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To USA Today: "In Herod's Army"

On this date, Christian churches celebrate the 'Feast of the Holy Innocents'
to commemorate those infants slaughtered by King Herod, Rome's ruler in
Judea some 2,000 years ago.  Today in Iraq, another challenge to empire is
being met with a slaughter of innocents, and from this analogy hangs my open
letter to USA Today.

Peace be with you this season,

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
To the Editor of USA Today:

It's fine for an editorialist to play the steely-eyed, flint-hearted
practitioner of 'realpolitik'.  But it's dishonest to ignore the
consequences of your proposals, and it's misleading to restate history, as
you do.

USA Today (Editorial, December 9) urges that sanctions continue against
Iraq.  It fails, however, to report these policies' calamitous cost: 500,000
excess deaths of infants and toddlers since sanctions began (UNICEF's
estimate, which our government does not dispute).  

It's outrageous for you to dismiss this tragedy with such moral
indifference.  Must it still be argued that all life is valuable?  ... and
that of children -- innocent, fragile, full of hope -- particularly so?
Especially now, in this season of charity and prosperity, and of renewal --
how dare you?  

For nearly a decade, the sanctions against Iraq have enforced a morally
flawed directive: they hold a civilian population hostage to pressure a
dictator to disarm and leave office.  Sanctions punish 20-million people for
the crimes of 200.  They miss their mark: Saddam is not Iraq, and the
children of Iraq are not his soldiers.  In this siege, all damage is

Sanctions have had little effect on the brutal Saddam, while strengthening
his grip on the country and his standing in the region.  Meanwhile, Iraq's
educational and healthcare systems have been gutted.  Its water purification
and electrical capacities remain dangerously below pre-war levels.  In a
country where  the standard of living was once comparable to Greece and
where childhood obesity was commonplace, the prevalence of underweight
children is today equivalent to sub-Saharan Mali.

In this sad story, we find no comfort for the American conscience.  While
Saddam could do more to ease the suffering of his people under sanctions,
this can't disguise the fact that civilian agony has always been a goal of
America's policies.  Evidence of this abounds, in the miserly oil-for-food
revenue caps,  the disruptive import holds, the roadblocks placed before
international aid workers and religious groups,  the constant low-density
bombing, and even in the U.S.-negotiated wording of the latest Security
Council  Resolution (1284), where the "fundamental objective" of sanction's
proposed suspension is "improving the humanitarian situation in Iraq".  The
resolution itself therefore admits to the causative link between the
sanctions and Iraq's humanitarian disaster.  

It's disingenuous for USA Today to cite arms control as the motive for
maintaining sanctions.  Iraq remains the most verifiably disarmed power in
this very dangerous region.  The Arab League's Foreign Ministers (whose
countries have most to fear from an expansionist Saddam) have long called
for economic sanctions to end.  And you miss the larger point: America's
intent isn't arms control, it's containment.   "Verified disarmament" is a
goal which can never be met, not completely, certainly not at a time when
blind monks brew Sarin for delivery to the subways of Tokyo.  But the U.S.
can point to such alleged  failures as rationale for keeping Iraq its vise.
In fact, U.S. policy since the Gulf War can be stated  in fifteen words:
"Contain Iraq with sanctions.  Use arms control as the pretext.  And damn
the civilian cost."

There are secure alternatives to these policies.  Representative John
Conyers (D-MI) and Tom Campbell  (R-CA) are again proposing that we
de-couple economic and military sanctions: the Iraqi economy would be freed,
while stringent controls over Iraq's military would remain.  This measure
deserves our policymakers' renewed attention, and your editorial support.
For the present policies to continue is lunacy, a relic of savagery, a stain
on our country's honor.  The West's concerns in the Mid-East are clear: oil,
nuclear proliferation, immigration, the survival of  Israel, and human
rights.  And across the board, economic sanctions defeat sensible policy and
impede progress toward peace.  Both UN Humanitarian Coordinators for Iraq
have denounced these policies, as have arms inspectors such as Scott Ritter,
as have American religious leaders, as has -- repeatedly -- the Pope.

An operational definition of evil is "that which harms children", and by
this simple litmus test these sanctions are sinister to their core.  We find
their antecedents in history's darkest pages.  Over 2,000 years ago, King
Herod - the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea - ordered a massacre of infants
in Bethlehem  (memorialized in the West every December 28th with the 'Feast
of the Holy Innocents').  Christians believe that Herod's goal was to slay
the infant Jesus and thus prevent a challenge to his throne and to Rome's

Two millenia later, another challenge to empire is met with another
slaughter of innocents.  And USA Today, in this appalling editorial, offers
its tribute to Herod.  


Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN  USA

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