"U.S. economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein have caused the death of a million Iraqi children!" It's not surprising that this claim has been trumpeted by the usual cabal of America-hating lefties like Robert Jensen, Edward Said, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. But when the mainstream media pick up the chant and repeat it, it's no wonder many people accept it as fact. In the March issue of Reason magazine, columnist Matt Welch does yeoman's work in ferreting out the derivation of this wildly inflated statistic.
In summary, he traces the original assertion to a New York-based advocacy group called the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) which manipulated a 1996 World Health Organization (WHO) report derived from figures provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Even in the best of times, child mortality rates are relatively high in a backward country like Iraq. Such deaths can be associated with factors that include drought, inadequate medical care, malnutrition, breast-feeding practices, depressed prices on exported oil, near-total dependence on food imports, costs of the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars, and a host of others. CESR preposterously blamed the sanctions for all deaths to children under the age of 5, doubled the Iraqi government's highest estimate for dramatic effect, and threw in this gratuitous gem: "In simple terms, more Iraqi children have died as a result of sanctions than the combined toll of two atomic bombs on Japan." Although UNICEF has taken pains to correct the misinterpretation of this data, its press releases have been drowned out by all the hype.
The distortion was compounded and reinforced as folklore by Leslie Stahl in a 1996 puff piece on CESR for CBS's 60 Minutes. Compliantly using CESR's exaggerated numbers and Hiroshima analogy, Stahl dropped a loaded question on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, asking if the death of all those children was "worth it." Albright took the bait and explained why, in policy terms, it was. But by not challenging the statistic, Albright inadvertently lent credence to it.
But the real debate, here, isn't about the numbers. That's just sensationalism. Of course it's a tragedy whether 1,000 children die or 1 million. What the critics conveniently ignore is the unconsidered alternative. Suppose Saddam Hussein were to use nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction on the civilian populations of his many enemies, including us. Would the loss of tens of millions of lives in those countries be a price worth paying for irrationally ignoring the Iraqi threat? The sanctions (U.N. sanctions, it should be noted, not U.S. sanctions), were imposed for good reason. The world community was justifiably concerned about Saddam's stonewalling of U.N. inspectors. The alternatives were to do nothing, impose economic sanctions or go to war. Back in 1991, when Congress narrowly voted to go to war to roll back Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, liberals argued for sanctions instead. Now, some of the same crowd is complaining about the consequences of similar sanctions. What's their alternative, sticking their heads in the sand?
However many children or adults have died in Iraq, it is not the fault of the U.S. or the U.N. Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical regime are to blame. The Gulf War and the current sanctions are the consequence of his actions. If he had chosen to spend less of Iraq's scarce resources on opulent palaces, a bloated military and foreign aggression, there would be more available to feed, clothe and heal the people.
When Saddam is overthrown after the next war, I suspect there'll be celebrations in the streets of Iraq just as there were in Afghanistan when the Taliban fell. And the people of Iraq will be the beneficiaries. Before you join the liberals on their latest guilt trip, consider the words of Jean-Francois Revel: "Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it."
Mike Rosen's radio show airs daily from 9 a.m. to noon on 850 KOA.