The making of a United Nations fig leaf, designed to cover an Anglo-American attack on Iraq, has a revealing past. In 1990, a version of George W Bush's mafia diplomacy was conducted by his father, then president. The aim was to "contain" America's former regional favourite, Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of Kuwait ended his usefulness to Washington.
Forgotten facts tell us how George Bush Sr's war plans gained the "legitimacy" of a United Nations resolution, as well as a "coalition" of Arab governments. Like his son's undisguised threats to the General Assembly, Bush challenged the United Nations to "live up to its responsibilities" and condone an all-out assault on Iraq. On 29 October 1990, James Baker, the secretary of state, declared: "After a long period of stagnation, the United Nations is becoming a more effective organisation."
Just as Colin Powell, the present secretary of state, is busily doing today, Baker met the foreign minister of each of the 14 member countries of the UN Security Council and persuaded the majority to vote for an "attack resolution" - 678 - which had no basis in the UN Charter.
It was one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the United Nations, and is about to be repeated. For the first time, the full UN Security Council capitulated to an American-led war party and abandoned its legal responsibility to advance peaceful and diplomatic solutions. On 29 November, the United States got its war resolution. This was made possible by a campaign of bribery, blackmail and threats, of which a repetition is currently under way, especially in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In 1990, Egypt was the most indebted country in Africa. Baker bribed President Mubarak with $14bn in "debt forgiveness" and all opposition to the attack on Iraq faded away. Syria's bribe was different; Washington gave President Hafez al-Assad the green light to wipe out all opposition to Syria's rule in Lebanon. To help him achieve this, a billion dollars' worth of arms was made available through a variety of back doors, mostly Gulf states.
Iran was bribed with an American promise to drop its opposition to a series of World Bank loans. The bank approved the first loan of $250m on the day before the ground attack on Iraq. Bribing the Soviet Union was especially urgent, as Moscow was close to pulling off a deal that would allow Saddam to extricate himself from Kuwait peacefully. However, with its wrecked economy, the Soviet Union was easy prey for a bribe. President Bush sent the Saudi foreign minister to Moscow to offer a billion-dollar bribe before the Russian winter set in. He succeeded. Once Gorbachev had agreed to the war resolution, another $3bn materialised from other Gulf states.
The votes of the non-permanent members of the Security Council were crucial. Zaire was offered undisclosed "debt forgiveness" and military equipment in return for silencing the Security Council when the attack was under way. Occupying the rotating presidency of the council, Zaire refused requests from Cuba, Yemen and India to convene an emergency meeting of the council, even though it had no authority to refuse them under the UN Charter.
Only Cuba and Yemen held out. Minutes after Yemen voted against the resolution to attack Iraq, a senior American diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador: "That was the most expensive 'no' vote you ever cast." Within three days, a US aid programme of $70m to one of the world's poorest countries was stopped. Yemen suddenly had problems with the World Bank and the IMF; and 800,000 Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia. The ferocity of the American-led attack far exceeded the mandate of Security Council Resolution 678, which did not allow for the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and economy. When the United States sought another resolution to blockade Iraq, two new members of the Security Council were duly coerced. Ecuador was warned by the US ambassador in Quito about the "devastating economic consequences" of a No vote. Zimbabwe was threatened with new IMF conditions for its debt.
The punishment of impoverished countries that opposed the attack was severe. Sudan, in the grip of a famine, was denied a shipment of food aid. None of this was reported at the time. By now, news organisations had one objective: to secure a place close to the US command in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Amnesty International published a searing account of torture, detention and arbitrary arrest by the Saudi regime. Twenty thousand Yemenis were being deported every day and as many as 800 had been tortured and ill-treated.
Neither the BBC nor ITN reported a word about this. "It is common knowledge in television," wrote Peter Lennon in the Guardian, "that fear of not being granted visas was the only consideration in withholding coverage of that embarrassing story." When the attack was over, the full cost was summarised in a report published by the Medical Education Trust in London. More than 200,000 people were killed or had died during and in the months after the attack. This also was not news. Neither was a report that child mortality in Iraq had multiplied as the effects of the economic embargo intensified. Extrapolating from all the statistics of Iraq's suffering, the American researchers John Mueller and Karl Mueller have since concluded that the subsequent economic punishment of the Iraqis has "probably taken the lives of more people in Iraq than have been killed by all weapons of mass destruction in history".
Today, the media's war drums are beating to the rhythm of Bush's totally manufactured crisis, which, if allowed to proceed, will kill untold numbers of innocent people.
Little has changed, and humanity deserves better.