Sunday, September 16, 2007

Madeleine Albright, Then and Now

I can't let Madeleine Albright's plug for diplomacy over war pass without comment [emphasis mine]:

Albright dealt with serious issues all over the world in her position as secretary of state. She said the world is in serious trouble.

"I don't think I have ever seen the world in such a mess," Albright said to a packed house at the West Des Moines Community Center.

"I believe that Iraq is going to go down in history as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy. That means that I am acknowledging it is worse than Vietnam," she told the group.

Albright is advising Clinton on foreign policy and believes the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq, stabilize the country, help in reconstruction and use a diplomatic surge.

"Our national security toolbox has a lot of different tools in it, and this administration has basically only used the military tool," she said in an exclusive interview with KCCI. "Diplomacy is the way countries talk to each other and that has not been used enough."

Rewind the tape to the May 12, 1996, edition of 60 Minutes:
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: 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?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

In 2003, Albright "apologized" in the pages of her memoir, Madame Secretary:
I must have been crazy; I should have answered the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it. Saddam Hussein could have prevented any child from suffering simply by meeting his obligations.... As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words. My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy and wrong. Nothing matters more than the lives of innocent people. I had fallen into the trap and said something I simply did not mean. That was no one’s fault but my own. (p. 275)

Albright also "faulted" herself and the Clinton administration for making “little effort [...] to explain Saddam’s culpability, his misuse of Iraqi resources, or the fact that we were not embargoing medicine or food.”

Disingenuous to the end. First, although the sanctions did not officially include food or medicine, in practice they worked that way. The Oil for Food program, which was supposed to alleviate Iraqis' suffering, did not start until 1996. And even after that, the program was woefully inadequate, as Denis Halliday, former administrator of OIF, told CNN here:
Denis Halliday joined the Gulf War Chat after the airing of "The Unfinished War: A Decade Since Desert Storm" on CNN. Halliday, a former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, was a guest in the show. He served as the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq beginning September 1, 1997, but resigned thirteen months later in protest over the U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

The U.S. State Department declined CNN's invitation to participate in the chat.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to, Denis Halliday.

Denis Halliday: Thank you. I'm pleased to be with you.

CNN Moderator: David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, points out that the oil-for-food program produces billion of resources "that can be used to address humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people." David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and co-author of "The Sanctions Decade," says that the responsibility for the humanitarian situation lies with the Iraqi regime's "malicious, diabolical strategy" to gain international sympathy.

Why should the U.S. or the international community bear the brunt of the blame for Iraq's humanitarian crisis when Saddam Hussein refused to accept the oil-for-food deal until the worst of the humanitarian crisis had passed?

Denis Halliday: Since the oil-for-food program began at the end of '96, Iraq has pumped and sold some 35 billion dollars worth of oil. Of that money, the U.N. has taken 35 percent off the gross amount. To date, Iraq has received food and medicines equivalent to some 10 billion dollars over the four-year period.

You might ask: Where is the rest of the money? Ten billion dollars over four years divided by 22 million people, believe me, is not adequate funding to feed and provide medical care for the Iraqi people. In addition, it falls very much short in dealing with the damage of the Gulf War bombing by the U.S. and with other sectors of Iraq which were damaged by the war, such as agriculture, health care and education.

Not only that, but the United States could and did prevent or delay entry of humanitarian goods into Iraq, as Joy Gordon reported in the November 2002 edition of Harper's:
Over the last three years, through research and interviews with diplomats, U.N. staff, scholars, and journalists, I have acquired many of the key confidential U.N. documents concerning the administration of Iraq sanctions. I obtained these documents on the condition that my sources remain anonymous. What they show is that the United States has fought aggressively throughout the last decade to purposefully minimize the humanitarian goods that enter the country. And it has done so in the face of enormous human suffering, including massive increases in child mortality and widespread epidemics. It has sometimes given a reason for its refusal to approve humanitarian goods, sometimes given no reason at all, and sometimes changed its reason three or four times, in each instance causing a delay of months. Since August 1991 the United States has blocked most purchases of materials necessary for Iraq to generate electricity, as well as equipment for radio, telephone, and other communications. Often restrictions have hinged on the withholding of a single essential element, rendering many approved items useless. For example, Iraq was allowed to purchase a sewage-treatment plant but was blocked from buying the generator necessary to run it; this in a country that has been pouring 300,000 tons of raw sewage daily into its rivers.

The charge that Saddam Hussein "let his people starve" is untrue. The massive food rationing program he put into place as a response to the sanctions kept many Iraqis alive who otherwise would have died.

It's no compliment or credit to Saddam to acknowledge this fact. His motives were political, not humanitarian. The U.S. government aimed to use the Iraqi people's suffering to create a rift between them and their leadership. Saddam had no intention of letting that happen. The food rationing program enabled Iraqis to meet their basic food needs, unquestionably -- but it also functioned as social and political control, putting Saddam in the role of "benevolent father to his people" and at the same time giving him a very effective administrative system for identifying political opponents, imagined or real.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Washington Post article, "Stockpiling Popularity With Food," published shortly before the U.S. invasion, is a big help in understanding how Saddam used the sanctions to build support for his regime.

Getting back to Madeleine Albright's newfound respect for diplomacy, it's a little (okay, more than a little) disheartening to see how others in the blogosphere are responding to her concern for the mess the world is in. First off, only four bloggers have responded at all, as of Sunday afternoon [five, now; Hotline put up a post]. Of those, the two liberal bloggers quote what Albright said approvingly, with no mention of her part in upholding a genocidal sanctions policy that contributed to the conditions that made the mess; and the two right-wing bloggers sneer at her, but also don't mention her support for the sanctions policy -- because, of course, at the time, they approved of it.

I really have nothing but contempt for Madeleine Albright. There is no integrity in decrying a political and humanitarian disaster for which the groundwork was laid by officials in previous administrations, unless those officials have the honesty and courage to acknowledge the ways in which the disastrous policies they supported then have helped bring us to the disastrous policies they deplore now. And clearly, Madeleine Albright does not possess that kind of integrity.


Chief said...


Beyond brilliant. Must be genius. Where, how did you come up with all th background material ?

Gives real meaning to research and factual reporting.

Well done.

Kathy said...

It's not genius, I assure you. I already knew everything I wrote in the post; the U.S. sanctions on Iraq is one of those topics I already know a lot about, from the 90s, when it was a big issue for activists. It *did* take work finding all the references, but I knew what to look for, so I wasn't "flying blind."

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

This piece you wrote was quite good. Your analysis of the Clinton economic sanctions was very well done. All American administrations, be they Democrat or Republican see the third world as their economic colonies. Both parties believe the USA has the right to use force be it the economic sanctions or a full out war. I believe this is the real reason so many Democrats voted to give the president a blank cheque when it came to invading Iraq. When push comes to shove they all believe American corporate interests trump another country's sovereignty.

The blogosphere suffers the same problem as Democrat and Republican supporters do. For the most part neither one of them want to admit the party they vote for have an agenda other than true justice.

I really think Shakespeare's Sister made a mistake not printing pieces like this.

Take Care

Kathy said...

Thank you, Joan. I appreciate your comments -- especially what you said about Shakespeare's Sister. That means a lot to me.

5th Estate said...


Very good work!

I'm not sure Albright was (or is)is as "bad" as Kissinger, Powell or Rice (who have my undying contempt), but I recall thinking at the time that the Iraq sanctions were horrible in many ways--a deadly botch.

I can see an intellectual argument for sanctions, but if applied strategically ( as they always seem to be) they have strategic consequences. I'm hard-pressed to think of any sanctions that really "worked" in any direct fashion, as intended.

I think her "apology" is particularly salient--she doesn't allow a flaws in the policy she enacted, but rather Hussein's reaction to the policy and how she publicly justified it (or rather failed to)! Actions that would get one fired, or put in jail in ordinary jobs are simply a matter of intellectual reflection later on--for which one gets paid or at least gains the benefit of attention and status.

I think what you've done here in one respect is provide a great example of the disconnect between the concerns of the public and the body politic--in other wards to highlight what has been done "in our name".