In This Review

With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush and Saddam, 1982-1990
With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush and Saddam, 1982-1990
By Bruce W. Jentleson
W. W. Norton, 1994, 287 pp

After a spate of instant histories on the Persian Gulf War, a carefully researched analytical book has finally appeared. Now one can review both what happened and why, although not all will agree with the tough criticism of the failures of the Reagan and Bush administrations. The author takes issue with tactical alliances with rogue states -- "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" -- and warns that the United States should have been much more cautious in its cooperation with Saddam during the 1980s and much more intent on continuing to deter Iraqi power after the Iran-Iraq War was over in 1988. He shows convincingly that Saddam gave ample warning of his aggressive moves against Kuwait, and the United States simply failed to note them. He does not, however, stress enough that the anti-Syrian dimension of U.S. policy in the 1980s led some to conclude that Saddam could be a useful ally against Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, not just Iran. Even some Israelis and their supporters adopted this view, and Saddam's hints of moderation on peace with Israel gained him more credit in official circles in Jerusalem and Washington than he deserved. Still, Jentleson misses few of the markers along the road to the invasion and provides a tough but fair assessment of the misconceptions and mistakes that marred American policy. It will be interesting to note if Jentleson, now a member of the Policy Planning Staff at State, is able to put his conclusions to good use. Perhaps his next book will tell.