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.
Albright's infamous "we think the price is worth it" comments.
You can watch this and be the judge. pic.twitter.com/Dtwl4ymMRm
— ℮oin Higgins (@EoinHiggins_) March 23, 2022
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.