Thursday, July 31, 2003

Voices' arguments about sanctions were straightforward—and utterly simplistic. In retrospect, I am embarrassed to think that I propagated them. Voices held that sanctions were violence that the U.S. government committed against Iraq, through the exercise of raw power. The Iraqi regime was entirely helpless and passive and had no ability to respond to the economic pressure the U.N. had put on Iraq since 1990. Voices was oblivious to deliberate Iraqi obfuscation on disarmament and to Saddam's domestic policies, designed to maintain his iron grip over the Iraqi people for as long as possible. It was our stubborn view that the regime had little or no ability to control or direct Iraq's destiny. We saw the U.S.-sponsored sanctions as the primary cause of violence in Iraq and so overlooked (or denied) Saddam's decades-long legacy of severe repression.

Even worse, we were quite willing to consider the Baath regime as a reliable source of value-free information on Iraq. Group members had neither the training nor the inclination to dissect Baathist propaganda, and we in Voices regularly parroted this propaganda in our public presentations as if it were fact, without much editing or critical reflection. Little effort was expended in learning more about general trends and issues in Iraqi history, culture, and politics. As a result, our presentations were rife with factual errors and misstatements. I was known as something of a bookworm within the group, but I realized even before my trip to Baghdad that I understood hardly anything about Baathist Iraq. I also was bothered by the fact that my colleagues seemed untroubled by our ignorance...

I desperately searched for anything that could support Voices' take on the sanctions and disprove Baram. But I found nothing, and I began to seriously rethink my role in the group, as well as some of my most basic political assumptions.

But my split with Voices was not simply the outcome of reading Baram's article. From the outset, I had expected that Voices would cultivate knowledge on all things Iraqi as we set about our task of ending sanctions. I expected the better academic works on Iraq—the landmark studies by Baram, Batatu, and Marion and Peter Sluglett—to be on the office bookshelf. Instead all I found were uninformed tracts by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Said.

Most of the members of Voices migrated to the issue of Iraq from other issues, and I suppose they will most likely migrate somewhere else. No doubt they will detect creeping U.S. militarism elsewhere and doggedly protest it with symbolic gestures that have little or no meaning, except for themselves.

From a fascinating article by a former sanctions protestor. It should stand as a warning to all those who believe the Chomsky/Zinn industry is the only reliable source of information about the world, and to all those who follow their path of lies and slanders, ending in that final disgrace of aiding and abetting political evil.


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