Clinton's Rampage

[By Edward Said]

Seventy-nine percent of the American people say they are for the bombing of Iraq, 86 percent say that God loves them, 57 percent don't want Bill Clinton impeached, 62 percent believe that he bombed Iraq for good, rather than personal, reasons... and so on, while each evening 200 Cruise missiles fall on Baghdad, darkness compounding the terrors of bombardment. For the American home audience, everything about this attack has been miniaturised and sanitised for living room delectation _ lots of reassuring percentages, small green images, tiny cluster bombs, invisible missiles, three-second sound bites, abstract phrases like "degrading Saddam's assets" and "men and women in harm's way", 24,000 unseen troops on aircraft carriers and cruisers, high-flying B-1 bombers and Tornadoes. Iraq (sometimes pronounced "Eye-rack") has now become synonymous only with Saddam "Hoossein" _ not with several million people, nor with an astounding 6,000 years of civilisation, nor with the suffering of untold thousands who have endured the most vicious discipline of economic sanctions in history. Unimpeachable human rights agencies have estimated that 5,000 children die every month as the result of the sanctions, but only a few public personalities _ former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark chief among them _ have campaigned on behalf of Iraq's innocent civilians.

Contrast these horrors with what Leslie Gelb, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, was quoted as saying in the New York Times on 18 December: "I'm very happy to hit Saddam over the head... But I want to know the answers," those withheld answers presumably being American war aims, or strategic objectives, as yet pretty unspecific. No concrete awareness among macho commentators of actual Iraqi human beings, streets, water supply, electrical power, the difficult travail of daily life without accessible food and shelter. Just Saddam being hit over the head by Operation Desert Fox (is it a complete coincidence that this massive, terribly one-sided button-pushing exercise _ hardly a conflict _ is named after Hitler's field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika corps, or is it just the clever phrasing of an inventive young wordsmith in the Pentagon?).

Undoubtedly Saddam Hussein is a dreadful ruler, a disaster for his country. Certainly he has lied to UNSCOM, tried to rebuild his weapons programs, and, through his nightmarish Baath Party apparatus (to say nothing of his ghoulish sons), continues to tyrannise his people. Of course he is responsible for continuing to provoke the Americans, but at what point does it become plainly immoral to extract the price of his malfeasance from his largely innocent people? Why must they suffer the burden of his rule as well as the unconscionably protracted sanctions, plus the bombing? Shouldn't we remind ourselves that Saddam was supported by the US and Britain during the '70s and '80s, seen as a foil to Iran and a potential ally in the Gulf, avidly courted by Western corporations hungry for the country's plentiful oil supplies, eager to profit from its modernising ambition, and its enormous industrial and agricultural potential? Even his Arab enemies loved his swagger. When I was in Kuwait in 1985, a voluble minister gave me a lecture on how great a man Saddam was, champion of the Arabs "against the Persians", as he grandly put it, boasting that Kuwait was subsidising the shameful war against Iran.

Since 1991, Iraq has become the convenient devil of US foreign policy, linked to Islam, terrorism, fundamentalism and thereby targeted for occasional military strikes and as a useful testing ground for high-tech weapons. So far, no one has been able to dislodge Saddam from power, certainly not the 60 or 70 exile organisations that squabble among themselves and receive CIA and congressional aid to no avail. As for the weapons inspectors and their mandate, it is difficult to imagine that any sovereign country could ever have complied with such demands as they put. Admittedly, Iraq cheated, but which country in similar circumstances wouldn't have? After each crisis the requirements increased: what Richard Butler and his people did surely went far beyond any UN resolution, none of which included the sharing of intelligence information about Iraq with Israel. At the US's behest, Butler has been too zealous, always adding preposterous conditions to his inspections, e.g. a demand for lists of the 14,000 people associated with the Iraqi nuclear programme, an order to enter and search the Foreign Ministry, etc.

The worst part of the UNSCOM mission was that Iraq's defenceless people were never promised any lifting of the sanctions at all. Punishment was offered no matter what happened, with procedures in sheer sadistic cruelty that Dennis Haliday, the UN expert in charge of administering the oil for food programme, could not tolerate, therefore resigning. To read the 30. April UNICEF Report with its minutely detailed chronicle of malnutrition, rising illiteracy, poverty, socio-economic breakdown, the absence of health care, medicine and hospital facilities is to be amazed that a purportedly humane country like America could keep turning the screws so callously. But with people like Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, and William Cohen in charge _ all of them "policy" second-raters with no record of independent thought _ what could one expect? No wonder the sycophantic Tony Blair felt at ease in such mediocre company.

Even worse has been the public discourse about Iraq. Bad enough during the Gulf War, the TV commentaries and reports have become more efficient and technically clever, on the one hand, more bloodless and uncritical on the other. All the main channels have totally eliminated dissent or critical views. The expert witnesses are retired military people who supply the viewer with acres of technical information, most of it delivered in awe-struck, patriotic, proprietary ("we've hit them again") and utterly bland tones. Reporters in Baghdad are periodically required to tell us "what it feels like". NBC's star, Tom Brokaw, presented an eyewitness Baghdad report of a missile landing nearby with the homey preface, "Here's what it's like to be there, up close and personal." For all the reporters and anchormen, though, this is only a job, a crisis to be visited, then vacated when it's over. Iraq in the interim simply doesn't exist. I searched the libraries for recent books about Iraq that described it as a real country, not as a strategic problem. I found only one, Noha Al-Radi's excellent Baghdad diary. Finally then, the man whose conflagration this is. A dangerous combination of sentimentality and cynical opportunism, there are no lengths to which Bill Clinton will not go to cover up and somehow try to rescue himself. He's tried them all. Abject apology, brazen toughness, casuistic sophistry ("it depends what `is' is"), simpering patriotism, and, since the second half of this year, murderous air strikes. Who cares about his sordid oral sex and pizza in a White House corridor with Monica? It's his unauthorised, homicidal forays against Sudan, Afghanistan and now Iraq that are the truly impeachable crimes. Clearly, though, he knows how to exploit the American penchant for cruel wars of extermination against lesser, dehumanised creatures, and just as clearly he can elicit all the necessary ideological cant about backing "our" forces during their ordeal at the front. A brain-washed population with no time or opportunity to resist does not stand in his way.

With no plan for what is to come after an attack that is intended miraculously to remove Saddam (what does that aim have to do with causing extensive "collateral damage?"), Clinton is prepared to face the disastrous aftermath by sanctimoniously referring back to UN resolutions and the international community, leaving someone else to clean up the mess. Considering that he is the leader of a country that, along with Israel, has flouted more Security Council resolutions, has more unpaid UN bills, and has refused to sign more international conventions (including those against chemical and biological weapons) than any other, this is truly outrageous. But such is American power, and its almost totally negative result is that both Clinton and Saddam will survive to wreak more havoc on new victims.

Quelle: Al-Ahram Weekly