16 June 1998
Dr. Raymond Tanter
It is a puzzle to me why an actor would support or favor another actor when the latter engages in behavior that the former abhors!
Why did United States policy prior to the Gulf War indicate a favorable tilt toward Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq continued its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, built up a heavy conventional force, and sponsored international terrorism; all of which would classify Iraq as a rogue nation?
In order to first understand the nature of this puzzle, it is necessary to examine why the United States would consider Iraq a rogue nation. There are four main criteria for classification. The nation must 1) Sponsor international terrorism 2) Engage in WMD proliferation 3) Involve itself in drug trafficking and 4) Possess a heavy and continually growing conventional force. Iraq fits three of these criteria: items 1,2, and 4. 1
The State Department felt that Saddam was responsible for an attempted assassination on President George Bush in Kuwait in April of 1993. 2 Iraq was also responsible for two attempted bombings of the Kuwait Airways office in Beirut, and then another attempted bombing of the Kuwaiti Embassy in Lebanon. Baghdad also still provides sanctuary to terrorist groups despite its compliance with the 1992 UN Security Council Resolution 687 3. For example, the Kurdish Workers Party, known for its attacks against Turkey and Turkish interests in Europe, has training camps in Baghdad. The latter also protects members of some extreme Palestinian groups, the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Front. 4 The above evidence is more than enough to classify Iraq as a rogue regime based upon the terrorism characteristic, and to cause the Pentagon to be weary of any such United State's Policy tilt toward favoring or rather smiling upon Iraq.
During the Eighties, United States intelligence was aware that Iraq had been building up its nuclear and chemical weapons arsenal. In his book, Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws, Michael Klare mentions how Washington ignored Iraqi development of chemical and ballistic missiles during the Eighties.5 Even when Washington detected Iraqi preparations to use ballistic missiles in its conflict with Iran, the former did nothing to oppose these rogue actions on the part of Baghdad. In fact it "turned its back" on these activities and even allowed or encouraged "Western firms to provide Iraq with weapons-related technology." 6 If this was not unadulterated favoritism of Iraq one would be hard pressed to find what was! Iraq had also built up a very hefty conventional force. Despite this force being somewhat diminished by its war with Iran, Iraq still continued to acquire more tanks, and more artillery in the months following the war. Recall at the time of Operation Desert Shield and then Operation Desert Storm, the much-publicized statistic that Iraq had the world's Fourth Largest Army.
So now it is pertinent to examine US policy as well as US motivations and reasoning for those policies, toward Iraq, in the years preceding the Gulf War. Commencing in the Eighties, Washington 7 had a motivated bias to view Saddam Hussein as a "friend." Tensions mounted in the Gulf Region and the United States began to "see" Iran as an increasing threat to its international security as well as to peace in this Gulf Region. So the United States adopted a "balance of power" approach to Iran and Iraq. This "balance of power" approach seeks to favor one nation in the hopes of isolating or containing the other. Klare exemplifies this when he says that when the "Iranians went on the offensive and threatened Iraq itself, however, Washington rushed to Baghdad's assistance believing that... "the enemy of my enemy is our friend." Hence, balance of power. Washington wanted to perceive Iraq as friendly in order to align against the Iranian threat. The former especially considered Khomeni an aggressive leader who needed to be confronted. In the Eighties, during the Iran and Iraq war, Iraq was the enemy of the United States' enemy, Iran. Hence the United States chose to "lean" more toward Iraq. In this respect, the United States had a "motivated bias," to look upon Iraq in a very favorable light. They "saw" what they wanted to see- an ally in Saddam- to control Iran and to assist US interests in the Gulf. . 8 The United States viewed Saddam as a fearful leader in need of United States help. Instead of the United States considering Saddam an opportunistic leader whose rogue actions were motivated out of desire for gain, the United States "saw" Saddam as a fear driven actor who thus would need to be "embraced."
In 1970, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This incident provided further motivation for the United States to "keep Iraq close." The Soviets then simulated an invasion of Iran. 9 This set off red flags in Washington and only further intensified the need to keep Iraq out of "Soviet hands," and hence closer to Washington. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which opened the door of vulnerability to Iraq, who did attack, Washington needed to decide just how it would view Saddam. Is he a leader driven out of fear for his own nation's security? Or is he an aggressive actor whose desire for gain precedes his fear for loss? After the Islamic revolution policy makers on Capitol Hill- from a motivated bias- perceived Iraq as less of a threat, because the US government had a desire to have an ally against Iran. Out of Washington's need to find a friend in Baghdad, it was able to explain away Saddam's "outlaw" actions as a consequence of his "Machiavellian desire" for gain, 10 and hence view Iraq in a friendly light. Washington saw Baghdad as the enemy of the US enemy, and hence, a US friend.
Now was this favorable attitude toward Iraq a consensus shared throughout the United States? Of course not! It is of no doubt that the State Department, the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, and of course the business community shared a vital interest to underestimate the threat perception of Iraq, in favor of balancing the power in the Gulf, increasing business trade, and keeping Iran in check, while possessing an ally (Iraq) in the volatile Gulf region. Yet the Pentagon was weary of such accommodation and favored a more containment approach to Iraq. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) however did not share this viewpoint, and did not support United States policy alignment with Iraq. This pro-Israel community tended to overestimate the Iraqi threat, while those parties on Capitol Hill who had a motivated bias to see an ally in Saddam, tended to underestimate the Iraqi threat.
However, despite the fact that AIPAC did not openly espouse the United States favoritism of Iraq, AIPAC did give not give as much effort to the Anti-Iraq campaign as would have been expected by this pro-Israel organization. Iran had made many military advantages in the 1980-1988 war, and thus in Washington there was a "growing consensus" to for a tilt in the Iraqi direction. So AIPAC was torn. AIPAC wanted continued support from Washington against Moscow and Iran, and thus AIPAC was reluctant to suggest to Washington that they be harsher on Iraq. So AIPAC then focused on Iran as a major threat to the peace process. Here again, a nation "perceives" another nation (Iran) as a threat, and minimizes the threat from another one of its enemies (Iraq) to maximize its own overall gains.
However, in the late 1990's, AIPAC has made its stance toward Iraq quite clear! 11
Domestic Politics on Capitol Hill also played a role in this "tilt" toward Baghdad. The Bush campaign was under way and there was a strong pro-business sentiment toward accommodation of Iraq. 12 Combine this sentiment with the not too distant Iranian hostage crisis, and the stage is set for further Iraqi accommodation in favor of containing Iran. Just how prevalent and intense was this sentiment? Potent enough to have Iraq taken off the terrorist list on February 26, 1982. 13 So in other words Washington not only felt Iraq to be less of a threat than Iran, this move to remove Iraq from the terrorist list showed a marked US sentiment that perhaps Iraq should not be perceived as threatening at all!
Then there was the problem of "unfair ratios" in the Gulf. 14 The United States did not want to risk Moscow and Iraq aligning against Saudi Arabia (an avowed US ally), so hence there was this need to "wean" Iraq from Moscow. This further set the stage for Washington's accommodation of Iraq. This worked. Saddam did increase the distance between Iraq and the Soviet Union. Yet back on Capitol Hill the debate over embracing Iraq in such a welcome nature took place. The business sector of the United States- from a motivated concern for its own economic interests- and the national security community in Washington wanted to reconcile with Baghdad. Although Iraq was losing its war with Iran, Washington was successful so far in placating Iraq and in "puppeterring" them for US allied gain. Yet because of Iraq's known rogue behavior (sponsorship of international terrorism) this embrace Iraq strategy was risky. Washington needed to combat this sentiment. So it downplayed the Iraqi threat, and drew upon big business support for moving closer to Iraq, (an ordinarily risky undertaking during this time, especially in an election year.) It was no doubt that economic politics won out. United States policy, for economic, strategic, and political reasons chose to perceive Baghdad (despite its outlaw actions) as less of a threat, if a threat at all, in favor of containing Iran, and of balancing the power ratios in the Gulf, with special relevance to Moscow.
And in 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed a directive which allowed limited intelligence sharing with Iraq. The wheels were already in motion for a shift toward embracing Iraq. This philosophy was part of the "Arab-Israel first" perspective 15 which advocated close ties to Iraq in favor of using the latter to facilitate peace in the Gulf. Washington very much wanted to use Iraq to move the peace process forward. So again, US policy makers, in order to maximize US overall strategic gain in the Gulf and in the Arab-Israeli peace process, chose not to see Baghdad as a primary threat, and chose to embrace Baghdad while both containing Iran and staving off Moscow. On October 2, 1989, President George Bush signed National Security Directive 26, which stated that "normal relations between the U.S. and Iraq would serve out long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. 16 The U.S. Government should propose both economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and to increase our influence with Iraq." This directive came just three years prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; an event which thrust Washington into a very difficult predicament!
Saddam interpreted this favorable tilt from Capitol Hill as the White House smiling upon him, and discounted the dissention of the Pentagon. He continued to increase his conventional military force and his nuclear weapon arsenal. These aforementioned facts combined with Iraq's precarious location in the Gulf concerned the Pentagon in Washington. Officials were not all together sure they wanted to discount the Iraqi threat in favor of greater US peace objectives. So from a motivated bias, Saddam saw a friendly United States and felt that the sentiment of the US executive branch (as in Iraq) was a sole unitary actor. He discounted concerns from other departments. The White House and State Department continued to favor balance of power and the Pentagon favored containment and prepared for the worst case outcome, an American war with Iraq.
(In an in depth interview Hussein gives some insight as to what he was thinking at the time of the Kuwaiti invasion. 17
Klare confirms this US favorable sentiment toward Iraq. He mentions that April Gaspie, the U.S ambassador to Iraq told Hussein on July 25, 1990, that "I have direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq." Furthermore, she only intensified Saddam's misperception of the United States, when she said that Washington had "no- opinion" with regards to " inter- Arab conflicts," as well as the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border dispute. 18 This is extremely crucial. Hearing this Saddam would only naturally assume that any invasion of Kuwait (an inter- Arab conflict) in part over the border disputes, would be met with little if any US resistance.
So then Iraq invades Kuwait in 1991, commencing the Gulf War, and Washington is then forced to view Iraq as a threat. The former perceived Baghdad as a threat to the security of its ally, Israel, as a definite rogue actor in its attack on Kuwait, and of course as an economic threat (oil interests). (It is quite ironic how the very reasons that United States policy had before favored Iraq- strategic, and economic, it now feared its old ally, as its newfound enemy.) Saddam had underestimated the Pentagon's threat perception of Baghdad, and did not think that "the United States had an opinion" on its invasion of Kuwait. Conversely, Washington policy makers had perhaps misinterpreted Saddam as a fearful leader when in reality he was merely motivated by gain. Hence, Washington embraced when it should have contained. Notwithstanding, the United States was hard pressed to act in Operation Desert Storm. Overnight, Iraq had shifted away from a US ally in the Gulf to a US threat and foe.
After moving from accommodation to containment of Iraq, where does this leave Washington and its policies toward Iraq as well as other already existing or potential rogue nations? The United States now views Iraq as a threat. Iraq is back on the terrorist list. The US military has troops in Kuwait and the UN has inspectors ensuring that Iraq is disabling his nuclear and chemical weapons, a condition of the cease-fire of the Gulf War. Washington is not looking the other way anymore. Neither the State Department, nor the Department of Defense see embracing Iraq as a viable option. Instead there has been a marked shift toward dual containment of both Iran and Iraq, and if anything, in light of the talks on lifting certain restrictions regarding the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act 19 US policy has begun to look more favorably upon Iran. Finally what can be learned in the future? Washington must ensure it thoroughly examines what a nation's motivations are, or rather what the leader of that nations has for his motivations. Washington should be more careful in its friendly actions. It is one thing to act in the best overall US interest. However, lifting a nation from the terrorist list, when that nation has not made marked strides in halting its terrorist sponsorship can send the wrong message, and leave the United States open and vulnerable to possible rogue attacks- whether on home soil (terrorism) or abroad (invasions of neighboring borders.) Washington should in essence learn much from the Iraqi situation. And if nothing else realize that it is quite apparent when dealing with international politics, with threat perception, and with rogue leaders and their nations, there really are no allies or enemies, just fair weathered friends!
Tanter, Raymond. Rogue Regimes. St. Martin's Press: New York, NY., 1998.
Klare, Michael. Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws. Hill and Wang: New York, NY., 1995.
For the purpose of this paper, the "United States" refers to the collective body of the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Executive and Legislative branches, the business community, as well as vital interest groups.