By William Urban


The web is wonderful in many ways, but it can become a source of as much misinformation as enlightenment. For example, it has become very common to say that the United States created Saddam Hussein and armed him. The facts are otherwise, but facts rarely bothered political fanatics even long before Al Gore invented the web. (Actually, that was only a slip of his tongue — he did support its development. And as far as I know, he has said nothing in this debate.)

Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president. Who would ever accuse Jimmy Carter of helping a fascist dictator into power? A religious fanatic in Iran, yes, and a communist in Nicaragua, but not a fascist.

As for weapons, quite a few nations provided them. There was an arms embargo during the Iraq-Iran war, of course, but he evaded those controls quite as easily as he did the oil-for-food inspectors. (That is one reason that experts on WMD believed that he had evaded the UN inspectors on those occasions that he let them into the country.) A Washington Post story in 1990 summarized his weapons deals thus:

“There were many other deals in the early years of the war — tanks, missiles and MIG warplanes from the Soviet Union; Mirage jet fighters and Exocet missiles from France; multiple rocket launchers and armored vehicle from Brazil; bombers, artillery and armored personnel carriers from China; antitank missiles, rifles, ammunition and Soviet-designed tanks from Poland. At the peak of the war in 1984, Iraq spent half its gross domestic product —  $14 billion — on arms and defense, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.”

The principal American contribution was military intelligence and winking at third party sales, especially by France. Remember that in 1982 it appeared that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s larger army was about to overwhelm the Iraqi forces, then go on to dominate the Gulf.

If one thinks back at the weapons that Saddam Hussein actually had at the time he invaded Kuwait in 1990 — MIG aircraft, AK-47s, Anti-aircraft missiles, Soviet tanks — one can see where the bulk of his weapons came from. And where he spent his money even as recently as 2003. There had been some purchases from the United States after the war, mostly for computers and equipment which he described as having peaceful purposes, and for pesticide materials, which officials realized too late could easily be converted into poison gas. He was not happy when these sales were stopped, which ended American hope of loosening his ties to the Soviet Union — a major consideration in having approved the sales, so that he would not become a Soviet satellite like Cuba.

Reagan was criticized in 1986 not for selling arms to Iraq, but to Iran; his intent had been to ransom kidnapped Americans, but he was cheated, and Iran then told the world what he had done. No doubt the president wanted the Iranian mullahs defeated, and the general feeling was that while this was a war that both sides deserved to lose, the consequences of either side winning were terrible to contemplate — control of Middle Eastern oil. It was not oil just for the United States, though we got some from the Gulf, but for Europe and most of Asia and Africa. We had seen what the 1973 oil embargo had done to the world economies, and to the United States. If either Iran or Iraq got control of the region’s oil, the next embargo would have made 1973 look like a practice run.

As for unilateral invasions (if there is any other kind), which is a major complaint against the Bush administration, have we forgotten that Saddam Hussein invaded first Iran, then Kuwait? Or his repeated rejection of UN resolutions, resolutions which the UN makes only very, very reluctantly, and which even France voted for.

If Saddam Hussein had only put off the invasion of Kuwait a few years, he would have had an atomic bomb. (International experts were stunned to learn how close he had been.) And, in addition to missiles, he would have had the super-gun which could fire atomic warheads into Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

We are fortunate that our enemies often behave so stupidly. But they feel safe in doing so because they think that we are very shallow and foolish. Perhaps they believe too easily what administration critics say, or what they read on the web.


Daily Review Atlas (October 26, 2006), 4.