Given the failure of U.S. forces to find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the newest justification for the president’s invasion of Iraq has become the mass graves of Iraqis killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. “If we hadn’t invaded,” the reasoning goes, “Saddam Hussein would still be filling mass graves with innocent people and, therefore, the president’s invasion of Iraq was justified after all.”
Those Iraqi mass graves are actually just one more reminder of the moral bankruptcy of U.S. foreign policy and specifically U.S. policy toward Iraq for the past 20 years.
Let’s first keep in mind that U.S. foreign policy called for the active and enthusiastic support of Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, knowing that he was one of the world’s cruelest and most brutal dictators. That support was best evidenced by the U.S. delivery of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam, knowing that he would use such weapons against the Iranian people.
The reason that U.S. officials had no reservations about Saddam’s use of such weapons against the Iranians was that the Iranian people, contrary to the wishes of U.S. officials, had ousted the U.S. government’s hand-picked puppet, the shah of Iran, as ruler of Iran. And as the people of Iran knew only too well, the shah was also one of the cruelest and most brutal dictators in the world.
After the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. government embarked on its campaign to replace Saddam Hussein with a new U.S.-approved puppet leader in Iraq. But rather than do so militarily, which might have cost the lives of U.S. servicemen, federal officials decided instead to use the Iraqi people as tools and instruments to accomplish that goal.
One method was the imposition of the now-infamous economic sanctions, which were intended to squeeze the Iraqi people into poverty to such an extent that they would finally turn on Saddam and oust him from power and replace him with a new U.S. puppet leader. The idea was: “Rid yourselves of Saddam and install a ruler satisfactory to us, and we’ll terminate the sanctions and enable you to prosper economically once again.”
The sanctions, as we all know, ended up costing the lives of an estimated half million children and had no discernible effect on Saddam Hussein’s palatial lifestyle. Despite the fact that the sanctions didn’t produce the desired result (the ouster and replacement of Saddam Hussein), those deaths, in the words of U.S. official Madeleine Albright, were nonetheless considered “worth it.” By that, she obviously meant that the deaths were worth the attempt to oust Saddam and replace him with a new U.S. puppet ruler.
The other method that was used to oust Saddam was equally horrific from a moral standpoint: encouraging the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow their government by force on the basis of an assurance given by President George H.W. Bush that U.S. forces would come to their assistance. That assurance, of course, turned out to be a horrible and deadly lie. When thousands of Iraqis rose up against their government, U.S. officials knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately stood by and watched Saddam’s forces slaughter the Iraqi rebels. Those dead rebels fill the mass graves that are now being used as the ex post facto justification for President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
The entire sordid and tragic affair brings to mind the Bay of Pigs experience in 1961, when U.S. officials promised air cover to anti-Castro rebels invading Cuba; but once the invasion was underway, they knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately double-crossed them by refusing to provide the air support.
So, first they give weapons of mass destruction to Saddam, knowing that he will employ them against his enemies, including the Iranian people.
Then they enforce their cruel and brutal sanctions against Iraq with the goal of squeezing the Iraqi people into violently ousting Saddam Hussein from power.
Then they encourage the Iraqi people to rise up by force of arms against their own government under a false and deceptive promise of help from the president of the United States, knowing full well what Saddam will do to the rebels if their rebellion fails.
Then they stand aside and watch in shock and awe as Saddam’s forces massacre the rebels and place their bodies in mass graves.
And years later, when the primary justification for invading Iraq (“disarming Saddam”) fizzles out, U.S. officials use those mass graves as an ex post facto justification for their invasion — an invasion that resulted in the deaths and injuries of thousands of more Iraqis.
If that’s not a morally bankrupt foreign policy, I don’t know what is.
Postscript: After this article was posted, readers wrote to me and pointed out that I had failed to mention the graves of the unknown number of Iraqi soldiers killed in the 1991 Gulf War (as well as the Iraqi civilians killed in that war, of course) and the untold number of Iraqis who died from the effects of depleted uranium after the war was over (not to mention those who will die from the depleted uranium that was used in the recent invasion of Iraq).