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
By Gary Sick
August 3, 2000
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
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
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
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
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,"
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