Ten years ago, I was among the thousands of Seattle residents who took
to the streets on a cold wet winter night to march among the dark empty
office buildings of downtown Seattle and scream and shout against American
military intervention in the Gulf. A decade had passed and those of us
who opposed the war are left with many of the same questions that prompted
us to protest against the slaughter that was ultimately unleashed on the
For all the tough Pentagon talk about nailing Sadam,
it should surprise no one that Sadam remains the paramount dictator in
Baghdad. Under American law, he was given specific immunity as a president.
Other Iraqis, both civilian and military, were not so fortunate. They had
no immunity from the wrath of the American led assault to safeguard the
flow oil to the West and Japan.
Until the bombs actually started dropping in front of
CNN cameras, Americans were divided on whether or not to intervene. Whatever
the difference of opinions were before the war, the vast majority of Americans,
on both sides of the fence, understood that our "national interests"
were about oil first, Israel second and all other issues a distant third.
True enough, the invasion of Kuwait was a breach of sovereignty. And
such breaches should not be taken lightly. Successive American administrations
have never been consistently for or against invasions. Rather, they have
insisted on the exclusive right to approve them. The high principle here
is what we might call registered breaches of sovereignty versus unregistered
Saddam Hussein must learn a stern lesson from his ten-year ordeal. If
you want to invade a neighboring country, you must first apply for permission
at the State Department and have it endorsed by the CIA. For certain invasions,
it is the other way around. It sort of depends on the invasion. In either
case, there are pre-invasion protocols and procedures that must be followed.
Otherwise, you end up with the demolition of your army, an international
embargo on your hands and a permanent United States Marines garrison on
Now, Sadam knew the rules. Indeed, he had followed them to the letter
before getting the go-ahead for his invasion of Iran in 1980. Two years
later, Alexander Haig issued a "green light" permit for the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon. It was a limited-mile certificate. When Israel went
beyond the 25-mile allowance and laid siege to Beirut, the Reagan administration
got miffed and fired Haig. That must have shown the Israelis that the United
States was very serious about limited mileage invasions. Inspite of the
incredible destruction unleashed by that campaign, which culminated in
the Sabra and Shatila massacres, Israel continued to receive billions of
dollars in American aid.
Even Syrias late president, Hafez Assad, followed protocol before
invading Lebanon in 1976. He applied to the Arab League and got a wink
and a nod from both Israel and the United States. It is not clear whether
this particular permit explicitly included the two-month bombardment of
Tel-el-Zatter, a Palestinian refugee camp. But the American government
did not object.
In 1967, Israel was awarded the ultimate permit: a border expansion certificate
to rezone the Middle East. Thirty-three years later, the IDF continues
to administer a brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover,
they have annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan heights. For all their trouble
making, the Israelis have even managed to get generous annual post-invasion
military occupation subsidies from the United States.
A decade after the Gulf War, anyone familiar with the nature of the absolute
monarchies and dictatorships, must also realize that democratic institutions
and freedom were not at stake in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or Iraq. That is
not why we continue an embargo designed to torment, humiliate and starve
twenty three million Iraqis. The El Sabah family should not be confused
with Princess Di.
Yet it is hard to find a single utterance by an American official calling
for the right of the Arab people in the gulf region to vote for their leadership.
Indeed, the Middle East is the only region in the world where America does
not actively promote democratic institutions. The State Department has
decided that Arab people are not worthy of the right to vote. Its
the culture, they say. "Stability" is more important than political,
social and economic reforms. For all the talk about a volatile region,
the last coup detat in the Arab Middle East was during the Nixon
administration, when Qaddafi deposed the Sanousi in Libya. The Middle East
is not only stable, it is stagnant.
Lest anyone forget the antics of the Kuwaiti Ambassadors daughter,
human rights violations were not the motivation behind the war to get Sadam
out of Kuwait. It was just part of the public relations campaign to promote
the Gulf War. Modern wars need to be marketed and the Kuwaitis and Saudis
hired the very best PR consultants. It did not hurt that CNN was always
available to broadcast any tape from the Pentagon or the State department.
Ted Turner put Hearst to shame as a master war propagandist. He had the
American public enjoying and applauding the sanitized carnage. Indeed the
most disturbing memory of the war, was how a large majority of Americans
enjoyed it. CNN can sugar coat anything, even the bombing of civilian shelters.
Ask a Palestinian or a Kurd about how the USA responds to complaints
of gross violations of their rights as human beings. Human rights are yet
another issue that American governments have never been really for or against.
It all depends on the "type" of human that had their rights violated.
Middle Eastern people are viewed by the cynics at the State Department
as nothing but incidental props on some giant Risk board that floats on
oil. Their rights or legitimate aspirations are rarely a consideration
in the formulation of policy.
Neither can it be clearly demonstrated that the Gulf War was only about
oil. The 1980 Iraqi invasion of Iran also jeopardized the worlds
oil supply. No one considered an arms embargo to stop the bloodshed that
cost an estimated million Iraqi and Iranian lives. Not the Americans. Not
the Russians. Not the French nor the British. The list goes on. Without
a constant resupply of advanced weaponry, both sides would have lost steam
after a few months. The carnage went on for eight murderous years. But
alas, the prevailing sentiment was "let them kill each other, the
longer it lasts, the better."
American intervention in the Gulf was not about high principles of international
law or the struggle for freedom and liberty. Neither was it about pure
economic interests or safeguarding human rights. More likely, it was about
the need to demonstrate that America would remain the dominant power in
the region and that no invasions should occur without a valid State Department
It should be obvious by now that Sadam has not missed a single meal since
the embargo started. The Iraqi people have been the ones to bear the burden
of Sadams sins and so many of them have died due to lack of food
or medication. Perhaps Iraqis with a full stomach will have a better chance
to confront Sadams regime. It is time to end the sanctions and use
some other tactics to force Sadam to step aside.
The average man in the streets of the Middle East has come to believe
that America is out to destroy the very social fabric of Iraq and to give
the Israelis all the rope they need to hang the Palestinians. They see
a United States government that does whatever is necessary to prop up the
kings, princes and dictators of the Middle East. They compare how quick
the United States was to respond to Sadam with the casual pace they took
before they bothered to stop the slaughter in Bosnia. It is now official
that the American government has turned a blind eye to Russian excesses
The conclusion they arrive at is that those Americans who administer
foreign policy have an agenda that includes a large element of religious
bigotry. To paraphrase John D Rockafeller "These things have no place
in America. But I can testify to their existence."
Sadam is alive and well. His country is shattered but he seems to have
a high tolerance for the sufferings of other Iraqis, so long as he endures
and prospers. He has endured because our government wanted him to endure.
Without him, they would have to explain why Kuwait is the only country
that was ever liberated by America and allowed to revert to an absolute