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Context of 'Early January 2003: Pentagon Conducts Planning for Possible Nuclear Strike on Iraq'

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The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is expelled from Iran and takes refuge in Iraq. In exile, the group develops an overseas support structure and creates the National Liberation Army (NLA), which acquires tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery. The group will receive support from Saddam Hussein until he is toppled by a US invasion in 2003 (see March 19, 2003). (US Department of State 4/30/2003)

Soviet tanks entering Afghanistan in late 1979.Soviet tanks entering Afghanistan in late 1979. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The Russians were initially invited in by the Afghan government to deal with rising instability and army mutinies, and they start crossing the border on December 8. But on December 26, Russian troops storm the presidential palace, kill the country’s leader, Hafizullah Amin, and the invitation turns into an invasion. (Blum 1995, pp. 342) Later declassified high-level Russian documents will show that the Russian leadership believed that Amin, who took power in a violent coup from another pro-Soviet leader two months before, had secret contacts with the US embassy and was probably a US agent. Further, one document from this month claims that “the right wing Muslim opposition” has “practically established their control in many provinces… using foreign support.” (Cooley 2002, pp. 8) It has been commonly believed that the invasion was unprovoked, but the Russians will later be proven largely correct. In a 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, will reveal that earlier in the year Carter authorized the CIA to destabilize the government, provoking the Russians to invade (see July 3, 1979). (Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris) 1/1998; Pilger 1/29/2002) Further, CIA covert action in the country actually began in 1978 (see 1978), if not earlier (see 1973-1979). The US and Saudi Arabia will give a huge amount of money (estimates range up to $40 billion total for the war) to support the mujaheddin guerrilla fighters opposing the Russians, and a decade-long war will ensue. (Hiro 2/15/1999)

Worn down by incessant opposition from conservatives, neoconservatives, and hawks in both Republican and Democratic parties, President Carter has by now abandoned his goal of drastically reducing the amount of nuclear weapons in the US and Soviet arsenals (see Mid-January, 1977). Not only has he withdrawn the already-signed SALT II treaty from consideration for Senate ratification (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), he has deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, approved development of the MX missile (see June 1979), and taken other steps to increase the US military buildup, including sharply increasing defense spending from his first year in office. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 109)

The National Program Office (NPO), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, establishes a secret line of presidential succession for certain “narrowly defined” emergency situations. According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the president of the United States be killed or incapacitated, he is to be replaced by the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then each cabinet member from the Secretary of State down. The alternative succession plan developed by the NPO, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or “PS cubed,” would suspend these traditional rules and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government. A source with knowledge of the plan says it would “suspend that natural succession and these individuals would have the right to appoint, virtually appoint, a new government.” The program, according to author James Mann, calls for “setting aside the legal rules of presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new ‘president’ and his staff.” The idea is to “concentrate on speed, to preserve ‘continuity of government,’ and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.” The alternative succession plan allows the presidency, the vice presidency, and each cabinet position to be filled by individuals from both inside and outside the active government. In 1991, CNN will list the names of several people that may assume power should the plan be put into action, including Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Schlesinger, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and Tip O’Neill. Some participants say the alternative succession plan is absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the federal government, but others argue the secrecy of the program undermines its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” says a constitutional scholar from Duke University, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.” (CNN Special Assignment 11/17/1991; Mann 3/2004)

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. (MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980) 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs 2012; American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

General Kenal Evren leads a military coup in Turkey. Richard Perle, in a 1999 article, will justify the pro-American coup as “a response by the Turkish armed forces to the breakdown of order and security and the rise of terrorism and widespread random violence in Turkey.” According to Perle, the wave of terrorism in Turkey “threatened to undermine American support, both popular and official, for Turkey and for close cooperation in security affairs between the United States and Turkey.” (Perle 9/1999) Perle says Turkey’s civilian government failed to maintain law and order. Conveniently, the clampdown that follows the coup enables the new government to begin implementing the pro-US strategic agenda that was laid out during the 1979 meeting arranged by Perle’s mentor, Albert Wohlstetter (see 1979). It is now known that the terrorism that destabilized Turkey in the late 1970s was predominately the work of secret groups run by the Turkish military in conjunction with the CIA and NATO. (Komisar 4/1997; Kurkcu 6/1997; Ganser 12/17/2004)

Iran conducts a limited air strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, after being publicly exhorted to do so by Israel’s chief of Army intelligence. The Osirak reactor is at the same site as the Iraq Nuclear Research Center, in al-Tuwaitha, where Israeli intelligence believes the first Arab atomic bomb will be assembled. The strike is part of a larger strike by Iran against a conventional electric power plant near Baghdad. The strike inflicts only minor damage, and the plant is quickly repaired and brought back online. Iran will not conduct any further air strikes against Iraqi nuclear facilities throughout the entire Iran-Iraq War. In fact, it is not clear whether the Iranian strike is a pre-planned bombing raid by Iranian war planners, or an air strike by two pilots with a chance at a target of opportunity. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Institute for National Strategic Studies 5/1995) In June 1981, Israel will obliterate the Osirak facility (see June 7, 1981).

Incoming presidential chief of staff James Baker asks a former chief of staff, Dick Cheney (see November 4, 1975 and After), for advice on handling the job. Baker takes four pages of handwritten notes covering his conversation with Cheney. Most of the notes cover mundane topics such as personnel and managing the president’s schedule. But Cheney offers at least one piece of policy advice. According to Baker’s notes: “Pres. seriously weakened in recent yrs. Restore power & auth [authority] to Exec Branch—Need strong ldr’ship. Get rid of War Powers Act—restore independent rights.” Baker notes Cheney’s emphasis of this last idea by marking it with two double lines and six asterisks, and a note in the margin, “Central theme we ought to push.” (Savage 2007, pp. 43)

Iraq begins developing “Zippe-type” centrifuges (see 1950s). The centrifuges use rotors made from maraging steel and carbon fiber, which are more advanced than aluminum and allow the rotor to spin at significantly higher speeds. But Iraq has problems building centrifuges—even with considerable assistance from German experts. (Albright 10/9/2003)

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” (Mann 2004, pp. 138-145; Mann 3/2004; Kurtz 4/7/2004; Cockburn 2007, pp. 85)
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 198)
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002) Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” (Mann 3/2004)

In conjunction with his huge peacetime military buildup (see Early 1981 and After), President Reagan strongly opposes any sort of arms control or limitation discussions with the Soviet Union.
Rostow to ACDA - As a member of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976), Reagan had spoken out against the SALT II arms control treaty with the USSR (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), calling it “fatally flawed.” He has opposed every significant arms limitation agreement since 1963, no matter whether it was negotiated by Republican or Democratic administrations. To continue his opposition, Reagan appoints Eugene Rostow to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Rostow, a fellow CPD member, is flatly opposed to any sort of arms control or disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union, and had led the CPD fight against the SALT II agreement. “Arms control thinking drives out sound thinking,” he told the Senate. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120) During his confirmation hearings, Rostow tells Senate questioners that the US could certainly survive a nuclear war, and gives World War II-era Japan as an example—that nation “not only survived but flourished after a nuclear attack.” When asked if the world could survive a full nuclear attack of thousands of nuclear warheads instead of the two that Japan had weathered, Rostow says that even though the casualties might be between “ten million… and one hundred million… [t]he human race is very resilient.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 126) Rostow’s aide at the ACDA, Colin Gray, says that “victory is possible” in a nuclear war provided the US is prepared to fight. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 127)
Burt to State Department - Reagan names Richard Burt to head the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, the State Department’s primary liaison with the Defense Department. Burt, a former New York Times reporter, is one of the few journalists synpathetic to the CPD, and recently called the SALT agreement “a favor to the Russians.” Just before joining the Reagan administration, Burt called for reductions in nuclear arms controls: “Arms control has developed the same kind of mindless momentum associated with other large-scale government pursuits. Conceptual notions of limited durability, such as the doctrine of mutual assured destruction [MAD], have gained bureaucratic constituencies and have thus been prolonged beyond their usefulness. There are strong reasons for believing that arms control is unlikely to possess much utility in the coming decade.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120; US Department of State 2008)
Perle to Defense Department - Perhaps the most outspoken opponent of arms control is neoconservative Richard Perle, named as assistant defense secretary for international security affairs. Perle, until recently the national security adviser to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s), will quickly become, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “the administration’s chief arms control obstructionist, dubbed ‘the Prince of Darkness’ by his enemies.” Perle once said: “The sense that we and the Russians could compose our differences, reduce them to treaty constraints… and then rely on compliance to produce a safer world. I don’t agree with any of that.” Now Perle is poised to act on his beliefs. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120)
Vice President Bush - Although seen as a pragmatist and not a hardline conservative (see January 1981 and After), Vice President George H. W. Bush is also optimistic about the chances of the US coming out on top after a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. During the 1980 campaign, he told a reporter: “You have a survivability of command and control, survivability of industrial potential, protection of a percentage of your citizens, and you have a capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition tham it inflicts on you. That’s the way you can have a winner.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 126-127)
Other Appointees - Perle’s immediate supervisor in Defense is Fred Ikle, who headed ACDA in 1973 and helped battle back part of the original SALT agreement. Ikle will be primarily responsible for the Pentagon’s “five-year plan” that envisions a “protracted nuclear war” as a viable option (see March 1982). Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considers the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union akin to the situation between Britain and Nazi Germany in 1938, with himself and his ideological confreres as Britain’s Winston Churchill and any attempt at arms control as nothing but appeasement. Energy Secretary James B. Edwards says of a hypothetical nuclear war, “I want to come out of it number one, not number two.” Pentagon official Thomas Jones tells a reporter that the US could handily survive a nuclear exchange, and fully recover within two to four years, if the populace digs plenty of holes, cover them with wooden doors, and bury the structures under three feet of dirt. “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it,” he says. Reagan’s second National Security Adviser, William Clark, will, according to Reagan official and future Secretary of State George Shultz, “categorically oppos[e] US-Soviet contacts” of any kind. Some of the administration’s more pragmatic members, such as Reagan’s first Secretary of State Alexander Haig, will have limited access to Reagan and be cut off from many policy-making processes by Reagan’s more hardline senior officials and staffers. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120, 127; Halloran 3/2008)

Richard Perle, a former Senate aide (see Late 1969) and consultant with the Abington Corporation defense consultancy firm, has recently become an assistant secretary of defense. Two of his first clients with Abington were Israeli arms dealers Shlomo Zabludowicz, and his son Chaim Zabludowicz (see March 1980), who now want to sell the US weapons produced by Soltam Ltd, an Israeli company that makes mortars, artillery, ammunition, and other civilian and military products. Shlomo Zabludowicz is the founder of Soltam and its principal shareholder. Soltam agrees to pay Abington $10,000 a month for a period of one year. In return, Perle writes a letter to the secretary of the Army recommending the evaluation and purchase of 155 mm. shells manufactured by Soltam. (Gerth 4/17/1983; Green 2/28/2004) Perle will say in a later interview with the New York Times that the amount was paid to him for services he provided Soltam during the previous year, and not for services rendered while working in the Pentagon. In January 1982, he will also receive a portion of a $90,000 fee that Soltam pays to Abington (see January 1982) The payments made to Perle and Abington are both funneled though Tamares, a small London-based subsidiary of Salgad, another company founded by Shlomo Zabludowicze and based in Liechtenstein. (Gerth 4/17/1983) When Perle leaves his Defense Department position in 1987, he will go to work for Soltam. (Green 2/28/2004)

President Reagan, recuperating from surgery to remove an assassin’s bullet, tells bedside visitor Terence Cardinal Cooke that God spared his life so that he might “reduce the threat of nuclear war.”
Censored Letter to Brezhnev - The day after his conversation with Cooke, Reagan pens a letter to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev calling for “disarmament” and a “world without nuclear weapons.” Brezhnev does not read Reagan’s words; Reagan’s aides, horrified at the letter, rewrite it and strip out all the phrases calling for a reduction in nuclear weapons before sending it to Brezhnev.
Aides Refuse to Draw up Plans for Disarmament - In the following weeks, Reagan will call nuclear weapons “horrible” and “inherently evil,” and order his aides to draw up plans for their elimination. His aides will refuse to deliver those plans; one adviser, Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After), will exclaim: “He can’t have a world without nuclear weapons! Doesn’t he understand the realities?”
Wants to Stop Nuclear Armageddon - Reagan believes in the literal Biblical story of Armageddon—the End Times—and believes that it will come about through the use of nuclear weapons. Unlike some conservative Christians (and some of his advisers), he does not relish the prospect, and in fact believes it is his task to prevent it from happening.
Plans to Reduce Nuclear Arms Based on Prescience, Ignorance - Author J. Peter Scoblic will note it is difficult to reconcile the view of Reagan as an advocate of nuclear disarmament with the confrontational, sometimes apocalyptic rhetoric and actions by him and his administration (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, March 1982, and Spring 1982), but Scoblic will write: “Each of these efforts, however, can also be interpreted as a sincere, if misguided, product of Reagan’s hatred of nuclear weapons. Reagan believed that the Soviets would reduce their atomic arsenal only if they were faced with the prospect of an arms race.” Reagan realizes—ahead of many of his advisers—that the USSR was moving towards a calamitous economic crisis, and believes that the Soviets will choose to step back from further rounds of escalation in order to save their economy from complete collapse. He also believes, with some apparent conflict in logic, that the only way to reduce US nuclear arms is to increase the nation’s military arsenal. “Reagan emphasized time and again, that the aim of his arms build-up was to attain deep cuts in nuclear weapons,” biographer Paul Lettow will write. “[M]ost people did not listen to what he was actually saying.” Scoblic cites what he calls Reagan’s profound ignorance of nuclear strategy and tactical capabilities as another driving force behind Reagan’s vision of nuclear disarmament. He is not aware that submarines and long-range bombers carry nuclear missiles; he believes that submarine-based nuclear missiles can be called back once in flight. Both ideas are wrong. He tells foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft that he did not realize the primary threat from the Soviet Union was that its gigantic arsenal of ICBMs might obliterate the US’s own ICBM stockpile. When journalists ask him how the MX missile program (see 1981) that he has asserted will rectify the threat to American ICBMs, as he has asserted, he confesses that he does not know. And he honestly does not seem to understand that his administration’s confrontational, sometimes overtly belligerent actions (see May 1982 and After, June 8, 1982, March 23, 1983, and November 2-11, 1983) cause apprehension and even panic among the Soviet military and political leadership. Scoblic will write that like other hardline conservatives, “Reagan could not believe that anyone could perceive the United States as anything but righteous.”
'Subject to Manipulation' - Reagan’s desire for a reduction in nuclear arms is not matched by any depth of understanding of the nuclear weapons issues. Therefore, Scoblic will observe, “[h]e was susceptible to manipulation by advisers who shared his militant anti-communism but not his distaste for nuclear deterrence and who wanted neither arms reduction nor arms control.” When he names George Shultz as his secretary of state in mid-1982, he gains a key ally in his plans for nuclear reduction and a counterweight to arms-race advocates such as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and other hardliners who have worked (and continue to work) to sabotage the administration’s arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. He gains another ally when he replaces National Security Adviser William Clark with the more pragmatic Robert McFarlane. Both Shultz and McFarlane will support Reagan’s desire to begin sincere negotiations with the USSR on reducing nuclear arms, as does his wife, Nancy Reagan, who wants her husband to be remembered by history as reducing, not increasing, the risk of nuclear war. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 136-138)

Yuri Andropov, the head of the Soviet KGB intelligence agency, tells a group of KGB officers that the US is actively preparing for war with the USSR, and warns of “the possibility of a nuclear first strike” by the Americans. The KGB describes the program thusly: “One of the chief directions for the activity of the KGB’s foreign service is to organize detection and assessment of signs of preparation [for a surprise nuclear attack] in all possible areas, i.e., political, economic and military sectors, civil defense and the activity of the special services.” Andropov, who will become the head of the Soviet government in 1982, helps direct the KGB and GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency) to make preparations for that strike its top priority. The agencies instruct Soviet agents in NATO capitals and Japan to make “close observation[s] of all political, military, and intelligence activities that might indicate preparations for mobilization.” The program, called VRYAN (the Soviet acronym for “Surprise Nuclear Missile Attack”), takes even greater priority once Andropov rises to power. (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 134) (Others such as CIA researcher Benjamin Fischer will refer to the program in their writings as “Operation RYAN.”) Fischer will write that VRYAN, or RYAN, is based on “genuine fears” among the Soviet military and political leadership. Andropov’s KGB in particular feels that the international situation, or what the Soviets call the “correlation of world forces,” is “turning against the USSR and increasing its vulnerability.” In conjunction with the Reagan’s administration hardline stance towards the Soviet Union, an increase in US-led military exercises and psychological warfare missions conducted close to Soviet borders, and an increase in the US’s ability to thwart Soviet early warning systems, this perception prompts the Soviets to not only voice their concern over the possibility of a US first strike, but to prepare for it. Fischer also notes that in some ways, Operation VRYAN and Moscow’s uneasiness over the US threat is sparked by bitter memories of Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 surprise invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis. The program, Fischer will write, abandons caution and the usual tradecraft of intelligence-gathering, and instead relies on often-unreliable data supplied by East German intelligence sources. (Fischer 3/19/2007)

President Reagan, giving the commencement speech at West Point’s graduation ceremonies, makes a strong statement of his belief that the Soviet Union is an “evil empire” that must be defeated in one sense or another. “I am told there are links of a great chain that was forged and stretched across the Hudson [River] to prevent the British fleet from penetrating further into the valley,” he tells the graduates. “Today, you are that chain, holding back an evil force [communism] that would extinguish the light we’ve been tending for 6,000 years.” Days before, Reagan told another graduating class that the West would not “contain communism, it will transcend communism.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 116)

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin calls televangelist and nascent political ally Jerry Falwell (see 1980) and says: “Tomorrow you’re going to read some strange things about what we’re going to do. But our safety is at stake. I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.” Israel is preparing to use US-provided F-16s to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (see June 7, 1981). Begin is concerned that the US will object to Israel’s use of the aircraft for non-defensive purposes. Falwell tells Begin, “I want to congratulate you for a mission that [makes] us very proud that we manufactured those F-16s.” Many Reagan officials are not happy that Israel violated the agreement with the US over use of the warplanes, but even though Vice President Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker both believe that Israel should be punished, Begin has provided himself cover on the Christian right. (Unger 2007, pp. 109-110)

Osirak nuclear facility.Osirak nuclear facility. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org] (click image to enlarge)On the order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and after heated debate among Israeli leaders, Israeli warplanes strike the Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) Tammuz I nuclear plant at al-Tuwaitha near Baghdad, destroying it and dealing a severe setback to Iraq’s nuclear program. Israel claims it fears Iraq is building a nuclear weapon with which to strike it. Osirak is a French-made nuclear reactor, which is near completion but lacks any nuclear fuel, thereby raising no danger of any radioactive link. Ariel Sharon, concurrently Defense Minister and a proponent of the strike, later says, “This was perhaps the most difficult decision which faced any [Israeli] government during all the years of the state’s existence.” The Israeli government states after the strike, “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing, whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.… Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.” The reactor is slated to be completed by September, 1981, though it would be years before it could produce any nuclear-grade fissionable material. Iraq denies the reactor is developed to produce nuclear weapons, though the construction of the plant gives credence to claims that Iraq is more interested in building a weapon than generating electricity. (After the strike, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says, “Any state in the world which really wants peace… should help the Arabs in one way or another to acquire atomic bombs,” giving further credence to suspicions that Hussein wanted to build a nuclear weapon.) The Israeli strike follows up a September 1980 raid on the Osirak facility by Iranian warplanes (see September 30, 1980). Publicly, Iran and Israel are dire enemies, but Israel has begun secretly selling US-made arms to Iran as a way to counterbalance the threat posed by Iraq (see 1981). (BBC 7/7/1981; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Institute for Strategic Studies 5/1995) In 1984, Brookings Institution fellow Lucien Vandenbroucke will write, “Ironically, Israel’s raid may prove to be a brilliant tactical success achieved at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. Certainly, the attack set Iraq’s nuclear program back several years. But the strike also ushered in a de facto Israeli claim to nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, a move that in the long run generally promises to encourage the larger Arab world on the nuclear path.… In the decision-making process, Israeli fears and the propensity to rely on worst-case analyses seem to have prevailed. The advocates of the strike focused on the unreasonable, rather than the reasonable, aspects of Iraqi behavior, and thus even a limited prospect that Iraq might soon acquire a nuclear bomb became more of a risk than they were prepared to accept.” (Vandenbroucke 10/1984)

Reagan officials reopen the stalled Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, against the advice of President Reagan’s more hardline officials (see January 1981 and After). The talks center on the Soviets’ SS-20 missile, designed to strike European targets. In return, then-President Carter had agreed to deploy US intermediate-range nuclear missiles—Pershing II’s and Tomahawks—in West Germany and Italy by 1983. According to author J. Peter Scoblic, the missiles have little real military value, as American ICBMs, submarine-based nuclear missiles, and long-range bombers could destroy Soviet targets with near-impunity. They do, however, have some political significance, mostly in helping tie European security to US security. Carter had agreed to open talks with the Soviets to get rid of the SS-20s entirely.
Hardliners Sabotage Talks - The more pragmatic Reagan officials succeed in reopening the talks; Reagan hardliners, thwarted in stopping the talks, set about sabotaging them in any way available. When arguments in favor of delays and “further study” finally fail, they pressure Reagan to offer an agreement they know the Soviets will refuse: the so-called “zero option,” which originates with Defense Department official Richard Perle (see Early 1981 and After). Perle says that the Soviets should remove all of the SS-20s, and in return, the US will not deploy its Pershings and Tomahawks—in essence, having the Soviets concede something for essentially nothing. State Department officials suggest a fallback position in case the Soviets reject Perle’s offering; in his turn, Perle appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and compares anyone who opposes his zero-sum offering to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938.
'Walk in the Woods' - When the Soviets reject Perle’s option, Reagan hardliners argue that the government should accept no compromise. The head of the INF negotiation team, Paul Nitze—a Cold War figure who has come out against arms control (see January 1976) but is not fully trusted by the hardline ideologues because of his history as an arms negotiator—wants a compromise. In official negotiations, he sticks to the all-or-nothing position of Perle, but opens private, informal negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. One afternoon in 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky go for what later becomes known as their “walk in the woods.” Sitting together on a log during an afternoon rainstorm, the two hammer out an agreement that greatly favors the US—mandating a 67 percent reduction in Soviet SS-20s and allowing the US to deploy an equal number of Tomahawks. Not only would the Soviets have to reduce their already-deployed contingent of missiles and the US be allowed to deploy missiles, because the Tomahawks carry more independent warheads than the SS-20s, the US would have a significant advantage in firepower. The deal also sets limits on SS-20 deployments in Asia, and forbids the Soviets from developing ground-launched cruise missiles. In return, the US would agree not to deploy its Pershing missiles.
Hardliners Block Agreement - Perle and his hardline allies in the Reagan administration succeed in blocking acceptance of the Nitze-Kvitsinsky agreement. As author J. Peter Scoblic later writes, “Perle’s ideological obstructionism—concisely conveyed in his disparagement of Nitze as ‘an inverterate problem-solver’—reached fantastic heights.” Perle first tried to block Reagan from even learning the details of the agreement, and lied to Reagan, asserting falsely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the agreement. Perle, in conjunction with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, eventually convinces Reagan to stick to the “zero option.” Perle argues against pressure from key US allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, telling Reagan, “We can’t just do something; we’ve got to stand there—and stand firm.” In 1983, Perle tells Weinberger that it would be better for the US to deploy no missiles at all than to accept the agreement. Scoblic will write: “In other words, he argued that foregoing deployment in return for nothing was better than foregoing deployment in exchange for something. The position made no sense, but the Reagan team held firm to it, once again preventing the adoption of a viable arms control deal.” When the US deploys Pershing missiles in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets walk out of the talks. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 120-123)

An E-4B Airborne Command Post.An E-4B Airborne Command Post. [Source: US Air Force] (click image to enlarge)During the 1980s, top-secret exercises are regularly held, testing a program called Continuity of Government (COG) that would keep the federal government functioning during and after a nuclear war (see 1981-1992). The program includes a special plane called the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP). This is a modified Boeing 747, based at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC that has its own conference room and special communications gear. Nicknamed the “Doomsday” plane, it could act as an airborne command post from where a president could run the country during a nuclear war. One of the COG exercises run by the Reagan administration involves a team of officials actually staying aloft in the NEACP for three days straight. The team cruises across the US, and up and down the coasts, periodically being refueled in mid-air. (Schwartz 1998; Mann 2004, pp. 144) Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld participate in the COG exercises, though whether they are aboard the NEACP in this particular one is unknown. (Mann 3/2004) The plan that is being rehearsed for in the exercises will be activated in response to the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Also on 9/11, three Doomsday planes (then known as “National Airborne Operations Center” planes) will be in the air, due to an exercise taking place that morning called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Schwartz 1998; Dejka 2/27/2002)

The winter issue of Kivunim, a “A Journal for Judaism and Zionism,” publishes “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties” by Oded Yinon. The paper, published in Hebrew, rejects the idea that Israel should carry through with the Camp David accords and seek peace. Instead, Yinon suggests that the Arab States should be destroyed from within by exploiting their internal religious and ethnic tensions: “Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon.” (Shahak 2/1982)

Douglas Feith, a neoconservative (see Early 1970s) serving as a Middle East analyst for the National Security Council, is fired after becoming the focus of an FBI inquiry into his giving classified NSC information to an Israeli embassy official in Washington. (Green 2/28/2004) (Feith has always been a hardline advocate for Israel; his father, Dalck Feith, was a hardline Republican who, in his youth, was active in the militant Zionist youth movement Betar, the predecessor of Israel’s Likud Party. Both Feith and his father will be honored by the hard-right, Likud-aligned Zionist Organization of America.) (Lobe 11/7/2003) In 1992, Feith will write of his belief that the US and Israel should freely share technology; author Stephen Green will write regarding Feith’s leak of classified information to Israel that “what [Feith] had neglected to say… was that he thought that individuals could decide on their own whether the sharing of classified information was ‘technical cooperation,’ an unauthorized disclosure, or a violation of US Code 794c, the ‘Espionage Act.’” Feith is almost immediately rehired by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle to serve as Perle’s “special counsel” (see Mid-1982); Feith will work for Perle until 1986, when he forms what Green will call “a small but influential law firm… based in Israel.” (Green 2/28/2004)

President Reagan, giving a speech at his alma mater, Eureka College, renames the US-USSR SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). The renamed negotiations reflect profound dissension within the administration for and against arms limitation talks (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After). State Department official Richard Burt, formerly opposed to arms negotiations, wants to ramp up the SALT talks and seek reductions in warheads and launchers. Defense Department official Richard Perle, the neoconservative who is working to block another arms limitation with the Soviet Union (see September 1981 through November 1983), wants to focus on payloads and “throw weight.” The administration’s compromise between the two positions—START—“ma[kes] no sense whatsoever,” according to author J. Peter Scoblic.
Initial Proposal Unacceptable to Soviets - START’s initial position—reducing each side’s deployment to 850 nuclear missiles and 5,000 warheads, of which no more than 2,500 can be on ICBMs—sounds like a significant reduction on paper, but many experts on all sides of the nuclear arms issue worry that such an agreement, putting so many warheads on so few missiles, would actually encourage each side to consider a first strike in a crisis. Arms control proponent Paul Warnke says, “If the Russians accept Mr. Reagan’s proposal, he’ll be forced to reject it himself.” But because of the disparity in missile configurations between the US and the Soviets, such an agreement would require the Soviets to drastically reduce their nuclear arsenal by 60 percent, while the US would lose almost nothing; therefore, the Soviets would never agree to such a proposal. Scoblic will note that as an opening gambit this proposal might be successful, if the Americans were prepared to back down somewhat and give the Soviets something. But the US negotiators have no intention of backing down. The Soviets are keenly interested in the US agreeing to reduce the number of cruise missiles it has deployed, but Reagan signs a National Security Directive forbidding US negotiators from even discussing the idea until the Soviets made significant concessions on “throw weight,” essentially tying his negotiators’ hands.
Chief US Negotiator Insults Soviets - The negotiations are made more difficult by the US team’s chief negotiator, Edward Rowny. Rowny, a former national security adviser to hardline Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), does not believe in diplomacy with anyone, particularly the Soviets. According to Scoblic, Rowny believes in “telling it like it is” to his Soviet counterparts, which Scoblic calls “insulting one’s negotiating opponents.” As he has no real negotiating latitude, Rowny’s diplomacy consists of little more than insults towards his Soviet counterparts. He tells them they do not understand the issues, boasts of his own Polish (i.e. anti-Russian) heritage, even stages walkouts over the seating arrangements. Rowny feels that he is opening a new era in negotiations, but in reality, the START talks are making no progress. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 123-124)

In another speech excoriating communism, President Reagan promises the British Parliament that “the march of freedom and democracy… will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expressionism of the people.” He promises that the “forces of good [will] ultimately rally and triumph over evil,” and says that the West cannot successfully coexist with communist regimes: “Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accomodation with totalitarian evil?” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 116-117)

Neoconservative Richard Perle, the assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, hires fellow neoconservative Douglas Feith as his special counsel. Perle soon promotes Feith to deputy assistant secretary for negotiations policy. Feith’s hire is the latest in a long tradition of neoconservatives such as Perle giving each other influential government positions (see 1973 and 1981). (Green 2/28/2004)

Disgusted with the Reagan administration’s failure to make even the most basic progress in the START arms negotiations with the Soviet Union (see May 1982 and After), and viewing the administration’s position as not only untenable but dangerous, Congress steps in and threatens to withhold funding for the MX missile (see 1981) if something is not done. In return, President Reagan appoints a blue-ribbon panel to study the negotiations and recommend alternatives (see January 1983-April 1983). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124)

One of five secret, underground ‘control rooms’ built by East German intelligence to help coordinate a Soviet counterattack against a US first strike.One of five secret, underground ‘control rooms’ built by East German intelligence to help coordinate a Soviet counterattack against a US first strike. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]By the beginning of 1983, the world seems closer to a nuclear holocaust than it has since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The idea of detente between the US and the Soviet Union has been all but abandoned, and European allies of the US use the term “Cold War II” to describe the new, chilly relations between the two superpowers. French President Francois Mitterrand compares the situation to the 1962 Cuban crisis and the 1948 confrontation over Berlin. American Cold War expert George Kennen says that the confrontation has the “familiar characteristics, the unfailing characteristics, of a march toward war—that and nothing else.” While there is little confrontation between the two in a military sense, the tensions are largely manifested in the rhetoric of the two sides, with President Reagan calling the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983) and declaring that American democracy will leave Soviet communism on “the ash-heap of history” (see June 8, 1982). In return, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov calls Reagan “insane” and “a liar.” The Soviet propaganda machine releases a storm of invective against Reagan and the US in general, comparing Reagan to Adolf Hitler and America to Nazi Germany. CIA analyst Benjamin Fischer will later write, “Such hyperbole was more a consequence than a cause of tension, but it masked real fears” (see May 1981). The Soviets are particularly worried about the US’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), the Pershing IIs, to be deployed throughout Europe (see September 1981 through November 1983), as well as the Americans’ new cruise missiles, the Tomahawks. Once those missiles are in place, the US, if it so desired, could destroy most of the Soviets’ own ballistic missile sites with only four to six minutes’ warning. The Soviets’ own plans for pre-emptive strikes against the US have the destruction of the European Pershing and Tomahawk emplacements as a top priority. (Fischer 3/19/2007)

National Security Decision Directive 75 is signed into law by President Reagan. It further embeds the idea that a “protracted nuclear war” can be won (see March 1982), saying in part that Soviet calculations about war must always see “outcomes so unfavorable to the USSR that there would be no incentive for Soviet leaders to initiate an attack.” (Halloran 3/2008) NSDD 75 stipulates that the US must “contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism” and “promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system.” Conservatives and hardliners will later interpret Reagan’s words as indicating the US would actively engage in “rollback” of the USSR’s control over other nations. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 145-146)

The KGB, the Soviet intelligence directorate, issues a “high alert” for its Operation VRYAN intelligence alert system monitoring the US for signs of a possible military and nuclear assault (see May 1981). Provoked by two years of US military provocations (see 1981-1983), fearing that the rhetorical war between the US and the USSR (see Early 1983) is ready to explode into something far more concrete, and disheartened by worries that the Soviet Union is losing ground in its global contest with the US (see Early 1981), the Kremlin informs all KGB “rezidenturas,” or station chiefs, that VRYAN has “acquired an especial degree of urgency” and is “now of particularly grave importance.” Forty station chiefs receive new orders marked “strictly personal,” instructing them to organize a “continual watch” using their entire operational staff. They are also ordered to redirect existing agents who might have access to VRYAN-related information, to recruit new agents, and to escalate surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations. (Fischer 3/19/2007)

President Reagan gives his famous “evil empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. The speech is designed to dissuade Christian evangelicals from supporting a freeze on the production and deployment of nuclear weapons, as the Conference of Catholic Bishops had already done. The speech, written by Anthony Dolan, a follower of hard-line conservative philosopher William F. Buckley, is what author J. Peter Scoblic calls “a model conservative blend of religious traditionalism and anticommunism [that makes] explicit the link between Manicheanism and nuclear war fighting.” The cause is not merely peaceful co-existence, but an apocalyptic battle between good (the West) and evil (the Soviet empire), one that must be won no matter the costs. “We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man,” Reagan tells his listeners. “We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.” Supporting the nuclear freeze movement would be to commit the sin of moral relativism, Reagan says, putting moral strictures aside for temporal, even political concerns. “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride,” he warns, “the temptation of blithely declaring yourself above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 117)

Strategic Defense Initiative logo.Strategic Defense Initiative logo. [Source: United States Missile Defense Agency]President Reagan announces his proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, later nicknamed “Star Wars”), originally conceived two years earlier (see 1981). SDI is envisioned as a wide-ranging missile defense system that, if it works, will protect the United States from nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union or other countries with ballistic missiles, essentially rendering nuclear weapons, in Reagan’s words, “impotent and obsolete.” Reagan says, “I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Soviet leader Yuri Andropov’s response is unprececented in its anger (see March 27, 1983); Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrinyn says SDI will “open a new phase in the arms race.” (PBS 2000; Scoblic 2008, pp. 129)
US Hardliners 'Ecstatic' - Hardliners in and out of the Reagan administration are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s characterization, “ecstatic, seeing SDI as the ultimate refutation of [the principle of] mutual assured destruction and therefore of the status quo, which left [the US] unable to seek victory over the Soviet Union.” The day after the speech, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) sends Reagan a one-sentence letter: “That was the best statement I have heard from any president.”
'Less Suicidal' Adjunct to First Strike - Scoblic will write that if SDI is implemented as envisioned, “[a]lthough the Soviets would still be able to inflict enough damage that a first strike by the United States would be suicidal, it would be ‘less suicidal’ to the extent that such a concept made sense, which some Reagan officials believed it did. In short, SDI was a better adjunct to a first strike than it was a standalone defense. That made it critically destabilizing, which is why missile defense had been outlawed by [earlier treaties] in the first place.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 129-130)

In an unusual display of rhetorical anger, the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, responds to the US’s announcement of its development of an anti-ballistic missile defense (SDI, or “Star Wars”—see March 23, 1983) by accusing President Reagan of “inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it.” CIA analyst Benjamin Fischer will later call Andropov’s statement “unprecedented.” Ignoring the counsel of his own advisers to remain calm, Andropov, with unusually heated rhetoric, denounces the US program as a “bid to disarm the Soviet Union in the face of the US nuclear threat.” Such space-based defense, he says, “would open the floodgates of a runaway race of all types of strategic arms, both offensive and defensive. Such is the real significance, the seamy side, so to say, of Washington’s ‘defensive conception.‘… The Soviet Union will never be caught defenseless by any threat.… Engaging in this is not just irresponsible, it is insane.… Washington’s actions are putting the entire world in jeopardy.” Andropov’s statement violates what Fischer will describe as a “longstanding taboo” against “citing numbers and capabilities of US nuclear weapons in the mass media” as well as “referr[ing] to Soviet weapons with highly unusual specificity.” Fischer will go on to note: “[F]or the first time since 1953, the top Soviet leader was telling his nation that the world was on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. If candor is a sign of sincerity, then Moscow was worried.” (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 134)

The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124-125)

The US announces that the Soviet Union has established a large early-warning radar system near the city of Krasnoyarsk. The installation violates the 1972 ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972), which requires that such installations be located near the nation’s border and oriented outward. It is possible that the Soviet radar installation is built in response to the US’s recent decision to violate the ABM treaty by developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)

Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown.Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The Soviet Union, flustered and angry at the harsh denunciations heaped on it by the US after their shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983, September 5, 1983, and Mid-September, 1983), reacts badly to the US’s response. Between the KAL incident and other episodes—President Reagan’s terming the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983), the refusal of the US to negotiate on arms reduction (see April 1983-December 1983), and the US’s launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program (see April 1983-December 1983), the Soviets are not prepared to accept the US’s position on the shootdown, nor are they prepared to accept responsibility for shooting down a passenger plane full of civilians. Instead, the KAL incident provides what Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the US, will later call “a catalyst for the angry trends that were already inherent in relations during the Reagan presidency.” Newly installed Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov issues a statement saying that US-Soviet relations cannot improve so long as Reagan is president: “If anybody ever had any illusions about the possibility of an evolution to the better in the policy of the present American administration, these illusions are completely dispelled now.” Soviet statements begin referring to the danger of war and US nuclear first strikes. The Soviet press calls Reagan a “madman” and compares him to Adolf Hitler. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko worries that “the world situation is now slipping towards a very dangerous precipice.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 132)

Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM.Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM. [Source: US Army / Public domain]The US and its NATO allies carry out a military exercise called “Able Archer,” or “Able Archer 83,” designed to simulate the use of nuclear weapons in an assault against the Soviet Union, and to test command and control procedures. The military exercise comes perilously close to touching off a real nuclear exchange with the USSR. The exercise—not the first of its kind, but the most expansive—is huge, spanning Europe from Turkey to Scandinavia; it involves the heads of state of countries like Great Britain and Germany; and, perhaps most alarmingly for the Soviets, involves NATO forces escalating their military alert levels to DEFCON-1, at which point NATO nuclear weapons have their safeguards disabled and are ready for launch. The Soviet’s VRYAN program to detect a possible assault (see May 1981) is extremely active. On November 8, Moscow sends high-priority telegrams to its KGB stations in Western Europe demanding information about a possible surprise first attack on the USSR. Though little actual evidence exists, some sources erroneously tell Moscow that NATO ground forces are mobilizing. The KGB concludes that “Able Archer” is a cover for a real military assault; Warsaw Pact fighter units armed with nuclear weapons are put on alert in East Germany and Poland. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 134-135; Miloudi 11/10/2008)
'Frighteningly Close' to Nuclear War, Says Soviet Intelligence Official - Oleg Gordievsky, the intelligence chief of the Soviet embassy in London and a British double agent, warns the British that the West is entering what he calls a “danger zone.” The Daily Telegraph will later write, “It was on Nov. 8-9 that the Kremlin had pressed what came close to a panic button.” (Washington Post 10/16/1988) In his memoirs, Gordievsky will write: “In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert—and might even have begun the countdown to war.… [D]uring ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close—certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Reagan 'Shocked' at Soviet Reaction - The exercise ends without incident, but National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane will later admit, “The situation was very grave.” Secretary of State George Shultz terms the exercise “a close call” and “quite sobering.” In early 1984, when the CIA reports that the Soviets had been convinced that the US was readying a nuclear strike, President Reagan will be, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “shocked” to realize that he and his administration “had nearly started a nuclear war.” Reagan, in McFarlane’s recollection, will show “genuine anxiety” and begin talking about the concept of Armageddon—the Biblical end times—with his advisers. (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 134-135)

Poster for ‘The Day After.’Poster for ‘The Day After.’ [Source: MGM]The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” (Lometti 1992; Scoblic 2008, pp. 133; Emmanuel 1/26/2008) Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. (Lometti 1992)
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 133)

President Reagan, still shaken from the near-catastrophe of the “Able Archer” exercise (see November 2-11, 1983) and his viewing of the nuclear holocaust film The Day After (see November 20, 1983), receives a briefing on the nation’s nuclear war plans (see March 1982). Reagan had put off the briefing for almost two years, causing some of his more hardline advisers and officials to wonder if the president was losing his taste for a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Some of them privately believe that Reagan might never order a nuclear attack on the USSR no matter what the provocation. The briefing is anchored by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey. They explain to Reagan that the US has 50,000 Soviet sites targeted for nuclear strikes; half of those sites are economic, industrial, political, and population centers. If the US launches such a strike, they say, the USSR would almost certainly retaliate, destroying the US as a functional society. Officials at the briefing later recall Reagan appearing “chastened” and brooding afterwards. In his diary, Reagan calls the briefing a “most sobering experience,” and writes of how much the briefing reminds him of The Day After: “In several ways, the sequence of events described in the briefings paralleled those in the ABC movie.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 133) He also writes in his diary how he is “even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and the Russians had nothing to fear from us.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139)

Though President Reagan has long vowed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons between the US and Soviet Union (see April 1981 and After and March-April 1982), because of a variety of factors—his recalcitrant anti-communism (see May 27, 1981, June 8, 1982, and March 8, 1983), his belief that escalating the arms race between the two countries would force the Soviets to give up their attempt to stay abreast of the Americans (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, and Spring 1982), and his aides’ success at sabotaging the US-Soviet arms negotiations (see January 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983)—recent events (see November 2-11, 1983 and November 20, 1983) have convinced him that he must fundamentally change the way he approaches the US’s dealings with the Soviets. He tells reporters that he will no longer refer to the USSR as “the focus of evil.” He drops what is known as “the standard threat speech” and begins speaking more frequently and openly of nuclear disarmament, to the dismay of many of his hardline advisers. In one speech, he says: “The fact that neither of us likes the other system is no reason to refuse to talk. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we do talk.” Speechwriter Jack Matlock, a pragmatist recently put in charge of the National Security Council’s Soviet affairs desk, wins Reagan’s approval to insert a quote from a speech by President Kennedy: “So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” He stops using terms like “conflict” in favor of terms such as “misunderstandings.” The rhetoric of “good vs evil,” of “us vs them,” is set aside in favor of discussions of mutual interests and problem solving. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 138-139)

Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle urges the CIA to promote a propaganda program urging Soviet soldiers to defect to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. He is viewed by the CIA officers as the craziest of the many extreme right-wingers with whom they have dealt. (Crile 2003, pp. 331-334)

Detective Sergeant Peter Caram, the head of the New York Port Authority’s Terrorist Intelligence Unit, has been directed by the assistant superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department to compile a report on the vulnerability of the WTC to a terrorist attack. Having previously worked at the WTC Command, Caram has exclusive knowledge of some of the center’s security weaknesses. On this day he issues his four-page report, titled “Terrorist Threat and Targeting Assessment: World Trade Center.” It looks at the reasoning behind why the WTC might be singled out for attack, and identifies three areas of particular vulnerability: the perimeter of the WTC complex, the truck dock entrance, and the subgrade area (the lower floors below ground level). Caram specifically mentions that terrorists could use a car bomb in the subgrade area—a situation similar to what occurs in the 1993 bombing (see February 26, 1993). (Caram 2001, pp. 5, 84-85; New York County Supreme Court 1/20/2004) This is the first of several reports during the 1980s, identifying the WTC as a potential terrorist target.

Tariq Aziz.Tariq Aziz. [Source: BBC]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, the author of a secret policy memo detailing the administration’s new and covert military support for Iraq (see January 14, 1984), meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Baghdad. Murphy later describes Aziz as wearing olive-green fatigues, clenching a Cuban cigar between his teeth, and sporting a pearl-handled revolver. Aziz welcomes the covert arms supplies from the US, and is particularly interested in the proposed construction of an oil pipeline to run from Iraq to Jordan, very near the Israeli border. However, mindful of the recent destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak by the Israelis (see June 7, 1981), Aziz insists that the US help finance the pipeline, both with government funds and private participation. Murphy agrees that the project is invaluable both in a geopolitical and an economic sense, and says he will so inform his Washington superiors. Murphy gingerly raises the question of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (see 1982), but Aziz denies any such usages. Murphy doesn’t press the issue, but says that Iraq must, according to Murphy, “eliminate doubts in the international community by making their positions and explanations as clear and understandable to the international public as the allegations have been.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)

President Reagan’s new tone of reconciliation with the Soviet Union (see December 1983 and After) wins a positive response from Soviet Premier Konstantin Chernenko, a pragmatist who has just replaced the far more ideologically hardline Yuri Andropov. Chernonko writes that he sees an “opportunity to put our relations on a more positive track.” The National Security Council and State Department both begin moving to renew serious dialogue with the Soviets. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139)

The Reagan and Bush administrations’ Commerce Departments allow US companies and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to export chemical and biological agents as well as other dual-use items to Iraq, despite the country’s known record of using chemical weapons. According to government regulations, the Commerce Department must send applications for export licenses which involve items related to national security to the appropriate US government agencies for review. Reviewing agencies include the State Department, Department of Defense, Energy Department, and Subgroup on Nuclear Export Coordination. But in many cases, the Commerce Department either does not send national security-related applications to these agencies for review, or if it does, it overrides a review agency’s recommendation not to grant a license, allowing the item to be exported anyway. (Timmerman 1991, pp. 202, 410; Jentleson 1994, pp. 79) According to two Senate Committee Reports that will be completed in 1994, one on May 25 and another on October 7, dual-use chemical and biological agents exported to Iraq from the US significantly contributed to the country’s weapons arsenal. The initial May report will say the agents “were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction” and the October report will reveal that the “microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program.” The 1994 investigation also determines that other exports such as plans and equipment also contributed significantly to Iraq’s military capabilities. “UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and established] that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development program,” Donald Riegle, the chairman of the committee, will explain. He also says that between January 1985 and August 1990, the “executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq.” (US Congress 5/25/1994; US Congress 5/25/1994; US Congress 10/7/1994; Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002; arsenal 12/31/2002)
Biological and chemical agents -
bullet Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin. It was sold to Iraq right up until 1992. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord and heart. (Blum 8/20/2002)
bullet Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Clotsridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness, gas gangrene. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Clostridium tetani, highly toxigenic. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Also, Escherichia Coli (E.Coli); genetic materials; human and bacterial DNA. (Blum 8/20/2002)
bullet VX nerve gas. (Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
bullet Pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas which can also be reverse engineered to create actual nerve gas. This was sold to Iraq in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf War. (Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Other exports -
bullet Chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
bullet Chemical warfare filling equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
bullet Missile fabrication equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
bullet Missile system guidance equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
bullet Graphics terminals to design and analyze rockets. (Auerbach 3/11/1991)
bullet Machine tools and lasers to extend ballistic missile range. (US Congress 7/2/1991)
bullet Computers to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. (US Congress 7/2/1991)
bullet $1 million in computers, flight simulators and other technology products that went to Saad 16 research center in Iraq (see November 1986). (Auerbach 3/11/1991)

Eminent academic, foreign policy analyst, and neoconservative Albert Wohlstetter (see 1965) introduces his proteges Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), who is already plotting to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and Perle will become key players in the run-up to the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 44)

Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, in office just 13 months, dies of a long illness. Chernenko had moved to reopen talks with the US (see February 23, 1984 and Early 1985). President Reagan sends Vice President George H. W. Bush to the funeral with an invitation to hold a summit meeting with Chernenko’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev signals his acceptance (see November 16-19, 1985). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139)

The US and the Soviet Union engage in the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva. The US wants to discuss a transition from mutual nuclear deterrence based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation (the concept of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction) to increased reliance on ground- and space-based defense systems such as its Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983). In its turn, the USSR wants a comprehensive ban on research, development, testing, and deployment of “space-strike arms.” (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)

Secretary of State George Shultz offers prominent neoconservative and State Department official Elliott Abrams (see Early 1970s) the position of assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (ARA), overseeing the department’s South and Central American issues and initiatives, as well as those for the Caribbean. Abrams accepts and, according to State Department notes of the meeting, promises to “manage the emergence of EA [Abrams] as King of LA [Latin America].” Abrams begins his duties in July 1985, and quickly becomes one of the State Department’s most vocal supporters of Nicaragua’s Contra movement, often appearing before Congress as an emissary of the Reagan administration to ask for funds for the insurgent group. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Reagan officials admit the administration’s policy of sponsoring armed insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in developing nations. This policy is soon labeled the “Reagan doctrine” (see October 1983) (PBS 2000) and credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. However, author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that the “Reagan doctrine” never really existed.
Aid to Anti-Soviet Insurgencies Far Less than Generally Thought - It is true, he will observe, that the US under President Reagan gave some assistance to countries with popular uprisings against Soviet-backed governments, but only in one—the “geostrategically insignificant” Grenada—did he send American troops to overthrow a Cuban-backed government and install a puppet government favorable to the US. In other countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Poland, and Angola, the US supported anti-communist or anti-socialist movements by funding and supplying arms to insurgents. But there is far more going on with these countries than conservatives will acknowledge. In Afghanistan, for example, the anti-Soviet mujaheddin were backed not only by the Carter administration, but by Chinese communists who opposed Soviet expansion into Central Asia. And Reagan’s support is, in Scoblic’s words, “equivocal”; by the time Reagan officials admit their administration’s policy of supporting anti-Soviet insurgencies, it has already rolled back many of the Carter-era sanctions against the USSR even though Soviet troops still occupied Afghanistan. In 1981, when the USSR ordered the Polish government to crack down on the labor movement Solidarity, the US did little except briefly impose economic sanctions on high-tech goods. And though many Reagan officials and conservatives outside the administration called for military intervention against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the US never sends troops into that country, even though the idea of Soviet expansionism in Central America—the US’s geopolitical “back yard”—is anathema to most Americans. (Reagan once complained to his chief of staff Donald Regan, “Those sons of b_tches [presumably administration hardliners] won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua, and I’m not going to do it.” And it was certainly not in line with conservative thought to sell arms to Iran, even if it was to obtain the release of American hostages.
No Actual Analysis of Support Strategies - Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, will later say: “Doctrines are things which come from thoughtful analysis of problems, threats, possible ways of dealing with them.… Not one nanosecond went into any [analysis] associated with the support of pro-democracy insurgent elements through the world.” The Reagan administration reacted to events rather than followed thought-out guidelines laying out a plan of action against Soviet expansionism.
Term Created by Neoconservative Columnist - The term “Reagan doctrine” was actually coined in April 1985 by neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, an obdurate advocate of the Nicaraguan Contras and for escalated US support of anti-Soviet insurgencies. He later explained that he “hoped that a ‘doctrine’ enshrining the legitimacy of overthrowing nasty communist governments would obviate the need for rhetorical ruses… and keep the debate—and the administration—honest.” Scoblic will later write, “In other words, he knew that the administration was not naturally inclined to such an aggressive strategy.”
Policies Aligned with Predecessors - The Reagan policies towards the Soviet Union are actually much in line with those of his predecessors, stretching all the way back to Harry Truman, Scoblic will write. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 145-149)

Recovering from cancer surgery, President Reagan authorizes National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s plan to open a dialogue with Iran through the auspices of Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar. McFarlane believes the US can win influence with Iranian moderates by helping Iran in its war with Iraq. Reagan believes the thaw in relations may help win the release of US hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian-backed terrorists. (PBS 2000)

Israeli representatives meet with Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar for the first time, to discuss brokering the secret US-Iranian arms deals authorized by President Reagan (see July 18, 1985). Israel will sell arms to Iran, and the US will replenish Israeli stockpiles. (PBS 2000)

Valerie Plame, the 22-year old daughter of a military family that followed its Air Force father around the globe during her childhood, joins the CIA. She is one of only 250 or so recruits accepted in the elite Career Trainee Program, a relatively new program installed by CIA Director William Casey and future director Robert Gates. These recruits receive intensive training in everything from academics, government and political structures, and paramilitary operations. Plame is one of the first women accepted in the program. She acquits herself very well in training, winning the respect of her fellow recruits. Classmate Larry Johnson, who will himself go on to a long career in the agency, will later recall of the young woman he knows only as “Val P.”: “She didn’t try to pretend to be something that she was not. She didn’t shoot her mouth off. Looking back, for her age, how so damn young she was, she was remarkably mature, and very serious. It was clear she wanted to be taken seriously.” Only three recruits from the “survivors” of the original class of 250 will go on to work as NOCs—nonofficial covered officers. Plame will be one of those three. (Wilson 2007, pp. 315-317)

Newly ensconsced Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) meets with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz’s executive assistant Charles Hill, and Shultz’s executive secretary Nicholas Platt. In this meeting, Abrams learns that National Security Council official Oliver North is conducting covert actions to support the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). According to Abrams’s notes from the meeting, Shultz tasks him to “monitor Ollie.” Abrams will later testify to the Iran-Contra investigative committee (see May 5, 1987) about this meeting, saying that he asks, “All these accusations about Colonel North, you want me to try to find out whether they are true and what he is up to, or do you want me to sort of leave?” Shultz replies, “No, you have got to know.” During the meeting, Abrams notes that Shultz does not want White House officials to know too much about North’s activities in funding the Contras. Abrams notes that Shultz says to him: “We don’t want to be in the dark. You [are] suppose[d] to be mgr [manager] of overall CA [Central America] picture. Contras are integral part of it. So y[ou] need to know how they [are] getting arms. So don’t just say go see the WH [White House]. It’s very risky for WH.” Platt, too, takes notes of the meeting. According to his notes, Shultz says: “What is happening on other support for Contras for lethal aid etc.—E. Abrams doesn’t have the answer. Stayed away let Ollie North do it. Fundraising continuing—weapons stocks are high. We have had nothing to do with private aid. Should we continue? Hate to be in position, [Shultz] says, of not knowing what’s going on. You are supposed to be managing overall Central American picture. Ollie can go on doing his thing, but you, [Abrams], should know what’s happening.” The notes from Abrams and Platt, and Abrams’s own testimony all confirm that Abrams is aware of North’s activities by September 1985, though he will subsequently lie to Congress about possessing such knowledge (see November 25-28, 1986). Abrams will later testifz that he has a very good idea about North’s activities from working with North in an interagency group (see Late 1985 and After). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

President Ronald Reagan signs a directive that contributes to the modern era of “continuity planning,” which will ensure the maintenance of a functioning government in the event of a catastrophic attack on Washington, DC. This Continuity of Government (COG) plan will be activated for the first time on 9/11, in response to the terrorist attacks that day (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002; ABC News 4/25/2004) National Security Decision Directive 188 (NSDD 188), “Government Coordination for National Security Emergency Preparedness,” states that it is the policy of the United States to have capabilities at all levels of government to respond to a range of national security emergencies, “from major natural calamities to hostile attacks on the nation.” The US policy “includes an emergency mobilization preparedness program which provides an effective capability to meet defense and essential civilian needs during those emergencies.” The National Security Council (NSC) is assigned as the “principal forum” where the national security emergency preparedness policy will be considered, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to “assist in the implementation of this policy through a coordinating role with the other federal agencies.” NSDD 188 also assigns responsibility for continuity planning to an interagency panel that includes the Office of Management and Budget, and the Defense, Treasury, and Justice Departments. (US President 9/16/1985; Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002) A subsequent executive order in 1988 will apply the COG plan to “any national security emergency situation that might confront the nation” (see November 18, 1988), and a presidential directive in 1998 will update it to specifically deal with the emerging threat posed by terrorists (see Early 1998 and October 21, 1998). (US President 11/18/1988; Clarke 2004, pp. 166-167 and 170; Arkin 6/4/2006)

The first meeting of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) is held. Two aides to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) attend the meeting. During the meeting, National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North offers the services of former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid recently approved for the Contras (see August 1985). Rodriguez is helping North channel illegal funds to the Contras (see Mid-September 1985). The agreement is to channel the funds to the Contras through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, Rodriguez’s center of operations. By early 1986, the legal NHAO fund distribution will merge with the illegal North fund distribution (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Some of the $27 million is never used for humanitarian purposes, but instead used to buy weapons, both for the Contras and for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)

National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, speaking for the Reagan administration, proposes a new, “broad” interpretation of the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) on national television. McFarlane proposes that space-based and mobile systems and components based on “other physical principles,” i.e. lasers, particle beams, etc., should be developed and tested, but not deployed. (The traditional, “narrow” interpretation of the treaty is more restrictive.) Days later, President Reagan announces that while he and his administration support this “broad” interpretation, as a matter of national policy, the US’s Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983) will continue to observe the more traditional interpretation. (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)

Days before President Reagan’s scheduled Geneva summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger attempts to sabotage the meeting by leaking to the press a letter he had recently written to Reagan outlining what he called systematic Soviet violations of existing arms treaties, and warning Reagan that if he makes any deal with Gorbachev, he implicitly accepts those infractions. Author J. Peter Scoblic will call it “a clumsy attempt to undermine the talks,” and one that angers the more moderate administration officials. Instead of undermining the negotiations as he had intended, Reagan takes Weinberger off the Geneva delegation. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143)

Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting.Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency; “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy; and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms; Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. (Savranskaya and Blanton 11/22/2005; Scoblic 2008, pp. 139-140; Margaret Thatcher Foundation 1/23/2008)

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) joins the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North and the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers as the principal members of a Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) which works on Central American affairs for the Reagan administration. Abrams, a staunch supporter of Nicaragua’s Contras, becomes aware of North’s machinations to divert US funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986) in spite of Congress’s prohibition on such funding (see October 10, 1984). Abrams will also become directly involved in secret, illegal efforts to secure funding for the Contras from other nations (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and National Security Council staffer Oliver North fly to London to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms merchant. Also present at the meeting are David Kimche, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi. McFarlane tells Ghorbanifar that the US wants to end arms sales to Iran, though the US wants to continue pursuing diplomatic relations. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The US will in actuality continue selling arms to Iran (see January 7, 1986 and January 17, 1986).

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, following up on the successful “fireside summit” between himself and Ronald Reagan (see November 16-19, 1985), sends Reagan a letter calling for drastic reductions in US and Soviet nuclear weapons. He proposes the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. He proposes cutting strategic arsenals by half, banning space-based weapons outright, and halting nuclear testing. He also proposes the complete dismantlement of all intermediate-range systems in Europe—in essence accepting the US’s “zero option” that was such a sticking point in earlier negotiations (see September 1981 through November 1983). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139-140) One administration hardliner, chief arms negotiator Edward Rowny (see May 1982 and After), warns Reagan that the Soviets are inherently untrustworthy and begs him “not to go soft on this.” Instead of giving Rowny what he wants, Reagan launches into what Rowny will later recall as a Martin Luther King-like speech: “I have a dream. I have a dream of a world without nuclear weapons. I want our children and grandchildren particularly to be free of those weapons.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143)

Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit.Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” (Cannon 10/13/1986; Scoblic 2008, pp. 140-142)
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143-144)
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 140-142)
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” (Savranskaya and Blanton 3/12/2008)

Map showing the strike radii of various Iraqi ballistic missiles.Map showing the strike radii of various Iraqi ballistic missiles. [Source: CIA] (click image to enlarge)US intelligence learns that Iraq’s Saad 16 research center is attempting to develop ballistic missiles. This information is relayed by the Defense Department’s Undersecretary for Trade Security Policy, Stephen Bryen, to the Commerce Department’s (CD) Assistant Secretary for Trade Administration. In spite of this, the Commerce Department will subsequently approve more than $1 million in computer sales to the Iraqi research center over the next four years. In 1991, the House Committee on Government Operations will report that 40 percent of the equipment at the Saad 16 research center had come from the US. (Auerbach 3/11/1991; US Congress 7/2/1991)

Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo.Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. (Boyd 3/17/1987; Nation 3/28/1987)

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)

Richard Perle serves as a member of the Defense Policy Board, an unpaid but influential position in the Pentagon. (Mekay 6/29/2004)

The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 70-72, 77)

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 74-75)

Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty.Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 142-145)

As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143-145)

Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera.Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera. [Source: Media Research Center]Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” (Associated Press 7/6/1989; Noyes 1/25/2008; Dickinson 5/25/2011) After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. (Salon 1/26/2011) Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. (Noyes 1/25/2008)

Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas.Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas. [Source: US Military (.com)]Terry Nichols, a 33-year-old Michigan farmer and house husband described as “aimless” by his wife Lana, joins the US Army in Detroit. He is the oldest recruit in his platoon and his fellow recruits call him “Grandpa.” During basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nichols meets fellow recruits Timothy McVeigh (see 1987-1988), who joined the Army in Buffalo, New York, and Arizona native Michael Fortier. All three share an interest in survivalism, guns, and hating the government, particularly Nichols and McVeigh; unit member Robin Littleton later recalls, “Terry and Tim in boot camp went together like magnets.” For McVeigh, Nichols is like the older brother he never had; for Nichols, he enjoys taking McVeigh under his wing. Nichols also tells McVeigh about using ammonium nitrate to make explosives he and his family used to blow up tree stumps on the farm. The three are members of what the Army calls a “Cohort,” or Cohesion Operation Readiness and Training unit, which generally keeps soldiers together in the same unit from boot camp all the way through final deployment. It is in the Army that McVeigh and Nichols become enamored of the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), which depicts a United States racially “cleansed” of minorities and other “undesirables” (McVeigh is already familiar with the novel—see 1987-1988). All three are sent to the 11 Bravo Infantry division in Fort Riley, Kansas, where they are finally separated into different companies; McVeigh goes to tank school, where he learns to operate a Bradley fighting vehicle as well as becoming an outstanding marksman. (McFadden 5/4/1995; Rimer 5/28/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 91-95; PBS Frontline 1/22/1996; Serrano 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols 2003) McVeigh later says he joined the Army because he was disillusioned with the “I am better than you because I have more money” mindset some people have, and because he was taken with the Army’s advertisement that claimed, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” (PBS Frontline 1/22/1996) Fellow unit member Specialist Ted Thorne will later recall: “Tim and I both considered ourselves career soldiers. We were going to stay in for the 20-plus years, hopefully make sergeant major. It was the big picture of retirement.” (Serrano 1998, pp. 31)
Nichols Leaves Army, Tells of Plans to Form 'Own Military Organization' - In the spring of 1989, Nichols, who planned on making a career of military service, leaves the Army due to issues with an impending divorce and child care, but his friendship with McVeigh persists. Fellow soldier Glen Edwards will later say that he found Nichols’s choice to serve in the Army unusual, considering his virulent hatred of the US government: “He said the government made it impossible for him to make a living as a farmer. I thought it strange that a 32-year-old man would be complaining about the government, yet was now employed by the government. Nichols told me he signed up to pull his 20 years and get a retirement pension.” Before Nichols leaves, he tells Edwards that he has plans for the future, and Edwards is welcome to join in. Edwards will later recall, “He told me he would be coming back to Fort Riley to start his own military organization” with McVeigh and Fortier. “He said he could get any kind of weapon and any equipment he wanted. I can’t remember the name of his organization, but he seemed pretty serious about it.” (Rimer 5/28/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 96, 101)
McVeigh Continues Army Career, Described as 'Strange,' 'Racist,' but 'Perfect Soldier' - McVeigh does not leave the Army so quickly. He achieves the rank of sergeant and becomes something of a “model soldier.” He plans on becoming an Army Ranger. However, few get to know him well; only his closest friends, such as Nichols, know of his passion for firearms, his deep-seated racism, or his hatred for the government. McVeigh does not see Nichols during the rest of his Army stint, but keeps in touch through letters and phone calls. Friends and fellow soldiers will describe McVeigh as a man who attempts to be the “perfect soldier,” but who becomes increasingly isolated during his Army career; the New York Times will describe him as “retreating into a spit-and-polish persona that did not admit nights away from the barracks or close friendships, even though he was in a ‘Cohort’ unit that kept nearly all the personnel together from basic training through discharge.” His friends and colleagues will recall him as being “strange and uncommunicative” and “coldly robotic,” and someone who often gives the least desirable assignments to African-American subordinates, calling them “inferior” and using racial slurs. An infantryman in McVeigh’s unit, Marion “Fritz” Curnutte, will later recall: “He played the military 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of us thought it was silly. When they’d call for down time, we’d rest, and he’d throw on a ruck sack and walk around the post with it.” A fellow soldier, Todd Regier, will call McVeigh an exemplary soldier, saying: “As far as soldiering, he never did anything wrong. He was always on time. He never got into trouble. He was perfect. I thought he would stay in the Army all his life. He was always volunteering for stuff that the rest of us wouldn’t want to do, guard duties, classes on the weekend.” Sergeant Charles Johnson will later recall, “He was what we call high-speed and highly motivated.” McVeigh also subscribes to survivalist magazines and other right-wing publications, such as Guns & Ammo and his favorite, Soldier of Fortune (SoF), and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Regier will later tell a reporter: “He was real different. Kind of cold. He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was kind of almost like a robot. He never had a date when I knew him in the Army. I never saw him at a club. I never saw him drinking. He never had good friends. He was a robot. Everything was for a purpose.” (McFadden 5/4/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 86; Serrano 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols 2003) McVeigh is taken with the increasing number of anti-government articles and advertisements in SoF, particularly the ones warning about what it calls the impending government imposition of martial law and tyranny, and those telling readers how to build bombs and other items to use in “defending” themselves from government aggression. (Serrano 1998, pp. 27-28) McVeigh is not entirely “by the book”; he knows his friend Michael Fortier is doing drugs, but does not report him to their superior officers. (PBS Frontline 1/22/1996) McVeigh is promoted to sergeant faster than his colleagues; this is when he begins assigning the undesirable tasks to the four or five black specialists in the group, tasks that would normally be performed by privates. “It was well known, pretty much throughout the platoon, that he was making the black specialists do that work,” Regier will recall. “He was a racist. When he talked he’d mention those words, like n_gger. You pretty much knew he was a racist.” The black soldiers complain to a company commander, earning McVeigh a reprimand. Sergeant Anthony Thigpen will later confirm Regier’s account, adding that McVeigh generally refuses to socialize with African-Americans, and only reluctantly takes part in company functions that include non-whites. Captain Terry Guild will later say McVeigh’s entire company has problems with racial polarization, “[a]nd his platoon had some of the most serious race problems. It was pretty bad.” In April 1989, McVeigh is sent to Germany for two weeks for a military “change-up program.” While there, he is awarded the German equivalent of the expert infantryman’s badge. In November 1989, he goes home for Thanksgiving with Fortier, and meets Fortier’s mother Irene. In late 1990, McVeigh signs a four-year reenlistment agreement with the Army. (McFadden 5/4/1995)
McVeigh Goes on to Serve in Persian Gulf War - McVeigh will serve two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf War, serving honorably and winning medals for his service (see January - March 1991 and After). Nichols and McVeigh will later be convicted of planning and executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).

Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 78-79, 451)

The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad.The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad. [Source: University of Virginia]A political advertisement on behalf of the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign appears, running on televisions around the country between September 21 and October 4, 1988. Called “Weekend Pass,” it depicts convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who was granted 10 separate furloughs from prison, and used the time from his last furlough to kidnap and rape a young woman. The advertisement and subsequent media barrage falsely accuses Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, of creating the “furlough program” that led to Horton’s release, and paints Dukakis as “soft on crime.” It will come to be known as one of the most overly racist political advertisements in the history of modern US presidential politics.
Ad Content - The ad begins by comparing the positions of the two candidates on crime. It notes that Bush supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, whereas Dukakis does not. The ad’s voiceover narrator then states, “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” with the accompanying text “Opposes Death Penalty, Allowed Murderers to Have Weekend Passes” superimposed on a photograph of Dukakis. The narrator then says, “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times,” accompanied by a mug shot of Horton. The voiceover continues: “Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” At this point, the ad shows another picture of Horton being arrested while the accompanying text reads, “Kidnapping, Stabbing, Raping.” The ad’s narration concludes: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” The ad is credited to the “National Security Political Action Committee.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Museum of the Moving Image 2008; Cross 11/18/2009)
'Soft on Crime' - The ad is a reflection of the measures the Bush campaign is willing to undertake to defeat the apparently strong Dukakis candidacy. Dukakis is a popular Democratic governor and widely credited with what pundits call the “Massachusetts Miracle,” reversing the downward economic spiral in his state without resorting to hefty tax increases. At the time of the ad, Dukakis enjoys a 17-point lead over Bush in the polls. Bush campaign strategists, led by campaign manager Lee Atwater, have learned from focus groups that conservative Democratic voters, which some call “Reagan Democrats,” are not solid in their support of Dukakis, and are swayed by reports that he vetoed legislation requiring teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. They also react negatively when they learn that during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, Horton had been furloughed and subsequently raped a white woman. Atwater and the Bush campaign decide that Dukakis can successfully be attacked as a “liberal” who is “not patriotic” and is “soft on crime.” Atwater, who has a strong record of appealing to racism in key voting groups (see 1981), tells Republican Party officials, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Although Dukakis had vetoed a bill mandating the death penalty for first-degree murder in Massachusetts, he did not institute the furlough program; that was signed into law by Republican governor Francis Sargent in 1972. The ads and the accompanying media blitz successfully avoid telling voters that Sargent, not Dukakis, instituted the furlough program. (Simon 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org) 1999)
Running the Horton Ad - The ad is sponsored by an ostensibly “independent” political organization, the conservative National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Thomas Moorer. NSPAC’s daughter organization “Americans for Bush” actually put together the ad, created by marketer Larry McCarthy in close conjunction with Atwater and other Bush campaign aides; Atwater determined months before that the Horton ad should not come directly from the Bush campaign, but from an “independent” group supporting Bush, thus giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to distance itself from the ad, and even criticize it, should voters react negatively towards its message (see June-September 1988). The first version of the ad does not use the menacing mug shot of Horton, which McCarthy later says depicts “every suburban mother’s greatest fear.” McCarthy and Atwater feared that the networks would refuse to run the ad if it appeared controversial. However, the network censors do not object, so McCarthy quickly substitutes a second version of the ad featuring the mug shot. When Democrats and progressive critics of the Bush campaign complain that Bush is running a racist ad, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes says that neither he nor the campaign have any control over what outside groups like “Americans for Bush” put on the airwaves. InsidePolitics will later write, “This gave the Bush camp plausible deniability that helped its candidate avoid public condemnation for racist campaigning.”
Accompanying Newspaper Reports, Bush Campaign Ads - The ad airs for the first time on September 21. On September 22, newspapers around the nation begin publishing articles telling the story of Angie and Clifford Barnes, victimized by Horton while on furlouogh. On October 5, the Bush campaign releases a “sister” television ad, called “Revolving Door.” Scripted by Ailes, the commercial does not mention Horton nor does it show the now-infamous mug shot, but emphasizes the contention that Dukakis is “soft on crime” and has what it calls a “lenient” furlough policy for violent convicts. The central image of the ad is a stream of African-American inmates moving slowly in and out of a revolving gate. The voiceover says that Dukakis had vetoed the death penalty and given furloughs to “first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.” At the same time, Clifford Barnes and the sister of the youth murdered by Horton embark on a nationwide speaking tour funded by a pro-Bush independent group known as the Committee for the Presidency. Barnes also appears on a number of television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera. Barnes and the victim’s sister also appear in two “victim” ads, where Barnes says: “Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton changed our lives forever.… We are worried people don’t know enough about Mike Dukakis.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that the media gives the “Revolving Door” ad a “courteous reception,” and focuses more on the two ads’ impact on the election, and the Dukakis campaign’s lack of response, instead of discussing the issues of race and crime as portrayed by the ads. It is not until October 24, less than two weeks before the election, that anyone in the mainstream media airs footage of critics questioning whether the ads are racially inflammatory, but these appearances are few and far between, and are always balanced with appearances by Bush supporters praising the campaign’s media strategy. (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Cross 11/18/2009)
Denials - Bush and his vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle will deny that the ads are racist, and will accuse Democrats of trying to use racism to stir up controversy (see October 1988).
Failure to Respond - The Dukakis campaign will make what many political observers later characterize as a major political blunder: it refuses to answer the ads or dispute their content until almost the last days of the campaign, hoping that viewers would instead conclude that the ads are unfair without the Dukakis campaign’s involvement. The ads will be hugely successful in securing the election for Bush (see September-November 1988). (Museum of the Moving Image 2008)

President Ronald Reagan signs a directive that details the US government’s plan for dealing with national emergencies, including a nuclear attack against the country. Executive Order 12656, “Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities,” sets out the specific responsibilities of federal departments and agencies in national security emergencies. (US President 11/18/1988) It deals with the nation’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, which would ensure the federal government continued to function should such an emergency occur. (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002; Mann 3/2004) The order states, “The policy of the United States is to have sufficient capabilities at all levels of government to meet essential defense and civilian needs during any national security emergency.” It defines a “national security emergency” as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order directs the head of every federal department and agency to “ensure the continuity of essential functions” during such an emergency by, among other things, “providing for succession to office and emergency delegation of authority.” According to Executive Order 12656, the National Security Council is “the principal forum for consideration of national security emergency preparedness policy,” and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to “assist in the implementation of national security emergency preparedness policy by coordinating with the other federal departments and agencies and with State and local governments.” (US President 11/18/1988) The COG plan this directive deals with will be activated for the first time on 9/11, in response to the terrorist attacks that day (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002; ABC News 4/25/2004) Author Peter Dale Scott will later comment that, by applying the COG plan to “any national security emergency,” Executive Order 12656 means that the attacks of 9/11 will meet the requirements for the plan to be put into action. (Scott 2007, pp. 185-186) In fact, a presidential directive in 1998 will update the COG plan specifically to deal with the threat posed by terrorists (see Early 1998 and October 21, 1998). (Clarke 2004, pp. 166-167 and 170; Arkin 6/4/2006)

The US learns that the Iraqi research center, Saad 16, is involved in the development of chemical and nuclear weapons. Three years earlier it had been discovered that the facility was developing ballistic missiles (see November 1986). The Commerce Department will continue to ship advanced technology products to the center. (US Congress 7/2/1991)

President George H.W. Bush says he will “vigorously pursue” the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)

Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense.Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. (US Department of Defense 11/24/2005) Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 87-95)

When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. (BBC 7/5/1989; Johnston 9/17/1991) North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).

Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. (American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

One of the Calverton surveillance photographs introduced as evidence in court (note that some faces have been blurred out).One of the Calverton surveillance photographs introduced as evidence in court (note that some faces have been blurred out). [Source: National Geographic]FBI agents photograph Islamic radicals shooting weapons at the Calverton Shooting Range on Long Island, New York. The radicals are secretly monitored as they shoot AK-47 assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and revolvers for four successive weekends. The use of weapons such as AK-47’s is illegal in the US, but this shooting range is known to be unusually permissive. Ali Mohamed is apparently not at the range but has been training the five men there: El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. Nosair will assassinate Rabbi Meir Kahane one year later (see November 5, 1990) and the others, except Hampton-El, will be convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), while Hampton-El will be convicted for a role in the “Landmarks” bombing plot (see June 24, 1993). Some FBI agents have been assigned to watch some Middle Eastern men who are frequenting the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. Each weekend, Mohamed’s trainees drive from Al-Kifah to the shooting range and a small FBI surveillance team follows them. The FBI has been given a tip that some Palestinians at Al-Kifah are planning violence targeting Atlantic City casinos. By August, the casino plot will have failed to materialize and the surveillance, including that at the shooting range, will have come to an end. Author Peter Lance will later comment that the reason why the FBI failed to follow up the shooting sessions is a “great unanswered question.” (Lance 2003, pp. 29-33; New York Times 10/5/2003)

Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. (Dreyfuss 11/18/2002; Leigh and Whitaker 4/14/2003; Dizard 5/4/2004; Cockburn 5/20/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004; Murphy 6/15/2004) Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. (Dreyfuss 11/18/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004)

Valerie Plame, a young CIA case officer (see Fall 1985), begins her first tour of foreign duty in Athens, Greece. She will remain there for three years, functioning out of the US Embassy under diplomatic cover as, primarily, a recruiter of foreign nationals to serve as CIA assets. Athens is a beautiful but dangerous assignment, with the radical leftist group known as “November 17” having killed a number of US officials over the past years, including CIA station chief Richard Welch in 1975. Plame’s station chief, Doug Smith, will remember her as an ambitious agent who worked hard: “It’s rare that someone on a first tour does a really wonderful job. She did well.” Her deputy station chief, who only allows himself to be identified as “Jim,” will add that he has “a very high opinion of Valerie” and the caliber of her work. (Wilson 2007, pp. 319-321)

Colin Powell.
Colin Powell. [Source: US State Department]The Berlin Wall begins to fall in East Germany, signifying the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower. Just six days later, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell will present a new strategy document to President George H. W. Bush, proposing that the US shift its strategic focus from countering Soviet attempts at world dominance to ensuring US world dominance. Bush will accept this plan in a public speech, with slight modifications, on August 2, 1990: the same day Iraq invades Kuwait. In early 1992 (see March 8, 1992), Powell, counter to his usual public dove persona, will tell members of Congress that the US requires “sufficient power” to “deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage.” He will say, “I want to be the bully on the block.” Powell’s early ideas of global hegemony will be formalized by others in a 1992 policy document and finally realized as policy when George W. Bush becomes president in 2001. (Armstrong 10/2002)

American conservatives, recently contemptuous of former President Ronald Reagan (see 1988), use the fall of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) to resurrect the image of Reagan as the victorious Cold Warrior who triumphed over world communism.
Historical Revisionism - In doing so, they drastically revise history. In the revised version of events, Reagan was a staunch, never-wavering, ideologically hardline conservative who saw the Cold War as an ultimate battle between good (Western democracy) and evil (Soviet communism). As author J. Peter Scoblic will describe the revision, it was Reagan’s implacable resolve and conservative principles—and the policies that emanated from those principles—that “forced the Soviet Union to implode.” Conservatives point to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” of backing anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985) and to National Security Decision Directive 75, accepting nuclear war as a viable policy option (see January 17, 1983), as evidence of their assertions. But to achieve this revision, they must leave out, among other elements, Reagan’s long-stated goal of nuclear disarmament (see April 1981 and After, March-April 1982, November 20, 1983, and Late November 1983), and his five-year history of working with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms between the two nations (see December 1983 and After, November 16-19, 1985, January 1986, October 11-12, 1986, and December 7-8, 1987).
USSR Caused Its Own Demise - And, Scoblic will note, such revisionism does not account for the fact that it was the USSR which collapsed of its own weight, and not the US which overwhelmed the Soviets with an onslaught of democracy. The Soviet economy had been in dire straits since the late 1960s, and there had been huge shortages of food staples such as grain by the 1980s. Soviet military spending remained, in Scoblic’s words, “enormous, devouring 15 percent to 20 percent of [the USSR’s gross national product] throughout the Cold War (meaning that it imposed three times the economic burden of the US defense budget, on an economy that was one-sixth the size).” Reagan did dramatically increase US military spending during his eight years in office (see Early 1981 and After), and ushered new and potentially devastating military programs into existence (see 1981 and March 23, 1983). Conservatives will assert that Reagan’s military spending drove the USSR into implicit surrender, sending them back to the arms negotiation table with a newfound willingness to negotiate the drawdown of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see Early 1985). Scoblic will characterize the conservatives’ arguments: “Whereas [former President] Carter was left playing defense, the Gipper [Reagan] took the ball the final 10 yards against the Reds, spending them into the ground and leading the United States into the end zone.” Scoblic calls this a “superficially… plausible argument,” but notes that Carter, not Reagan, began the tremendous military spending increase (see Late 1979-1980), and more importantly, the USSR made no effort to match Reagan’s defense spending. “Its defense budget remained essentially static during the 1980s,” he will write. “In short, the Soviet Union suffered no economic distress as a result of the Reagan buildup.” Scoblic will also note that conservatives had long insisted that the USSR could actually outspend the US militarily (see November 1976), and never predicted that increasing US military spending could drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 145-149)

Conservative defense analyst Frank Gaffney calls for a second round of “Team B” competitive intelligence exercises (see November 1976), writing, “[N]ow is the time for a new Team B and a clear-eyed assessment of the abiding Soviet (and other) challenges that dictate a continued, robust US defense posture.” (Mitchell 5/2006 pdf file)

Alan Simpson.Alan Simpson. [Source: Britt Bolen]A delegation of US senators meets with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to deliver a message from President Bush. The delegation is led by Robert Dole (R-KS) and includes Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Jim McClure (R-ID), Alan Simpson (R-WY), and Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH). The senators are joined by US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, her deputy Joseph Wilson, and various embassy staffers. Dole delivers the message from Bush: Iraq must abandon its chemical and biological weapons programs and stockpiles, and, in return, the US will continue working to improve relations between the two countries (see July 27, 1990 and July 25, 1990). In response, Hussein says he is not trying to destabilize the region and work against US interests. As part of his statement, he says: “I didn’t really say I was going to set fire to half of Israel (see April 1990). What I said was that if Israel attacks me, then I will set fire to half of Israel.” Hussein insists he will only take action against Israel if his country is attacked first, but such a response will be swift and overwhelming, with his new WMD playing a central role. He also protests against what he calls US and British efforts to contain Iraq by scaling back economic and commercial programs, and what he calls a Western smear campaign against him and his government. When the other senators are given a chance to speak to Hussein, Wilson is struck by Metzenbaum’s response. “Mr. President, I can tell you are a honorable man,” Metzenbaum says. Wilson later writes, “I remember thinking to myself that whatever beneficial impact the president’s message and Dole’s statement may have had on Saddam, it had all just been negated by this obsequious boot-licking.” Simpson joins Metzenbaum in stroking Hussein, bending forward so low from his chair that he looks as if he is on bended knee and telling the dictator: “Mr. President, I can see that what you have here isn’t really a policy problem; what you have is a public relations problem. You’ve got a problem with the haughty and pampered press. I know all about that, because I’ve got problems with the press back home. What you need is you need a good public relations person.” Wilson will write: “Saddam no doubt took from the meeting not the admonition to stop developing weapons of mass destruction and threatening his neighbors, but rather support for his own misguided belief that he was an honorable man who didn’t really have policy problems at all, just clumsy relations. After all, one of Israel’s champions had told him so, and another American leader had knelt before him to reassure him that he had no problems with the American government.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 95)

When Saddam Hussein begins massing his troops on the Kuwaiti border (see July 25, 1990), the US intelligence community believes in consensus that Hussein is mostly bluffing. He wants to gain leverage in the ongoing OPEC talks, the community believes, and at most will seize a Kuwaiti oil field just across the border. The intelligence consensus ignores the fact that Hussein is moving his elite Republican Guard units, the core of his forces and what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman will call “the very guarantors of his rule,” from Baghdad to the southern desert. Even after invading Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a National Intelligence Estimate released towards the end of the year concludes that Hussein will withdraw from Kuwait rather than risk a conflict with the US (see Late December 1990). Defense Secretary Dick Cheney becomes increasingly angry and frustrated at the US intelligence community. An intelligence analyst will recall being “whisked into a room, there’s Dick Cheney, he’s right in front of you, he starts firing questions at you, half an hour later and thirty questions later, I’m whisked out of the room, and I’m like, ‘What the hell just happened?’” DIA analyst Patrick Lang, that agency’s foremost Middle East expert and one of the few to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, will recall: “He would ask you factual questions like, ‘OK, about this thing you said. Do I understand you correctly that such-and-such is true? And are you sure about this, and how do you know that?’ And I regard that as a legitimate question.… He wasn’t hostile or nasty about it; he just wanted to know how you knew. And I didn’t mind that in the least.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)

The US Commerce Department approves $4.8 million in sales of advanced technology products to Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI) and Saad 16 research centers. MIMI is known to be a development facility for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs (see 1989) and Saad 16 is known to be involved in the development of chemical and nuclear weapons (see November 1986 and November 1986). (US Congress 7/2/1991)

Iraq begins massing troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border in preparation for a possible attack (see August 2, 1990). (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996)

April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein.April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein. [Source: Wilson's Almanac]The US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, goes to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to meet with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, to deliver a statement made earlier in the week by State Department spokesperson Margaret Tutwiler. The statement is equivocal about Iraq’s belligerent pose towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990), noting that although the US has no mutual defense pact with Kuwait, “Iraq and others know there is no place for coercion and intimidation in the civilized world.” Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson will later describe Glaspie as having “a keen mind and a profound understanding of the issues.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 98)
One-on-One with Saddam Hussein - Shortly after her meeting with Aziz, she is summoned back to the Foreign Ministry and driven from there to a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson will write: “This was unprecedented. During the two years she had been ambassador, Saddam had never held a private meeting with her, delegating all contact to Aziz or other underlings.” During the meeting, Glaspie promises Hussein that President Bush wants “better and deeper relations.” She tells Hussein that Bush is an “intelligent man,” and adds, “He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.” (Dobbs 12/30/2002; arsenal 12/31/2002; Wilson 2004, pp. 98)
'No Opinion on Arab-Arab Conflicts' - Glaspie tells Hussein: “We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait.… We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your other threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship—not confrontation—regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?” Hussein answers that he intends to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Kuwait; Glaspie asks what solutions Hussein would find acceptable. Hussein wants to keep the entire Shatt al Arab [a strategically important waterway] under Iraqi control, and if given that, he is willing to make concessions to Kuwait. However, if he has to give up some control of the Shatt, he will renounce all control in favor of bringing Kuwait back under Iraqi dominion. Glaspie replies: “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.” Reportedly Hussein takes this as a green light from the US to proceed with the invasion. (New York Times 9/23/1990; Marshall 1/5/2003)
Glaspie Said to Be Scapegoated - Wilson will later write that the US policy failure that led to the invasion is not Glaspie’s fault and that she is merely made a scapegoat for it (see July 25, 1990 and After): “The one-on-one meeting with Saddam was fateful for Ambassador Glaspie. Out of it emerged the charge that she had not been tough enough with him and had somehow given him a green light to invade Kuwait. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Charge of US Manipulation - Author and investigative producer Barry Lando will say that the price of oil was manipulated with US connivance before the crisis in an effort to hurt Iraq (see Around July 25, 1990).

US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie delivers a letter written by President Bush to Saddam Hussein. The letter reads in part: “I was pleased to learn of the agreement between Iraq and Kuwait to begin negotiations in Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] to find a peaceful solution to the current tensions between you (see August 1, 1990). The United States and Iraq both have a strong interest in preserving the peace and stability of the Middle East. For this reason, we believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict. I also welcome your statement that Iraq desires friendship rather than confrontation with the United States. Let me reassure you, as my ambassador (see July 25, 1990), Senator Dole (see April 12, 1990), and others have done, that my administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq. We will also continue to support our friends in the region with whom we have had long-standing ties. We see no necessary inconsistency between these two objectives. As you know, we still have certain fundamental concerns about certain Iraqi policies and activities, and we will continue to raise these concerns with you in a spirit of friendship and candor.… Both our governments must maintain open channels of communication to avoid misunderstandings and in order to build a more durable foundation for improving our relations.”
Positive Tone - According to the later recollections of Glaspie’s deputy, Joseph Wilson, the Iraqi leadership is “startled by the positive tone of the letter.” The letter is overtly conciliatory towards Iraq and its aggression towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990 and August 2, 1990), and, as then-Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nizar Hamdun will recall, leaves “the impression that the American desire for good relations with Iraq might override its concerns about Iraqi aggression.” Hamdun believes that the letter “had sent the wrong signal to Saddam by not explicitly warning him against taking any harsh military action, and not threatening harsh retaliation if he did.” Hamdun believes that Hussein “concluded from the positive tone of the letter that the US would not react militarily and that he could survive the political criticism resulting from the aggressive action toward Kuwait.”
Letter Influences Saddam's Thinking - Wilson will conclude, “This letter, much more than any other United States statement (see July 25, 1990), appears to have influenced Saddam’s thinking.” Ultimately, Wilson will note, the US’s influence with Hussein is limited at best, and his perceived reasons to annex Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990 and July 17, 1990) will override any fears of US disapproval. (Wilson 2004, pp. 101-104)

US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie (see July 25, 1990) leaves the country for long-planned, long deferred home leave. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is left in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad. Many other ambassadors also leave the city, as is customary due to the extremely high seasonal heat in late July and August. (Wilson 2004, pp. 106)

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad after US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie departed for her twice-delayed annual vacation to the US (see July 31, 1990). At 2:30 a.m., local time, Wilson is awakened by a phone call from Washington. The operator tells him, “Mr. Wilson, I have the White House on the line.” Wilson, assuming he is going to speak directly to the president, finds himself standing at attention, stark naked in the middle of his bedroom. Instead, the line goes dead. (Phone service in Iraq is unreliable at best, and the Iraqis often cut service to the embassy phones.) Wilson calls Sandra Charles, a National Security Council specialist on the Middle East, and Charles tells him that she is receiving reports that the US Embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait, is being surrounded by hostile Iraqi troops (see August 2, 1990). At 7:30 a.m., Wilson, having gotten dressed, pounds on the door of Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. The two have what Wilson will later recall as a forceful exchange, and Aziz agrees to restore phone service to the embassy. More pertinently, Wilson tells Aziz that the US is flatly opposed to any military moves against Kuwait. “It seems to me that with your army in Kuwait City and my navy in the Gulf we have an obligation to avoid any escalation of this crisis if we can,” Wilson tells Aziz. A member of the embassy staff later recalls being impressed with Wilson’s political dexterity. “I always knew Joe was bright,” the former staffer recalls, “but he really showed here he could be quick on his feet. That was a pretty smart way to handle the situation.” The meeting with Aziz is the first of many diplomatic efforts Wilson will make over the next few weeks to defuse the situation (see August 2-4, 1990) and protect the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait, whom Wilson fears will be taken hostage by Iraqi forces. (Ward 1/2004)

Two days of intense fighting follow Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990); Kuwait’s small military is overrun by Iraq’s much larger ground forces. Many Kuwaiti military units flee to Saudi Arabia rather than fight the Iraqis. (NationMaster 12/23/2007) The invasion is such a surprise to the Kuwaitis that the Emir and the royal family barely escape with their lives. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996; Wilson 2004, pp. 98)

Over 100 Americans are trapped in the US Embassy in Kuwait City. Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them. But, except for the release of a single American girl (see Early August, 1990), the Iraqis release no hostages. Embassy personnel succeed in rounding up around 100 Americans, mostly workers for the Bechtel Corporation, and housing them in the confines of the Embassy building. (Wilson 2004, pp. 117-118, 126)

Joseph Wilson and Saddam Hussein, during their August 6 meeting.Joseph Wilson and Saddam Hussein, during their August 6 meeting. [Source: Joseph Wilson / New York Times]Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad (see July 31, 1990 and August 1-2, 1990), is admitted to an unexpected and impromptu meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson, determined not to let Hussein get the better of him in front of the Iraqi photographers present at the meeting, refuses to do anything that could be construed as bowing to Hussein (an effect Hussein is known to strive to create with his “guests”) and is careful not to laugh for fear a picture could be taken out of context by Iraqi propagandists. As Wilson will later recall, “It dawned on me that the last thing in the world that I wanted to be beamed around the world was a picture of me yukking it up with Saddam Hussein.” Hussein proposes a solution to the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, involving the US giving its blessing to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait (see August 2-4, 1990) and in return promising to provide cheap oil to the US from Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields. He also promises not to strike against Saudi Arabia unless that country allows itself to be used as a launching pad for a strike against Iraq. If the US reacts militarily to the invasion, Hussein says, then the US will be responsible for the “spilling of the blood of ten thousand soldiers in the Arabian desert.” Wilson will later write, “There it was then, the carrot of cheap oil coupled with the stick of dead American soldiers.” Wilson, in turn, presses for Hussein to allow foreign citizens in general, and American citizens in particular, to leave Iraq immediately (see August 4, 1990). Hussein asks if such a request indicates that the US is planning to launch its own military response; Wilson responds that he knows nothing of any such plans, but that he intends “to be here so long as there is a role for diplomats to play in resolving this situation peacefully.” The meeting adjourns with nothing being agreed upon; Wilson has no power to negotiate on behalf of the US, Wilson does not trust Hussein to keep any such bargains, and most importantly, the US has not shown any indication of any willingness to allow Hussein to stay in Kuwait. (Ward 1/2004; Wilson 2004, pp. 118-123)

The US military’s ‘Desert Shield’ logo.The US military’s ‘Desert Shield’ logo. [Source: Eagle Crest (.com)]The US officially begins “Operation Desert Shield” in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and Saudi Arabia’s request for US troops to defend it from possible Iraqi incursions. The first US forces, F-15 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, arrive in Saudi Arabia (see August 5, 1990 and After). (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996; American Forces Press Service 8/8/2000) The US opens a military response to the Iraq invasion as much to defend Saudi Arabia as to defend Kuwait. Both the US and Saudis fear that Iraq will occupy Saudi Arabia’s Hama oil field near the countries’ mutual border, one of its largest. Between its own oil fields and those of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which Iraq could feasibly control, Iraq would control the majority of the world’s oil reserves. Iraq would have difficulty in successfully occupying the Hama oil field, because of the large amount of inhospitable desert terrain it would have to cross to reach the field, and because of the likelihood of intense air strikes from the US-equipped Saudi Air Force. President Bush says the operation is “wholly defensive” in nature, a claim quickly abandoned. The US deploys two carrier groups and two battleship groups to the Persian Gulf, and deploys numerous Air Force units. Eventually, half a million American troops will join the other US forces. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson and the other US diplomats in Baghdad learn that the Iraqis have taken about 115 Americans as hostages (see August 4, 1990) and are placing them at strategic sites they consider most likely to be targeted by US air and ground strikes—in essence using the hostages as human shields. Two thousand Americans still remain trapped in Kuwait City, where Iraqis are, Wilson will write, “terrorizing the population.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 126)

A sketch of a 1990 US Army GPS system similar to that used by the Air Force.A sketch of a 1990 US Army GPS system similar to that used by the Air Force. [Source: Department of the Army]Shortly after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a US Air Force official arrives at the Baghdad airport with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver in a briefcase. He is driven to the US Embassy. At the embassy, he takes a position in the courtyard and takes a single GPS reading. He then flies to the US, where he gives the GPS receiver to CIA officials in Langley, Virginia. The CIA determines the precise GPS location of the embassy from the Air Force officer’s reading. That set of grid coordinates will serve as the center of the large and sophisticated coordinate system used to designate military strike targets in and around Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm (see January 16, 1991 and After). (NationMaster 12/23/2007)

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