- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2000

The United States is currently providing help to a number of nations engulfed in humanitarian crises, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and I can think of another that certainly fits the bill. In the aftermath of wars that wrecked the economy, its people have suffered widespread malnutrition, epidemics of disease, and soaring child and infant mortality. This country would be a perfect candidate for American help — if it weren't Iraq.

In the 10 years since Saddam Hussein launched his ill-fated invasion of Kuwait, the people of Iraq have had to bear the burden not only of a bloodthirsty tyrant, but also the weight of an international economic embargo. The embargo, championed mainly by Washington, has largely failed to achieve its objectives, but every failure is cited as proof that it must continue.

Continue it probably will, because Hussein refuses to meet our price for lifting the sanctions. Last week, the UN assembled a new team of arms inspectors who are supposed to go into Iraq and make sure it has no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD). “If the Iraqis don't comply,” threatened a U.S. official, “the sanctions will stay in place.” But the government in Baghdad promptly advised the UN to go take a long walk off a short pier.

This response was no surprise. Hussein is about as likely to accede to our demands as he is to star in a Broadway musical. In fact, the only reason to propose new inspections is for the pleasure of seeing Iraq reject them, giving us an excuse to maintain our policy.

Hussein is quite willing to weather the sanctions in order to continue his effort to acquire armaments we don't want him to have. He's been doing that for 10 years now. The only way he would accept international monitors is if he were confident he could prevent them from carrying out their mission — not because he's ready to go straight and wants his change of heart confirmed.

The UN inspectors were inside Iraq for years, and though they found a lot of forbidden munitions and facilities, Hussein managed to keep them from finding everything they were looking for. As RAND Corp. analyst Daniel Byman has noted, the inspections “never led to the ultimate success: a complete accounting of Iraq's programs and the destruction of all WMD materials.” For all our trouble, Iraq is still presumed to have chemical and biological weapons, if not nuclear ones.

So we are back to the usual minuet: We demand cooperation on arms inspections, he refuses, and we mete out punishment, trying to starve or bomb Iraq into submission — neither of which ever works. In the end, things are the same as they were before, give or take a few bomb craters.

That may be frustrating for us, but it's really no picnic for the people of Iraq, whose country has been turned into a permanent disaster area. As the organization Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year, the sanctions carry “a high human price, paid primarily by women and children. The food rationing system provides less than 60 percent of the required daily calorie intake, the water and sanitation systems are in a state of collapse, and there is a critical shortage of life-saving drugs.”

Thanks to the lack of clean water, diseases like cholera have become commonplace. Malnutrition is rampant. Infant and child mortality have more than doubled in the last decade. Hundreds of thousands of people have died due to this multitude of woes.

American policy makers disavow any blame for such consequences, saying it rests entirely on Saddam Hussein, who has diverted his country's meager resources into building up his military arsenal rather than alleviating the misery of his subjects. But even UN experts admit that life in Iraq would be much less grim without the embargo.

Of course, there are unfortunate occasions when we have to inflict hardship on innocent people to achieve something vital. In this case, though, we haven't accomplished our goal, and we're not about to. That makes it hard to justify long-distance torture of ordinary Iraqis, who have no more control over their leader than we do.

Absent a U.S. invasion, we ultimately can't deprive Hussein of weapons on mass destruction, any more than we were able to deprive Stalin or Mao. What we can do to him is exactly what we did with those enemies: Make clear that any use of such weapons will assure our cataclysmic retaliation. Unlike our current policy, that one has been shown to work.

The U.S. government has always said we have no quarrel with the people of Iraq, only with their leader. Maybe it's time we started acting like it.

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