Tuesday, January 29, 2008

i'm looking backward, motherfucker



Former Indonesian President Suharto, one word, like Sting or Cher, was buried and given the royal and permanent send-off in Indonesia yesterday. I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t believe in prayer, but I plan on praying as hard as I can tonight that that bastard is tormented until the end of all time by the screams and cries of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and East Timorese that he killed during his brutal and, of course, US-enabled regime.

I don’t want to spend too much time on Suharto, suffice it to say he was one of many incredibly vicious and incredibly corrupt US-backed dictators around the world that came to power via violence (not to be confused with Via Violenta) and maintained power through even more violence, all the while accumulating riches beyond the dreams of gods and pharaohs and pharaohs of gods . I imagine his wiki entry, which i need not link, provides the basic outline and a tidy survey of what he was up to. But what’s more interesting, and soul-crushingly depressing, is his involvement in East Timor. And your (if you’re an American) direct complicity in the atrocities committed.

East Timor was a former Portuguese colony (its West counterpart belonged to the Dutch before the Dutch East Indies became Indonesia following WWII) until the mid-70’s when Lisbon realized that it was not wealthy or strong enough to maintain its empire. Indonesia saw a nice opportunity to seize some land and resources (Oil!), and the US saw a nice opportunity to help out a loyal client state (one of the largest in Southeast Asia) and crush a people with a nationalist and leftist political presence. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of Sate Henry Kissinger visited Jakarta the night before the tanks rolled in to poor li’l East Timor (manned by Indonesian soldiers but paid for by the US). Were these two fine and still respected gents there to advise their client to not send troops into East Timor, violating international law and East Timor’s right of self-determination? No, in a perverse display of deceit and contempt for truth, decency, and human life, they were there in black ties and holding martini glasses to toast Suharto and his leadership and plan for the future. I wonder when they got around to estimating how many East Timorese would be orphaned the very next day, was it before or after the appetizers were served? (As an aside, Ford and Kissinger knew they could get away with this bloodletting because the Western media would and did ignore it).

Ultimately, 200,000 East Timorese (more than a quarter of the population) were killed. This FAQ provides some good details on what exactly happened, and the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network provides good resources for what you can do to help. Click on those links if you know what's good for you.

But the story of East Timor is not only relevant with the passing of Suharto, it sheds some light on the current campaign for the US Presidency. First, this incident as well as countless others, show that any differences in foreign policy between the two major political parties in the US are superficial compared to their similarities (this is also true with respect to domestic policy, but we digress). Jimmy Carter, Democrat and champion of human rights, escalated the aid, and thus the brutality, to Indonesia that was used to massacre East Timorese (not to mention backing the Shah in Iran). No need to comment on Reagan's or Bush I's stance on the matter. The Clinton administration welcomed Suharto as “our kind of guy,” and Clinton continued provide military aid that was used to continue the decimation of the island, despite the publicization by American freelance journalists Amy Goodwin and Allan Nairn of the 1991 slaughtering of 270 East Timorese during a peaceful funeral procession (Goodwin and Nairn were severely beaten, but unlike the East Timorese, they were left breathing). What could Clinton have done to stop Suharto? In May 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called upon Indonesian President Suharto to resign and provide for “a democratic transition.” (Suharto had lost control and hesistated to impose harsh IMF restrictions). A few hours later, Suharto transferred authority to his handpicked vice president. Though not simple cause and effect, the events illustrate the relations that prevail. Ending the torture in East Timor would have been no more difficult than dismissing Indonesia's dictator in May 1998.

Our current electoral shenanigans also bring back some of this episode’s most loathsome characters. Richard Holbrooke, Jimmy Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State in the region during the height of the genocide, was very much aware and involved in these mass killings (this has all come out in the last few years in declassified documents. One thing you’ve got to give to America, what other murderous nation would release documents that directly show its complicity in a whole slew of murderous atrocities?). Holbrooke is now an adviser for the H. Clinton campaign and is rumored to be a possible Secretary of State if she gets elected. Held to the standards of the Nuremburg Tribunal, he would have been hanged long ago.

East Timor eventually became an independent nation, and Bill Clinton was there to celebrate it as head of the Bush administration delegation on May 20, 2002. Journalist Allan Nairn, he who was previously beaten and witnessed the Dili massacre was there to ask Bill about his widespread involvement in selling arms to Suharto and the US’s role in the killings. You should try to watch the video if you can, but the transcript is good too. Clinton offers a series of politician-perfect, “if we had known this,” and “the Cold War made us do that” before finally proclaiming, “I think the right thing to do is to do what the leaders of East Timor said. They want to look forward. You want to look backward. I’m going to stick with the leaders. You want to look backward, have at it, but you’ll have to have help from someone else.” The next time I kill and rob someone, I’m telling the judge, “you want to look backward, but I just want to look forward.” Just like Bill.

One final point: this episode reveals that the US does not support or condemn a particular religion. All faiths of god are open to US support or attack. The US was helping a Muslim country decimate an island filled with Catholics. Religion or ideology or race does not matter, rather, the US pursues those policies that will enhance the power and economic returns of U.S. corporate and political elites with as few dangers of disrupting existing relations of power as possible, and especially as few disturbing effects in the form of enlarging public awareness and dissidence. This is as many profit-maximizer masquerading as a community would. The upside: the American people themselves have a non-insignificant role in shaping state actions by communicating its displeasure and determining what the state can and cannot do to them and others.

6 comments:

djk said...

i commend you on the articulation, the accuracy and most importantly - the timing. well done! tho i used to talk about timor quite a bit and try to get people involved, that passion faded - imperative to be reminded. seems that reminding is all too often necessary. thanks.

Kid Nix said...

via violence...not to be confused with via violenta. killed me. but yeah, good stuff. i had no idea. although i dont know what to do with this information...i guess its nice to have.

rananda said...

hah, yea. is it nice to have tho? i dont know what to do with it either. i kinda wish i didnt know, or didnt care. either way. we can all agree that via violenta is less effective than via violence... or is it?

Kid Nix said...

yeah, i mean why do you care then? I mean theres a lot of time and research and energy spent learning about the plight of others when not much can be done with the information. not saying we shouldnt care what goes on with others but...i guess getting the information out to as many as people as possible is better than not. who knows i may one day do something...not likely.

Wes said...

damn dude sometimes i forget you studied this stuff back in the day. i might be in nyc for the summer.

rananda said...

wes, yea ¨studied.¨ good to hear from you. def hit me up if youre around this summer.