The most detectable principle in American foreign policy since the Second World War has been that it would rather live with a tyrant than take its chances with the chaos that might or might not come when he is gone. And so Saddam Hussein rules on, scarcely inhibited in the exercise of his savage will and we tolerantly wait for one of those army coups which are the only revolutions that suit our taste and calm our lively fear of all uprisings stirring in precincts socially inferior to the palace.
In the interim, while consequential history drowses:
Malnutrition, which had not been seen in Iraq in the last decade, is now widely reported in pediatric wards and health clinics across the country…. Clinical forms of severe malnutrition are now highly visible; marasmus [caused by lack of adequate overall food intake and resulting in wasting away of body tissue] in particular, but also kwashiorkor [protein deficiency] have been reported in alarming numbers…. [E]ntire hospital pediatric wards are full of patients suffering from marasmus in towns of only a few thousand population.
—From a UN Children’s Fund update as of Monday, June 10, 1991
Our consignments of freedom remain on the shelves; but exports of marasmus and kwashiorkor abound as a substitute. These are, to be sure, brand names less familiar than the Patriot and altogether less inspirational for fireworks.
The sole laboratory producing veterinary vaccines was destroyed during the conflict…in the same sequence of bombardments on this center, which was a [UN] Food and Agricultural Organization regional project…. The country had a particular dependence upon foreign vegetable seeds and [UN relief surveyors were] able to inspect destroyed seed warehouses.
—Report of the UN mission to assess humanitarian needs in Iraq as
of last April
Such was the all-encompassing sweep of our strike at Saddam Hussein’s bacteriological weapon stock. And such, incidentally, is the blighted future of this year’s harvest for a nation that in peacetime already needed to import 70 percent of its food. When the war began, food rations had already been cut 40 percent; and when it ended, every citizen was allotted three loaves of baked bread a month. A kilogram of whole milk cost ten dinars in a society where the minimum wage is fifty-four dinars a month. But then the minimum wage is an abstract expression in an economy where the jobs of nine industrial workers out of ten have simply been blown away.
Iraq is receiving one-third of its prewar water purification supplies, and the major part is being provided by the [UN Children’s Fund]. The typhoid epidemic has improved somewhat but urinary infection and diarrheal disease is still prevalent. Cholera remains still prevalent.
—UNICEF relief update as of June 10
When we speak of surgical bombardment, we refer to an unwanted make-work project for surgeons. The Gulf War is the UN’s first victory over aggression and therefore the first time its relief agencies have been challenged to contend with a disaster with the UN’s own blessing. UNICEF’s budget for its contribution to restoring Iraq to some trace of civilized existence is $47 million and it was $27 million short when the week of June 10 began. So far the United States has given nothing; our expenditures on troops and weapons have left us too penurious to afford to be humane.
Despite the improvements made up to date, basic services are deteriorating alarmingly in all sectors that affect the lives of children and women, particularly in the areas of nutrition, health, water, and sanitation.
—UNICEF relief update as of June 10
Perhaps we might look elsewhere for reasons to be proud of ourselves, though these may be only dimly visible.
July 18, 1991