Debunking the Times on Bush I:s foreign policy record

Below is a list of the most blatant pieces of deception concerning George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy record, reported in Adam Nagourney’s commemorative NYT piece.

Nagourney writes that ”Environmental groups praised Mr. Bush’s record on climate change and the environment. As president, he signed the United States to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change…” at the Rio Conference in 1992.

However, he omits some rather pertinent facts, reported at the time by Rose Gutfeld in the Wall Street Journal:

Until two weeks ago, it looked as if next week’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro would become a widely publicized global morality play, with President Bush cast as the villain. He was the only major world leader unwilling to sign an agreement with firm limits on the ‘greenhouse’ gases feared to cause global warming. Mr. Bush, who as a candidate in 1988 had promised to be the ‘environmental president’, was in danger of being tagged in Rio as No. 1 Enemy of the Earth. But in an extraordinary coup… the Bush administration negotiators persuaded the representatives of 142 other nations to reverse course. They all agreed to sign a vaguely worded pact that sets no binding timetables for reducing emissions, makes no commitments to achieving specific levels of emissions – indeed, makes no commitments to do anything at all.

In explaining the background for Bush’s invasion of Panama, Nagourney reports that ”[Manuel] Noriega claimed victory in an election in May [1989] that independent observers said had been stained with fraud. Mr. Bush declared the election stolen and called for international pressure to make the Panamanian strongman step aside. It would take almost eight months to accomplish that goal.” In short, Noriega’s violation of democratic standards caused such great offense to US sensibilities, that it was necessary to invade in order to ”oust” the ”strongman”, as Nagourney puts it.

As Chomsky wrote in Deterring Democracy, there is a way to test the proposition, conveniently ignored in Nagourney’s account. Simply by asking:

[W]hat happened in the preceding election in 1984, when Noriega was still our thug? [i.e., when he enjoyed firm Washington backing] The answer is that Noriega stole the election with considerably more violence than in 1989…. [Secretary of State George] Shultz was sent down to legitimate the fraud, praising the election as “initiating the process of democracy”; U.S. approval was symbolized by President Reagan’s congratulatory message to [the winner], seven hours before his victory had been certified.

According to Nagourney, the Gulf War was prosecuted in a ”relatively bloodless” manner. Actually, ”Pentagon and other sources give estimates of 100,000 defenseless victims killed.” (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy).

Nagourney quotes General Colin Powell in a way that —  it is implied — accurately describes US policy, as the Gulf war drew to a close : “The Iraqi Army is broken. All they’re trying to do now is get out. We don’t want to be seen as killing for the sake of killing.”

As Paul Street has observed: ”How many good Americans … [have] ever heard about the grisly slaughter the U.S. armed forces arch-criminally inflicted on surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait in February 1991?”. Apparently not Nagourney. Street goes on to cite the testimony of journalist Joyce Chediac:

U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. … On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun … for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. … U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions. … [I]t was simply a one-sided massacre. …

But this ”relatively bloodless” conduct does not constitute ”killing for the sake of killing”.

Nagourney reports Bush as saying that he ”had been convinced that [Saddam] Hussein would be overthrown once the war ended” — a desirable development, from Bush’s perspective, it is implied. This assertion, however, flies in the face of the fact that when the Iraqi people did seek to overthrow him after the Gulf war, the following occurred, as reported by Stephen Shalom:

[I]t is literally true that the Bush administration through its highest emissary in Iraq, General Norman Schwarzkopf, authorized—not ordered, but gave permission to—Saddam to fly armed helicopters, which he used to help crush the revolt. Schwarzkopf later claimed he was tricked, he didn’t realize how Saddam intended to use the armed helicopters, and Bush says Schwarzkopf had not been given specific instructions. Crucially, however, when it was clear what Saddam was doing with the helicopters, officials in Washington considered whether “the authority to fly the helicopters be rescinded,” and they decided not to do so.

In discussing the lead-up to the Gulf war, Nagourney claims that ”From the start, Mr. Bush was dubious that Mr. Hussein would respond to diplomacy.” From this we are to understand that the contention that the Iraqi government was not prepared to peacefully negotiate an agreement leading to Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait is somehow tenable. The problem is that the claim is utterly at variance with the facts, which the Times had labored hard to suppress at the time. For example, an Iraqi withdrawal offer was presented on August 23 1990, as Newsday reported. In Deterring Democracy, Chomsky wrote:

The reaction was … illuminating. Government spokesmen ridiculed the whole affair. The New York Times noted the Newsday report briefly on page 14, the continuation page of an article on another topic, citing government spokespersons who dismissed it as “baloney.” After framing the matter properly, the Times concedes that the story was accurate, quoting White House sources who said the proposal “had not been taken seriously because Mr. Bush demands the unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait.” The Times also noted … a similar offer, but it, too, was dismissed by the Administration.” That news had not been published, though it could not be ignored entirely once it was leaked a week later to the suburban journal Newsday, which is prominently displayed on New York City newsstands — suggesting a certain hypothesis about what happened.

Nagourney discusses President Bush’s policy towards the contras, whom he misleadingly referred to as ”rebels” – in fact, even their own most fervent lobbyists (Penn Kemble, Bruce Cameron) conceded that they were a US-organized ”proxy force”, waging a terrorist war against Nicaragua from foreign bases. Nagourney claims that Bush sought to provide the contras with ”humanitarian aid, but not military aid”.

He is alluding to the agreement which the Times described as ”committing the Administration and Congress to aid for the Nicaraguan rebels and support for the Central American peace efforts”. Chomsky noted that this was ”a flat and transparent self-contradiction, since the ‘peace efforts’ explicitly bar the aid.” He wrote further that ” ‘the Central America peace efforts’ ruled out any form of aid for the US-run forces except for resettlement, and that the aid provided did not qualify as ‘humanitarian’ by any standards, as was unequivocally determined by the World Court in a ruling that displeased US elite opinion and therefore was never mentioned in the long and vigorous debate … over ‘humanitarian aid.’ ”

Finally, Nagourney misleadingly characterizes the Iran-contra affair as a ”clandestine scheme to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of Iranian hostages”, while omitting ”Israel’s sale of US arms to Iran in the 1980s, which, as high-level Israeli sources reported in the early 1980s (long before there were any hostages), was carried out in coordination with the US government to encourage a military coup…” (Chomsky).

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