When the United States showed Saddam Hussein that America is still calling the shots over there by dropping bombs on Iraq last month, we thought that George W. Bush's new Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have just been having a good time while the boss was out of the country.
At the time of the surprise bombing, Dubya was down in Mexico chatting with President Vicente Fox at el presidente's ranch. But then W. insisted that he was on top of the whole thing, and tried to calm everyone down by calling it just a "routine" bombing.
And what kind of bombing is a "routine" bombing? The United States has been bombing targets in Iraq two to three times a week. But still, the latest attack -- in which most of our expensive bombs missed their marks by wide margins -- was inside the no-fly zone and, in Denis Halliday's opinion, completely unnecessary.
Halliday is a former assistant secretary-general with the United Nations and former coordinator of the U.N.'s humanitarian program in Iraq. This week he's in Colorado Springs talking about U.S. policy in Iraq at the Air Force Academy. He will also participate, along with Catholic Bishop Richard Hanifen and the State Department's Joseph Becelia in a public discussion being sponsored by the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission about U.S./Iraq policy (see Get Involved, page 8, for details).
Halliday says he was surprised by the recent bombing of Iraq, calling it "strange and ill-timed."
So whose idea was it to drop the bombs? Halliday suggests that commanders who have been overseeing the missions have, over time, come to fear for their lives.
"They know the element of chance will sometime go against them. Eventually, anti-aircraft will shoot them down -- it's almost inevitable."
Two years ago Halliday resigned his post after a 30-year career with the United Nations to speak out against the United States failed economic sanctions against Iraq. He decided that the only way he could get humanitarian funding there was to resign and loudly make his opposition known.
And why have the sanctions failed?
"If they worked, then there wouldn't be a catastrophic death rate for the children of Iraq," Halliday says. "UNICEF estimates that 5,000 children are dying every month as a result of the sanctions and that's a failure. I just refused to let this continue.
"The human rights of the Iraqi people are being undermined." And so is democracy. The continued sanctions, Halliday says, have resulted in the destruction of the middle class, professionals and intellectuals who might affect meaningful political reform in Iraq. Instead, that part of the population, like everyone else, is just struggling to survive.
And don't forget, after 10 years of aggression, Saddam Hussein is still in power. That doesn't exactly reflect a U.S. victory.
So are the new president's "routine" bombings to be expected for the next four years of the Bush regime? Not necessarily, says Halliday.
"I like to think that the Republicans in power are practical men with strong business and corporate interests -- they know that 9 to 10 percent of the world's oil comes from Iraq and they have a huge interest in protecting private interests," he said.
Plus, there's a big bonus to considering other alternatives: If they successfully open up discussions with Hussein, Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have a chance to earn themselves some global standing by resolving the Iraqi situation peacefully.
"George Bush Two would get incredible international recognition for doing this," Halliday says. "The U.S. has become so unpopular in the Arab world and unpopular in Europe. This is the time to get around a failed policy and at the same time [to save] the lives of children."
The difficulty, of course, is that thanks in great part to the PR efforts of W.'s daddy George the Elder, Saddam Hussein has been so thoroughly demonized that he has become the boogeyman of the American psyche. So backing down now, and saying, "Well, he's not so bad after all" might be a little bit tricky.
"We have created a real difficulty and I think we have to bite the bullet and show we're bigger than he is."
After all, it's not like we've never been pals with Saddam. Before Iraq was the enemy, Iran was the enemy and Iraq was our chum. "[Hussein] got a lot of information from us and access to weapons," Halliday says. "He was a friend and ally -- we sold him the capacity to invade Kuwait -- so let's get our act together and reopen discussions with someone we had discussions with before."