To the Editors:
I am a TV journalist and documentary film maker of some twenty-five years’ experience. In this capacity I have spent much of my professional life reporting the workings of US foreign policy in various parts of the world—notably Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Despite these experiences I have never felt impelled to write a letter of protest. I am absolutely appalled by US policy to the situation in Iraq and wish to say so in the strongest possible terms. Before doing so, I wish to make three points. First, this is not just a routine anti-American rant. I am old enough to remember the enactment of the Marshall Plan in Europe after the Second World War, probably one of the most generous and statesmanlike acts ever performed. Secondly, I spent three months with the Kurdish guerrilla army in 1975, so I’m reasonably well informed about the situation there. Thirdly, I wholeheartedly supported the US decision to go to war in defense of Kuwait. To come straight to the point: in my opinion (and that of most other journalists here) present US policy in this matter is hypocritical, cowardly, and counterproductive.
It is hypocritical because, after all the high-flown sanctimony about defending the principle of the sovereignty of nations, after we urged all those who opposed Saddam Hussein to rise up and overthrow him, after having destroyed almost everything in Iraq—apart from Saddam’s infrastructure of terror which he is now deploying with terrifying consequences—the United States government is pretending that political principle prevents them from intervening. They are standing by while acts are committed which go far beyond simple repression: what we have here is genocide. It is ridiculous for the United States to hide behind the idea that they need specific United Nations’ resolutions to further action. There has been United Nations’ sanction for action against genocide since 1948 which deems that the suppression of any ethnic minority by massacre or other means is an offense against international law. What other ways are there of describing what is currently happening in Kurdistan? The United States pretends that it is the duty of the people of Iraq “to decide how they are governed.” Most of the people of Iraq have already decided: they will do anything up to and including sacrificing their own lives to get rid of him. They do not lack the political will; they lack only the means. The United States of all countries should know the advantage conferred by technology. Their “brilliant success” in Kuwait was achieved almost entirely by technological superiority. Roughly the same balance of power exists between Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard and the ordinary Iraqi citizens. It is nonsense to say that the US is following a policy of nonintervention, it has already intervened—to the tune of over 100,000 Iraqi military casualties and the destruction of most of the services and facilities which make civilized life possible. In any case, what was the removal of General Noriega, the invasion of Grenada, or the supply of arms to Afghan rebels if not intervention? US “nonintervention” appears to be a highly flexible concept.
The Unites States’ policy is also cowardly. Its army and air force are still largely in place in southern Iraq. It needs to do very little to exert a decisive influence on events. It is widely agreed that, if it chose, America could effectively ground helicopters and aircraft. Probably (until very recently) America needed only to make threatening noises and give indications of what it would do if Saddam Hussein departed from the narrowest possible interpretation of the ceasefire. The resulting boost to rebel morale and the subsequent reduction in that of his supporters might well have been sufficient to topple the regime. Failure to react with this relatively minor “intervention” must rank as one of the most disgraceful failures of political nerve on record. Meanwhile all the moral credit of the admirable stand the US made in attacking Iraq is rapidly evaporating as twelve-year-old boys are hanged and women and children are sprayed with napalm from helicopters. The US apparently prefers this to what they see as the danger of various autonomous groups within Iraq. But none of those groups is asking for autonomy. Instead there has been talk of a united democratic front. For the United States, which is positively sanctimonious about its role in upholding democracy, to be seen to be resisting this is a very unedifying spectacle.
Last, and worst of all, US policy is counterproductive. Clausewitz’s most famous maxim was that “War is an extension of democracy by other means.” Stated or not the war aim underlying events in Kuwait was the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime. And, if it was not, present events show it should have been. By not allowing the Iraqi people to exercise their will and remove him, the United States falls neatly between two stools. The cost in human and material terms has been vast, but while fundamental aims have not been achieved, the United States—far from seeming to be a liberator—will be blamed for everything, so losing all the benefits of going to war in the first place. If the United States had set out to create a policy which would confirm the worst suspicions about the American intentions in the Arab world, if it had set out to encourage the tendency of ordinary people in Europe to believe that America is often too isolated from and ignorant of political situations in other parts of the world, it could not have done a better job. Ironically, the Allies’ unprecedented military success seems to emphasize the moral and political vacuum that lies beind it. Furthermore, by allowing Saddam Hussein to reassert power, the US is not preventing instability, but promoting it. There is no doubt that in the end he will be removed. Common sense dictates that, if possible, this should be done by forces which are well disposed toward America. As it is, those forces are more likely to be supported by Iran—thus creating the very situation which the State Department regards as its worst nightmare.
The American nightmare in Vietnam was, in part, a result of its relative isolation from the rest of the world; this encouraged a misleading assessment of the proper political response. Can it be that the lesson of Vietnam has still not been learned? Is American public opinion still too unaware of or indifferent to problems elsewhere to be able to influence its government toward more sensible policies? Unfortunately there is an enormous ill-will toward the US in many countries. The apparent duplicity, cynicism, and self-interest of present policies in Iraq are perfect grist to this virulent anti-American mill. US policy must change before it causes irreparable damage to its interests.
May 16, 1991