Capital letter — From the January 1991 issue

Why We Are Stuck in the Sand

Realpolitik in the Gulf

( 3 of 7 )

Leafing through the history of Washington’s contemporary involvement in the Gulf, one might begin to imagine the cool detachment in 1972 of arch-realpolitician Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to Richard Nixon. I have before me as I write a copy of the report of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Activities chaired by Congressman Otis Pike, completed in January 1976, partially leaked, and then censored by the White House and the CIA. The committee found that in 1972 Kissinger had met with the Shah of Iran, who solicited his aid in destabilizing the Baathist regime of Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr in Baghdad. Iraq had given refuge to the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini and used anti-imperialist rhetoric while coveting Iran’s Arabic-speaking Khuzistan region. The Shah and Kissinger agreed that Iraq was upsetting the balance in the Gulf; a way to restore the balance—or, anyway, to find some new balance—was to send a signal by supporting the landless, luckless Kurds, then in revolt in northern Iraq.

Kissinger put the idea to Nixon, who loved (and loves still) the game of nations and who had already decided to tilt toward Iran and build it into his most powerful regional friend, replete with arms purchased from U.S. manufacturers—not unlike Saudi Arabia today, but more on that later. Nixon authorized a covert-action budget and sent John Connally, his former treasury secretary, to Teheran to cement the deal. (So the practice .of conducting American Middle East policy by way of the freemasonry of the shady oilmen did not originate with James Baker or George Bush. As the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, confided to Saddam Hussein in her now-famous meeting last July 25, almost as though giving a thumbnail profile of her bosses: “We have many Americans who would like to see the price go above $25 because they come from oil-producing states.” Much more later on that tête-è-tête.)

The principal finding of the Pike Commission, in its study of U.S. covert intervention in Iraq and Iran in the early 1970s, is a clue to a good deal of what has happened since. The committee members found, to their evident shock, the following:

Documents in the Committee’s possession clearly show that the President, Dr. Kissinger and the foreign head of state [the Shah] hoped that our clients [the Kurds) would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally’s neighboring country [Iraq].

Official prose in Washington can possess a horror and immediacy of its own, as is shown by the sentence that follows:

This policy was not imparted to our clients, who were encouraged to continue fighting.

“Not imparted.” “Not imparted” to the desperate Kurdish villagers to whom Kissinger’s envoys came with outstretched hands and practiced grins. “Not imparted,” either, to the American public or to Congress. “Imparted,” though, to the Shah and to Saddam Hussein (then the Baathists’ number-two man), who met and signed a treaty temporarily ending their border dispute in 1975—thus restoring balance in the region. On that very day, all U.S. aid to the Kurds was terminated—a decision that, of course, “imparted” itself to Saddam. On the next day he launched a search-and-destroy operation in Kurdistan that has been going on ever since and that, in the town of Halabja in 1988, made history by marking the first use of chemical weaponry by a state against its own citizens.

By the by, which realpolitician was it who became director of the CIA in the period—January 1976—when the Kurdish operation was being hastily interred, the Kurds themselves were being mopped up by Saddam, and the Pike Commission report was restricted? He happens to be the same man who now wants you to believe Saddam is suddenly “worse than Hitler.” But forget it; everybody else has.

contributed to <em>Harper's Magazine</em> for more than two decades, and was Washington Editor from 1987 to 1992.

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