Madeleine Albright, United States ambassador to the U.N. and the first female secretary of state, died on March 23. In the wake of her passing, she has been lauded for her devotion to diplomacy and her advocacy for women.
But, as with most politicians — and perhaps just people in general — there is another side to her story.
During the conflict between Kosovo and Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO embarked on a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia for 78 straight days. Nearly 500 civilians were killed. Albright championed this mission.
Between 1990 and 1996, in efforts to destroy Saddam Hussein, the U.S. heavily sanctioned Iraq. As a direct result of these economic sanctions, at least 300,000 Iraqi children died. Let me say it again for emphasis — at least 300,000 children died.
Albright championed the sanctions.
In 1996, Albright was questioned about the human toll of the sanctions, with a reporter asking, “We have heard that half a million children [a slightly inflated statistic] have died…is the price worth it?”
“I think that is a very hard choice,” Albright replied, “but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but when I imagine an advocate for peace, I generally don’t picture someone who spearheaded campaigns of destruction and bloodshed.
And while perhaps Albright was inspiring to young Western women, the thousands of Iraqi women who watched their children die as a result of Albright’s policies might beg to differ.
This pattern holds true with political trailblazers since Albright as well.
Condoleeza Rice, the first Black woman to serve as secretary of state, championed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and helped create the torturous Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Hillary Clinton, the first woman to become an official presidential nominee, supported military interventions in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria and voted in favor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Senator.
Barack Obama, the first Black man to serve as President of the United States, approved drone strikes that killed approximately 3,797 people. With the exception of Rice, all of these historic politicians espoused liberal views and supported left-leaning policies.
It can be argued that the representation Albright, Clinton and Obama provided young Americans is worth the controversies, and that in order to support the Democratic party or progressivism, it is best not to harp on the problematic aspects of their politics. I would heartily disagree.
I find it both disturbing and sorrowful that as a strongly left-leaning person, I am supposed to be content with the genuine war crimes of these politicians just because they are part of underrepresented groups within the American government. I struggle to label these politicians, who wantonly kill innocent people, as inspiring, radical, progressive or peaceful. I struggle to accept that if I don’t, it’s somehow damaging the political efficacy of leftism in America.
Why should we not demand more from these politicians, many of whom did indeed rise above difficult, discriminatory circumstances? Why should I not only hope for, but expect, marginalized politicians to support, defend and champion the human rights of other marginalized communities across the world?
I highly doubt that young girls who suffered and died in Yugoslavia and Iraq were too terribly inspired by the American women who orchestrated their murders.
It seems unlikely that people of color in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iran were grateful that it was a Black president who killed them.
I could be wrong, but 41 Pakistani civilians, murdered by a barrage of Obama-ordered drones while they attended a funeral, probably didn’t think, “Well, at least the United States government is more diverse now” as they died.
Of course, this is not at all to defend the horrific hawkishness of the Republican party, or to let white male politicians off the hook. But very few people on the left look to those politicians as beacons of hope, progress and humanitarianism, or uncritically laud them for their aspirational ascents to power.
If we ever hope to achieve a world in which left-leaning policies — disarmament, pacifism, racial reparations and gender equity — are actually implemented, we must start by holding our elected left-leaning officials accountable.
I don’t care that Madeleine Albright was a woman when her actions stole countless, sacred lives. If she wanted to be lauded as a feminist or a humanitarian, she should have actually acted on those ideals while she held power.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” Albright said in 2016. I don’t believe in hell in a traditional sense, and I absolutely don’t think Albright is — or should be — suffering from eternal, conscious torment. But I am curious as to how Albright justifiably used this quote when she directly allowed women and girls to lose their homes, their dreams, their children and their very lives. That doesn’t seem much like “help” to me.