This is not a campaign issue?
Thanks to the state department and our "adversarial" free press, even those who consider themselves well-informed about foreign policy have tremendous gaps in their knowledge when it comes to our policy in Iraq.
You may have heard the numbers, which have been confirmed by the most reputable medical journals in the world: Over 500,000 Iraqi children (plus a million Iraqi adult civilians) have died as a direct result of the sanctions that we imposed ten years ago on that formerly prosperous nation.
Let's try to look at this in human terms, which is difficult for many Americans because Iraqis, as a rule, are not portrayed as human beings, even in a "bleeding heart" media.
It's mentally lazy to solely blame Saddam, who (no rational person disputes) is a nasty dictator (although, his human rights transgressions don't come close to the atrocities committed by some of our foreign fiends - I mean, friends). But Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's sagely advice comes to mind: "We're not all guilty. But we are all responsible."
Some readers might object: "Hey, sanctions are better than bombing. So what is Sean complaining about now?" First of all, Iraq's infrastructure was completely destroyed by our bombs. To say that Iraq is a threat to world peace is like saying a third-grade bully is a threat to Mike Tyson.
Once you cut through the propaganda, a question arises: Is it our policy to simply punish any "rogue" nation that even thinks about challenging American dominance of Middle East oil reserves?
The explicit purpose of the sanctions is to severely harm the civilian population in order to "persuade" the "duped" to oust Saddam. Never mind the moral repugnance of such coercive policy objectives, the intellectual bankruptcy of the policy is that, in this case, the sanctions cannot possibly reach their own intended purpose.
If Iraqi civilians are forced to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence day-to-day, how in the hell are they supposed to kick a dictator out of power?! What political genius came up with that genocidal idea?
Now, genocide is a much abused term in our world where talk-radio (il)logic reigns, but that's exactly what Dennis Halliday called it. Halliday was a senior UN official, who resigned last year in protest of the stupid and cruel policy.
Some people think the Iraqi people would have the medicine and food they need if only Saddam would stop spending it on palaces and what-not. Not only is this an embarrassingly mis-informed view, it's also like blaming President Clinton alone for the increasing number of homeless people in America even though there's a federal budget surplus.
As UN humanitarian coordinator, Hans Van Sponeck points out, the UN - not the Iraqi government - controls the money from the oil-for-food program. The UN distributes the food and medicine purchased with that money in northern Iraq and carefully monitors the distribution of these basic survival goods throughout the rest of the nation.
A major reason that limited medical supplies are often not being delivered is because there's an extreme shortage of delivery trucks and personnel. "You have heard, I'm sure, a lot about the overstocking of medicine. When you get from someone a monocausal explanation then you should start getting suspicious. It is not - I repeat, it is not - a premeditated act of withholding medicine. It's much more complex than that," Van Sponeck told a group of Seattle doctors who have gone to Iraq several times to study the situation and openly violate the sanctions, bringing medicine and toys to Iraqi children. (According to US federal law, you can get a 12 year jail sentence and a million dollar fine for bringing toys and medicine to Iraqi children.)
"If you earn a $1.50 a month in a warehouse that has medicine, will you work 14 hours a day? I doubt it. You can't even afford to be there eight hours a day because you have to somehow make some other money in order to get at least enough to get into your kitty to finance the needs of your household," Van Sponeck explained to members of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Also banned from Iraq are medical textbooks and other educational material. "De-professionalization....It is frightening....People who are well-trained have no chance to work with their full capacity in the area of their training....You have what I would call knowledge depletion. Right now we are setting the stage for depriving another (Iraqi) generation of opportunity to become responsible national and international citizens of tomorrow. That may be the most serious aspect of it all, apart from the nutritional deficiency, apart from the health problems, apart from the inadequacy of the food....It's intellectual genocide," Van Sponeck said. There's that word again.
And this isn't even a campaign issue in the land of the free?
Last week I interviewed Scott Ritter. Ritter was one of the UNSCOM weapons inspectors in Iraq - the UN team in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. Can you tell me about the "threat" that Saddam Hussein poses to the Middle East region, in particular; and the world in general?
"Let's talk about the weapons. In 1991, did Iraq have a viable weapons of mass destruction capability? Your darn right they did. They had a massive chemical weapons program. They had a giant biological weapons program. They had long-range ballistic missiles and they had a nuclear weapons program that was about six months away from having a viable weapon.
"Now after seven years of work by UNSCOM inspectors, there was no more (mass destruction) weapons program. It had been eliminated....When I say eliminated I'm talking about facilities destroyed....
"The weapons stock had been, by and large, accounted for - removed, destroyed or rendered harmless. Means of production had been eliminated, in terms of the factories that can produce this....
"There were some areas that we didn't have full accounting for. And this is what plagued UNSCOM. Security Council 687 is an absolute resolution. It requires that Iraq be disarmed 100 percent. It's what they call 'quantitative disarmament.' Iraq will not be found in compliance until it has been disarmed to a 100 percent level. That's the standard set forth by the security council and as implementors of the security council resolution the weapons inspectors had no latitude to seek to do anything less than that - 80 percent was not acceptable; 90 percent was not acceptable; only 100 percent was acceptable.
"And this was the Achilles tendon, so to speak, of UNSCOM. Because by the time 1997 came around, Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed. On any meaningful benchmark - in terms of defining Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability; in terms of accessing whether or not Iraq posed a threat, not only to its immediate neighbors, but the region and the world as a whole - Iraq had been eliminated as such a threat....
"What was Iraq hiding? Documentation primarily - documents that would enable them to reconstitute - at a future date - weapons of mass destruction capability...But all of this is useless....unless Iraq has access to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars required to rebuild the industrial infrastructure (necessary) to build these weapons. They didn't have it in 1998. They don't have it today. This paranoia about what Iraq is doing now that there aren't weapons inspectors reflects a lack of understanding the reality in Iraq.
"The economic sanctions have devastated this nation. The economic sanctions combined with the effects of the Gulf War, have assured that Iraq operate as a Third World nation in terms of industrial output and capacity. They have invested enormous resources in trying to build a 150 kilometer range ballistic missile called the Al Samoud.
"In 1998 they ran some flight tests of prototypes that they had built of this missile. They fizzled. One didn't get off the stand. The other flipped over on the stand and blew up. The other one got up in the air and then went out of control and blew up. They don't have the ability to produce a short range ballistic missile yet alone a long-range ballistic missile....
"The other thing to realize is: they are allowed to build this missile. It's not against the law. The law says anything under 150 kilometers they can build and yet people are treating this missile as if it's a threat to regional security...It's a tactical battlefield missile, that's it. Yet, (Congressman Tom) Lantos and others treat this as though its some sort of latent capability and requires a ballistic missile defense system to guard against it. It's ridiculous. Iraq has no meaningful weapons of mass destruction program today.
"Now, having said that, I firmly believe we have to get weapons inspection back in for the purpose of monitoring...especially if we lift economic sanctions. And I believe that there should be immediate lifting of economic sanctions in return for the resumption of meaningful arms inspections. Iraq would go for that. What Iraq is not going for is this so-called suspension of sanctions where the Iraqi economy is still controlled by the security council and held hostage to the whim of the United States, which has shown itself irresponsible in terms of formulating Iraq policy over the past decade. The United States still has a policy of overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein - in total disregard for international law and the provisions of the relevant security council resolutions.
"I, for one, believe that A) Iraq represents a threat to no one, and B) Iraq will not represent a threat to anyone if we can get weapons inspectors back in. Iraq will accept these inspectors if we agree to the immediate lifting of economic sanctions. The security council should re-evaluate Iraq's disarmament obligation from a qualitative standpoint and not a quantitative standpoint."