President Clinton, in his address to the nation just after ordering the bombing of Iraq last month on the eve of his scheduled impeachment vote, claimed that while “other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, with Saddam there’s one big difference. He has used them, not once but repeatedly.” Clinton failed to mention that our government was rather chummy with Hussein when he was using such weapons.
The president then played psychic, insisting that unless we bomb, “Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again” — ignoring the fact that he did not use them during the Gulf War.
“Without the sanctions” against Iraq, Clinton continued, there would be “less food for [Iraq’s] people.” Can anybody believe that? UNICEF studies show that 5,000 Iraqi children are dying every month as a result of the sanctions. The sanctions are the opposite of “smart bombs” (inflated as that concept is): Sanctions actually target the weakest people in society — children, the elderly, the sick.
Clinton is being disingenuous when he says that “so long as Iraq remains out of compliance, we will work with the international community to maintain and enforce the economic sanctions.” In fact, the administration has undermined the international consensus by insisting that the economic sanctions continue even if Iraq complies with the weapons inspectors.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in March 1997 declared: “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.” This twisted U.S. policy is totally contrary to U.N. Resolution 687, which states that when Iraq complies with the weapons inspectors, the sanctions “shall have no further force or effect.”
“I am a Baptist,” Clinton stated as he was about to take office. “I believe in death-bed conversions. If he [Saddam Hussein] wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior.” Immediately, as commentators attacked the incoming president for such politically incorrect notions, Clinton backtracked the next day, saying: “There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present [Bush] administration” — that is, the sanctions would stay in place so long as Saddam Hussein does. This has ensured another six years of hell for 20 million Iraqis.
This policy of keeping the economic sanctions in place regardless of compliance with UNSCOM has apparently succeeded in destroying UNSCOM. The practice of maintaining the sanctions whatever Iraq’s actions was applied to the recent bombing, as Clinton attacked Iraq without stating what Iraq could do to put a stop to the bombing. UNSCOM ceased to be an instrument of weapons inspections and became rather an excuse for bombing.
Now, in a cynical gesture, the administration makes a show of offering to lift the cap on the “oil-for-food” program — although Iraq’s devastated infrastructure cannot produce the amount of oil currently allowed by the United Nations.
This administration claims its bombings and enforcement of the “no-fly” zones are U.N.-mandated, while actually these administration policies are undermining international law. In fact, last month the retiring Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.) pointedly raised a legal issue, noting that “President Clinton acted in violation of the Constitution in ordering these attacks without authority of Congress.” Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights notes perhaps the supreme irony — “legally, Clinton’s unauthorized bombing is more impeachable than his lies about Lewinsky.”
Last month’s bombing was not instigated, like previous standoffs, by Iraq’s expelling inspectors but by a report by UNSCOM head Richard Butler. Citing sources, The Post reported that “Clinton administration officials played a direct role in shaping Butler’s text during multiple conversations with him [two days before the bombing] at secure facilities in the U.S. mission to the U.N.”
When Iraq was reducing compliance this summer, claiming that UNSCOM inspectors were spies, Clinton officials said they would take action at a “time and place of our choosing.” Both the Iraqis and the administration were far more prescient than anyone could have imagined.
Still, the real issue is the policy, not its timing. Sanctions and bombing; killing slowly and killing quickly. Killing Iraqis is not a strategy.
The writer is communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Post (1/26/99).