Behind the camera: Iraqi State TV
Where: Baghdad, Iraq
Photo Summary: Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein surrounded by aides from both parties.
Picture Taken: Dec 20, 1983
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee
America has had a love-hate relationship with Iraq. After the Iranian revolution, Iraq became America’s best friend in the Persian Gulf. That all changed after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. When this video was first released, in 1983, it quietly slid into oblivion. As government “Hawks” used Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) as reasons to overthrow his government the footage saw a resurgence in popularity. Critics like to use the video to illustrate how Donald Rumsfeld was shaking hands with Saddam in 1983, even though government intelligence knew he was using WMDs against Iran and his own people. The argument being: why is America taking the moral stance now when as shown by this video the American government had no problems with him using WMDs and selling him the means to make more.
America Backs Iraq
When the Iraq-Iran War broke out in September 1980 it was American policy to let the two nations fight it out. America had turned anti-Iran since the Iranian revolution and its hostage crisis. America had no love for Saddam in Iraq either, at the time he was part of the Soviet sphere of influence and backed terrorist attacks against the US’s close ally, Israel.
This all changed when Iran started to make significant gains in the war. President Ronald Reagan saw disaster if Iran’s revolutionary government overran Iraq and so Reagan created the National Security Decision Directive 114 on Nov. 26, 1983. This directive changed US policy from neutral observer to active supplier of military supplies, battlefield intelligence, and most controversially, the dual-use technology that allowed Saddam to create WMDs. Howard Teicher, who served on Reagan’s National Security Council described in sworn statements how, “CIA Director Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war,”
Special Envoy Rumsfeld
During his period as Reagan’s Special Envoy to the Middle East (November 1983 – May 1984), Rumsfeld was the main conduit for crucial American military intelligence, hardware and strategic advice to Saddam Hussein, while Iraq was fighting Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. His first visit was when this footage was taken, from December 19 – December 20, 1983. He and Saddam Hussein had a 90-minute discussion that covered Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, preventing Syrian and Iranian expansion, preventing arms sales to Iran by foreign countries, and increasing Iraqi oil production via a possible new oil pipeline across Jordan (Syria had shut down a Syrian-Iraqi pipeline).
Later Rumsfeld would try and claim that in his “head to head” meeting with Saddam he brought up Saddam’s use of Chemical weapons on the battlefield. However, it was later revealed that Rumsfeld didn’t discuss the issue with Saddam but instead brought it up at a later meeting with Tariq Aziz (Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister) in passing as part of a list of issues that “inhibited” US assistance.
Republican Presidential nomination
In 1988 when Rumsfeld made a short-lived run for President the campaign was quoted as saying that one of his great achievements while in office was to “reopen U.S. relations with Iraq.” Even though by 1988 Iraq had been actively using chemical weapons against Iran and even his own people for years.
Rumsfeld didn’t come empty-handed on his trips to Iraq bringing a wide range of gifts from the Reagan administration including pistols, medieval spiked hammers even a pair of golden cowboy spurs. These were all displayed in at Saddam’s Victory Museum in Baghdad, which held all the gifts bestowed on Saddam by world leaders.