US foreign policy has not changed since Vietnam and, potentially, it is more dangerous than ever
22 December 2000
The other day, an Indonesian friend took me to his primary school where,in October 1965, his teacher was beaten to death, suspected of being a communist.
The murder was typical of the slaughter of more than a million people: teachers, students, civil servants, peasants. Described by the CIA as "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century", it brought to power the dictator Suharto, the west's man. Within a year of the bloodbath, Indonesia's economy was redesigned in America, giving western capital access to vast mineral wealth, markets and cheap labour. What has since emerged is evidence of the extent to which American officials designed the bloodbath.
In 1990, the investigative journalist Kathy Kadane revealed that US officials in Jakarta systematically compiled lists of thousands of communists and other opponents of the Indonesian military and passed them to Suharto's generals, then ticked off the names of those who had been killed. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer, has described the massacre as a "model operation". The "model operation" was repeated in Chile in 1972. "Disturbed at the Chilean military's unwillingness to take action against [the elected President] Allende," wrote McGehee, "the CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders. The discovery of this 'plot' was headlined in the media, and Allende was deposed and murdered. There is a similarity with what happened in Indonesia in 1965." McGehee says the Indonesia massacres were also the model for "Operation Phoenix" in Vietnam, where American-run death squads killed up to 50,000 people.Other "model operations" were conducted in Latin America. The most successful of these was the Contra, based in Honduras, whose death squads waged a "secret war" against the reformist Sandinista government of Nicaragua following its victory in democratic elections. Trained and funded by the CIA, their specialities were slitting the throats of midwives, literacy teachers and anyone else trying to improve the lot of the campesinos.
The common strand in these and other interventions all over the world is an undeclared war against democracy and popular movements that resist or limit American strategic and economic influence. Having reported from a number of these front lines, I had them in mind as I watched the relentless television coverage of the presidential election absurdities in the United States. Summing up, a reporter said: "Above all, America is a nation devoted to the rule of law." This was the protective media theme. As an antidote, I recommend Greg Palast's articles on the internet about the Florida state government's use of a private company to "cleanse" names from voter registration lists. A "scrub list" of 173,000 was declared ineligible to vote for reasons ranging from "might be deceased" to "possible felons"; at least 15,000 alleged felons had committed no crime. The majority were non-whites.
Florida is not alone; there are other states as corrupt,and the presidential contest is the most corrupt of all. Unless a candidate has tens of millions of dollars and the backing of the great corporate interests, he can forget it. Backing both Bush and Gore were the war industries that dominate the world trade in weapons and have ensured that the Suhartos and Pinochets get the means of repressing their people. There may have been political nuances and triviali-ties dividing Bush and Gore; on election day, nearly half of all registered voters, to say nothing of millions of US citizens who refuse even to register, failed to spot them and found something better to do than vote.
At revealing times such as this, Americans are handed down tablets of pompous mysticism about what august institutions they have and how they invented democracy. "The myths of a democracy are not delusions," wrote David Shipler in the New York Times. "They may be part of the truth, or embellishments of an inner reality in the culture's creed [sic]. But coupled with freedom to expose the country's flaws, the myths have power because they celebrate the powerful ideas that government belongs to the people, that voting is a universal right, that all citizens are equal,that people are governed by the rule of law, that minority views are protected no matter how abhorrent to the majority . . . The American myths have been difficult to explain in other countries where I have lived, because their vitality depends on . . . our sense of our system as a moral enterprise."
Pravda used to publish similar drivel. Compare it with a remarkable book, just published, by Chalmers Johnson, a famous conservative name in American academic life, the emeritus professor of political science at the University of California. As professor of East Asian studies at Berkeley in the 1960s, Johnson supported the American war in Vietnam and dismissed its opponents as "self-indulgent". His subsequent work convinced him that not only was he wrong, but American foreign policy had not changed since Vietnam, and is potentially more dangerous than ever.
In Blowback: the costs and consequences of American empire (Metropolitan Books), he writes: "I did not realise that my research would inadvertently lead me to see clearly for the first time the shape of the empire which I had so long uncritically supported." He defines empire as policies that "normally lie beneath some ideological or judicial concept [such as] 'free world' and 'the west' and disguise the actual relationships among its members. [It is] an empire based on the projection of military power to every corner of the world and on our terms, at whatever cost to others."
The immediate danger, he says, is that the Pentagon has slipped beyond civilian control and is now running not only the arms trade, but most American covert operations through its Special Operations Division.Pentagon officials are currently pressuring Japan to rearm as part of a "regional defence system", which will be a direct provocation to China. The American goal is not to tolerate any powers capable of resisting Washington, while maintaining numerous pawn states, sites for Ameri-can bases that "guarantee their protection" (eg, Kosovo).
These are not new warnings, but they are rarely heard in the mainstream. Writing in Economic and Political Weekly, the author Samir Amin remarked that the American media are "sufficiently controlled for the government's strategic objectives never to be subject to debate; freedom of expression, a freedom which often reaches the burlesque, applies only to matters involving individuals and, beyond them, to conflicts within the ruling class."
During the burlesque of the Bush and Gore show, journalists gave the public no sense of the true sources and contours of American power, of which the White House is only a showcase. This silence allowed accredited Mafiosi, such as the violent Bush clan, to pose as pillars of a democratic system. Why? Is it because the American academic factories have long determined the intellectual terms for the study of great power? For example, the discipline of international studies (known in Britain as international relations) was set up largely by the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in conjunction with a network drawn from the CIA's predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The effect has been brainwashing by the incessant use of what Johnson calls "comforting rubrics". Now and then, the rubrics are discarded. Last year, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, and inspiration for Madeleine Albright, wrote: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-l5. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." Succinctly put.