A Shameful Policy on IraqJanuary 25, 2000, Chicago Tribune Editorial
The latest tragedy tormenting the Iraqi people is a dispute at the United Nations over who should lead a newly constituted agency of arms inspectors to assure that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.
Like Nero fiddling as Rome burned, the UN Security Council has fiddled away its time arguing over just how to reconstitute an arms monitoring organization that may never be allowed back into Iraq.
Meanwhile, nine years after the Persian Gulf War, the only certainty in Iraq is the suffering of its people under Saddam Hussein's jackboot. By UN estimates, more than 1 million Iraqis have died, directly or indirectly, because of economic sanctions imposed by the international community a decade ago -- and Saddam's cruel indifference to their impact.
After acquiescing to the UN's call for new inspectors, France, Russia and China have joined to effectively block the implementation of that decision. They did so by rejecting Secretary General Kofi Annan's choice of Swedish arms control expert Rolf Ekeus to head the new arms inspection commission.
Each of these Security Council members has its own self-interest -- but clearly not that of the Iraqi people -- at heart. France, for example, seems to be positioning itself for oil deals in a post-sanctions Iraq, while Russia is hoping Iraq can pay it back for Soviet-era arms sales. Tragically, saving Iraqi lives -- or, for that matter, the lives of others who might be endangered by weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's hands -- does not appear to be their concern.
The three countries objected to Ekeus because he headed an earlier inspections panel and because Iraq objected to him. Since when should the UN, whose mission is to disarm Iraq, be giving Saddam a veto over their policy? He's the problem -- not the answer.
The incident demonstrates yet again the need for the U.S. to find a new policy that will contain Saddam and build opposition to his rule while not nurturing anti-Western animosities. The sanctions, it should be clear by now, are hurting the Iraqi people while leaving Saddam firmly in power.
One wise measure would be to break the link between economic sanctions and the military embargo, easing pressure on Iraq's people while keeping tight control of any arms going into Iraq. A letter being circulated by Reps. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) wisely recommends that Clinton do just that. Additionally, the U.S. should serve notice that it will respond with overwhelming force if Hussein threatens or attacks his neighbors.
These two measures might do what current policy does
not: give the initiative back to the good guys.