This is in response to Joey Tartakovsky’s article, “Oh, the Humanity of It All: Humanitarianism Is a Reason for War, Not Against It” (Daily Nexus, Feb. 19).
Tartakovsky calls for those who oppose war to acknowledge the “complex moral calculus” that is involved. Just observe what has occurred in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War and the beginning of the U.N./U.S. sanctions regime. The mathematics are quite clear: Human Rights Watch claims that Iraq has roughly 3,000 extra-judicial killings a year; according to the U.N., sanctions kill over 50,000 Iraqi children every year. HRW reports close to 17,000 “disappearances” in Iraq in the last decade; U.N. reports assert that sanctions have killed one million people at the very least. These sanctions are described by former top U.N. officials Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck – the individuals who helped design them – as “genocidal,” functioning to destroy Iraqi civil society and strengthen Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In fact, Hussein has been remarkably benign in the past decade when compared to the period when he led the region’s largest terror state, operating with financial, military and agricultural support from Reagan, Thatcher and several other Western states. Some of the worst violence of the grim 1990s was undertaken in southeastern Turkey, where millions of Kurds were driven out of the devastated countryside, with tens of thousands killed and every imaginable form of torture. The United States provided 80 percent of the arms and continued to increase shipments until Turkey became the leading recipient of U.S. arms, apart from Israel and Egypt, as atrocities peaked.
In all spheres of human life, individuals face a massive burden if they wish to justify the use of violence. It’s hard to imagine finding a “justification” to even use violence against your spouse, let alone for initiating a large-scale invasion that the U.N. expects will result in 500,000 casualties in the first phases alone and in a country where half the citizens are under 15 years of age. This burden has never been remotely met by the Bush administration and is becoming even harder to justify in light of the progress that U.N. inspectors continue to make.
Incidentally, since the Gulf War, the U.S. State Dept. has until recently maintained a total ban on contact with the exiled Iraqi opposition of which Mr. Tartakovsky speaks highly. The U.S. recently accepted demands from its fine, upstanding allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to install a post-Hussein military government headed by U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks if an invasion occurs. Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish administration, told Iraq expert Patricia Cockburn last week that the U.S. had reneged on its claims to support democracy. “It is very disappointing. In every Iraqi ministry they are just going to remove one or two officials and replace them with American military officers.” So much for Iraqi self-determination and the humanitarian benefits it might have brought.
Mr. Tartakovsky wrote that “you won’t see any Iraqis marching in anti-war protests,” as if Iraqis couldn’t find anything to mind about having their children blown up or being carbonized by firebombs in the midst of a massive military invasion. The Washington Times reported last Sunday that “in Baghdad itself, thousands of Iraqis filled the streets Saturday to protest both U.S. and British military deployments in the region and threats to invade Iraq.”
Few thought victory was possible for South Africans struggling against apartheid; few thought victory was possible for Timorese struggling against the Indonesian dictator Gen. Suharto. These victories against tyrants do come, in the right conditions. The United States must nurture lasting peaceful change in Iraq by supporting and strengthening the inspections regime, ending the non-military sanctions against Iraq to allow an Iraqi civil society to redevelop and by assisting opposition movements to organize and gain funding and regional legitimacy. This path, not large-scale extreme violence, is quite obviously the most humane.
Nico Pitney is a fourth-year philosophy major.