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U.S. Congressional Attitudes toward Sanctions

The frustrating, confusing swirl of sanctions policy statements* from the
U.S. House of Representatives is summarized below.  Note that the more
sophisticated pro-sanctions arguments (Rep. Hall's, for example) appear to
align with the emerging UK position: smarten sanctions, but don't end them.

For those interested, the Conyers/Campbell letter against sanctions, the
Crowley/Sweeney/Lantos reaction, and Rep. Hall's report can be found on
EPIC's site (<> and

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
* I should note that little of this (other than Hall's visit) has been
covered in the mainstream press.

Published in the June 2000 issue of The Progressive
Democrats Split Over Iraq Sanctions 
by Ruth Conniff 
After nearly a decade of bombing and blockade, Iraq has been reduced from a
prosperous society to a mass of poverty, suffering, and disease. More than a
million Iraqi civilians have died, according to UNICEF, in the aftermath of
the Persian Gulf War. Infrastructure and health care systems in the country
have broken down. Raw sewage flows through the waterways, and epidemics of
preventable diseases including malaria, typhoid, and cholera ravage the
The humanitarian crisis and the seemingly endless stand-off between the
United States and Saddam Hussein have prompted some members of Congress to
call for a change in U.S. policy.

In February, seventy members of the House of Representatives signed a letter
to President Clinton asking that the Administration "delink" economic
sanctions from the military sanctions against Iraq.

"More than nine years of the most comprehensive economic embargo imposed in
modern history has failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power or even
ensured his compliance with international obligations, while the economy and
people of Iraq continue to suffer," the letter states. "Morally, it is wrong
to hold the Iraqi people responsible for the actions of a brutal and
reckless government."

The letter, sponsored by Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan,
and Representative Tom Campbell, Republican of California, garnered
bipartisan support. Many members of the Progressive Caucus in the House of
Representatives signed on, including Democrats David Bonior of Michigan,
Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Peter DeFazio of
Oregon, Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and
Maxine Waters of California. In March, many of the same Representatives
signed a bill that would allow humanitarian aid to flow more freely into

But not all progressive Democrats oppose the sanctions. 

As anti-sanctions pressure mounts, a pro-sanctions backlash has erupted. A
letter drafted by Representatives Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York, and
John Sweeney, Republican of New York, urges the Administration not to budge
on Iraq, and asserts that "Saddam Hussein is cynically . . . withholding
available food and medicines from his own people to garner sympathy for an
end to the sanctions." The pro-sanctions letter gathered 125 supporters,
including Progressive Caucus members Tom Lantos, Democrat of California,
Lane Evans, Democrat of Illinois, as well as New York Democrats Jerrold
Nadler and Nita Lowey. 

What's going on here?

"The U.N. oil-for-food program has given Saddam Hussein the opportunity to
provide basic needs to his people, but he has squandered huge sums of money
on arms and luxury goods," says Lowey. "I am horrified by the images of
Iraqis who do not have enough food and shelter, but this is a product of
tyrannical leadership, not U.N. sanctions. Lifting sanctions will only
bolster Saddam Hussein's coffers and enable him to buy weapons of mass
destruction--it will not help the Iraqi people."

These are the same arguments made by the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC)--the second most influential lobbying group in Washington,
D.C., according to Fortune magazine. AIPAC has made the pro-sanctions
campaign a top priority, urging members of Congress to sign the
Crowley-Sweeney letter, and asserting that supporting sanctions on Iraq
means supporting Israel.

"Iraq is number one, in terms of immediate military threats to Israel,"
AIPAC spokesman Kenneth Bricker explains. "People are forgetting the purpose
of sanctions, which is to prevent Iraq from getting its hands on hard
currency. Whenever Saddam gets hard currency from oil revenues, he spends it
on weapons of mass destruction." 

Khalil E. Jahshan, vice president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee, which has been lobbying on the other side, is exasperated by the
anti-Saddam argument. "Since the beginning of the Gulf war, with the
demonization of Iraq, somehow Iraq has been reduced to Saddam Hussein, as if
twenty-two million Iraqi people did not exist," Jahshan says. "This allowed
for an insensitivity or at least a passivity from the far left to the far

But Jahshan is hopeful: "We are beginning to see a reversal of that
attitude, and some sort of intelligent debate, for the first time since

Among the most vocal early supporters of sanctions on the left was
Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts. In his 1992 book,
Speaking Frankly: What's Wrong with the Democrats and How to Fix It (Times
Books), Frank offered advice on how to buff the Democrats' image. He
recommended shaking off the scruffy, 1960s anti-war image and supporting a
kind of "progressive" militarism. "Those of us who disagree with the left's
rejection of America's moral right to use force in the world must speak out
more vigorously lest our candidates find themselves isolated on the left,"
Frank wrote.

Frank spoke out vigorously a year and a half ago when I encountered him on a
Stairmaster at a Washington, D.C., gym, watching live footage of the bombing
of Iraq. "This is the worst of the left!" he snapped at me when I asked him
whether bombing and starving Iraqi civilians wasn't brutal and ineffective.
"What would you do? Send in more American ground troops to be killed?" 

Frank backed the Clinton Administration's program of containing Saddam
Hussein through a campaign of sanctions and periodic bombings: "So we'll
bomb him again, every so often, and prevent him from getting weapons of mass
destruction." As for the civilian costs: "That's his fault."

Recently, Frank's position has softened a bit. He refused to sign either of
the letters on sanctions that are circulating. "I'm for modifying but not
completely lifting the sanctions," he says. "This is one of the most vicious
regimes in the world. We shouldn't just back down. . . . But I think the
sanctions have been administered unfairly. I want to loosen them, and
maximize the chance that he can buy food and civilian equipment."

Another Democrat who has been rethinking his position on Iraq is the dovish,
leftwing Representative from Ohio Tony Hall. Hall visited Iraq in April to
take a look at the devastating effect of sanctions. The American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee and Peace Action praised Hall for his public
statements deploring the calamity in Iraq upon his return. But the groups'
press releases ignored Hall's conclusion: that sanctions should not be

"We expected when he came back he would be opposing the sanctions," says
Hall staffer Deborah DeYoung. "He is against sanctions in North Korea, and
he's fed up with sanctions against Cuba. In general, he doesn't think they
work, and they hurt the poor."

Despite all that, Hall says he can't support the proposal to "delink" the
civilian and military blockades on Iraq. 

"Iraq's people are suffering terribly, and it was heartbreaking to see their
pain firsthand," Hall said when he returned to Washington from his trip.
"But, like the majority of American citizens, I remain concerned about the
military threat Iraq continues to pose to its neighbors and the world, and
convinced that until progress is made on eliminating weapons of mass
destruction, lifting sanctions would be irresponsible."

Hall felt "manipulated" by his Iraqi hosts, and he essentially agreed with
AIPAC that Saddam Hussein is using the horrible plight of his people for his
own political ends. "I wish that I could support lifting sanctions," Hall
said. "Many religious leaders, aid workers, and other people I respect
oppose them. I am troubled, though, that some opponents of sanctions don't
focus as much attention on Iraq's government as I believe they should."

The Iraqi government could make more of a good-faith effort, Hall believes.
"It was apparent from the moment he got there that everything, including the
people's suffering, was part of a campaign to end sanctions," DeYoung says.
"At one hospital in Baghdad, looking at admittedly terrible suffering, the
Iraqi guides made the point that the children there have to sleep two to a
bed, that there are not enough beds for them. And while they were talking, a
member of the staff slipped away down the hall, and saw rooms and rooms of
empty beds."

Stunts like that aside, Hall has no doubt that UNICEF's dire estimates of
infant mortality, malnutrition, and disease are accurate.

The heart of the problem, according to Hall, is not the sanctions, but the
stalemate between the United States government and Iraq. He condemned
racism, a trigger-happy U.S. policy, and belligerence on both sides.

Instead of lifting or "delinking" economic and military sanctions, Hall
proposes streamlining relief efforts. He points out that the United Nations
stops huge shipments of food and medicine from going to Iraq because as
little as 10 percent of the items in a shipment might be used for building
weapons. The bureaucratic culture of the oil-for-food program encourages
such bottlenecks by rewarding the discovery of possible "dual uses" and
holding up shipments of items such as chlorine--which is essential for water
purification--because it could be used to make chlorine gas. 

"If you find a kidney machine gizmo also works as a nuclear trigger, you're
the toast of the town," says DeYoung. "If you just approve the pencil
shipment, you get no credit." 

Manipulation by the Iraqi government also doesn't account for the uneven
distribution of oil-for-food relief, according to former U.N. humanitarian
coordinator Hans von Sponeck. Von Sponeck recently became the second U.N.
official to resign from the program, protesting the sanctions on Iraq. The
oil-for-food program currently totals only $177 per person, per year,
according to Von Sponeck, and food relief alone simply cannot make up for a
devastated infrastructure. 

"Lifting sanctions is the only realistic way to end the human catastrophe in
Iraq, rebuild the economy, get people back to work, and reestablish health
care, education, electric power, clean water, sanitation, agriculture, oil
production levels, and fix other sectors," says Denis Halliday, the first
U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq who resigned in protest in 1998.

Because of the U.N. officials' protests, and the efforts of peace activists,
the devastation suffered by the people of Iraq is getting more attention now
than it has received in a decade. Even if efforts to lift the sanctions are
not successful, some sort of reform of the U.N.'s relief effort seems

"Grassroots activism to lift the economic sanctions on Iraq is definitely on
the rise," says Fran Teplitz of Peace Action.

"Given the dismal situation in Iraq, there is no room for optimism," says
Jahshan. "But at least there is some movement, and an emerging public
opinion that is dissatisfied with the failed long-term policy."

Copyright  2000 by The Progressive, Madison, WI.
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