Some spectacular reporting today by Foreign Policy reveals that the CIA in 1988 was aware of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapon project, knew that he was about to develop nerve gas capability — and helped him anyway, because they wanted to break the Iranians as a military power. It’s a fantastic piece of research and the documentation is bone-chilling.
It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.
This comes at a very inopportune time for the Obama administration, about to start a new war over chemical weapons. This sort of news puts heavy dents in their credibility in the Middle East. (Which is just one of the many reasons you should never help tyrants commit atrocities.)
It does show how far we’ve come. In 1988—89, the use of chemical weapons was fine as long as you fullfilled the geopolitical goals of the great powers. Now, Russia and the US are unwilling to touch anyone who has been seen to use sarin with anything less than a cruise missile.
I love that the skeletons of the CIA are being dug up at a renewed pace. Just a few days ago, the same magazine reported that the CIA had finally admitted what we all knew, that they were behind the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953.