Gulf war leftovers

President-elect George W. Bush proudly insists that he’s a “realist” as well as a “compassionate conservative.” If that’s true, we challenge him to take a realistic look at the situation in Iraq and the sanctions imposed on that country. Perhaps he can come up with a realistic way to end the misery of the Iraqi people.

This is an appropriate time for a reassessment of U.S. policy toward Iraq for many reasons, not the least of them is the fact that Mr. Bush’s inauguration as president will take place almost 10 years to the day since his father launched the first aerial attack of the Persian Gulf War—Jan. 17, 1991.

A realistic look at the situation in Iraq will show that the sanctions imposed on that country to force its dictator, Saddam Hussein, to stop building weapons of mass destruction are simply not working. Two years ago, Saddam kicked out the U.N. team that was monitoring his weapons production, and there are no signs that he plans to let them back in. It would be naïve in the extreme to believe that he’s not busily building new weapons systems.

Meanwhile, the sanctions are steadily weakening, as is the level of international condemnation of Saddam. Commercial air flights, long prohibited, are now common. Leaders of other nations, including the president of democratic Venezuela, have met with Saddam. France, Russia and Germany no longer support the sanctions, and in fact the United Nations would have lifted them long ago were it not for the U.S. veto on the Security Council. Smuggling is rife, and huge quantities of otherwise blockaded oil are being sold through Jordan.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the rich, including members of Saddam’s extended family, are doing just fine, thank you. For them, there is no lack of good food to eat, Mercedes cars to drive and servants to take care of their homes. They blame the sanctions and the United States for their country’s problems, not Saddam.

Others are not so fortunate. The once large middle class of entrepreneurs and professionals has been devastated, its members reduced to menial labor or to working for as little as $20 per month. And the poor struggle just to find food to eat.

Hardest hit are children, especially those who become sick. The United Nations estimates that as many as 5,000 children die each month. Despite the “oil-for-food” program, they simply aren’t getting the care they need.

As President Clinton has insisted many times, the blame is largely Saddam’s. He’s the one who has traded his people’s welfare for the ability to become a Middle Eastern powerhouse. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sanctions are not achieving their purpose and indeed are having horrific unintended consequences.

If our new president is the man he says he is, he’ll lift the sanctions on Iraq. It’s the realistic—and compassionate—thing to do.