Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

U.S. must atone for past support of Saddam

October 23, 2005

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— Saddam Hussein's lawyers have announced their intention to make past U.S. complicity with the Iraqi dictator an essential part of the defense in his Baghdad trial. Let's hope they keep their poisonous word.

The pledge to revisit the past came as Saddam's trial opened, and fed into a flurry of other helpful developments in Iraq last week after a draining summer and early autumn. The White House seems to have noticed that the war's critics are in the ascendancy.

"We needed to go back on the offense and offer clear leadership on Iraq," one official said in explaining new emphases laid out in testimony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Staying the course" is no longer seen as sufficient, as strategy or as slogan.

The most important aspects of Rice's testimony may be its timing, and the fact that she has now put her stamp on Iraq policy. Doubts had grown in recent months over who in Washington - if anyone - was running the shop. For better or for worse, Iraq is now her project in a way it never was before.

Rice unveiled to skeptical senators a revised political-military plan to "clear, hold and build" in disputed areas. She indicated she would dispatch many more U.S. diplomats, aid workers and other civilians out of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone to be embedded with U.S-Iraqi military reconstruction teams in the countryside. And she plans to visit Iraq's Arab neighbors in the next month to press them to engage politically and financially with the permanent Iraqi government to be formed after December elections.

This suggests that Rice and her advisers share some of the sense of urgency, if not the underlying analysis, that is voiced by strong war critics such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who says the administration has "a window, at most, of six months" to persuade U.S. public opinion "that it has the ability to influence the outcome in Iraq." Otherwise, sentiment for withdrawal will become irresistible.

That estimate has a ring of political truth. A critical new period opened with the approval of Iraq's constitution a week ago. Voters went to the polls for the second time this year in a largely peaceful and orderly election - a psychological and political watershed in the Arab Middle East.

Saddam's lawyers - who asked for and received a postponement until Nov. 28 after a formal opening Wednesday - expect to use the past to demoralize U.S. opinion further. They will play a variant of the "shame game" that is a common tactic in Arab politics and culture to get opponents to yield.

"Americans ... want to blame Saddam for the mass graves and killing Kurds," Khalil Dulaimi, the dictator's lead lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal. "But they forget that they supported Saddam back then."

Counselor, make my case. The current debate here about Iraq pays almost no attention to the past - especially to the unique moral responsibility to the Iraqi people that successive U.S. administrations have taken on and failed miserably to meet.

Official Washington helped Saddam suppress Iraqis so he could fight Iran (Reagan), called on the people to rise up against the dictator only to abandon them when they did (Bush 41) or relied on economic sanctions that slowly ground Iraqi society into dust while providing a political alibi at home for not acting (Clinton). The unnecessary misery, political strife and corruption that a misbegotten and mismanaged occupation now contributes to Iraq must also be added to the list.

Americans cannot simply walk away from that history - or from Iraq. They owe Iraqis - and themselves - more than a sudden case of moral amnesia to bolster precipitous withdrawal. So, counselor, be thorough in airing who did what when.

Before Rice goes to visit them, remind us what Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab League members also did for the Baathist dictator. That will help us understand what kind of Iraq they want to emerge from this conflict. Remind American officials of the terrible consequences of doing those countries' bidding in using Iraq as a human-rights-free bulwark against Iran.

Somehow, I doubt you will do that. But others do. A powerful new book published in Paris, "Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein," describes in astonishing detail his crimes, which probably took 1 million lives and created 4 million refugees.

Iraq's "most important weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein," writes Bernard Kouchner, a leader of France's Socialist Party, in the introduction. Yes, it is worth remembering - and atoning for - those who blindly or deliberately helped a monster.

Jim Hoagland is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

Then why were Reagan and friends supplying weapons to Iran (our enemy?) as part of the Irancontra scandal?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for that explanation. For a few seconds there, I was thinking that Reagan was responsible for his administration being a f*cked up mess. His reputation is intact.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

At least Clinton was responsible for his own corruption. Reagan had to have someone else do that for him, too.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

The US govt had good relations with the Shah, the dictator of Iran, who was installed by the US after deposing a democratically elected govt. The Iranians despised the Shah and his brutal regime, and the US govt for putting and keeping him in power.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

I hate to say this, but every now and then it must be acknowledged. You're an idiot.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm not wrong-- there just isn't enough time in the day to devote to overcoming your ignorance, which you so blissfully celebrate.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

As usual, your account is most noteworthy for what it omits. But that you prefer fascists like Shah Reza Pahlavi and the oil companies that installed him (with the assistance of the CIA) to democratic governments is well-established.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

I know how much you like to split hairs to avoid admitting how screwed up you and your worldview are, but parliamentary systems are widely accepted as having "democratic" legitmacy. By that definition PM Mossadegh was more democratically elected than anyone in Iraq likely will be in the next few decades, and probably had more "democratic" legitimacy than Bush in 2000.

I don't like theocracies any more than I like fascist dictatorships. But at least the US didn't install and prop up the ayatollahs for the benefit of oil companies, as it did the Shah. The arrogance, greed and stupidity that kept him in power all those years is exactly the reason that such a screwed-up group of theocrats is now in control in Iran.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

What's truly sad is that you probably really believe this sick, twisted spinning sh*t.

You remain, as ever, truly pathetic, but I guess having absolutely no conscience, or shame, can make a lot of things much easier.

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