When Bush said after 9/11 that the we were attacked because the terrorists hate our freedom and democracy, he was all but lying:
"Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber - a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
In six separate messages (letters, fatwas, and interviews), Bin Laden has remained consistent on three grievances that he thought demanded retaliation: the sanctions against Iraq, which we thought killed half a million children; aid to Israel while Israel killed anyone in the vicinity of those who fought against its conquest of Greater Israel; and the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, which he believed was part of an American strategy to force Saudi Arabia to sell its oil below what he thought would be fair.
The grievance that involved the most deaths was the sanctions on Iraq, which we thought had killed half a million children. Madeleine Albright told Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996, when asked about this number, that it was a very hard choice, but they thought the sanctions were worth it. By that point, few people had questioned the 1995 UN study on which the figure was based (though they would soon) because no one knew that the regime had inserted false data through the Iraqis tasked to conduct the surveys. The supposed morality rate was less than that of some countries in Africa, and Iraq had imported most of its food, so it was plausible that the sanctions (even after they were lifted on food and medicine at the end of the Gulf War) prevented Iraq from getting enough foreign currency to buy enough food, medicine, and water-treatment equipment (which had been damaged in the Gulf war).
The first instance of faking data was in a 1992 New England Journal of Medicine study finding that there were 46,900 child deaths in the first eight months of 1991 (the war had ended 2 months in), due only in small part to injuries. While that study claims that it used an international team of experts, post-invasion studies show that even that study was not correct. Figure 2 in that last link (which compares Iraq's child-mortality rate to its neighbors over time, including oil-rich neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran) does suggest that the sanctions could have caused the deaths of thousands of children. The authors of the article in that link hastily blame Saddam for the entire period as though there should have been no improvement after the end of a decade of war as long as Saddam was in power. I first found out about the illegitimacy of the old numbers in Michael Spagat's article "The Iraq Sanctions Myth" in the Pacific Standard.
We had already offered Saddam what would later become the Oil for Food Program after the Gulf War (UN Security Council Resolution 706), but he didn't accept it at the time because he said it would legitimize the rest of the sanctions.
Apparently because he was discovering that the US didn't care how many deaths we thought we were causing, he ultimately accepted the Oil for Food Program. A memorandum of understanding was sent on May 20, 1996. Awareness of the negotiations for this agreement might have influenced Albright to be so blunt in saying that sanctions were worth it eight days earlier, but the close timing is probably just a coincidence. I also don't think that the way she said it was what led to 9/11. It was the policy of the administration, which she couldn't avoid articulating, that mattered.
When we had the Oil for Food program, we slow-walked the delivery of equipment. The head of the UN humanitarian effort in Iraq, Dennis Halliday, quit in protest of the sanctions in 1998. In 2000, his successor, Hans von Sponeck, quit for the same reason.
Americans had more reason to question the death-toll estimates from the studies until the period roughly after start of the Oil for Food program, by which point data from an Iraq population survey and mortality data from the autonomous region in Kurdistan suggested a different story.
One can ask, if the goal of the sanctions was to get Saddam to give up WMDs, what else could the US have done? Supposing that Saddam could prevent enough food from being delivered by any means, would giving up the sanctions or overthrowing him have been clearly better options? Yes, because the actual goal of the sanctions was not removing WMDs; it was removing Saddam through his own people, despite how much suffering we were finding out it would require to even start a revolt, let alone complete it. Ousting Saddam ourselves would have been the clear choice to minimize casualties if we needed him out, particularly considering that Saddam's opponents would be truthfully be labeled by Saddam as being on the American side if they revolted anyway.
After the First Gulf War, H.W. Bush said that the sanctions on Iraq weren't going to end until Saddam was overthrown, even if inspections were allowed: "At this juncture, my view is we don't want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." Baker and others said this as well. Clinton ultimately continued much the same policy, though his officials would say that he needed to comply with all of the UN Security Council Resolutions as opposed to just inspections, something which Albright said she pretty much knew he wouldn't do. A very comprehensive source for these and numerous similar statements by officials during the H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations is this page from the Institute for Public Accuracy. It also has one from an Iraqi: November 7, 1997: Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz: "The American government says openly, clearly, that it's not going to endorse lifting the sanctions on Iraq unless the leadership of Iraq is changed."
Scott Ritter, the chief weapons inspector for the 1998 inspections, pointed out that the Americans sabotaged the inspections by forcing too many inspectors into certain sites against the agreed-upon rules. We had, after all, launched an attempted coup in 1996.
The US knew that the Iraq's water-sanitation system would be fully degraded by sanctions within a year back in 1991, shutting down industries that need pure water and forcing Iraqis to boil their water to prevent epidemics. The linked page has a link to the original document on Gulflink, a .mil website that I've accessed before (including from the DoD website) to read the Riegle Report, but this time my antivirus software won't let me.
Bin Laden was clearly wrong not just in the way that everyone else was, but also because he appeared to believe that Iraqi children were still dying at the rate that they were before the Oil for Food Program. While the top officials of that program believed that the program wasn't enough, I doubt they would have agreed that the mortality rates would have been the same as before the program started. Nevertheless, the reason why the US media never talks about such an important topic, whether on its own or in relation to 9/11, is that there isn't a good explanation for trying to depose a dictator (knowing that the WMD threat was not real because he only initially avoided inspections because of H.W. Bush and Baker's statements) by making the situation unbearable for his people rather than ending the sanctions or overthrowing him to save the children. If half a million children had died, the US would have been complicit in continuing the policy since the 1992 and especially the 1995 study until they stopped on their own accord. Saddam merely gave in because he figured that they didn't care about Iraqi children. The reasoning may not be dead simple, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize that we were at fault, and that the core of Bin Laden's grievance was actually based on the truth. Moreover, the statements of Madeleine Albright and Tariq Aziz were sufficient reason to believe that the Iraqis were not likely to see us as liberators.
To draw from my essay "Proof that Rumsfeld intentionally started the civil war in Iraq through the Badr Brigade": Incidentally, it turned out that they almost all saw us as liberators until we fired the government, had them tortured/killed, imprisoned/tortured/killed them ourselves without due process, shut down Moqtada al-Sadr's newspaper, and tried to make money from their oil. Thus, if we took Saddam out in 1991 or 1996, it would have been not only far more justified (though not necessary or the best idea), it could have worked out fairly well. What Saddam did before he invaded Kuwait was even worse, so intervening in 1991 would have been late if we wanted to intervene. Lastly, the Israel lobby was probably the most powerful group pushing for Saddam to be removed, though I do not doubt the influence of defense contractors.
The second grievance was our support for Israel. He was upset by the killing of men, women, and children in Palestine and Lebanon. We gave Israel $1.8 billion a year in military-aid grants from 1984 to 1999, growing ever since then. In the article (I haven't read the book) "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" Walt and Mearsheimer note: "Since 1982, the United States has vetoed 33 United Nations Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members." This is why settlements, which the US used to say it was technically opposed to, go unpunished by sanctions. Even the target was chosen to mirror Israel's aggression (Washington Post, 2004): "And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children."
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