- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Even as workers continue to sift through the wreckage of the World Trade Center for bodies and American troops search the mountains in Afghanistan for terrorists; the State Department has returned to its ante bellum program of relaxing sanctions of Iraq. The U.N. Security Council Tuesday unanimously approved an overhaul of sanctions aimed at speeding up civilian goods for ordinary Iraqis but maintaining bans on military supplies. The United States had introduced the resolution May 6, with Russia, France, Britain and China as cosponsors.

This change in policy is the "smart sanctions" approach Secretary of State Colin Powell came into office espousing. He explained the new policy at the Arab American Institute Foundation, May 5, 2001. "The Iraqi regime has attempted to blame the U.N. sanctions regime for the difficulties of daily life faced by the people of Iraq. But it is the regime that is at fault.

Nevertheless, we are going to work with the United Nations and our Arab friends to revise the sanctions policy, so it is directed exclusively at preventing Iraq from a military buildup and developing weapons of mass destruction, and to do it in a way that does not hurt the people of Iraq."

The attitude of the State Department, which has favored containing rather than overthrowing Saddam Hussein, hasn't changed even though the terrorist attacks of September 11 supposedly changed the imperatives of America policy.

The image presented by the White House and Pentagon has been that threats to the United States would no longer be appeased or contained; they would be confronted and removed. Popular discontent with tyrants in rogue states, an attitude fueled by the deprivations caused by sanctions, could be exploited to generate political change. People whose living standards had been reduced by their isolation from the international community would be told their only path to a better life for themselves and their children would be through removal of the failed regimes that have crippled their societies.

The State Department, however, has been sensitive to charges that sanctions have hurt the Iraqi people. Saddam has skillfully used the claim that children are being starved to death in Iraq to build international sympathy for his regime, even as he continues to pour billions into secret weapons programs and grandiose public monuments glorifying himself as savior of the Arab people. The "oil for food" program, which the U.N. resolution extends for another six months, was an earlier response to these Iraqi propaganda ploys.

Mr. Powell's audience has not just been human rights groups. He was also addressing other nations wanting to trade with Iraq, so as to keep them in the containment coalition. Syria, Egypt, and Turkey were selling goods to Baghdad. Jordan has been an open border. Economic ties had deepened between Iraq and European countries such as France and Russia. Indeed, lax U.S. enforcement against these "blockade runners" had allowed the sanctions to largely collapse under the Clinton administration.

Johanna McGeary, writing the May 13 cover story for Time magazine, found in Baghdad, "Fancy shops selling the goods of globalization line the posh streets of the al-Mansur neighborhood, and even the poor man's market in the Washash neighborhood peddles plentiful fruit and cheap Chinese TVs."

She goes on to report that "to keep those same long-suffering Iraqis from rebelling against him." the gains from trade "once reserved for the purpose of bribing regime loyalists, is now being spread around to the populace."

The problems with the "smart sanctions" approach are thus abundantly clear. Saddam will continue to pursue his weapons programs in the same wily fashion as before. In the absence of a robust inspection effort inside Iraq, there is not much more the U.S. can do to block military supplies. The only real change will be that Saddam can take credit for the improved economic situation that will follow the weakening of sanctions as a triumph of his will over the forces of American imperialism. Domestic discontent will ease, while the increased presence of foreign capitalists will create more adherents to the status quo, add legitimacy to Saddam's regime and pour more money into the Iraqi treasury.

The control of "dual use" goods flowing to Iraq was not very effective even without dropping barriers further. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Sunday Times of London March 21, "The fact remains that the sanctions [leak] and that things are getting in under dual-use, under the guise of dual-use, that are being immediately turned to military advantage. The question people in the world have to ask is: How do you feel about that, to be providing that type, under the guise of oil and food?" The sad answer is that to international traders willing to make any deal, with any tyrant with the money to buy, it feels pretty good and will only get better.

The White House and Defense Department continue to plan ways to overthrow Saddam. Attention has focused on military action. There must, however, be a political plan to replace Saddam with a new government that can gain the support of the Iraqi people, thus making the American war effort a campaign of liberation. Morale is said to be low in the Iraqi army, whose troops reflect the general mood of despair throughout society. It thus seems like an odd time to be taking steps to improve the conditions of the Iraqi people while Saddam is still in power.


William R. Hawkins is senior fellow in national security studies for the U.S. Business and Industrial Council Education Foundation.


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