End the Iraq War
Published on Monday, May 14, 2001 in the Seattle Times
- an Editorial
Collateral damage, a military term made famous by Timothy McVeigh, is his term for the children he killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Americans recoiled at that. But we should also recoil at the collateral damage our economic sanctions are inflicting on the people of Iraq.
Hans von Sponeck, who was the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq for 17 months, describes a society whose social and business leaders have "died out, emigrated or become deprofessionalized." Former doctors peddle food at roadside stands. The remnants of the business class have become Mafiosos dependent on enforced scarcity. Iraqi paper money, with its imposing bust of Saddam Hussein, buys almost nothing.
Iraq was once a middle-income country. It had electricity, medicines, sanitary sewers and urban water safe to drink. Its health statistics were fairly good. According to the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, Iraq now has an under-5-year-old mortality rate of 12.8 percent - a rate of child death comparable to Haiti, Cambodia or Uganda.
Defenders of sanctions blame all this on Saddam Hussein, because he started the Gulf War and because he insists on staying in power today. That is true, as far as it goes.
But don't excuse the United States, which destroyed water-treatment plants with guided bombs. In a 100-hour war, the water-treatment plants had no strategic importance. In a 10-year embargo, they did.
Von Sponeck is a German, the son of a general executed on orders of Adolf Hitler. Von Sponeck was 6 years old when World War II ended and the GIs, with their cigarettes, candy bars and Marshall Plan, dealt with a vanquished people. He wonders what Germany would have been like had the Allies left it in ruins, forbidden to recover.
"No country has ever been punished by sanctions after a war," he says. Ten years of sanctions have left an estimated 300,000 to 1.5 million Iraqis dead. CBS' Lesley Stahl used the figure of 500,000 dead when she interviewed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1996. Was such collateral damage worth it? Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."
The United States is the safest nation on the planet. No nation dares to attack us. Scott Ritter, who headed the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq, told the City Club of Seattle recently that Iraq has no ability to make chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in militarily significant amounts.
It is worth noting that when Saddam Hussein did have chemical weapons, he used them only against the Iranians and the Kurds. Ritter said flatly that at present, "The Iraqi military is a threat to no one other than the indigenous people of Iraq."
Iraq's neighbors have reason to keep it that way through deterrence and military sanctions. There is no remaining rationale for economic sanctions. Trade sanctions do not promote human rights or dislodge dictators; they shut a country in and make it impossible for millions to make a living.
Saddam Hussein is much to blame for the ensuing "collateral damage" - of course. But blame also those who shut the door on an entire nation in their pursuit of one man.
Copyright © 2001 Seattle Times Company