U.S. A Global Bully; Attacks On Iraq Violate Law

By Robert Jensen

Published in Palm Beach Post · March, 1999

[This article appeared in the Palm Beach Post, March 20, 1999, p. 13A.]

“U.S. jets drop bunker bombs on Iraq.”
“Allied warplanes conduct 3 raids in Iraqi no-fly zones.”

Day after day, the headlines about air strikes against Iraq appear in the papers, usually followed by explanations of how the United States and Britain are protecting the integrity of the no-fly zones.

One simple fact is routinely missing from these stories: The no-fly zones have no integrity because they are, in fact, illegal, and the U.S./UK air attacks are war crimes.

Despite the best efforts of State Department spin doctors to convince us that the no-fly zones are UN-mandated, these zones are imposed by the United States and Britain (France once participated, but has pulled out) with no credible legal authority. There is not, and has never been, a Security Council resolution that authorizes any nation to patrol the skies of Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. The United States and UK are perpetrating illegal acts of aggression under international law.

This is all made more sordid by the hypocritical rationale given: The no-fly zones are there to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. I doubt that the Shiites who attempted to rise up in 1991 after the war, and were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein’s army under the watchful eye of U.S. forces, are reassured to know the United States is now their protector. Nor are the Kurds, who have been used as a political ping-pong ball by Washington for decades, likely to be bolstered by the news.

It might seem odd that in a free society with a free press, basic questions about the legality and morality of a policy are almost never raised. It’s worth pondering why reporters do not stand up at every State Department briefing to ask, “Why does the United States continue to pursue military solutions that violate international law while rejecting the international consensus that calls for a less belligerent and more humane approach to Iraq?”

That consensus includes not only an end to the bombings, but the lifting of the economic sanctions still imposed on Iraq at the insistence of the United States. The embargo, even with the inadequate oil-for-food plan, continues to kill children at the rate of about 5,000 a month, according to UN statistics; it’s likely that more than 1 million Iraqis have died since 1991. Still, U.S. officials continue to talk about sanctions as an alternative to war, even as the embargo kills far more people than the bombs.

But simple questions are rarely asked. So, Bill Clinton was not challenged when he explained to the U.S. public in December that he must bomb Iraq to make sure they comply with UN Security Council resolutions concerning weapons inspection.

In other words, Clinton asserts that we must violate international law to uphold international law. Just as no Security Council resolution authorizes the no-fly zones, no resolution authorizes this use of military force against Iraq. When Clinton let loose the bombers and missiles in December, he was outside of international law, acting as a terrorist in charge of a rogue state.

The facts of this matter are not complex: The UN charter, the foundational document for international law, provides for military action by one member state against another only when a state is under direct armed attack. In all other situations, nations must first appeal to the Security Council to resolve disputes, and only the Security Council can authorize the use of force.

But nary a mention of these unpleasant facts shows up in the mainstream press or on television news in the United States. The fault lies not so much with individual journalists, but with the ideological framework for reporting on U.S. policy, which takes as a given that the United States has the power, and hence the right, to impose its will on the world, with extreme violence if necessary.

Journalists, it seems, can’t see their way clear to challenge Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s assertion that, “We will act multilaterally when we can, and unilaterally when we must.”

That’s the equivalent of the neighborhood bully saying, “I’ll follow the law when I feel like it and ignore the law when I feel like it.” Such a posture is not diplomacy, but the antithesis of diplomacy; these are the tactics of thugs, not of a nation that allegedly is based on a commitment to the rule of law.

If the United States is serious about a long-term just peace in the Middle East, this immoral, illegal and ineffective starve-and-bomb strategy must give way to real diplomacy and compassion for the suffering of real people in Iraq.