by Bill Gertz
New York: Crown, 2004. Pp. 280.
Append., index. $25.95. ISBN:1-4000-5315-1
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, an A-10 Thunderbolt was shot down by a French-built Roland surface-to-air missile. The missile, it turns out, was built in 2002. The pilot survived, but one can understandable want to know, “How did Saddam Hussein get that missile? Wasn’t there an arms embargo as a result of the invasion of Kuwait?”
There was, but Saddam Hussein got weapons anyway, despite the embargo. The “How?”of this is what Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz seeks to find out. In Treachery, he provides an explanation. It is not flattering for a number of countries who are American allies. Other countries are not so friendly. Gertz does have an agenda of sorts. He’s generally erred on the side of hawks and the military, which is a rarity among reporters.
The book mostly covers events in the 1990s – from the invasion of Kuwait, but Gertz does devote a chapter into covering American mistakes. Here, Gertz is willing to admit America did aid Saddam, but he points out that other countries (Russia, China, and France) did much more than the US and that the most serious allegations about American support are myths. At the time the Iran-Iraq War started, Iran had placed itself very high on the “crap list” of the United States. Storming an American embassy, taking the staff of that embassy as hostages, and holding them for 444 days can do that sort of thing to a country. So, Gertz does admit that the United States assisted Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, but he does so in a manner that also lays to rest the irresponsible claims that have come from certain quarters. The United States erred in backing Saddam prior to the invasion of Kuwait, but it was a very understandable mistake whose ramifications did not become clear. To America’s credit, the mistake has been rectified. Note that Saddam Hussein is in a jail cell.
The rest of the chapters focus on American “friends” like France and Germany (who did it for money), countries that might fall in between (the PRC and Russia), and the United Nations (which gets off lightly, given what is now known about the oil-for-food program). China’s support for the Taliban regime is outlined.
One can place considerable confidence in Gertz’s statements in this book. He does this by quoting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is known for going after reporters who get facts wrong. Rumsfeld has not fone after Gertz, though. Instead, he has indirectly acknowledged Gertz gets it right. Gertz understandably has a right to feel some pride about getting it right. That said, Secretary Rumsfeld has a very good reason to be irritated with Bill Gertz – namely, the fact that Bill Gertz is getting his hands on Top Secret reports from the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency.
This reviewer is concerned about documents labeled TOP SECRET that are partially reproduced in this book. Things are classified TOP SECRET for a reason, and documents so labeled should not be in the hands of reporters, much less being printed. Gertz at least will play ball with the intelligence community (some of the documents have a text block indicating material is withheld at the intelligence community’s request), but the reviewer would feel much better if none of the documents got into the hands of a reporter in the first place – even if the reporter is as friendly to the military as Gertz is.
Ultimately, Treachery reminds us that the threat continues. In some cases, the supplying of material to state sponsors of terrorism has been deliberate (see France). In other cases, sheer incompetence is to blame (the United Nations). Gertz offers an opinion in his conclusion, favoring preemptive action, but his opinion is backed up by the facts in the book.