[Marxism] Al Gore for overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2000

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 7 06:45:27 MDT 2004

The New Yorker
January 22, 2001

Will the new Bush team's old memories shape its foreign policy?


Let's assume, just for argument's sake, that George W. Bush's Presidency 
will have certain similarities to his father's-even that it will be a 
continuation of his father's, with the added elements of a surer 
political touch (especially in dealing with the conservative wing of the 
Republican Party) and a predilection for settling scores with people who 
did the old man wrong. The Presidential term limit has automatically 
taken care of Bill Clinton, the dethroner of George H. W. Bush. So who 
else might there be who was a major enemy to Bush Administration One, 
and could be given a comeuppance in Bush Administration Two? Might not 
the first name on the list be Saddam Hussein?

It is true that Bush One administered a swift and splendid thrashing to 
Saddam in the Gulf War, but he is still defiantly in power in Iraq. His 
longevity rivals Fidel Castro's-Saddam has effectively been running Iraq 
since the Nixon Administration. In 1993, a year when Saddam was supposed 
to be history and Bush was supposed to be President, Saddam tried to 
have Bush assassinated. For almost ten years, the Bush One team has had 
to endure the accusation, rich in retrospective wisdom, that it could 
have nailed Saddam if only it had been willing to prosecute the Gulf War 
for a few more days. Now two of the leading accusees, Colin Powell and 
Dick Cheney, are assuming positions at the very top of the American 
government, subordinate only to the firstborn son of another of the 
leading accusees. Lots of other, lesser known Gulf War planners will 
probably be high-level officials in the new Bush Administration.

The idea of overthrowing Saddam is not an idle fantasy-or, if it is, 
it's one that has lately occupied the minds of many American officials, 
including people close to George W. Bush. In 1998, during the period 
when Saddam was resisting the international inspection team that was 
trying to make sure he wasn't manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, 
Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Iraq Liberation Act, 
which made available ninety-seven million dollars in government aid to 
organizations dedicated to the overthrow of Saddam. Two of the act's 
co-sponsors were Senators Trent Lott and Joseph Lieberman-not peripheral 
figures on Capitol Hill. Clinton was unenthusiastic about the Iraq 
Liberation Act and has spent almost none of the money it provides, but 
Al Gore, during the Presidential campaign, put some distance between 
himself and Clinton on the issue of removing Saddam. In the second 
Presidential debate, after defending his Administration's Iraq record, 
he said, "I want to go further. I want to give robust support to the 
groups that are trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein."


It is noteworthy that so many members of the Bush officialdom, including 
Bush himself, have publicly toyed with the option of toppling Saddam, 
because that is not the consensus position in the foreign-policy world. 
In January of 1999, shortly after the passage of the Iraq Liberation 
Act, Foreign Affairs published a devastating article called "The 
Rollback Fantasy," which said that arming the Iraqi National Congress 
"is militarily ludicrous" and "so flawed and unrealistic that it would 
lead inexorably to a replay of the Bay of Pigs." Still, the idea keeps 
coming up. Kenneth Adelman, the former head of the Arms Control and 
Disarmament Agency and a member of the Cheney-Rumsfeld camp, told me, 
"Ideally, the first crisis would be something with Iraq. It would be a 
way to make the point that it's a new world."

The Washington headquarters of the Iraq-liberation cause is located in 
the basement of a brick town house in Georgetown, where a man named 
Francis Brooke, who constitutes the entire (unpaid) staff of the Iraq 
Liberation Action Committee, lives with his wife and children. Not long 
ago, I spent a morning with Brooke, who calls to mind a 
twenty-years-older Holden Caulfield. He has neatly parted blond hair, 
round wire-rimmed glasses, and a boy's open face, innocent manner, and 
undimmed capacity for outrage. In 1992, Brooke got a job in London with 
a public-relations agency run by a former Carter Administration 
political operative named John Rendon. He was assigned to publicize 
atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, and was given a peculiarly high 
budget (including compensation for him of nineteen thousand dollars a 
month); Rendon wouldn't name the client. Brooke soon realized that he 
was working for the C.I.A. He then maneuvered himself into the most 
sensitive part of the operation, assisting the Iraqi National Congress.

The congress had just been set up, with blessings and funding from the 
Bush Administration, which evidently had spent the better part of the 
year following the Gulf War in the hope that Saddam would fall, and 
then, realizing that he wouldn't, had settled on supporting an armed 
opposition. Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the congress, is the scion of a 
prominent family of bankers and politicians in prerevolutionary Iraq, 
and is a mathematician with degrees from M.I.T. and the University of 
Chicago. He once operated a bank in Jordan, but in 1989 Saddam 
successfully pressured King Hussein to shut it down, impound the funds, 
and try Chalabi, in absentia, before a military tribunal. Chalabi fled 
to London. In 1992, after an Iraqi National Congress delegation had gone 
to Washington and received funding from the C.I.A., he set up 
headquarters in northern Iraq. In those promising early days of the 
Iraq-liberation movement, there was an American military station in the 
territory where the Iraqi National Congress was strongest. The dream of 
the liberationists was to invade from the north, and perhaps also create 
insurgencies in the Shiite south of Iraq and elsewhere, which would 
attack Saddam from other directions.

Then came the betrayal. In the summer of 1996, Saddam invaded northern 
Iraq with forty thousand troops and four hundred tanks and drove out the 
opposition. Clinton, campaigning for reelection, did nothing. The C.I.A. 
dropped the strategy of promoting a popular opposition to Saddam. 
Chalabi moved back to London. (Chalabi skeptics can't quite picture his 
jetting in from Mayfair to lead the Kurdish tribesmen who live in 
northern Iraq into battle.)

After the events of 1996, Francis Brooke told me, "I was physically sick 
for almost a week." He fished out of a file a letter to Chalabi from Al 
Gore, dated August 4, 1993. "We pledged our support for a democratic 
alternative to the Saddam Hussein regime," the letter said. "I can 
assure you that the U.S. intends to live up to these commitments." At 
the time, Brooke was living in Atlanta and working in public relations, 
but he decided to drop everything, move to Washington, and devote 
himself to the cause of Iraqi liberation. Since then, he has spent his 
life trying, with some success, to drum up official support for Chalabi. 
The Clinton Administration has been unsympathetic, unless you count 
Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing operation launched at the 
height of the impeachment crisis, in 1998. And now?

George W. Bush doesn't have any truly good option in Iraq. Supporting 
the Iraqi National Congress poses lots of problems. The Turks don't want 
the United States to arm the Congress's Kurdish members, fearing that it 
would encourage Kurdish separatism in Turkey. The Saudis don't want 
instability on their northern border. Saddam is getting stronger, 
Chalabi's forces are getting weaker, and in Washington he has only 
Francis Brooke (rather than, say, Vernon Jordan) looking after his 
interests. One can easily imagine Colin Powell painting for Bush a 
picture of a military quagmire complete with many American casualties in 
the event that the Iraqi National Congress got enough funding to mount a 
real attack on Saddam.

But it would not be easy for Bush to ignore the situation, either, 
because Saddam is defying the United States in every possible way, is 
becoming increasingly dangerous as he builds up his military capacity, 
and is perhaps the most brutal dictator in the world. He may even be 
confident enough now to pick a fight, in the form of a move against 
Israel or a neighboring country. Plus, he has messed around with the 
Bush family. This is one to keep an eye on.

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