Dumb and Dumber?
I've been duped! But thanks to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there's hope for me yet. “America has lost the propaganda war with Saddam. Period,” he wrote back in February.
This happened for many reasons, Friedman explained. “For one, Saddam totally out-foxed Washington in the propaganda war. All you hear and read in the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people – which is true. But the U.S. counter-arguments that by complying with U.N. resolutions Saddam could get those sanctions lifted at any time are never heard,” he wrote.
The amazing thing is: I wasn't duped by Saddam and his ministers of propaganda. I was hoodwinked by American and other Western sources of extraordinary integrity.
Following the war, Col. John Warden explained how military planners targeted Iraq's civilian infrastructure to provide “long-term leverage,” in full knowledge that it “could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease.”
Then in March 1991, the New York Times ran a front-page article on a U.N. report de-tailing how the war against Iraq had caused “near apocalyptic damage,” and also “famines and epidemics.” The report called for “massive life-supporting aid,” warning that “time was short.”
The story summarized the U.S. position on the sanctions – “...by making life uncom-fortable for the Iraqi people it will eventually encourage them to remove President Sad-dam Hussein from power.”
With a little digging, I discovered that “uncomfortable” meant no electricity, no water, no sewage treatment systems, and epidemics caused by water-borne diseases for the Iraqi people, which led a Harvard study team to (under)estimate 10 years ago that 170,000 Iraqi children would die because of the sanctions.
What really washed my brains was a 1992 survey published in the New England Jour-nal of Medicine. Doctors from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Oxford went to Iraq to study the sanctions' effect. They reported that due to the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, 46,900 Iraqi children under the age of 5 died in the first eight months of 1991.
At that point, I was well on my way to dupe-dom – no doubt because “U.S. counter-arguments...are never heard.” That being the unmitigated truth, ordinary Americans must be extremely obtuse because U.S. counter-arguments have been played like a bro-ken record all over the news media, with U.S. officials blaming only Saddam.
“If he wants a different relationship...all he has to do is change his behavior,” according to former President Clinton.
The well-read opinion pages of the “liberal” New York Times clarified the sanctions rationale. “The purpose of worldwide sanctions is to induce the overthrow of Saddam's genocidal regime,” wrote William Safire. “If you squeeze Iraq long enough, the Iraqi people will oust Saddam,” said Friedman, who candidly explained the “logic of the sanctions.”
Until Friedman woke me from my dogmatic slumber, I was foolishly asking: how are we not at all responsible for the intended consequences of the sanctions we imposed? If the sanctions are to “squeeze Iraq long enough” so that “the Iraqi people will oust Sad-dam,” how come the Security Council resolutions imposing the sanctions say nothing about such a goal?
And, if the majority of Iraqis are forced to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence, how are they supposed to summon the fortitude to oust a dictator?
I find comfort in the knowledge I wasn't the only one duped. Denis Halliday, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, and his successor Hans von Sponeck both re-signed in protest of the sanctions, calling them genocide. Add to that list Scott Ritter, chief UNSCOM inspector in Iraq, the pope and 53 U.S. Catholic bishops.
Maybe the biggest casualty of “the war Saddam won” is The Economist. “If, year in, year out, the U.N. were systematically killing Iraqi children by air strikes, Western gov-ernments would declare it intolerable, no matter how noble the intention. They should find their existing policy just as unacceptable. In democracies, the end does not justify the means,” the conservative Economist opined last year.
On July 3, the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote on what the Bush administra-tion is calling “new, smart sanctions.”
“Sitting on the world's second-largest oil reserves, Iraq was once, politics aside, an ad-vanced country. Now its living standards are on par with Ethiopia's; UNICEF confirms a 160 percent rise in Iraq's infant mortality rate since 1991; and the middle classes have disappeared,” the Economist reported last month.
Help us Mr. Friedman. We're being duped!
“Iraq needs massive investment to rebuild its industry, its power grids and its schools, and needs cash in hand to pay its engineers, doctors and teachers. None of this looks likely to happen under smart sanctions,” the Economist concluded.
Is there no relief for the victims of Saddam's minions?
Now, for those who agree with the British diplomat and writer Arthur Ponsonby that “when war is declared, Truth is the first casualty,” it's a good idea to actually examine the Bush administration proposal for “new, smart sanctions” against Iraq. That they're being called “smart sanctions” is in implicit recognition the current sanc-tions regime is, well, dumb.
Among those critics are two former senior UN officials of impeccable integrity – Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck who resigned their posts in protest, calling the sanctions “genocide.” That's the word used by even the conservative Scott Ritter, a career military man and former UNSCOM chief inspector in Iraq.
The main change with the “smart sanctions” is that a list will be drawn up, laying out what military or “dual-use” items will be prohibited, instead of the current policy in which imports are allowed into Iraq only if they are on the list of allowable goods.
Proponents argue that the new plan will increase the amount of goods that flow into Iraq so that the general civilian population will not unduly suffer as they have over the past decade, while tightening the controls on any imports that could be used for military purposes.
The current sanctions call for 100 percent, quantitative disarmament of Iraq's Weap-ons of Mass Destruction program. When UNSCOM was pulled out of Iraq in 1998, Iraq's WMD program had been qualitatively dismantled, according to Ritter.
Unfortunately, Ritter adds, the 100 percent benchmark is not only impossible to reach, it's being used to justify the sanctions indefinitely, giving Iraq no incentive to comply; to say nothing of the likelihood that Iraq will never be able to pay off the war reparations claims, totaling $320 billion as of October 2000.
Analyzing statements of US officials, it appears the motivation behind the “smart sanctions” is to shift public opinion away from blaming the sanctions for the humanitar-ian crisis in Iraq.
In an excellent analysis of the new proposal by the director of Inter-Church Action, a coalition of Canadian churches and agencies working on issues of “development, relief and justice” in Africa, the Asian-Pacific and Latin America, Dale Hildebrand quotes a US official who says: “In reality, this is a change in perceptions. Most people think Iraqis are starving because the evil West is keeping medicines away...We're taking the tool of sanctions as propaganda away from Saddam.”
The list prohibiting explicit military hardware is a no-brainer, given Saddam's heinous human rights record. However, the list of banned “dual-use” items requires close scru-tiny. For example, given the centrality of computer technology to any modern economy, how will the smart sanctions determine what components are for civilian purposes and which are likely to be used for military purposes?
“An American official involved in drawing up the new lists of banned items said that the new plan is designed to prevent Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, missiles, and the technologies to build them,” Hildebrand points out.
“The concept of dual-use, when applied not only to specific physical goods but also to capabilities and technologies, can quickly become a pretext for blocking development of large segments of the civilian economy,” he writes.
Another key component of the sanctions is the Oil-For-Food program, which US plan-ners point to as evidence of our humanitarian concern. Tragically, the operation of the program is grossly misunderstood by most Americans who would otherwise likely be in opposition to its current set-up.
Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN program until he resigned in protest, explains that the $2 billion in oil that Iraq is allowed to sell every six months translates into $182.70 per person, per year. That's $15.23 a month. The Security Council deems those provisions sufficient for all the needs of Iraqi citizens, even though von Sponeck has explained in detail, on numerous occasions, the deficiencies of a system that controls Iraq's entire economy from Security Council offices. (Interesting that free-market cheerleaders aren't decrying the evils of that command economy).
Hidlebrand's conclusions are worth pondering. “While the proposed changes may lead to some improvements for the people in Iraq – it is apparent that they do not equate to the radical changes in policy....that are needed to address one of the most serious hu-manitarian and political crises in recent history.”
As former US federal attorney Kate Pflaumer reminded us in her op-ed piece two weeks ago, it's difficult to take seriously “the rule of law” when the leaders of the free world bomb civilian infrastructure in violation of the Geneva Convention and violate the US federal statue on terrorism by creating and maintaining life-threatening conditions to coerce a sovereign nation and its civilian population.