The bombs of Christmas

To many people in the outside world, there is no longer any question that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has become a menace not only to the international community, but to his own country above all.  Here is the head of a nation who uses his country’s earnings from oil exports not to feed, clothe, or educate his people, but to develop an arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons with which to terrorize other nations.   The world must help the Iraqi people find a new leader.

And the US must be reminded that Saddam is not Iraq. Bombing Iraq to punish Saddam is like flooding a whole house to flush out a rat.  It is wrong.  The Iraqi people should not be held responsible for the actions of a leader they did not freely choose.

It is bad enough that economic sanctions imposed by the UN have reduced an entire nation to near-subsistence level when the objective is just to punish Saddam and deprive him of resources for creating mad weapons.  But to rain missile bombs upon this hapless nation because its leader would not allow his weapons to be inspected is an act of recklessness and arrogance.  It is frightening.

The US and Britain, the leaders of this latest punitive attack on Iraq, argue that Saddam has mocked and repeatedly obstructed the efforts of the UN arms inspectors.  They say that the UN Security Council’s ability to enforce its decisions is put in doubt when it does nothing about Saddam’s habitual violation of UN resolutions.  They insist that the world cannot watch helplessly while one man freely manufactures vicious weapons like nerve gas and anthrax bombs.  They argue that if the Iraqi people cannot or will not stop Saddam, then it is the duty and right of other nations to take action to secure themselves against his madness.

I believe not many will question the basic premises of this stand. Where the disagreement lies, even among the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, is in the nature of the punitive action that should be taken against a recalcitrant Saddam.  The US has been trying to build a consensus for its bombing operations since February but it is significant that it has only succeeded in persuading Britain. However it may look to the US and its allies, the Christmas bombing of Iraq bears all the marks of a unilateral action by a self-styled global policeman.

The rest of the permanent members – Russia, China, and France – have refused to go along with the US because they say they want to exhaust all diplomatic means to pressure Saddam.  Some suspect that their refusal is motivated by a desire to obtain favorable oil deals with Iraq as soon as UN restrictions on the export of Iraqi oil are lifted. Even if true, it does not cancel the need for America to provide strong justification for its decision to bomb a sovereign nation with which it is not at war.  The timing of the missile attack is particularly alarming in the light of US President Clinton’s looming impeachment in the US House of Representatives.  It makes one wonder if his advisers and media handlers were not trying to divert the world’s attention from the president’s personal problems at home in the manner so accurately foretold in the movie “Wag the Dog”?

The burden of providing a credible warrant for the bombings is shared by Britain, America’s lone partner in this bold expedition.   But the remarks of British officials have only provoked more doubts about the long term goals of this attack.  At a press briefing after the first wave of missiles were fired from US ships and B-52 planes, Britain’s Defense Minister declared that the bombings will continue until Saddam’s war capability is decisively degraded.  But how will they determine this with any certainty unless arms inspectors were allowed again into Iraq?  He also tried to answer early criticism that innocent civilians were being injured or killed by the explosions.  He said this is unlikely because the cruise missiles have an 85% accuracy, and their targets are purely military.

To persuade the media that the bombings hardly made a dent on the daily routine of civilian life, the minister noted how calmly Iraqi school children went to school and how confidently people went about their business the morning after the bombings.  But why should this surprise him?  Since the 1991 Desert Storm, the life of Iraqi citizens has revolved around the oppressive reality of economic sanctions and the permanent threat of US missile attacks.  We can hardly expect them to wait for things to normalize before they would start earning a living or sending their children to school.  With or without the threat of bombs, they must get on with their lives.

Finally, so much is being made of  the smart bombs and their pinpoint accuracy.  It may be asked how such missiles, each carrying 1000 pounds of explosives, can conceivably be lobbed from naval platforms 600 miles away onto a crowded city like Baghdad without hitting anyone but Saddam’s soldiers or any other structure but Saddam’s weapons workshops.  Any missile that can be fired with such precision should be capable of hitting Saddam’s bedroom.  So, why not target the man and his weapons?  Why bomb a whole nation?


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