I reproduce below a brilliant memorial of the recently deceased former US Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright which appears in the current edition of Mondoweiss, the radical voice of Jewish Americans and their friends. Albright passed away earlier this week and while the mainstream media heaped praise on her memory. Mondoweiss’s piece placed her under an unforgiving spotlight. It is worth reading in the context of the stance of moral superiority taken by the United States and the West in general over Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and the mass media’s unquestioning role as the West’s propaganda partners in that conflict. It seems that Ms Albright once justified the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children who the United Nations had estimated had perished as a direct result of US-prompted sanctions against the Saddam Hussein regime. Sort of puts Mr Putin in context, yes?
Madeleine Albright’s Legacy
Madeleine Albright (1937-2022)
Madeleine Albright has died at the age of 84. She was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State from 1997-2001, the first woman to ever hold that position. From 1993-1997 she was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. For some the enduring legacy of Albright won’t involve anything she did during her historic political career. She will be most remembered for something she said.
Something very rare happened on May 12, 1996. That evening viewers of CBS’ 60 Minutes witnessed a thorough and critical segment about U.S. foreign policy that was based around actual reporting. The program, which would go on to win correspondent Lesley Stahl an Emmy and a duPont-Columbia journalism award, was called “Punishing Saddam” and it detailed the U.S. government’s Iraq sanctions policy.
Let’s begin by stepping back. When it comes to Iraq, some Americans might view the Clinton years as an uneventful gap between Bush 1’s Gulf War and Bush 2’s Iraq War. “Eight Years of Peace, Progress, and Prosperity” went the Democratic mantra. However, the Iraqi people certainly experienced no peace during that era. After less than six months in office (in full violation of international law of course) Clinton lobbed 23 cruise missiles into the country. Three hit residential areas, killing nine people and wounding 12. The acclaimed Iraqi painter Layla Al Attar was one of the victims. Her husband and their housekeeper were also killed. Her daughter was blinded. The bombings continued from there. Operation Desert Strike occurred later that year, then there was Operation Desert Fox in 1998. In 1998 Clinton also signed the Iraq Liberation Act, instituting an official U.S. policy of “regime change” and planting the seeds for Bush’s war crimes.
Then there were the sanctions, which a UN-commissioned study found responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. Those numbers have been challenged in subsequent years, but it’s important to remember a couple things. The “Oil-for-Food” program’s first coordinator Denis Halliday quit his position in protest of the policy in 1998, calling it “genocidal.” The respected diplomat had worked at the U.N. for 34 years.
“When I got to Iraq in 1998, the hospitals in Baghdad, and also of course in Basra and other cities, were full of children suffering from leukemia,” Halliday told The Progressive last year. “Those children, we reckon perhaps 200,000 children, died of leukemia. At the same time, Washington and London withheld some of the medicines and treatment components that leukemia requires, again, it seemed, in a genocidal manner, denying Iraqi children the right to remain alive.”
Halliday’s successor, Hans von Sponeck, quit a couple years later for the same reasons. “For how long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all this, be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” he asked.
So 26 years ago, Albright was interviewed by 60 Minutes as the Clinton administration’s spokesperson on the matter. Here was the most infamous portion of the exchange:
Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright:I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.
The striking thing about this exchange is Albright’s honesty. You almost never see a story like this in the mainstream media, but when you do the protocol is pretty consistent. We’re currently seeing it play out with pro-Israel groups and Amnesty International’s apartheid report. You smear and deflect, but you never actually acknowledge the crimes.
As I mentioned, the legacy of Albright’s comments is the compelling part. The deaths of Iraqi children were consistently cited by Osama bin Laden in interviews and recruitment videos. “A million innocent children are dying at this time as we speak, killed in Iraq without any guilt,” he declared about a month after the 9/11 attacks. At the time The Guardian looked into the claim and concluded that he was overstating things. However, the paper also quoted Dr Peter Pellett, a professor of nutrition at UMass, who served on multiple UN food and agriculture missions to Iraq: “All recent food and nutrition surveys have reported essentially the same story: malnourished children… increased mortality, and a general breakdown in the whole fabric of society.” When it came to Iraqi kids “Bin Laden’s propaganda may be exaggerated and one-sided. But he does perhaps have a point” the article admitted.
Even if you happened to watch and remember that 60 Minutes episode from 1996, the mainstream press certainly wasn’t acknowledging the Albright quote within the context of 9/11 after the towers fell. It’s doubtful that many Americans were reminded of it. Here’s Rahul Mahajan in FAIR from November 2001:
Albright’s quote, calmly asserting that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children, has been much quoted in the Arabic press. It’s also been cited in the United States in alternative commentary on the September 11attacks. But a Dow Jones search of mainstream news sources since September 11 turns up only one reference to the quote–in an op-ed in the Orange Country Register. This omission is striking, given the major role that Iraq sanctions play in the ideology of archenemy Osama bin Laden; his recruitment video features pictures of Iraqi babies wasting away from malnutrition and lack of medicine.
A couple years after Albright made those comments she was questioned by students at Ohio State during an event that was televised by CNN. Albright (by then Secretary of State) had come to the campus with Defense Secretary William Cohen national security adviser, Samuel Berger to make the case for attacking Iraq. Again, a concept with roots far deeper than 2003.
Albright fielded a question from Jon Strange, who was a 22-year-old substitute teacher at the time. Here’s that exchange:
Strange:What do you have to say about dictators in countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to yet the are slaughtering people in East Timor. What do you have to say about Israel, who is slaughtering Palestinians, who imposed martial law. What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies.Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?
Albright: There are various examples of things that are not right in this world and the United States is trying..I am really surprised that people feel it is necessary to defend the rights of Saddam Hussein, when we what ought to be thinking about is how to make sure that he does not use weapons of mass destruction.
Strange: I’m not defending him in the least. What I am saying is that there needs to be consistent application of U.S. foreign policy. We cannot support people who are committing the same violations because they are political allies. That is not acceptable. We cannot violate U.N. resolutions when it is not convenient to us. You’re not answering my question Madam Albright.
“Madeleine was always a force for goodness, grace, and decency — and for freedom,” said President Biden in a statement after her death. Last week Biden sent Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia after the country urgently requested them. On the campaign trail Biden declared that he would end U.S. support for and make Saudi Arabia a pariah, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the calculus. Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with 17 million people food insecure. 2.2 million of them are children. Biden presumably views it as a very hard choice, but ultimately thinks the price is worth it.
You can watch the entire 60 Minutessegment from 1996 online. It’s just as compelling all these years later.