Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why The GOP Can't Be Trusted with Foreign Policy 3/3

by Nomad

Part One- McCain's Speech
Part Two- Reagan and the Iran-Iraq War

Part 3- Reagan: Between Iran and Iraq
I will now conclude this examination of Reagan’s foreign policy, specifically his handling of two Middle-Eastern nations, Iran and Iraq, and the bloody war between them. 
In this post, we shall see how Reagan’s diplomacy failures and hypocrisies would take a disastrous turn and lead to scandal.

Crossing the Line
Let's begin with a quote:
They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.-- Ronald Reagan
The executive decision to begin arming and providing military intelligence to Saddam Hussein, despite an American pretense of neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war, had, by 1983, become more complicated when reports confirmed Hussein’s use of outlawed chemical weapons(CW) on the battlefield.
As early as November 1983, US officials were aware that top secret memos confirmed that Hussein had been using CW. Furthermore, they suspected the source of those weapons to be a US foreign subsidiary

But even then, it wasn’t so much of a moral question or even a legal one. It was a matter of public relations. 

According to a New York Times article in August, 2002, Col. Walter P. Lang, a senior defense intelligence officer at the time, explained that D.I.A. and C.I.A. officials “were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose” to Iran. “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern,” he said. One veteran said, that the Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas.” “It was just another way of killing people _ whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.” 

(Compare that with the mock outrage against WMD that helped launch the Iraq Invasion and occupation.)

Saddam’s chemical weapons program had reportedly been given a helping hand by German firms which helped build facilities such as labs, bunkers and administrative buildings, supposedly under the cover of a pesticide manufacturing plant, Other German firms sent 1,027 tons of precursors of mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and tear gasses in all. 

This work allowed Iraq to produce 150 tons of mustard agent and 60 tons of Tabun in 1983 and 1984 respectively, continuing throughout the decade. All told, 52% of Iraq's international chemical weapon equipment was of German origin.

Before this information became public knowledge, State Department insisted that it was important that the US dissuade Saddam from his “almost daily use” of chemical weapons.

However, when Donald Rumsfeld was sent to Iraq (with a handwritten letter from the president) in March of the following year, there was no public condemnation of his criminal use of WMD after the six-hour meeting. Some have speculated that Rumsfeld’s visit had more to do with trying to get Saddam to buy into a billion-dollar pipeline. A secret review of the meeting (right) notes that the matter was discussed.

The potential repercussions of this shift in policy were mitigated by Reagan’s officials (but completely untrue) neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war. UN investigators had confirmed earlier claims that Iraqis had to be built by Bechtel.
(George Schultz, Reagan’s secretary of State, just happened to have been the president of Bechtel. Remarkable coincidence, what?) 

The Iraqi leader’s use of chemical weapons, by this time-1984-, was being reported such reliable sources as Jane's’ Defense Weekly, the Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. used mustard gas and the nerve gas Tabun in Iran. 

On March 6, 1984, The Washington Post reported that "The State Department accused Iraq of using internationally outlawed "lethal chemical weapons" against Iranian troops" But the report immediately added that despite being officially "neutral," the Reagan Administration "has tended to be more sympathetic toward Iraq." It further added that even though the US government officials "strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons, "privately, some official were less harsh on the Iraqis. They said the country faced a situation in which it was being attacked by "human waves" of Iranian troops and any major crack in the Iraqis' defenses could bring down the army and the government. Thus, they said, it was not surprising that Iraq would use any weapon in its arsenal."
This peculiarly nonchalant attitude about chemical weapons flies in the face of international law the Geneva Protocols of 1925 (prohibiting the use of poisoned gas) and offers a bitter contrast to the stand against Iraqi WMD the Bush administration was to take in 2003.
The book cited above also make another interesting conclusion, dealing with the charge that the US itself was covertly supplying Iraq with the components for chemical weapons- something always officially denied.
On March 31, 1984, the Washington Post wrote: The United States, saying that Iraq has used nerve gas in its war with Iran, yesterday announced the imposition of new regulations to restrict the ship of dive sensitive chemical compounds to both countries." The report then added: "There is no confirmation that American-made chemicals have been used by Iraq in its military effort but officials said a rush shipment to Iraq of one of the newly controlled chemical compounds was recently halted. The chemical compounds were described as having many industrial and commercial uses as well as being possible components in poison gas."

Such early reports seems to indicate that, at the very least, the US was supplying Saddam Hussein with chemical compounds that had multiple uses, including those used in making poison gas.
When it comes to history, one will never know the full truth, of course. 

According to a Washington Post article, written at the time by Bob Woodward, in 1984, the CIA began to provide the Iraqis with intelligence that allowed the its military to “calibrate” its mustard gas attacks on The Post’s source said that this data was essential to Iraq’s war effort.

Despite what should have been questions of morality or even legality, the Reagan administration seemed prepared to cross the line for the sake of geopolitics. 

The amazing part was how nobody in the administration seemed especially troubled. Of course, what choice did they have when it came right down to it? Once it had begun, it had all become too slippery, there was no easy way to end things. 

That’s the problem with military adventures.

So the administration took the next logical step, On November 24 1984, and regardless of the concern over Iraqi use of chemical weapons, the United States re-established full diplomatic ties with Iraq.

From Total Disarray..
This period was marked by a series of terrorist attacks in the region that left Reagan’s Middle East policies in tatters. Things were going from bad to worse, from frustration to something worse.

In 1983, Reagan’s attempt to use the American military to stabilize a fragile peace in Lebanon had led to disaster. In spite of clear restrictions in the War Powers Act, in July 1982 Reagan had given the decision to station troops just outside the Beirut airport. It turned out to be a costly miscalculation.

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger had privately warned the president against the move. It had, in fact, began as a small contingent of Marines but by the following year, without a clear-cut objective and without the approval of Congress, the number had grown to 1200 soldiers. 

Incidentally, The War Powers Act however forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. The Reagan administration simply ignored this finer point.

When, after over a year later, a reporter asked Reagan why the Marines remained in Lebanon, the president said:
“Because I think it is vitally important to the security of the United States and the Western world.”
One week later, on a Sunday morning in October 23 1983, two truck bombs with equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT, struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces. The resulting explosions took the lives of 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers, along with sixty Americans injured, (58 paratroopers from the1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were killed and 15 injured).

Reagan’s reaction to the bombing? Although terrorist training camps in the Bekkah valley were targeted, the president at the last moment left it to French and Israeli fighters. His only real response was to pull the troops offshore.

The following day, he ordered an invasion in the tiny island nation of Grenada, allegedly to thwart a Soviet power grab. The UN later roundly condemned the action as a violation of international law, approving of a resolution that "deeply deplores the armed intervention in Grenada, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of that State". 

Despite the loss of 19 US forces and the wounding of a further 116 , there was never any doubt of the outcome and the show of force played well domestically.

The String of Attacks
The barracks bombing was in fact only a string of terrorist attacks directed against American targets both hard and soft during this time.

  • April 18 1983-- suicide bomber killed 63 people at the American Embassy in Beirut. 
  • September 20 1984- a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with 400 pounds of TNT blew up the American Embassy in Beirut.Twenty-three people are killed--6 Lebanese employees, 15 Lebanese civilians and others, and two Americans. 
  • June 14 1985- TWA 847 en route from Athens to Rome was hijacked in what turned out to be a three-day ordeal. One American. U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem was tortured and murdered. Later his body was thrown onto the tarmac. Terrorists removed hostages from the plane and relocated them in various areas of Beirut.
  • October 7 1985-- a luxury cruise liner, Achille Lauro, was overtaken by a splinter group of the Palestinian Liberation Army. The sadistic murder of a Jewish American businessman, Leon Klinghoffer, outraged the world. The disabled Klinghoffer was shot and his body and wheelchair thrown into the sea. Reagan deployed Navy Seals to attempt a rescue but, due to the potential loss of life, they were never used.
(However, after negotiations with the hostages takers allowed them safe passage to Egypt, phone intercepts of President Mubarak’s phone conversations gave critical information about the flights of the terrorists out of Egypt. With this information, US Air Force jets forced the plane down at a NATO base in Italy. This bold move was the exception and not the rule but the success of the hijacking of the hijackers highlighted the talents of the man who co-conceived and managed the operation. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North.)

*    *    *    *    
Randoms kidnappings of foreign nationals- followed by political ransom demands- were quickly becoming an epidemic. The targets were for the most part, soft, chosen not for their political significance but merely by the ease of the abduction.

In total, between 1982 and 1992, 96 foreign hostages were seized; most from America or Western Europe. In one particularly upsetting case for CIA director William Casey, a former CIA station chief in Lebanon, William Buckley (not the conservative talk show host) was abducted and tortured. 
Buckley had been a friend of Casey and the kidnapping, followed by the release of torture tapes, had affected the CIA director. In fact, his preoccupation with Buckley's abduction and torture may have led him to make some poorly-thought out and  reactionary decisions as we shall see. 
Moreover information obtained through his captive's torture became a death sentence for Buckley's network. As one major general noted:
"Buckley's kidnapping had become a major CIA concern. Not long after his capture, his agents either vanished or were killed. It was clear that his captors had tortured him into revealing the network of agents he had established... ."
Reagan administration officials, including Casey, feared that they were watching a repeat performance of the Iranian hostage crisis and they were bound not to let that happen. Something had to be done. Something bold. 

Outside of the Middle East, aspects of Reagan’s foreign policy were coming under attack by Congress, particularly his secret wars in Central America. Fears that the Soviet Union was, by proxy, attempting to set up regime similar to Cuba in order to spread communism had motivated the administration to fund a para-military organization known as the Contras. Congress would have none of it and in October 1984 voted to halt any funding of such operations. 

All the elements were in place, (particularly the feeling of desperation), for the Reagan administration to embark on what would later turn out to be its most hypocritical, poorly-thought out and embarrassing covert operation, involving two illegal operations in different hemispheres.

.. to Complete Disgrace
During the presidential debate with Carter back in 1980, Reagan had stated,
I believe it is high time that civilized countries of the world make it plain that there is no room worldwide for terrorism. There will be no negotiations with terrorists of any kind.
Real-life practicality can be blamed when principles are forced to take the back seat. However, as we have seen, if the October surprise claim is true, that vow was broken very early for the sake of political advantages. When Reagan made the decision to supply arms to Saddam in Iraq- whatever the circumstances- that too was a violation of trust. Republican apologists can claim that the urgency and importance overrode that promise. 
However, by 1985, Reagan, against the advice of some in his own cabinet, would take his deceit one step further, deep into territory that would bring shame upon the nation.

According to the book, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, by Bob Woodward, by 1985, William Casey was growing desperate about the situation in Iran. As a Cold Warrior he believed that where American wasn’t, the Soviet Union would be and that included Tehran.

When Khomeini and his regime fell (and the CIA was sure it would be soon) the Soviets would reap the rewards from any footholds it had in Iran. In fact, the Soviet position was hardly any better than the American and these fears were exaggerated. CIA analysis that proved this was dismissed by the Reagan administration. 

In early spring 1985, Casey directed CIA National Intelligence Officer Graham Fuller to draft a paper suggesting a new Iran policy. Fuller suggested that the Iranian arms embargo might work against U.S. interests by moving the Iranians, who were desperately seeking arms on the world market to carry on their war with Iraq, toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. 

The memo made several important observations. Most importantly, Iran was losing the war with Iraq; secondly, only by encouraging U.S. allies to resume arms sales to Iran could the Iranian drift toward the Soviet Union be stopped; lastly and more controversially, the memo argued that by selling weapons to carefully selected moderates in Iran, it could strengthen their position inside Iran. 

A five page memo added:
“It is imperative.. that we perhaps think in terms of a bolder- and perhaps riskier- policy which will at least ensure a greater US voice in the unfolding situation.Nobody has any brilliant ideas about how to get us back into Tehran.”
Eventually a brilliant idea emerged from the National Security Agency (NSA).The idea? 
To sell much needed weapons to Iran. The arrangement could be made through middlemen and third party countries to ship military hardware to Iran- with the agreement of so-called moderate elements in Tehran. In exchange, Iran would help free hostages held in Lebanon. This presumed many doubtful things to be true. 

When, on June 17, 1985 Robert McFarlane an NSA advisor, drew up a directive `U.S. Policy Toward Iran' for review and the president to approve, Casey fully endorsed the idea while the Secretary of State Schultz and Secretary of Defense balked at the idea. 
Weinburger wrote on his copy of the directive:
This is almost too absurd to comment on -- By all means pass it on .. but the assumption here is 1) that Iran is about to fall; + 2) we can deal with them on a rational basis -- It's like asking Qadhafi to Washington for a cozy chat.
It also presumed that here were what anybody in the West would consider moderate parties, that they could be trusted, and that they had any influence with the hostage takers.
Opposition by Schultz and Weinburger should have killed the idea. One source points out their general objections:
They called it a straight arms-for-hostages deal that was contrary to U.S. public policy. They also argued that these sales would violate the Arms Export Control Act, as well as the U.S. arms embargo against Iran. The embargo had been imposed after the taking of hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and was continued because of the Iran-Iraq war.
However, Casey, (with McFarlane and North and others to manage the project) used his close relationship with the president to make a private pitch in the Oval Office. At that point the covert initiative went underground, becoming covert not merely from the public but apparently from anybody in the administration that would not consent. The casual misrepresentations of the true situation to the public had now spread to lying among the staff. 
Dishonesty had become contagious.

How could this policy ever be reconciled with what the president was telling Congress and the American public? In the same month and the directive was being reviewed, the president, in a speech to the Annual Convention of the American Bar Association, stated that the CIA had confirmed Iranian involvement in 57 terrorist attacks.
Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba Nicaragua.. all of these states are untied by one simple criminal phenomenon- their fanatical hatred of the United States, our people, our way of life, our international stature.. these terrorist states are now engaged in acts of war against the government and people of the United States.
Selling weapons - no matter how indirectly- to people the president himself was calling an enemy would, by most estimates, be considered an act of treason. But as the Republican Nixon once said, “It’s not a crime when the president does it.”

Unraveling of the Swindle

It was wrong and the president was well aware of that fact, proved by the fact that the President neither signed a finding for this covert operation, nor did he notify the Congress.
Two months after the president condemned terrorist states, on September 14, 1985, the first shipment of 500 TOW anti-tank missiles was sent to Iran from- of all people- Israel, with NSC staff handling the operational control. It was to be the first of three shipments sent to Iran as part of a negotiation process to gain the release of American hostages.

And, as one source explains, it was all a swindle.

Although the Iranians had promised to release most of the American hostages in return, only one, Reverend Benjamin Weir, was freed. The President persisted. In November, he authorized Israel to ship 80 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles in return for all the hostages, with a promise of prompt replenishment by the United States, and 40 more Hawks to be sent directly by the United States to Iran. Eighteen Hawk missiles were actually shipped from Israel in November 1985, but no hostages were released.
As anybody could have guessed, the fatal flaw in the Iranian initiative was the same flaw as the Iraqi initiative: the very real possibility of exposure and the subsequent damage it could do to credibility of the administration domestically and the reaction of allies. In turn, in both cases, the partner had free control over the situation, leaving the door open for political blackmail by threatening to divulge the information.

In a little over a year, The Iranian initiative became public knowledge when it was disclosed. A high level for political reasons by dissident high level Iranian religious officials revealed the covert operation to humiliate both sides in the transaction.

The New York Times picked up the story from a Lebanese weekly, Al-Shirraa, and promoted it as a front page article on November 4, 1986. When the all of the details did come out, (along with the added facts about how the profits made from the Iranian initiative were used to illegally fund Central American operations) the Reagan administration was effectively humiliated by televised Congressional hearings. Many thought the Iran-Contra scandal deserved the impeachment of the president, thought how much Reagan actually knew at the time remains unclear. 

In one of those strange twist that conspiracy researchers marvel at, only hours Hours before his scheduled testimony a Senate panel about the Central Intelligence Agency's role in the sale of American arms to Iran, William Casey suffered a seizure at his doctor’s office. 
Instead of appearing to testify, he was taken to Georgetown University Hospital where he underwent surgery. A brain tumor was discovered and, after its removal, Casey was left unable to speak. 
Mr. Casey died less than 24 hours after the first witness in Congressional hearings testified. 

The final report by Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair lays out the case against the Reagan administration, its incompetence and the damage it had done to America’s reputation at home and abroad.
The Administration had pledged that United States would not bargain with terrorists. This nation would not make concessions in exchange for American hostage, because such concession could only encourage kidnapping...

Similarly the Administration had recognized that it was not in the nation's interest to prolong the Persian Gulf War and strengthen the hand of Ayatollah against Iraq. The Administration had therefore pledged that the United States would not arm either side, but would maintain a policy of strict neutrality, and it would urge US allies and friend to do the same.

The Iran initiative broke both of these pledges and violated both of these policies.
(Clearly the Congress still was unaware that the Reagan administration had also supplied weapons and intelligence to Iran's enemy as well.)
*      *      *      *

From misleading the public about the Carter's negotiations with the Iranians and the handover of gold, to the cooperative war effort with Saddam, despite claiming neutrality and despite the Iraqi leader's harboring an active terrorist, from turning a blind eye to Saddam's use of chemical weapons, to inability to offer any response to terrorism directed at targets in the Middle East, the record of the Reagan administration was hardly impressive, especially in comparison to the present president of the United States. 

It was admittedly a different time and the situation was not ideal. But then no president has ever made that excuse before and Reagan certainly didn't accept it from President Carter.

In any event, there was little excuse for Reagan's tendency to deceive America's allies, the Congress and the American people. Making secret weapons deals with the sworn enemies that have sworn to destroy your country is beyond any excuse. And yet, today, the myth of Reagan and his foreign policy remains a cherished ideal for most conservatives. 

The Reagan legacy is for the Republican conservatives, a piece of unfinished art, While condemning liberals for constantly evoking his name, they continue to celebrate and misrepresent the kind of leadership that Reagan actually offered the American people. The historical record is very different than the mythology they revel in. But the constant comparisons to Reagan should serve as a proper warning to voters. Mitt Romney will, they boast, be another Reagan. 

I began this series with Senator John McCain and I will end on the same note. 

In Tampa, last week, when an MSNBC interviews asked Senator McCain about Romney, McCain said, that despite Romney’s lack of military experience, Romney had “the right instinct.. the Reagan instinct.” 

Sadly for all of us, it could be the only accurate thing that John McCain has ever said.

Here is the easy to read and downloadable PDF file of this post.