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In keeping with its fabled dedication to international law and morality, the US demanded that compensation to the victims of Iraq's crimes must have higher priority than any purchase of food that might be allowed -- under UN (meaning US) control, of course; a country that commits the crime of disobeying Washington has plainly lost any claim to sovereignty. While proclaiming this stern doctrine with suitable majesty, the Bush Administration kept pressure on Nicaragua to force these other miscreants, who had committed the same crime, to abandon their claims to reparations for a decade of US terror and illegal economic warfare as mandated by the International Court of Justice. Nicaragua finally succumbed, a capitulation scarcely noticed by the media, mesmerized by Washington's lofty rhetoric about Iraq's responsibilities to its victims. A few days later, the US cancelled Nicaragua's $260 million debt; the Times published the information in a Reuters dispatch, omitting the paragraph on Nicaragua's abandonment of its $17 billion claim, which had not been reported. The front pages, the same day, quoted a US official: "If you're going to build any kind of credibility for a new world order, you've got to make people accountable to legal procedures, and Saddam's flaunted every one."8 Unlike us.
The final phase of the conflict began immediately after the cease-fire, as Iraqi elite units slaughtered first the Shi'ites of the South and then the Kurds of the North, with the tacit support of the Commander-in-Chief, who had called upon Iraqis to rebel when that suited his purposes, then went fishing when the "iron fist" struck.
Returning from a March 1991 fact-finding mission, Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member Peter Galbraith reported that the Administration did not even respond to Saudi proposals to assist Shi'ite and Kurdish rebels, and that the Iraqi military did not attack until it had "a clear indication that the United States did not want the popular rebellion to succeed." A BBC investigation found that "several Iraqi generals made contact with the United States to sound out the likely response if they moved against Saddam," but received no support, concluding that "Washington had no interest in supporting revolution; that it would prefer Saddam Hussein to continue in office, rather than see groups of unknown insurgents take power." An Iraqi general who escaped to Saudi Arabia told the BBC that "he and his men had repeatedly asked the American forces for weapons, ammunition and food to help them carry on the fight against Saddam's forces," only to be refused each time. As his men fell back towards US-UK positions, the Americans blew up an Iraqi arms dump to prevent them from obtaining arms, and then "disarmed the rebels." Reporting from northern Iraq, ABC correspondent Charles Glass described how "Republican Guards, supported by regular army brigades, mercilessly shelled Kurdish-held areas with Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery," while journalists observing the slaughter listened to Gen. Schwartzkopf boasting to his radio audience that "We had destroyed the Republican Guard as a militarily effective force" and eliminated the military use of helicopters.9
Such truths are not quite the stuff of which heroes are fashioned, so the story was finessed at home, though it could not be totally ignored, particularly the attack on the Kurds, with their Aryan features and origins; the Shi'ites, who appear to have suffered even worse atrocities right under the gaze of Stormin' Norman, raised fewer problems, being mere Arabs.
In brief, from August 1990 there was little that could qualify as "war." Rather, there was a brutal Iraqi takeover of Kuwait followed by various forms of slaughter and state terrorism, the scale corresponding roughly to the means of violence in the hands of the perpetrators, and their impunity.
Washington's goals extended beyond Iraq itself. Saddam's indiscretion offered an opportunity to provide useful instruction to anyone who might have odd ideas about disobeying US orders. This is another standard policy; thus, in October 1991, Washington once again blocked European and Japanese efforts to call off the embargo that the US imposed on Vietnam 16 years ago after direct conquest failed.10 The decision to renew the embargo was accompanied with much indignation about Vietnam's failure to meet its moral responsibility to Americans with regard to MIAs, the sole humanitarian issue that remains from US aggression that killed millions of people and destroyed three countries. The decision to extend the punishment of Vietnam was the only action commemorating the 30th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's escalation of the US war in South Vietnam from murderous terror to outright aggression, as he sent US Air Force units to bombard the countryside and authorized US advisers to take part in combat operations. It coincided with a vast display of outrage over Japan's failure to apologize for its attack on a military base in a US colony 50 years ago. This macabre spectacle passed virtually without awareness or comment, an achievement that could hardly be duplicated in a well-run totalitarian state.
Those who do not follow the rules must be severely punished, and others must learn these lessons -- but not the American public, who are to be regaled with tales about the nobility of our aspirations, the grand achievements of our leaders, and the moral depravity of others.
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8 Andrew Rosenthal, NYT, Sept. 26; Reuters, NYT, Sept. 26; Reuters, BG, Sept. 26, 1991. On US pressures, see above, p. 315.
9 John Simpson, Spectator (London), Aug. 10; Glass, ibid., April 13, 1991.
10 Mary Kay Magistad, BG, Oct. 20, 1991.