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GIVE THE KIDS A CHANCE

by Jeremy Rose

 

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, often referred to as the most powerful woman in the world, makes a flying visit to New Zealand this weekend. Jeremy Rose takes a look at her track record on children's rights.

"Any violent act of this magnitude inspires outrage and sorrow, but the death of innocent school children is especially heartrending. The loss of children is particularly tragic because it is through the peace process that we are trying to create for them a better future." Madeleine Albright commenting on the killing of Israeli school children by a deranged Jordanian soldier in 1997.

The same Madeleine Albright that when asked by a 60 Minutes reporter, in 1996, whether the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of sanctions was a worthwhile price to pay for keeping Saddam in line, replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."

The price of this game of brinkmanship between the tyrant Saddam Hussein and the US and its allies continues to be paid by the children of Iraq, who, according to UNICEF, are still dying at the rate of 4500 a month.

The first of the two quotes is taken from Albright's State Department World Wide Web page. The second, not surprisingly, doesn't make it. It was a rare moment of complete honesty from, the then, US ambassador to the UN - who, like our own foreign minister, usually attempts to lay the blame for the suffering of ordinary Iraqi's solely at Saddam's door.

Albright's comment on the death of half a million Iraqi children is, however, a clear articulation of the human cost of what she proudly describes as, "the toughest sanctions resolutions in the history of the world".

The purpose of the sanctions? "[B]asically to make sure that Saddam

Hussein is restrained, that he is not able to break out of the boundaries of Iraq because we care about the safety and security of our friends, because we want to fight terrorism, because we want to make sure that oil keeps flowing and that the Middle East peace process can go on."

More than half a million Iraqi children have died as a result of this crusade against terrorism. Millions more are malnourished in the name of the "safety of our friends" and the ongoing "peace process".

As US dissident Noam Chomsky has said, what distinguishes a friend of America from an enemy is obedience not the crimes they have, or have not, committed.

Chomsky's observation is borne out by the lack of reaction of the US and her friends (NZ included) to Saddam's gassing of Kurds at Halabja in 1988 and his use of chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran Iraq war. Throughout this period Saddam remained a favoured trading partner of the US and the West in general.

Far from attempting to "restrain" Saddam the US president approved new loans to Iraq and US companies continued to ship "biological materials" to the country until at least November 1989.

Madeleine Albright's fleeting visit to our shores must in part, at least, be seen as a thank you to our Government for its loyal support of the US line on Iraq. Few other countries have so whole heartedly backed the sanctions. Twice we've sent frigates to uphold the blockade and each occasion we've been told we're helping make the world a safer place.

The human cost is never mentioned. That we are, in the words of the UN's deputy commissioner of humanitarian aid in Iraq, Farid Zarif, "planting the seeds of violence, of vengeance, the seeds of hatred" goes unnoticed.

Saddam Hussein, who murdered his way to the top, it seems certain will sacrifice any number of his citizens to retain his grasp on power. Tragically, the US and her allies seem equally content to sacrifice as many children as it takes to bring Iraq back into the fold of the obedient.

Our Government should, but won't, take this opportunity to call on Albright to end to this inhuman madness. It could, but won't, propose that the US put pressure on Israel to begin dismantling its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction - which is generally agreed to dwarf anything Saddam has ever had. And it could, but won't, put the interests of children everywhere above its desire to snuggle-up to the world's only superpower.

As Madeleine Albright has said, "Violence can never be an answer. It can only produce more victims." She was, it should be said, talking about the tragic shooting of Israeli school children, not the death-by-sanctions of more than half a million of their Iraqi brothers and sisters.


 

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