As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright touted Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials Tuesday and actress Meryl Streep praised her as a feminist hero, all I could think about was a half million dead Iraqi children.
In her infamous 1996 interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, Stahl cited the U.S.-U.N. imposed sanctions on Iraq during Bill Clinton’s administration that were said to have led to the deaths of over 500,000 children in Iraq.
Stahl asked: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?”
Madeleine Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
“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.”
Of course, defenders of Albright and the Clinton administration have always said that the entire blame lies with Saddam Hussein. But if U.S.-supported policies led to the deaths of a half million children because the U.S. was trying to pressure the Hussein — and Albright did not dispute Stahl’s numbers when they were presented to her — would the average Iraqi or Middle Easterner blame the U.S. or Hussein?
That defense has never made sense. When did Saddam Hussein ever treat Iraqis well? Why would a monstrous dictator care what happened to his own people?
Osama Bin Laden cited the sanctions, as reported by The Guardian in 2002:
You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.
In 2012, journalist Glenn Greenwald noted, “So extreme was the suffering caused by sanctions in Iraq that one former UN official, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest, saying that the sanctions policy met the formal definition of ‘genocide.”
“We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines,” Halliday said in 1999. “We’re in there allowing children to die who were not born yet when Saddam Hussein made the mistake of invading Kuwait.”
Stahl received an Emmy for her interview with Albright.