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Clinton's Vote Against A Ban On Cluster Bombs

by Paul Rockwell
Oakland, California

The human soul is difficult to fathom. One person alone is capable of both compassion and cruelty.

In her autobiography, "Living History", Senator Hillary Clinton portrays herself as an advocate for children, a defender of women and human rights. In fact, the Clintons have a long history of sacrificing the rights, even the lives of children, for political expediency. It is time to set the record straight.

On September 6, 2006, a Senate bill -- a simple amendment to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas -- presented Senator Clinton with a timely opportunity to protect the lives of children throughout the world.

The cluster bomb is one of the most hated and heinous weapons in modern war, and its primary victims are children.

Senator Obama voted for the amendment to ban cluster bombs. Senator Clinton, however, voted with the Republicans to kill the humanitarian bill, an amendment in accord with the Geneva Conventions, which already prohibit the use of indiscriminate weapons in populated areas.

All senators are expected to inform themselves on the issues before they cast a vote. The evidence is overwhelming. It is hard to believe that Senator Clinton was unaware of the humanitarian crisis when she voted to continue the use of cluster bombs in cities and populated areas. A U.N. weapons commission called cluster bombs "weapons of indiscriminate effect." For years the international press reported the horrific consequences of cluster bombs on civilians. On April 10, 2003, for example, Asia Times described the carnage in Baghdad hospitals: "The absolute majority of patients are women and children, victims of shrapnel, and most of all, fragments of cluster bombs." Reporting from a hospital in Hillah, The Mirror, a British newspaper, became graphic: "Shrapnel peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs. A doctor reports that ëall the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside."

Even after wars subside, after treaties are signed, after belligerents return home, cluster bombs wreak havoc on civilian life. Up to 20 percent of the bomblets fail to detonate on the first round, only to become landmines that later explode on playgrounds and farmlands. Children are drawn to cluster bomb canisters, the deadly duds that look like beer cans or toys before they explode.

Clinton On Landmines

Of course Senator Clinton did not expect her vote on cluster bombs to become an issue in a presidential campaign. But that vote is one of many examples in a pattern of indifference to the welfare of children in the Developing World.

Because Clinton is now taking credit for the White House years, when she was a partner in power, we should also look closely at the Clinton policy regarding landmines, an issue of great concern to parents, to all those who care for children. The U.S. is the leading manufacturer of landmines. For families across the rest of the globe, landmines are buried terror. More than 100 million landmines are deployed in over 60 countries worldwide -- nine million in Angola, 10 million in Cambodia. About 20,000 M14 antipersonnel mines are buried in the mountain areas of Yong-do, South Korea. According to U.N. estimates, 26,000 people, mostly civilians in developing countries, are killed or mutilated by landmines every year. In rural areas landmines are so ubiquitous and lethal, peasants risk their lives to earn a living tilling the soil and planting crops.

The worldwide movement to ban landmines burgeoned in the Clinton years. It was a visionary U.S. citizen, Jody Williams of Vermont, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the ignominy of landmines. And it was primarily in defense of children that Princess Diana, speaking from a minefield in Angola, raised international awareness about devastation caused by weapons from the West.

In December 1997, 137 nations, more than two-thirds of the world, signed the Ottawa treaty, an agreement to ban the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. How did the Clintons respond to world opinion, to the humanitarian movement against landmines?

President Clinton flat out refused to become party to the Ottawa convention. As he put it, ìI could not sign in good conscience the treaty banning landmines.î In ìgood conscienceî?! Are landmines good for children?

The Clinton Sanctions Were Calamitous

Senator Clinton is currently trying to build a campaign around her experience in the White House, but she refuses to take responsibility for the most inhumane and disastrous foreign policy operation of the Clinton years: the infamous economic sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions, a colossal failure, formed the centerpiece of Clinton foreign policy. While the sanctions began with Bush senior in 1990, they were carried out and enforced with a vengeance by the Clinton Administration. The second war against Iraq actually began long before George Bush launched the shock-and-awe bombings in 2003. The Clinton sanctions afflicted the entire Iraqi population. Child mortality, as well as the death rate for the elderly and the chronically ill, skyrocketed. Malnutrition debilitated the country. Irrigation and sanitation systems collapsed. Common diseases multiplied. The Iraqi medical services, the most advanced medical system in the Mideast prior to the sanctions, fell apart. Farmers ran out of fertilizers and machine parts. Thousands of trained professionals fled the country. The sanctions, combined with surprise bombing raids, destroyed the entire infrastructure.

As the full magnitude of the calamity became public knowledge, humanitarian organizations, like Voices in the Wilderness, made appeals to the White House. Denis Halliday, former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned in protest in 1998. (His successor, H.C. von Sponeck, later resigned as well). Contemptuous of human rights and world opinion, President Clinton blocked Russian and French proposals to end the sanctions.

The Premise Of Foreign Policy

It was Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State, who fully revealed the Clinton Administrationís cold indifference to human rights. In her notorious interview on national TV with Leslie Stahl, Albright said that Clinton policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children, children who were dying of disease and malnutrition as she spoke. For the record, Albright did not deny that half a million children under the age of five perished as the result of sanctions. When Stahl asked: "Is the price worth it?" Albright said without qualification: "We think the price is worth it."

Half a million children under five is a genocidal number. Of course, Albright was talking about Arab children, not Europeans. Had she made a similar remark about British or German children, she would have been fired and denounced within an hour. Albrightís candid statement uncovered the essentially racist view of Arabs common among foreign policy experts -- all men and women of experience, to be sure -- in Washington.

The premise of U.S. foreign policy under Clinton and Bush is unmistakable: Arab peoples have no rights which the U.S. is bound to respect.

When historians sum up the sanguine events between 1992 and 2008, Clintonís economic sanctions against Iraq and the Bush occupation of Iraq will be grouped together as part of a single, catastrophic process.

Senator Clinton has never disavowed the sanctions or the racist attitudes that made them possible. In fact, she is now calling for sanctions against another country in the Mideast -- Iran.

I have no doubt that Senator Clinton is sincere when she promotes domestic programs for children -- projects to reduce childhood obesity, plans to curtail teenage smoking. And like Obama, she advocates full health care insurance for all American children. All well and good.

But it is clear from her record -- her voting record and her White House experience -- that Senator Clinton, like her husband, does not measure human rights by one yardstick. The lives of Arab and Iranian children are measured on a different scale. We need a president who cares for all Godís children, not just the white kids depicted in her Red Phone ad.

It is not experience itself, but the capacity to learn from experience, that should determine who should lead, and who should be deprived of power over the lives of others.

Paul Rockwell, formerly assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University, is a national columnist. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Published in In Motion Magazine March 17, 2008

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