In Partial Defence of Joe Wilson (R-Crazy)

Robert Waldmann

OK not really. Really I’m semi disagreeing with Steve Benen’s denunciation of Rep[rehensible] Wilson. The guy who shouted “you lie” when Obama said something true. He does seem to be a very special piece of work, but the consensus reality which he rejects is rather distorted on one particular topic — US arms sales to Saddam Hussein.

Let’s roll the tape.

Greg Sargent noted a 2002 incident in which Wilson attacked a Democratic House member who had the audacity to note that the Reagan administration supplied weapons to Saddam Hussein’s regime. The claim was accurate, but Wilson attacked the lawmaker for his “hatred of America.”

Yes indeed we have a problem if a member of congress thinks that criticism of Reagan is equivalent to hatred of America. And yes indeed the USA did sell weapons to Saddam Hussein.

Most of the weapons (I thought all of them, when I started on this post) consisted of helicopters which Iraq claimed were for civilian search and rescue and then armed. So really dual use technology with hmm plausible deniability that the official who approved the sale knew they would be used as weapons.

In the Reagan era US arms sales to Iraq (by value) were lower than Danish or Brazilian arms sales and dwarfed by sales from The USSR, France and the PRC. So yes the US did sell weapons to Saddam Hussein, but, by value, less than 1% of arms sold to Saddam Hussein — a very small amount compared to the overall US share in world arms sales.

Here are the data from The Stokholm International Peace Research Institute (with all but one column deleted to make the table legible)

TIV of arms imports to Iraq, 1980-1989
Generated: 10 September 2009
Figures are SIPRI Trend Indicator Values (TIVs) expressed in US$ m. at constant (1990) prices.
Figures may not add up due to the conventions of rounding.
A ‘0’ indicates that the value of deliveries is less than US$0.5m
For more information, see

Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database

Total 1980-1989
Austria 190
Brazil 556
Canada 89
China 4928
Czechoslovakia 160
Denmark 226
East Germany (GDR)25
Egypt 343
France 4414
Germany (FRG) 96
Hungary 30
Italy 90
Jordan 2
Poland 197
Romania 185
Serbia & Mont. 95
South Africa 190
Spain 2
Switzerland 92
UK 67
USA 201
USSR 18791

Total 30969