The brutal bombings and on-going sanctions against Iraq, led by the US but also backed by many foreign governments on the US payroll, have been in place for fully ten years. To what end? Saddam Hussein is still in power and his power is unchallenged. But sanctions, not Saddam, are the biggest problem the Iraqi people face. Thanks to US policy, the country continues to slip from civilization to pre-modern barbarism, where children die young, disease is rampant, computers and air conditioning are known only to a few, and even clean, running water is a rarity. No one disputes the reality that thousands of people die each month as a direct result of this policy.
Repeal of the sanctions is long past due. But for the Clinton administration, it's a matter of pride that they stay in place. Madeline Albright said in 1997 that sanctions will remain so long as Saddam is president, and she further declared that bloodshed is a tolerable price to pay. One doubts that a future president Bush would feel any different, since he might still have it in his mind to vindicate his father's war. Meanwhile, Bush's vice presidential pick is a founder of a free-trade organization that favors free trade with everyone in the world except Iraq.
Thank goodness the facts are available for anyone who cares to look. A new book called Under Siege: the Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War," edited by Anthony Arnove and published this year by South End Press, documents the carnage to a degree that will shock and appall. To think that the Clinton administration's supposed contribution to international affairs is to use the US military for "humanitarian" purposes. What's humanitarian about a policy that leads to the death of one million innocents? The hypocrisy takes your breath away.
As Under Siege demonstrates, the carnage imposed by the US is immense. More than half of the million dead are children. Indeed, the UN estimates that the under-five mortality rate has doubled since sanctions began. Hospitals, water treatment plants, and the rest of the nation's infrastructure is a wreck. Good nutrition and basic medicines are unavailable for most people. Every day is a struggle to get by. And if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the civilians living in Basra were last year, you just might get bombed.
US taxpayers are paying for all of this. And to enforce this policy of national destruction, the US keeps service men and women away from home for many months to patrol Iraq's import-export business and enforce the "no-fly" zone. It maintains a huge military presence in the Gulf, the end of which is to continue the slow death of Iraqi society. American citizens also pay by losing a natural market for their products and by paying higher oil prices that result from the artificial suppression of supply from Iraq. Iraq is pumping oil, but not nearly as much as it would produce in a free market. Worse, the Iraqis themselves do not profit from the sales, thanks to the UN's "escrow" policy.
But is the purpose of this policy to keep Iraq from developing nuclear weapons? Hear the words of former inspector Scott Ritter, who now works on the side of the angels calling for an end to sanctions: "Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction." As for UN inspection teams, it is well known by now that everything Saddam said about them ended up being correct: they were thoroughly infiltrated by CIA agents doing intelligence work. It's hardly surprising that Iraq would complain about dirty pool. You also have to imagine how all these complaints about Iraq's supposed dangerous weaponry play out around the world. The US has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet, and, as the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remind us, remains the only government to have ever used them.
Those are only a few of the myths exploded by Under Siege. In fact, an excerpt of the book on the website of Voices in the Wilderness, a magnificent anti-sanctions group, tells most of the story and explodes myth after myth. You can't fully appreciate the difficulties of life in Iraq without considering the details of living under a blockade.
The US has agreed to small shipments of food and medicine, but even here, the US is only going along reluctantly. For example, in 1999, the Clinton administration claimed that Saddam was withholding food and medicine from the people so as to exacerbate human suffering and draw world attention to the sad state of affairs in Iraq.
Under Siege tells a much more plausible story. It turns out that there are many practical problems associated with getting medicine and medical equipment moved around the country. Trucks must have cooling systems. Roads must be in good repair. There must be people to work in the warehouses and effect the distribution. None of these conditions are in place.
Also, half the shipments come without the needed complementary good: syringes without needles and the like. Since the UN must approve imported medical equipment, bureaucratic tangles require many goods to be stored until they are used. Also, it's quite absurd to think that health can be restored by permitting medicine in the country even while sanctions and bombings prevent any kind of infrastructure from being rebuilt. The good that a shipment of penicillin can do is mitigated by the fact that the drinking water carries diseases, and that the water treatment plants were all bombed by the US to bring this about.
Just as shocking is the silence on this issue in the American political landscape. There are no polls out there asking people what they think of the policy. Indeed, most people don't know or care. In contrast, everyone seems to know that Iraq threatened Kuwait in 1990 (even though few know that the US gave its tacit permission for Iraq to do so). And yet doesn't it matter that the US is committing far worse deeds against Iraq than Iraq ever threatened against Kuwait? Where is the morality in that?
The US needs to make peace with Iraq. The war that began ten years ago needs to end. Thank goodness some people ("fringe" types like Pope John Paul II) are willing to denounce the policy, because neither Bush nor Gore has any incentive to face the reality, much less answer questions about it. The killing of Iraq is one of those bipartisan barbarisms that both sides of the political elite agree to. And as we all know, politics is supposed to end at the water's edge. Sadly for many foreign peoples, the water's edge is where the carnage begins.
August 18, 2000