I received a letter from Hillary Clinton the other day noting my "concerns" regarding Iraq. She acknowledges the "seriousness" of the situation which is a "major and constant focus of hers". I’m sure it is. The question is, for what reason?
Hillary believes that "the President should abandon his escalation of the war". She chooses not to say "his" war because it could not have been "his" war without the help of people like "her". This leaves aside the annoying distinction that this never really was a "war", in the sense of two opposing sides, but simply an attack of the most strong on the most weak, putting it in the preferred state terminology, "shock and awe".
She feels our troops (whom she "fully supports") should be given a "new strategy" in place of what, she doesn’t mention, but one assumes to be an "old strategy". This may be the strategy that didn’t materialize–the immaculate takeover. Had it materialized it is debatable whether she would have been overcome by the "seriousness" of the situation.
This attitude is made apparent in the following sentence. "We cannot afford to repeat past failures, such as not planning adequately for the conflict and failing to properly equip our men and women in uniform." The "conflict", the focus of her "seriousness", is tacitly justified.
She believes a full reconsideration of the terms and conditions of the authorization for the use of force in Iraq is "overdue". One may rightly ask, at what date was it first overdue?
Hillary cites her January trip to Iraq to assess the situation "firsthand" and express her "gratitude" to the troops. Anyone who has ever served in the military can tell you that the last thing you want to hear is that some dignitary is coming to visit your base because all that means is hassle and scrubdown. There is a play being staged called "Look and Act Your Best’ and everyone understands this is a play except the dignitary for whom it is being performed.
She notes her Troop Protection and Reduction bill would cap the number of troops in Iraq at the level before the President’s escalation. The selection of this level is no accident because it is not until this late time that she moderated her visible support of the occupation, an occupation whose illegality and immorality can be ascertained without "firsthand" experience.
And then of course she pulls out the most incredulous piece of Washington doctrine–that we have to put "real pressure on the Iraqi government"– just what Iraqis need, more pressure. Putting it cutely, this is equivalent to beating someone until their morale increases.
Hillary’s letter is a vain attempt to please a voter and, besides the fact that it does not address a single "concern" of mine, it contains a gross insult. It assumes Americans value American lives more than Iraqi lives even when it is the Americans who are taking the Iraqi lives via the "authorization to use force" that she voted for. In the 800 words of her letter there is not a solitary word devoted to an Iraqi life, an Iraqi loss, an Iraqi feeling, or an Iraqi aspiration, although we do understand Hillary’s.
But maybe we should trust her, put her in the White House and let her keep her promise to end this war, in small part, her war. We have a little insight into how she would deal with Iraq (and other countries we are in "conflict" with) from her First Lady association with Bill "humanitarian intervention" Clinton.
The Clintons presided over much of the sanctions regime against Iraq. During this period the United States, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, intentionally degraded Iraq’s water supply by bombing its electrical power system, thereby destroying the country’s ability to operate its water-treatment plants. The United States did this fully knowing the damage this would do to Iraqi civilians, particularly children. The predicted consequences included increased outbreaks of disease and high rates of child mortality. Yet it was more concerned about the public relations nightmare for Washington than the actual nightmare that the sanctions created for innocent Iraqis.
This accusation is not controversial. It is substantiated in Defense Intelligence Agency documents, the primary one entitled Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities, detailing how sanctions will prevent Iraq from supplying clean water to its citizens. (These documents were found on the Pentagon’s website, though not easily. See article by Thomas Nagy, The Progressive, September 2001).
In rationalizing the Pentagon’s punishment of the Iraqi people, a senior Air Force officer noted that many Iraqis supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. "They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country." (Washington Post, 23 June 1991). It is instructive to consider the consequences of the universalism of this principle and its direction toward us.
"If the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998" (UNICEF, 12 August 1999)
"We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral." (Denis Halliday, after resigning as first UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, The Independent, 15 October 1998)
Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest. Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Program in Iraq, did the same. First Lady Hillary Clinton stayed on. Her reaction can be summed in a single word. Silence.
Finally, Hillary categorizes the situation in Iraq as "extraordinarily difficult". Maybe, but there is a solution although she wouldn’t like it. She would find it "impossibly" difficult. As a nation we confess to the crime of aggression, apologize, arrest and punish the perpetrators, and pay reparations. This will be costly to the country but is partially offset by the savings owing to unneeded secret service protection for some of our incarcerated high officials.
JAMES ROTHENBERG can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org