Editor's Note: Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who died Saturday at 85, was a figure in Consortiumnews.com's first series of articles in 1995-96, describing secret documents from a congressional inquiry into whether Republicans had sabotaged President Jimmy Carter's Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980 to help win the White House for Ronald Reagan.
A "top secret" document authored by Haig in 1981 contained a stunning claim: that Carter, frustrated over his failure to resolve the hostage crisis, gave a "green light" to Iraq's Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in September 1980, starting a war that altered the region's power balance and reverberates to today.
Whether Haig's assessment was correct remains in dispute Carter denied encouraging the attack and Haig, citing the document's classified status, refused to discuss it. Now, Haig has taken that history to the grave. Below is our original article (slightly edited):
In summer 1980, Iraq's wily president Saddam Hussein saw opportunities in the chaos sweeping the Persian Gulf.
Iran's Islamic revolution had terrified the Saudi
princes and other Arab royalty who feared uprisings against their own corrupt
life styles. Saddam's help was sought, too, by CIA-backed Iranian exiles who
wanted a base to challenge the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini. And as always, the Western powers were worried about the Middle East
So because of geography and his formidable Soviet-supplied army, Saddam was suddenly a popular fellow.
On Aug. 5, 1980, the Saudi rulers welcomed Saddam to Riyadh for his first state visit to Saudi Arabia, the first for any Iraqi president. The Saudis, of course, wanted something.
At those fateful meetings, amid the luxury of the
ornate palaces, the Saudis would encourage Saddam to invade Iran. The Saudis
also would claim to pass on a secret message about President Carter's
During that summer of 1980, President Carter was facing his own crisis. His failure to free 52 American hostages held in Iran was threatening his political survival. As he wrote in his memoir, Keeping Faith, "The election might also be riding on their freedom."
Equally alarming, President Carter had begun
receiving reports that the Republicans were making back-channel contacts with
Iran about the hostage crisis, as he would state in a letter to a journalist
nearly a decade later.
Though it was unclear then, this multi-sided political intrigue would shape the history from 1980 to the present day. Iraq's invasion of Iran in September 1980 would deteriorate into eight years of bloody trench warfare that did little more than kill and maim an estimated one million people.
[The Iran-Iraq War set the stage for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990; the subsequent U.S.-led campaign to drive Iraqi forces out in 1991; the anti-U.S. turn of Saudi Osama bin Laden, who vowed to drive American forces out Islamic lands; President George W. Bush's conquest of Iraq in 2003; and much of today's tensions between the West and Iran.]
The Iran-Iraq War also generated billions of dollars in profits for well-connected arms merchants and spawn a series of national security scandals.
In 1986-87, the Iran-Contra Affair peeled back some of the layers of secrecy, but bipartisan investigations dumped the blame mostly on White House aide Oliver North and a few low-level "men of zeal," sparing Reagan and his Vice President George H.W. Bush from much accountability.
Later inquiries into Iraqgate allegations of secret
U.S. military support for Saddam Hussein also ended inconclusively. The missing
billions from the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International disappeared
into the mist of complex charge and counter-charge, too. So did evidence
implicating the CIA and Nicaraguan contra rebels in cocaine trafficking.
A similar fate befell the October Surprise story, President Carter's old suspicion of Republican interference in the 1980 hostage crisis. A special House task force concluded in 1993 that it could find "no credible evidence" to support the October Surprise charges.
Haig's Talking Points