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Dick Cheney gives the thumbs up sign at the Republican National Convention. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Better for business
Republican vice-presidential nominee has opposed unilateral sanctions

By Gary Sick
August 3, 2000
The Iranian

Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate in the US presidential race, has a long history of involvement with Persian Gulf affairs. In early 1990, as Secretary of Defense, Cheney signed the (classified) Defense Policy Guidance that drastically revised the Cold War scenario that envisioned a Soviet invasion of Iran, followed by an immediate clash between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in Central Europe. Instead, the new plan scaled back the scenario to the goal of defending the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and the Arab sheikhdoms from an unspecified aggression, largely on the grounds that a US defense effort in Iran was unrealistic.

In July 1990, as evidence was growing of escalating differences between Kuwait and Iraq over encroachment on oil fields along the border, Cheney addressed the question of US commitments to Kuwait. Cheney said: "Those commitments haven't changed.... obviously we take very seriously any threat that would put at risk US interests or US friends in the region." This early warning to Saddam Hussein has been largely overlooked in the furor over US Ambassador April Glaspie's last minute comments to Saddam.

Cheney was, of course, US Secretary of Defense throughout the second Gulf war, to the end of the Bush administration in 1992. On August 5, 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, it was Cheney who traveled to Saudi Arabia and secured permission for US forces to operate from Saudi territory. King Fahd reportedly demanded that if there were a fight, Saddam would "not get up again." After US assurances, Fahd accepted US forces, apparently against the advice of Crown Prince Abdullah. On the same trip, Cheney visited President Mubarak in Egypt, who at that time reportedly rejected US use of Egyptian military facilities and opposed foreign intervention.

Later in August, after Saddam Hussein held a televised meeting with Western prisoners in Baghdad, Cheney was quoted as saying: "If he [Saddam] were foolish enough to attack U.S. forces, we clearly are in a position, if the President so decides, to respond very forcefully against those things he cares about--and specifically those are his forces and his capabilities inside Iraq."

In September, after USAF Chief of Staff Gen Michael Dugan said that US airpower would target Saddam Hussein personally, Cheney dismissed him. However, a Newsweek reporter in 1994 claimed (without confirmation) that the Bush Administration had considered a secret plan to assassinate Saddam even before the invasion of Kuwait, and that Cheney, Powell and Bush had found it intriguing, whereas Gen. Schwartzkof dismissed it as harebrained.

In December 1990, in testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, Cheney argued that military action was the only sure way to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Sanctions might work, but given Saddam's total control and the fragility of the coalition, there was no certainty that they would work. He said Iraq had the capacity to feed itself, and the cutoff of trade, though successful, also punished countries like Turkey. Cheney was directly involved with negotiations with Israel before and during the war. He was in the Gulf in December 1990 when Israel test fired a missile into the Mediterranean, leading to US forces briefly being placed on "Red Alert."

When the threatened use of Iraqi non-conventional weapons against Israel was raised, Cheney suggested in a CNN interview that Israel would respond to any such attack with nuclear weapons. In March of 1992, Cheney led the charge against Israel for allegedly sharing technical information about the Patriot anti-missile system with the Chinese. Some believed the Israeli government knew of the transfer. Others characterized it as a "rogue operation by someone in the Mossad," similar to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scheme. Cheney is said to have given more credence to the rogue operation interpretation.

Also on the nuclear front, former General Colin Powell says that Cheney directed that plans be drawn up for the use of nuclear weapons in the battle to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait. "The results unnerved me," Powell wrote in his memoir: "An American Journey." "To do serious damage to just one armored division dispersed in the desert would require a considerable number of small tactical nuclear weapons. I showed this analysis to Cheney and then had it destroyed." Powell also said Cheney was upset that Powell asked whether it was worth going to war to liberate Kuwait. "Stick to military matters," Cheney said, according to Powell.

In February 1991, as the bombing campaign against Iraq was underway, Cheney said in an ABC interview that the allies might plan to maintain an embargo against Iraq even after the fighting ends: "The world has a long-term interest in seeing to it that Saddam Hussein is never able to do this again." Sanctions may be needed "based on an international effort to deny him the ability to rebuild that military force that he's used against his neighbors."

Several reports indicate that Cheney had serious differences with Gen. Schwartzkopf over targeting and personality clashes. In March 1991, when civil rebellions by Kurds, Shias and others were swirling in Iraq, Cheney acknowledged the uprising, but noted that Saddam had the loyalty of the "only organized military force in the country." The US, he said, would be pleased "if Iraq had a new government," but there could be worse things than Saddam's retention of power: "The breakup of Iraq," he said "would probably not be in US interests."

According to The New York Times columnist William Safire, in the debate within the US government over whether or not to intervene on behalf of the rebels, Cheney "zipped his lip" when reminded of US losses after intervening in Lebanon. When criticism of Turkish use of Western-supplied military equipment against the Kurds emerged in early 1992, Cheney reportedly argued in favor of continued arms deliveries to Turkey, in line with the official US position praising the Turks on their handling of the Kurdish conflict.

Cheney also presided over the buildup of an enhanced permanent US military presence in the Gulf region following the end of the second Gulf war. He was directly associated with efforts to try to secure military support facilities in the GCC states, including Saudi Arabia. In August 1992, Cheney announced the accelerated deployment of 2,400 soldiers to the Persian Gulf in response to Iraq's refusal to permit UN inspectors to enter Iraq's Agriculture ministry.

Cheney was still in office in September 1992 when a coup attempt was apparently attempted against the Iraqi government by Iraqi opposition forces. Cheney did not comment publicly on the coup, but according to then national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, this attempt came "pretty close."

In 1996, as the CEO of Halliburton, Cheney sharply criticized American efforts to isolate Iran and other countries through unilateral economic sanctions. "Let me make a generalized statement about a trend I see in the US Congress that I find disturbing, that applies not only with respect to the Iranian situation but a number of others as well," he told a group of mostly US businessmen in Abu Dhabi. "I think we Americans sometimes make mistakes...There seems to be an assumption that somehow we know what's best for everybody else and that we are going to use our economic clout to get everybody else to live the way we would like," he said.

Cheney said economic sanctions against Iraq were justified because they were backed by the international community. But he underlined that unilateral moves to isolate countries damaged US interests. "The reality is those kinds of sanctions, unless they are part of an international effort...are in fact self-defeating." He said history proved that international influence was derived from economic activity and clout. "We seem now to have exactly the opposite idea. We basically are going to shut you out and close the door and turn off the relationship and that will force you to do what we want you to do," he said. "We are out there all by ourselves unilaterally...in effect trying to use our alleged economic clout," he added.

He repeated these views in 1997 during a Central Asian oil conference, saying that the U.S. needed to re-examine its policy of trying to force other nations to avoid all dealings with Iran. "We are pursuing a policy with respect to Iran that most of our friends in the region think doesn't make any sense...(and) it undermines our leadership in other areas." He also warned that the policy could make the newly independent countries overly reliant on Russian pipelines and subject to Russian influence.

Cheney was identified in 1997 as one of a prestigious group of former US officials of both parties arguing for changes of US policy to put U.S. companies on an equal footing with foreign competitors in Azerbaijan. According to the Washington Post, those involved included former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski; the former White House chief of staff John Sununu; former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, and former Secretary of State James Baker 3d. President Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, Lloyd Bentsen, was reportedly involved as well.

In 1998, addressing an oil conference in Australia, Cheney said the United States should lift its threat of economic sanctions on companies attempting to do business with Iran. "I think the US made a mistake in trying to impose a secondary boycott in effect (on companies doing business with Iran)....We used to impose that kind of measure when Arab governments tried to penalize firms ... that did business with Israel. It's a bad idea, bad policy....There's enormous damage I think to the US relationships with some friends around the world and I think it's wrong. I think we'd be better off if we in fact backed off those sanctions, didn't try to impose secondary boycotts on companies like BHP trying to do business over there ... and instead started to rebuild those relationships." (The Australian firm BHP had been criticized by US Senator Alfonse D'Amato for a project to build a gas line from Iran to Pakistan.) Cheney said it could take 10 years for the US to rebuild its relationship with Iran.

In June of this year, speaking at an oil conference in Canada, Cheney called for an end to investment sanctions against Iran, saying American energy companies should be allowed to operate there along with those from the rest of the world. He said that US-Iran relations were "a tragedy'", and that it was time to put such crises as Iran's taking of US hostages behind them. "I would hope we could find ways to improve (the relationship), and one of the ways I think is to allow American firms to do the same thing that most other firms around the world are able to do now, and that is to be active in Iran....We're kept out of there primarily by our own government, which has made a decision that U.S. firms should not be allowed to invest significantly in Iran, and I think that's a mistake."

Cheney said Halliburton had some operations in Iran through foreign subsidiaries, which is all that is allowed under US law. "But we would like to do more than we're able to do in Iran at present." While US energy companies have had to sit on the sidelines, oil companies from the rest of the world that sometimes do not operate with "the same high standards" have invested in Iran's energy sector, Cheney said. But he acknowledged that working to improve relations with Iran would be particularly difficult for the United States. "There's been enough aggravation on both sides, whether you consider the Iranian occupation of our embassy in 1979 and holding hostages for over a year, or the shoot-down of the Iran airliner by a US naval vessel in 1988. It's been a tragedy in terms of the relationship," he said.

In February 2000, Cheney and Halliburton were reported to have held a major stake in Dresser-Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co., two American players in the reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry. A Halliburton spokesman confirmed that these two of his firm's former joint ventures conducted business with Baghdad. "The joint ventures sold (water pumps and) spare parts to Iraq through European subsidiaries," he said. These interests were sold off several months earlier, however, and Cheney "was not involved in the management of either joint venture and was not involved in the decision to make such sales" to Iraq.


Gary Sick served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan. He is the executive director of Columbia University's Gulf/2000 project, an international research group covering political, economic and security developments in the Persian Gulf. This article was originally posted on the Gulf/2000 Internet bulletin.

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