WITH FRIENDS LIKE US   [Cont'd]
If what Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair was true and, indeed, democracy and human rights were preeminent American concerns, then why did the US before the war put no pressure on Saddam to release political prisoners, allow inspections by ICRC officials, or supply the UN with lists of missing individuals? If NATO could threaten Milosevic over humanitarian considerations, why could the US not threaten Saddam on the same grounds? UN Resolution 1441 addresses only the issue of UNMOVIC and IAEA access to weapons sites in Iraq; not a word about human rights in its decisions . There is no merit to the argument that Russia and China might have vetoed any UN resolution referring to human rights. For one thing, neither of them vetoed Resolution 688, which addressed the plight of the Kurds in 1991. But even if they did this time around, so what? The United States showed that it was willing to bypass the UN anyway. The issue of credibility goes far beyond missed opportunities, however. There are the intentions and then there is the history, the nefarious history of American involvement in Iraq.
First, the intentions. Apart from the Bush doctrinaires, few have clamored more loudly for a remaking of the Middle East along progressive lines than liberal columnist Thomas Friedman. (The pro-war camp cuts right through party lines.) His heartfelt longing for Iraqi democracy is unassailable; at least on the off days when he is not calling for a dictatorship:
Another chink in the intentional argument is the widely shared belief that the US would never allow a democracy to take root if it were anti-American. The reality must be faced: A true democracy in Iraq today would almost certainly be anti-American. Does anyone in Washington seriously believe that a US promise not to mess with such an outcome would be taken seriously by anyone in the region? Of course, not. Unfortunately, Iraqi politicians know that, too; therefore, they would be less than impressed by a reassurance of noninterference coming from someone who they know full well does not even believe that his own reassurance is credible. A dialogue of the deaf.
And now, as promised, the history. Sadly, the United States has had a hand in virtually all of the calamities that have befallen Iraq in the last 40 years. The CIA funded the 1963 coup that brought the Ba'ath party to power and paved the way for Saddam's bloody takeover in 1979. In late 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, then President Reagan's special Mideast envoy, flew to Baghdad to assure Saddam of US support in the Iran-Iraq war (Washington's favorite spectator war). In the mid-eighties, State Department reports of Iraq's daily use of chemical weapons on Iranian troops did nothing to dent Saddam's image in the White House as our bulwark against Iran, the enemy du jour. That Iraq was a true ally was demonstrated in May 1987, when an Iraqi attack on the USS Stark killed 37 American sailors. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger immediately threatened Iran (no, this is not a typo), while the US quickly accepted an apology from Saddam. In March 1988, Saddam's forces killed over 5,000 Kurdish civilians by poison gas in Halabja. Repelled by this atrocity, the US Senate passed sweeping sanctions against Iraq. Reagan's fierce opposition killed the bill in the House. For good measure, his administration granted Iraq 65 licenses for dual-use technology exports in the weeks following the attack . A year later, the White House provided Saddam with a billion-dollar loan . Now, that's a friend for you.
Alas, the Washington-Baghdad lovefest did not last. On August 2, 1990, Saddam foolishly sent his tanks rolling into Kuwait. What gassing civilians, invading Iran, and slaughtering political opponents could not do, Saddam's designs on Kuwaiti oil did. He had crossed the red line. With an eloquence to rival his son's, Bush Sr declared three days later: "This will not stand. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait." On January 16, 1991, his spokesman Marlin Fitzwater proudly announced, "The liberation of Kuwait has begun." To save anyone the embarrassment of taking the word liberation too seriously, Secretary of State James Baker had this pithy line: "It's about jobs, jobs, jobs!"
At the end of the conflict, the United States committed one of the most shameful betrayals in modern times . Bush Sr encouraged Kurdish and Shi'ite uprisings, only to withdraw US support at the last moment and allow Saddam to slaughter as many as 100,000 people. Thomas Friedman had to see the "the mass graves and the true extent of Saddam's genocidal evil" to find justification for the war . You mean to say, Mr. Friedman, you didn't know? You did not know that Saddam did the bulk of his butchering while enjoying full US support. To paraphrase FDR, Saddam was a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.
If that were not enough, America bestowed other gifts on poor Iraqi citizens, no doubt cementing enduring gratitude. A 12-year regime of sanctions crippled an impoverished nation while doing nothing to hurt Saddam or threaten his grip on power. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that sanctions had caused the deaths of 567,000 children by 1995 . UNICEF estimated that half a million children under the age of five had died as a result of sanctions . Even a skeptic such as Columbia Professor Richard Garfield conceded a minimum of at least 150,000 excess deaths among young children . UNICEF senior representative in Iraq, Anupama Rao Singh, reported on March 20, 2000 that mortality rates for young children had more than doubled by 1994. (As Garfield pointed out, not even World War II produced similar increases in child mortality.) By 1999, 13 percent of all Iraqi children were dead before their 5th birthday, mostly from contaminated water . As John Pilger wrote in The Guardian on March 4, 2000 ,
The US rebuffed repeated efforts by UN Security Council members to amend the sanctions regime. If the proposed alternatives were found wanting, wasn't it incumbent upon the US and the UK to find better ones? They never even tried. At least not until 2001, when international pressure became too strong and a "smart sanctions" initiative (though barely less punitive) was introduced by the Britishonly to be scuttled by the Russians . The sanctions hurt the people of Iraq while strengthening the grip of its ruling elite. Tellingly, Saddam's numerous palaces survived years of US-British strikes. The American position of keeping the status quo while blaming Saddam for all of Iraq's woes and doing nothing to hurt him was unconscionable. Few Iraqis will forgive, let alone forget, their grievous, unnecessary suffering.
The purpose of this brief journey through the sorrowful history of Iraq was not to criticize US policy (which, in fact, deserves even more criticism than this account suggests). It was to make the point that, whenever Bush talks about helping Iraq, its citizens can only laugh; and then cry.
 Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
 Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, July 7, 1991.
 US Diplomatic and Commercial Relationships with Iraq, 1980 - 2 August 1990.
 Making of a Monster: How the US Helped Build Iraq's War Machine, by William P. Hoar, The New American, September 1992.