Wednesday, January 17, 2007

January 17

Sixteen years ago tonight, the United States led a coalition of nations into war to liberate a tiny, undemocratic emirate from the temporary clutches of a somewhat larger, undemocratic dictatorship located along its northern border. By the end of the conflict little more than a month later, more than 100,000 Iraqis had been killed -- adding incrementally to the hundreds of thousands who had perished in their ill-advised eight-year war with Iran -- and the nation's electical grid, water treatment systems, sewers, bridges, railroads, dams and hospitals had been obliterated, virtually assuring the deaths of hundreds of thousands more in the coming decade. In the wake of the conflict, untold thousands of tons of depleted uranium dust remained to contaminate the air, water and soil for the roughly the next four billion years. By 2001, rates of leukemia in Basra -- an area of Southern Iraq heavily targeted with DU weapons as Saddam Hussein's army retreated from Kuwait -- had risen nearly 400%, while birth defects had increased to more than six times their rate from 1990.

After the formal cessation of hostilities on 28 February 1991, more than 400,000 people were expelled from Kuwait, mostly Palestinians on whose labor the economy of the emirate had come to rely; millions of Kurds, fearing the predictable reprisals from the government of Saddam Hussein, fled into Turkey and Iran from northern Iraq; and thousands of Shi'as in southern Iraq were relentlessly slaughtered by their government, many of them shot from helecopters manufactured in and purchased from the United States.

On the night the Gulf War began, it happened to be the 30th anniversary of Dwight David Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation. In that televised speech, he famously warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex . . . . Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

At the end of the war, President George Herbert Walker Bush jovially remarked that "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all," adding that the United States had at last fought a war without "one hand tied behind [its] back."