War crimes and other blunders

Helping Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons was about par for the course in the Reagan Administration.

The United States government supplied targeting intelligence to Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) for what it knew would be chemical-weapons attacks on Iran in 1988.

Gee, I wonder who was President back then? Could it be the same guy who stood by and watched the AIDS epidemic and the crack wave develop while his wife chanted idiot slogans? The same guy who sold weapons to Iran and allowed cocaine-dealing into the U.S. to fund a terrorist effort in Nicaragua? The one who perfected the deal between the plutocrats and the neo-Confederates that gave us the contemporary GOP?

No wonder he’s treated as such a moral midget, and his Presidency as such an utter failure. It wasn’t easy to make Richard Nixon look like a statesman, but St. Ronald of the Ray-Guns did it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “War crimes and other blunders”

  1. Nothing wrong with Reagan-bashing, but I think there’s a broader lesson here, which is that when we involve ourselves in so many conflicts in the world which are basically not our business, we will inevitably abet human rights violations.

    Remember, after all, the reason we were effectively assisting Saddam has to do with our attempts to control the government of Iran over the course of the 30 years previous.

  2. The United States government supplied targeting intelligence to Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) for what it knew would be chemical-weapons attacks on Iran in 1988.

    And one could have known this if one had listened to the grapevine and pointed out our tilt against Saddam was purely because of the Saudis. (Which we could not really succeed at because we were still busy crying in our beer over 1979.)

    No wonder he’s treated as such a moral midget, and his Presidency as such an utter failure. It wasn’t easy to make Richard Nixon look like a statesman, but St. Ronald of the Ray-Guns did it.

    The actual sick part is that his successors have worked so hard to make him look like some kind of moral giant.

    [‘Reagan’s reputation appears primed to outlast the reputation of the United States and whoo boy….’]

  3. Even today you will read about how the invasion of Iraq was justified because “Saddam gassed his own people.”

    I guess that was bad because he didn’t need our help for THAT targeting.

    1. Also, “his people” were Sunnis, and the victims of the gas attacks were Kurds. So I doubt he considered the Kurds “his own people” even if we did. Gassing anyone is morally reprehensible, regardless of “whose people” they are.

  4. No wonder he’s treated as such a moral midget, and his Presidency as such an utter failure.

    Economic growth rates structure everything. 1984 was Morning in America. GDP numbers were going strong. Unemployment and inflation were headed down. So Reagan wins 49 states.

    In America, once you win 49 states, even Jesus Christ himself is unqualified to criticize you.

  5. What did Henry the K say of the Iran-Iraq war? – something like, “Too bad only only one of these guys can lose….” Looks like we were trying hard for a deuce.

  6. I am glad you mentioned the war, the War on Drugs, that is. There is no doubt in my mind that every single Latin American president since the War on Drugs was declared by Nixon in 1971 has been complicit, willingly or otherwise, with US drugs policies.

    One thing is crystal clear, though: the war on drugs is not the brainchild of drug producing and transit countries. As a matter of fact, if there is a country responsible for the viciousness and fanatical zeal with which the War On Drugs has been pursued, that country is the US.
    It should not be difficult to see that the policy of the US, the largest drug consumer in the world and the most belligerent war on drugs warrior, is to transfer the lion’s share of the costs associated to Prohibition & the War on Drugs policies to drug producing and transit countries.

    Make no mistake, this is not a recent policy: every single US president has pursued the same policy and used the same tools. Why should one expect Obama to be the exception. Despite his rhetorical contortions to deny the very existence of the War on Drugs, Obama continues the US tradition of putting the onus on the supply of, rather than the demand for, drugs—deliberately ignoring that demand creates the supply, not the other way round!

    The fact is that the US likes “exporting” its internal conflicts and “demanding” other countries to fight its fights. It is also the logic of its foreign policy: wage war on foreign lands — be it in the form of low intensity wars like the War on Drugs, or high intensity ones, like the War on Terror (see the pattern?) — in order to isolate the US from the fallout from pursing its economic, political and strategic interests—in this case policies regarding the supply of drugs—whatever the cost…for others.

    And there is where the tragedy for drug producing and transit countries lies, especially for Latin American countries. When it comes to foreign policy, it is irrelevant who is elected US president. Paraphrasing Carlos Fuentes, a prominent Mexican writer, the only way the US can sustain its democratic façade internally is by behaving undemocratically externally.

    It explains why the country that swaggers about lecturing everybody about the rule of law, democracy and human rights, is the same country that ignores international law, practices extraordinary rendition, tortures, wages illegal wars, finances mercenaries, uses unmanned drones to carry out extra-judicial killings, and is the largest beneficiary of the war on drugs proceeds.

    As unfortunate as it is for Latin America, there is nothing paradoxical, unusual or unexpected in the US behaviour: it is what dominant powers are meant to do. The Romans did it, and the British did it, too.

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc

  7. Quick, let’s name another public building after Reagan!

    Calling Congressmann Issa! Calling Congressman Ryan! Reagan was a visionary and ahead of his time….Sarcasm alert…

  8. Mark: “Gee, I wonder who was President back then? ”

    It’s so hard to figure out. I mean, I’m not sure who was in charge during 9/11 and the Iraq War. I do know from Tea Party history that that was somewhere in the Clinton-Obama administration zone. I guess that Saddam was ‘gassing his own people!’ sometime in the Carter-Clinton administration zone.

    I wonder if the GOP will ever had a president. I don’t think that they have had one since Eisenhower, or maybe Hoover.

    1. That the breakup of the USSR occurred in 1991 seems to have eluded Mr. Drum. That’s the third year of the GHWB presidency, and where defense spending was starting to fall–and where there was less intervention around the world by the US.

      George Kennan said that RR’s first term propped up the Soviets and only when he pursued peaceful overtures did the Soviets open up. Schevardnaze, the Soviet Foreign Minister, believed missile defense delayed the end of the Cold War, and it took he and Gorbachev a couple of extra years to convince the Soviet military the missile defenses were no longer worth pursuing.

      James Mann’s book on the period is more nuanced than Mr. Drum on this one, and I count myself as a fan of the latter.

    1. true, because war crimes do not hurt the imperial Presidency (whoever occupies that position), while whistleblowers embarrass him (they cause no other serious harm, but when you are the Imperial President, lèse-majesté is the most serious offense.

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