Paying the Price
For a President whose vocabulary of international diplomacy includes words like "Kosovonians" and "strategery" and who still thinks that Foreign Affairs is a porno mag, the prospect of crafting a bold, new, intelligent foreign policy appears bleak. Yet despite President Bush's limited knowledge on such matters, his administration is poised to drastically alter the course of U.S. policy abroad.
The Bush team has already signaled that we can expect to see a very different policy toward Iraq. Last week the White House issued an order permitting Iraqi opposition groups to begin limited maneuvering inside Iraq using US government funding. The end goal, as made clear by the administration, is to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This move is a clear sign that the Bush administration will move away from President Clinton's strategy of containment to direct engagement with Iraq.
While getting rid of Hussein is indeed a worthwhile endeavor, the tactics chosen by the Bush team are akin to using water to put out an electric fire--an ill-advised solution that can only make things worse. At best, fueling the opposition will lead to a bloody US-induced civil war ( la Afghanistan). At worst, it will simply provide an excuse for Hussein to send his army to exterminate rival factions in the northern and southern parts of Iraq.
If the Bush administration is really serious about helping the people of Iraq and eventually ousting Hussein, it should begin by putting an end to the crippling sanctions that have suffocated the country for the last decade.
When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, the UN Security Council quickly passed Resolution 661, imposing a full trade embargo on Iraq that would only be lifted once Iraq had withdrawn. However, after the US-led alliance pulverized the Iraqi army and drove H out of Kuwait, the sanctions remained in place. What began as a seemingly mild punishment for a violation of international law has culminated in one of the worst man-made humanitarian disasters of all time.
The bottom-line statistics ought to be enough to startle even the hardest of hearts in Washington: Since 1991, sanctions have been responsible for over 500,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. Some international aid agencies estimate that an average of 5,000 Iraqi children die each month. Others say that those estimates are conservative. Infants die from a host of illnesses, almost all of which would have been curable or preventable before the sanctions began.
Iraq is barred from importing even the most basic medicine and medical supplies. Antibiotics and infant vaccinations are denied because American and British officials worry that such drugs will be used to create chemical weapons. For many Iraqi doctors, the most effective weapon at their disposal for fighting life-threatening diseases is a bottle of aspirin. Iraq is not even allowed to import the parts necessary for repairing the water filtration plants that were damaged during the Gulf War.
Yet despite the humanitarian disaster, Secretary of State Colin Powell has called for the sanctions against Iraq to be "re-energized."
Such brazen disregard for human life is as perplexing as it is infuriating. If these sanctions were killing innocent people, yet accomplishing American foreign policy goals, then sanctions would be equally inhumane, but at least it would be possible to understand why people like Powell would support them. However, as the current situation stands, even the savviest foreign policy hawk would have trouble showing how these sanctions are furthering US interests in the region.
On the contrary, sanctions are strengthening Hussein's grip on power. The Iraqi president's clandestine dealings with Russia and other Arab states have ensured that, in spite of the trade embargoes, the needs of his inner-circle are fulfilled. For Hussein and his allies, there is no shortage of luxury items. Of course, these goods are not available to the Iraqi people. Only those lucky enough to have a personal connection to the dictator have access to imported fruits and vegetables, medical care and other supplies. In essence, the only Iraqis who are not threatened by poverty are those who rely directly on Hussein for their subsistence. How can an opposition ever emerge if the only people not teetering on the brink of ruin are those who are most loyal to Hussein?
If there is ever to be a force from within Iraq that can threaten Hussein's supremacy, the people must be allowed to rebuild their nation.
Admittedly, ending sanctions will not solve all of Iraq's problems. The battle scars of a nation mired by a generation of war will still be highly visible. Children have grown up without education or hope. Families have been decimated first by the physical violence of war and then by the aftermath of ten years of isolation and economic strangulation. And for the foreseeable future, a ruthless dictator will continue to rule over their country.
But right now, as the game of high-stakes international politics is being played out in their backyard, the people of Iraq care little for Hussein, the United Nations, weapons inspections or any other abstract ideal that is being upheld by starving them. Worrying about high politics is a luxury of the well-fed. What the people of Iraq want is an end to their suffering. They have paid the price for living under a ruler they neither chose nor support.
In the prelude to the Gulf War, then-President George H. W. Bush declared, "Our quarrel is not with the people of Iraq. We do not wish for them to suffer. The world's quarrel is with the dictator who ordered that invasion." Few could have expected such rhetoric to be accompanied by a frontal assault against the Iraqi people. By lifting the sanctions against Iraq, President George W. Bush has an opportunity to fulfill the promise his father should have kept.
Nader R. Hasan '02 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.