The whole world in his hands?
Geoff Simons* reviews Richard Butler's book Saddam Defiant Richard Butler, an Australian diplomat, spent two years as head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, charged with the task of destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In early 1999, having antagonised not only the Iraqis but also aid workers and many UN personnel including Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, Butler decided not to seek another term as UNSCOM head. He has brought to his work a tunnel-vision bellicosity and callous insensitivity that must have delighted Mossad, Madeleine Albright and all the other cynical players committed to the destruction of the Iraqi nation. In his book Saddam Defiant, Butler describes his work over the Iraq issue and offers his views. To say that this book is a cliche-ridden and simplistic distortion of reality would be unduly complimentary. It is a farrago of boys-own posturing, an alarmist caricature of desperately important political matters. Butler lacks humanity, political insight and, alarmingly enough, pertinent knowledge of the subject where he is assumed to have expertise. He is wrong to say that, if he had been able to report "that all the required disarmament actions had been taken by Iraq" and the security council had accepted the report, then the sanctions "would have ended automatically". Sanctions would have been maintained on any one of a dozen pretexts, whatever Butler had reported. He is wrong to say that the coalition acted under the authority of Article 42 of the UN Charter. Article 42 has no practical effect in the absence of an enabling Security Council resolution. The 1991 Gulf War was prosecuted under the assumed authorisation of resolution 678, which itself deserves analysis since it does not mention force or military measures. Moreover, since 678 pays no attention to the military staff committee that is specified in article 47, it is, in itself, in clear violation of the UN Charter. This is one of many reasons why the Gulf War was in violation of international law. Butler is wrong to say that Iraq was allowed to pump some oil for humanitarian purposes from the beginning of sanctions. This option was first addressed by the early Security Council resolution 706 and 712 as a public-relations exercise to prevent Washington being branded as responsible for the starvation of the Iraqi people. President Bush (the father of the present President Bush — Ed) even went so far as to admit as much — resolution 706 was "a good way to maintain the bulk of sanctions and not to be on the wrong side of a potentially emotional issue". The soaring rates of diseased and starving Iraqi babies were not judged to be good advertising for the virtues of the American Way. In the event, resolutions 706 and 712 lapsed when Iraq rightly saw them as both a propaganda exercise and a means of the US gaining ultimate control over the Iraqi economy. Eventually, resolution 986, which was implemented to pathetically inadequate humanitarian effect, was adopted in 1995 and used as the basis for the oil-for-food provisions. Butler is wrong to claim responsibility for blocking or approving particular Iraqi import requests. Such decisions were — and still are — made by the country representatives on the UN sanctions committee, a mirror image of the Security Council. At most, Butler was only authorised to make recommendations. His factual errors are compounded by his indifference to the suffering of the Iraqi people. He never seems to realise that he was upholding a system of population abuse which even he was driven to admit was harsh and ineffective. In the context of Butler's complicity in sustaining the genocidal sanctions regime, it is bizarre to read his comments on their effects. "Almost a decade after the sanctions were first imposed, it is clear that their main impact has been on ordinary Iraqi people. It is average Iraqi men, women and children who have suffered the brunt of sanctions". He even admits that sanctions can "help to prop up an embattled, tyrannical regime". So is he opposed to US policy? Of course not. When Madeleine Albright says that sanctions will not be lifted until Saddam has gone, Butler is forced to acknowledge that she "shouldn't have made this statement", but he doesn't "consider it a blunder". For Butler, Saddam Hussein is the ultimate demon king, who is keen to develop weapons that "Litreally(sic) threaten all life". Never mind about the Kuwaitis or the Kurds, Saddam is about to extinguish the human race! So Butler tries to scare us with tales of nerve gas in Tel Aviv, VX in New York, a nuclear bomb in London. But then, having published his alarmist volume, Butler soon backtracks under questioning. In interview with (Cosmo Landesman", he is challenged on the phrase "mass destruction" and changes his track. "Actually, I think that you've got a point. Maybe these weapons should be called weapons of indiscriminate destruction". So much for the main theme of Saddam Defiant. Butler presents a caricature of Iraqi perfidy that bears no relation to the real world. Despite the lies and concealments, desperate ploys of a regime struggling against a superpower that is publicly and covertly committed to its destruction, there has been massive Iraqi cooperation with weapons inspectors. If Butler had not been so offensively confrontational, he would have achieved similar cooperation. On March 24 2000, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) informed Iraq that it was satisfied with how Iraq had helped the agency to perform its activities effectively. Such considerations do not affect the continuation of the sanctions regime, which is responsible for millions of casualties, or the endless bombing of Iraq on an almost daily basis by US and British warplanes, the direct cause of thousands more casualties. Former US secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali has written in Unvanquished that the US and British imposition of no-fly zones have no legal justification. Washington and London are in breach of international law. Again, such points carry little weight with US policy makers, policies which are slavishly echoed in London. On January 19 2000, former president George Bush told US airmen in Kuwait that they were doing God's work. The sanctions that Butler criticises are currently killing 7,000 children every month. The London-based Lancet notes the soaring mortality rates, just as UNICEF reported on June 14 that children were leaving school in droves to help their impoverished families to survive and that the massively under- resourced schools themselves are collapsing. Sanctions have blocked necessary maintenance and the supply of textbooks, paper, pencils, desks etc. Butler is not satisfied with sanctions and the current bombing campaign. He reckons that "more forceful steps" are necessary to make Saddam comply with UN demands, that is, the strategic and commercial policies of Washington. Even now, Butler is incapable of comprehending the broader political perspective. In May, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a lengthy article in The New Yorker magazine charging that Barry McGaffery, a top US commander in the Gulf War, had committed massacres in Iraq by firing on undefended columns including men, women and children. A week later, an adviser to George W Bush was urging that Iraq be dismembered by splitting it into several states. Iraq has, so far, paid 4.2 billion pounds in war reparations financed by oil sales. Further claims, many from Kuwait, are already in the pipeline at the UN Compensation Commission in Geneva. One single claim from Kuwait is for 12 billion pounds. Interest charges on the Iraqi debts already amount to 190 billion pounds — which means that sanctions would have to be maintained until the year 2125. Butler's simple-minded and inaccurate hold on reality is well suited to current US and British policies on Iraq. Iraqi oil is being sold to fund the mercenary corporations of the US and its allies, while humanitarian shipments to the Iraqi civilian population are deliberately delayed through "contract holds" and other ruses. Where Butler's UN colleagues, the high-ranking Hans von Sponek and Denis Halliday, were prepared to resign over the obscenities of the sanctions policy, Butler was content to support a system — still in place — the cruelties of which he could not deny. Butler should stop fantasising about possible future apocalypses that might be committed by his pantomime devil king and seriously address the policies, to which he was a party, that continue to cause thousands of Iraqi casualties every month.
* * *Saddam Defiant: The Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Crisis of Global Security by Richard Butler is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson L20, and Phoenix L7.99. * Geoff Simons has written six books on Iraq, sanctions and the United Nations, five published by Macmillan and one by Pluto. His other Macmillan titles cover such topics as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. * * *Morning Star, January 10, 2001