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Cluster Bombs: The Realpolitik of U.S. Foreign Policy

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Defense Secretary Gates said that serial numbers and other markings found on bomb fragments constituted "pretty good" evidence that Iran was providing weapon technology and material to Iraqi insurgents. White House spokesman Tony Snow said he was confident the weaponry was coming with the approval of the Iranian government.

But Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, disagreed saying, "We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government per se knows about this."

That a government supplies sophisticated munitions-overtly or covertly-to countries of strategic or imperialistic interest is realpolitik; that its signature on a bomb fragment that has decapitated a Vietnamese or Afghan or Iraqi or Iranian or Kosovar or Lebanese child is reality, though it is hardly ever the stuff of breaking headline news.

That a government exports and expends munitions that continue to kill civilians long after "mission accomplished" has been declared is also hardly ever newsworthy. But in the case of cluster bombs it is the reality on the ground.

Cluster bombs are dropped from planes or fired as rockets and contain up to 644 bomblets that disperse mid-air, scattering "steel rain" over a 20,000 square meter area (roughly the size of two football fields). The bomblets, which look like a soft-drink can or a D battery, explode on contact and spray deadly razor-sharp shrapnel up to ten meters.

Other than the obvious danger at the time of impact, up to a quarter of the bomblets fail to explode, creating a minefield for civilians long after the fighting has moved on. Young children are especially vulnerable because they are attracted to the shape and color of the bomblets as playthings.

The U.S. military released 297 million cluster bomblets over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Thirty years later these bomblets continue to kill farmers in their fields and children unfortunate enough to find a "plaything." The signature of the U.S. government is on each and every fragment as it enters their bodies, finally accomplishing its deadly mission.

In the 1980s, the U.S. government supplied Saddam Hussein, its surrogate in the Middle East, with cluster bombs and poison gas in his 8-year war with Iran. The current Iranian government could make a valid case for U.S. involvement by using the serial numbers on the cluster bomblets that continue to pose a deadly threat to its people 20 years later.

Of the 290,000 bomblets dropped during the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo, 30,000 failed to detonate on impact. In the twelve months following the cessation of hostilities, 151 civilians-many of them children-were killed by U.S. autographed bomb fragments.

Human Rights Watch estimates that there are over 5000 unexploded cluster bomblets still on the ground in Afghanistan five years after the downfall of the Taliban regime.

During the first Gulf War the United States and Britain dropped 54 million cluster bomblets, and as many as 2 million during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There are an estimated 13 million unexploded bomblets on the ground or hanging from trees in both urban and rural areas.

A total of 30 U.S. troops were killed by unexploded bomblets in 1991 and 2003, while Iraq Body Count, an antiwar organization that maintains a database of civilian deaths, estimates that cluster munitions have killed 200 to 372 Iraqi civilians so far.

The "steel rain" of U.S. cluster munitions devastated the Nader neighborhood of Hillah in 2003. Abdul Jewad al-Timimi, with his wife and six children, hoped to escape the bombing by fleeing to his parents' house. Caught in the open as cluster bomblets exploded around them, the family took shelter in a trash-filled canal.

Mr. al-Timimi remembers hearing the final explosion that ripped their 2-month old baby, Jacob, from his wife's arms and tore him in two. Their other five children were killed instantly by the blast. Mr. al-Timimi and his wife mercilessly survived.

In his grief and rage, al-Timimi told a reporter, "I wished that the person who started this war . . . could be brought before me so I could kill him six times or kill six of those close to him."

Does he know that the shrapnel that ripped his children apart carried the signature of the U.S. government?

In 2006, Israel dropped 4 million bomblets during its 34-day invasion of southern Lebanon, almost all of which were dropped in the final 72 hours. An estimated 350,000 failed to explode and continue to kill and maim civilians.

The United States is the world's largest manufacturer and exporter of cluster munitions and Israel's major weapons supplier. Predictably, the U.S. government seal is all over the bomb fragments in Lebanon.

Regardless of the international protest over the use of cluster munitions, the U.S. continues to buttress its foreign policy, and that of its strategic allies, with the bestselling bomb that "stays the course" until it finally reports "mission accomplished" long after the world's attention has turned to another battlefield and yet another reason for using them.

In the pragmatic, amoral world of realpolitik, the Iranian government may very well be supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons. But then, any number of countries could be the culprit. Realpolitik has many faces.

 

Biography: Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience (www.mwcnews.net). His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI.
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