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Which way for the anti-sanctions movement
By Brian Becker
4 Aug 2000
It’s no surprise that there is increasing worldwide opposition to the U.S.-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq. Five thousand perfectly blameless infants and children perish each month in Iraq because they are unable to get clean drinking water, adequate food and even the most basic medicines.
There is now a worldwide movement demanding an end to sanctions. Unfortunately, one sector of this growing movement has injected a new demand into its slogans: calling for the continuation of “military sanctions” against Iraq.
Some of these same groups actually raised the slogan “sanctions not war” back in 1990.
The International Action Center, which has campaigned relentlessly for the last 10 years against sanctions, has issued a powerful statement explaining the disastrous effects of adopting a demand that sanctions be reshaped instead of immediately terminated (on the World Wide Web at http://www.iacenter.org/delink.htm ).
Unless this slogan is repudiated it could seriously weaken and derail the movement.
“Those who want to stop the Iraqi people’s suffering must direct their demand at the aggressors, at the U.S. and Britain whose war planes bomb Iraq routinely, almost daily, who have dropped thousands of bombs on Iraq in the last year,” says Sara Flounders, co-director of the IAC.
The United States and Britain are bombing Iraq. Iraq has never bombed the cities of the United States. The progressive movement must ask itself: Does Iraq have the right to defend itself against such attacks? Shouldn’t anti-war forces in the United States call for demilitarizing the Pentagon instead of demilitarizing the victims of U.S. aggression?
A tactic in a larger war
Why does the United States maintain the sanctions and blockade of Iraq?
Is it just a mistaken policy by U.S. political leaders that needs some “humanitarian” fine-tuning? Or should sanctions be understood as a tactic in a larger multi-pronged war to return Iraq to the status of semi-colonial slavery?
Should the progressive movement oppose sanctions because that tactic causes undue harm to civilians? Or should it also reject the imperialist goals and objectives that are the real motivation for a destabilization strategy that includes economic sanctions, routine bombings of the country, CIA covert operations, plans to assassinate the Iraqi leadership, creating no- flight zones over most of the country, and placing tens of thousands of U.S. troops, warships, aircraft and advanced missiles on the outer perimeters of Iraq?
The sanctions against Iraq began 10 years ago, in August 1990. The Bush administration bullied the United Nations into imposing economic sanctions as a prelude to the full-scale 1991 air war against Iraq.
The sanctions were initially put into place to help evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait, according to the propaganda of the Bush administration. Iraq had invaded Kuwait, an oil-rich territory under the domination of an U.S.-backed monarchy, in August 1990, after a protracted and complicated dispute between the two countries.
The original pretext for the economic sanctions was a lie. It was purely for public consumption. If the sanctions were meant only to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait then why, nearly a decade after the last Iraqis left, does the United States still impose the “most complete embargo of any country in modern times,” in the words of Samuel Berger, President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser?
Two blockades: Iraq and Cuba
The unstated but fairly obvious reason that Washington carries out the economic blockade of Iraq is that it wants to destabilize the country, overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein and replace it with a pro-U.S. regime. The United States has tried the same thing against socialist Cuba.
The political leaderships in Iraq and Cuba are very different. Cuba’s leadership is communist and the Iraqi government is anti-communist. But both governments have one thing in common. Iraq and Cuba both suffered the impoverishment and humiliation of colonialism and neo-colonialism imposed by U.S. and British imperialism.
Both countries had far-reaching revolutions within a year of each other–1958 and–1959. Both revolutions immediately came under direct aggression from the imperialist overlords who had colonized or enslaved their countries.
The Iraqi Revolution in 1958 prompted Britain to rush thousands of troops to fortify its hold on tiny but oil-rich Kuwait. As it had with Hong Kong in China, British colonialism sliced the key port area of Kuwait out of Iraq and declared it a British protectorate. While British troops secured Kuwait in 1958, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched 10,000 U.S. marines to Lebanon the very next day to shore up Washington’s own interests.
In the case of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Eisenhower ordered the CIA to begin planning the assassination of Fidel Castro. Two years later, under John F. Kennedy, the U.S. government organized a mercenary invasion of Cuba by CIA- trained counter-revolutionaries.
Cuba used socialist economic methods to bring literacy, full employment and free universal health care to its people. It was able to free itself of economic neocolonial enslavement by integrating into the trading bloc with the Soviet Union, East Germany and the other socialist countries.
Although Iraq nationalized its oil industry and other economic sectors, its revolution never went beyond the boundaries of capitalist property rights. But because of its vast oil wealth and the nationalist development model adopted by the leadership, Iraq too was able to effect rapid social and economic progress for the mass of the population after the 1958 revolution.
Official U.S. policy has been hostile to both Iraq and Cuba since their revolutions. The “hostility” was remarkably consistent regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat occupied the White House.
The only exception to the policy of unmitigated hostility was during the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988. The United States supplied weapons to Iraq and encouraged Iraq’s initial military actions against Iran in 1980. But this should be understood for what it was: a cynical ploy to weaken and exhaust the 1979 Iranian mass revolution that had swept out the dynastic rule of the shah—whose army had served as proxy and gendarme for the Pentagon and CIA in the Persian Gulf.
The United States armed Iraq to fight Iran in the early 1980s—but it also sent arms to Iran, as was revealed during the 1986 Iran-Contra hearings in Congress. In the words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “We wanted them to kill each other.”
Once Washington had accomplished its objective of weakening the Iranian Revolution through the war between Iran and Iraq, Pentagon war doctrine was reconfigured to target Iraq as the next “potential enemy.” Plans and complex war games for a U.S. war with Iraq were drafted in 1988, immediately after the close of the Iran-Iraq war and two years before Iraq fatefully sent its troops against the Kuwaiti mon archy in August 1990. (“The Fire This Time,” Ramsey Clark, Thundersmouth Press, 1992)
Slogans should be consistently anti-imperialist
The U.S. government represents the interests of Big Oil and the biggest imperialist banks. It seeks to dominate the Middle East not to bring “human rights” and “democracy” but to possess and profit from the fabulous oil wealth under the soil.
Iraq has 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Combined with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, this region contains the largest share of oil on the planet.
Effective sanctions of any type, be they for economic or military commodities, require the sanctioning countries to position military forces around the targeted country so that ships, trucks and airplanes can be interdicted and searched. Thus, calling for the United States or UN to maintain military sanctions on Iraq provides a political and even “legal” justification for the continued military occupation of the Gulf region by U.S. military forces.
From a practical point of view, if the demand for U.S./UN economic sanctions to be replaced by “military sanctions” were realized, it would still have a devastating impact on Iraq’s civilian population. The United States would claim that almost anything that the civilian economy imports could also be used for military applications.
Referring to these items as “dual use” commodities, the United States has already halted or postponed 450 out of every 500 contracts that were approved by the UN Sanctions Committee under the much touted Oil-for-Food program.
Washington will use the category of “military sanctions” as a technical method to prevent Iraq from acquiring commodities that are essential for sustaining civilian economy and human life. For example, the United States has banned pencils for schoolchildren because these pencils contain graphite, which is also a lubricant. It has banned batteries, X-ray machines and ambulances because they could be used in military conflicts.
Iraq is now barred from importing adequate supplies of chlorine to purify its water. Why chlorine? It could be used as a component in a chemical weapon.
Computers too have potential military uses. So importing computers has been prohibited for 10 years.
It can only miseducate the broad public about the real issues in the Middle East if the progressive movement supports the imperialist powers in demanding the demilitarization of Iraq. The movement cannot be consistently progressive without thoroughly exposing the true dynamics of imperialist military and political strategy that tries to re-colonize the Arab people.
International Action Center
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