Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), a longtime advocate of trade sanctions against Iraq, said Thursday that the Bush Administration may have unwittingly encouraged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait by seeking to appease him.
Bush froze Iraqi and Kuwaiti assets in the United States on Thursday but his Administration had previously resisted congressional efforts to retaliate against Hussein for human rights abuses, efforts to acquire military technology and threats against Israel.
A Berman bill to impose sanctions was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee just hours before the invasion Wednesday. It won unanimous House approval on Thursday.
"The seeds for Iraq's belief and Saddam Hussein's belief that he can get away with this were planted when he first used poison gas against the Kurdish people" in 1988, Berman said in an interview Thursday.
"Our allies kept sending him arms, we kept sending him sophisticated technology, providing him with agricultural commodities. We thought we could appease the bully. And, of course, that never works."
Berman's bill would place restrictions on so-called "dual-use" items such as computers, electronics, communications equipment and certain airline parts that could have military applications. It would also cut off Iraq's access to the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Berman, a key congressional defender of Israel and a leader on arms control issues, said the United Nations should consider sending a peace-keeping force to the Middle East to protect other Arab nations from Hussein's aggression.
At the same time, he added, "The world should be thankful that Israel took out Iraq's nuclear weapons program because this man has used every weapon of mass destruction that he's had at his disposal."
In 1981, Israeli warplanes carried out a surprise attack that destroyed an Iraqi reactor, which Israel said was intended to produce atomic bombs for possible use against Israel.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who also sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement Thursday expressing outrage at the invasion and applauding Bush's reaction. He said Hussein's action proves that, despite reduced tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, "the U.S. must retain a prudent defense capability."