Declaring that Saddam Hussein had become a new Hitler who was bent on conquering the United States and the rest of the world, President George H.W. Bush went to war against Iraq, securing the permission of the United Nations but not securing the congressional declaration of war required by the U.S. Constitution. The war was a slaughter. The Iraqi army was a third-rate military force that never had a chance against the most powerful military in history. Countless Iraqi people lost their lives, including tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqi soldiers.
During the war, the Pentagon commissioned a study on the probable effects of bombing Iraq’s water- and sewage-treatment plants. The report indicated that if such plants were bombed, countless Iraqis would die from infectious diseases arising from drinking polluted water.
The Pentagon issued its order: Bomb the water- and sewage-treatment facilities.
When the war was over, Saddam Hussein was still in power and refused to depart Iraq voluntarily. Unwilling to send U.S. forces into Baghdad to remove him from power, the U.S. government instead imposed one of the most brutal economic embargoes in history on the Iraqi people. The idea was that if Saddam Hussein left office, the sanctions would be lifted. If he didn’t, the sanctions would stay.
The U.S. government’s cover story was that the purpose of the sanctions was not regime change but simply to induce Saddam to give up his WMDs. (Yes, the same WMDs that the United States and other Western countries had previously delivered to him during the 1980s to help him kill Iranians.)
But it was a flagrant lie, one that Barack Obama himself would use many years later, when he claimed that he was bombing Libya not to remove Qaddafi from power but simply to “protect civilians” from Qaddafi’s army. The entire idea of the Iraq sanctions, like Obama’s bombing of Libya, like the coup that ousted Mossadegh from power in Iran, was to effect regime change within a foreign country.
But the sanctions did not succeed in achieving their supposed goal. In fact, they ended up strengthening Saddam’s power, especially with respect to his strong central control over the distribution of food, which the sanctions brought about.
Where the sanctions were tremendously successful was in killing Iraqi children — hundreds of thousands of them — in large part as a result of the infectious diseases that the Pentagon study stated would result if Iraq’s water- and sewage-treatment plants were destroyed.
Among other things, the sanctions prevented the Iraqis from repairing those facilities. Year after year, tens of thousands of Iraqi children were dying, to the total indifference of U.S. officials. They just didn’t care. All that mattered was getting rid of Saddam and replacing him with a new U.S. partner and ally. Everything else, including the deaths of countless children year after year, was secondary. This mindset was made crystal-clear by Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1996, seven years before the sanctions were finally lifted, she declared in an interview with Sixty Minutes that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were, in fact, “worth it.”
Needless to say, not everyone agreed. People from around the world were horrified, especially those in Iraq and the Middle East who had seen the children dying en masse year after year. One can only imagine what effect Albright’s answer had on anger and rage in that part of the world that had been smoldering for so many years, especially given the helplessness that people there felt when it came to doing something about the sanctions.
Not even the resignations of two high UN officials — Hans van Sponek and Denis Halliday, who resigned in protest against what they called genocide — affected the cruel mindsets of U.S. officials. If you want to get a sense of the callousness, even light-heartedness that U.S. officials showed toward the horrible consequences of the Iraq sanctions, the best work on this subject is Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, by Joy Gordon. If you don’t want to go that far, then read an article she wrote for Harper’s magazine entitled “Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” which is posted at http://harpers.org/archive/2002/11/0079384. As well, you can read a review of her book in the September 2010 issue of Freedom Daily (www.fff.org/freedom/fd1009f.asp).
Why do they hate us?
To get a good sense of the horror produced by the sanctions, go to www.fff.org/whatsNew/2004-02-09a.htm, which lists articles about the sanctions that The Future of Freedom Foundation compiled in 2004.
If a foreign regime succeeded in enforcing a total embargo on the United States that was killing tens of thousands of American children, what do you think would be the reaction of most Americans? Do you think they would be calm and pacific about the matter? Would they just say, “Golly, politics sure can be tough. Time to move on”?
I don’t think so. I think Americans would be filled with rage and that it would continue to grow every year that the embargo was in place. And if that foreign regime stated that the embargo would be lifted if the U.S. president were to resign from office, my hunch is that most Americans would oppose his doing so, willing to bear the price of principle and waiting for the day to exact vengeance.
Consider the 9/11 attacks. I would venture to say that most Americans didn’t know any of the victims personally. Nonetheless, the anger across the country was palpable, and many people wanted revenge, which made it so easy for George W. Bush to justify his invasion of Iraq, even though it had no connection to the 9/11 attacks.
So why is it so difficult for Americans to understand that other people might react the same way that they would react if faced with the same situation? Why wouldn’t we expect people to be angry because of the U.S. government’s support of foreign dictators who are torturing and abusing their citizenry, because of the U.S. government’s bombs and missiles that are killing or maiming people within the region, and because of the U.S. government’s sanctions that are killing, year after year, countless innocent children, all for the purpose of regime change in Iraq?
And it’s not as if there weren’t signals of what was to come on 9/11. There were the terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. There was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center itself in 1993, after which one of the attackers, Ramzi Yousef, angrily pointed to the Iraq sanctions and other aspects of U.S. foreign policy at his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court.
And then came 9/11. That was when U.S. officials quickly announced that the terrorists just hated America for its freedom and values, ignoring the U.S. government’s longtime support of brutal dictators in the Middle East who used U.S. support to oppress their own people; the killing of untold numbers of Iraq citizens during the Persian Gulf War; the premeditated destruction of Iraq’s water- and sewage-treatment plants with the intent of spreading infectious diseases among the Iraqi people; the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with the sanctions; the callous declaration that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it,” and, it should be added, the illegal no-fly zones over Iraq, which killed more people, including a teenage boy; the stationing of U.S. troops near the holiest lands of the Muslim religion, Mecca and Medina; and, of course, the unconditional military and financial support provided, year after year, to the Israeli government.
According to U.S. officials, none of those things was pertinent in analyzing the motive for the 9/11 attacks.
But just as it was important to examine the Oklahoma City bombing in the context of what the federal government had done at Waco, it is equally important for Americans to examine the 9/11 attacks in the context of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the U.S. government lost its longtime Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. Shining the light on Waco dissuaded the feds from committing any more Wacos, which is why there have been no more Oklahoma City-type bombings. Shining the light on the federal government’s actions in the Middle East could bring an end to the death, maiming, abuse, humiliation, and destruction that the U.S. government wreaks in the Middle East. That would mean no more 9/11s and enable our nation to get back on the road to peace, prosperity, harmony, and liberty.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 edition of Freedom Daily.