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Iraq: From Clinton to Bush



Despite what John Kerry may say along the campaign trail, the Democratic Party is largely to blame for laying the groundwork the Republican hawks needed to justify attacking Iraq and waging Bush’s greater “war on terror.”

This of course is not something you will be likely to hear sputter off the lips of Kerry this year: but it was under Clinton’s dutiful watch when bin Laden allegedly masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. The CIA claimed the strike was carried out by the same ring of thugs that hit the USS Cole in October 2000, as well as the horrific terror attacks in September of 2001. And intelligence officials concur that the September 11 hijackings were being planned well before Al Gore’s defeat in 2000.

According to Laurie Mylrone, Bill Clinton’s Iraq adviser in 1993, Clinton himself responded to the first attack on the WTC by bombing Iraq. “He said publicly that the U.S. strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters was retaliation for Saddam’s attempt to kill [ex-president] George Bush,” NewsMax reported Mylroie as saying in October 2002. “[But] he also meant it for the Trade Center bombing.

“Clinton believed that the attack on Iraqi intelligence headquarters would deter Saddam from all future strikes against the United States,” she disclosed, and then conceded, “It was hopelessly naïve.”

In 1996, Clinton bombed Iraq yet again. Orchestrated in early September 1996, the bombings walloped several civilian targets and military facilities — without the approval of the U.N. or any international alliance, for that matter. The Iraqi government reported dozens of deaths, and millions of dollars worth of damages. Sound familiar?

Of course, these attacks were not a first for Clinton, who had already been viciously callous to the citizens of Iraq. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported a year earlier in 1995, as many as 576,000 Iraqi youth died as a result of United Nation sanctions that the US had imposed and supported since 1991. This conservative tally did not even include the over 90,000 annual hospital deaths that the World Health Organization estimated would have not happened had Clinton not compelled the UN to enforce harsh sanctions against the Iraqi people. Sadly, it seems the litmus test for U.S. presidential aspirants must include the will to brutalize Iraqis.

Then in 1998, Clinton retaliated for an East African U.S. Embassy bombing by firing 70 cruise missiles at a suspected bin Laden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and heaving another 17 missiles at a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. The plant was destroyed, and most likely was responsible for thousands of deaths.

Later that year when Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act — drafted by the same hawkish neocons that helped thrust forth Bush’s own Iraq policy including Republican staffer Randy Scheunemann, Donald Rumsfeld, former-CIA director R. James Woosley, and Ahmad Chalabi into law later that year — the US outlined its ultimate objective for its involvement in Iraq. That is, extinguishing the life of Saddam Hussein and his government.

It was as if D.C. already had the champagne on ice; regime change was so close, Congress could almost taste the after-party. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported the legislation, with the Senate voting unanimously in favor of the bill.

When Clinton signed it into law in mid-October 1996, Republican Senator Trent Lott sang his praises: “The Clinton administration regularly calls for bipartisanship in foreign policy. I support them when I can. Today, we see a clear example of a policy that has the broadest possible bi-partisan support. I know the Administration understands the depth of our feeling on this issue. I think they are beginning to understand the strategic argument in favor of moving beyond containment to a policy of ‘rollback.’ Containment is not sustainable. Pressure to lift sanctions on Iraq is increasing — despite Iraq’s seven years of refusal to comply with the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire. Our interests in the Middle East cannot be protected with Saddam Hussein in power. Our legislation provides a roadmap to achieve our objective.

In what many criticized as an effort to deflect attention from his impeachment trial, Clinton, tried his luck with Saddam one more time a couple months later on December 16, 1998. But unlike previous Iraqi bloodbaths — which paled in comparison — this attack was waged with visceral rage. As President Clinton asserted in a national televised address on the day of the first US offensive, “Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors … Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.

“Six weeks ago, he continued, “Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called UNSCOM. They are highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq’s capability to retain, create and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability … The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.

Noam Chomsky responded, “I think the major reasons [for the use of force] are the usual ones. The US and its increasingly pathetic British lieutenant want the world to understand — and in particular want the people of the Middle East region to understand — that What We Say Goes,, as Bush [Sr.] defined his New World Order while the missiles were raining on Baghdad in February 1991. The message, clear and simple, is that we are violent and lawless states, and if you don’t like it, get out of our way. It’s a message of no small significance. Simply have a look at the projections of geologists concerning the expanding role of Middle East oil in global energy production in the coming decades … The manner and timing of the attack were also surely intended to be a gesture of supreme contempt for the United Nations, and a declaration of the irrelevance of international law or other obligations; that too has been understood. The bombing was initiated as the Security Council met in emergency session to deal with the crisis in Iraq, and even its permanent members were not notified.

Surely Iraq had been brutalized for decades under the thumb of Saddam Hussein. But Clinton only escalated the cruelty. Writing for Guardian Unlimited in 2000, journalist John Pilger reported:

“Six other children died not far away on January 25 last year. An American missile hit Al Jumohria, a street in a poor residential area. Sixty-three people were injured, a number of them badly burned. Collateral damage,, said the Department of Defense in Washington. Britain and the United States are still bombing Iraq almost every day: It is the longest Anglo-American bombing campaign since the second world war, yet, with honorable exceptions, very little appears about it in the British media. Conducted under the cover of -no-fly zones,, which have no basis in international law, the aircraft, according to Tony Blair, are performing vital humanitarian tasks., The ministry of defense in London has a line about taking robust action to protect pilots” from Iraqi attacks”yet an internal UN Security Sector report says that, in one five-month period, 41 per cent of the victims were civilians in civilian targets: villages, fishing jetties, farmland and vast, treeless valleys where sheep graze.

“This is a war against the children of Iraq on two fronts: bombing, which in the last year cost the British taxpayer £60 million. And the most ruthless embargo in modern history. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the death rate of children under five is more than 4,000 a month”that is 4,000 more than would have died before sanctions. That is half- a million children dead in eight years.

“The irony is that the US helped bring Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party to power in Iraq, and that the US (and Britain) in the 1980s conspired to break their own laws in order, in the words of a Congressional inquiry, to secretly court Saddam Hussein with reckless abandon,, giving him almost everything he wanted, including the means of making biological weapons. Rubin failed to see the irony in the US supplying Saddam with seed stock for anthrax and botulism, that he could use in weapons, and claimed that the Maryland company responsible was prosecuted. It was not: The company was given Commerce Department approval.

“Denial is easy, for Iraqis are a nation of unpeople in the West, their panoramic suffering of minimal media interest; and when they are news, care is always taken to minimize Western culpability. I can think of no other human rights issue about which the governments have been allowed to sustain such deception and tell so many bare-faced lies. Western governments have had a gift in the butcher of Baghdad–who can be safely blamed for everything. Unlike the be-headers of Saudi Arabia, the torturers of Turkey and the prince of mass murderers, Suharto, only Saddam Hussein is so loathsome that his captive population can be punished for his crimes.”

In retrospect, it is evident that Clinton and his Democratic cohorts did more than their fair share of laying the groundwork for Bush’s war against and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only did Clinton construct the political leverage Bush needed by signing the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, he also provided a model for Bush’s relentless bombing of Iraq as he also led several significant strikes on Afghanistan and the Sudan.

So when Bush began talking about regime change in Iraq, those who looked to the Democrats to halt the offensive, were surely seeking out the wrong allies.


On October 10, 2002, the House of Representatives voted 296-133 in favor of giving Bush the green light to punish Saddam. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush on the White House lawn, Dick Gephardt, who helped draft the measure, explained, “I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing [Saddam] from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent.

Meanwhile, Bush was amassing support for his war in the Senate. Helping Bush’s cause was Tom Daschle, the Democrat Majority Leader at the time, who surmised that Saddam’s threat “may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored.” Hitching a ride on the war-wagon New York Senator Hilary Clinton added, “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock … his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

Buying Bush’s war propaganda hook-line-and-sinker, the Democrats were all too eager to support the Iraqi war. They believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. They were convinced he was a threat to U.S. sovereignty. They even thought he had ties to Osama bin Laden. The donkeys were bewildered.

As far back as 1998, President Clinton articulated his concerns about a possible Iraq threat, announcing after a Iraq Pentagon briefing, “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” It should come as no surprise that Senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, and Carl Levin wrote President Clinton that same year to illuminate the threat Saddam allegedly represented, emphasizing, “We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions, including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites, to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The tide, it seemed, had a window of opportunity to turn away from this prelude to war against Iraq, but predictably, the Democrats, on their heels and hoping not to lose control of the Senate in a congressional election year, cowered in 2002. Although Rep. Dennis Kucinich perceptively saw the looming war as a momentous error and organized opposition in the House — some 130 votes — his noble effort failed. With political interests and propaganda in mind, most establishment Democrats ignored his rationale, leaving the millions of protestors who took to the streets across America prior to the invasion with few representatives in Washington, historically or otherwise. And as the story goes, Bush easily got his way, much to the protesters, chagrin: On March 19, 2003, US forces rattled Baghdad with a military conquest like no other seen in history. The war-criminals proudly dubbed their murderous deed “Shock-and-Awe.

By then, the Democrats, who had failed to articulate any basis for citizens to vote for them as opposed to their Republican rivals, had lost control of the Senate as well as many seats in the House. They didn,t challenge Bush on any major issue. They supported his invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a horrific display of political ineptness. The Democrats — unlike the millions of Americans who knew Bush and Co. had ulterior motives for unilaterally attacking Iraq — had been duped.

Time will tell if John Kerry will be punished at the polls in November for failing to articulate a viable alternative to President Bush. Like William Blum recently said, he may be viable, but Kerry and his Democratic brethren are anything but an alternative.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at



JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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