To the editors:

After reading your lengthy interview with Dr. Louise Cainkar (Reader, May 10) about postwar Iraq, I began to wonder whether the Arab peoples need to be saved from their best friends. Of course, reading about the suffering of Iraqi children is disturbing, even if the reportage is provided by a paid propagandist for the Palestinian Human Rights Information Center.

But in her partisanship for the two Arab peoples she prefers (i.e., Palestinians and Iraqis), Dr. Cainkar willfully ignores the real causes of their suffering. She finds a simplistic cause for the Gulf war: “This war was fought for multinational corporations, oil companies, military and construction contractors.” Apparently, to Dr. Cainkar, the savaging of Kuwait by Iraqis and Palestinians (and not by Saddam Hussein alone) was just a tea party which should promptly be forgiven and forgotten.

Dr. Cainkar should of course be credited for consistency. Never having protested any atrocity committed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, she cannot be expected to criticize what the Iraqi allies of the PLO did in Kuwait. She has her own definition of cruelty: “But I don’t think they’re [i.e., the U.S. Government] going to loosen sanctions until Saddam Hussein is out of power. I can’t see any other reason for this kind of cruelty.”

Of course, it would be preferable if the suffering of Iraqis could be confined to the top government and military leadership. But here we come to the nub of the disservice which Dr. Cainkar’s advocacy inflicts upon her Arab friends. The complete absence of democracy in the Arab world means that the leaders never suffer until they are removed by assassination. Yet, no one ever hears pro-PLO activists like Dr. Cainkar insist that their Arab friends institute a modicum of democracy or eschew terrorism. Thus, instead of blaming the Iraqis and their Palestinian cohorts for the unspeakable crimes which they committed in Kuwait, Dr. Cainkar heaps all the blame for the suffering of Iraqis on the coalition armies.

With friends like Dr. Cainkar, the Iraqis and Palestinians are treated like pampered children. They are told that no matter how heinously they act, we will always excuse your conduct. Is it hoping too much to urge that, just once, Dr. Cainkar and her organization might tell those whose cause they advocate that murder and violence are wrong, that mass murder and mass violence are grossly wrong, and that the peoples in whose name horrible deeds are committed are very likely to suffer the consequences of those deeds?

The apprehensions which Dr. Cainkar expresses at the end of the interview completely reveal her myopia about Middle Eastern reality. What really troubles her is that the result of the Gulf war might be “establishing ties between the gulf states and Israel . . . [with] Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and probably Syrians and Egyptians . . . being squeezed and pushed around.” Have no fears, Dr. Cainkar. The ungrateful Saudis and Gulf states are expanding the boycott of Israel. And the Syrians, who not only have an arsenal as lethal as that formerly possessed by Iraq but also the demonstrated willingness to impose it on their own citizens (e.g., the slaughter of Hama), are far from being pushed around. In fact, they are in the process of gobbling up Lebanon.

Mustapha Barzani, the Kurdish leader, once admitted that the cause of the Kurds had failed because the Kurds killed only their own enemies on their own lands. The converse of this reasoning incites Arab terrorists and their groupies. So long as the Dr. Cainkars of this world can get worked up only about the sufferings of those peoples (like the Iraqis and Palestinians) who employ terrorism to advance their causes, the terrorists will be encouraged to continue to commit atrocities. And the peoples in whose names terrorism is employed will continue to reap the bitter whirlwind.

Joel J. Sprayregen


Tom Johnson replies:

Mr. Sprayregen accuses Dr. Cainkar of being a paid propagandist. Yet she rightly accused the United States government of committing biological warfare against the Iraqi civilian population, including children. Nowhere does Sprayregen refute this message.

He also says that her reasoning about the causes of the war is simplistic. In the June 9 New York Times there was a multipage pullout section singing the praises of the great victory in defense of that budding democracy Kuwait; in a half-page advertisement sponsors of the New York parade were listed, including multinational corporations, oil companies, and military and construction contractors. On other pages politicians outdid each other saluting the slaughter. Raytheon, the maker of the Patriot, took out a full-page self-congratulating ad. Simplistic? In Washington, D.C., a $12 million war hype (half paid for by the U.S. government and half by multinational corporations and military contractors) tried to persuade U.S. citizens that bulldozing thousands of bombed corpses into mass graves was a fitting task for our young people. The hopeful note is that only 200,000 people showed up, fewer than attended the largest antiwar demonstrations and only a fraction of the predicted 1.4 million.

During the past couple of weeks there have been numerous reports verifying the accuracy of Dr. Cainkar’s observations. The United Nations, Amnesty International, Mideast Watch, a Harvard University public-health team, the Pentagon, and numerous mainstream and alternative journalists, health experts, and observers have testified to the devastating effects that the “surgical bombings” have had on many people throughout the Middle East, including our temporary allies, the Kuwaitis, the Kurds, and Iraqi Shiites.

Sprayregen’s letter also implicitly defines Iraqis, Palestinians, and members of the PLO as either terrorists or pampered children. This kind of reasoning lays the groundwork for justifying genocide: if we are able to sufficiently demean a whole group for the actions of some members of that group, then the way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the group.