Patrick J. Buchanan has a blind spot when it comes to Iraq. It?s possible to question U.S. policy toward Iraq, including Clinton?s motives in ordering military strikes, without appearing to defend Saddam. Recently, though, Buchanan wrote a column suggesting the United States was inflicting more pain and suffering on the Iraqi people than the Iraqi dictator. Buchanan asked, “…who inflicts the greater suffering – Saddam or a U.S.-led embargo that has claimed the lives of 239,000 children, five years old and under, since 1990?” The answer was the United States. He called the embargo on Iraq “immoral.”
What Pat carefully neglected to mention was that there is a big hole in that embargo—oil sales. Under the “oil-for-food” program, Iraq can sell more than $10 billion worth of oil a year to buy food and humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people. This program has been drastically increased even while military strikes have been waged on Iraq. A year ago Iraq was only allowed to sell about $5 billion worth of oil a year.
It?s true that serious shortages of food and medicine still exist. But that?s at least partly because Saddam has been reselling the goods and products he has received under the program that are supposed to be destined for the Iraqi people. And some of the oil revenue has been used for extravagant purchases. Two months ago CNN disclosed that Iraq had tried to spend some of its oil-for-food money on personal luxuries, including breast implants, a liposuction machine, and a teeth-whitening machine. The purchase of the liposuction machine had been approved by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan before U.S. and British representatives on a U.N. sanctions committee objected and halted it.
As for the so-called “immoral” U.S. policy toward Iraq, those who watched CNN during the recent U.S. military strikes on Iraq would have noticed that the main area of the capital appeared normal; electrical power never went out and cars and civilians were visible on the streets as bombs went off in the distance. This helps demonstrate the basic fact that U.S. policy was not designed to punish the civilian population.
As for oil, the U.S. bombed only one refinery—a small facility in southern Iraq accused of illegal oil smuggling. The four days of attacks had little direct impact on Iraq?s main oil export facilities. Iraqi oil output before the Gulf War was about 3.2 million barrels a day and is now producing at 2.5 million barrels a day and could reach the pre-Gulf War levels later this year.
In his column on the matter, Pat Buchanan said that the sanctions were “killing the Iraqi people in body and spirit.” He said a “humane republic,” meaning the United States, “can devise a wiser and more moral policy than this.” On the contrary, it appears the U.S. policy is designed to enable Saddam to increase his exports of oil and make more money so he can buy more food and humanitarian supplies. This may only be immoral in the sense that it strengthens, rather than weakens, Saddam Hussein.