“It’s been 12 years. Why hasn’t Saddam Hussein complied?” So many ask.
“Follow the money” it’s been said is the way to get at the truth. It’s a good adage, but in this case: Follow the policy.
In his report Friday, UNMOVIC head Hans Blix claimed that “If Iraq had provided the necessary cooperation in 1991, the phase of disarmament — under resolution 687 — could have been short and a decade of sanctions could have been avoided.”
Blix also indicated that Iraq only complies because of the threat of use of force. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to town with this particular notion to the applause of some in the Security Council chamber.
One problem with such thinking is that it violates the U.N. Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Another problem is that it ignores U.S. policy over the last dozen years, which has discouraged compliance with the arms inspectors. Ignoring the realities of U.S. policy is something the head of UNMOVIC should not do. Consider:
The original post-Gulf War U.N. Security Council resolution 687, passed in April of 1991, made lots of demands on Iraq — but, as Blix indicated, specified that once Iraq complies with the weapons inspection regime, the economic sanctions “shall have no further force or effect.”
The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that this declaration was rendered ineffective. President George Bush in May of 1991 stated: “At this juncture, my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” This was no slip of the tongue. The same day, then-Secretary of State James Baker sent the same message: “We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” So regardless of what Hussein did, comply or not, the sanctions would stay in place. He played games with the inspectors as it suited him. [See a timeline.]
And what would Clinton’s policy be? Just before getting into office, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Clinton said: “I am a Baptist. I believe in death-bed conversions. If he [Hussein] wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior.” The following day, faced with attacks for articulating such politically incorrect notions, Clinton backtracked: “There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present administration.” This meant that the crushing economic sanctions would stay in place on Iraq for eight more years, dooming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people to premature deaths.
It’s notable that Friedman has falsified this subject, writing from Qatar in February of 2001: “Saddam totally outfoxed 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. Preoccupied with the peace process, no senior U.S. officials have made their case in any sustained way here, and it shows.”
So Friedman, from his media perch, actually helped ensure that Clinton would continue the policy of keeping the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did; resulting, by Friedman’s own admission, in “starving the Iraqi people.” And then he pretends that the policy does not exist, mocking Arabs for believing such a thing.
Just to be clear about it, in March of 1997 Madeleine Albright, in her first major foreign policy address as Secretary of State, proclaimed: “We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.” I was there, at Georgetown University when she said that. This was on par with Albright’s infamous remark on CBS’s “60 Minutes” the previous year that the sanctions, after already killing half a million children, were “worth it.”
Through out the late 1990s, there were a series of standoffs between the Iraqi and the U.S. governments around weapons inspectors. In December of 1998, UNSCOM head Richard Butler issued a report (which the Washington Post would later reveal was shaped by the U.S. government) claiming Iraq wasn’t cooperating with the inspectors and withdrew them just before the U.S. launched the Desert Fox bombing campaign. Some might remember this was on the eve of Clinton’s scheduled impeachment vote.
In January of 1999 — after UNSCOM was destroyed by its own hand — the U.S. media reported that, contrary to U.S. denials, UNSCOM was in fact used for espionage as the Iraqis had been alleging, in part to track Hussein. (We’d do well to keep this in mind as those U2 flights go over Iraq.)
So Iraq kept the weapons inspectors out for four years. Why did the U.S. use the inspectors as spies? Why did it say that the sanctions would stay put regardless of what Iraq did? These would hardly seem to be the policies anyone would adopt if they really wanted disarmament.
There are other recent examples of the U.S. government adopting policies that betray an actual desire for Iraqi non-compliance. On October 1, 2002, just as Iraq was deciding whether or not to let inspectors have total access to presidential palaces, Ari Fleischer talked of “the cost of one bullet” being less than the cost of invasion. Was that supposed to help convince Saddam to say yes to letting inspectors into his palaces?
And now, just as Iraq begun destroying Al-Samoud missiles, the U.S. government is escalating its bombing of the “no-fly” zones — an ongoing, increasing years-long attack without legal justification.
So the U.S. policy of maintaining the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did gave him incentive for non-compliance with the inspectors. Now, the U.S. policy seems to be invasion no matter what Hussein does. It’s hard to believe that this will ensure anything other than more massive violence from many quarters.
Or we could choose a different path. If the Bush administration were to state that it would respect resolution 687 and ensure the lifting of the economic sanctions on Iraq when it is verifiably disarmed, then that ostensible goal could well be reached without invasion, killing and slaughter. But that would mean that the stated goals have some relation to actual goals. The way to cut through illusions and rhetoric is to follow the policy.
[originally published on CounterPunch on March 8, 2003; posted on posthaven Dec. 15, 2015]