been afraid to invade Iraq and fight him there! (and yes, Arabs believed that.)  Further, Saddam, previously known as a secularist, moved to co-opt the Islamists.  He had the words "God is Great" added to the Iraqi flag, allegedly in his own handwriting, and began a "faith campaign" to identify him and the regime as strongly Muslim.  Saddam started aiding anti-Israel terrorists, tried to assassinate H. W. Bush, tried to conquer Kuwait a second time (In October, '94; Clinton ordered troops to Kuwait when Saddam began to mass his Army near the border, and Saddam backed down).  Saddam made repeated trouble for the UN inspectors who were supposed to be disarming him, almost succeeded in hiding large quantities of WMD, and ended by expelling them in 1998.  His anti-aircraft batteries frequently locked up U.S. jets on patrol over the "no-fly zone."  And he used the oil-for-food program, plus smuggling, to get money for re-armament, and to get bribe Russia, China, and Europe to end sanctions.

        By the beginning of the Bush 43 presidency, Saddam was well placed to negotiate some kind of end of sanctions and normalization of relations with the U.S.  But he'd made another of his characteristic, disastrous miscalculations -- he'd decided to aid al-Qaida.  That will be covered in Part II.



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