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A Question for Every Parent: Is U.S. Foreign Interventionism Worth It?

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The latest terrorist attack in England, which has killed or injured dozens of teenagers, raises a question for every British, French, and American parent: Is continued interventionism in the Middle East and Afghanistan worth it?

In 1996 Leslie Stahl of CBS's 60 Minutes, asked that question of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright.

We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright responded:

I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

What Stahl was referring to the massive death toll among Iraqi children caused by U.S. interventionism in Iraq during the 1990s, specifically the attempt by the U.S. government to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power and replace him with a U.S.-approved ruler.

To accomplish that end, the U.S. government employed a brutal system of sanctions that operated against the Iraqi citizenry. The idea was that by bringing maximum economic suffering to the Iraqi people, Iraqis would rise up and remove their ruler from power without the U.S. military having to invade the country and suffer casualties among the troops.

As Joy Gordon detailed in her Harper's Magazine article "Cruel War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction" and her excellent book Invisible War: The United States and Iraq Sanctions, the Iraq sanctions were tremendously successful in bringing economic harm to the Iraqi people. The entire country was squeezed into extreme poverty, with Iraq's middle class being entirely destroyed.

That wasn't the biggest success of the sanctions, however. The biggest success was the massive death toll that it brought to Iraqi children, with deaths mounting into the hundreds of thousands, especially from infectious illnesses. That's partly because during the Persian Gulf intervention, the Pentagon, after concluding that the destruction of Iraqi's water and sewage plants would help spread infectious illnesses among the Iraqi populace, issued the order to destroy the plants, an order that U.S. military pilots carried out, notwithstanding the clear and obvious war crimes implications. After the war was concluded, Iraqi officials were unable to repair the plants because of the sanctions, which then succeeded in bringing the high death toll among Iraqi children.

While successful in bringing economic harm and death to the Iraqi people, the sanctions, however, failed in removing Saddam from power. It would be another 7 years of death and destruction before the U.S. government finally gave up on the sanctions and just decided to resort to a military invasion in 2003 to oust Saddam from power and replace him with a U.S.-approved regime.

The essence of the question posed to Albright in 1996 was: Were the deaths of those estimated half-a-million children worth U.S. interventionism in Iraq? That is, were they worth the U.S. attempt to bring regime change to Iraq by ousting Saddam from power and replacing him with a U.S.-approved regime?

What Albright was essentially doing was weighing the deaths of the children against the interventionism. At the time she answered the question, she was essentially saying that the interventionism was, in fact, worth the deaths of those half-a-million children.

In the wake of the latest terrorist attack in England, a variation of the question 60 Minutes posed to Albright is one that confronts every American parent and every parent of children whose government is partnering with the U.S. government's interventionism in the Middle East and Afghanistan: Is continued interventionism worth the deaths of children who are killed as a result of terrorist retaliation?

Not surprisingly, that's not a question that British officials are asking or requesting their citizens to ask. Like U.S. officials, they don't want people to be questioning or challenging the U.S. and British interventionism. Thus, British officials are responding to the terrorist attack in the same way that U.S. officials and the U.S. mainstream press respond to anti-American terrorist attacks. They're saying the terrorists are evil and cowardly, that people shouldn't succumb to fear, and that the government is going to have to take some measures that infringe on liberty in order to keep people safe.

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