The awful Madeline Albright is dead

The first woman to occupy the position of US Secretary of State, that occurred during Bill Clinton’s presidency, died last week and there were many tributes to her for this achievement. While breaking down gender and other barriers is always a good thing, the fact is that Albright’s record was awful, though she fitted in perfectly with the Clintons’ neoliberal, so-called ‘liberal interventionist’, warmongering policies. Glossed over was her infamous comment in 1996 that the estimated deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to the cruel sanctions imposed by the US on that country was “worth it”. Here is the clip of her saying it, so casually and cold-bloodedly, that I will never forget it.

Jon Schwarz gives her the send-off that she really deserves by describing all that was wrong with her.

Albright, who died Wednesday at the age of 84, was a leading figure in “liberal internationalism,” a foreign policy school associated with President Woodrow Wilson and his dream of “making the world safe for democracy.” She played a central role in America’s foreign policy in the 1990s — first as a United Nations ambassador and then as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. That period of history, and its consequences for the war on terror, can’t be understood without understanding her actions.

In particular, Albright spearheaded Clinton’s disastrous stance toward Iraq. Albright’s approach was both vicious in its own right and helped lay the foundation for the 2003 Iraq War.

He puts the “worth it” comment in context and how she foreshadowed and lay the groundwork for the neoconservative polices that followed when the Bush-Cheney crowd came into power.

As The BMJ’s article illustrates, the child mortality rate in Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia fell precipitously from 1970 onward. In Iraq, it also fell but then plateaued, especially after 1990. The rate in Iraq is now, the article explains, “roughly twice that of the other countries.”

The complicated reality, then, is that the sanctions did have a brutal impact on Iraqi society; anyone familiar with the reality of 1990s Iraq knows it could hardly have been otherwise. The sanctions almost certainly did cause many children to die who would otherwise have lived — though probably due not to a large, sustained increase in the child mortality rate but rather the fact that the rate did not continue to decline.

So Albright can certainly be indicted for her depraved indifference to the effect of U.S. policies on Iraqi children, even if Stahl got the magnitude wrong. (Albright did later apologize for her words, in a way that made it clear she was sorry she’d accidentally revealed her sincere perspective.) But what’s even worse is the nature of what Albright believed was “worth it.”

We now know for certain that Iraq did comply with its disarmament obligations under Resolution 687 — arguably by the end of 1991 and definitely by 1995. Yet while in Albright’s book “Madam Secretary” she declared that “Saddam Hussein could have prevented any child from suffering simply by meeting his obligations,” the sanctions were never lifted.

In retrospect, it’s clear why. As soon as Resolution 687 was passed, then-President George H.W. Bush explained that the sanctions should never be removed — whatever the text of the resolution — “as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” As Clinton came into office, he said there would be no difference between his policy and that of Bush. Albright herself said, soon after she became secretary of state in 1997, that “we do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted” and that what would be required was Saddam’s removal.

The purpose of the sanctions, then, was indeed to punish Iraqi society. But from the U.S. perspective, the goal was not to induce Iraq to disarm but to encourage the Iraqi military to overthrow Saddam. This was described by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as “the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.”

Accepting a lot of dead children as an acceptable price for this ambition is grim indeed, but that was Albright.

(In passing, is there any issue in which Thomas Friedman does not reveal himself to be one of the worst people in the mainstream media?)

Schwarz goes on to describe the many other awful things that she did, both while in office and after she left. It is well worth reading.

So I for one will not mourn the death of Albright. She is fully deserving of the Eulogy Song.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    Well , NATO and even the USA by itself, have the capability to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. We have refused, because we worry that doing so virtually guarantees that Russian pilots will be killed by American pilots, which we worry might well impel Putin to initiate a nuclear self-immolation that would destroy billions of people all over the world. Yet, by not directly intervening in Ukraine, we are allowing Ukrainian children to be killed who could be saved. Are their deaths “worth it”? It all depends on our understanding of Putin’s mindset, which is based on a fog of questionable interpretations of his and Russia’s action over decades.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    As Clinton came into office, he said there would be no difference between his policy and that of Bush.

    Just as Obama aped the Iraq policies of Bush II.

    Where in the Constitution does it say Democrats must always follow Republicans’ Iraq policies?

    As for Albright, I’d like to see a compare & contrast article on her brutal tenure at State alongside H. Clinton’s.

  3. says

    we are allowing Ukrainian children

    What about the adults?
    I can’t stand kids, so “what about the children?” appeals sometimes don’t function as intended, but why be specific? We can spare a thought for the old people as well.

  4. enkidu says

    Yes. And lets spare a thought for all the human beings caught up in this tragedy. Maybe even the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who are doing what they are ordered to do. Maybe even the 10,000 odd people killed in the Donetsk and Luhansk sine 2014.

  5. says

    In multiple feminist groups, the performative white ones are loudly calling her an “icon”. And saying “now is not the time!” to any mention of the quote about 500,000 dead children.

    The willingness to display their hypocrisy mirrors the murderous and hypocritical foreign policy they defend.

  6. says


    we are allowing Ukrainian children to be killed who could be saved

    I feel the need to call out the false equivalence here since no one else has. In the Albright example, children were not being killed. That’s a major difference. Need I really explain why?!? It’s fairly simple, really. In the Ukraine example, there is another party involved that could, much more easily than we can, prevent children from being killed. Their name is 5 letters long. Starts with a ‘P’. You can probably figure it out from here. (The name is in your comment, after all!) That one person could ask to put a stop to things and they’d stop! It’s pretty much as simple as that when that person is a dictator.
    I guess what I’m really trying to say is I don’t understand why you’re treating Mr. P as though he doesn’t have any autonomy. It’s a bit baffling. This might be where you’d say that is not what you’re saying…but it really is for the comparisons to be equivalent. In the Albright situation, it’s a case of Albright and the USA vs. economic consequences. Economic consequences don’t have autonomy. (And, no, it was not the USA vs. Iraq because, as is claimed in the article, Iraq did what they were asked.) In the Ukraine scenario, it’s a case of the USA, NATO, etc, vs. Mr. P. So does Mr. P not have autonomy?!?

  7. lanir says

    @moarscienceplz #1: If we send troops or planes we up the ante and give Putin a way to justify sending more resources into Ukraine. I don’t know whether we would provide enough help for it to be worth that when the Ukrainian troops are already beginning to turn things around all on their own. Right now, if Putin sends more resources to counteract Ukrainian gains, he’s going to have a hard time justifying it back home. If we enter the mix, we provide him the ready excuse he needs right when he needs it most. May still be worth it but pretty sure that consideration should enter the conversation at some point.

  8. KG says

    According to this UN report, the great majority of civilian deaths in the Donbas conflict (it doesn’t give separate figures for the two sides) occurred in 2014-15, and most of the rest in 2016-17. The next report in the series indicates a further decline in deaths and injuries. I’d guess military deaths and injuries have followed a similar trajectory. So although no war deaths are acceptable, it seems that until Putin’s invasion, the situation was improving -- and other wars and civil conflicts (Ethiopia, Yemen, Myanmar…) were killing far more people -- as was the failure to ensure that everyone had access to Covid-19 vaccines, and of course access to good food, shelter, sanitation, general medical care…

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