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London Review of Books
[An] excellent book.
— Andrew Cockburn
The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 were the most comprehensive and devastating of any established in the name of international governance. The sanctions, coupled with the bombing campaign of 1991, brought about the near collapse of Iraq’s infrastructure and profoundly compromised basic conditions necessary to sustain life.
In a sharp indictment of U.S. policy, Joy Gordon examines the key role the nation played in shaping the sanctions, whose harsh strictures resulted in part from U.S. definitions of “dual use” and “weapons of mass destruction,” and claims that everything from water pipes to laundry detergent to child vaccines could produce weapons. Drawing on internal UN documents, confidential minutes of closed meetings, and interviews with foreign diplomats and U.S. officials, Gordon details how the United States not only prevented critical humanitarian goods from entering Iraq but also undermined attempts at reform; unilaterally overrode the UN weapons inspectors; and manipulated votes in the Security Council. In every political, legal, and bureaucratic domain, the deliberate policies of the United States ensured the continuation of Iraq’s catastrophic condition.
Provocative and sure to stir debate, this book lays bare the damage that can be done by unchecked power in our institutions of international governance.
[An] excellent book.
— Andrew Cockburn
The devastation of much of Iraqi society between 1990 and 2003 through [UN economic] sanctions, driven by the U.S. and to a lesser extent the UK, is a story that has been buried for the most part under layer on layer of diplomatic technicalities, obfuscation and sheer indifference. Joy Gordon's important book not only sets out the story superbly well, but demonstrates its wider implications for our understanding of economic sanctions, international law and global governance. She shows that a commitment to scholarly rigor and a commitment to common humanity can be mutually reinforcing, and her book deserves to be read and discussed widely...Through careful, nuanced analysis Gordon argues persuasively that international law as it stands is ill-equipped to recognize, never mind prosecute and punish, the horrors that were inflicted through the institutions of global governance.
— Eric Herring
Joy Gordon has crafted a well researched and sobering story of the US-led failure of international governance in the case of the 13 years of sanctions on Iraq. The underlying argument made is that the UN Charter's mandate to achieve "health, education and economic development" was fatally compromised by a U.S. policy which was premised on "an ongoing commitment to regime change."...The book speaks with a genuine and well informed anger...Gordon's important book is a cautionary tale of what happens to a state when the full mechanisms of international sanctions are placed upon it regardless of consequence. Gordon admits that U.S. policy was not calculated to destroy the Iraqi population but rather was "deeply indifferent" to the consequences of its actions. Arguably much of the story of the post-2003 occupation is a legacy of such consequences.
— James Denselow
Gordon, in her meticulous study of the evidence, has produced a classic political-moral tract: the inside story of the U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, from the invasion of Kuwait through three presidencies, when American obstructionism disregarded the sanctions' original purpose and reduced a once prosperous nation to a primitive state.
— Raymond A. Schroth
While most Americans have largely forgotten the long decade of U.S. led sanctions on Iraq, Gordon forces attention back to their long-lasting effects on the Iraqi state and society. She offers a deeply researched account of American and United Nations policies towards the sanctions which captures the contradictions between an overt focus on forcing Saddam Hussein to surrender his WMD programs and a deeper interest in maintaining containment ("keeping Saddam in a box") and pushing for regime change—contradictions which remain deeply relevant to current debates about Iran. Gordon tracks the effects of the sanctions on Iraqis, which drove international outrage as the decade of the 1990s dragged on but which most of the world now seems eager to forget.
— Marc Lynch
With this book, Gordon, a philosophy professor at Fairfield University, merits membership in that university's history department as well. This is more than an ethical or legal treatise. It is a solid historical reconstruction of the sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 and of the persistent U.S. leadership in this effort. Especially impressive is Gordon's combing of the sprawling U.S. and UN records over those 13 years. Her findings are somber. For example, she reports, most studies estimate that "at least 500,000 children under age five who died during the sanctions period would not have died under the Iraqi regime prior to sanctions." She also punctures holes in the argument that the Iraqi suffering was due to the abusive manipulation of the sanctions by the Saddam Hussein regime. She documents a consistent U.S. policy spanning the presidencies of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush that linked sanctions to regime change, thus eliminating any motivation for Saddam to comply. Moreover, the bureaucracy and the rules governing the sanctions not only gave the United States a virtual veto that not only blocked changes but assured their severely restrictive implementation. In 1995, then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali described sanctions as a "blunt instrument." In the Iraqi case, as Invisible War starkly shows, sanctions can be not just blunt but also ineffective.
— L. Carl Brown