Cluster Bombs: The Realpolitik
of U.S. Foreign Policy
by Robert Weitzel
www.zmag.org, February 26, 2007
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
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
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
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
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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Landmine & Cluster Bomb watch