SOMETIMES we say the right things for the wrong reasons. And sometimes we say the wrong things for the right reasons. It is human nature to express well-intentioned beliefs that are counterproductive. People who fall into this category should not face criticism, but we should counter their beliefs at the appropriate time.
We encounter this exact situation when we discuss the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. These punishments for past and present misbehavior are far more complicated than many other international disputes. Of course, the ramifications are more severe than, say, the Cuban trade embargo. Fidel Castro is a very bad guy, but few people outside of Miami would actually believe he wants to acquire nuclear weapons.
Hussein presents an entirely different case. Most authorities are fairly certain he already has nerve gas and biological weapons. The jury is divided over whether he has nuclear capabilities. The international sanctions provide one of the few tools the international community, and more importantly, the United States, can use to limit his ability to develop such weapons. The idea of lifting the sanctions is undoubtedly a compelling and humanitarian argument. But there are other means available to help the long-suffering Iraqi people than to give this terrible man a "get out of jail free card."
The first statistic that proponents of ending the sanctions always raise is the number of children who have died since the sanctions began in 1991. Those who hold this view conveniently forget that the only reason such suffering continues in Iraq is Hussein himself. There is no other explanation. There are plenty of other dictatorships that survive under the weight of international censure and trade sanctions - Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, our friend Castro, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, the Burmese military junta, the mullahs in Iran and a parade of others.
Yet with the recent exception of North Korea, the people of these countries do not face mass starvation and suffering, despite the greed of their dictators. Even in North Korea's case, the famine was largely due to natural causes, not the well-deserved sanctions. Qaddafi is unquestionably a jerk and a terrorist, but he does not intentionally force starvation upon Libyans for the explicit purpose of garnering world sympathy. Castro even rations out a certain amount of food and necessities to el pueblo, although in exchange they give up any hope of a real future.
None of these conditions apply to Hussein. While thousands of Iraqi children die each year for lack of simple medication, he continues to expend what meager funding his country has on lavish birthday celebrations and military installments. Our bombing raid last week was a demonstration of exactly what our British allies and we think of such government budgeting. The United States and Britain are two of the few nations that have not fallen for Hussein's game of holding his own people hostage to increase world sympathy and, hopefully, end the sanctions.
An end to the sanctions will mean a quick solution to the Iraqi people's suffering. Hussein, while likely criminally insane, is also a very clever dictator. Once the sanctions end, he will improve his people's welfare only so far as to make the international community believe it made the correct decision. Make no mistake, the overwhelming beneficiary of any end to the sanctions will be the devil himself, Saddam Hussein.
Even when the international community makes a good faith gesture towards Iraq and offers to let it sell petroleum in exchange for food, Hussein alternatively refuses or confiscates the proceeds to add to his by now massive personal wealth. The international community should instead offer a program of aid-for-nothing. The U.S. could even make this move unilaterally. We should offer Iraq medicine and food unconditionally, and we should monitor it to make sure it gets to the right people. If Hussein refuses this gesture, then as always, every Iraqi child's death will be on his head.
It does not have to be this way. But in reality, there is only one man who can change this needlessly tragic situation. It was not Bill Clinton. It was not former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And it is not the current President Bush. The only man who can rescue Iraq from its predicament is Hussein himself. We could end this in five minutes if he simply allowed the United Nations weapons inspectors back in. Since he is a two-faced liar, this is unlikely, but there's always hope. The fault for this entire sad predicament has never left Baghdad.
The world needs to take a strong stand here. If it caves to Saddam's mind games, it will set a dangerous precedent. It will demonstrate that dictators will have their needs met by the world community if they can tighten the noose around their people's necks for long enough. The pleas for an end to the embargo are convincing and deserve commendation, but Americans are not the ones who need to hear them. The only man who can put an end to this tragedy is Saddam Hussein. Otherwise, we are playing right into this man's hands.
(Timothy DuBoff's column normally appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.)