Failed President, Flawed Policy

by Patrick J. Buchanan – December 18, 1998

It is a tradition among Americans that when the guns fire, we rally behind our fighting men and commander in chief. Yet even this tradition seems to have fallen victim to this president.

Three days after his disastrous grand jury testimony and speech to the nation on Aug. 17, Bill Clinton launched an attack on a “poison gas” factory in Sudan, a factory oddly unguarded, since it was said to be a site that produced the most awful of outlawed weapons.

Now, hours before his impeachment vote, the missiles have flown again. No one can know what is in a man’s heart, but it is hard to believe that Bill Clinton’s political crisis did not figure in the timing of that attack. And who among us did not wonder, on hearing that U.S. cruise missiles were winging toward Baghdad, whether the president might be cynically exploiting America’s patriotism?

All the trust is gone; even the president knows it. Twice on Wednesday, he was compelled to assure us the strikes were “the unanimous decision of my national security team.” The smug youth who wrote that the best and brightest of his generation “loathed” the military now depends on its credibility, as he retains almost none of his own. But if we have a failed president, it is also time to ask if U.S. policy toward Iraq is not also deeply flawed.

Clinton declared on Wednesday that he is acting to protect the “people throughout the Middle East and around the world.” How does Saddam threaten “the world”? If we “fail to respond,” said Clinton, Saddam “will make strikes again at his neighbors … make war on his own people (and) develop weapons of mass destruction, deploy them, and he will use them.”

Let’s deconstruct that. Yes, Saddam makes “war on his own people,” but who inflicts the greater suffering — Saddam or a U.S.-led embargo that has claimed the lives of 239,000 children, 5 years old and under, since 1990?

Michael Powell writes in The Washington Post, “That (239,000) is the latest — and most conservative — independent estimate of the number of Iraqi children who have died of malnutrition, wasting and dysentery since sanctions were imposed.”

If sanctions have failed to topple Saddam and have snuffed out the lives of a quarter million children, can such a policy be moral? Where is the proportionality? Indeed, the embargo, not the strikes on military targets, appears the immoral element of our Iraqi policy.

“(Y)ou can’t lay that guilt trip on me,” snapped Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when asked about the embargo and the children. OK, but who do we lay it on? Without America, there would be no sanctions, no 25,000 Iraqi kids 5 and under dying each year of deprivation.

Clinton said we are protecting Iraq’s “neighbors.” But Iran is larger and more powerful than Iraq, is building weapons of mass destruction, and has been cited more times for supporting terrorism. And why should we defend Iran?

Turkey’s troops march in and out of Northern Iraq with impunity. Another neighbor, Syria, is also on the honor role of regimes that harbor terrorists and is smuggling contraband into Iraq.

Jordan sided with Iraq in the Gulf War. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are under the shield of a United States that could pulverize Iraq in 10 minutes if a Scud arrived with mustard gas or anthrax. That is why Saddam never used a chemical weapon on us or on Israel.

It is time to ask how grave a threat Iraq is to America. In the Gulf War, Iraq did not attack us; we attacked Iraq. We launched the ’round-the-clock air strikes with 2,000 planes for six weeks; Iraq fired back a handful of Scuds. Iraq killed scores of Americans; we killed thousands of Iraqis.

Yes, Iraq was a enemy, but Hanoi killed 58,000 Americans and turned South Vietnam into a Stalinist hell that makes Iraq look like Vermont. Yet we have normalized relations with Hanoi.

China is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Korea. Its regime has on its hands the blood of tens of millions of Chinese and is targeting U.S. cities with ICBMs. Yet China is now our “strategic partner.” Is Iraq, with no air force, no navy, no ICBMs and an economy not 1 percent of ours, the greater threat?

If constructive engagement was the right policy for the Evil Empire, why is there no other way with Iraq than total sanctions? If deterrence held the Red Army at bay in Europe, can it not hold Saddam? Can we not contain him and deny him his worst weapons — without denying Iraq’s people the necessities of life?

Again, it is not the U.S. policy of containment of Iraq, or even of air strikes on missile or military bases, that raises questions of morality. It is a sanctions regime that is killing the Iraqi people in body and spirit. Surely, a humane republic can devise a wiser and more moral policy than this.