Monday, September 09, 2002

Several years ago, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, the Clinton administration decided to bomb a plant in the middle of Sudan. The Sudanese had described it as a pharmaceutical plant, but the Clinton administration deemed it to be making nerve gas --- ultimately, as it emerged, on the basis of one soil sample, containing a chemical which turned out to have legitimate commercial uses (contrary to the Clinton administration's assertions). It also emerged that the plant, while in operation, had a marked lack of the safeguards one might have expected from a plant whose products were supposed to be deadly to the workers.

Republicans charged that the raid had been launched entirely for political effect. But hey. Clinton had to come up with something to compare with the earlier Bush administration's phony tales of Iraqi baby-killing in Kuwait.

There's a double irony here, of course --- Saddam Hussein's regime really is genocidal, having gassed its own Kurdish citizens during the Iran/Iraq war (just like, al-Shifa plant or no, there really was dangerous terrorist activity in Sudan). And many members of the Bush administration knew that very well, from service in the Reagan administration, which effectively sponsored Iraq during that war. Samantha Power's recent book, "A Problem from Hell", goes into this in detail, with a particular focus on the American government's attempts, at the time, to literally blame the victims of the gas attacks, who were dismissed in American official statements as terrorist rebels. Some of these were infants --- Power's book has a picture of a real dead baby on page 192. (I suppose I have to say, for the benefit of my "anti-idiotarian" readers, that it is not wearing a bandolier). And according to Tim Judah's article in the current New York Review, not yet on line, the Iraqi campaign to evict Kurds from oil producing regions continues today at a low level, at least as far as anyone can tell, with a few dozen a day crossing the border.

Saddam Hussein, in short, is the same genocidal bastard he's always been --- before the Gulf War, when he was our guy against Iran, and after the Gulf War, when Dick Cheney's Halliburton was selling him equipment. (And also while, according to another current NYRB article, by Frances Fitzgerald, Donald Rumsfeld was arguing that an attack on Iraq was somehow key to resolving the Palestinian problem. This is the same Rumsfeld who was pressing for an attack on Iraq on the afternoon of September 11th, not waiting to see if there was any evidence that Saddam had anything to with it. "Go massive", he apparently said, "sweep it all up, things related and not." It seems that an attack on Iraq is his foreign policy version of the Bush tax cut --- the quick, easy solution to the worst problem we have, whatever that happens to be).

What does this all add up to? Well first, when the administration trots out the evidence that Iraq is about to have nukes, it's worth wondering whether it's another dead baby story, or whether the things being labeled as nuclear weapons technology actually are. (As Jim Henley points out, initial signs are not encouraging).

But the overall history suggests larger questions.

Like why the administration is so sure that Saddam isn't susceptible to deterrence, when he was in fact deterred from using chemical weapons against the United States in an actual shooting war (something he's shown no compunction about when the United States gave him nods and winks, as Power's book demonstrates in depth). It would be particularly out of character for the thoroughly secular Saddam to hand over weapons of mass destruction to fanatical islamists who regard him as an ally of convenience at best.

Compare that, for example, to the Pakistani military and intelligence services, which have in fact worked hand in glove with the fanatics. They created the Taliban. They are rumored to be succoring its remnants. They haven't given them weapons of mass destruction. Yet. But they do have nukes. Don't worry though --- Pervez Musharraf is in charge there, he'll stay in charge now that he's effectively suspended the constitution, and he's our bastard, the same way Saddam Hussein used to be. For the moment.

Or compare it to the leaders of North Korea, verging on clinical insanity, where even the Bush administration is working on a nuclear weapons control regime which actually has us running a reactor on their soil.

Or compare it to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, where the population, lacking a government with enough substance to conduct a weapons program of its own, seems to be funding Osama bin Laden to do it in the private sector, while their government covers for them. Dubya's sucking up to the Saudis seems to disgust even internet hawks.

Or just close your eyes and hope for the best.

(Some links via Unqualified Offerings).


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