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Supporting Sanctions On Iraq

Dan Tortorice

Before Sept. 11, support for the Iraqi sanctions seemed to be dwindling. More and more Americans were becoming aware of the suffering of innocent Iraqi people and questioning the efficacy of the sanctions. But in the desire for revenge post Sept. 11, this growing voice has grown silent. While this voice may have quieted for the wrong reasons, I believe the American people, now more supporting of sanctions, are moving in the right direction. The Iraqi sanctions are necessary for the protection of our country and its citizens.

That the sanctions, while killing millions of innocent people, have not been successful in removing Saddam Hussein from power is perhaps the argument most often cited in favor of lifting the embargo. It’s clear that sanctions do not result in ousting leaders from power; Castro is probably the best example of this fact. But it is equally clear that sanctions make a country poorer than it would be without the embargo. Making Iraq poor unfortunately must be a goal of U.S. policy. Let’s look at one of the many disturbing facts emerging from the investigation into the funding of al Qaeda to understand why this must be the case.

While Saudi Arabia pledged its unqualified support to the United States in its war against terrorism, it had to deal with an embarrassing fact that threatened to strain U.S.-Saudi relations. As U.S. agents examined the funding of al Qaeda, they found that the trail often pointed back to one country, Saudi Arabia. Not to the government, but to private individuals who were current or former Saudi citizens. Osama bin Laden, of course, is tops on this list.

Now I doubt that Saudi Arabian citizens have a much deeper hatred for the United States than does the rest of the Muslim world. But what these citizens do have is money, vast wealth created from 50 years of oil trade with the Western world. The oil industry brought riches to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, creating even more industries and more wealth and wealthy citizens. And some of these citizens decided to use their money to kill American people.

If Saudi Arabia became an affluent country, so could Iraq. Granted Iraq has only half the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, but it also has the world’s second largest amount of oil reserves. With the current embargo, this potential source of wealth is now untapped. But with free trade and foreign investment, this wealth will be tapped, making Iraq and some of its citizens prosperous.

If some Saudis were willing to fund terrorism against the United States, how much more likely are we to find Iraqis willing as well? Their government already seems to be, unless you think the Iraqi defense minister met with an al Qaeda leader pre-Sept. 11 to discuss a time-share in Baghdad. Are we to pump our money into their economy when some of the funds are likely to be used for our destruction?

The threat becomes even more real once we consider the biological and chemical weapons Iraq possesses and the nuclear weapons it is seeking to develop. Make no mistake, Iraq has these weapons. Physicians for Human Rights conclusively demonstrated that Saddam Hussein used nerve gas on his own people, the Kurds in Northern Iraq. (It is likely that the United States was instrumental in the development of these weapons, funding them while an Iraqi ally in its war with Iran. While interesting, this point is of course of not relevant to determining our policy now.) What is relevant is the threat a wealthy Iraq poses for the United States. Ask yourself, can we risk a wealthy Iraq and many wealthy Iraqi citizens with access to chemical and biological weapons?

I would be lacking in my argument if I did not discuss the enormous human suffering the sanctions cause. The death toll from the sanctions is estimated between 500,000 and 1.5 million people, many of whom are children. In Iraq one in every ten children does not live to see his or her fifth birthday. It would be wrong to attempt to trivialize in any way this immense human suffering. But consider also the horrible suffering that would occur if smallpox was released in one of our major cities or if a highly virulent strain of airborne anthrax was developed and released in our country. I ask again, can we morally trade with a country when that very trade may indirectly result in the death of millions of people?

I will not say that it’s okay for the children of Iraq to die so that Americans will live. Even with sanctions in place, Iraqi children need not die. The U.S. has reluctantly backed a food-for-oil program. This program should be expanded. More food should flow into Iraq; this can save the lives of innocent Iraqis while preventing the enrichment of those who seek to destroy us. But additional trade is a mistake. If you watched the Patriots’ triumph in the Super Bowl you undoubtedly saw advertisements claiming that if you purchase illegal drugs you are funding terrorism. If we trade freely with Iraq, then we all will be funding terrorism.