1. Iraq and the UN Security Council: the Clinton Years

Posted on Saturday 30 January 2010

I personally believe in the United Nations as it is currently constructed and our own commitment to the UN Charter. The UN is imperfect, perhaps beyond its infancy but not much further than pre-adolescence. But it is at a stage that is parallel to the world it attempts to represent. I doubt it could be much better than it is. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein is exactly the kind of problem the UN was created to address. The UN has been involved in the problem of the Iraq of Saddam Hussein from the start – approving the use of force in the 1991 Gulf War, grappling with his non-compliance to weapons inspections, engaged in but never approving this invasion to effect "regime change." As these hearings in England point out, the tenets of International Law recognize three legitimate Casus Belli – cases for war: Attack or imminent threat of attack; a Humanitarian Crisis such as ethnic cleansing in Kosovo; or a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force. So, the United Nations has become codifed as the ultimate arbiter of war on the planet.

The people in our country who were dead set on "regime change" as a solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no patience for the cautious and frustrating approach the UN took with Saddam Hussein. There is a clear statement about this impatience with the UN in the letter from the Project for the New American Century to President Clinton on January 26, 1998:
The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months.  As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished.  Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production…

The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy…

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.
In this letter, they asked Clinton to announce Regime Change in Iraq as the official American policy in his State of the Union Speech on January 27, 1998. He didn’t do that, but he did say this:
Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade and much of his nation’s wealth not on providing for the Iraqi people but on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The United Nations weapons inspectors have done a truly remarkable job, finding and destroying more of Iraq’s arsenal than was destroyed during the entire Gulf War. Now, Saddam Hussein wants to stop them from completing their mission.

I know I speak for everyone in this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, when I say to Saddam Hussein: You cannot defy the will of the world. And when I say to him: You have used weapons of mass destruction before. We are determined to deny you the capacity to use them again…

Finally, it is long past time to make good on our debt to the United Nations. More and more, we are working with other Nations to achieve common goals. If we want America to lead, we have got to set a good example. As we see so clearly in Bosnia, allies who share our goals can also share our burdens. In this new era, our freedom and independence are actually enriched, not weakened, by our increasing interdependence with other nations, but we have to do our part. Our Founders set America on a permanent course toward `a more perfect union.’ To all of you I say it is a journey we can only make together, living as one community.
Clinton signing the Iraq Liberation ActYet on October 31, 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act:
It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime…
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces … in carrying out this Act…
Then on December 16-19, 1998, the US and the UK bombed Iraq [Operation Desert Fox]. In anticipation of our bombing, the UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq left the country.

I began the second paragraph of this post:
The people in our country who were dead set on "regime change" as a solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no patience for the cautious and frustrating approach the UN took with Saddam Hussein.
I said "The people" instead of "The Neocons" because [to my dismay] it wasn’t just the latter who were into regime change and skirting the UN. Clinton did it too. Operation Desert Fox wasn’t totally kosher. We did not get UN approval for the use of force but relied on the "revival argument" – arguing that since Hussein wasn’t cooperating, he was in breach of UNSCR 687 – the cease fire of seven years before. There was more. The bombing of Iraq coincided with Clinton’s impeachment trial in the House of Representatives – leading some to call it "Monica’s War." And there was even mor than that:
In reaction to the attack, three of five permanent members of the UN Security Council [Russia, France, and the People’s Republic of China] called for lifting of the eight-year oil embargo on Iraq, recasting or disbanding UNSCOM, and firing its chairman, Australian diplomat Richard Butler.

Iraq stopped cooperating with the UN special commission in the first month of the year, but diplomacy by Kofi Annan brought fresh agreement and new modalities for the inspection of sensitive sites. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had earlier accused UNSCOM officials of acting as spies for the United States, charges later supported by Scott Ritter and Bill Tierney.

According to Ritter, inspectors acted covertly on behalf of the United States to deliberately provoke Iraq into non-compliance, thus providing US war planners with a Casus belli. Ritter accused Butler and other UNSCOM staff of working with the US, in opposition to their UN mandate. He claimed that UNSCOM deliberately sabotaged relations with Iraq by insisting on gathering intelligence unrelated to prohibited weapons, some of which was to be used in the forthcoming bombing.

UNSCOM weapons inspectors were not expelled by Iraq as has often been reported. Rather, according to Richard Butler himself, it was U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh, acting on instructions from Washington, who suggested Butler pull his team from Iraq in order to protect them from the forthcoming U.S. and British air strikes: "I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission… Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be ‘prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.’ … I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq."

Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst William Arkin contended in his Washington Post column January, 1999 that the operation had less to do with WMD and more to do with destabilizing the Iraqi government.
    It is clear from the target list, and from extensive communications with almost a dozen officers and analysts knowledgeable about Desert Fox planning, that the U.S.-British bombing campaign was more than a reflexive reaction to Saddam Hussein’s refusal to cooperate with UNSCOM’s inspectors. The official rationale for Desert Fox may remain the "degrading" of Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and the "diminishing" of the Iraqi threat to its neighbours. But careful study of the target list tells another story. Thirty-five of the 100 targets were selected because of their role in Iraq’s air defense system, an essential first step in any air war, because damage to those sites paves the way for other forces and minimizes casualties all around. Only 13 targets on the list are facilities associated with chemical and biological weapons or ballistic missiles, and three are southern Republican Guard bases that might be involved in a repeat invasion of Kuwait. The heart of the Desert Fox list [49 of the 100 targets] is the Iraqi regime itself: a half-dozen palace strongholds and their supporting cast of secret police, guard and transport organizations.

I personally hold these truths to be self evident:
  • The Bush Administration’s Invasion of Iraq was not simply about WMD’s or al Qaeda ties. It was about power and it was about oil.
  • The US and the UK both played deceitful games with the UN [and the world] to justify the invasion in Iraq. In our case, the intelligence used to justify invading was not "faulty" as stated. It was deliberately falsified.
Although I would love to blame the Bush Administration for their sleazy tactics [and I do], it’s unreasonable to blame them without extending the blame to the Clinton Administration for its fair share in the sleaze prequel. The pursuit of Hussein was, in my opinion, a just cause, but it was handled throughout in a way that discredited both the US and the UK – undermining both the UN and our cause itself.

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