News and opinions on situation in Iraq
Oil for Food: Don’t lose sight of the real scandal By Sean Gonsalves
I’m a dawg. But I don’t like red herring. The word smiths at Merriam-Webster define a red-herring argument or fact as “something that distracts attention from the real issue.”
As for origins, the dictionary people point out the following: A herring is a soft-finned fish that is often preserved through a salting and slow smoking process. That’s what gives herring a red or dark brown hue. It’s also what makes them smell so strong.
Dogs apparently enjoy sniffing these smelly fish, which makes red herring a useful tool of diversion for anyone trying to distract hunting dogs from the trail of their quarry. Hence, the term a “red herring.”
To all my dawgs out there: be on the look out for the oil-for-food red-herring being dangled before your eyes, most prominently by my “fair and balanced” colleagues at FOX News.
It goes like this: On U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan’s watch, the oil-for-food program was being raided by corrupt businessmen working in conjunction with Saddam Hussein’s economically sanctioned regime – a network that included Annan’s son.
Serious allegations. But here’s why it’s a red herring. In terms of moral and legal malfeasance, ask yourself: What’s more scandalous – skimming money from a U.N.-controlled fund or upholding the most severe sanctions against a country in the history of the world, as was the case in Iraq, in which more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 died of diseases directly attributable to the sanctions?
The sanctions were first established when the first President Bush was in office. They had the backing of the international community. The Clinton administration continued this policy of “containment.”
What withered international support for the sanctions was the human toll they were taking. (Footnote: the U.N. Security Council would not lift the sanctions until Iraq was declared WMD-free. But as we’ve come to find out, Iraq didn’t possess what America’s U.N.-haters swore Saddam had, which makes the toll of human suffering created by the sanctions all the more scandalous.)
Several years ago, when I first wrote about U.S. bombs having destroyed Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during the first Persian Gulf War (which is a war crime, by the way), and that, according to even independent Western doctors and scientists, the lack of this infrastructure was (and is) the primary cause of all these deaths, “realists” called me a blame-America-first kinda guy.
I told them to read the 661 Sanctions Committee reports, which provided documentation that items such as refrigeration equipment to store medicine, needed medical textbooks, ambulances, and even requests for pencils were being withheld from Iraqi civilians by the Sanctions Committee under the control of U.S. policy makers.
I suggested they also check out page 26 of the May 1998 U.S. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.2. “The electrical attacks proved extremely effective…The loss of electricity shut down the capital’s water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River.”
But what really convinced me this wasn’t just a bunch of anti-American propaganda was the prosecution of a friend of mine named Bert Sacks.
Bert was involved in repeated efforts to get humanitarian relief into Iraq during the 1990s. In 2002 he was fined by the U.S. government for a 1997 trip in which he helped bring $40,000 in medicine to children in Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Regarding this oil-for-food scandal, he says: “The U.N.’s Oil for Food Program didn’t begin until 1996, more than six years after sanctions began. A ‘scandal’ in a program that didn’t yet exist cannot be blamed for six years of Iraqi deaths. When the Oil for Food Program was finally allowed, it permitted $4 billion in oil sales a year for humanitarian needs: this came to $10 per person per month for each Iraqi living in South/Central Iraq. Of the total amount of oil sales, 30 percent went immediately for war reparations – $16 billion to Kuwaiti Petroleum – while the U.N. reported 960,000 Iraqi children were chronically malnourished.”
If you’re a huntin’ dawg in pursuit of the truth, watch out for the oil-for-food red herring, especially when a FOX is offering the bait. But if you’re a lap dog, well, enjoy the herring.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. His column runs on Tuesdays. Call him at 508-775-1200, ext. 719, or e-mail him at email@example.com