Robert Weitzel: The Realpolitik of U.S. Foreign Policy


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Feb 18 2007
Cluster Bombs:

The Realpolitik of U.S. Foreign Policy
By Robert Weitzel, guest columnist

Defense Secretary Gates said that serial numbers and other markings found on 
bomb fragments constituted ³pretty good² 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 

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 

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 ³mission accomplished² 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 ³steel rain² 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 ³plaything.² 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 ³steel rain² 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 parents¹ house. Caught in the open as 
cluster bomblets exploded around them, the family took shelter in a trash-filled

Mr. al-Timimi remembers hearing the final explosion that ripped their 2-month 
old baby, Jacob, from his wife¹s 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, ³I 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.²

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 world¹s largest manufacturer and exporter of cluster 
munitions and Israel¹s 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 ³stays the course² until it finally reports 
³mission accomplished² long after the world¹s 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 freelance writer whose essays appear in The 
Capital Times in Madison, WI. He has been published in the Milwaukee Journal 
Sentinel, Skeptic Magazine, and Freethought Today. He can be contacted at: 

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