When Rumsfeld visited Baghdad on 20 December 1983 as the high-level presidential envoy of the then US President Ronald Reagan, he went to do business with dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraq was at war with Iran and was using chemical weapons. Human rights abuses were practised on large sectionms of the Iraqi population.
As declassified documents of the US government published by the George Washington University (GWU) in February this year reveal, Saddam Hussein had made known Baghdad’s intentions to possess nuclear weapons.
But the US, which has now invaded Iraq, at that point turned a blind eye and even went a step further: it renewed the hand of friendship through the special envoy Rumsfeld.
The reason was clear. Washington wanted Iraq’s friendship to stymie Iran. The war which was started by Iraq was then going in Iran’s favour.
An embarrassed Rumsfeld tried to salvage some mileage by claiming on 21 September 2002 in a CNN interview that he had during the 1983 meeting warned Saddam Hussein against the use of chemical weapons. Unfortunately for him, a US cable recording of his meeting with Saddam subsequently revealed he had said no such thing.
In a National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 114 of 26 November 1983, the US made clear its objective. It wanted to project its military force in the Gulf and protect oil supplies. It did not mention either chemical weapons or human rights concerns as it would not suit its friend Saddam Hussein.
Further when international pressure increased on the US to condemn the use of chemical weapons by Iraq it obliged, but without naming its ally. According to the declassified documents, Iraq requested the US to respond in a low-key fashion and not name any specific country in its condemnation. The US readily agreed.
Washington wanted Iraq’s friendship to stymie Iran. The war which was started by Iraq was then going in Iran’s favour.
Washington made a general statement to the effect that the use of chemical weapons should be avoided. Not just that, it stressed the need to protect Iraq from Iran's "ruthless and inhumane tactics”.
Rumsfeld second visit soon after, in March 1984, cemented US-Iraq relationship. It so happened that during Rumsfeld’s trip to Baghdad the United Nations report was released which stated that chemical weapons had been used against Iran.
Not just that, the US state department informed Rumsfeld that it had specific information Iraq had used chemical weapons. But Reagan’s special envoy had other things on his mind, like steeling US relations with Iraq. Consequently he kept mum.
As independent journalist Jeremy Scahill wrote, almost a decade later, when the scenario had changed and Washington wanted Saddam out, the very same Rumsfeld stated that Iraq posed a threat to peace and urged the Clinton administration to “provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish."