Lynch lectures on US policy in Iraq

On Thursday, Mark Lynch, assistant professor of political science, presented “Sympathy for the Devil: International Politics and the Sanctions on Iraq” as part of the ongoing Faculty Lecture Series. This year’s lecture series focuses on the history, causes and effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Even though he is on leave for the year, Lynch was asked to speak because of his expertise in the politics of the Middle East.

Specifically, Lynch chose to discuss the history and causes of current American involvement in Iraq, as well as comment upon several “puzzling questions.” He began by saying that President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech’s reference to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil” troubled him, since there is no evidence that Iraq was involved with the Sept. 11 attacks. Another troubling development is the effect of Bush’s words on other countries’ support for the United States. According to Lynch, the vast majority of countries in the world unequivocally expressed sympathy and support for virtually any American action in the aftermath of the attacks. In an expression of support arguably not seen since World War II, the definition of the war against terror as a new concept in international relations sparked affirmations of support for the United States from around the world, including countries that under normal circumstances criticize American policies for being unduly overbearing.

“It’s not inaccurate to say that the world was with us,” said Lynch.

Lynch said that the erosion of support for American action, however, “clearly is not because Iraq is any less evil than it used to be. Iraq hasn’t done anything to earn the world’s sympathy, [so] how does the United States lose the moral high ground to a mass murderer?”

Lynch pointed to a post-colonial society that is far from homogenous, and has people of different ethnic, sectarian and linguistic backgrounds all pursuing their own interests. This litany of interests creates a society conducive to violence, which is why Iraq had a series of coups from 1958 to 1979.

But in 1979, Saddam Hussein came to power and “perfected the art form of staying in power.” Until Hussein’s era, Iraq was far from stable and was rocked with internal problems.

“Why do we care?” asked Lynch. “There are lots of countries in the world that have the same problems. The fact that Iraq has oil makes all the difference in the world.”

Indeed, the size of Iraq’s oil reserves is second only to the Saudi Arabian oil fields. Furthermore, Iraq was used by the United States to counter Iran’s hostility to American interests. In the 1980s, Iraq invaded Iran with tacit blessings from the United States. For the next eight years, the two nations fought a war that “decimated a generation of Iranian men, and ended inconclusively,” said Lynch.

According to Lynch, American policymakers were wary of Hussein’s power and did not want him to win either; the United States covertly supported Iran in the war to ensure that both sides were evenly matched.

After the war, Iraq had a national debt of 60 billion dollars and the nation was in shambles. Using different methods – including biological weapons – Hussein tried to reestablish control over the three disparate groups comprising the Iraqi population. In the course of his consolidation of power and capital, he invaded Kuwait, Iraq’s small but extremely oil-rich neighbor to the south. Had Hussein been allowed to annex Kuwait, he would have been able to control world oil production, which would have threatened international energy production. Hence, with the help of an international coalition put together by then-president George Bush, Iraq was expelled from Kuwait.

However, because of restrictions in the coalition’s agreement, U.S.-led forces did not invade Iraq, but instead instituted a strict weapons-inspection and embargo program. An invasion was also unappealing, in a way, because having Saddam Hussein remain in power was not necessarily a bad idea.

According to Lynch, the ideal Iraqi solution for American policymakers is having a dictator in power who is like Saddam Hussein in every way except in his antipathy towards the United States.

After the war, Iraq was expected to cooperate fully with the settlement stipulations that it destroy all of its biological, nuclear and longer-range ballistic missile offensive capabilities. “Americans were sure Saddam Hussein was going to die, of some cause, [and] Hussein thought that he could bluff his way through [the sanctions],” said Lynch.

The weapons inspectors were extremely thorough, however, and were stopped on several occasions from inspecting various sites by Iraqi soldiers. The United States retaliated by imposing strict sanctions, and “basically building a wall around the country and closely regulating what goes through.”

Lynch focused on the sanctions as the fundamental cause of the current problems. While virtually everything going in and out of Iraq was controlled, the country was theoretically allowed to buy food and medicine, but had to pay for it with oil revenue.

However, since American sanctions blocked the importing of equipment necessary to rebuild Iraq’s oil facilities, the country was unable to produce enough oil to meet its needs. As a result, to this day, Iraq cannot feed its people and cannot reconstruct. Furthermore, the proceeds from selling whatever oil is produced are managed by the UN and much of the money is diverted to reparations from the Gulf War and fees for maintaining the UN structure currently in place on the ground and in the skies over parts of Iraq. While Hussein maintains his absolute power, the people suffer and little is being accomplished.

In 1992, UN committees warned that Iraq was facing pre-famine conditions, in which more than eight percent of children were starving. Conditions deteriorated to the point that as many as 500,000 children perished due to starvation. This was partially caused by the existence of a committee that must approve all imports requested by Iraq.

The committee’s composition mirrors that of the UN Security Council, and if any member disagrees with a request, it can place a hold on the request. Currently, 98 percent of the holds were imposed by the United States, and two percent were imposed by the United Kingdom. Lynch highlighted the impossibility of planning a successful economy under such stringent conditions. He further emphasized the imperfections of American sanctions policy by using a metaphor involving the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Consider the World Trade Center being destroyed every month for 11 years, except it’s filled only with children,” he said in giving perspective to the magnitude of the deaths being caused by the sanctions.

He continued, and illustrated in further detail that mismanagement on the part of U.S. State Department had led to the current state of affairs. Several chiefs of the U.N. oversight bodies charged with implementing the sanctions have resigned in protest over the massive flaws in the process and human toll being exacted on the Iraqi population. The United States has acted unilaterally in enforcing the policies, including beginning an intensive bombing campaign on the eve of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and endin
g it three hours after the President was acquitted. The effect of such practices has polarized the world against the United States on the issue. Lynch was not totally critical of the government, however.

“American policy makers didn’t see any other alternative. They didn’t want to kill Iraqi children,” he said. “I think Iraqi policy was too influenced, too governed, by domestic policy. We snubbed other countries – what Trent Lott said became more important that what [the nation of] Jordan thought.”

“All I can offer is a hope that taking the longer view might actually lead to some kind of change,” he said in conclusion.