Last Thursday I attended a great lecture by Joy Gordon, professor of philosophy at Fairfield University in Connecticut. The talk was based on her book Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions. It was sponsored by The Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Gordon described the horrifying sanctions that the United Nations imposed and enforced on the Iraqi people at the direction of the U.S. government, beginning during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and continuing for the next 11 years. It is impossible to accurately measure exactly how many Iraqis were killed as a result but there is no doubt that the sanctions killed lots of people and absolutely devastated the Iraqi economy. In fact, according to Gordon, the sanctions wiped out virtually the entire middle class of Iraqi society.
It would be difficult to find a better modern-day example than the Iraq sanctions of Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” U.S. officials first intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage facilities, knowing what the likely adverse effects on health conditions were going to be. And then the U.S. representatives on the UN sanctions committee continuously vetoed, year after year, the importation of anything that would assist the Iraqis to repair such facilities. U.S. officials also refused to permit Iraqi officials to import anything that could be also used by the Iraqi military, which, of course, was almost everything.
Meanwhile Iraqi children were dying and economic conditions were plunging, neither of which motivated U.S. officials to cease and desist their horrifyingly indifferent conduct. The prime objective was regime change — i.e., the ouster of Saddam Hussein from office and his replacement with a U.S.-approved stooge.
When asked by “Sixty Minutes” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were worth it, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright responded that yes, they were worth it. Her sentiments reflected the official view of the U.S. government. Nothing could be permitted to stand in the way of regime change.
Like I say, the banality of evil.
What I personally have always found fascinating is how so many Americans have bought into the official U.S. government line of how much the U.S. government loves the Iraqi people. You’ll recall that when they failed to find those infamous WMDs, including those that the United States delivered to Iraq when the U.S. government and the Saddam Hussein regime were partnering to kill Iranians, the U.S. government shifted to an alternative line that said that it invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqi people.
What a crock. Throughout the 1990s, U.S. officials and most of the conservative movement pined for the ouster of Saddam Hussein, lamenting that President George H.W. Bush had failed to “complete the job” during the Persian Gulf War. The purpose of the sanctions was the squeeze the lifeblood out of the Iraqi people in the hopes that the Iraqi citizenry would revolt and oust Saddam from power or, even better from the standpoint of U.S. officials, in the hope that a military coup would take place in which Saddam would be replaced by a U.S.-approved military general.
That’s what Albright meant when she said that the deaths of those children had been worth it — worth the attempt at regime change.
The WMD scare was just a ruse that U.S. officials used to garner support from the American people for their invasion of Iraq, given that the sanctions had failed to achieve the U.S. goal of regime change. U.S. officials knew the effect it would have on the American people when they conjured up images of “mushroom clouds” over American cities. Thus, many Americans were ready and willing to support the undeclared war of aggression against a nation that had never attacked the United States and, even worse, many of them embraced the ridiculous U.S. government alternative rationale for invading Iraq—that the invasion was done for the benefit of the Iraqi people (not including, I assume, all the people who were now dead as a result of the invasion).
A couple of years ago, we published a review of Gordon’s book in our monthly FFF journal. It’s entitled “America’s Peacetime Crimes against Iraq” by Anthony Gregory. I highly recommend her excellent book, Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions. If you’d like to get a taste of it before purchasing it, I recommend reading Gordon’s article entitled “Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” which appeared in 2002 in Harper’s Magazine.