A Morally Unsustainable Iraq PolicyChicago Tribune, Editorial, 09/17/1999
Would the average American support killing innocent civilians to punish a despicable dictator?
Hardly. Yet that, in starkest terms, has been probably the most notable result of nine years of economic sanctions against Iraq for its deadly invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The Bush and Clinton administrations supported United Nations-imposed sanctions as a way to punish and undermine Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, to cut off his resources and keep him from reconstituting his armed forces or building weapons of mass destruction with which to threaten neighbors.
However, by UN estimates, more than 1 million Iraqi civilians, most of them children, have died since the Persian Gulf War as the direct or indirect result of the sanctions. This while Saddam remains entrenched. It's time for a change.
The Clinton administration insists the sanctions can be lifted only when Iraq complies with UN disarmament resolutions. It blames Saddam for Iraq's misery, arguing he has obstructed full implementation of the UN oil-for-food deal designed to relieve his people's suffering. Indeed, only this week the State Department released a report accusing Iraq of exporting food, even though its people are malnourished.
In effect, the administration says, Saddam is cynically starving Iraqis in order to fuel international opposition to the sanctions and get them lifted without having to comply with UN arms mandates.
None of which, unfortunately, is surprising. Saddam's inhumanity towards his own people is well documented. But the fact remains that the sanctions are not working as they were intended and are producing enormous, unconscionable suffering among people who are powerless to throw off their leader.
Apart from the morality, the sanctions have become diplomatically costly. Arab nations see them as anti-Muslim at best, genocidal at worst. France, China and Russia oppose them, leaving the U.S. and Britain alone on the UN Security Council pushing the policy.
There have been indications in recent days that the U.S. and Britain may be open to change. Along with France, China and Russia, they are working on a deal to ease sanctions if Iraq agrees to new UN weapons inspections. It's not clear, however, why anyone supposes that Saddam would go along with such a deal.
The administration fears, not unreasonably, that lifting sanctions would give Saddam access to new resources he could use to rearm. Maybe so, but nobody supposes he ever fully disarmed anyway.
A better approach would be to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq and tighten instead the arms embargo. Additionally, the U.S. should make clear that if he ever attacks a neighbor--or makes a serious threat to do so--this country will retaliate massively.
It may not be possible for outsiders to ease his people's suffering by
ousting Saddam, but we ought not be adding to it either. The interest of
the U.S. and the international community is to contain Saddam, to keep
him from attacking or threatening his neighbors. Our policy ought to be
crafted to achieve those ends, not to inflict suffering