The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
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 solace; 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 CIA. 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. Best, Colin Rowat work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham | Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | web.bham.ac.uk/c.rowat | ( 44/0) 121 414 3754 | (+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) | firstname.lastname@example.org personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) | (707) 221 3672 (US fax) | email@example.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk