Before Desert Storm
Lacking the decency to commit suicide before he could be made into a caged public relations tool for American occupation, Saddam Hussein is functioning in captivity as he did through much of his lethal career: a tool for the imperial strategy of the United States.
During the 1960s, Saddam was a leading and brutal participant in the C.I.A.-sponsored activities of the authoritarian, anti-Communist Baath Party. That party butchered untold numbers of leftists and suspected leftists.
After Saddam became the dictatorial head of the Iraq state in 1979, he purged more Iraq’s much of Iraq’s left and other opposition, consistent with U.S. wishes. During the 1980s, his brutal regime received diplomatic cover and economic and military assistance from the U.S., which saw Saddam’s Iraq as a useful counter to the march of radical Islam and the related model of the (1979) Iranian revolution. As one expression of this reasoning, the U.S. downplayed Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians, including the slaughter of an estimated 100,000 Kurds from 1987 and 1989. The U.S. encouraged and funded the savage war fought between Iran and Iraq during the Reagan administration (1980-1988) – a conflict that killed about one million soldiers and began a process of domestic Iraqi social and economic degradation that reached savage depths under the U.S.-imposed sanctions regime.
During Desert Storm
In 1990 and 1991, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait provided the first Bush administration with an opportunity to falsely pose as a humanitarian ally of national liberation in the Middle East. It created an opening for Bush I to demonstrate the overwhelming military power of the U.S. in the newborn “post-Cold War era” and to claim (wrongly) that “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome [the American citizenry's reluctance to cheerfully send their sons and daughters on dangerous/murderous imperial missions favored designed by certain privileged, combat-exempt segments of the American power elite, P.S.] once and for all.” During the “war” (widely described as a “turkey shoot” by its US. veterans), officially declared U.S. hatred for Evil Saddam provided the first Bush administration with useful cover to illegally attack the people and civilian infrastructure of Iraq, killing as many as 15,000 civilians on top of more than 100,000 Iraqi troops.
Interestingly enough, eight days before he invaded Kuwait, the U.S. State Department gave Saddam good reason to think that his action would receive at least tacit U.S. approval.
After Desert Storm
After he was defeated with military ease, terrible Saddam was seen by Bush I as the only viable alternative to a much bigger danger: popular governance and “chaos” in a majority-Shiite Muslim nation endowed with huge petroleum reserves and located at the heart of the most strategically significant (because oil-rich) region in the world. Thus it was that the U.S. initially encouraged Iraqi masses to rise up against their ruler but then stood aside while Saddam butchered his domestic opposition. In April of 1991, the U.S. State Department refused to meet any of Saddam’s Iraqi opposition – a notable snub in light of recent events.
After the first Gulf “War,” the first Bush and then the Clinton administrations found Evil Saddam to be an essential political/public relations tool in their ruthless imposition of a savage sanctions program that killed 500,000 Iraq children and deepened U.S. control of Iraq’s oil resources. The U.S. used Big Bad Saddam to provide cover for their illegal construction and maintenance of imperial “no-fly zones,” recurrent illegal bombings of Iraq (killing civilians as well as military personnel), and repeated efforts to undermine a weapons inspections regime that effectively disarmed Saddam’s regime years before Bush II invaded to save Americans from the imminent danger posed by Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). U.S. policymakers consistently blamed the massive suffering caused by these policies on Saddam, contrary to abundant evidence available at the time.
Along the way, the United States’ declared “humanitarian” and “democratic” opposition to, and obsession with, Saddam deflected media and popular attention away from U.S. actions and policies that contradicted standard doctrine claiming that the U.S. was the Providence-ordained homeland and headquarters of global freedom and justice – e.g. longstanding U.S. support (1965-1999) for the blood-soaked Suharto regime in Indonesia and Israel’s bloody, illegal occupation and apartheid regime in Palestine (two of many possible examples). The Middle Eastern diversion is especially significant, given the region’s status as the world’s most dangerous and volatile area and Israel’s possession of massive stocks of WMD, including ( by U.S. intelligence estimates) several hundred nuclear weapons, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolution 687, Article 14, which embraces the “goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery.”
Curiously enough, Saddam’s domestic political strength power was deepened by the U.S.- led sanctions and related “oil for food” and weapons-inspections regimes, which permitted him to falsely blame all of Iraq’s problems on the evil imperialists.
After 9/11, the trumped-up specter of Saddam’s regime provided a grounded, territorially discrete target upon which the White House could project Americans’ racially tinged feelings of dread and revenge towards the stateless September attackers, hazily understood to be broadly Muslim and Arab. The Bush II administration found amazingly obedient collaborators in the dominant “mainstream” (highly concentrated and corporate-state) media as they worked to merge the Evil Other visages of Saddam and Osama “bin-forgotten.” At the same time, Saddam’s defenseless, disarmed regime provided a welcome victim and target for the first demonstration project of the Bush-Wolfowitz Doctrine, which proclaims America’s right to “resort to force at will” (in Noam Chomsky’s excellent phrase) against any perceived threat to U.S. global hegemony, regardless of law and opinion at home or abroad.
Now in captivity under (appropriately enough) U.S. protection, the trapped former dictator will provide more opportunity for the U.S. to advance the fiction that it is the great friend of freedom and democracy within and beyond the Middle East. Saddam’s show trial should prove instructive in the extreme. Consistent with standard Orwellian practice before, during and after the Tokyo and Nuremberg War Trials, the victors’ crimes – including in this case 1 million Iraqi sanctions deaths and the killing of surrendered Iraqi troops and innocent Iraqi civilians in 1991 and 2003 – will be kept out of the relevant official legal and historical record.
There will be no significant public condemnation or even acknowledgement of the real animating purpose behind U.S. policy in the Middle East. That purpose is the deterrence of Arab democracy and self-determination , consistent with a longstanding U.S. “grand imperial strategy” that assigns the U.S. the special right and duty to control the world’s natural and human resources and to pre-empt the conditionally acknowledged sovereign tights of other nations and peoples wherever and whenever necessary to maintain proper world order as determined and defined by the U.S (Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance [New York, NY: Metropolitan Books, 2003], pp.11-49, 166-167, and passim), the world’s leading incarceration state, which serves as “the beacon to the world of the way life should be” (according the Republican Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchinson) and “stands taller and sees farther” (Madeline Albright) than all other nations.
Since it was formulated in the age of oil-dependent petro-capitalism, that grand strategy has always placed special emphasis on the oil-stocked Middle East, which U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” (quoted in Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, p. 164).
Meanwhile the bloodshed continues in Iraq, reflecting in part continuing resistance on the part of Iraqis and other Arabs who hardly need the sorry circus-freak Saddam to tell them when, how or why to attack the imperial conscripts of George the Second.
Paul Street ([email protected]) writes on race, class, imperialism and thought control.