How Deep Is America’s Loathing for Iraq

It’s always useful, in a debate, to be able to cite sources from your opponent’s side. But, has it really come to this: The definitive case against invading Iraq may now be coming from the Central Intelligence Agency?

The Bush administration was struggling last week to figure out what spin could possibly be put on a letter, written by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet, which pretty much demolishes the United States case for invading Iraq.

The letter, released by U.S. Senate Democrats, reveals the CIA considers Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is unlikely to launch an unprovoked attack, but the chances of him responding to An American attack — including with biological or chemical weapons — are “pretty high.”

So, it would follow that — although the CIA director, for obvious reasons, didn’t go on to say this — only a fool would invade Iraq. One possible conclusion is that somebody should investigate whether Tenet is really a loyal American (certainly, anyone without CIA credentials making this sort of point would be quickly branded anti-American).

Another possible conclusion is that the CIA is onto something here. The CIA letter highlights the bizarre paradox of Washington’s behaviour.

Although President George Bush always couches talk of invasion in terms of enhancing American security, it’s hard to imagine a more reckless policy when it comes to that very security.

The obvious way to make America safer would be to reduce the level of hatred people in many parts of the world feel toward America. But this would require Washington to change its behaviour, to become less aggressive and intrusive in the affairs of other countries.

Yet, after a year of discussion of how to deal with the terrorist threat, we seem no closer to actually addressing any of this. Discussion of the so-called “root causes” of terrorism is still pretty much off-limits, risking the charge of being unsympathetic to September 11 victims. Instead, we’re encouraged to keep our gaze fixed on the evil that lurks in parts of the world where people wear those odd, loose-fitting garments. U.S. brutality abroad is the elephant in the room from which we’re supposed to politely divert our gaze.

So, for instance, anyone who’s turned on a TV in the last year knows about Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds. Less well known is the death of some 1.5 million Iraqis — including, according to the United Nations (UN), 500,000 children — caused by the economic sanctions which Washington strong-armed the U.N. Security Council to adopt and maintain since 1991. In an article in Harper’s magazine this month, U.S. academic Joy Gordon documents how Washington has consistently and deliberately used the sanctions to block Iraq from obtaining every sort of vital good — including dialysis, cardiac and dental equipment, incubators and ventilators for intensive care units, equipment for processing milk, bread and yogurt and, most serious of all, generators to run water-treatment plants.

With millions of Iraqis therefore obliged to drink water contaminated by raw sewage, diseases which had been largely eradicated in Iraq, have made a comeback; thirteen per cent of all Iraqi children are now dead before their fifth birthday. If these sanctions aren’t a weapon of mass destruction, what should we call them?

Gordon shows how, time and again, the U.S. (and often Britain) has blocked Iraq’s access to some desperately needed item, while other Security Council members have tried to get it through.

Delegates from Russia, China and France, for instance, readily approved a Syrian proposal in 2000 to build a flourmill in Iraq, after a U.N. report found twenty-five per cent of children in southern and central Iraq suffered from malnutrition. The delegate from the U.S., however, blocked the project, insisting that approval of the mill was “premature.”

These sorts of details are well known in the Middle East, where claims of U.S. benevolence and respect for human rights have long been treated with skepticism. Watching their children die as a result of American actions, Iraqis might well ask: Why do they hate us so? — a question that will undoubtedly come up again when the U.S. invasion begins.

Gordon’s point is, in fact, similar to the one raised implicitly by the CIA director: Is this really the way to make us safe?

Is the mass killing of innocent people — whether by bombs or sanctions — likely to be forgiven or forgotten any time soon by those losing loved ones? We can arm ourselves to the teeth but, as Gordon powerfully notes, “the worst destruction done on U.S. soil by foreign enemies was accomplished with little more than hatred, ingenuity and box cutters.”

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