Friedman in Doha
February 6, 2001
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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman comes through today with a dispatch from Doha, Qatar. The column is an attack on the democratic resistance to Saddam Hussein based on the opinions Mr. Friedman picks up on a visit to a non-democratic country. And it is an attack on sanctions for failing to achieve a goal they were not intended to achieve.
Mr. Friedman quotes an Arab diplomat as saying that since the Gulf War, "public opinion in the Arab world has moved 180 degrees," and reports, "many here would agree." And Mr. Friedman declares, "the Arab street no longer accepts the logic of sanctions." Mr. Friedman declares that the Iraqi opposition groups "are viewed as corrupt outsiders who would be rejected by the Iraqi body politic in the unlikely event they ever did oust Saddam."
Well, who are the Qataris, of all people, to be casting aspersions on the brave effort of Iraqis to oust Saddam Hussein and bring democracy and freedom to Iraq? Here is an excerpt from the latest Freedom House report on Qatar: "Qataris cannot change their government democratically. Political parties are illegal, and there are no organized opposition groups. The emir holds absolute power, though he consults with leading members of society on policy issues and works to reach consensus with the appointed Majlis.. . . Workers may not form unions or bargain collectively. . . .In 1995, Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, long recognized as the real power in the country, deposed his father in a palace coup while the emir vacationed in Switzerland. . . . political demonstrations are prohibited."
This is the country where the New York Times diplomatic columnist shows up to get a reading that he suggests American policymakers should defer to. And of course, Mr. Friedman neglects to inform his readers of these facts on the ground in Qatar.
Mr. Friedman claims "All you hear and read in the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people -- which is true." It's not true. Saddam is the one starving the Iraqi people. Iraq is selling as much or more oil now than it was before the Gulf War started, under a U.N. "oil-for-food" program. Saddam has money left over to build himself new palaces and to give $10,000 "martyr payments" to the families of Palestinian Arabs killed in attacks on Israel.
Finally, the "logic of sanctions," as described by Mr. Friedman -- "that if you squeeze Iraq long enough the Iraqi people will oust Saddam" -- has never been the logic of them. Clinton administration officials and U.N. officials have described the sanctions as designed to "keep Saddam in a box" or to prevent him from ever threatening neighboring countries with weapons of mass destruction. They were not designed to cause his removal.
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