A Ford in Iraq

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You know that someone is really duplicitous when his deception and double-dealing go undetected by most people.

Such a person has surely hoodwinked those who trust (or at least turn a blind eye to) him when, just before he dies, he rebukes someone for a failure in an area in which he himself failed.

Such is the case with Gerald Ford. Commentators have crowned the nation’s 38th President with a halo of magnanimity for such deeds as pardoning Nixon and for asking that his repudiation of George W. Bush’s reasons for the invasion of Iraq not be revealed until one or the other of them died. However, Ford’s criticism of Bush’s actions makes Ford no less disingenuous than the neo-conservatives who, as Pat Buchanan pointed out, are denouncing the current president’s policies and actions without owning up to their roles in shaping and executing it.

How is that, you ask? Well, as surely as the support Ford’s predecessors gave Fulgencio Batista is one of the root causes of Fidel Castro’s rise to power and embrace of Communism, so is one of Ford’s Machiavellian maneuvers in the Middle East a cause of the current situation.

When Ford assumed the Presidency in 1974, the United States began to covertly fund and arm a Kurdish rebellion against Iraq’s then-de facto leader Saddam Hussein. Shah Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iraq’s neighbor Iran, was the conduit for this assistance. However, most of the American media — at least, that portion of it that was paying attention — depicted unilateral action on the part of the Shah. No one questioned or explained what motives the Shah might’ve had for helping the Kurds. Reading a bit of the region’s recent history could have led them to probe the story further than they did.

American and British intelligence services colluded in a covert operation that re-installed the Shah on the throne in 1953, several months after Irani Premier Mohammad Mossadeq deposed him. This coup seems to have exacerbated longstanding tensions between Iran and Iraq. On one hand, Iran had become one of the most powerful nations in the region and seemed to have integrated its Kurd community with a country whose residents were mainly Persian — neither Arab nor Kurd — and were Shi’ite Muslims. Furthermore, it seemed that the Shah could do no wrong in the eyes of American authorities.

On the other hand, Iraq — which the British carved out of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of its defeat and dissolution in World War I — experienced conflict from within as well as from the outside. Iran wasn’t its only unfriendly neighbor, and within its borders flared frequent conflicts between Sunnis and Shi’ites, fundamentalists and secularists, and between other groups with conflicting views of religion and government. It never enjoyed good relations with the United States; these deteriorated with the Baathist takeover (with "strongman" Saddam Hussein) in 1968. There is now evidence that the CIA orchestrated the Baathist takeover: The preceding government of Gen. Abdel-Karim Kassem was perceived as pro-Soviet Union and anti-Israel.

However, once in power, the Baathists believed that the US was using Israel as a tool in preventing pan-Arab nationalism; Iraq’s new government thus cut off relations with the US. Subsequently the Soviet Union would become the major trading partner — and arms supplier — to Iraq. And after the OPEC embargo in response US support of Israel in the 1973 war, US companies wanted to wrest control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

While this is a short version of events, I believe I have provided enough background to show just how cynical or naïve, depending on your point of view, the Ford Administration was. Upon examination of documents from that period, it’s difficult to believe that the Administration — which inherited Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld from its predecessor — knew or cared much about the Kurds or their wish for independence from Iraq or any other country they inhabited. Instead, they seem to have seen the Kurds as mere pawns in their attempt to undermine the Baathist regime.

And the ever-loyal Shah seemed only too happy to help his patron carry out its objective, whatever it may be. Or so it seemed. In March of 1975, after an OPEC meeting in Algiers, Irani and Iraqi leaders agreed to meet to settle their disputes over borders and navigation rights. As a condition of the Iraqi acceptance of the agreement, the Shah agreed to withdraw Iran’s support (in which most people had yet to see the hand of the US) for the Kurds.

The Kurdish rebellion quickly collapsed. Despite this betrayal, the Ford Administration did not so much as reprimand the Shah. And it actually sent arms and other supplies to Iraq. It took these actions in the name of "liberty." Translation: They were trying to decrease Soviet influence in Iraq and helping out a "friend" in Iran.

Neither Iran nor Iraq honored the terms of their treaty. This resulted in the war between them that lasted from 1980 through 1988. We have seen what has happened in Iraq since then; Iran has become one of this country’s — and the rest of the Western world’s — most outspoken opponents. The Kurds are not safe; they have joined the Shi’ites, Sunnis and other groups in their dislike and distrust of the US.

And, along with the goodwill we’ve squandered, we’ve wasted a lot of lives as well as money and other resources in an area that’s in worse shape than we found it.

That’s what we got from the administration of a "healer." He sounds more like a back-alley abortionist to me.

Justine Nicholas [send her mail] teaches English at the City University of New York.

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