Madeleine Albright and US Foreign Policy

After all these years one would hope that Madeleine Albright, that baleful specter who haunted us almost as destructively as the current crop of malevolent functionaries, would have the decency to disappear, but no such luck. She continues to get a series of honorary degrees and no one has taken the time to put an effective spoke into her wretched wheel of legacy. Her latest coup is to get an honorary degree in Canada this past October from the University of Winnipeg.

When assessing a candidate for an honorary degree, a university would supposedly select a distinguished individual who would be worthy of the institution’s highest honour and who would provide an inspirational address to the graduands. Such a person must have a truly exemplary record in all respects. It should not be someone whose laudatory achievements are more than counterbalanced by the person’s policies and actions, or support for policies and actions, which have led to catastrophic consequences, deserving of the most severe condemnation.

Madeleine Albright, in the course of her career as US Ambassador to the United Nations and later as US Secretary of State, initiated or supported policies on a number of matters that negatively altered the course of history which in turn led to the deaths of massive numbers of people. With such a record, how could this person be worthy of an honorary degree by a Canadian university? What could such a person say to the graduands about “humanitarian concerns” that wouldn’t ooze of sheer hypocrisy? Considering possible worthy Canadian candidates such as Stephen Lewis, General Romeo Dallaire, or Mel Hurtig or many others, why was this notorious American warhorse selected for honours by the University of Winnipeg?

It appears that during the University’s vetting process, no one questioned anything beyond Madeleine Albright’s official paper credentials. As such the dark side of her political career was never made known. An examination of Albright’s career is instructive since it reveals significant features of American foreign policy which are not widely known, even by people on the left. Albright played a particularly unsavory role in Rwanda, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and East Timor. Disturbingly, few people realize that Clinton’s policies resulted in a far greater number of deaths in Iraq than have occurred during the current Bush administration’s assault on that country. Even more disturbing is that Clinton’s so-called “humanitarian bombing” of Yugoslavia was supported by a large sector of people on the left ­ who were totally misled largely by clever American propaganda. Interestingly, an examination of Albright’s career brings all this to light.

Let us begin with the Rwanda genocide in 1994. A report released in 2000 by an international panel that had been commissioned by the Organization of African Unity charged that the USA, France, and Belgium knew what was happening but actively prevented peacekeepers from moving in to stop the mass killing of about 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. Even the Catholic and Anglican churches did nothing to discourage the killings. The full report, Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide is on the web at . The report challenges President Clinton’s claim that the USA’s failure to act was due to ignorance of the extent of the atrocities unfolding in Rwanda.

Pointedly the report states: “The Americans, led by US Ambassador Madeleine Albright, played the key role in blocking more expeditious action by the UN. . . . and with American UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright advocating the most token of forces and the United States adamantly refusing to accept publicly that a full-fledged, Convention-defined genocide was in fact taking place” (Sections 10.11 and 10.16 ). This action by itself should have disqualified her for being considered for an honorary degree.

A further ignoble performance by Madeleine Albright deals with the issue of sanctions on Iraq. Although she didn’t initiate the sanctions, as US Ambassador to the UN and later as Secretary of State, a good deal of her career, in both capacities, was linked to maintaining the sanctions. The unrelenting mean-minded toughness of her resolve was revealed in an interview on 60 Minutes, on May 11, 1996. The interviewer Lesley Stahl asked: “We have heard that half a million children have died [as a result of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima . . . Is the price worth it?” Albright’s response: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

The draconian sanctions lasted some 13 years and were in their way as devastating to Iraq as the current Bush administration’s war on that country. The full impact of the sanctions on Iraq is hard to determine but UN and other reports indicate that within only the first eight years the sanctions resulted in the death of about two million Iraqis, including the death of perhaps a million children. In terms of lives lost, this ill-advised policy, headed and largely enforced by the USA, was far more devastating to Iraq than President Bush’s invasion and occupation of that country.

Through the years Madeleine Albright’s response to critics of the sanctions was that there had been no embargo on food or medicine and that it was Saddam Hussein’s misuse of resources that caused suffering for Iraq’s people. Her argument was disingenuous and essentially false. Members of the sanctions committee, primarily those from Britain and the USA, could veto or deny any shipment to Iraq if there was the slightest suspicion that an item could have a “dual use” and be converted to a warfare agent. On this basis, anti-cancer drugs, most basic medicines and critical vaccines for children, stethoscopes and X-ray equipment, scanners, all equipment and expertise to clean up depleted uranium battlefields, chlorine for water purification, and even sanitary napkins and pencils were banned or lost in a cynical delaying process.

The fact that almost all water treatment facilities and dams were deliberately destroyed during the Gulf War bombing campaign, combined with the subsequent ban on chlorine and water and sewage treatment equipment and supplies, meant that there would be an explosion of infectious water-borne diseases. Moreover, all of Iraq’s vaccine facilities were destroyed and until 2001 most vaccines for common infectious diseases were blocked because of possible “dual use.” To deliberately create conditions for disease and then to withhold the treatment is little different morally from actually engaging in outright biological warfare. Despite all this, Madeleine Albright remained unmoved in her resolve to maintain the sanctions.

Some of the best documented evidence of the effects of the sanctions program was brought forward by a number of the highest ranking UN officials who had been stationed in Iraq. In August 1998 Scott Ritter, UNSCOM Chief Weapons Inspector, resigned from his position in protest of US foreign policy in Iraq. In a subsequent book, Endgame, he discussed the folly and immorality of the sanctions against Iraq. Denis Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Aid Co-ordinator in Iraq, after 31 years of service with the UN, resigned in protest of the sanctions in September 1998. His replacement, Hans von Sponeck, a 36-year veteran of the UN, resigned for the same reason in February 2000, along with Dr. Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Program in Iraq.

In his resignation speech, Denis Halliday stated: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.” He elaborated in a lengthy interview on April 17, 1999:

I consider sanctions have become in effect a form of warfare, a form of warfare that is incompatible with the Geneva Conventions and Protocols on targeting civilians. Sanctions do nothing but target civilians. . . . to describe the death of 1, possibly 1.5 million people, to describe the death of thousands of kids each month, to describe the death of almost 600,000 children since 1990 ­ what else is that but genocide? And it’s not a passive thing, it’s not neglect, it’s an act of decision making process of the member states of the Security Council. They know what they’re doing. And Madeleine Albright has been on CBS Television’s 60 Minutes programme (May 11, 1996) and has justified, in a sense, the killing of 500,000 children. She claims that it’s necessary, justified, to contain Saddam Hussein, the same Saddam Hussein who was an ally of the USA and the UK and others, who was bankrolled and provided military capacity by these countries, who was provided the ‘Seed Stock’ for biological weapons, provided by a company in Maryland and approved by the Pentagon and, I think, by the Treasury Department. This is the same Saddam Hussein, and now they can’t talk to him. They are going to punish the Iraqi people because they can’t deal with this man. I mean, this is all to me unjustified and unacceptable.

On February 13, 2000 Hans von Sponeck, as Humanitarian Aid Co-ordinator for Iraq, stated: “As a UN official, I should not be expected to be silent to that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended. How long should the civilian population, which is totally innocent on all of this, be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Two days later he resigned in protest. In a subsequent interview, he pointed out that although the sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council, of the total humanitarian supplies that had been blocked, 98 percent of them had been blocked by the USA.

If the sanctions were meant to somehow remove Saddam Hussein from power, they actually had the effect of strengthening his position. Because of the sanctions the bulk of the Iraqi population became totally dependent on rations provided by the Hussein government and they were so demoralized and weakened that there was no possibility of any revolt against the regime. In response to Hussein’s American-supported disastrous war in Iran, followed by the debacle of the Kuwait invasion, a strong grassroots opposition had emerged amongst the general Iraqi population. However, because of the sanctions, the people were powerless to act. Without the sanctions, the Iraqis may have deposed the Hussein regime, on their own, in exactly the way the people of the Philippines removed Marcos in 1986 and the way the Indonesians deposed Suharto in 1998 ­ despite US support for both dictators almost to the very end. So much for Madeleine Albright’s reputed strategic advice to President Clinton.

In Madeleine Albright’s 2003 memoirs, Madam Secretary, she regrets the response she made in the 1996 60 Minutes interview. She says, “. . . 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” (p. 275). She then trots out the same tired flawed arguments she used throughout the years for maintaining the sanctions. It’s as if by “reframing” the question, she could have brought back to life the 500,000 children and thereby exonerated her policies. And furthermore, to have waited seven years before her “apology,” does it not indicate that perhaps her initial answer was sincere and that her belated apology was issued with her legacy in mind?

A further instance of her unsuitability for being awarded an honorary degree is the role she played in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the bombing of that country in 1999.

Although Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia reasonably peacefully, by March of 1992 it became evident that the secession of Bosnia would lead directly to war. Under pressure from the international diplomatic corps, the leaders of the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats met in Lisbon on March 18, 1992 and signed a compromise agreement, which would result in the cantonization of Bosnia on ethnic lines based on the Swiss model. As James Bissett, the Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time, recounts (in a Winnipeg interview with Professor Paul Phillips on May 29, 1999), “the entire diplomatic corps was very happy that the civil war had been avoided ­ except the Americans. The American Ambassador, William Zimmerman, immediately took off for Sarajevo to convince Izetbegovic [the Bosnian Muslim leader] not to sign the agreement so that with the support of the US he could become the first head of a European Islamic state.” By this action, the US effectively skewered the peace deal. Izetbegovic complied, withdrew his signature from the agreement, declared unilateral independence, and ignited the Bosnian civil war. The vicious 3 _ year war ended with the Dayton Accords in November of 1995 on conditions much worse for all Bosnian ethnic groups, politically and economically, than those agreed to at Lisbon. This terrible and tragic war that was almost avoided killed and wounded thousands of people, caused billions of dollars of damage, destroyed the infrastructure of the country, and left people bitterly divided for the foreseeable future. The historical record places the responsibility squarely on the USA, but through American control of propaganda, the blame was somehow placed on the Serbs and on Milosevic.

So far it is not known on whose instructions Ambassador Zimmerman took the fateful action which brought about the civil war. In 1992 Madeleine Albright had been President of the Center for National Policy, but because Clinton had always considered her to be an expert on the Balkans, he may have sought her advice. However, from 1993 she had direct decisive influence on the USA’s Balkan policies. Colin Powell reports in his book, My American Journey (p.576) that because there was no clear political objective, he resisted her pressure on him to commit US military forces to Bosnia. He cites her as saying to him: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” His comment on this: “I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GI’s were not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board.”

As for the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, this was clearly the result of Madeleine Albright’s initiative. She managed to convince President Clinton, against the better judgment of the Pentagon, that a “little bombing” of Yugoslavia would force Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet “peace accord,” which would allow NATO forces to occupy the entire country, including Kosovo. This critical feature of the document was never publicized in the West’s mainstream media and this contributed to the demonization of the Serbs. No country in the world would willingly agree to be militarily occupied by foreign forces, let alone Yugoslavia with its still vivid memories of Nazi occupation. The Rambouillet accord served as an ultimatum for the country to surrender its sovereignty or be bombed into submission. The Yugoslav government refused to sign ­ and the result was a merciless 78-day bombing campaign which killed and injured thousands of people and completely destroyed the country’s entire social and economic infrastructure. Yugoslavia’s resolve forced NATO to drop its Rambouillet objective, and it was only with Russia’s diplomatic efforts that a form of peace emerged and the bombing stopped.

The war on Yugoslavia was bizarre in a number of wide-ranging respects. The bombing was carried out without the approval of the UN Security Council, it was in violation of the UN Charter, it was in violation of the US Constitution, it was in violation of almost every treaty signed by Yugoslavia with European countries since World War I, and it was in violation of the NATO Treaty itself, which requires NATO to settle international disputes peacefully and to refrain from the threat or use of force “in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” Not only was the launching of the aerial war on Yugoslavia illegal, much of its actual conduct was equally illegal and in violation of Geneva Conventions. The bombing of civilian infrastructure is a violation of international law under various statutes.

To put this in a more stark perspective, Walter J. Rockler, in light of his experience as a former prosecutor of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, had this to say to the American public (Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1999):

The bombing war also violates and shreds the basic provisions of the United Nations Charter and other conventions and treaties; the attack on Yugoslavia constitutes the most brazen international aggression since the Nazis attacked Poland to prevent ‘Polish atrocities’ against Germans. The United States has discarded pretensions to international legality and decency, and embarked on a course of raw imperialism run amok.
The illegality of the aerial war on Yugoslavia, along with the way in which it was conducted, is a matter of solid documented fact. Yugoslavia’s refusal to sign the American-drafted scandalous Rambouillet ultimatum was the technical pretext for the bombing, but to get around the awkward fact of the war’s illegality and to get the general public on side, clever propaganda portrayed the war as “humanitarian intervention.” Much of this was enabled by shrill reports that Slobobdan Milosevic’s military were conducting a campaign of genocide and that at least 100,000 Kosovo-Albanians had been exterminated and buried in mass graves in Kosovo. This deliberate propaganda was so convincing that even progressive-minded people and journals supported this “just war” against the demonic Serbs.

Further analysis and documentation relating to the complex Yugoslavia issue is precluded by space constraints. However, a reasonable summary is provided by Canada’s General Lewis Mackenzie in his article “We bombed the wrong side?” (National Post, April 6, 2004):

Those of us who warned that the West was being sucked in on the side of an extremist, militant, Kosovo-Albanian independence movement were dismissed as appeasers. The fact that the lead organization spearheading the fight for independence, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was universally designated a terrorist organization and known to be receiving support from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was conveniently ignored. . . .

Since the NATO/UN intervention in 1999, Kosovo has become the crime capital of Europe. The sex slave trade is flourishing. The province has become an invaluable transit point for drugs en route to Europe and North America. Ironically, the majority of the drugs come from another state “liberated” by the West, Afghanistan. Members of the demobilized, but not eliminated, KLA are intimately involved in organized crime and the government. . .

The objective of the Albanians is to purge all non-Albanians, including the international community’s representatives, from Kosovo and ultimately link up with mother Albania thereby achieving the goal of “Greater Albania.” The campaign started with their attacks on Serbian security forces in the early 1990s and they were successful in turning Milosevic’s heavy-handed response into worldwide sympathy for their cause. There was no genocide as claimed by the West — the 100,000 allegedly buried in mass graves turned out to be around 2,000, of all ethnic origins, including those killed in combat during the war itself. . . .

The Kosovo-Albanians have played us like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and independent Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early ’90s and we continue to portray them as the designated victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary.

For people who really want to know what happened in Yugoslavia, there is ample evidence to show that the pretext to bomb that country had been fabricated in the same way as the weapons of mass destruction pretext was fabricated for Iraq. Since Madeleine Albright engineered the bombing of Yugoslavia, she continues to support the decision in exactly the way she continues to support the sanctions on Iraq. The festering issue of Kosovo is far from resolution and the undying irredentist Albanian dream of creating a “Greater Albania” may yet plunge this area into a series of Lebensraum wars with neighbouring states. The reality of the frightening ugliness in Kosovo hasn’t registered on Madeleine Albright because this past summer, while there, she declared, “I love the people of Kosovo!”
Finally there is Albright’s role in the East Timor tragedy. Using almost similar tactics the CIA launched coups in Iraq and Indonesia in the 1960’s and installed Saddam Hussein and General Suharto as pliant dictators. It was done for identical reasons ­ to have these two murderous thugs kill off the large emerging communist movements in both countries. Both protégés excelled in their missions ­ the CIA later reported that Suharto had carried out one of the great mass murders of the 20th century. In both instances, the annihilation of the left was greeted with enthusiasm in the West. With the USA’s blessings, Suharto’s military invaded East Timor in December of 1975, and for the next 25 years subjected the Timorese to some of the worst atrocities of the modern era. During this time, the USA effectively blocked the United Nations from intervening, and allowed the worst massacre relative to population since the Holocaust. When the Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in August of 1999, it was American foot-dragging that prevented the UN from sending armed peacekeepers to prevent the Indonesian military from conducting vicious reprisals. While Madeleine Albright was publicly shedding crocodile tears about the ensuing massacre and destruction of the little country, she cold-bloodedly carried out delaying tactics at the UN.

Although Madeleine Albright was a highly influential member of the Clinton administration, it was of course the Clinton government that was responsible for these various regressive and reactionary policies. Nevertheless, she relished her position and was actually the architect of many of the policies which she carried out with extraordinary zeal. As such, these policies reflect on her as much as they do on the Clinton government. With such a grossly tarnished record, how is it possible that Madeleine Albright could be awarded an honorary degree by a Canadian university? In putting forward her qualifications, a University of Winnipeg newsletter states: “. . . she was named the first woman secretary of state and became, to that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the US government. As Secretary, Albright reinforced America’s alliances, advocated democracy and human rights, and promoted American trade and business, labor, and environmental standards abroad.” To glibly state that she “advocated democracy and human rights” without taking into account the reality of her sordid record in exactly these fields is mind boggling. Although there was a sizeable demonstration by students and faculty denouncing both Albright and the university’s decision to grant her the degree, it was to no avail and the deed was done.

Overall, the University of Winnipeg has a reasonably good record in its choices for honorary degrees, including the selection at the 2005 spring convocation of Dr. John Polanyi, a Canadian Nobel prize winning scientist. Aside from what’s already been presented, the Albright decision raises some further questions. When the University of Toronto awarded George Bush Sr. an honorary degree in 1997, it just happened to coincide with a substantial donation to the university from an American law firm where Bush served as senior council. If there now should be some type of financial payoff for the University of Winnipeg, it would merely be a further example of increasing corporate incursion into university affairs in our country. Moreover, with the choice of Madeleine Albright for an honorary degree, are we now to look forward to the selection of other American politicians, for example Henry Kissinger, and perhaps even President George Bush Jr. some day?

JOHN RYAN, Ph.D., is a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg. A version of this article appeared earlier in the form of a letter which JOHN RYAN sent to administration officials at the University of Winnipeg. He can be reached at: