(Mr. Berger is the President's National Security Advisor. The following
op-ed column by him appeared in The Washington Post January 28.
COPYRIGHT: 01/28/99 Please Credit the Washington Post.)
The Post's Jan. 17 editorial "Rewarding Saddam Hussein" endorsed the
administration's policy of containing Iraq and our continued readiness to
back that policy with force. Unfortunately, it also misconstrued
important elements of our approach to sanctions on Iraq. The confusion
was compounded by a Jan. 25 op-ed by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Both took issue with what the editorial referred to -- incompletely -- as
an administration statement offering "to eliminate the ceiling on how
much oil Iraq is permitted to sell." The second half of that statement --
which the editorial omitted -- read: "to finance the purchase of food and
medicine for the Iraqi people."
Under the U.S. proposal, Iraq could pump as much oil as is needed to meet
humanitarian needs. All the revenue would go directly to a U.N. escrow
account, as it does now. From that account, checks would be written --
directly to the contractor -- to buy food, medicine and other
humanitarian supplies, as well as parts for equipment that we know is
being used to pump oil for this program. These supplies then would be
distributed under U.N. supervision. Saddam would never see a dime.
The Post and Sen. Murkowski also asserted that our proposal to increase
the flow of humanitarian aid to Iraq is no different from proposals to
lift sanctions. In fact, it is in direct opposition to them.
If sanctions were lifted, the international community no longer could
determine how Iraq's oil revenues are spent. The oil-for-food program
would have to be disbanded, not expanded. Billions of dollars now
reserved for the basic needs of the Iraqi people would become available
to Saddam to use as he pleased. The amount of food and medicine flowing
into Iraq most likely would decline.
In contrast, under the current program, we prevent Saddam from spending
his nation's most valuable treasure on what he cares about most --
rebuilding his military arsenal -- and force him to spend it on what he
cares about least -- the people of Iraq. From Saddam's point of view,
that makes the program part of the sanctions regime.
Indeed, Saddam already has rejected our initiative to expand it. He knows
that every drop of oil sold to feed the Iraqi people is a drop of oil
that will never be sold to feed his war machine. Oil for food means no
oil for tanks.
Saddam's intent is clear: He is cynically trying to exploit the suffering
of his people -- for which he is responsible -- to gain sympathy for his
cause and to create a rift in the international coalition arrayed against
him. In this way, he hopes to build support for ending sanctions so that
he can resume his effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
But he is failing. In recent weeks, opinion has hardened against Saddam
in Arab countries. On Sunday, the Arab League called on Iraq to stop
provoking its neighbors and to comply with U.N. resolutions. Newspapers
in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have called for Saddam's ouster. But there
remains strong public sympathy for the Iraqi people.
The effect of our policy is to make clear that the source of hunger and
sickness in Iraq is not sanctions but Saddam. After the Gulf War ended,
the United States made certain that food and medicine would never be
subject to sanctions. Saddam always has been free to import them. When he
refused to do so, the United States took the lead in proposing that Iraq
be allowed to sell controlled quantities of its oil in order to purchase
humanitarian supplies. Remarkably, until 1996, Saddam refused to do even
Currently, the United Nations allows Iraq to spend up to $5.2 billion in
oil revenue every six months for humanitarian purposes. Saddam is so
indifferent to the suffering of his people that he still refuses to make
full use of this allowance. But the food supply in Iraq has grown, and
soon will provide the average Iraqi with about 2,200 calories per day,
which is at the top of the United Nations' recommended range.
To leave no doubt about who is responsible for the suffering of Iraq's
people, we are willing to lift the $5.2 billion ceiling to allow Iraq --
under strict supervision -- to use as much oil revenue as is necessary to
meet humanitarian needs. In the meantime, we will continue to enforce
sanctions against Iraq and remain prepared to take action against any oil
facilities being used to circumvent them.
Critics of this effort imply we should starve Iraq into submission. They
forget that starving Iraq is Saddam's strategy. The oil-for-food program
helps us to thwart it.
The program does not reward Saddam; it further restrains him, while
relieving the suffering of ordinary Iraqis. It has helped to deepen
Saddam's isolation, and it will remain a logical part of our strategy
against him and the threat he poses.
(The writer is the President's National Security Advisor.)
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