Now that we are committed to fighting Iraq, it is worth taking a second look at the main argument that got us here. Namely, that Saddam defied the United Nations for twelve years without serious consequence. He did not disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction as demanded by the cease-fire resolutions that ended the Gulf War.
Though trumpeted by the administration, analysts and media pundits, this argument is a gross distortion of what actually happened.
In April of 1991, the UN Security Council passed resolution 687, laying out detailed disarmament obligations for Baghdad in exchange for lifting the economic embargo on Iraq. It was a straight-ahead deal and Saddam accepted it willingly.
But on May 20, two weeks before UNSCOM was slated to begin their inspections, something happened that changed everything. The first President Bush declared that Washington was reneging on the cease-fire deal, that Iraqi disarmament was not the real issue, Saddam was.
“At this juncture,“ President Bush said, “my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.”
That same day Secretary of State James Baker confirmed the Presidentés intention, saying, “We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power“ (“AUTOPSY OF A DISASTER: THE U.S. SANCTIONS POLICY ON IRAQ,“ The Institute For Public Accuracy).
Presumably, Bush and company were intensely frustrated that Saddamés regime had survived the Gulf War. The conflict with Baghdad would continue, at least on the political level, even if it meant jeopardizing the main agreement to disarm Iraq.
Just to be fair, the Clinton administration also indicated the same disregard for resolution 687 as well as the neurotic preoccupation with Saddam.
But let‘s stick to events in 1991. By June, when UNSCOM began their work in Baghdad, the attitude of the Iraqis had shifted from one of willingness to suspicion and hostility. What should have been simple exchanges of technical information became painstaking conversations and debates. Easy trips to banned weapons sites turned into maddening hunts across miles of featureless desert.
The Iraqis were purposely resistant, reported UNSCOM, and inspection work was tedious and difficult.
Why were the Iraqis making it hard for the inspectors? Simple. They had already been advised by the U.S. that the UN cease-fire deal was moot – that even if Iraq were to be declared disarmed, full implementation of resolution 687 would be blocked by the U.S. at the Security Council and the sanctions would stay on.
For Saddam, the only way to ever attain sanctions relief was to turn the tables on the United States, to use the disarmament process itself to expose Washington’s defiant position toward the U.N.
Now the events of the last twelve years can be seen in a completely different light. Hussein‘s maddeningly slow pace of disarmament, his “cheat and retreat“ pattern of compliance, is not an attempt to keep his prohibited arms, but a methodically designed counter-attack to bring scrutiny upon our unjust position.
The result? A severe weakening of the once-unified coalition against Iraq and a near-total collapse of U.S. stature throughout much of the world.
Seeing all this happen, one might have thought the new Bush administration would have got wise and decided to back the disarmament mandate to the letter, thus making it possible to eventually end the crisis and avoid war.
Any hope of that was all but dashed last November by Secretary of State Colin Powell: “If Iraq gives up all its banned weapons,“ asked a UN reporter, “will the U.S. vote to lift sanctions?“ “We‘l have to look at that,“ Powell replied.
What all of this means is that it is not Saddam or the UN who is ultimately responsible for the current situation but the last three American administrations.
The present war is an indirect acknowledgement that this is the case, that we were in danger of becoming exposed as the main party at fault, and that Saddam had become so strong that he had to be destroyed at almost any cost.
Whatever tragic events happen now, our leaders in Washington are ultimately to blame.