Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Tragedy of War

There is no doubt that there is tragedy in war. With over 4,000 US dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have paid a price. And so has our enemies. And so have the bystanders--the civilians caught in the crossfire, including those killed by roadside and market place bombs, often suicide bombs.

But, war is but one alternative available to the policy makers of a nation's government. Reporter Helen Thomas mentions another alternative in her column "Clinton Could Be A Peacemaker," that appeared on Boston Channel 5 website, in early December.
Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, supported the ruthless international sanctions against Iraq, depriving Iraqi children of needed medicine. According to the World Health Organization some 250,000 children died as a result of the U.S. restrictions.
First off, I thought they were UN sanctions, not just US sanctions.

The number 250,000 dead due to an embargo in the 1990s seems like a large number. But, if that many children died due to lack of medicine (and, one suspects, clean water, etc), then it is likely that a fairly large number of older people succumbed also. And then there were those President Hussein personally killed or ordered killed for his own purposes.

This raises a question. The embargo was in place because, supposedly, people in that period (the 1990s) thought that President Saddam Hussein posed a risk to peace by the possession or development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

So, what do you think about this 1990s solution to the supposed threat from Iraq? I offer some options:
  1. The embargo was painful, but necessary--WMD are a danger to the survival of mankind
  2. I never believe anything Helen Thomas says--these numbers are bogus
  3. What happens in other countries is not of concern to me--they need to learn to conform to agreed international norms
  4. We will just deal with the use of WMD on the day--and it may never happen
  5. Going to war might not have been such a bad idea after all--but then I am a Neocon
Sometimes there just aren't any good alternatives. We credit an embargo with regime change in South Africa. The North's Blockade of the Confederacy helped win the US Civil War. The British Blockade of Germany in WWI was key to winning the war (along with the US entry, after Russia dropped out).

I am one of those who questions Ms Thomas' numbers. On the other hand, embargoes are a slow and painful way of creating change inside the embargoed nation. They are not, as some would suggest, a painless way of making a nation change its policies--otherwise it wouldn't work. The British blockage of Germany reduce the people to thin rations and probably led to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in Germany during the influenza epidemic in 1918/1919, due to the induced malnutrition.

Taking policy decisions is hard business. So is finding the truth about them.

Regards  --  Cliff

1 comment:

The New Englander said...

Cliff,

My feelings on the eve of Op. Iraqi Freedom were closest to Number 4 of the options listed...if WMD were ever used, we'd have the moral authority / imperative to go whack the user (assuming that user is identifiable, of course) but regardless of whether Helen Thomas' figure is accurate (and regardless of whose *fault* the sanctions-related deaths were), even Bill Clinton himself has admitted in the last year or so that there really were no good options, and he refused to condemn the invasion wholesale.

Iraq is complicated. Iran may be even tougher.

The only certainty I think I can see is that, as I like to say, it's a lot harder to drive a bus full of screaming teenagers than it is to sit in the back and throw spitballs.

All the "anti-war" Senators who voted for the 2003 authorization would have to at least admit that..

-gp