History of Iran

The United States and Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988
By: Stephen R. Shalom
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The war between Iran and Iraq was one of the great human tragedies of recent Middle Eastern history. Perhaps as many as a million people died, many more were wounded, and millions were made refugees. The resources wasted on the war exceeded what the entire Third World spent on public health in a decade.[1]

The war began on September 22, 1980, when Iraqi troops launched a full-scale invasion of Iran. Prior to this date there had been subversion by each country inside the other and also major border clashes. Iraq hoped for a lightning victory against an internationally isolated neighbor in the throes of revolutionary upheaval. But despite Iraq's initial successes, the Iranians rallied and, using their much larger population, were able by mid-1982 to push the invaders out. In June 1982, the Iranians went over to the offensive, but Iraq, with a significant advantage in heavy weaponry, was able to prevent a decisive Iranian breakthrough. The guns finally fell silent on August 20, 1988.

Primary responsibility for the eight long years of bloodletting must rest with the governments of the two countries -- the ruthless military regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the ruthless clerical regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Khomeini was said by some to have a "martyr complex," though, as U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance wryly observed, people with martyr complexes rarely live to be as old as Khomeini. Whatever his complexes, Khomeini had no qualms about sending his followers, including young boys, off to their deaths for his greater glory. This callous disregard for human life was no less characteristic of Saddam Hussein. And, for that matter, it was also no less characteristic of much of the world community, which not only couldn't be bothered by a few hundred thousand Third World corpses, but tried to profit from the conflict.

France became the major source of Iraq's high-tech weaponry, in no small part to protect its financial stake in that country.[2] The Soviet Union was Iraq's largest weapon's supplier, while jockeying for influence in both capitals. Israel provided arms to Iran, hoping to bleed the combatants by prolonging the war. And at least ten nations sold arms to both of the warring sides.[3]

The list of countries engaging in despicable behavior, however, would be incomplete without the United States. The U.S. objective was not profits from the arms trade, but the much more significant aim of controlling to the greatest extent possible the region's oil resources. Before turning to U.S. policy during the Iran-Iraq war, it will be useful to recall some of the history of the U.S. and oil.

Some Crude History
Much of the world's proven oil reserves are located in the limited area of the Persian Gulf (in recent years Arab states trying to change this historic name to the "Arabian Gulf").

Less than four percent of U.S. oil consumption comes from the Persian Gulf, but, according to the official argument, Western Europe and Japan are extremely dependent on Persian Gulf oil and hence if the region fell into the hands of a hostile power, U.S. allies could be brought to their knees, and U.S. security would be fundamentally and irreparably compromised. If one examines the history of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf, however, protecting the oil interests of Western Europe and Japan never seemed to be one of Washington's foremost goals.

As far back as the 1920s, the State Department sought to force Great Britain to give U.S. companies a share of the lucrative Middle Eastern oil concessions. The U.S. Ambassador in London -- who happened to be Andrew Mellon, the head of the Gulf Oil Corporation (named for the Mexican, not the Persian Gulf) -- was instructed to press the British to give Gulf Oil a stake in the Middle East.[4] At the end of World War II, when the immense petroleum deposits in Saudi Arabia became known, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal told Secretary of State Byrnes, "I don't care which American company or companies develop the Arabian reserves, but I think most emphatically that it should be _American_."[5] And it wasn't the Russians that Forrestal was worried about. The main competition was between the United States and Britain for control of the area's oil.[6]

In 1928, Standard Oil of New Jersey and Mobil had joined British and French oil interests in signing the "Red Line Agreement," under which each pledged not to develop Middle Eastern oil without the participation of the others. Nevertheless, after World War II these two U.S. firms (together with Texaco and Standard Oil of California) grabbed the Saudi concessions for themselves, freezing out the British and French. When the latter sued on the grounds that the Red Line Agreement had been violated, Mobil and Jersey told the court that the agreement was null and void because it was monopolistic.[7]

In the early 1950s, oil was used as a political weapon for the first time -- by the United States and Britain against Iran. Iran had nationalized its British-owned oil company which had refused to share its astronomical profits with the host government. In response, Washington and London organized a boycott of Iranian oil which brought Iran's economy to the brink of collapse. The CIA then instigated a coup, entrenching the Shah in power and effectively un-nationalizing the oil company, with U.S. firms getting 40 percent of the formerly 100 percent British-owned company. This was, in the view of the _New York Times_, an "object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid" when an oil-rich Third World nation "goes berserk with fanatical nationalism."[8]

In 1956 the oil weapon was used again, this time by the United States against Britain and France. After the latter two nations along with Israel invaded Egypt, Washington made clear that U.S. oil would not be sent to Western Europe until Britain and France agreed to a rapid withdrawal schedule.[9] The U.S. was not adverse to overthrowing Nasser -- "Had they done it quickly, we would have accepted it," Eisenhower said later[10] -- but the clumsy Anglo-French military operation threatened U.S. interests in the region.

In October 1969 the Shah of Iran asked the U.S. to purchase more Iranian oil as a way to boost his revenues. But the Shah's request was rejected because, as an assistant to then President Nixon explained, "a substantial portion of the profits from these purchases would go to non-American companies if Iranian oil were sought," while if Saudi oil were purchased, the U.S. share would be larger.[11]

By the end of the sixties the international oil market was far different from what it had been two decades earlier. Oil supplies were tight, the number of oil firms had grown, and the producing countries, joined together in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, were seeking to improve their financial position.

Crucial talks on oil prices began in 1970 between U.S. companies and the government of Libya. Significantly, Washington did not weigh in on the side of the companies, and in fact, the companies themselves did not put up much resistance to the price increases. For the oil companies, higher prices would be beneficial, making profitable their growing investments in the developed nations (for example, in Alaska and the North Sea).[12] Any higher prices could be passed on to consumers -- and, indeed, in 1972-73 the companies raised their prices to a greater extent than crude costs alone warranted.[13]

In 1972, the Nixon administration was advocating higher oil prices.[14] According to a study by V. H. Oppenheim, based on interviews with U.S. officials, "The weight of the evidence suggests that the principal consideration behind the indulgent U.S. government attitude toward higher oil prices was the belief that higher prices would produce economic benefits for the United States vis-a-vis its industrial competitors, Western Europe and Japan, and the key Middle Eastern states, Saudi Arabia and Iran."[15] And Henry Kissinger has confirmed that this was U.S. Government thinking: "The rise in the price of energy would affect primarily Europe and Japan and probably improve America's competitive position."[16]

Amid growing warnings about a possible oil embargo, the industrialized Western countries held meetings to decide their response. Showing its concern for its allies, the United States proposed that resources be shared, but on the basis of each country's sea-borne imports, rather than on the basis of total energy requirements. Since the U.S. was much less dependent on imports than other countries, this formula meant that in the event of an embargo U.S. energy supplies would be cut far less than those of its "allies."[17]

After the October 1973 Middle East war broke out, but before the Arab embargo, U.S. oil company officials wrote to Nixon, warning that the "whole position of the United States in the Middle East is on the way to being seriously impaired, with Japanese, European, and perhaps Russian interests largely supplanting United States presence in the area, to the detriment of both our economy and our security."[18] Note that the Russian threat was considered only a possibility, the allied threat a certainty.

In late 1973 and on into 1974, the Arab oil producers cut their production and imposed an embargo against the United States and the Netherlands for their pro-Israeli position. The public has memories of long lines at the gas pump, rationing, and a crisis atmosphere. In fact, however, in Kissinger's words, "the Arab embargo was a symbolic gesture of limited practical impact."[19] The international oil companies, which totally monopolized petroleum distribution and marketing, pooled their oil, so the shortfall of Saudi supplies to the U.S. was made up from other sources. Overall, the oil companies spread out the production cutbacks so as to minimize suffering, and the country most supportive of Israel -- the U.S. -- suffered among the least. From January 1974 to March, oil consumption in the U.S. was only off by 5 percent, compared to 15 percent in France and West Germany.[20]

Even these figures, however, overstate the hardship, because in fact, "_there was at no time a real shortage of petroleum on the European market._ Consumption simply responded to the increase in prices....Between October, 1973, and April, 1974, the reserves of oil products in the countries of the European Community never descended below the 80-day equivalent of consumption; and in Italy the reserves in fact increased by 23 per cent."[21] In Japan, there were about two million barrels of oil more than the government admitted, as the bureaucracy, the oil industry, and industrial oil users sought to exploit the crisis for their own advantage.[22]

In the aftermath of the embargo, U.S. allies tried to negotiate their own bilateral petroleum purchase deals with the producing nations without going through the major international oil companies. Washington opposed these efforts.[23] In short, the well-being of U.S. allies has never been the key consideration for U.S. policymakers.

Nor for that matter has the crucial concern been the well-being of the average American. One former Defense Department official has estimated that it cost U.S. taxpayers about $47 billion in 1985 alone for military expenditures related to the Persian Gulf;[24] former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman put the annual figure at $40 billion.[25] What could be worth these staggering sums?

These expenditures have _not_ been necessary for the survival of the West. In extremis, according to former CIA analyst Maj. Gen. Edward B. Atkeson, if all Persian Gulf oil were cut off, the elimination of recreational driving (which in the U.S. accounts for 10% of total oil consumption) would reduce Western petroleum needs to a level easily replaceable from non-Persian Gulf sources. Even in wartime, Atkeson concluded, Persian Gulf oil is not essential to Western needs.[26] And in a protracted global conflict, one can be sure that oil fields would not last very long in the face of missile attacks.

The billions of dollars, however, are a good investment for the oil companies, given that they are not the ones who pay the tab. To be sure, the multinationals no longer directly own the vast majority of Persian Gulf crude production. But they have special buy-back deals with the producers, whereby they purchase at bargain prices oil from the fields they formerly owned. For example, according to former Senator Frank Church, U.S. firms "have a 'sweetheart' arrangement with Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding the nominal nationalization of their properties...."[27] Radical regimes want to sell oil as much as conservative ones do, but a change of government in any Persian Gulf state might eliminate the privileged position of the oil companies.

The internal security of regimes like Saudi Arabia depends heavily on outside, particularly U.S., support. Many Saudis believe that in return their country has been overproducing oil to please the United States, to the detriment of their nation's long-term interests. Selling oil beyond the point at which the proceeds can be productively invested is economically irrational, particularly given the fact that oil in the ground appreciates in value.[28] More democratic or nationalistic governments in the Persian Gulf may not be so willing to sacrifice their own interests. And such governments will also be less willing to accommodate a U.S. military presence or to serve as U.S. proxies for maintaining the regional status quo.

And thus for more than forty years, through many changed circumstances, there has been one constant of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf: support for the most conservative available local forces in order to keep radical and popular movements from coming to power, no matter what the human cost, no matter how great the necessary manipulation or intervention. The U.S. has not been invariably successful in achieving its objective: in 1979, it lost one of its major props with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, who had policed the Persian Gulf on Washington's behalf. But the basic pattern of U.S. policy has not changed, as is well illustrated by its policy toward the war between Iran and Iraq.

The Persian Gulf War
The United States did not have diplomatic relations with either belligerent in 1980 and announced its neutrality in the conflict. One typically humanitarian State Department official explained in 1983: "we don't give a damn as long as the Iran-Iraq carnage does not affect our allies in the region or alter the balance of power."[29] In fact, however, the United States was not indifferent to the war, but saw a number of positive opportunities opened up by its prolongation.

The need for arms and money would make Baghdad more dependent on the conservative Persian Gulf states and Egypt, thereby moderating Iraq's policies and helping to repair ties between Cairo and the other Arab states. The war would make Iran -- whose weapons had all been U.S.-supplied in the past -- desperate to obtain U.S. equipment and spare parts. The exigencies of war might make both nations more willing to restore their relations with Washington. Alternatively, the dislocations of war might give the U.S. greater ability to carry out covert operations in Iran or Iraq. And turmoil in the Persian Gulf might make other states in the area more susceptible to U.S. pressure for military cooperation.

When the war first broke out, the Soviet Union turned back its arms ships en route to Iraq, and for the next year and a half, while Iraq was on the offensive, Moscow did not provide weapons to Baghdad.[30] In March 1981, the Iraqi Communist Party, repressed by Saddam Hussein, beamed broadcasts from the Soviet Union calling for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.[31] That same month U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he saw the possibility of improved ties with Baghdad and approvingly noted that Iraq was concerned by "the behavior of Soviet imperialism in the Middle Eastern area." The U.S. then approved the sale to Iraq of five Boeing jetliners, and sent a deputy assistant secretary of state to Baghdad for talks.[32] The U.S. removed Iraq from its notoriously selective list of nations supporting international terrorism[33] (despite the fact that terrorist Abu Nidal was based in the country)[34] and Washington extended a $400 million credit guarantee for U.S. exports to Iraq.[35] In November 1984, the U.S. and Iraq restored diplomatic relations, which had been ruptured in 1967.[36]

The Soviet Threat And The Rapid Deployment Force
At the same time that the war was furthering the U.S. position in Iraq, it was also extending U.S. military relations with the other Arab states of Persian Gulf.

Washington typically justified its desire for military ties in the Persian Gulf and the development of forces for use there by warning of the Soviet threat. In January 1980, President Carter proclaimed the "Carter Doctrine," declaring that the U.S. was willing to use military force if necessary to prevent "an outside power" from conquering the Persian Gulf. As Michael Klare has noted, however, the real U.S. concern was revealed five days later when Secretary of Defense Harold Brown released his military posture statement. Brown indicated that the greatest threat was not Soviet expansionism but uncontrolled turbulence in the third world. "In a world of disputes and violence, we cannot afford to go abroad unarmed," he warned. "The particular manner in which our economy has expanded means that we have come to depend to no small degree on imports, exports and the earnings from overseas investments for our material well-being." Specifically, Brown identified the "protection of the oil flow from the Middle East" as "clearly part of our vital interest," in defense of which "we'll take any action that's appropriate, including the use of military force."[37]

Brown did not explicitly state that the United States would intervene militarily in response to internal threats, like revolution, but after he left office he explained what could be said openly and what could not: "One sensitive issue is whether the United States should plan to protect the oil fields against internal or regional threats. Any explicit commitment of this sort is more likely to upset and anger the oil suppliers than to reassure them."[38]

Persian Gulf touchiness on explicit U.S. commitments to "defend" the oil fields had two sources. First, the sheikdoms do not like to be seen as dependent on U.S. force against their own populations. And, second, the Persian Gulf states were made nervous by the frequent talk in the United States about taking over the oil fields in the event of another embargo.[39] There was even a Congressional study of the feasibility of seizing the oil fields; and though the study concluded that such an operation would be unlikely to succeed militarily, the mere fact that this was considered a fit subject for analysis did not instill confidence in Persian Gulf capitals.[40]

Given this sensitivity, Brown advised that the United States should prepare plans and capabilities for intervention -- against coups and other threats -- but should avoid an explicitly declared policy to this effect.[41]

The Carter administration began the formation of a Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) to project U.S. military power into the Persian Gulf region. Originally proposed in 1977, the planning did not make much progress until after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The fundamental purpose of the RDF was always, in the words of Carter's National Security Adviser, "helping a friendly government under a subversive attack";[42] nevertheless, to justify the RDF the Soviet threat had to be magnified. Accordingly, Carter spoke in apocalyptic terms about the strategic significance of the invasion of Afghanistan, even though U.S. military experts were aware that a "thrust through Afghanistan would be of marginal advantage to any Soviet movement through Iran or the Persian Gulf."[43]

In 1980, the Army conducted a gaming exercise called "Gallant Knight" which assumed an all-out Soviet invasion of Iran. The Army concluded that they would need 325,000 troops to hold back the Soviet colossus. According to a former military affairs aide to Senator Sam Nunn, the Army deliberately chose this scenario to guarantee that immense forces would be required.[44] And though an RDF of this size might seem unnecessarily large for combating Third World troublemakers, the Pentagon noted that in the mid-1980s Third World armies were no longer "barbarians with knives." The U.S. could no longer expect to "stabilize an area just by showing the flag."[45]

When Reagan became president, he added what became known as the "Reagan Codicil" to the "Carter Doctrine," declaring at a press conference that "we will not permit" Saudi Arabia "to be an Iran."[46] The codicil did not represent new policy, but merely made explicit what had always been policy.

Under Reagan, the CIA secretly concluded that the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Iran was "remote"[47] -- not surprisingly, given that the Red Army was hardly having an easy time with the Afghanis, who had half the population and were much less well equipped.[48] The remoteness of the Soviet threat, however, did not slow down the build up of the RDF.

In 1982 the Pentagon's secret _Defense Guidance_ document stated that the Soviet Union might extend its forces into the Persian Gulf area "by means other than outright invasion." It continued: "Whatever the circumstances, we should be prepared to introduce American forces directly into the region should it appear that the security of access to Persian Gulf oil is threatened...."[49] In the Senate, many argued that there was too much emphasis on countering the USSR, whereas the focus should be on "deterring and, if necessary, fighting regional wars or leftist or nationalist insurgencies that threatened U.S. and allied access to the region's oil supplies."[50]

The official line was that the RDF would be deployed when a government invited it in to repel a Soviet attack. But, as a Library of Congress study noted, this view was belied by "guidance documents which say that the forces must be capable of coercive entry without waiting for an invitation."[51] Senators Tower and Cohen stated that they favored greater emphasis on marines who could shoot their way ashore against military opposition. The administration pointed out that RDF plans all along had included a "forcible entry" option, relying on Marines. "We must be able to open our own doors," the Marine Commandant testified in March 1982.[52] In short, these folks are not just "barbarians with knives."

To support the RDF, the Pentagon needed a network of bases, and not just in the Middle East, but worldwide. "To all intents and purposes," a former senior Defense Department official observed, "'Persian Gulf waters' now extend from the Straits of Malacca to the South Atlantic."[53] Nevertheless, bases nearer the Persian Gulf had a special importance, and Pentagon planners urged "as substantial a land presence in the [54] as can be managed."[55] The Persian Gulf states were reluctant to have too overt a relationship with the United States, but the Iran-Iraq war served to overcome some of this reluctance. In 1985, as Iranian advances seemed ominous, the _New York Times_ reported that Oman "has become a base for Western intelligence operations, military maneuvers and logistical preparations for any defense of the oil-producing Persian Gulf."[56] A few months later, a secret U.S. report was leaked indicating that Saudi Arabia had agreed to allow the United States to use bases in its territory in a crisis.[57] The doors to U.S. influence were opening wider.

Two Tracks To Tehran
U.S. policy with respect to Iran was more complicated, because it followed two tracks at once. On the one hand, U.S. officials saw "a great potential" for a covert program to undermine the government in Teheran;[58] on the other hand, Washington tried to build ties to that same government.

U.S. actions in pursuit of the first track showed quite clearly that Washington's opposition to the Khomeini regime had nothing to do with its lack of democracy, for the groups that the U.S. backed against Khomeini were often supporters of the previous dictator, the Shah.

Starting in 1982 the CIA provided $100,000 a month to a group in Paris called the Front for the Liberation of Iran, headed by Ali Amini, who had presided over the reversion of Iranian oil to foreign control after the CIA-backed coup in 1953.[59] The U.S. also provided support to two Iranian paramilitary groups based in Turkey, one of them headed by General Bahram Aryana, the Shah's army chief, who had close ties to Shahpur Bakhtiar, the Shah's last prime minister.[60]

In 1980, under the Carter administration, the United States began clandestine radio broadcasts into Iran from Egypt, at a cost of some $20-30,000 per month. The broadcasts called for Khomeini's overthrow and urged support for Bakhtiar.[61] Other broadcasts contained anti-Soviet material.[62] In 1986, the CIA pirated Iran's national television network frequency to transmit an eleven minute address by the Shah's son over Iranian TV. "I will return," Reza Pahlavi vowed.[63]

Simultaneous with these activities, the U.S. pursued its second track: trying to establish ties with the Iranian mullahs based on the interest they shared with Washington in combating the left. The U.S. purpose, Reagan announced in November 1986, after the Iran-Contra scandal blew open, was "to find an avenue to get Iran back where it once was and that is in the family of democratic nations" -- a good trick, as Mansour Farhang has commented, since pre-1979 Iran was hardly democratic.[64]

According to the Tower Commission, "In 1983, the United States helped bring to the attention of Teheran the threat inherent in the extensive infiltration of the government by the communist Tudeh Party and Soviet or pro-Soviet cadres in the country. Using this information, the Khomeini government took measures, including mass executions, that virtually eliminated the pro-Soviet infrastructure in Iran."[65] These massacres elicited the expected level of concern from U.S. officials. "The leftists there seem to be getting their heads cut off," remarked an undersecretary of state from the Carter administration.[66] The U.S. also passed to the Iranians "real and deceptive intelligence" about the Soviet threat on Iran's borders.[67]

Reagan administration officials claimed that their efforts in Iran were designed to build ties to moderates. In fact, however, they were aware that they were dealing with the clerical fanatics. Oliver North told Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter in December 1985 that the anti-tank weapons the U.S. was secretly providing to Iran would probably go to the Revolutionary Guards, the shock troops of the mullahs.[68] In August 1986, the special assistant to the Israeli prime minister briefed George "Out-of-the-Loop" Bush, telling him, "we are dealing with the most radical elements....This is good because we've learned that they can deliver and the moderates can't."[69]

The idea of building a strategic connection to Iran had wide support in the U.S. government, though the policy of using arms transfers to achieve it did not. The Tower Commission, for example, stated that while it disagrees with the arms transfers, "a strategic opening to Iran may have been in the national interest."[70] And it should be made clear that a strategic opening does not simply mean beginning a dialogue with or acting civilly toward an former adversary; rather, it was part of a policy to prevent any comparable access for the Soviet Union. Thus, a CIA position paper in 1985 noted that whichever superpower got to Iran first would be "in a strong position to work towards the exclusion of the other."[71] Another CIA official wanted to achieve "a securing of Iran" so that it would again "have a relationship with the U.S." and be "denied to the Soviets."[72] And McFarlane cabled to Poindexter after a secret meeting in Teheran in May 1986: "we are on the way to something that can become a truly strategic gain for us at the expense of the Soviets."[73]

Arms To The Ayatollah
The main tool by which U.S. policy makers sought to secure their position in Iran in 1985 and 1986 was secretly providing arms and intelligence information. As a proclaimed neutral in the Iran-Iraq war, the United States was not supposed to supply weapons to either side. Nevertheless, U.S. allies kept the combatants well-stocked.[74] Israel transferred vast quantities of U.S.-origin weapons to Iran;[75] to what extent U.S. permission for these shipments was obtained (as required by U.S. law) is not known, but surely the U.S. had enough leverage to prevent the transfers if it had wanted to.

In 1984, because of Iranian battlefield victories and the growing U.S.-Iraqi ties, Washington launched "Operation Staunch," an effort to dry up Iran's sources of arms by pressuring U.S. allies to stop supplying Teheran.[76] U.S. secret arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986 thus not only violated U.S. neutrality, but undercut as well what the U.S. was trying to get everyone else to do. The cynical would note that Operation Staunch made the U.S. arms transfers to Iran that much more valuable.

When this arms dealing became known, the Reagan administration was faced with a major scandal on several counts. Proceeds from the arms sales had been diverted to the Nicaraguan contras in violation of the Boland Amendment. And though the administration's professed uncompromising stand on terrorism was always hypocritical, given its sponsorship of terrorism in Nicaragua and elsewhere, being caught trading "arms-for-hostages" was particularly embarrassing.

Now, in fact, this would not have been the first time the U.S. offered Teheran arms for hostages. In October 1980 the Carter administration had declared that spare parts for U.S. military equipment could be sold to Iran if the U.S. embassy hostages were released promptly.[77] There was even talk among U.S. officials about pre-positioning some spare parts in Germany, Pakistan, and Algeria so that the Iranians could get the equipment as soon as possible.[78] Republicans charged that Carter was trying to buy the hostages out in time for the election; there is some evidence that the Republicans in the meantime were engaged in an election maneuver of their own: negotiating with Iran to keep the hostages until after the election to ensure a Reagan victory.[79]

In any event, political influence not hostages was the Reagan administration's objective. Regardless of what was in the President's mind (as it were), the National Security Council was clear that the political agenda was key.[80]

Whatever the arguments for purchasing the freedom of hostages, trading weapons to obtain their release is another matter entirely, since one is exchanging for the lives of some hostages the lives of those who will be fired on by the weapons. And trading weapons for "a strategic opening" is more reprehensible still, particularly so when the weapons are going to the country whose army is on the offensive. Reagan claimed that the weapons were all defensive in nature,[81] but this is nonsense. Anti-tank missiles in the hands of an advancing army are offensive. And U.S. officials knew exactly what Iran wanted the weapons for: for example, as the Tower Commission noted, North and CIA officials discussed with their Iranian contacts "Iran's urgent need" for "both intelligence and weapons to be used in offensive operations against Iraq."[82]

The intelligence that the United States passed to the Iranians was a mixture of factual and bogus information. The CIA claimed that the false information was meant to discourage Iran's final offensive, by for example exaggerating Soviet troop movements on the northern border.[83] But if the U.S. simply wanted to discourage an Iranian attack, it could have done this more easily by telling Iran of Washington's contingency plans to use U.S. air power in the event of an Iranian breakthrough against Iraq.[84] The misinformation about the Soviet Union, however, had the added advantage of inciting Iranian hostility to Moscow and to the local communists.

U.S. intelligence did not deal only with the Soviet Union, but covered the Iraqi front as well. CIA deputy director John McMahon claimed that he warned Poindexter that such intelligence would give the Iranians "a definite edge," with potentially "cataclysmic results," and that he was able to persuade North to provide Iran with only a segment of the intelligence.[85] North, however, apparently gave critical data to Iran just before its crucial victory in the Fao Peninsula in February 1986.[86] It is unclear to what extent North was acting on his own here, but it is significant that despite McMahon's warnings, neither Poindexter nor CIA Director Casey reversed the plans to provide the Iranians with the full intelligence information.[87]

At the same time that the U.S. was giving Teheran weapons that one CIA analyst believed could affect the military balance[88] and passing on intelligence that the Tower Commission deemed of "potentially major significance,"[89] it was also providing Iraq with intelligence information, some misleading or incomplete.[90] In 1986, the CIA established a direct Washington-to-Baghdad link to provide the Iraqis with faster intelligence from U.S. satellites.[91] Simultaneously, Casey was urging Iraqi officials to carry out more attacks on Iran, especially on economic targets.[92] Asked what the logic was of aiding both sides in a bloody war, a former official replied, "You had to have been there."[93]

Washington's effort to enhance its position with both sides came apart at the end of 1986 when one faction in the Iranian government leaked the story of the U.S. arms dealing. Now the Reagan administration was in the unenviable position of having alienated the Iranians and panicked all the Arabs who concluded that the U.S. valued Iran's friendship over theirs. To salvage the U.S. position with at least one side, Washington now had to tilt -- and tilt heavily -- toward Iraq.

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Notes:
  1. Casualty figures are uncertain: see Anthony H. Cordesman, _The Iran-Iraq War and Western Security, 1984-87_, London: Jane's Publishing Co., 1987, p. 9; _New York Times_, 10 Aug. 1988, p. A8; in 1982 the U.S. State Dept. estimated that the war had created 2 million refugees: Anthony H. Cordesman, _The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability_, Boulder: Westview, 1984, p. 671; health spending from Ruth Leger Sivard, _World Military and Social Expenditures, 1987-88_, Washington, DC: World Priorities, 1988, table II.
  2. Diana Johnstone, "'Little Satan' Stuck in the Arms Export Trap," _MERIP Reports_, no. 148, Sept.-Oct. 1987, pp. 8-9.
  3. Mansour Farhang, "The Iran-Iraq War: The Feud, the Tragedy, the Spoils," _World Policy Journal_, vol. 2, Fall 1985, p. 668; see also Cordesman, _Iran-Iraq War..._, pp. 23-36; Nita M. Renfrew, "Who Started the War?" _Foreign Policy_, no. 66, Spring 1987, pp. 104-06.
  4. Joe Stork, _Middle East Oil and the Energy Crisis_, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975, p. 26.
  5. Quoted in William B. Quandt, _Saudi Arabia in the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security, and Oil_, Washington, DC: Brookings, 1981, p. 48.
  6. See Michael J. Cohen, _Palestine: Retreat from the Mandate_, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978, pp. 154-55; Stork, _Middle East Oil..._, pp. 34-35.
  7. George W. Stocking, _Middle East Oil: A Study in Political and Economic Controversy_, Nashville: Vanderbilt U.P., 1970, pp. 103-06.
  8. Quoted in Stork, _Middle East Oil..._, p. 74.
  9. Kennett Love, _Suez: the Twice-Fought War_, New York: McGraw Hill, 1969, p. 651.
  10. Love, _Suez..._, p. 387.
  11. Henry Kissinger, _Years of Upheaval_, Boston: Little Brown, 1982, p. 858.
  12. Michael Renner, "Restructuring the World Energy Industry," _MERIP Reports_, no. 120, Jan. 1984, p. 13.
  13. Edith Penrose, "The Development of Crisis," in _The Oil Crisis_, ed. Raymond Vernon, New York: Norton, 1976, p. 49.
  14. V. H. Oppenheim, "Why Oil Prices Go Up; The Past: We Pushed Them," _Foreign Policy_, no. 25, Winter 1976-77, pp. 30, 32-33.
  15. Oppenheim, "Why Oil Prices...," pp. 24-25.
  16. Kissinger, _Years of Upheaval_, p. 863.
  17. Robert B. Stobaugh, "The Oil Companies in the Crisis," in _The Oil Crisis_, ed. Raymond Vernon, New York: Norton, 1976, p. 185.
  18. Quoted in Mira Wilkins, "The Oil Companies in Perspective," in _The Oil Crisis_, ed. Raymond Vernon, New York: Norton, 1976, p. 173.
  19. Kissinger, _Years of Upheaval_, p. 873.
  20. Stobaugh, "Oil Companies...," p. 193, table 3.
  21. Romano Prodi and Alberto Clo^, "Europe," in _The Oil Crisis_, ed. Raymond Vernon, New York: Norton, 1976, p. 101.
  22. Yoshi Tsurumi, "Japan," in _The Oil Crisis_, ed. Raymond Vernon, New York: Norton, 1976, p. 123.
  23. Horst Menderhausen, _Coping with the Oil Crisis_, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976, pp. 60-61.
  24. Hearings, _Offshore Oil and Gas Oversight_, Subcommittee on Panama Canal/Outer Continental Shelf, House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, 1984, pp. 469-74.
  25. Richard Halloran, "What Price U.S. Patrols in the Gulf," _New York Times_, 21 Feb. 1988, p. 2E.
  26. Maj. Gen. Edward B. Atkeson, "The Persian Gulf: Still A Vital Interest?" _Armed Forces Journal International_, vol. 124, no. 9, April 1987, p. 54.
  27. Frank Church, "The Impotence of Oil Companies," _Foreign Policy_, no. 27, Summer 1977, p. 49.
  28. Cordesman, _The Gulf..._, p. 264.
  29. _Time_, 25 July 1983, p. 28, quoted in Mansour Farhang, "The Iran-Israel Connection," in _Consistency of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Gulf War and the Iran-Contra Affair_, ed. Abbas Alnasrawi and Cheryl Rubenberg, Belmont, MA: AAUG, 1989, p. 96.
  30. John W. Amos II, "The Iraq-Iran War: Conflict, Linkage, and Spillover in the Middle East," in _Gulf Security into the 1980s: Perceptual and Strategic Dimensions_, ed. Robert G. Darius, John W. Amos II, Ralph H. Magnus, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1984, p. 65.
  31. Cordesman, _The Gulf..._, p. 717; Robert O. Freedman, "Soviet Policy Toward the Persian Gulf from the Outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War to the Death of Konstantin Chernenko," in _U.S. Strategic Interests in the Gulf Region_, ed. Wm. J. Olson, Boulder: Westview, 1987, p. 55.
  32. Freedman, "Soviet Policy...," p. 55.
  33. Joe Stork and Martha Wenger, "U.S. Ready to Intervene in the Gulf War," _MERIP Reports_, nos. 125/126, July-Sept. 1984, p. 45.
  34. Freedman, "Soviet Policy...," p. 63; _New York Times_, 10 Nov. 1982, p. 5.
  35. Stork & Wenger, "U.S. Ready to Intervene...," p. 45.
  36. _War in the Persian Gulf: The U.S. Takes Sides_, staff report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, Nov. 1987, Committee Print S. Prt. 100-60, pp. 21-22. Hereafter cited as S. Prt. 100-60.
  37. Michael T. Klare, "The RDF: Newest 'Fire Brigade' for U.S. Intervention in the Third World," in _U.S. Strategy in the Gulf: Intervention Against Liberation_, ed. Leila Meo, Belmont, MA: AAUG, 1981, pp. 99-100, 104.
  38. Harold Brown, _Thinking About National Security_, Boulder: Westview, 1983, p. 157.
  39. For examples for policymakers and the press, see Maya Chadda, _Paradox of Power: the United States in Southwest Asia, 1973-1984_, Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1986, pp. 111-12.; and for a particularly gross example, _Business Week_, 19 Nov. 1979, p. 190, quoted in James F. Petras and Roberto Korzeniewicz, "U.S. Policy Towards the Middle East," in _U.S. Strategy in the Gulf: Intervention Against Liberation_, ed. Leila Meo, Belmont, MA: AAUG, 1981, p. 84.
  40. A point made by Chadda, _Paradox of Power_, p. 112.
  41. Brown, _Thinking About National Security_, p. 157.
  42. Zbigniew Brzezinski, _Power and Principle_, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987, p. 450.
  43. Cordesman, _The Gulf..._, p. 847.
  44. Deborah Shapley "The Army's New Fighting Doctrine," _New York Times Magazine_, 28 Nov. 1982, p. 47.
  45. Klare, "...Fire Brigade," p. 107.
  46. _Public Papers of the Presidents, Ronald Reagan, 1981_, pp. 870-71.
  47. Stephen Engelberg, "Iran and Iraq Got 'Doctored Data, U.S. Officials Say," _New York Times_, 12 Jan. 1987, p. A1, A6.
  48. Brown, _Thinking About National Security_, makes this point, p. 149.
  49. _New York Times_, 25 Sept. 1982, quoted in Christopher Paine, "On the Beach: The Rapid Deployment Force and the Nuclear Arms Race," _MERIP Reports_, no. 111, Jan. 1983, p. 11.
  50. Congressional Quarterly Inc., _U.S. Defense Policy_, 3rd ed., Washington, DC: 1983, p. 193. The quote is Congressional Quarterly's summary.
  51. James P. Wooten, _Rapid Deployment Force_, CRS Issue Brief No. IB80027, updated 16 July 1984, p. 4, quoted in Martha Wenger, "The Central Command: Getting to the War on Time," _MERIP Reports_, no. 128, Nov.-Dec. 1984, p. 20; see also Richard Halloran, "Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy for Fighting A Long Nuclear War," _New York Times_, 20 May 1982, pp. 1, 12.
  52. Quoted in Congressional Quarterly, _U.S. Defense Policy_, pp. 195-96.
  53. Cordesman, _The Gulf...,_, p. 62.
  54. Middle East.
  55. Wenger "Central Command," p. 22, citing Wooten.
  56. Judith Miller and Jeff Gerth, "U.S. Is Said to Develop Oman as Its major Ally in the Gulf," _New York Times_, 25 Mar. 1985, pp. A1, A8.
  57. Bernard Gwertzman, "Saudis To Let U.S. Use Bases in Crisis," _New York Times_, 5 Sept. 1985, pp. A1, A10.
  58. _President's Special Review Board_ (_The Tower Commission Report_), New York: Bantam Books/Times Books, 1987, pp. 294-95. Hereafter cited as Tower Commission.
  59. Farhang, "Iran-Israel Connection," p. 95; Bob Woodward, _Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987_, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, p. 480.
  60. Leslie H. Gelb, "U.S. Said to Aid Iranian Exiles in Combat and Political Units," _New York Times_, 7 Mar. 1982, pp. A1, A12.
  61. David Binder, "U.S. Concedes It Is Behind Anti-Khomeini Broadcasts," _New York Times_, 29 June 1980, p. 3; Woodward, _Veil_, p. 480.
  62. Leslie H. Gelb, "U.S. Said to Aid Iranian Exiles in Combat and Political Units," _New York Times_, 7 Mar. 1982, pp. A1, A12.
  63. Tower Commission, p. 398; Farhang, "Iran-Israel Connection," p. 95.
  64. Farhang, "Iran-Israel Connection," p. 92.
  65. Tower Commission, pp. 103-04.
  66. Quoted in Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter, _The Iran-Contra Connection_, Boston: South End Press, 1987, pp. 160-61.
  67. Tower Commission, p. 271.
  68. Tower Commission, p. 194.
  69. Tower Commission, p. 388.
  70. Tower Commission, p. 65.
  71. Tower Commission, p. 113.
  72. Tower Commission, p. 261.
  73. Tower Commission, p. 299.
  74. Cordesman, _Iran-Iraq War..._, pp. 23-36.
  75. Leslie H. Gelb, "Iran Said to Get Large-Scale Arms From Israel, Soviet and Europeans," _New York Times_, 8 Mar. 1982, pp. A1, A10; Cordesman, _Iran-Iraq War..._, p. 31.
  76. S.Prt. 100-60, p. 21.
  77. Murray Gordon ed., _Conflict in the Persian Gulf_, New York: Facts on File, 1981, p. 163.
  78. Brzezinski, _Power and Principle_, p. 504.
  79. Christopher Hitchens, _Nation_, 20 June 1987 and 4 July 1987.
  80. Tower Commission, p. 27.
  81. _Public Papers of the President, Reagan, 1986_, p. 1546.
  82. Tower Commission, p. 48; see also p. 398.
  83. Tower Commission, p. 427.
  84. Stork & Wenger, "U.S. Ready to Intervene...," pp. 47-48, citing _Newsday_, 20 May 1984.
  85. Tower Commission, pp. 239-40.
  86. Cordesman, _Iran-Iraq War..._, p. 38.
  87. Tower Commission, pp. 239-40.
  88. Tower Commission, p. 279.
  89. Tower Commission, p. 73; see also Cordesman, _Iran-Iraq War..._, p. 38.
  90. Stephen Engelberg, "Iran and Iraq Got 'Doctored Data, U.S. Officials Say," _New York Times_, 12 Jan. 1987, pp. A1, A6.
  91. Woodward, _Veil_, p. 480.
  92. Woodward, _Veil_, p. 480.
  93. Stephen Engelberg, "Iran and Iraq Got 'Doctored Data, U.S. Officials Say," _New York Times_, 12 Jan. 1987, pp. A1, A6.