The first “instant book” on the Gulf crisis has already reached stores across the United States. In his October 22 column in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn related how Judith Miller of the New York Times sought unsuccessfully to induce Samir al-Khalil, the pseudonymous author of Republic of Fear, to collaborate with her on a shlockbuster version for the American public. Instead we now have Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf, which Miller co-authored with Laurie Mylroie, until recently an assistant professor of “government” (i.e. political science) at Harvard.
The book, and especially the chapters drafted by Mylroie, are replete with denunciations of Saddam Hussein and his regime. “The Baath began their rule with an inauguration of blood,” we are told, with Saddam himself serving as a torturer before ascending to the pinnacle of power. “Iraq is run as a private preserve of Saddam and his inner clique,” for whom terror is a “routine instrument of state policy.” “Since the invasion of Kuwait,” Mylroie declares, “many people have been shocked by Saddam’s actions, in blatant violation of international law and convention…. Previously, Saddam distinguished between the methods he used on his own population and those he employed on the outside world. Now he deals with the world in the same way he has long dealt with Iraqis — through naked force and the threat to escalate his use of force to the limits of his brutal capabilities.” The book’s appendices reproduce excerpts of Middle East Watch and Amnesty International reports on Iraq’s horrifying violations of human rights.
Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf is not as bad as one might have expected, given the speed with which it was concocted. It mercifully refrains from concluding that the obliteration of large numbers of Iraqis, Kuwaitis and Americans is the best or the only way of resolving the current crisis. And its focus on Saddam Hussein’s record is certainly not out of place: He does, after all, preside over a brutal and tyrannical regime whose abuses should be exposed and denounced.
Nevertheless, we cannot resist wondering why, although the present Iraqi regime came to power in 1968, its crimes against its own people and its war of aggression against Iran, launched in 1980, were not much criticized in this country until the last year or so. As long as the US government was “tilting” toward Iraq, not a few of the academic “experts” on the Middle East who are now so vociferously advocating the use of military force against Iraq were busily promoting a rather favorable view of the man who has since become the “Hitler of the Middle East.” Among them was Laurie Mylroie.
In an article entitled “The Baghdad Alternative,” published in the summer 1988 issue of Orbis, organ of the right-wing Foreign Policy Research Institute, Mylroie called on the US to wholeheartedly embrace Saddam Hussein. Sure, he runs a “tough regime,” and there is “considerable validity” to charges of brutality. But, she insists, “these are not reason enough to prevent an improvement in US-Iraqi relations.” There is, after all, a “rough and unrecognized congruence in American and Iraqi interests,” such that “American-Iraqi cooperation offers a potential source of mutual benefit.” Iraq has become the de facto protector of the status quo in the region, defending US interests from the real enemy, the “bellicose and ominous Islamic Republic of Iran.” Mylroie seems to have some difficulty remembering who attacked whom in 1980, perhaps a case of the faulty memory which afflicts so many establishment experts on the Middle East.
Lest any doubts remain, Mylroie’s Orbis article assures us that Saddam Hussein’s “fervently secular and rationalistic” regime is “mellowing” and its commitment to pan-Arabism is fading fast. Saddam Hussein seems to enjoy “genuine popularity,” and it is “probably not just idle chatter when Iraqi officials express a hope that the end of the war will bring more democracy, affirming that Saddam Hussein is ’much concerned about democracy…. He thinks it is healthy.’” Even the centralization of all power in Saddam’s hands is a good thing, because it will allow him to push aside the Baathist hardliners and adopt a more pragmatic policy which, we are told, is not “merely tactical.” Mylroie also reminds us that Iraq is America’s fourth largest export market in the Middle East: There is money to be made by US corporations, if they shut their eyes and hold their noses. In any case, further association with the US will surely “soften” this regime as its officials “come to appreciate and absorb American values.”
It was apparently in order to further this agenda that, rumor has it, Mylroie frequently played host at Harvard to Nizar Hamdoun, then Iraq’s ambassador to the United States and now deputy foreign minister. Her ambitions seem to have gone far beyond convincing Washington that, with a smile and some weapons sales, Saddam Hussein, basically a nice guy, could be transformed into the Anwar al-Sadat of the 1990s. The New York Times of October 6 suggested that she was also working to promote behind-the-scenes Israeli-Iraqi contacts. The idea apparently was to encourage a Tel Aviv-Baghdad axis that could replace the Tel Aviv-Tehran axis disrupted by the overthrow of the Shah and could allow Israel to avoid dealing with the PLO. Harvard must have seemed an appropriate place to implement this scheme. Its Center for International Affairs has a slot reserved for one-year stints by Israeli generals who need some intellectual “R & R” after their arduous labors in Lebanon or the West Bank. What more discrete setting than an academic cocktail party for bringing Israeli thugs in civilian shirtsleeves and Iraqi thugs in Italian suits together to lay the basis for a reinvigorated pax Americana in the region? Alas, this project of Mylroie’s does not seem to have turned out very well either.
But no matter: Mylroie’s whitewashing of Saddam only two or three years ago is not being held against her. On the contrary, since the Gulf crisis began Mylroie has been given many media opportunities (especially in the Wall Street Journal) to vent her newfound outrage at Iraq, advocate a bellicose US stance and, along the way, promote her hardline pro-Israeli agenda. Her recent articles are full of blood-curdling accounts of torture, rape and murder inflicted by Iraqi soldiers on Kuwaiti civilians — just the kind of lurid detail glaringly absent from her earlier advertisements for Saddam. In this she is by no means unique: A fair amount of the current warmongering punditry is emanating from those who once had nothing but kind words to say about Saddam but who now loyally toe the administration’s line. To paraphrase Eric Segal on love: Being a Middle East expert for a superpower means never having to admit you were wrong.