’Smart sanctions’ New tactic in U.S. war against Iraq
7 mars 2001 (International Action Center)
NEW YORK, 7 March 2001 (International Action Center)
By Richard Becker
International Action Center
"If we are now talking of ’smart sanctions,’ does that mean that the sanctions of the past 10 and a half years have been stupid ones ?"
On March 7, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the House International Relations Committee outlining plans to step up military aggression against Iraq. Powell called for a "three basket" approach : maintaining sanctions, enforcing the U.S.-imposed "no-fly zones" and supporting CIA-backed Iraqi opposition forces.
He also announced a new policy of allowing U.S. planes to strike at "facilities or other activities going on in Iraq that we believe are inconsistent with our obligations." In the past, U.S. air strikes were supposedly limited to "Iraqi air defense challenges to U.S. or British planes patrolling no-fly zones in Iraq."
There has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks, much of it emanating from Powell himself, about shifting to a policy of "smart sanctions" against Iraq. During his trip through the Middle East in February, Powell advocated "humane, smart sanctions," which he said would "target Saddam Hussein, not the Iraqi people."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahaf responded by asking rhetorically, "If we are now talking of ’smart sanctions,’ does that mean that the sanctions of the past 10 and a half years have been stupid ones ?"
Since Powell returned from the Middle East, strong opposition had been heard from within the Bush administration to anything but increased hostility against Iraq. The Times of London carried a headline, "Powell out of step over sanctions." Powell’s March 7 testimony before Congress was designed to refute any such notion.
Powell’s "smart sanctions" proposals, moreover, were never meant as a humanitarian gesture, but rather as a way to maintain the deadly blockade of Iraq.
Turn Iraq into ’a backward and weak state’
The UN sanctions, which the U.S. insists on keeping in place 10 years after the Gulf war, have killed more than 1.5 million Iraqis. As designed, the blockade has devastated Iraq, destroyed much of its infrastructure and civilian economy, and set the country back many decades.
On Jan. 9, 1991, then-Secretary of State James Baker had said, "Iraq will be turned into a backward and weak state." The intense bombing campaign that began a few days later and the sanctions that have continued ever since were intended to turn Baker’s threat into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, much of the world has turned against the sanctions. Even some of the most compliant, pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East are opposing sanctions, opening trade and other relations with Iraq. Deep anger over the sanctions, and the U.S. role in oppressing the Palestinian people, has gripped the entire region.
Powell proposes changing the outward form of sanctions by "de-linking" economic from military sanctions. At the same time, he has made it clear that there is no change in the objective : keeping Iraq in a weakened state until its present government is overthrown and replaced by one that will accept the dictates of Washington.
What Powell wants might be called "sanctions with a human face."
Powell told the House committee on March 7 : "I think the characterization that we are easing up or giving up is quite incorrect. The sanctions were starting to fall apart. Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime had successfully put the burden on us as denying the wherewithal for civilians and children in Iraq to live and to get the nutrition and health care they needed.
"What we’ve been trying to do for the last six weeks is to see how we could stabilize the collapsing situation and find some basis of stabilization that would bring the [pro-sanctions] coalition back together."
Powell later added, "We’re also undertaking a fuller review of other things that can be done to promote a regime change."
’Smart sanctions’ = colonialism
Coinciding with Powell’s appearance, a liberal think-tank called the Fourth Freedom Foundation issued a report on what "smart sanctions" might look like. The principal author is David Cortright, former executive director of the anti-war group SANE/Freeze, now reborn as a consultant to the foreign policy makers of U.S. imperialism.
The report notes Powell’s call for smart sanctions in its preface. "Our aim," say the authors, "is to provide a technical study that spells out the meaning of a smart sanctions strategy and is helpful to UN policy makers as they respond to the dilemmas of sanctions in Iraq."
The report, "Smart Sanctions : Restructuring UN Policy in Iraq," outlines the problem as follows : "After more than a decade of controversy, the United Nations sanctions regime in Iraq faces an unprecedented crisis."
Note that from the authors’ point of view it’s the policy—not the people of Iraq—that is confronting a crisis.
"The comprehensive trade embargo, previously one of the tightest in history, is unraveling in dramatic fashion," the report continues. It outlines several reasons for this, including the resumption of civilian air flights to Baghdad, an increase in "unauthorized trade," and Syria’s new free trade zone and reopened oil pipeline from Iraq.
"Despite these dilemmas, the United Nations has an enormous stake in preventing the collapse of its policy in Iraq," the report adds.
In fact, the vast majority of the UN member states and the world’s people want the murderous sanctions against Iraq to be ended. It is the U.S. ruling class and its political servants, including the authors of this study, who are committed to "preventing the collapse" of the sanctions.
The study, which according to a number of media reports reflects Powell’s viewpoint, includes such provisions as :
Revamp the current embargo in favor of a sharpened sanctions system aimed at two key targets—the control of financial resources generated by the export of Iraqi oil, and the prohibition against imports of weapons and dual-use goods ;
Maintain strict controls on Iraqi oil revenues and military-related imports, but permit trade in civilian consumer goods to flow freely ;
Contract out to commercial companies the responsibility of certifying and providing notification of civilian imports into Iraq ;
- Permit the ordering and contracting of civilian goods on an as-required basis rather than in 180-day phases ;
- Maintain UN financial controls ;
- Continue to channel all Iraqi oil revenues through the UN escrow account ;
- Contract with an independent multinational oil-brokering firm, through which all records and payments for permitted oil purchases would pass, to manage the sales of Iraqi oil and monitor any illegal surcharge payments ;
- Establish a new compensation mechanism to provide economic assistance to neighboring states and begin paying Iraq’s external debt ;
- Freeze the personal financial assets of Saddam Hussein and his family, of senior Iraqi political and military officials, and of those associated with weapons production programs ;
- Tighten land-based monitoring by establishing at major border crossings into Iraq fully-resourced Sanctions Assistance Missions, modeled on the UN sanctions experience in Yugoslavia ;
- Establish a system of electronic tagging of approved dual-use imports ;
- Create a special investigative commission to track down and expose sanctions violators ;
- Assist member states in establishing effective penalties for companies and individuals that violate the ban on exporting weapons and dual-use items to Iraq ; and
- Require Iraqi-bound cargo flights to submit to UN inspection.
"No single element of this smart sanctions package stands alone in wielding sufficient coercive clout," the study says. "But linked together such controls provide a tightened sanctions regime."
Threat of military escalation
The chance of Iraq voluntarily accepting such a plan is exactly zero. This proposal is an obvious and outrageous plan to reduce Iraq to the status of a permanent colony. And since the United States dominates the UN, it is clear who the real colonizing power would be.
If such a proposal is formally made through the UN Security Council, or if it is raised unilaterally—as was done with the "no-fly zones"—by the U.S. and rejected by Iraq, then new military action may well follow. Some top Bush administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—who really should be called secretary of war—and his chief assistant Paul Wolfowitz, have already openly called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
For the past half-century, a strategic objective of the U.S. ruling class has been to secure its unfettered and unchallenged domination over the oil-rich Gulf region. The "smart sanctions" is just one more tactic aimed at achieving that goal. The anti-sanctions movement must unmask this poisonous fraud, and renew the demand to unconditionally lift the genocidal sanctions against Iraq.
Richard Becker has visited Iraq twice with the Iraq Sanctions Challenge project of the International Action Center.