Friday, July 02, 2004

We Love Him, We Love Him Not

With the commencement of the much anticipated legal proceedings against ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the seven charges against Hussein were spelled out in a pre-arraignment proceeding yesterday. The charges are:

1. Killing religious figures, 1974

2. Killing political activists over 30 years (1974-Present)

3. Killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 1983

4. Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, 1987-88

5. Gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja, 1988

6. Invading Kuwait, 1990

7. Suppressing Kurdish and Shia uprisings, 1991

I have a few thoughts on this list of atrocities and crimes against humanity for which Saddam probably deserves whatever punishment is eventually meted out. It is worth noting that charges 1-5 occurred during, or before, the period which the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations had a close working relationship with Saddam Hussein. Viewing Hussein as an ally and bulwark against the spread of the radical Islam espoused by his neighbor, Iran, Reagan and Bush provided military aid, economic aid, logistical support and intelligence to the Iraqi dictator during his decade long conflict with Iran, despite his horrible human rights record.

Furthermore, Donald Rumsfeld himself was the emissary of the Reagan administration who met with Saddam after he notoriously gassed Kurdish villagers in Halabja in 1988. The purpose of Rumsfeld's trip was to assure Saddam that the aid would continue to flow and that the Reagan administration still considered him an ally, despite his use of WMDs against his own people.

With the collapse and/or complete refutation of almost every justification for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration (with the exception of the maestro of misinformation, Dick Cheney) has fallen back on the one remaining argument: the humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people.

Regarding our past tolerance of Saddam's brutality and atrocities, many argue that this does not preclude us from acting on humanitarian concerns in the present. Should the mistakes in judgment made by prior administrations tie our hands in the present and future and thus demand that we, as a nation, remain mute in the face of murder? I think the answer is no. We must always reserve the right to address humanitarian crises, even if in the past we supported the regime in question.

However, we cannot ignore how our past support impacts our credibility, legitimacy and authority in acting in the present. Therefore, it is even more imperative that we involve international organizations such as the UN or NATO in order to garner acceptance, legitimacy and moral consistency in the eyes of the world for our toppling a regime that we helped to sustain. If we are acting as a part of an internationally sanctioned force, then we are not the only actor in the play. If, on the other hand, we represent the lion's share of a loose coalition that was cajoled and coerced into contributing small contingents, then we look like the primary actor.

And, of course, we should acknowledge the fact that our prior support was a mistake. This means taking the Reagan administration to task for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations that many Reagan acolytes now tout as the primary justification for fighting an enormously costly war. It is simply impossible to have it both ways. If Saddam is as awful as he is made out to be by the Bush administration, then how can they justify the support the Reagan administration (Donald Rumsfeld included) gave Saddam during the time that he was committing all the atrocities that have earned him his reputation? Our foreign policy cannot afford to appear to be governed with the consistency and resolve commonly attributed to the whims of a teenager in love.

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