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The Obligation of the Truly Moral Country

by Ryan Ringer
Friday May 30, 2003

One of the many things that the western world trumpets so loudly is its caring nature, its willingness to help other countries, and its good will towards nations of the world. It also points with pride towards the democratic institutions under which it thrives, and prospers, and lives so freely. However, rarely to most westerners stop to think about how much of this is just talk, and how much of this is actually present in its actions abroad. Many would, indeed, be shocked to find that many western leaders merely pay lip service to such lofty goals as �democracy� and �freedom.� Elected officials in the west may be in power by mandate of the people, but the internal freedom of a country in no way necessitates that it will support freedom abroad. Such is the case with the United States and its foreign policy towards Iraq. It is no secret that the United States and Iraq were allies in the 1980�s, and that the alliance fell apart only after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq�s Saddam Hussein. Also widely known is that, for the past decade, and then some, Iraq had sanctions imposed against it, plunging the country into the status of a third world country. What does not occur often, however, is a critical analysis of this policy. It is easy for one to write off US policy in Iraq as nothing more than a temporary mistake, or even an advantage to the United States. But is this not the fatal arrow in the United States� justification for its policy towards Iraq? No one would contend that the United States is not democratic and working for the will of the people, as much as a democracy of its kind can do, at home, unless of course it is in reference to a certain November 2000 election. And no one would contend, either, that the United States proudly espouses its democratic values to the world, hailing itself as the greatest democracy on the planet. But do either of these translate into its foreign policy? The answer, is no. In particular, United States foreign policy towards Iraq has had little to do with the will of the people, the people of Iraq at least, and has had nothing to do with democracy. It has been totally in US self-interest. It was because of US interest that Saddam Hussein was able to amass such power. It was because of US interests that the persecution and murder of Iraqis was ignored by the US for the sake of continuing good relations with Hussein. It was because of US interests that business was routinely conducted with the tyrant, and it was because of US interests that Hussein invaded Kuwait, and ultimately was left in power after this invasion, free to brutally repress the resistance forces that had risen up to overthrow him. While this type of self-interested foreign policy may be forgiven by those who cannot see the larger issue, it must be taken to task given that the United States so frequently labels itself as the champion of freedom and democracy in the world. To that end, the United States had, and still has a moral obligation to help the people of Iraq, by providing them with the democratic institutions, the freedom and the relieving security of the person that they have desired for so long.

In 1979, two significant events in Middle East history took place. Saddam Hussein anointed himself president of Iraq (�Iraq History��), and an Islamic revolution occurred in Iran. As a result, the United States lost control of Iran, which had of course been ruled by the repressive Shah, who was nothing more than a US puppet in the region. (Jacobs) The Iranian issue is yet another where criticism of US foreign policy is warranted, given their support and installation of the Shah, but regardless, Iraq was soon to become a great US ally. Saddam Hussein, in all his greed, declared war against Iran in September of 1980. (�Iraq History��) His goal was nothing less than complete domination of the Gulf, and since the new government in Iran was opposed to the United States, the US was happy to support their new favourite dictator in the Middle East. During the war, which killed well over one million people, the United States offered unconditional support to Saddam Hussein. (Windrem) This despite the fact that he was known for being a particularly brutal and repressive dictator, even more so than the Shah. In one instance, he had killed 13 Jews, on charges of conspiracy, and also had several members of his own party killed, merely to demonstrate his power. (A&E) Clearly, this man was not the lesser of two evils. In fact, one could argue that his reign of terror was much more horrifying than that of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. And yet, the United States went so far as to provide him with chemical weapons, which he gladly used against the Iranian soldiers. (Windrem) Hussein later went on to use these weapons against the Kurds, in the North of Iraq. (Chomsky 2000, 47) Cooperation with Saddam Hussein allowed him to mount an offensive not only against Iran, but also against his own people. One of the greatest ironies, of course, is how often US attitude towards Saddam�s chemical weapons has switched. In 1983, it was beneficial for him to have them, and after that, the US denied that he had them, until recently, when it was alleged that he had them. (Chomsky 2000, 48) US policy towards Saddam Hussein�s weapons of mass murder has continually changed to suit their needs.

The United States cannot escape its responsibility in the murder of the Kurdish population. It was a horrendous action taken by a brutal dictator, and the United States, along with such other powerful nations as Britain, did nothing to stop it. In fact, �The reaction was that the US and Britain increased support for their favourite monster.� (Chomsky 2000, 48) In 1988, Hussein carried out a major campaign against the Kurds in the north in Halabja, five days after the Iraq-Iran war had ended. He used the weapons that the US had supplied him to implement his gassing campaign, killing many innocents and completely destroying the land. As a result, Iraq�s north lost both the agricultural land necessary to feed the people of Iraq, and the people necessary to work this land. Instead of doing something to prevent Hussein from carrying out future attacks, which he did, the UK and US provided Hussein with more aid.

�The US had been providing Iraq with all kinds of aid, but particularly at that point, the Reagan and Bush administrations increased subsidized food aid� [Iraq] was actually and efficient producer of food. So what did they need US agricultural exports for? A lot of that�s connected with the gassing of Kurds. Saddam Hussein, the vengeful despot, was destroying agricultural areas and the people who lived in them.� (Chomsky 2000, 48)

In fact, subsidies to Saddam also included dual-use equipment, like helicopters, which could be used for military purposes, and to produce chemical and biological weapons, which, of course, Saddam Hussein did not have, according the Reagan administration, as he was a US ally. (Chomsky 2000, 48) During his 1989 invasion of Panama, President George Bush announced that he would be increasing aid to Iraq, despite its terrible human rights abuses. (Chomsky 2000, 48) Apathy for the plight of the Kurds did not end with Reagan and Bush. President Bill Clinton�s administration did little to help the oppressed people to the north. Hussein would carry out attacks against them, and Clinton would respond by launching missiles at Iraqi sites, but besides that, he did very little himself. (A&E) But the greatest example of apathy was during the 1980�s and early 1990�s by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Attempts by the US Congress to impose sanctions against Iraq, to prevent US military equipment from being used in further attacks, were stifled by the Reagan and Bush administrations� threats to veto any such sanctions. (�Iraq History��) In fact, in 1990, a team of high-ranking US Senators, led by 1996 presidential candidate Robert Dole, travelled to the Kurdish city of Mosul to meet with Hussein. Alan Simpson, a member of the delegation, told Hussein that the American government had no problems with him whatsoever. (Chomsky 2000, 48) This of course changed no more than a few months later when Hussein invaded Kuwait.

The invasion of Kuwait itself was in no small part due to the fact that the United States had supported Iraq during the crippling Iraq-Iran war, and thus, Iraq expected compensation. Donald Rumsfeld, after all, had informed Hussein that his war against Iran was also the United States� war. (Windrem) Of course, no such aid came. The United States was perfectly happy to support a brutal tyrant by giving him weapons of mass murder, but when it came to keeping the economy of Iraq afloat, the US had no interest. And so, Saddam Hussein, after fighting the United States� devastating war for them, needed a way to prop Iraq�s economy back to greatness. Thus, Hussein decided to invade tiny oil-rich Kuwait to the south, telling the world that Kuwait was in fact an Iraqi province, and that it had been flooding the world oil market, driving prices down. (A&E) It took a mere six hour to occupy Kuwait. Saddam Hussein naturally believed that, since the United States had let him away with so much in the past, they would do nothing to stop his invasion of Kuwait. But he was wrong, and on January 15, 1991, President George Bush led a coalition to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait. (A&E) This was probably the first responsible act taken by the United States towards Iraq since Saddam Hussein�s rise to power. Unfortunately, it was for nought. For political reasons, George Bush did not advance against Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. (A&E) Ousting Saddam would have destabilized the region. Media critic Noam Chomsky suggests that his motive behind this was to avoid a democracy in Iraq that could have been potentially harmful to US interests. He says the motive can be seen in the words of Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor under Bush. �What�s going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win? What do you do? We�re surely not going to let them take over.� (Chomsky 2003, 8) Straight from the mouth of a high ranking US official. Democracy in Iraq would not be beneficial for the United States, and so it has not been promoted, at least until recently, not even after a war that would have been a perfect opportunity to replace they tyrant with a democratic government. In fact, Shi�ite and Kurdish uprisings in the south and north of Iraq, respectively, were in place to coincide with a US march on Baghdad. However, when it came down to the moment of truth, the United States did nothing to help them. They did not even give them captured Iraqi weapons supplies to use against Saddam Hussein. Rather, Bush pulled out of Iraq, and left the rebels to be mercilessly slaughtered by Saddam Hussein. Which he did, happily. (Chomsky 2000, 48)

The effects of the first Gulf War were disastrous for Iraqis, in more ways than one. Not only was their economy destroyed, but their environment was hopelessly polluted. Depleted uranium, or DU, �is radioactive waste used because of its capacity to destroy armour and other defences.� According to Dr. Huda S. Ammash, more than one million rounds of it were fired during the Gulf War. That is 320-350 tonnes. (Ammash, 169) �Upon impact, DU penetrators oxidize rapidly, spreading toxic uranium oxide dust particles.� This toxic material circulates through the body upon inhalation, causing disease and death. (Ammash, 169) It was mostly used in south central Iraq by US forces. Citizens of the Iraqi city of Basra have shown high DU counts, increasing by two micrograms every day. (Ammash, 169)

Along with environmental and economic devastation came sanctions, imposed by the world, but maintained most strongly by the US. Before the invasion of Kuwait, the US thought that it was okay to do business with Iraq. But after this invasion, they decided to take a stand to drive the Iraqi people into submission. Of course, it was no the Iraqi people who needed to be punished, but Saddam Hussein. Hussein did not suffer, but his citizens most certainly did. By 1996, 500 000 Iraqi children had died as a result of the sanctions. Secretary of State Madeline Albright said that this number, while terribly high, was still �worth it.� (Chomsky 2000, 48) One has to wonder, what is the �it� to which Ms. Albright was referring? The Clinton administration made the same mistake that was made by Ayatollah Khomeini when he listed Saddam Hussein�s departure from power as a pre-condition for a cease-fire with Iraq. Clinton demanded that Hussein step down before any sanctions would be lifted. This, however, merely served to increase his power in Iraq, keeping the Iraqi people starving, and allowing Saddam Hussein to control them far easier, shifting blame for their troubles away from him and towards the United States, and creating sympathy for the Iraqi situation around the world. (Bengio)

Perhaps most damning for the current Bush administration is that Vice President Dick Cheney continued to deal with Saddam Hussein even after the Gulf War. Cheney�s company, Halliburton, did business with such countries as Libya and Iran, but most notably, Iraq. (�Halliburton Iraq��) In fact, Halliburton signed contracts with Iraq worth $73 million. Not only does this throw the US argument against France - that it was doing business with Iraq - completely out the window, but it shows the level of commitment members of the current Bush administration truly had to bringing Saddam Hussein to justice so democracy in Iraq could flourish. It also leads into the questionable US motives for invading Iraq and sparking the second Gulf War in March of 2003. Throughout the lead-up to the war, President Bush Jr. insisted that his desire to go to war with Iraq had nothing to do with oil. One has to wonder, then, why Halliburton, which is incidentally the company of the Vice President, has been awarded lucrative contracts having to do with oil in post-war Iraq. (Spinner) Once again, Iraq is being used by the US for its own purposes. It becomes increasingly apparent, upon investigation, that democracy is not what is on the minds of the hawks in the Bush administration. Also damning is the state of anarchy into which Iraq has been allowed to fall after the US invasion.

The obligation to help the people of Iraq rests with the entire developed world, if the developed world is indeed the beacon of greatness and generosity that it claims to be. However, the greatest obligation rests with the United States, which more than any other state has manipulated Iraq to its own ends and caused untold suffering to the Iraqi people. The 2003 war against the Hussein regime was sufficient as a starting point, but it was not enough. Simply removing a regime from power that the US once supported is only the tip of what needs to be done. If the United States is truly the bastion of democracy and freedom that it claims so loudly it is, it must either set aside its differences with the world and allow multilateral institutions to help rebuild Iraq, or else become much more efficient at doing it themselves. Neither has happened as of yet, but one of them must, not as a matter of corporate interest or Middle East stability, but as a matter of helping the Iraqis become as free and prosperous as the western world. If any group deserves such a gift, it is the Iraqis, who for too long have been subjugated by the western world in the name of keeping political stability in Iraq and in the Middle East. Also, traditional peacemaking countries like Canada must also be held accountable for not taking a more proactive role in helping the Iraqis. The west in general, and the US in particular in the case of Iraq, have a responsibility to help the people of the world, especially the people they have already hurt so immensely. Otherwise, no western democracy can truly call itself a democracy and no western power can truly call itself a force for good in the world. The issue of Iraq is only one case. All over the world, the west allows dictators to rule. Not only that, but the west support them and does business with them, as if they are reputable, good people. This is one of the west�s great fallacies, and one that must be corrected. It is time for the western world to stop hiding behind diplomacy and self-interest and face reality. Democracy is not the rule, it is the exception. But western leaders have the power to change this. It is possible for governments to fight oppressive regimes, as Prime Minister Mulroney�s government demonstrated by fighting against Apartheid in South Africa. If the western world is truly the beacon of freedom, it must stop paying lip service to the ideal, and actually work to bring it to the people of the world.


Ammash, Dr. Huda S. �Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions� Ed. Anthony Arnove. Canada: 2000.

Bengio, Ofra. �How Does Saddam Hold On?� Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug 2000.

Chomsky, Noam. �US Iraq Policy - Motives and Consequences.� Ed. Anthony Arnove. Canada: 2000.

Chomsky, Noam. �What Lies Ahead for Iraq and the Anti-War Movement?�. ZNet. May/June 2003: 8

�Halliburton Iraq ties more than Cheney said�. NewsMax Wires. (2001) 13 May 2003.

�Iraq History and Culture from Noah to Present�. Saleh. (2003). 7 May 2003

Jacobs, Ron. The US and Iran. Couterpunch. (2002) 8 May 2003

Saddam Hussein. By A&E�s Biography. A&E Television, 2003.

Spinner, Jackie. �Contracts to Rebuild Iraq Go to Chosen Few�. Washington Post 28 Mar 2003.

Windrem, Robert. �Rumsfeld key player in Iraq policy shift�. MSNBC News. (2003) 10 May 2003

Copyright 2003, Ryan Ringer