By CAROLE SELIGMAN
It was reported last month that global arms sales have expanded to some $30 billion a year, two-thirds of which are sold to poor countries. According to the Congressional Research Service, cited in The New York Times (Aug. 21, 2000), the United States has “solidified its position as the world’s biggest arms dealer.”
The biggest buyers are countries whose governments serve as proxies for U.S. imperialist domination in the Middle East. For example, Saudi Arabia, the biggest buyer, provides a platform for the continued bombing raids against Iraq, enforcing a strict military and economic blockade on that country. This has prohibited Iraq from recovering from the one-sided war waged against it by the United States and the UN in 1991.
Seymour Hersch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who reported on the My Lai massacre of civilians (including children) by U.S. forces in Vietnam, wrote a piece entitled “Overwhelming Force: What Happened in the Final Days of the Gulf War?” in the May 22 issue of The New Yorker. His article exposes the role of Gen. Barry McCaffrey (current Clinton cabinet drug czar and main architect for the escalating U.S. role in Colombia’s civil war), and U.S. policy in general, in the commission of war crimes during the Gulf War.
A few years ago, Seymour Hersch conducted a book tour revealing the information he had gathered on Gulf War syndrome. I heard him speak at the War Memorial building in San Francisco, where he promised veterans to pursue the unresolved story of the dreadful illnesses American Gulf War veterans were suffering without medical help from the Veterans Administration.
I was disappointed that during the question and answer period Hersch avoided any broad critique of the U.S./UN war itself, limiting his critique to the plight and treatment of the U.S. veterans. But his article in The New Yorker (hopefully, part of a new book) provides a devastating critique of the “all-out attack” led by Gen. McCaffrey after the Feb. 28, 1991 U.S. declaration of a cessation of hostilities and call for peace talks.
Hersch writes, “Apache attack helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, and artillery units from the 24th Division pummeled the five-mile-long Iraqi column for hours, destroying some 700 Iraqi tanks, armored cars, and trucks, and killing not only Iraqi soldiers but civilians and children as well.”
Hersch quotes McCaffrey describing the carnage as “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in” and cites the fact that there were no serious American casualties.
The Hersch article is a full investigation of this “all-out attack,” with interviews with many of the participants in it. While Hersch never says it outright, the culminating effect of such objective journalism is a damning critique of U.S. conduct in its war on Iraq, as well as on the Army general who was awarded a post in the U.S. cabinet for his role in that war and who has been able to continue his oil-profit war-making in Colombia.
The effect of such journalism should lead honest readers to link the continuing economic blockade of Iraq (which the U.S. government forces all the countries of the world to carry out) with the war itself. On the occasion of the visit to Iraq of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during his tour of member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, The New York Times reported that last year UNICEF reported that “in many areas of Iraq, the mortality rate for children under five had more than doubled in 10 years.”
The same article (Aug. 7, 2000) concludes with the statement that world leaders, though abiding by the UN efforts to isolate Saddam Hussein, have increased calls for easing the strict sanctions that are seen as the cause for such suffering. As if to underscore their cruel economic sanctions, however, new U.S. bombing attacks followed on Aug. 12 and 13, shortly after Chavez’s visit with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iraqis say that civilians were killed and a food warehouse was hit in these two days of air strikes.
All these elements (the 1991 Gulf war and the continuing military attack, the U.S. arms sales, and the new U.S. military interventions in oil-producing countries) provide the context in which opponents of U.S. military and global economic policies should look at a recent effort by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to oppose the economic sanctions on Iraq.
The FOR describes itself as “the largest, oldest, interfaith peace organization in the U.S.” It recently placed a quarter-page advertisement in The New York Times headlined, “Are the Children of Iraq Our Enemies?”
The short text of the ad says: “Ten years ago, on Aug. 6, 1990, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Since then, over one million Iraqis, mostly children under five, have died. Ten years is enough! The military sanctions on Iraq should continue, but the economic sanctions not only do not work, they are killing innocent Iraqi children. We say, the time has come to stop killing Iraqi children. Lift the economic sanctions on Iraq now!”
The ad is signed by 41 prominent individuals, including Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Sr. Helen Prejean, the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, several Nobel Laureates, and accomplished actors.
While it is important to organize opposition to the economic sanctions that are responsible for the deaths and illnesses of so many Iraqi children, it is wrong for the FOR to link this opposition to support for the military sanctions on Iraq. Why? Because the unspoken message in such a position is trust in the U.S. government’s military policy.
Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator. His attacks on the Kurdish population are terrible crimes. But neither the Kurdish and the Iraqi people nor the U.S. people can pin their hopes for justice for the Kurds on U.S. military might.
With what justification can a U.S. peace group call on the most brutal practitioner of military might against peoples of the world (Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, Yugoslavia), and the biggest supplier of weaponry, to carry out military sanctions on any other country? This is a misguided, contradictory, and insupportable position to take.
We must applaud the efforts of all who work against the economic sanctions on Iraq and all who work for social justice. But we must criticize those compromises that lend support for U.S. military policy, even in the guise of peace.