Rather than reflexively opposing Trump, the Democrats would be wise, from a political perspective, to recalibrate their failed foreign-policy positions, and reestablish their bona fides with the American electorate as the party for peace.
The numbers have long been a matter of dispute but, generally, experts believe that the United Nations’ blockade of Iraq between April of 1990 and August of 2003 was responsible for the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, roughly 567,000 of them children. This was no accident. Designed by the United States and the British for the ostensible reason of frustrating Saddam Hussein’s imperial ambitions, the UN committee charged with managing the sanctions seemed to focus an inordinate amount of attention on inflicting maximum damage to Iraq’s civilian population.
In her excellent account, Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, the author Joy Gordon, recounts how the American representatives in 1991 forcefully argued against permitting Iraq to import powdered milk on the grounds that it did not fulfill a humanitarian need. Later, U.S. weapons experts found that an order for child vaccines was “suspicious” and recommended against their importation. For the duration of the sanctions, the United States opposed Iraq’s attempts to import pumps required to treat water from the Tigris, which had become an open sewer thanks to the wartime bombing of treatment plants. Similarly, the chlorine needed to treat contaminated water was prohibited on the grounds that it could be used as a chemical weapon.
As one might expect, Iraq’s children shouldered the brunt of the embargo. The infant mortality rate in Iraq spiked from one in 30 in 1990 to one in eight by 1997, the same year that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that 31 percent of Iraqi children under five were malnourished, supplies of potable water “grossly inadequate,” and the health infrastructure suffered from “exceptionally serious deterioration.”
In 1996, the 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl famously asked Madeleine Albright, who was then the U.S.ambassador to the U.N., whether this was worth the death of half a million children. Albright, stunningly, replied: “We think the price is worth it.”
Had Albright’s admission provoked the kind of media outcry that today attends the Trump administration’s forcible removal of children from the custodial care of undocumented asylum seekers detained at the border, top officials from the Clinton administration could’ve been dragged into the Hague to face charges of genocide, said Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But when MintPress asked Professor Boyle to describe the media and public response to the revelations of the Iraqi slaughter, he said bluntly: “There was none.”
Selective outrage, double standard?
Boyle is politically an Independent and finds Trump’s policies loathsome. But the suffering of darker-skinned children did not begin with Trump’s inauguration and the selective outrage of the media, partisans and liberals is a bit of a puzzle.
The disparate public responses to the injustices carried out by the Trump administration and those carried out by his predecessors reflects the capriciousness of a news media that has its own agenda and is not merely motivated by truth-telling, Boyle told MintPress. In singling out Trump, the media seems to be parroting the Democrats, who are in turn parroting the Republican strategy of cynically opposing President Obama’s policies regardless of whether the policy was consistent with Republican values.
I think the media fell in love with Obama and that continued with Hillary [Clinton] and when she lost their strategy is to beat up on Trump from the right. It’s completely unprincipled.”
Examples of this double-standard abound, but perhaps nowhere is it more evident than in the media’s failure to question the White House’s bipartisan support of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
Israel’s Operation Cast Lead was a 22-day military offensive that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians, 345 of whom, were children. Perhaps Americans can be forgiven for not responding to that particular campaign, which occurred when the country was giddily preparing the inauguration of its first black president, but five years later, four Palestinian boys, all under the age of 15, were killed when an Israeli warship opened fire on the Gaza beach where the boys were playing soccer.
In 2013, Obama killed the 16-year-old, U.S.-born son of a Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen. When filmmakers asked why Obama would target an American citizen, without due process, Obama’s press secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, said:
I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
If Trump says he wants it, Democrats are against it
The media’s preoccupation with Trump shines a light on the myriad contradictions at the heart of American public life, Boyle told MintPress, and the media’s use of a binary lens to view government policies exacerbates the political crisis confronting the country today, reducing our tools of analysis to “Trump bad” and “Obama good.”
Trump’s recent negotiation with North Korea is a case-in-point, as is his insistence on repairing the rift between the United States and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead of encouraging a detente between the U.S. and North Korea, for instance, the Democrats urged an “all-or-nothing” approach that is antithetical to effective negotiating, and proposed hawkish legislation that would maintain an American military installation in South Korea for decades to come. Seven Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, warned in a letter to Trump days before his meeting:
Any deal that explicitly or implicitly gives North Korea sanctions relief for anything other than the verifiable performance of its obligations to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenal is a bad deal,”
And for all his bellicosity, Trump’s proposals to improve relations with Russia should be welcomed by everyone, regardless of political party. Under Obama, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, had amassed more weapons on Russia’s border than at any time since the Third Reich. This military expansion clearly violates a promise from the U.S. during Germany’s reunification process in 1990 that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward” into Eastern Europe.
What gets lost in the Democrats’ fixation on Trump’s personality is any scrutiny of what has worked historically in terms of international relations and what has not. There is little mention, for instance, of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the late Polish expatriate and ardent-anti-communist who has done more than anyone to reshape the Democrat’s foreign policy over the last 40 years. The shift from doves to hawks really began in the Vietnam war era when John F. Kennedy plucked the “best-and-the-brightest” — mostly tied to Harvard — liberals to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia.
When President Jimmy Carter tapped the Harvard professor Brzezinski as his chief foreign policy advisor, the Democrats’ foreign policy objectives began to increasingly mesh with that of the GOP’s. By 2011, when Brzezinski warned his protegee, Obama, that NATO’s failure to intervene in the Libyan civil war would be “morally dubious” and “politically questionable,” there was a seamless quality to the foreign policies of both parties.
Rather than reflexively opposing Trump, Francis said, the Democrats would be wise, from a political perspective, to recalibrate their failed foreign-policy positions, and reestablish their bona fides with the American electorate as the party for peace.
We certainly need a relaxation of tensions with Russia but I’m afraid that instead of solutions all we’re going to see is the Democrats and the in-the-pocket news media beating up on Trump.”
Top Photo | Makeshift coffins bearing the photos of Iraqi children are arranged in the designated protest area outside of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Aug. 15, 2000. U.S. sanctions killed hundreds of Iraqis each day. Nick Ut | AP
Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”