Stephen Zunes : Iraq
There has been a curious bout of revisionist history in recent weeks criticizing the U.S. decision not to “finish the job” during the 1991 Gulf War and overthrow the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. With such a lopsided victory in the six-week military campaign, these right-wing critics argue the U.S. could have easily marched into the capital of Baghdad and ousted the dictator.
The perceived growth of radical Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and beyond has not only caused major political upheaval in the countries directly affected but has placed political Islam at the forefront of concerns voiced by U.S. policymakers. One unfortunate aspect of this newfound attention has been the way it has strengthened ugly stereotypes of Muslims already prevalent in the West. This occurs despite the existence of moderate Islamic segments and secular movements that are at least as influential as radicals in the political life of Islamic countries.
Current U.S.-UN policy regarding Iraq has failed and has largely lost credibility. It is widely viewed internationally as reflecting U.S. (and, to a lesser degree, British) insistence on maintaining a punitive sanctions-based approach regardless of the humanitarian impact and it is increasingly regarded as having failed to bring about either democratic changes in Iraq or security for the Persian Gulf region. Numerous countries are challenging, if not directly violating, the sanctions regime, and international support has largely eroded.
Ten years after the Gulf War, U.S. policy toward Iraq continues to suffer from an overreliance on military solutions, an abuse of the United Nations and international law, and a disregard for the human suffering resulting from sanctions. Furthermore, Washington’s actions have failed to dislodge Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power.
The United States-led war against Iraq commenced on January 16, 1991. On this the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War, the myths that justified the war continue to be widely circulated. It is important, particularly in the light of the ongoing conflict between the United States and Iraq and the devastating humanitarian impact of U.S.-led sanctions, to challenge these myths. To fail to do so will make it difficult to change U.S. policy and could even increase the possibility of another cataclysmic war in the future.