Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions

In This Review

Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions
By Joy Gordon
Harvard University Press, 2010
376 pp. $39.95
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With this book, Gordon, a philosophy professor at Fairfield University, merits membership in that university’s history department as well. This is more than an ethical or legal treatise. It is a solid historical reconstruction of the sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 and of the persistent U.S. leadership in this effort. Especially impressive is Gordon’s combing of the sprawling U.S. and UN records over those 13 years. Her findings are somber. For example, she reports, most studies estimate that “at least 500,000 children under age five who died during the sanctions period would not have died under the Iraqi regime prior to sanctions.” She also punctures holes in the argument that the Iraqi suffering was due to the abusive manipulation of the sanctions by the Saddam Hussein regime. She documents a consistent U.S. policy spanning the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush that linked sanctions to regime change, thus eliminating any motivation for Saddam to comply. Moreover, the bureaucracy and the rules governing the sanctions not only gave the United States a virtual veto that not only blocked changes but assured their severely restrictive implementation. In 1995, then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali described sanctions as a “blunt instrument.” In the Iraqi case, as Invisible War starkly shows, sanctions can be not just blunt but also ineffective.