The Nonconspiratorial Worldview of Michael Gordon

In Wednesday’s New York Times (10/26/11), Michael Gordon wrote a piece headlined “Papers From Iraqi Archive Reveal Conspiratorial Mind-Set of Hussein,” about some Iraqi archives that give an inside-the-bubble picture of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Not surprisingly, Hussein comes off as paranoid, incompetent and so on. Gordon begins the story noting that Hussein was troubled by the Iran/Contra story, interpreting the U.S. deal with his Iranian enemies as some sort of “conspiracy against Iraq.”

Gordon calmly explains, free of a conspiratorial mind-set, that Iran/Contra was just an operation “to open a private channel to the new leadership in Tehran and to generate secret profits that could be sent to Nicaraguan rebels. ” You know, the way any superpower funnels support to a terrorist group. No big deal.

Gordon explains later that the Iraqis

could not understand why the Reagan administration had taken military action against Libya in 1986 but was reaching out to Iran, since, Mr. Hussein said, Iran “plays a greater role in terrorism.”

“I am trying to understand exactly what happened here,” he said.

Hussein saw such conspiracies everywhere:

But Mr. Hussein would not be moved from his conspiratorial view. He mentioned the arms sales again in his fateful meeting on July 25, 1990, with April Glaspie, the American ambassador in Baghdad, when he again misread Washington and assumed it would stand aside when his army invaded Kuwait a week later.

The Glaspie meeting with Hussein has been pretty well-known for years. As FAIR pointed out in 1991, Glaspie’s apparent message to Hussein was that the United States would not actively object to Iraq invading Kuwait.

One of the WikiLeaks cables that was recently released covered that meeting. And from that account, it’s not clear that Saddam Hussein misread anything. As Harvard professor Stephen Walt wrote back when the cable was released:

a careful reading of the cable suggests that Saddam could have easily interpreted Glaspie’s conversation, along with other statements by U.S. officials, as a sign that the United States was not strongly committed to protecting Kuwait.

After Hussein rattled off his various grievances, what did Glaspie say? From Walt:

Her very first point in response is to thank him for the opportunity to discuss these matters directly, and she then says that “President Bush, too, wants friendship.” Her next point is to tell Saddam that “the President had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq,” and she reminds Saddam that though “some circles” might oppose that policy, “the U.S. administration is instructed by the President.” And then she adds that “what is important is that the President has very recently reaffirmed his desire for a better relationship” and he has shown that desire by opposing some sanctions bills.

The meeting eventually turned to Iraq’s escalating crisis with Kuwait:

According to the cable, she asks: “Is it not reasonable for the U.S. to ask, in a spirit of friendship, not confrontation, the simple question: What are your intentions?”

Saddam says it is a reasonable question, and he acknowledges that this is even our “duty” as a superpower. But he quickly returns to his list of grievances, and says he’s tried everything to resolve his problem with Kuwait. He subsequently leaves the room to take a phone call, and returns with the encouraging news (from Egyptian President Mubarak), that the Kuwaitis have agreed to further negotiations. The meeting then ends on a friendly note, but when Saddam raises the question of his border dispute with Kuwait, Glaspie responds that “she had served in Kuwait 20 years before; then as now, we took no position on these Arab affairs.”

The conspiracy-minded Hussein could also have “misread” the Washington Post (7/26/90), which reported right after the Glaspie meeting and six days before Iraq’s invasion that administration officials were saying that “an Iraqi attack on Kuwait would not draw a U.S. military response.” In Hussein’s twisted mind, apparently, that meant that if he attacked Kuwait, the U.S. would not respond militarily.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.