Economic sanctions: Genocide or necessary tool of foreign policy?
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Displaying the utmost respect for each other, officials from two generations of presidential administrations nevertheless sharply disagreed at an Oct. 13 forum here on the use of economic sanctions as a tool of foreign policy.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark speaks against the embargo of Iraq at a Kansas City reception. In the background is Ahmed El Sherif, who accompanied Clark on a humanitarian mission to Iraq in May.
Peter Bass, deputy secretary of state in charge of monitoring sanctions, said economic sanctions form "one arrow in our quiver" and have proved to be effective in several cases, most notably the end of hostilities among warring factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Ramsey Clark, attorney general in the Lyndon Johnson administration, called the sanctions "a weapon of mass destruction" which takes a disproportionate toll in suffering and death among civilian populations.
The two spoke at a forum at Johnson County Community College that drew a standing-room-only audience of more than 200 people. The forum was sponsored by the Persian Gulf Peace Network, which includes Catholics for Justice and the Loretto Nonviolence Network. Much of the discussion focused on the effects of the continuing international embargo against Iraq which were first imposed in August 1990, shortly after the Iraqi army overran neighboring Kuwait.
Clark, who has visited Iraq at least once in every year of this decade except 1993, said that far more people, and especially civilian chidren, women and men, have died as a result of the embargo than were killed during the 100-day Persian Gulf War in January and February 1991.
Although he admitted that an accurate toll will never be known, a United Nations agency in August estimated that at least 565,000 Iraqi children under the age of five - "children as precious as your children and grandchildren" - have died as a direct result of the sanctions.
"It is genocide under the precise terms of the (U.N.) convention against genocide," Clark said.
In the only comment that drew groans from an otherwise polite audience, Bass laid blame for the suffering at the feet of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"We didn't encourage him to invade Kuwait. He did that on his own," Bass said. "He was using substantial portions of his oil wealth to build up an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to use on neighboring populations and ultimately on the United States. It is a legitimate exercise of national security interests to insure that half of the world's oil supply does not fall in the hands of someone who was preparing to destroy millions and millions of people. The world would be a whole lot different and a lot of people would be a whole lot worse off if we hadn't done what we did in 1990 and 1991."
Bass, who has served in the State Department in the Bush and Clinton administrations, said that immediately after the cease-fire in 1991, the Bush administration proposed a system in which Iraq could continue to sell oil to raise funds for humanitarian purposes such as food and medicine.
"Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein decided he didn't like the procedure we proposed so that the food wasn't going only to his military," Bass said. "It wasn't until 1995 that he finally agreed."
Bass also said that the embargo against Iraq isn't total. The list of items that are allowed to be imported into Iraq runs 1,000 pages.
But Clark argued that blaming Hussein does not ease the suffering of the Iraqi people, nor does it justify the role of the United States in that suffering.
"If the devil himself were the head of Iraq, I couldn't stand by while a single child was dying of hunger or lack of medicine," Clark said.
"Sanctions are nothing more and nothing less than manufactured suffering inflicted on poor people and necessarily supported by violence," he said.
"It (ending sanctions) does not mean we don't struggle in every way we can to prevent the sale of arms to rogue nations," he said. "But let's not deprive any child or any adult or even any soldiers of food and medicine.
"Let's hope we see the day when we abolish poverty, abolish hunger and provide the best medical care for everybody, and let the United States of America, which may be the last best hope on earth, be a leader in that struggle," Clark said.
"If you love your country, you will stand up to make it right," he said. "The worst thing we can do is to go by silently when our government isn't doing the right thing."