What To Do About Iraq?

Massive bombing of Iraq, which at press time was a very real threat, is not the only moral issue in the confrontation over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The continuing economic sanctions against Iraq pose an excruciating moral dilemma.

On one side is a brutal dictatorship that has attacked its neighbors, abused its own people, and repeatedly frustrated the work of U.N. weapons inspectors authorized under Security Council Resolution 687. On the other side is an inflexible and inhumane policy of near-permanent sanctions, imposed by the Security Council and held in place through the pressure of the United States and Great Britain.

Caught in the middle are the people of Iraq, who suffer doubly under the oppression of a totalitarian government and the grueling consequences of seven years of comprehensive economic sanctions. Caught in a different crossfire are those who support the goal of eliminating Iraq's deadly weapons but who cannot accept the victimization of children or the bombing of innocents as the "collateral damage" of achieving these ends.

Sanctions are an imperfect instrument. They can encourage a process of dialogue and negotiation, but they cannot by themselves remove a targeted regime or force a drastic change in policy. They should never be used to starve an opponent into submission. Sanctions work best in combination with incentives as part of a "carrots and sticks" diplomacy designed to resolve a conflict through negotiation. This means that partial concessions by the target should be reciprocated with an easing of pressure.

Baghdad has made gestures of compliance with Security Council resolutions: In November 1993 accepting permanent U.N. monitoring facilities on its territory, and a year later recognizing the redrawn international borders with Kuwait. Unfortunately neither of these actions was reciprocated, and Iraq has received little incentive for further cooperation.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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