The controversy over the mosque/cultural center in New York City is performing at least one valuable function, one that no one could have ever predicted: causing Americans to confront the wrongdoing of their own government and reflect on how such wrongdoing has contributed to the terrorist woes that now besiege our nation.
The issue involves the brutal sanctions that the U.S. government and the United Nations (where the U.S. government was the driving force) enforced against Iraq for more than 10 years.
U.S. interventionists are up in arms over the fact that the imam who is at the center of the mosque/cultural center controversy, Feisel Abdul Rauf, several years ago told an audience that Americans are reluctant to confront the fact that their government killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with the sanctions and the role that such deaths played in anger and hatred toward the United States among Arabs and Muslims, especially leading up to the 9/11 attacks.
Why are American interventionists up in arms over what the imam stated?
Well, that’s an interesting question. For one thing, it does demonstrate the accuracy of Rauf’s statement — that many Americans are extremely reluctant to think about, read about, study, or contemplate the horror of the Iraq sanctions, their deadly consequences, and the significant role they have played in U.S. foreign policy.
Unfortunately, all too many Americans have come to view the federal government as a god, one that is incapable of grave wrongdoing. That’s not to say that such Americans don’t believe in God. Every Sunday they go to, say, a Protestant or Catholic church, where they kneel and worship God. But it is to say that they’ve come to view the federal government as a co-equal partner with God, which leads them to view any criticism of the government in the same way they view criticism of God — as akin to blasphemy.
Think about it. Purporting to work in partnership with God and enforcing His commandment to love others, the federal government takes care of the elderly, the sick, the poor, and others in need. Isn’t that what such government programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, farms subsidies, and corporate bailouts are all about? Aren’t we all considered to be doing God’s work and fulfilling His commandments by virtue of the fact that we live and vote in a welfare state?
Well, you see, that’s what the invasion of Iraq is supposed to be all about. Don’t we hear interventionists every day saying that Americans should be patting himself on the back for what the U.S. government has done for the Iraqi people? At great sacrifice of lives and treasure, America has brought democracy to the Iraqi people. The idea is that the federal government has engaged in a great moral and holy crusade out of love for Iraqis
But you see the problem? If the federal government killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children, how does one reconcile those killings with the purported love that this federal god has for the Iraqi people?
So, one option is simply to deny that sanctions killed those Iraqi children. In fact, that’s what some American interventionists are now doing. They’re saying, “It just didn’t happen. Either the children didn’t die at all or if they did die, it was not because of the sanctions.”
Either way, we’re not supposed to talk about it. It’s always time to “move on.” That’s one reason for so much resentment against the imam. He’s raising an issue that American interventionists just don’t what to talk about and don’t want talked about. Why, accusing the federal god of callously killing hundreds of thousands of innocent children is downright heretical.
But the truth is that that is precisely what those brutal sanctions did. Sure, there are debates over the exact number of deaths. One would expect that. But the most reliable estimates are in the hundreds of thousands.
Here is a compilation of articles that address the sanctions and their horrible consequences. I’d recommend starting with the Harper’s Magazine article by Joy Gordon entitled Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, which describes the utter ruthlessness, callousness, and banality of evil of U.S. federal bureaucrats who were enforcing the sanctions. Then, I would recommend purchasing and reading Gordon’s new book Invisible War: The United States and Iraq Sanctions, which is the most authoritative treatment of the Iraq sanctions.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that two high UN officials — Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck — resigned their posts out of a crisis of conscience, declining to participate in what they described as genocide.
Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement to “Sixty Minutes” in 1996, some 7 years before the sanctions were ultimately terminated as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time she made her infamous statement, she was serving as the U.S. government’s ambassador to the United Nations. In other words, she was the federal government’s official spokesman at that world body.
What did she say?
“Sixty Minutes” asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
She responded, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
Now, notice two things about that answer. One, she doesn’t deny the number (half-a-million), and, two, she thinks that the deaths of all those children have been “worth it.”
Even more significant, neither her boss President Clinton nor any other high U.S. official, condemned or corrected her remark. In fact, Clinton went on to make her his secretary of state.
Now, if Iraqi children weren’t being killed by the sanctions, don’t you think that Albright, Clinton, Gore, or any other purported lover of the poor, would have said to “Sixty Minutes”: “Are you crazy? The sanctions aren’t killing anyone. That’s a total fabrication”?
But that’s not what they did. With Albright’s statement and other U.S. officials’ silent acquiescence, they were acknowledging that the deaths were occurring but justifying them as “worth it”?
An important question obviously arises. What did Albright mean by “it”? What could possibly justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children?
“It” would be regime change — the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power and his replacement with a pro-U.S. regime, the mission that has long driven U.S. foreign policy. That’s what Albright meant by “it” when she said that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.” Even though the sanctions were not successful in achieving the regime change, as the invasion later was, Albright and her colleagues in the U.S. government felt that the effort was worth the sacrifice of half-a-million innocent children.
In fact, isn’t that the rationale of U.S. interventionists who defend the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — that the countless deaths of Iraqis have been “worth it” — that is, worth the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power and his replacement by a democratically elected (Islamic) regime?
How many Iraqis have been killed in the operation? We don’t know, just as we don’t know the precise number of Iraqi children that were killed by the sanctions. Early on, the Pentagon announced that it wouldn’t keep track of the Iraqi dead, only the American dead.
You see, it doesn’t matter. In the minds of U.S. officials, any number of Iraqi deaths, children or adult, would be worth regime change in Iraq. The deaths of all those people, whether thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions, would be “worth it,” even if they weren’t consulted about it before being sacrificed on the federal altar of regime change and democracy-spreading.
But there’s one big problem with that type of thinking: How does one reconcile such a mindset with a purported love and concern for the Iraqi people? Indeed, how does one reconcile the criminal prosecutions and civil suits that the federal government pursued against private Americans, including physicians, who chose to violate the sanctions by bringing humanitarian goods and services to the Iraqi people?
Essential to the interventionist mindset is that the U.S. government’s policies toward Iraq have been motivated by love and concern for the Iraqi people. We invaded, we sacrificed, we stayed, and we bankrupted ourselves because we love them and want to help them, not for some crass political objective like ousting a recalcitrant foreign ruler and replacing him with a pro-U.S. ruler.
Finally, let’s not forget that the WTC terrorist in 1993, Ramzi Yousef, angrily cited the sanctions as a motivating force behind his terrorist attack. So did Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11. How could it be otherwise? Americans became horribly angry over the loss of more than 2,000 innocent people on 9/11. Why would it be any different for Arabs and Muslims who saw hundreds of thousands of innocent people, especially children, lose their lives for a political goal?
It’s not comfortable to confront the truth about false gods, at least for those who have come to worship them. The U.S. government has done very bad things to the Iraqi people, with horrific consequences. It’s time for Americans to face that. If it takes a Muslim cleric in New York City to help bring that about, so be it.