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July 10, 2007

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BBC, 2004:

Splits among the diplomats on the UN security council and flaws in the design of the oil-for-food programme played at least as much a part in what happened as negligence by UN officials or collusion in corruption by foreign firms trading with Iraq.
That's also the conclusion of the Volcker report: which also points out that the vast majority of Saddam Hussein's illicit income came from oil smuggling outside the Oil for Food program: oil smuggling which was ignored by the US and the UK while favored nations and corporations benefited.

Which Iraqis do you think the UN should have left to starve? Can you give me their names and your reasons why they didn't deserve to live? And some kind of outline about how you reconcile your support for starving Iraqi civilians with your claims to be pro-life?

It's stuff like this that makes it hard for me to believe that Jes isn't at least a little bit into self-parody.

I'll go look it up if I feel it worthwhile, but Barton Gellman in the June 23 1991 issue of the Washington Post found several Pentagon targeting planners (one of whom gave his name) who said that we hit Iraq's civilian infrastructure in part to hurt the civilian population. So the evil intent on our part was there. And the category of "dual use" was used to bring Iraq's economy crashing down.

I take for granted that if Saddam Hussein suddenly decided to become a Swedish social democrat he probably could have cut down on the death rate during the 90's even under sanctions and even with a collapsing economy. Spend less on weapons and palaces, more on people's needs. That's true of a lot of governments. It doesn't get us off the hook and what was so morally disgusting during the glorious Clinton era was the way moderate liberals would squirm away from acknowledging our share of responsibility for Iraqi suffering.


As for Dresden, I've only given the thread a quick skimming since I got back and am glad the metaness has died down, but I think just war theory is what Sebastian said and what I implied in one of my earlier posts--you are allowed to kill civilians in a nonintentional sort of way, but there has to be a darn good reason to do it. The military end has to be important enough to justify the unfortunate side consequence of having civilians die. This obviously has nothing to do with air raids deliberately meant to destroy cities, as at Dresden.


In WWII, according to Paul Fussell, there were all sorts of occasions when bombing unintentionally killed civilians or even troops on one's own side. He cites a figure of 12,000 for French and Belgium civilians killed by Allied airpower during the Normandy invasion. (I think.) And then there were some horrifying friendly fire incidents when planes bombed their own troops. So obviously we couldn't defeat Hitler without killing civilians when we couldn't even defeat Hitler without bombing our own troops and friendly civilians we were attempting to liberate. My objection is to deliberate civilian slaughter, and also to the use of collateral damage as a loophole allowing one to do whatever one wishes, while piously proclaiming no evil intent. It's not impossible for a government to fight according to just war rules in good faith, but in practice I think human rights organizations and others should look at actual warfighting practices with a very cynical eye and assume guilt until innocence is proved.

too vague for my google-fu

I assume Seb is referring to the criminal investigations of ex-officials of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Which Iraqis do you think the UN should have left to starve?

At the same link, Wikipedia has the figure as 60% of the population being dependent on “oil for food” and that meshes with what I recall at the time. I assume that the 40% not dependent on it were more tightly connected to the regime, or Kurds in the north. I think that the “$190 per person” is incorrect as it does seem to be based on the entire population of Iraq, 40% of who were not dependent on the program.

"there was no systematic diversion"

I hate to think then what they could have done had they really worked at it!

italics off

Off now?

Wikipedia has the figure as 60% of the population being dependent on “oil for food” and that meshes with what I recall at the time. I assume that the 40% not dependent on it were more tightly connected to the regime, or Kurds in the north.

At last the other shoe drops. Iraq can't produce nearly enough food for iraqis. (For that matter neither can saudi arabia.) But we talked like we weren't going to let them import food. If we did enforce an embargo that extreme presumably iraqis would try their level best to grow more food. Supposing they could double food production from 25% of their needs to 50%, half of them would die. Memories of cambodia....

But we didn't do it that way. We let them import specific amounts of specific foods, and pay for it with oil. Lots and lots of food coming in at one port. Grain, beans, cooking oil. People had to get their vegetables locally.

(Of course Saddam tried to sell extra oil. Since it was smuggling he'd get a low price for it, and the smugglers could pocket the difference. A lot of smuggling to jordan, which could sell it to -- israel?)

Saddam had censuses and gave every family a ration card. You're dependent on the ration if you'd starve without it. That is, basicly, the 70% poorest part of the population not including some farmers and some people who could smuggle food. Why was it only 70% and not more? Because the excess population did starve. And children who get much malnutrition below the age of 6 or so get measurable brain damage, they grow up kind of stupid and impulsive. They'll be another burden on iraqi society as they grow up and vote and such.

Presumably if Saddam didn't like you he could cut your family's ration. If you were in trouble but you didn't show up to get your ration card renewed....

And this was supposed to get people so upset they'd revolt against Saddam!

After the war the CPA wanted to get rid of that system. But they didn't know how. If they didn't buy many thousands of tons of wheat to distribute to the population, who would? Ideally they'd have a dozen iraqi private corporations that each looked for the best bid on the international market and competed with each other, but there was no way to get there from here. Ideally they'd take the food they bought with international iraqi funds that had been frozen before and were now available for them to spend, and they'd sell it to the highest bidders in each town. But tbat would take a whole lot of organisation they didn't know how to do.

They estimated that 80+% of the population depended on the subsidised food. They had to keep the system going, even though it was socialism.

This looks to me like a great plug for PW Bridgman's operationism. When people use words like "Oil For Food" with the claimed intentions of humanitarian aid to the iraqi people and weakening Saddam, we need to look at exactly what the words refer to. What actions are we talking about actually doing. What the words "really" mean are the real-world actions they're connected to, not our fantasies about what ought happen.

I'll look for links to any specific parts of the above anyone asks for. Some of it might be wrong.

I often disagree with you, JThomas, but I think your 8:21 post agrees with most of what I'd read over the years about the sanctions. Not that I can vouch for the accuracy of every word, but in general I think you're right. One of the ironies of the sanctions, from my understanding, is that they turned Iraq into a massive economic wreck of a welfare state dependent on foreign charity, with impoverished and poorly educated kids who would be ripe targets for religious demagogues. Makes me proud to be an American.

Yes, exactly! A welfare state administered by Saddam!

Lets get the iraqi people to overthrow their hated ruler! Lets get it so 80% of them will starve unless he feeds them!

And I haven't found any good detailed informtion, but it's plausible that anbar will starve unless the shia government feeds them.

Another irony--the insurgent tactic of destroying Iraq's infrastructure in order to discredit the ruling powers is the same strategy we used.

but we're bringing freedom and the American way, so they'll love us and spread the good word about America all throughout their land. and then nobody will ever hate us again.

let's all join hands and sing.

oops... i should've written : but we're bringing freedom and The American Way.

Bruce,

Well, if you want to go back to first principles, that's fine and dandy, but I'm afraid I'm not philosophically capable enough to get beyond 'killing civilians is wrong' and move on to discussions about when, if ever, the killing of civilians can be justified. Much like going to war, I think that providing the power to do so invites abuse, so I actually lean towards Jesurgislac's definition if only because the current leadership in Washington has made it very clear they will take any loophole and drive through it at extremely high speed.

G'kar, you misunderstood me, I think. I don't want civilians getting killed. I really don't want them being targeted for killing. I want the means of war to aim away from them and to reduce their risks. I think something's gone ghastly horribly wrong in the way people with authority and scholarship talk about fighting war, that we could end up in this sort of calamity, and would like to back up and see how to set up better walls so that it doesn't happen again.

Does that help clarify anything I wrote earlier?

What the words "really" mean are the real-world actions they're connected to, not our fantasies about what ought happen.

I’m curious what stick should be employed then. When war is discussed, we hear that sanctions are working, or would work. Now it seems that sanctions are just too dastardly as well. So what stick does the UN then actually have?

661 passed 13-0 with Cuba and Yemen abstaining. Pretty clearly then it was the unanimous will of the world body. Oil for food was introduced by the US under Clinton, and its intent was humanitarian (at least in part). The UN ran the program. But now the US is supposed to feel guilty about how it all worked out.

What credibility does the UNSC have left if it has no stick at all? Honest question...

Famine has killed millions in NK – many of them children. Heck there were reports of children being killed for food. Children who survive are growing up severely malnourished, with all that implies.

Based on this thread, all sanctions against NK should immediately be lifted, and aid with no conditions attached should pour in from all over the world. I don’t disagree with that.

But how do you disconnect a country’s people from its political entity on the world stage? Whether its war or sanctions, isn’t holding a country’s people at risk the only real stick available to a world political body? When carrots don’t work what remains?

The sanctions on Iraq destroyed their economy, OCSteve. That's why, in the last few years before 9/11, people were talking about "smart sanctions", which (if imposed by people working in good faith) would prevent or at least put big obstacles in the way of Saddam starting up a nuclear program. One could also try and target the leadership class specifically, though I don't know how well that'd work. But anyway, sanctions are not an all or nothing affair, any more than war has to either be fought with nukes or alternatively with water pistols. That's what got the earlier "meta" argument going--it's not as if firebombing Dresden or Gandhian pacifism were our only two choices in fighting Hitler.

Some sanctions opponents also opposed "smart sanctions", on the grounds that the US had already shown so much bad faith in how it kept material out of Iraq on dual use grounds that it would continue to do something like this with the smart sanctions. To me that's an argument for imposing the sanctions honestly--if it turned out that we continued to act in bad faith then I'd oppose smart sanctions as well, but in theory they don't have to be murderous.

If we have contributed to famine deaths in North Korea, then we should stop doing that. I'm not familiar with that issue enough to say whether we've done this. I don't think food supplies contribute very much to nuclear weapons programs. That doesn't mean that aid to North Korea should be unlimited. Why do things have to be all or nothing?

Bruce,

I did not intend to imply you were in favor of killing civilians; my apologies. More to follow, I hope.

OCSteve: Whether its war or sanctions, isn’t holding a country’s people at risk the only real stick available to a world political body?

And so, if the US won't get out of Saudi Arabia, attack US civilians (for example, by flying planes into the WTC) to make clear to the US government that their country's people are at risk unless they do as al-Qaeda demands?

Seriously, OCSteve: nothing you have said before this has indicated you think it proper to have American civilians die for what the US government/military are doing. Yet that is the thrust of your argument here.

G'Kar: Much like going to war, I think that providing the power to do so invites abuse, so I actually lean towards Jesurgislac's definition if only because the current leadership in Washington has made it very clear they will take any loophole and drive through it at extremely high speed.

Exactly. Treat killing civilians - even in wartime - as a crime, just as torture is a crime. If you allow just a little bit of killing civilians to be legal, the loopholes will open up and more and more civilians will be killed: just as when the US decided that some torture, sometimes, ought to be legal and acceptable, the use of torture became widespread.

What the words "really" mean are the real-world actions they're connected to, not our fantasies about what ought happen.

I’m curious what stick should be employed then. When war is discussed, we hear that sanctions are working, or would work. Now it seems that sanctions are just too dastardly as well. So what stick does the UN then actually have?

My point is that it's important to notice what we're actually doing as opposed to our slogans.

It looks to me like what some sanctions actually did was to make Saddam more powerful in iraq. We said we were going to make his citizens suffer so they'd blame him for it, and they'd overthrow him or something. And the result was that his people got fed only because Saddam handed them food. So the way it weakend *Saddam* was that his people were malnourished and some of them starved. If he'd had more people and better-fed people he could have used them for more. We weakened him by starving civilians.

Similarly with some of the dual-use stuff. We wouldn't let him import chlorine gas because he could use it for poison gas. So his cities didn't get their water treated and some large number of babies and children died of diarrheal diseases. But it did make it harder for Saddam to make poison gas! Some american cities use ozonation instead which might possibly be better, but which is more expensive. It wasn't obvious that iraq had the money to switch.

Various people point out that Saddam built "palaces". They say "He built palaces while his people starved!" But see, construction didn't take imports. They could make cement -- that takes limestone and a heat source -- oil maybe -- and a lime kiln. They could make concrete with cement and sand and water. Etc. Given a labor surplus (more people than he had jobs for that needed importado) he lost nothing by putting the spare people to work using the spare cement made with spare oil. He could even pay them for honest work. In albania in the old days, facing a similar problem, they built lots and lots of bunkers and pillboxes. People called them "government mushrooms" because they sprang up everywhere. In a way they were wasted because nobody invaded, but maybe they discouraged invasion. Saddam's government buildings gave him places to put his hired government workers. And we're using them today for firebases.

I'm not sure what "stick" we should have used to beat Saddam. Sanctions helped keep Saddam from re-arming. (That's a specific real-world goal, not a punishment.) But then he made himself a whole lot of artillery shells and RPGs and AK47 copies, didn't he? Because he could. We made a big deal about Saddam having something like the fourth largest army in the world, but they weren't the least bit of a challenge when we invaded them. And notice -- any of Saddam's neighbors could have invaded iraq and probably gotten away with it pretty easy, and they didn't. Are they really more likely to invade if we pull out, than they were before we got Saddam?

So, what could we have done better? We could probably have done smarter sanctions and gotten just as good results for weakening Saddam militarily. But iraq's population would be larger now. I've met zionists who say the only good iraqi is a dead iraqi, and to them that would be a bad thing.

I think if we wanted to get rid of Saddam we'd have done better to buy iraq from him. That has lots of advantages. Much cheaper, we buy an intact country instead of one we've bombed, etc. Of course maybe he wouldn't sell at a reasonable price, but we at least should have asked.

I am pretty sure that OCSteve said "a world political body," which describes the UN but not al Qaeda. But then English is only my first language.

I am pretty sure that OCSteve said "a world political body," which describes the UN but not al Qaeda.

Depends who you ask.

Okay, that was moderate, for you. But you're right.

So, if killing half a million children was appropriate behavior for the UN Security Council in Iraq, how many American children should die for the actions of the Bush administration? (The US has never let UN inspectors ensure that the US is not producing WMD: and, unlike in Iraq, we can be confident that the US has the power to do so.) OCSteve, your contention is that it's only right to punish American civilians for this behavior. How many Americans are you willing to have die for this?

I am also not entirely sure al Qaeda has any right to make demands of anyone vis a vis Saudi Arabia.

Wait, which UNSC resolutions about the US are we discussing here?

(comments from you about what is "moderate"=ROFLZ)

"I’m curious what stick should be employed then. When war is discussed, we hear that sanctions are working, or would work. Now it seems that sanctions are just too dastardly as well."

Right, this is part of the left-wing two-step. When you are talking about war, sanctions are working, Saddam is being restrained from pursuing a nuclear program by the sanctions, etc. But stop talking about war for half a second, and suddenly we should be removing the sanctions, they don't really do anything other than hurt the innocent people, etc.

"Treat killing civilians - even in wartime - as a crime, just as torture is a crime. If you allow just a little bit of killing civilians to be legal, the loopholes will open up and more and more civilians will be killed"

Good point. Can we talk about the responsibility to separate yourself from civilians if you want to make war on someone? Ohh, I remember now, you don't care about that either.

Illustration of left-wing two step again.

Sebastian, you're confusing about three different lefties there. The center-left Clinton types defended sanctions. The somewhat further left could acknowledge that sanctions had contained Saddam while still thinking he could have been contained with "smart sanctions" which wouldn't have caused so much misery in Iraq. The furthest left could have said sanctions contained Saddam, but might not really have cared whether he was contained or not, and felt that smart sanctions would have been abused by the US.

I fall into the middle group. There was a moderate anti-sanctions activist named David Cortwright (or something close to that) who I thought was reasonable on this. He favored smart sanctions.

Your post is an illustration of the rightwing two-step, or if we can just dispense with dance analogies, it's an illustration yet again in this thread of how to polarize an issue beyond all reason. It's like you're frustrated that people keep pointing out moral constraints on possible actions we could take, so you pretend that every critic on the left would put so many constraints on that no action could be taken at all. I'd take your frustration a little more seriously if there was any chance that high-ranking US officials would face war crimes charges when they cross the line. Meanwhile, in the real world leftist moralizing doesn't seem to be a very serious constraint on US actions.


As for responsibilities to separate yourself from civilians, far too often the cry of human shields is used by people when human shields weren't being used, or when the side crying about human shields has been using them itself. (I'm talking about Israel there.)

In the case of Iraq, we invaded them for no just cause, so it's hard to see any justification for any civilian death we cause. Suppose insurgents got inside the Green Zone or better yet, came over here and took over part of DC. (The part where the politicians and bureaucrats are.) Would we use air strikes if important American lives were at stake?

Bruce,

To return to the earlier topic of how to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, I fear I am strongly pessimistic. There is little evidence the American people care about this stuff enough to make our politicians make the necessary changes. I take your point regarding the shift in public opinion on Iraq and the VP, but I'll wager a lot of that would shift yet again if, for example, the House were to take up impeachment proceedings against Cheney.

In any case, I believe that much of the problem stems from a Congress that has abandoned its responsibilities over the past 30 years (or more). From abortion to campaign finance reform to war, Congress does its very best to sidestep any issue that might be at all contentious. They'll pass an AUMF, but they won't take any responsibility for the conduct of the war, not even bothering to investigate the war in any way shape or form. Consider Congress during the U.S. Civil War or WWII, where much of Congress was investigating various aspects of the war to ensure it was being fought and resourced appropriately. We have none of that today, not even with the Democrats back at the helm.

Ultimately, the Constitution is nothing but a piece of paper. Because Congress has refused to exert its own prerogatives, the President has been able to push into realms that should not be permitted to him. Until that changes, any changes we make to the document itself would be cosmetic.

"Meanwhile, in the real world leftist moralizing doesn't seem to be a very serious constraint on US actions."

It isn't a good restraint on Saddam's action or Al Qaeda's action either, so I suppose you shouldn't worry too much.

"It's like you're frustrated that people keep pointing out moral constraints on possible actions we could take, so you pretend that every critic on the left would put so many constraints on that no action could be taken at all."

You could make the discussion process easier by arguing with Jesurgislac yourself instead of leaving all the line-drawing to people like me. You could be the one saying "Your 'no civilians should ever be damaged by our side in a war' stance isn't realistic. We should try to be careful, but we can't guarantee that no civilian gets hurt without rolling over to any tin-pot dictator who wants to take over anyone near him. Sebastian goes too far in thinking 'X' but that doesn't mean that 'no civilian ever gets hurt' is a workable way of doing things."

That almost never happens here. (Not absolutely never, just almost never).

However, on my end, I should be careful to name each person in a post about multiple people instead of just quoting them. I knew it was two people, but I can see how you would think I was conflating everyone.

Treat killing civilians - even in wartime - as a crime, just as torture is a crime.

Things tend to get disorganised in wars, and also lots of things get kept secret for decades afterward. The main thing that stops armies from doing bad things is military tradition.

So for example the US army has a tradition that we don't rape people. The number of french women raped by US soldiers during WWII was likely less than 10,000, and less than 50,000 german women. (There's a scholarly estimate of 3,620 such rapes in france in the first year of occupation, with 116 soldiers convicted. This is a very small number for a large army.) The reason the numbers are so small is that the US army has a tradition we don't do that kind of thing. Certainly not that it's illegal.

When military tradition changes to something we don't like, I'm real unclear what to do about it. Tell the soldiers that their new traditions are bad and all they hear is that we don't like our military, which after all is the only thing protecting us from foreign armies whose traditions are much worse.

I'm not sure where Jes stands--I think she might be a pacifist. I respect pacifists, but feel like I don't have the courage to be one. That is, if I were to be one I'd have to be willing to be martyred and facing that sort of situation, I think I'd rather shoot someone.

So I generally agree with most of Jes's criticisms of US foreign policy because in the world as it actually exists, we're so far from practicing just war theory in our actions that just war types and pacifists will agree most of the time about US actions. If Jes is a pacifist, it's not worth my time picking fights with her. I have gotten into fights with JThomas about Cambodia, which I don't want to rehash here, but mention it to say that I will jump on a fellow lefty (or I tend to read JThomas that way) sometimes. With pacifists I think they're wrong, but I admire the stance.

Donald Johnson: Why do things have to be all or nothing?

They don’t. I’m really talking about coercive sanctions though.

UN 660 – Saddam, get out of Kuwait right now.
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 661 – Heavy sanctions, get out now.
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 662 – Please?
Saddam – No.
UN 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, 677 – Pretty please?
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 678 – War.

Even the harshest sanctions did not help here. It came to war, but the harsh sanctions were left in place for years after that to continue to try to get Saddam to toe the line.

I submit that coercive sanctions are going to disproportionately impact the civilians of a country, more so than the political entity of that country. And even harsh sanctions may not be enough to make a country bow to the will of the UN.


Jes: Yet that is the thrust of your argument here.

OCSteve, your contention is that it's only right to punish American civilians for this behavior. How many Americans are you willing to have die for this?

You are mind reading and putting words in my mouth again.

But how do you disconnect a country’s people from its political entity on the world stage? Whether its war or sanctions, isn’t holding a country’s people at risk the only real stick available to a world political body? When carrots don’t work what remains?

I’m not making much of any argument – I raised the above question. And as Phil noted, I’m specifically talking about the UN (or whatever succeeds it). If war is out, and coercive sanctions are out, then what tool does the UN have left to enforce its decisions?

The reason the numbers [of military rapes] are so small is that the US army has a tradition we don't do that kind of thing. Certainly not that it's illegal.

Apparently a lot changed between the post-1945 occupation of Germany and the current moment, when a tradition of raping female U.S. soldiers is becoming well established.

In between are the Korean and Viet Nam/Southeast Asia wars, during which this 'tradition' didn't hold up so well either.

OCSteve: Maybe it doesn't actually have any good tools...though we haven't really given more focused sanctions nearly so much workout...and if it doesn't, maybe it should refrain from demands that can only lead to war. I certainly can't rule that out as an option.

In terms of sanctions that work, Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine opens with a scene where Libya is trying to negotiate out from under its sanctions regime by becoming a law-abiding member of the world community. In Suskind's account, Qadafi (like Saddam, no angel, as I'm sure you'll agree) ultimately got sick of things like the Libyan political elite not being able to send their kids to study at US colleges. He might not have cared about the little people, but when people whose opinions actually mattered started complaining to him, he finally relented and said "enough already."

Of course, in the propaganda version of the story, Qadafi actually got scared straight once he looked into George Bush's eyes or something like that, but let's deal in reality for a minute.

Each country is different. You need to understand where the levers of influence are and what sanctions you can impose to actually impact the people who have a chance to manipulate those levers.

If you starve the population at large, they have only two choices: violent revolution or continued suffering. You can hope for the revolution, but unless you have solid grounds to believe you're on the cusp of one, it's nothing but a hope.

But if you can find a way to make the elite suffer, now you have a chance of accomplishing something, because the dictator listens to the elite and their grievances. He maintains power by making life comfortable for his inner circle, after all.

Of course, the power of sanctions is dependent upon how many countries you can enlist to support them. If you work as a team with the world community, you have a lot of options. If you go about it unilaterally (for example, our Cuba policy), there are pretty severe limits on how much deprivation you can actually bring about. Again we see the importance of building alliances and remaining a member in good standing of the world community.

What we should have done about Saddam is an academic question at this point. But we can certainly try to learn something for when the next dictator came along. If the sanctions against Saddam's regime didn't work, starved a lot of people, and left us having to invade anyway at the end of the day, that's probably not a model we want to follow again. If the sanctions against Libya worked, then we want to see if that model can be successfully adapted to other situations. That's what we mean when we talk about "smart sanctions."

OCSteve:Even the harshest sanctions did not help here.

I seem to recall that the sanctions put in place on Saddam prior to GWI were there for less than six months, which seems to me to provide not much evidence that they were of any help (or at most that they don't work within a six month period).

Nell: when a tradition of raping female U.S. soldiers is becoming well established.

Is there stats or a story or something similar on this that you can link to? Just curious.

Oh, if sanctions are meant to enforce decisions then I wouldn't count on them much. It depends on what the leadership of the country is willing to endure. I think sanctions on South Africa are supposed to have worked, but in that case the targeted country was one where white people with the vote were oppressing blacks without the vote. Even then the sanctions hurt the blacks too, but anti-apartheid activists from South Africa claimed the people were willing to endure it, or so I've read. Under those circumstances I might support them. I wasn't following the issue closely enough at the time to have had a firm opinion then. I'm writing all this from memory.

"Smart" sanctions would have made it more difficult for Saddam to acquire weapons. They wouldn't have been coercive enough to do anything else, I suspect.

UN 660 – Saddam, get out of Kuwait right now.
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 661 – Heavy sanctions, get out now.
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 662 – Please?
Saddam – No.
UN 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, 677 – Pretty please?
Saddam – Bite me.
UN 678 – War.

Even the harshest sanctions did not help here.

Maybe part of the trouble was that Saddam and many iraqis felt that kuwait was part of iraq, cut away by the british. They thought they were right so they stuck to their guns.

I didn't think of it at the time, but looking back I'd have liked to see the following compromise suggested:

We tell Saddam that we'll respect kuwait as part of iraq if the kuwaiti people vote for it in a free election. Three choices. Let Saddam stay, bring back the Emir, or start a democracy. Pick first and second choices, unless only one is acceptable.

Say that Saddam negotiates and wants all the palestinian guest-workers to be able to vote too. That's fine with me. They don't have any better place to go, they're doing the work that full-citizen kuwaitis won't do because they're too rich on oil money, the citizens didn't fight for their country -- their mercenary army didn't do much good either. Why should the british get to decide a few people are rich and others have no country at all? So give up on that point and Saddam might think he has a pretty good chance of winning.

While we're setting up for the vote Saddam has every reason to treat the kuwaitis kindly. They're better off in the short run. Since it took a year before we were ready to attack, a vote wouldn't actually delay the attack if one needed to come.

We stage a vote. If it goes against Saddam and he pulls out, he can save face some, particularly if they choose a democracy instead. "Thank you for liberating us, Saddam, but it's time for us to go our own way." If he doesn't pull out he has even less justification for staying. The vote doesn't delay our attack. And if the voters choose not to bring back the Emir we wind up with an arab democracy, an example to the rest and a harbinger of freedom for the whole area.

It looks like it would have cost us nothing to try, though of course results were not guaranteed. The only possible bad outcome I see is that Saddam might possibly have won in a free election. I wouldn't like that but I'd accept it.

Relevant to the discussion of civilian casualties caused by U.S. military action, whether targeted or "collateral":

a new article by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian, basis of a forthcoming book, in which Iraq vets talk about their experiences with same.

@Ugh: This Salon article by Helen Benedict, also part of a forthcoming book. A story that probably won't be fully told anytime soon unless the deployments really end. Not looking good for that right now.

Thanks Nell.

You're welcome. I'll stipulate right off that the Karpinski story about deaths from dehydration is highly dubious. That does not, for me, discredit the tons of other evidence that rape of women military is at a high frequency in Iraq and out of control in the military in general -- including the service academies, where there isn't a shred of a mitigating factor.

Steve @ 1:43: Excellent response, just what I was hoping for. Sanctions focused to pressure the elite is not something I had ever considered. The obvious upside is that you don’t have to starve thousands of children to death. The first downside I can think of is that it may take more time than you think is available. OTOH, ‘elites’ do like their comforts so it may not take long to set them screaming. I think I can see that working if as you suggest sanctions are targeted correctly and widely supported.

What we should have done about Saddam is an academic question at this point. But we can certainly try to learn something for when the next dictator came along. If the sanctions against Saddam's regime didn't work, starved a lot of people, and left us having to invade anyway at the end of the day, that's probably not a model we want to follow again. If the sanctions against Libya worked, then we want to see if that model can be successfully adapted to other situations. That's what we mean when we talk about "smart sanctions."

Works for me, too.

Acting smart and learning from our failures and successes is what we should be doing.

Ugh: I seem to recall that the sanctions put in place on Saddam prior to GWI were there for less than six months, which seems to me to provide not much evidence that they were of any help (or at most that they don't work within a six month period).

True, that. But working in this context includes thousands of civilians starving to death. I know that’s not what you meant by it. I think another point I’m circling around here is that harsh sanctions are just as bad (almost as bad) for civilians as war is. Either one is likely to have a larger impact on innocent civilians than on the guy in charge, who will always get enough to eat on one hand, and have a nice bunker to hide out in on the other hand. If those are the only two arrows in the quiver and the UN is (understandably) reluctant to use either, then they really have little or no enforcement power. I was looking for a way around that, and I think Steve hit on at least a start.

In case it's not clear, OCSteve, I would really like there to be useful means of leverage well short of war, because I don't want a lot of wars, and I don't want a lot of evil going unresponded to.

Bruce: Then count me on your side.

I think we mostly differ only when we get down to really ripping things apart and looking at motivations etc. I think that on outcome we can agree 95% of the time.

"If the sanctions against Libya worked, then we want to see if that model can be successfully adapted to other situations."

The timeline doesn't make it clear that the Libya situation was a success for sanctions. He held out for almost 2 decades and then gave up right after Afghanistan and on the ramp up to the Iraq war.

The timeline doesn't make it clear that the Libya situation was a success for sanctions.

No, but the facts as reported by Suskind sure do. The idea that we scared Qadafi into immediate submission by our post-9/11 actions is a "pleasing tale," as Bob Somerby would say. Strange that Iran, et al. aren't so easily cowed, if it worked on Qadafi.

Sebastian: Can we talk about the responsibility to separate yourself from civilians if you want to make war on someone?

Certainly. So, the US government has a responsibility, in your eyes, to move the Pentagon out of Washington DC to somewhere where there are no civilians, before making war on someone? As this hasn't happened, do you feel that the US government is being irresponsible? Or is this something that just applies to other nations?

OCSteve: But working in this context includes thousands of civilians starving to death. I know that’s not what you meant by it. I think another point I’m circling around here is that harsh sanctions are just as bad (almost as bad) for civilians as war is. Either one is likely to have a larger impact on innocent civilians than on the guy in charge, who will always get enough to eat on one hand, and have a nice bunker to hide out in on the other hand.

Yep. On the other hand, setting economic incentives for change creates, well... change. (See Turkey and the European Union.)

But, for all Iraq's human rights problems (prior to the US invasion) Saudi Arabia, right next door, has almost as many, if of a slightly different kind.

Rather than building up Saddam Hussein as an uniquely evil dictator who had to be stopped, enforcing human rights agreements already in place might have worked - but would not have been an acceptable solution if it had meant enforcing human rights agreements globally.

J Thomas: We tell Saddam that we'll respect kuwait as part of iraq if the kuwaiti people vote for it in a free election. Three choices. Let Saddam stay, bring back the Emir, or start a democracy. Pick first and second choices, unless only one is acceptable.

Say that Saddam negotiates and wants all the palestinian guest-workers to be able to vote too.

And the women.

Women weren't entitled to vote in Kuwaiti elections until a few years ago - well after the Gulf War. A free election including women would never have been accepted by Kuwaiti men...

On the other hand, setting economic incentives for change creates, well... change.

I saw an interesting claim about syria.

A number of people have claimed that syria's economy is hamstrung by government bureaucrats. Syrians who get significant money prefer to invest it elsewhere because it brings in a higher return elsewhere. So syria has been strapped for investment money.

But we got sanctions put on syria. Syrians are no longer allowed to invest elsewhere, and their money isn't safe in foreign hands. So that money has come home and syria is getting more investment than before.

There are things about this story that don't quite make sense to me, but I find it fascinating if true.

"So, the US government has a responsibility, in your eyes, to move the Pentagon out of Washington DC to somewhere where there are no civilians, before making war on someone?"

If we weren't already the US, we could bomb the Pentagon without hitting nearby civilian buildings. It is close to civilian buildings, but it is a separate entity. (Now if they were to nuke it there would be other issues).

Of course we would only be so lucky to have non-civilian targets as separate as the Pentagon.

Jes: But, for all Iraq's human rights problems (prior to the US invasion) Saudi Arabia, right next door, has almost as many, if of a slightly different kind.

I’ve long been in favor of doing something about SA. Invading them and stealing all their oil comes to mind first…
;)

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