Global Policy Forum

Bill Clinton on Sanctions Against Iraq


Amy Goodman interviews Bill Clinton

Democracy Now
November 8, 2000

Below is a transcript of a rare interview of President Clinton by Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio. Following the interview is a brief rebuttal by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC).

(Audio version of the interview available here)

President Clinton, UN figures show that up to 5,000 children a month die in Iraq because of the sanctions against Iraq.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: (Overlap) That's not true. That's not true. And that's not what they show. Let me just tell you something. Before the sanctions, the year before the Gulf War, you said this ... how much money did Iraq earn from oil? Answer - $16 billion. How much money did Iraq earn last year from oil? How much money did they get, cash on the barrel head, to Saddam Hussein? Answer - $19 billion that he can use exclusively for food, for medicine, to develop his country. He's got more money now, $3 billion a year more than he had nine years ago.

If any child is without food or medicine or a roof over his or her head in Iraq, it's because he is claiming the sanctions are doing it and sticking it to his own children. We have worked like crazy to make sure that the embargo only applies to his ability to reconstitute his weapon system and his military statement. This is a guy who butchered the children of his own country, who were Kurds, who were Shi'ites.

He used chemical weapons on his own people, and he is now lying to the world and claiming the mean old United States is killing his children. He has more money today than he did before the embargo, and if they're hungry or they are not getting medicine, it is his own fault.

AMY GOODMAN: The past two UN heads of the program in Iraq have quit, calling the US policy ... US/UN policy, genocidal. What is your response to that?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: They're wrong! They think that we should reward ... Saddam Hussein says, I'm going to starve my kids unless you let me buy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. If you let me do everything I want to do so I can get in a position to kill and intimidate people again, then I will stop starving my kids. And so we are supposed to assume responsibility for his misconduct. That's just not right! I know they ... you know, the truth is a lot of these people want to start doing business with Saddam Hussein again because they want his money.

And, and, you know, they want his ... the money he earns from oil. But the ... it is an absolute fact that he has more money today than he did before the embargo. So if any child is without food or medicine, it is because he has made a deliberate decision to let them die, to try to build up pressure to lift the embargo so he can spend that money however he wants. He doesn't want to spend that money on his people. He wants to spend that money to become the military dictator of the Middle East again.

Now, if people want to let him do it, that's one thing. But, you know, I have consistently supported changing and relaxing the embargo since I've been President, to make absolutely sure that he had enough money and enough freedom in the use of the money to rebuild the country economically, and to try to feed those children and get them medicine. There were a lot of problems with the embargo in the beginning. There were legitimate criticisms.

But he now has more money with the absolute freedom to spend it on food and medicine and development, and medical care of all kinds, than he did before the embargo was put in. That's the fact. No one can dispute that. So nobody can figure out why there are problems among the children except that he won't spend the money on them.

He spends the money on his own military, on his own crowd and he avoids spending it on a lot of kids who need it so he can blame us, so he can actually get total control over his money, so he can rebuild his apparatus.

GONZALO ABURTO: Mr. President (Overlap)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: And, you know, remember, this is the only guy, the only world leader today who has used chemical weapons on his own citizens. And the American people in my judgement should give him all the money he needs to take care of his kids. But should do everything we can, and even if we are alone, to try to stop him from being in a position of murdering his kids again, and murdering other children in the Middle East. That's what I believe.



Education for Peace in Iraq Center

(Audio version of the interview available here)

In the above interview with Amy Goodman, President Clinton said, "...How much money did Iraq earn last year from oil? How much money did they get, cash on the barrel head, to Saddam Hussein? Answer - $19 billion that he can use exclusively for food, for medicine, to develop his country..."

This and other remarks were extremely misleading and trivialize a very real crisis in U.S. policy and in Iraq.

First, Saddam did not make $19 billion last year. Iraq's oil sales only reached $11.4 billion.

If we give the President the benefit of the doubt, we can assume he was referring to this year, as opposed to 1999. Focusing exclusively on this year, when the price of oil is at a historic highs, is a convenient way of creating the false impression that Iraq has been making money hand over fist for years. The current price of $33 per barrel has doubled Iraq's purchasing power under the Oil-for-Food program. Thus, Iraq's oil sales will likely exceed $19 billion for 2000.

However, we should not forget that the UN program is dependent on Iraqi oil sales. If prices fall, then Iraq's "oil-for-food" revenues fall. In 1998 when oil prices averaged less than a third of current prices, Iraq could hardly even generate $5 billion in oil sales.

Regarding the President's remark about Saddam getting "cash on the barrel head," he is flat wrong. Baghdad gets nothing. All oil revenues are deposited into a UN bank account in New York City, under the absolute control of the UN 661 Sanctions Committee.

Which brings us to a second point. President Clinton and his administration cannot escape some blame for the thousands of excess deaths of Iraqi children each month. After all, who is running Iraq's economy? Iraq? Think again.

The Iraqi government literally has to submit contracts for what it needs to the 661 Sanctions Committee. Iraq has no representation on this committee. The U.S., which is represented, regularly exercises its veto option. In fact, according to UN diplomats interviewed by the London Guardian, the U.S. representative is responsible for 98% of all vetos and holds placed on contracts. Currently, over $2 billion of contracts are still held up by the UN 661 Sanctions Committee. And so, the President's remarks were incredibly disingenuous. His administration regularly makes decisions that directly affect Iraq's economy and the lives and welfare of 22 million Iraqis.

Of the "$19 billion" Iraq will likely earn this year, the President claimed that Iraq can use the money "exclusively for food, for medicine, to develop his country." This is also untrue. 30% of this revenue goes toward exorbitant war reparations to needy countries like Kuwait. The UN takes an additional 2% to cover administrative costs. As a result, only 68% of the revenues are potentially available for food, medicine and other goods. As a result of the manifold problems and delays mentioned already, what actually reaches the Iraqi people is a fraction of that. Since 1997, although Iraq has sold over $37 billion of oil, only $9 billion of goods have actually arrived in Iraq! That's an average of less than $3 billion per year. Compare this to 1989, a year before sanctions were imposed, when in that one year Iraq imported $11.1 billion in civilian goods.

More importantly, the entire Oil-for-Food program is fundamentally flawed. It forces Baghdad to purchase all of its goods outside of Iraq, thus doing nothing to rebuild and "develop" its shattered economy and infrastructure. As a result, despite more Oil-for-Food goods entering the country than ever before, massive unemployment and poverty persist. Couple this with the fact that Iraq gets zero investment to repair infrastructure, and you have all the ingredients for an indefinite, manufactured humanitarian crisis. Over 20% of children remain chronically malnourished. And epidemics of water-borne diseases continue.

Blaming it all on Saddam is convenient, especially when speaking to American audiences, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. Facts that are not lost on the Iraqi people, nor the international community. America's ongoing war against the people of Iraq (not Saddam) is doing more to isolate the U.S. in the eyes of the world than any other foreign policy of the Clinton era.

APPENDIX - Below are the latest UN figures to back up the numbers... (click here for the source)

Phase I - VIII Oil barrels (millions) Oil sales (US$) Av.price/barrel($)
Jan - June 97 120 2,150,000,000 17.92
June - Dec 97 127 2,125,000,000 16.73
Jan - June 98 182 2,085,000,000 11.46
June - Dec 98 308 3,027,000,000 09.83
Jan - June 99 360.8 3,947,000,000 10.94
June - Dec 99 389.6 7,402,000,000 19.00
Jan - June 00 343.4 8,285,000,000 24.13
June - Dec 00 316 8,071,000,000
(so far)
Totals/average 2,146.8 $37,092,000,000 $17.28


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