Magazine article The Nation

Bill's Gulf Adventure

Magazine article The Nation

Bill's Gulf Adventure

Article excerpt

The confrontation between Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein hardly counts as an October Surprise. For months the first week in October held some promise for Iraqi citizens left hungry by sanctions. The U.N.'s Special Commissioner on Iraq was expected to release a report indicating that Saddam was substantially cooperating in efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. By midsummer there was sufficient progress that Russia--no friend of Saddam--proposed an easing of U.N. sanctions. But Washington scuttled that initiative; U.N. ambassador Madeleine Albright not only opposed relief but belittled the U.N.'s own assessment. Her stance may satisfy Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and their hard-line friends here, but it can only buttress Iraq's sense that the West is interested only in punishing it.

The non-skirmish over Kuwait's border had a feeling of deja vu--evoking the frightening days leading up to the Gulf War--but the region has changed dramatically. Saddam is transforming his oncesecular dictatorship into a religious state, complete with re-veiling women and construction of what is billed as the world's largest mosque. This fundamentalist bread-and-circus policy is an attempt to distract a population desperate after four years of sanctions. In September Saddam's cash-poor government cut food rations by as much as one-half, and a plunging dinar has put even basic items beyond the reach of most citizens. Like Haiti, Iraq demonstrates the fundamental contradiction of using food as a policy weapon: The poor only grow weak, while the military and government officials get special pay hikes to offset the ration cut. …

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