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?
I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.
What Stahl was referring to was 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 Minutesposed 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.
We can concede that British and U.S. officials are right in their assessment of the terrorists — that they are evil and cowardly and that they have no right to engage in terrorism in retaliation for the death and destruction that the U.S. government has wreaked and continues to wreak in Iraq, Libya (where the suspected British bomber’s parents were from), Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
But isn’t that all besides the point? The point is that no matter how evil and cowardly the terrorist retaliation is and even if we concede that people don’t any right to retaliate against U.S. interventionism with terrorism, the fact is that it’s going to happen.
“But Jacob, I want the U.S. government to be able to continue killing people in the Middle East and Afghanistan without terrorist retaliation!”
Okay. I understand that that’s what you want. But that’s not what you’re going to get. That’s like saying, “But Jacob, I want lightning but I don’t want thunder.” No matter how much you want lightning without thunder, you’re going to get thunder with lightning. And no matter how much you want U.S. interventionism without terrorist retaliation, you’re going to get terrorist retaliation with continued U.S. interventionism.
Here is something else to keep in mind: The government cannot keep you safe and it can’t keep your children safe from terrorist retaliation. Go ahead — put metal detectors at the entryways for sports events and concerts. What’s to prevent suicide bombers from waiting outside the exits when crowds of people are leaving the venues? Indeed, what’s to prevent suicide bombers from hitting crowded malls or subway stations? What’s to prevent them from striking at Sunday church services, given that churches are mandatory gun-free zones? They can’t put metal detectors everywhere.
For more than 25 years, U.S. officials have said that the terrorists are coming to get us and that they have to kill them over there before they come over here. That’s sheer nonsense. The terrorists are not coming to get us. They never were coming to get us. The terrorists come to retaliate for U.S. interventionism in the Middle East, which, interestingly enough, began when the U.S. national-security establishment lost its old official enemy, communism, when the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly ended in 1989.
Is all the death and destruction worth continued U.S. interventionism? That’s the question facing the American people, including every single parent. It’s the question facing the British people. It’s the question facing the French people. It’s not a question facing the Swiss people because they’re not partnering with the U.S. government’s interventionism and, therefore, are not the targets of terrorist retaliation.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation, where this article was first published. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas.