I went out to Big Al's Weapons Bazaar in Alexandria, Va., the other day. The warehouse was stacked with crates addressed to Baghdad.
"You seem overloaded," I remarked."Ever since the U.S. embargo of Iraq, I've been stuck with all this stuff. Our government doesn't give a darn about what happens to its businessmen."
"Was Iraq a good customer?"
"The best. They bought everything in my catalog and paid cash."
"Does it bother you that so many of the weapons you sent to Iraq might now be used against us?"
"Listen, we were encouraged by the State Department to sell to the Iraqis so that they would beat the heck out of the Iranians. Everybody - the French, the British, the Russians, the Germans - were after Iraq's account. I underbid them, and by beefing up Iraq I helped the trade balance."
"Are you saying that the U.S. urged you to sell to Iraq?"
"The Commerce Department doesn't regard arms as weapons of war but rather as export products that can benefit the U.S. economy. The Soviets were discounting their ammunition until we had a pre-Christmas sale."
"Did you send Iraq chemical weapons?"
"None that I know of. At the same time, when it comes to arms, you never ask a country why it wants airtight shells. It's rare for a nation that's up to no good to buy all its equipment in the same place. It may purchase computers in Japan, casings in Sweden, delivery systems in France and chemicals in Germany. I sold them masks and protective suits to repel the gas. No one can be criticized for selling a country like Iraq defensive weapons."
"I guess the good news for the rest of us is that you can't do much for Iraq as long as the embargo is on," I told him.
"I'm going to testify before Congress about how badly the government treats its arms merchants. We have a political action committee, too."
"There are some who say that the munitions people are part of the problem. If you hadn't sold all the equipment to the Iraqis, they might not be in a position to threaten the entire Western world."
"Arms merchants don't start wars. All we do is make sure that both sides involved are properly equipped."
"What are you going to do with all this stuff you can't deliver to Iraq?"
"Sell it to Iran."
"But Iran has declared a holy war against us and is going to help Iraq!"
"Nobody's perfect. If I don't get rid of all this stuff I'm going to take a terrible bath."
"Where did you originally get the supplies for Iraq?"
"From U.S. government stockpiles. The Pentagon has two departments - one that buys weapons and one that sells them. The latter gives dealers far more respect because if the arms merchants don't buy surplus equipment, the Pentagon will sit on a lot of stuff that everyone is dying for."