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RE: [casi] You have been scammed. Move on people!!!

Dear Darin and other list members,

In this e-mail, I briefly note some of what I understand to be Charlie
Brown's key arguments, and then comment on them.  Darin - if you were
interested in engaging with this issue, I would welcome your comments on my
summary of Charlie's arguments, and my response to them.

I apologise in advance that my summary and response is brief: much of this,
as Gabriel notes, has been well covered over the years on this list, and
these issues are occasionally thrown around like hand grenades - less to
further understanding than to cause trouble; when this is the case, time
spent in response is not necessarily well spent.

The thrust of Charlie Brown's argument, as I understand it, is:

1. the Iraqi government sought to distort data on social conditions in Iraq
under sanctions;

2. responsibility for suffering in Iraq was the sole fault of the Iraqi
government, and attempts to argue otherwise offered the Iraqi government

3. Voices in the Wilderness (US) entered into a tacit agreement with the
Iraqi government not to criticise it, in return for which its members were
allowed to visit Iraq;

4. Voices (US) was not interested in discussing the complexities of the
situation in Iraq, or properly addressing issues such as those raised by
Prof. Baram or Michael Rubin;

5. the Christian pacifist agenda of Voices (US) was partly responsible for
its stance.

As Gabriel points out, many of these issues have been raised over the years
on this list.  I would encourage interested list members to first check the
discussion list archives.  I would be happy to help point them to resources
if they cannot find them on their own.

1. yes: the Iraqi government sought to distort data on social conditions in
Iraq.  Its Ministry of Health data, in particular, were based on
non-transparent methodologies.

2. the first part of this claim is clearly incorrect.  To argue that
suffering in any country reflects a single cause is absurd; this holds in
Iraq as well.  Further, Iraq was subject to economic sanctions, which are
imposed with the intent of inflicting economic harm, and therefore forcing
political concessions.  This is why the UN Charter includes them in Chapter
VII, which deals with coercive measures.  Was Saddam's dictatorship
insufficiently responsive to Iraqi needs?  Of course - only a small number
of people argue otherwise.  Indeed, this argument was addressed by the UK's
International Development Select Committee report on the Future of Sanctions
some years back: if one imposed sanctions on Iraq, knowing its leadership to
be brutal, then one becomes somewhat responsible if that leadership does not
take all possible steps to reduce suffering caused by those sanctions.

The second part of the claim is more complicated: did anti-sanctions
activists provide support for the Iraqi regime?  This, of course, is what
the regime wanted, and it sought to bend groups to its support.  I remember
the CASI committee receiving photos of horribly deformed Iraqi children from
an Iraqi government source, with a request for support.  The committee
wisely steered well clear of this.  My most uncomfortable experience in Iraq
during my first visit was my one substantial meeting with an Iraqi official,
who sought to convince me that chlorine was banned under sanctions, etc.

Anti-sanctions groups clearly ranged in their responses to such pressure.
Groups like CASI were very careful in their positions, not opposing the
no-fly zones, military activity or military sanctions.  CASI's stance may
have been wrong - it certainly has been criticised.  Even with this careful
stance, did CASI end up helping the Iraqi government?  Views around Iraq are
sufficiently polarised that it's possible to find people who believe CASI to
be a tool of the Saddam regime, and others who view it as one of MI5 or the

The question is, however, only partly the right one: the omitted part is
whether anti-sanctions groups also helped Iraqis, and whether that help
outweighed whatever support Saddam might have derived from their work.  The
answer to the first part of this is almost certainly positive.  During my
last trip to Iraq, in May 2002, I was amazed to discover the number of
Iraqis in the blocks around the Al-Fanar Hotel, where members of Voices (US)
stayed in Baghdad, whose faces lit up when Kathy Kelly's name was mentioned.
Other Iraqis, whom I knew socially through friends in the UK, told me how
impressed they were by her living through a summer in Basra on OFF rations.
Clearly, some 'ordinary Iraqis' drew moral support from the knowledge that
they had not been abandoned by all Americans.

Politically, it is harder to say what the consequences of lobbying were.
It's certainly the case that the initial Security Council resolutions
offered Iraq were brutal in the extreme; SCRs 706 and 712 have been analysed
in various CASI documents.  The original OFF resolution (986) was at least
in part a response to growing concern at the horrible fall in living
conditions in Iraq resulting from the halt to all official trade.  The years
immediately following this began to see more concerted pressure for
improvements in the humanitarian aspects of the sanctions.  This became
particularly obvious when Madeleine Albright and other members of the
Clinton administration were shown, in a 'town hall' meeting, not to be able
to articulate a clear Iraq policy.  SCR 1284 - an imperfect resolution, but
an improvement - was a partial response to this pressure.

What is the relative importance of these two half questions - supporting
Saddam and helping Iraqis?  I will not try to offer an answer to this, but
do think that the balance implied by Albright in her famous claim that the
deaths of a half million Iraqi children were 'worth the price', is very
widely viewed as abhorrent.

3. I cannot comment on Voices' (US) tacit agreements, but would not be at
all surprised if there was one of this sort.  Nor do I regard this as
extraordinary: political action necessarily involves compromise.  The
question, in all cases, is whether the compromises are acceptable.  Again,
this is a question to which there cannot be a clear answer.  I would be
uncomfortable if Voices (US) was actually consciously presenting arguments
that it knew to be false (a standard that the British and American
governments seem to accept).  Having not followed their work closely, I do
not know if this is the case: it's certainly the case that I've been
impressed over the years with the high evidential standard required by
Voices UK.  The charge of not focussing campaigns on Iraqi government human
rights abuses seems to me a much lesser one: these are well attested to,
widely known, and have long been the subject of intensive lobbying; groups
expressing concerns about the humanitarian effects of the sanctions,
however, were far fewer - in part because of the political effectiveness of
the charge of being a supporter of Saddam.

4. again, I cannot comment on Voices' (US) internal conversations.  I do
know what these issues have been discussed over the years on the CASI
discussion list in a vigourous fashion.  Further, the staunchest opponents
of the 'Iraqi government line' have often been members of Voices (UK) or
CASI.  I would direct list members to archival entries on the Halabja
gassings, or the presentation of Iraqi government figures as UN figures.

5. finally, Voices' (US) work clearly reflected its Christian pacifist
stance.  Other opponents of non-military sanctions on Iraq had other
stances.  CASI list members will know that this list receives contributions
from across the religious and political spectrum; Iranians have been active
CASI committee members over the years, including as co-ordinator.  Thus,
Brown's remarks on the philosophy of Voices (US) should not be taken as
applying to all groups.

As a concluding comment, I was saddened when I first read Charlie's article:
his experience has been very different than mine.  During my involvement
with CASI, I have met some of the finest people that I know: intelligent
people committed to honesty, and courageous enough to face political attack
when challenging their own governments on an extremely divisive issue.  They
have given up their own time and resources to do this, often hindering other
aspects of their life.  Sometimes they have made mistakes, whether through
inexperience or failures of courage.  These have been painful, but do not
overshadow the pride that I feel to know them.  Churchill said that the
price of democracy is constant vigilance; I agree, and am glad to have seen
this embodied in people that I have met through CASI over the years.


Colin Rowat

work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham |
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | | ( 44/0) 121 414 3754 |
(+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) |

personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
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