Friday, August 26, 2011
Gaddafi's Fellow Travelers James S. Henry
(An earlier version of this appeared today as a Forbes column.)
I recall one cold wintry Saturday evening about three years ago in Vermont, and a dinner conversation among a small group of former business colleagues, including HBS Professor Michael E. Porter, the eminent competitive strategist.
He’d just returned from Tripoli, where he’d been working on what he told us was a “strategy project” for the Gaddafi regime with a raft of consultants from Monitor Group, the Cambridge-based consulting firm that he’d helped to found in the early 1980s.
For about thirty minutes or so he shared with us how excited they all were to be working to reform the Libyan economy, and how Colonel Gaddafi and his sons now really seemed to “get it.”
Clearly Prof. Porter felt this was all pretty cool. When asked about the issue of democracy and the rule of law, he rather quickly brushed aside such concerns, suggesting that they were sort of beside the point – after all, as the case of China supposedly demonstrated, all those annoying traditional liberal values sometimes just need to get out of the way of progress.
At the end of all this, there was a brief silence. I suspect that most of those at the table were slightly discomforted by Prof. Porter’s blunt, hard-nosed neoliberal analysis, and certainly by his apparent intoxication with the infamous Libyan dictator. But he was, after all, an eminent Harvard professor. And unlike us, he’d not only been to the country, but had met its most senior leaders personally.
Finally, however, my friend Roger Kline, a wise old McKinsey partner, broke the silence with a simple, direct, slightly impolitic question, which would be answered only by the silence that it provoked from Professor Porter: “Doesn’t it ever bother you at all, Michael, to be working for a terrorist?”
As the spirit of doom hovers over the last remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year-long dictatorship, and most Libyans are celebrating his departure with sheer delight, there is much less joy in a handful of top-tier academic and professional-class households in Cambridge, Princeton, Georgetown, Baltimore, East Lansing, and London.
For Mighty Muammar has indeed struck out -- contrary to the hopes and expectations of some of our very best and brightest experts on “competitive country strategy," “global democratic governance," "the idea that is America,” and “soft power.”
After all, from their perspective, whatever Gaddafi's flaws, his blood-stained but deep-pocketed regime was certainly not like that of Kim Jong Il.
Meanwhile, Gaddifi's government also ordered up an expensive grab-bag of university grants, endowments, special education for Libyan police and diplomats, ginned-up degrees for his dim-witted family members, lots of slick lobbying and lawyering, plus a large number of custom press portraits by leading Western academics gurus – none of whom ever bothered to disclose the fact that they were all on Brother Leader's payroll.
This sordid tale first began to trickle out about two years ago from the Libyan opposition, but it really picked up steam after the Revolution began in February 2011. The interested reader can look here, here, here, here, and here for the gory details.
First, we’d like to make sure that all of the leading academic collaborateurs who helped to legitimate Gaddafi's abattoir receive their due: the very first installment of the “Milton Friedman/ "Putzi" Hanfstaengl Iron Cross Award.
Second, we'd like to require all these collaborateurs to donate the millions of dollars of blood money and the thousands of frequent flier miles they accumulated as unregistered foreign agents for Gaddafi’s regime to Libya’s teeming hospitals and orphanages.
Together, these two simple steps might help to insure that this kind of totally uncool dictatorship rebranding is brought to a screeching halt.
This tale really began in 2003, when the Gaddafi regime, seeking to end an annoying economic boycott, gave its solemn word to swear off terrorism forever, cease dabbling in nuclear technology, pay compensation for the 1988 Pan Am 103/Lockerbie bombing, and "accept responsibility for the actions of its officials,” whatever that meant.
But Western leaders and policy experts were curiously much more receptive to Libya’s extraordinary effort to upgrade its image from “terror camp” to “the West’s best new pragmatic partner in the Middle East."
Indeed, it turned out to be a very fertile time for this kind of rebranding effort. First, even though Libya’s U-turn had largely been motivated by economic self-interest, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi welcomed it as a badly-needed victory in the “war on terror.” Berlusconi and Blair even flew directly to Tripoli to welcome the “reborn” Gaddafi back into the community of nations.
This scurrilous bill, signed into law by President Bush, controversially granted Gaddafi complete legal immunity for the Lockerbie bombing, so long as he paid a (rather paltry) agreed-upon sum to the victims’ families.
Second, Libya’s U-turn opened the door to a whole bevy of Holy-Water merchants and academic medicine men. These instant Libyan "experts" were eager to offer Gaddafi not only absolution, but also their very latest pet theories about everything from “competitive clusters" and "strong democracy" to “the Third Way.”
They were also eager to see test such theories in Gaddafi’s living laboratory -- especially if the dictator was willing to subsidize the clinical trials. Not since Boris Yeltsin, General Suharto, and General Pinochet have neoliberal academics had such a golden opportunity to test their theories on real live human subjects at country scale.
Third, to a large extent mainly for PR purposes, Western experts also made much of their opportunity to "dialogue" in person with real live Libyans. Well, perhaps not so much with the nascent opposition, which was mainly abroad, in hiding, in jail, or dead.
Of course, according to Gaddafi & Sons, confirmed by US intelligence officials like John Negroponte – who got much of his info about Libya from his brother Nicholas, who got it from Gaddafi & Sons (see below) – the Libyan opposition consisted of radical "al Qaeda” sympathizers or the members of “dissident tribes” in Libya’s supposedly “very tribal” society, anyway.
Their received image of Libya, seen through Gaddafi-colored lens, was curiously similar to the self-image that South Africa’s apartheid regime used to project – a deeply “tribal” society that required strong-armed rule to preserve it from the radical horde at the gates.
In any case, Western experts were generally quite happy to take the Gaddafis’ word -- and his moolah -- for all this, and to participate in one-sided “dialogues” with Brother Leader himself whenever he was able to spare the time.
This delighted Brother Leader. No doubt this was partly because of his deep intellectual curiousity about the very latest economic and political theories. But, more practically, it also meant that prominent Western expert after expert had to fly thousands of miles to Tripoli and back just to help his regime flaunt its wares on Libyan State TV and lend him unprecedented respectability.
Ultimately, you see, Gaddafi had all these neoliberal academics pegged to the tee.
He understood from the start that many were frustrated by their powerlessness in (more) democratic Western societies. Their secret wet dream is the absolute dictator who takes them seriously, and able and willing to test their theories on command, without the need for messy democratic processes.
Indeed, Gaddafi's personal power n Libya was so complete that he never even bothered to give himself a formal title other than "Colonel."
From 2004 on, therefore, Tripoli became a kind of alternative Mecca for a veritable “Who’s Who” of leading Western intelligentsia. Among the key interlocutors were Professor Porter; Cambridge University/LSE’s “Baron” Anthony Giddens and George Joffe; LSE’s Director Sir Howard Davies (now resigned), and Professor David Held, its leading expert on “globalization;” and Monitor Group’s Rajeev Singh Molares (now at Alcatel), Mark Fuller (recently resigned as its Chair), and Bruce J. Allyn (formerly the head of Monitor’s Moscow office).
Others who tagged along for the camel ride included Ann-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School; Princeton Professors Bernard Lewis and Andrew Moravcsik; the insidious neo-con Richard Perle (2 visits); MIT Professor Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte (several visits), brother of US DNI John Negroponte, and the former head of the MIT Media Labs, who was very eager to get Libyan funding for his ill-fated pet “One Laptop Per Child” project; a flurry of other Harvard profs, including the Kennedy School’s Robert Putnam, Joseph Nye, and Marshall Ganz, an organizer-guru who became involved in another tidy little dictatorship, Syria; and Johns Hopkins' "end of history" champion Francis Fukuyama, who made history himself by pulling down a record $80,000 for a single audience with Brother Leader.
Nor were journalists entirely immune from the attractions of the Libyan honeypot. Here, the Monitor ringmasters also went for high-profile celebrities, including Al Jazeera's David Frost, who collected $91,429 for a single visit. They also nearly recruited several others before the project got terminated. One Monitor project memo reports, for example, that:
“Monitor approached (Fareed) Zakaria who said that he is very interested in travelling to Libya in order to meet with the Leader….Monitor also approached ( the New York Times’ Thomas) Friedman who said that he was interested in travelling to Libya at some point in the future.”
Collectively this respectability caravan made dozens of such Gaddafi-tour site visits, logging tens of thousands of First Class miles and receiving millions of dollars in fees to commune about the “New Libya" – all the while helping to launder the regime’s blood-stained image.
This activity seems to have gone far beyond simply helping Libya to restructure its economy and political system along more open, competitive lines. Indeed, it is now clear that the regime probably never seriously intended any meaningful reforms, but was mainly trying to curry influence and favors.
The experts’ punch list included such dubious activities as ghost-writing Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis; helping to design a “national security agency” for Libya (!), quite probably with inputs from folks like the Negropontes and Richard Dearlove, the Monitor “senior advisor” who ran the UK’s MI6 from 1999 to 2004; offering to ghost-write a puffed-up version of Brother Leader’s collected works; and, all along, orchestrating a flurry of favorable press coverage in influential papers like the Washingon Post, the New York Times, the International Herald, and the Guardian.
All of this was done without without ever bothering (until this Spring, in the case of Monitor Company) to register as what many of these high-toned folks truly turned out to be: foreign agents of the Government of Libya.
BETTER SAIF THAN SORRY
There are many glaring examples of outright shilling for the Gaddafis by these brown-nosing academic and consulting mercenaries, but a handful captures the essential odor.
One good example was LSE Professor Emeritus/ Blair confidant/ Baron Anthony Gidden’s bold March 2007 speculation in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya might soon turn out to be “the Norway of North Africa.” The piece mentioned Lord Giddens’ impressive academic credentials, but it neglected to mention the fact that he had received $67,000 in fees from Libya, plus First Class round-trip travel expenses for at least two hajjs to visit with Brother Leader and his staff in Tripoli.
Another example is Rutgers Professor Emeritus Ben Barber’s even more wildly enthusiastic August 2007 Washington Post endorsement of the “surprisingly flexible and pragmatic” Gaddafi and his “gifted son Saif.” Of course Saif is much more familiar to the rest of us now for his blood-curdling “rivers of blood” speech on February 20, 2011, which contributed mightily to the subsequent polarization and bloodshed.
Professor Barber’s piece reminded his readers that he was a best-selling author and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the think-tank Demos. But it neglected to mention the fact that he’d also made multiple all-expense-paid trips to Tripoli, for which he’d been paid at least $100,000 in fees by the Libyan Government.
A third example is HBS Professor Michael E. Porter’s February 23 2007 Business Week interview, in which he reported that he had “taken on” a consulting project in Libya, as if this were some kind of beneficent act. Gaddafi, he maintained with a straight face, wasn’t really a dictator after all: “In a sense, decision-making is widely distributed in (Libya). People [consider Libya] a dictatorship, but it really doesn't work that way. That is another reason for optimism.” (Emphasis added).
Prof. Porter neglected to mention the fact that he and Monitor Group, the Cambridge consulting firm that he, plus HBS grads Joe Fuller and Mark Fuller, had founded in the early 1980s, were not only earning several million dollars for their Libyan strategy work, but were also up to their proverbial eyeballs in a second multi-million dollar PR project to bolster Gaddafi’s image.
All this salacious material is interesting. But did it really have any harmful impacts on Libya? Or is all this merely frivolous second-guessing?
The answer is that this kind of orchestrated air-brushing of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western consultants and academics clearly was not only enormously harmful to the interests of most Libyans, but also that these negative impacts were entirely foreseeable – and, indeed, were anticipated by many critics who had the same intuitive reaction as Roger Kline (see above.)
✔ The academic white-washing helped to conceal the fact that the Gaddafi regime was enormously unpopular with its own people – that the opposition was broad based, that high-level corruption was rife, and that the “tribal”/al Qaeda paradigm of the Libyan opposition was simplistic and dangerously misleading, not to mention self-serving for the Gaddafi clan.
✔Academic air-brushing also contributed to the misleading view that “reforming Libya" was mainly just a technocratic exercise for the insider-elite and their Western advisors, to which constitutive matters like elections, rights, the rule of law, and genuine popular representation could take a back seat.
✔The bevy of big-name Western intellectuals and consultants who courted the Gaddafis not only inflated their egos even larger than they already were, but also encouraged them to believe they could easily buy influence, as well as arms, in the West -- and delay fundamental political reforms.
In short, the white-washing and the kid glove treatment of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western academics may well have discouraged that regime from pursuing deeper political reforms much earlier, and from negotiating in good faith once conflict increased.
In other words, it probably cost lives.
If and when the Gaddafi clan is captured and put on trial, either in Libya or before the ICC, we hope that these courts seize the opportunity to examine the conduct and responsibilty of these neoliberal fellow travelers of dictatorship very closely.
So, in the waning hours of the Gaddafi regime, it is important to recall that Brother Leader and his band of thugs did not simply become a menace to Libya’s people and the world on their own.
Nor was his particular brand of madness simply due to the “usual suspects:” anti-Western radicalism, liberation ideology, Gaddafi's own imperialistic ambitions in Africa, his idiosyncratic version of political Islam, or even the fact that he spent far too much time spent frolicking in the desert sun with Ukrainian nurses.
No – while Gaddafi’s buddies in Venezuela still portray him as a stalwart opponent of Western imperialism, the fact is that in recent years he actually continued to increase his influence in the West only with the really quite extraordinary assistance of prominent, high-priced, incredibly smart, but ultimately quite gullible Western “friends.”
(c) JSH 2011
Friday, October 02, 2009
Pittsburgh's State of Siege
Suppressiing Dissent With High-Priced Cop Toys James S. Henry
Pittsburgh's State of Siege
You didn't hear much about it from any major US news organizations, but there was a very disturbing case of gratuitous police-led violence and intimidation at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 23rd-25th, 2009. Perhaps the only consolation is that it allowed those of us who were there to get a close look at some of the disturbing "brave new world: technologies for anti-democratic crowd control. These were initially developed by the US military to fight terrorists on the high seas and abroad, in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, but are now coming home to roost. Indeed, ironically enough, this is one of the few remaining global growth industries where the US is still the undisputed world leader, as we'll see below.
One local newspaper account described the events at the Pittsburgh G20 as a "clash" between the police, protesters, and college students.
Indeed, a handful of storefronts were reportedly broken on Thursday September 24 by a few unknown vandals.
However, based on our own visit to the summit, interviews with several students and other eye witnesses, and a careful review of the significant amount of video footage that is available online, the only real "clash" that occurred in Pittsburgh on September 23-25, 2009, was between lawless policing and the Bill of Rights.
The most aggressive large-scale policing abuses occurred from 9 pm to 11:30 pm on Friday September 25th near Schenley Park, in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus. This was miles away from the downtown area where the G20 had met, and, in any case, it was hours after the G20 had ended.
This particular case of aggressive policing -- "Hammer and Anvil," as the operation was described on police scanners -- was clearly not just a matter of a few "bad apples."
Rather, it appears to have been part of a willful, highly-organized, one-sided, rather high-tech experiment or training exercise in very aggressive crowd control by nothing less than a really scary uniformed mob.
New York police sometimes describe their firemen counterparts, tongue in cheek, as "robbers with boots." In this case we have no hesitation at all in describing this uniformed mob in Pittsburgh as "assailants with badges."
Their actions resulted in the unlawful suppression of the civil rights of hundreds of otherwise-peaceful students who were just "hanging out with their friends on a Friday night in Oakland," or attending a free jazz/blues concert in Schenley Park.
Essentially they got trapped in a cyclone of conflicting and inconsistent police directives to "leave the area." The result was nearly 200 arrests, gassings, beatings, and the deployment of dogs and rubber bullets against dozens of innocent people.
In addition to the students, this aggressive policing also assaulted the civil rights of a small number of relatively-peaceful protesters and quite a few ordinary Pittsburgh residents, most of whom were as innocent as bystanders can possibly be these days.
Why did this occur? In addition to whatever top-down "experiment" or training action was being conducted there appears to have been an extraordinary amojnt of pent-up police frustration and anger. For example, one student overheard a policeman piling out of a rented Budget van near Schenley Park around 9:50 PM Friday.
The officer was heard to exclaim, "Time to kick some ass!"
This is disturbing, but perhaps not all that surprising. After all, thousands of police had basically stood around for days in riot gear, sweltering in the "Indian Summer" heat, dealing with the tensions associated with potential terrorist attacks as well as all the hassles of managing large-scale protest marches, even if peaceful.There was also the inevitable tensions of social class and culture among police, Guardsman, and college students.
On the other hand, precisely because such tensions are so predictable, those in direct command or higher political office, and, indeed University officials, should have acted forcefully to corral them.
JOIN THE CLUB
All this means that Pittsburgh has unfortunately now joined the growing list of cities around the world that have experienced such serious conflicts -- mainly in connection with economic summits or national political conventions.
The list of summit frays includes this summer's G-8 in Italy, last Spring's G20 in London, the September '08 RNC in Minneapolis, the '04 RNC in New York City, Miami's Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit (11/03),
Quebec (4/01), Naples (3/01), Montreal (10/00),
Prague 9/00), Washington D.C. (4/00), the November '99 WTO
"Battle in Seattle," the J18 in London (6/99), Madrid (10/1994), and Berlin (9/88).
President Obama had originally selected Pittsburgh for the G20 because he hoped to showcase its recovery since the 1980s, especially in the last few years, under a Democratic Mayor, in a Democratic state that he barely carried in the 2008 Presidential contest.
In seeking to explain such events, therefore, it alway helps to keep a firm eye on the question -- whose interests did really this serve?
In retrospect, the failure of these leaders to control the police at the G20 has created a serious blemish on the city's reputation for good government. It may have also to some extent undermined Obama’s relations with college students and other activists who worked so hard for his election in this key state. And it certainly did not help the reputation of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh or Pensylvania at large.
To journalists like me who happened to have been in Beijing in May 1989, during the buildup to the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square, Pittsburgh also bears an interesting resemblance. The analogy may sound a little strained, but bear with me.
(1) As in Beijing, there was a very large deputized police force from all over the country. These included over 1000 police "volunteers" (out of 4000 total police and 2500 National Guardsmen) who were ported in just for the G20.
According to the conventional wisdom, not being from the same community is likely to reduce your inhibitions when it comes to macing and kicking the crap out of unarmed, defenseless young people.
The guest policeman also included several hundred police who were under the command of Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney, pioneer of the infamous "Miami model"
for suppressing protest that was first deployed at the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in November 2003. (Here’s the Miami model checklist, most of which was repeated in Pittsburgh.)
As one writer has observed, Timoney, who also served as Police Chief in Philadelphia, "(L)iterally transformed the city into a police state war zone with tanks,
blockades and “non-lethal” (but severely damaging) artillery."
(2) As in Beijing, In Pittsburgh there were no identifying badges on officers' uniforms, and they also refused to provide any identifying personal information in response to questions. Several photographers also complained about receiving threats and actual damage to their cameras.
(3) As in Beijing, there was simply no direct contest between the power of the security forces once they mobilized, and those of the unarmed students. The only kind of victory that the students could possibly have one in both cases was a moral one -- by essentially sacrificing their bodies and their rights to a tidal wave of repression.
Indeed, the "clash" theory of these events looks even odder once we take into account the fact that on Friday night in Pittsburgh, for example, unarmed students and protesters faced hundreds of police in full riot gear, armed for bear with equipped muzzled attack dogs, gas, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, bean-bag shotguns, pepper pellets, long-range pepper spray, at least four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (courtesty of New York Governor Patterson and his National Guard's 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion unit), plus several brand new "acoustic cannons" (see below). There were also probably dozens of undercover agents provocateurs -- at least three of whom were actually "outed" by the students.
The police were also actively monitoring student communications on web sites like Twitter.
From this angle, a key difference with Bejing in 1989 was that the Chinese authorities felt genuinely threatened by the growth of student power and the democracy movement, and feared being ousted,from power. and were therefore able to justify their brutality as part of a zero-sum game. In the case of Pittsburgh, whatever police violence occurred was entirely gratuitous.
"I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled to immediately disburse. You must leave the immediate vicinity. If you remain in this immediate vicinity, you will be in violation of the Pennsylvania crimes code, no matter what your purpose is. You must leave. If you do not disburse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action. Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions, which could risk of injury to those who remain."
The fact is that this warning was itself completely unlawful. Putting on the NYCLU lawyer's hat for a moment, absent a "clear and present danger" to the public peace, these threats violated the First Amendment's explicit recognition of right to "peacefully assemble.”
In effect, the fact is that the police and National Guard in Pittsburgh temporarily seized control over public streets, parks, and other public spaces, and exercised it arbitrarily. By the time the victims of these outrageous civil rights infringements have their day in court, the damage will have been long since done.
GLOBAL COP TOYS Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn bright green with envy. For example, last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of "LRADS," or acoustic cannons. These sophisticated "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear. Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000, to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea. The Pittsburgh units were apparently purchased by local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1). Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea. In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent. Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah, by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005. Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20, they turned up in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case. This growing use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in the US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers, rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes. In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be far ahead, assisted by ample R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program. The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris; and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies. NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch. In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations. The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies. The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD, once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements. Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed, not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US, ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World." TOYS IN THE PIPELINE So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent?
We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be
coming to an economic summit near you.
(See this recent UK review for more details.). ▣
"Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin."
Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.
The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's
a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the
will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the
UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.
▣ New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems. Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down. ▣ Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball. Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak. SUMMARY I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd say our piece, if anyone cared to listen. I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors, was never intended to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free, by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized. In this day and age, of course, we are told that almost any amount of security is too little. And this heightened sense of insecurity is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop, trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow. But I was struck by just how unnecessary, senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our most precious freedoms, freedoms that we are supposedly trying to protect. And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse. ***
Rather than, say, simply allowing the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators and students at that peaceful Friday night blues concert to have their say, instead some 200 people were arrested and scores were gassed, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, and imprinted with galling memories that will last a lifetime. The City of Pittsburgh and its residents will certainly be fighting criminal cases and civil rights law suits for years to come. I supposed we are meant to be consoled by the fact that, as the New York Times chose to emphasize this week, things are much more repressive in Guinea.
So perhaps it is time to establish a permanent location for all these global summits. Perhaps one of the Caribbean tax havens, like Antigua or St. Kitts, would do -- journalists always like the sun, and after TJN gets done with them, these havens are going to need to find a new calling anyway!
Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn bright green with envy.
For example, last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of "LRADS," or acoustic cannons.
These sophisticated "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear.
Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000, to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea.
The Pittsburgh units were apparently purchased by local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1).
Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea.
In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent.
Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah, by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005.
Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20, they turned up in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case.
This growing use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in the US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers, rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes.TECHNOLOGY BLOWBACK
In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be far ahead, assisted by ample R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program.
The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris; and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies. NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch.
In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations.
The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies.
The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD, once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements.
Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent.
The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed, not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US, ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World."
TOYS IN THE PIPELINE
So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent? We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be coming to an economic summit near you. (See this recent UK review for more details.).
▣ "Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin."
Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.
The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's
a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the
will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the
UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.
▣ New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems.
Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down.
▣ Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball.
Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak.
I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd say our piece, if anyone cared to listen.
I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors, was never intended to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free, by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized.
In this day and age, of course, we are told that almost any amount of security is too little. And this heightened sense of insecurity is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop, trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow.
But I was struck by just how unnecessary, senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our most precious freedoms, freedoms that we are supposedly trying to protect. And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
SNATCHING VICTORY? The Democrats Descend Into the Politics of Mutually-Assured Destruction James S. Henry
On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.
-- Oscar Wilde
On the one hand, after seven long years of catastrophic incompetence in Washington, our country is literally begging for new ideas and leadership, especially from the erstwhile Party of the Opposition.
Recent polls show that an unprecedented 81 percent of Americans believe their country is "on the wrong track," while President Bush's approval rating has sunk to an all-time low of 28 percent. There is a growing popular demand for decisive government action on any number of issues that have been festering while "Nero" Bush and "Imperator" Cheney have been fiddling.
THE DEMAND FOR CHANGE
John "McSame's" feisty personality notwithstanding, this is not the ideal moment to be plumping for free-market solutions, let alone more tax cuts for the extremely rich, hands-off deregulation for our wondrous mortgage banking, health care, automotive, airlines, handgun, coal-fired utility, and social insurance industries, and the unending prospect of more unilateral, open-ended wars.
No -- this is a time that cries out for smart, can-do, progressive, and -- yes -- youthful government.
Its precise slogan should be: Yes, we had better -- or else.
At the risk of depressing our readers, among the many tough issues that demand this pragmatic approach right now are the following:
>Containing the mortgage crisis and the deep
recession that it has produced.
>Withdrawing from Iraq as soon as possible, while discouraging Iran from filling the void.
>Intensifying the hunt for Bin Laden, without losing Pakistan and Afghanistan to a Taleban revival.
>Protecting our nation against the genuine on-going global terrorist menace.
>Fixing our high-cost, inhumane health insurance system once and for all.
>Biting the bullet on climate change and global warming.
>Rebuilding public education and college assistance.
>Guaranteeing the financial integrity of Social Security and Medicare.
>Restoring civil liberties and reversing the drift toward a state of siege.
>Reviving American's reputation in the world and its relations with key allies.
Revising our increasingly disfunctional "free trade" agreements.
>Reviving efforts to prosecute corrupt politicians, war profiteers, and big-ticket tax evaders to the limits of the law, as opposed to granting them Presidential pardons.
>Slashing government waste, especially the bloated $800+billion "total war" budget and the huge agro-industry subsidies that are literally wiping out poor farmers all over the world.
All together, this adds up to a demand for nothing less than at least a decade of intense regime change right here at home.
THE SUPPLY OF CHANGE ?
Is the Party of the Opposition up to this challenge? Unfortunately, the habitually ham-handed Democratic Party, as well as much of broadcast journalism, have responded to the soaring demand for substantive change and attention to real issues by focusing on.....Well, what, exactly?
Let's see. If last night's televised debate in Philadelphia is any indication, both candidate Hillary Clinton and the news media -- or at least pro-Hillary flacks like ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and the ponderous, self-important Charles Gibson -- are far more concerned with (1) Obama's Rev. Wright's alleged relationships with Rev. Farrakhan and a visiting Hamas associate, (2) Obama's even more tangential relationship with an obscure former Chicago "Weatherman" named Ayers, (3)his recent (really quite defensible) "Bittergate" comments about the roots of working-class culture, and (4) the torturous question of whether or not the Junior Senator from Illinois should demonstrate his patriotism by wearing a flag pin on his lapel.
>>As if Hillary and Bill have not accumulated a long list of even more dubious relationships, several of whom had to be pardoned.
>>As if Stephanopolous did not get his questions about Ayers directly from Fox News' mad-hatter host Sean Hannity the day before the debate.
>> As if there were not -- by definition -- quite a few other black males at Louis Farrakhan's rather successful 1995 "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C. -- at least 670,000 to 1 million, according to one careful aerial survey.
>>As if Gibson and his sidekick did not tilt so far to starboard in their questioning that one Washington Post journalist titled his review, "In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC."
This attempt to focus on a series of jaundiced Obama "gotchas" is actually a sign of Hillary's increasing desperation.
Obviously she is furious at having been repeatedly up-staged and out-campaigned over the past year -- despite her vast experience, wealth, and connections with wealthy donors and lobbyists, not to mention Bill. The smooth-talking Chicago upstart with the Harvard Law degree and the Bill Clinton-like hard luck story is actually trying to deprive her of her rightful place in history!
Hillary's focus on character assassination also reflects her sheer frustration at the fact that Obama now clearly has the inside track for the nomination.
This has not been a pleasant month for Ms.Clinton. She's just fired her long-time campaign strategist, after firing her campaign manager. She's just been caught in a bald-face lie about coming under fire in Tuzla. Her lead in Pennsylvania has dropped to five points. With just 10 primaries left to go, Obama is now at least 139 delegates ahead. Even if Hillary captures, as expected, more than half of the delegates elected in these primaries, she will still need to win two-thirds of the remaining 319 uncommitted "superdelegates." Obama just needs 125. (Click on chart.)
That's a pretty large gap for Hillary to overcome -- especially considering the fact that Obama's fund-raising machine allows him to outspend his rival by two-to-one in key states.
This explains Hillary's increasing reliance on negative advertising in Pennsylvania and the other primary states, her endless repetitions of the Rev. Wright and "Bittergate" story, and her grasping at all those other petty straws in last night's debate -- even while conceding that Obama, with all his flaws, could still beat John McCain in November.
In short, those of us who long for probing discussions of serious issues will probably have to look elsewhere than Hillary, let alone ABC News. And we should certainly not expect to hear much about them until Hillary faces facts and does the right thing -- which, just to spell it out for her clearly, is not to remain in this race "until the last dog dies."
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008
Thursday, August 17, 2006
"SO MUCH FOR THE WALL...." Israel's Strategic Blunders, Round Two James S. Henry
Almost everyone except the bovine US President -- who also believes that US-backed forces are winning in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "GWOT," despite mounting evidence to the contrary -- now acknowledges that Israel has suffered an important strategic setback at the hands of Hezbollah.
Indeed, the "soul-searchers" reportedly include a majority of Israelis, many members of the IDF, leading US and Israeli security analysts, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. As one leading Israeli journalist put it today, "This is not merely a military defeat. This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching consequences are still not clear."
☮ Lessons (Re-) Learned?
In hindsight, both Israel and the US should now (re)-learn some very costly lessons about the risks of taking on a highly-motivated, well-trained and adequately-armed guerilla army on its own turf. They also have now an opportunity to remember some important lessons about the limitations of purely-military solutions to such conflicts.
▣ As in the case of the US strategic bombing campaign in Vietnam, Nato's air war in Kosovo (1999), and, indeed, the Allied air war against the Nazis during World War II, Israel's month-long air war against Hezbollah has largely failed to accomplish its strategic objectives. In particular, Hezbollah's ability launch dozens of missiles into northern Israel went utterly unscathed, with the largest single number of missles launched on August 12, the day before the ceasefire.
▣ Given the elaborate ground defenses, arsenal, and trained force that Hezbollah was able to pre-position in South Lebanon, its ground forces also avoided the knock-out blow that Israel and Washington had hoped for.
▣ By far the most effective "weapons" on the ground were not Iranian-supplied long-range missiles, drones, cruise missiles, or even Katushyas, but a combination of disciplined ccombat training and tactics, heavy investments in combat engineering, remote sensing, and other defensive equipment, and sophisticated anti-tank missiles, many of which appear to have been supplied by Russia, by way of Iran and Syria.
▣ On the other hand, proponents of anti-missile defense systems, "smart bombs," 60-ton Merkava tanks, border walls/electronic fences, and "infowar" clearly have some work to do. None of these systems performed very well for Israel during this conflict.
▣ The widespread bombing campaign exacted a horrific price from Lebanon's civilian population, uniting most political factions within Lebanon against Israel rather than against Hezbollah, at least temporarily.
▣ Only part of this campaign's horrific civilian toll in Lebanon can be explained by Hezbollah's propensity to "swim" in the civilian sea -- part was simply due to targeting mistakes on made by the Israeli Air Force and its intelligence sources, and part was due to deliberate choices made to go after "dual use" targets, including oil refineries, bridges, power plants, and transportation vehicles.
▣ The Summer War has also greatly boosted political support for Hezbollah on the "Arab street" throughout the Middle East, converting initial criticisms by the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and other conservative regimes into widespread expressions of support. We suspect that much of this official support is insincere, but it probably reflects a genuine fear that these regimes have of their own people.
▣ Syria, which had been under strong political pressure to continue its detachment from Lebanon, has been "reaccredited" by Israel's excesses during the conflict -- able to assume the self-righteous role of Lebanon's protector against foreign aggression. On the other hand, the Baathist regime may also now be in a stronger negotiating position with respect to the West.
Iran's hardcore anti-reformers
have so far only been strengthened by Hezbollah's performance to date
in this conflict, and by Israel's costly tactics. Nor were they
discouraged from pursuing their nuclear development program. Their only real challenge now will be to replenish Hezbollah's sorely-depleted missile arsenal, and to find ways around the "ceasefire's" prohibition on Hezbollah repositioning.
▣ Most important, Hezbollah's ability to define victory as "not losing" against one of the world's most powerful armies has certainly not encouraged other radical groups around the planet to lay down their arms and pursue peaceful alternatives.
▣ For every Hezbollah fighter that was killed by the Israelis in the last month, the heavy bombing campaign probably generated several new recruits -- not only in Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and the West Bank.
- In short, as a result of this strategic setback, Condi Rice's Panglossian "birth pangs of democracy" are likely to prove more prolonged and painful than ever.
WAS THERE ANY ALTERNATIVE?
▣ At a tactical level, clearly Israel and the US both need to do much work to do regarding the failures of their intelligence operations
with respect to Hezbollah's arsenal and military preparations. We can
add this to the lengthy list of their other intelligence failures in
the last decade alone.
▣ The preference for high-altitude offensive bombing, naval shelling, and open-field tank/ heavy vehicle warfare over hard-slog ground offensives also needs to be reexamined. To the extent that this reflects a preference for arms-length "hi-tech warfare," and a reluctance to sacrifice infantry for the sake of defeating dedicated militants like Hezbollah, this may indeed rise to the level of the same "morale/ will to die" handicap that has crippled other many colonial armies, in places like Vietnam, Algeria, China, and (long ago) the US itself.
▣ At a strategic level, the notion that the "enemy" simply consists of a finite stock of "fanatical terrorists," motivated primarily by "Islamo-fascist" dogma, or -- as Benjamin Netanyahu put it last week -- "12th century religious doctrines," is simple-minded and unhelpful. Among other things, they were clearly very professional, highly-trained soldiers. Unless military planners come to appreciate the political implications of what they do, and the real nature of their enemies, they may lose the war both on and off the battlefield.
▣ Another key point here is that the "Islamofascist" categorization, and the tendency to lump all "Islamic radicals" and "terrorists" together, has blinded both the US and Israel crucial schisms -- for example, the Alawite-Sunni rivalries that have been so important in Syria, Shiite-Sunni rivalries in Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon, and secular - religious rivalries in Palestinine.
▣ True, it is now very late in the day, and the long-term failure of Israel and its enemies in the region to make any progress at the bargaining table may indeed mean that this overall story is headed for a terrible climax.
From this angle, however, perhaps the one good thing about this strategic disaster is that it may remind Israel and the US that, whatever the final outcome of any attempt to solve the problems of the Middle East by military means, it will not be cheap, easy, or devoid of surprises.
- (c) JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2006
Monday, November 21, 2005
SOVIET EXPECTATIONS Vs. REALITY IN THE AFGHAN WAR Striking Parallels to the US Experience in Iraq James S. Henry
Thanks to the current national debate over the Iraq War it is now clear to everyone except a few die-hard NCIs (NeoConservative Imperialists) that the real issue about the Iraq War is "constructive withdrawal:" not whether, but precisely when and how.
There are many examples in history of unilateral military withdrawals -- including Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000 and from Gaza August 2005, the US withdrawal from Beirut in 1984, and the French withdrawal from Algeria in 1962.
But as we debate the most constructive way for the US to withdraw from Iraq, one of the most interesting experiences for us to consider - ironicially enough -- is the painful Soviet experience in Afghanistan.
The following excerpt is from a pre-9/11 report by the US-based National Security Archives on the lessons learned by the Soviet Union from its brutal, unilateral 1979-89 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
The Soviet Army intervened in Afghanistan in December 1979, about six months after US President Jimmy Carter signed off on a secret proposal by National Security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski to aid the opponents of the pro-Soviet Afghan regime -- hoping to entrap them into a Vietnam-like quagmire.
For better or worse, apparently this effort succeeded -- with a little help from Soviet cupidity. The Soviet military only left the country in December 1989, after an unsuccessful decade-long effort to defeat Afghan's determined insurgents -- many of whom were US-backed Islamic militants.
The resulting intervention ended up costing the Soviet Union 15,000 of its own troops, 50,000 causalties, and billions in hard currency, and contributed heavily to a domestic heroin and HIV/AIDs epidemic that continues to this day. An estimated 1 million Afghanis also perished because of the war, and more than 2 million refugees had to abandon their homes in Afghanistan for refuge in Pakistan and Iran.
The war also provided a training ground for many of the Islamist rebels who eventually played a critical role in "terrorist" activities all over the world, including Chechnya, Kashmir, the Sudan, and al-Qaeda's disparate efforts against the US and Israel.
Many observers believe that the Afghan invasion was one of the greatest strategic blunders in Soviet history, and that it contributed heavily to weakening and destabilizing "the Russian bear." Indeed, former US officials like Brzezinski still like to take credit for this effort, viewing it as the final nudge that toppled the entire Soviet Empire. (They are rather less eager to take credit for the other long-term byproduct of the Afghan War, the rise of political-Islamic extremism.)
In any case, as the following excerpt makes clear, there are many resemblances -- some of them almost eerie -- to the recent US intervention in Iraq.
The old cliche still has force -- those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
THE SOVIET AFGHAN EXPERIENCE - EXCERPTS
. ....."Believing that there was no single country in the world which was not ripe for socialism, party ideologues like Mikhail Suslov and Boris Ponomarev saw Afghanistan as a "second Mongolia." Such conceptualization of the situation led to the attempts to impose alien social and economic practices on Afghan society, such as the forced land reform.
The Soviet decision makers did not anticipate the influential role of Islam in the Afghan society. There were very few experts on Islam in the Soviet government and the academic institutions. The highest leadership was poorly informed about the strength of religious beliefs among the masses of the Afghan population.
Political and military leaders were surprised to find that rather than being perceived as a progressive anti-imperialist force, the Afghanis as foreign invaders, and "infidels." Reports from Afghanistan show the growing awareness of the "Islamic factor" on the part of Soviet military and political personnel.
The Afghan communist PDPA never was a unified party; it was split along ethnic and tribal lines. The infighting between the "Khalq" and the "Parcham" factions made the tasks of controlling the situation much more challenging for Moscow notwithstanding the great number of Soviet advisors at every level of the party and state apparatus.
The war in Afghanistan had a major impact on domestic politics in the Soviet Union. It was one of the key factors in the delegitimization of Communist Party rule. Civil society reacted to the intervention by marginalizing the Afghan veterans. The army was demoralized as a result of being perceived as an invader. .
The prominent dissident and human rights activist, Academician Andrei Sakharov, publicly denounced the atrocities committed by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.
The image of the Soviet Army fighting against Islam in Afghanistan
also contributed to a rapid rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the
Central Asian republics and possibly to the strengthening of the
independence movement in Chechnya, both of which continue to pose major
security threats to Russia today.
The Soviet Army also quickly realized the inadequacy of its preparation and planning for the mission in Afghanistan. The initial mission—to guard cities and installations—was soon expanded to combat, and kept growing over time.
The Soviet reservists, who comprised the majority of the troops initially sent in, were pulled into full-scale combat operations against the rebels, while the regular Afghan army was often unreliable because of the desertions and lack of discipline.
The Soviet troops had absolutely no anti-guerrilla training. While the formal mission of the troops was to protect the civilians from the anti-government forces, in reality, Soviet soldiers often found themselves fighting against the civilians they intended to protect, which sometimes led to indiscriminate killing of local people.
Operations to pursue and capture rebel formations were often unsuccessful and had to be repeated several times in the same area because the rebels retreated to the mountains and returned to their home villages as soon as the Soviet forces returned to their garrisons.
The Soviet troops also suffered from the confusion about their goals—the initial official mission was to protect the PDPA regime; however, when the troops reached Kabul, their orders were to overthrow Amin and his regime.
Then the mission was changed once again, but the leadership was not
willing to admit that the Soviet troops were essentially fighting the
Afghan civil war for the PDPA. The notion of the "internationalist
duty" that the Soviet Limited Contingent was fulfilling in Afghanistan
was essentially ideological, based on the idea that Soviet troops were
protecting the socialist revolution in Afghanistan whereas the
experience on the ground immediately undermined such
The realization that there could be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan came to the Soviet military leadership very early on. The issue of troop withdrawal and the search for a political solution was discussed as early as 1980, but no real steps in that direction were taken, and the Limited Contingent continued to fight in Afghanistan without a clearly defined objective.
Early military reports emphasized the difficulty of fighting on the mountainous terrain, for which the Soviet Army had no training whatsoever. Parallels with the American War in Vietnam were obvious and frequently referred to by the Soviet military officers...."
<center><font color="red">(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005</font></center>
Friday, November 04, 2005
"LIBBYGATE" Why Scooter Will Skate... James S. Henry
Irving Lewis Libby, Jr. was finally arraigned this week, after the Special Prosecutor Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald's two-year investigation. It's always nice to see warmongers twisting in the wind, but what have we really learned from all of this?
Unfortunately, the five-count federal indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's 55-year old Chief of Staff did not actually reveal who outed CIA spookette Valerie Pflame.
But at least we do now know "Scooter's" real first name and the origins of his cute little boys' school handle.
Before Big Media's attention was deflected back to bird flu and another contentious Supreme Court nomination, the indictment also produced much speculation about whether Libby would cop a plea; whether "Official A" -- Karl Rove -- or even the Veep himself might eventually be charged; and how long the judicial torments suffered by Libby, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, and other inner-circle Republicans will persist.
For a few moments, it also appeared that Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald might finally get down to a few of the really important issues:
- (1) To what extent did the White House, the Pentagon, its operatives, and its allies in the media and foreign governments conspire to orchestrate the fraudulent case for the Iraq War -- as opposed to just being victims of "faulty intelligence?" (E.g., "Tenet made me do it.")
- (2) How often were "house journalists" like Judith Miller, Tim Russert, and Bob Novak -- whose principle skill is trading various kinds of favors with officials in high places -- used as distribution channels for the Administration's agitprop?
- (3) If they didn't learn Valerie Plame's identity from Libby or Rove, from whom did they learn it?
- (4) What special interests - energy companies, defense contractors, and several Middle East countries, would-be countries, and religious/ ethnic factions -- helped weave the cobweb of distortions and lies that got us into this War, and have kept us in it long after even Brent Scowcoft and William Odom agree that it is a monumental US strategic blunder?
- (5) What was the role of these same interests in insuring that so many leading Democrats have been completely supine on the War? And what other wars do they have in store for our sons and daughters?
Alas, the case against Libby & Co. is unlikely to ever reach these issues. This is not because of Fitzgerald's investigation, which was ably led by FBI agent Jack Eckenrode, known and admired as a straight shooter by this author since 1987. Rather, it is because, as argued below, Scooter Libby will almost certainly escape scot-free... just like his oldest client, Mark Rich, who's recently been implicated in paying bribes to Saddam Hussein -- post-pardon. For the incredible story, read on......
THE LIBBY CASE
At first glance, Fitzgerald's 22-page indictment seems like a good start. While perjury and obstruction of justice charges can be tough to prove, Fitzgeral's case looks straightforward. It also has the extra-added attraction of compelling this particular crop of journalists to bite a hand that has fed them handsomely.
Fitzgerald displayed a palpable sense of relief that he'd been spared having to prosecute violations of the complex 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the original basis for his investigation.
That statute would have required him to show not only that officials like Libby and Rove who had security clearances had willfully exposed the identity of a true"covert" agent, but also that these same officials had learned the agent's identity from official sources.
By turning the case into a perjury charge, Fitzgerald avoided having to convince a jury that Pflame was still a covert agent when her identity was disclosed. That wasn't going to be a slam dunk, given that she'd been driving herself to Langley every day, and that she was at least partly responsible for the decision to send her own husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson IV, on the uranium fact-finding mission to Niger in February 2002.
There also appears to have been an organized campaign to punish Pflame and her husband, with several officials leaking her identity to multiple journalists at once, and folks like the curious friend of both Lt. Colonel Larry Franklin and Judith Miller, Israeli Embassy "political counselor" Naor Gilon, also in the loop. It will be far easier to for Fitzgerald to prove how Libby learned Plame's identity than to prove that any particular journalist learned it only from him.
Considering the strength of the case, Fitzgerald's unbroken track record of convictions, and the 30-year sentence that Libby might theoretically face if he doesn't cooperate, many pundits now expect him to "roll over" and testify against the Veep or Rove.
However, the poker-faced Libby has showed no signs of knuckling under. indeed, he has expressed confidence that “(A)t the end of this process I will be completely and totally exonerated.” His attorney has indicated that Libby wants a jury trial "to clear his name."
Is this just typical defendant braggadocio? Or does this savvy member of the Bush Administration's inner circle, who also held key posts under Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton, spent 16 years as a litigator and partner at leading DC and Philadelphia law firms, and personally represented big-time felons, know something that the pundits do not?
While Fitzgerald has a solid case, Libby -- like his client Marc David (Reich) Rich, the fugitive from 48 felony counts who was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001, and the six senior officials and convicted felons who were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in December 1992 -- has a trump card.
He already knows that he will never do a single minute of jail time.
The simple, if inelegant, reason is this: Scooter Libby knows far too much, and not just about "Pflameburn."
Given his background and experience, Libby might well be in a position to bring down the entire Bush Administration on any number of matters, from secret detention centers and CIA "wet jobs" to missing funds in Iraq to Halliburton's no-bid contracts to the hyping of the case for the war. He might also have a few interesting things to say about the shenanigans of the Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan Administrations.
Absent divine intervention, therefore, the fix is in. Libby's gameplan is already clear: he will insist on a jury trial, and will try to delay that as long as possible -- perhaps up to a year, as his counsel recently indicated. That trial will commence during the fall of 2006 -- not before the November 2006 Congressional elections, if Libby has his way. The trial itself will last at least 3-6 months, and there is always a chance that Libby not be convicted. Even if he is, the appeals would take us well into 2008, Bush's last year in office. So even if Libby is convicted, he'll receive a Presidential pardon with minimal jail time.
From this angle, it was indeed ironic to learn late last week, just as Scooter was about to be indicted, that his 20-year client Marc Rich had been named by Paul Volcker as a leading provider of bribes to Saddam Hussein in the UN Oil-For-Food (OFF) scandal -- for the most part AFTER his January 2001 pardon by President Clinton.
Furthermore, it also turned out that several other key OFF beneficiaries and Saddam bribers also had close ties to both Rich and to Halliburton, the Veep's old firm -- including Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, Switzerland's Glencore, and US-based oil companies like Bayoil and Coastal Petroleum.
The striking thing is how bi-partisan most of these corporate kleptocrats have been.
For example, while Halliburton is closely identified with the Republican Party, Coastal's Oscar Wyatt, Jr., now also under federal indictment, has been a heavy life-long contributor to the Democratic Party.
Rich's ex-wife Denise, operating out of her New York City condo and her high-hedged mansion in Southampton, greased the skids for her husband's pardon by contributing over $1 million, becoming one of the largest fundraisers for Bill Clinton's new Presidential library.
Alfa Group's Ukrainian-born Mikhail Fridman maintains close ties not only with President Putin and certain leading Moscow mobsters, but also with the Council on Foreign Relations, where Alfa has recently become a leading contributor.
And when Marc Rich pursued his Presidential pardon, his main legal gun wasn't Scooter, but Jack Quinn, the Arnold & Porter senior partner who had served as Al Gore's Chief of Staff in the early 1990s.
When we finally sweep clean these Augean stables, we will have to employ a very large, non-partisan broom indeed.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
"I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN, AN OIL TRADER!" George Galloway Kicks Senate Butt
This week's developments in the so-called Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal ("OFF") have turned out to be nothing less than a fiasco for the US Senate's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee and its feckless freshman Republican Chairman, Minnesota's Norm Coleman.
In the first place, a newly-released minority staff report by Democrats on the Subcommittee shows that Bayoil USA, a Houston-based oil trading company headed by David B. Chalmers, Jr., now under indictment, was by far the most important single conduit for the illegal surcharges pocketed by Saddam Hussein under the program.
The report showed that more than half of Iraq's oil sales that generated surcharges for Saddam were made to US buyers during the period September 2000 to September 2002, most of them right under the nose of the Bush Administration and the US Treasury's rather lackadaisical Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Other US companies that have reportedly received subpoenas in the on-going surcharges investigation include ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and Houston's El Paso Corp, as well as prominent Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., who was also deeply involved in supporting and profiting from oil-for-food.
Next, British MP George Galloway, appearing voluntarily before the Subcommittee, deliverered a feisty denial of allegations that he had personally profited from the oil allocations, as well as a withering assault on the last twenty years of US policies toward Iraq.
Meeting little resistance from the badly-outgunned Senators, Galloway made the points that
- He met with Saddam no more times than Donald Rumsfeld, who had met with Saddam to sell arms and provide maps, while Galloway met him to seek peace and encourage arms inspections;
- He had actually opposed Saddam's policies way back in 1990, while the first Bush Adminstration was still making loans and selling arms to Saddam;
- He had always opposed the oil-for-food program as a poor substitute for lifting sanctions, which unfairly punished all Iraqis for the sins of its dicator -- especially its children, up to 1 million of whom may have died because of increased infant mortality;
- The Subcommittee's investigation was a "smokescreen" that distracted attention from far more serious issues -- such as the disappearance of more than $8.8 billion of Iraqi national funds during the first year after the US invasion.
The combative Scot's hard-hitting testimony makes compelling viewing.
Meanwhile, we recall that back in June 2003, J. Bryan Williams III -- ExxonMobil's former head of global crude procurements, and the US' hand-picked UN overseer on the Iraq Sanctions Committee, in charge of making sure that Saddam did not obtain any illicit income from the oil-for-food program -- pled guilty to evading taxes on $7 million, including a $2 million kickback to help Mobil win business in Kazakhstan's oil dictatorship.
So there is at least some good news here, Senators -- if you want to find big-time corruption in the international oil trade, you don't have to go looking for it in London, Moscow, or Paris.
These developments also help to put Senator Coleman's continual "head-hunting" of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in perspective. While there's no evidence that Kofi profited personally from OFF, his minions were probably not squeeky-clean. But the enormous profits earned by Saddam's "fellow travelers" in Houston make them seem like pikers.
Indeed, it appears that Annan's key fault is that he had the temerity to oppose the Iraq invasion, and even to label the War "illegal" -- once the invasion had already occurred. With Paul Volcker's final report on the oil-for-food scandal due out soon, and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (!) likely to arrive as soon as he clears the Senate and adjusts his meds, the outlook for the summer is definitely for more fireworks.
(c) SubmergingMarkets.Com, 2005.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
IRAQ’S ONLY ELECTION More Lipstick on the Pig? James S. Henry
On Sunday January 30, according to the official results finally released on February 13, 8.46 million Iraqis, or 58 percent of Iraq’s 14.6 million registered voters, seized the opportunity to participate in a “free election” of sorts. They voted for candidates and parties that most of them had never heard of, marked ballots that a majority of them could not read, walked for miles to secret polling booths under the watchful eyes of a foreign occupation army that had “collaterally” killed, injured or brutalized tens of thousands of their fellow citizens, and defied threats from thousands of other blood-thirsty, anti-democratic insurgents.
About 265,148 of those who voted were located outside the country -- just 13 percent of all the relatively affluent Iraqis who live abroad. Indeed, on Election Day, a large fraction of the Iraqi elite, and many officials in the interim government, were not to be found in the country -- like many members of the Iraqi elites, they had decamped for Jordan, Dubai, or London, anticipating that the insurgents would strike hard.
These non-resident voters did include some 56,568 Iraqis who voted from Iran, 15,062 who voted from Syria, and 11,409 who voted from the UAE -- places that are not otherwise known for holding free elections. That might indeed be viewed as one small victory for "democracy" in the Middle East.
But most ordinary Iraqis had little choice but to stay in Iraq, and a majority of them braved all the difficulties -- including 260 attacks and more than 50 fatalities -- to vote.
Indeed, for once, this display of bravery was something about Iraq that most international leaders could agree on.
In President Bush’s words, “The Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success.” The UN’s Kofi Annan described the Iraqi people as “courageous.” Britain’s Tony Blair reported that he was “humbled” – no mean accomplishment in itself. Even Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, perhaps anticipating a Shiite victory, and hoping that this will accelerate a US withdrawal, pronounced the elections a "success" and a "sign of nobility of the Iraqi people.”
It is clear as well that the long-suffering Iraqi people also deserve our respect for simply having survived more than three decades of costly wars, occupations, international embargoes, and a brutal dictatorship – aided, armed, and abetted by several of the very same foreign powers that are now boasting so loudly about being the midwives of Iraq democracy.
Despite all the collateral damage, the security forces -- mainly unknown young Iraqi, American, and British soldiers -- who protected these voters also deserve credit. Without this protection, even with all the Iraqi bravery, there would have been no election. These efforts go a long way toward repaying the moral debt that is owed to the Iraqi people for the Great Powers’ decades of complicity with authoritarian regimes in Iraq, their failure to reckon with Saddam much earlier, and the fact that the Bush Administration and its friends have otherwise botched this latest intervention so thoroughly.
ANY OTHER CREDITS FOR THIS MOVIE?
ANY OTHER CREDITS FOR THIS MOVIE?
As usual, success has generated paternity suits.
According to France’s Jacque Chirac, who spearheaded opposition to the war at the UN and has been of little assistance since then, the election was somehow “a success for the international community.” Chirac did not explain how this was consistent with the fact that the US alone has so far provided more than 90% of the funding, non-Iraqi Coalition forces, and Coalition casualties.
We could have held better elections much earlier, with much less bloodshed.
On the other hand, if you listen to President Bush and his supporters,, as illustrated by the President's State of the Union speech, the election is nothing less than another “mission accomplished,” a complete vindication for the Administration’s entire Iraqi strategy. There is also no shortage of hyperbole and self-congratulation from journalists and pundits, especially those who supported the invasion from the get-go – marching up one rationale and down another.
~ For example, The New York Times Magazine’s Michael Ignatieff declared that Sunday’s election in Iraq was “without precedent,” a bold experiment in democracy that everyone ought to “embrace.”
~ Similarly, The Guardian’s David Aaronovitch, another long-time supporter of the invasion, wrote that, however we may feel about how we arrived in Iraq and what it cost to get there, the only issue now is, “Are you for or against democracy?”
~ FOX’s flak-jacketed Jerry Rivers (Geraldo Rivera), surrounded by four heavily-armed US Army riflemen, and this time apparently reporting from where he said he was without giving away any troop positions, called the Iraqi election “right up there with “1776 (sic), voting in Selma in 1960 or whatever (sic), and the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Indeed, this newfound enthusiasm for democracy on the American center-right is so thick that some observers have been reminded of The New York Times’ upbeat assessment of South Vietnam’s Presidential elections in September 1967. The headline read , “US Encouraged by Vietnam vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror."
So we are all Wilsonian democrats now – except perhaps when elections produce outcomes that we don’t like.
In the local elections in the West Bank and Gaza in December 2004, for example, an unprecedented 81 percent of registered Palestinians voted, and more than a third of them voted for Hamas.
Was this comparatively free election, held under Israeli guns in the occupied territories, not a “resounding success?” Were the Palestinians who braved rival factions and the Israeli Army and came out to vote not “courageous?” Are we really, after all, “for or against democracy?”
THE HIGH COST OF MIDDLE EAST DEMOCRACY
THE HIGH COST OF MIDDLE EAST DEMOCRACY
It is not surprising that so many have stepped forward to take credit for the courage demonstrated this weekend by ordinary voters, soldiers, and police in Iraq. After two years of terrorist dentistry, we were starved for good news from Iraq.
Expectations have been incredibly low. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s remark about the singing dog, we were not surprised that the Iraqi election had imperfections; we were surprised there was any election at all.
The war’s supporters are also down to their very last official justification for preemptively invading a country that never attacked us. Having given up on justifying preemption by finding WMDs, and having made Iraq more of a terrorist base camp than it ever was before, those who “embraced” the original invasion are leaping at the opportunity to say – hey, look, maybe there will be at least some return on this incredibly costly experiment. Maybe the West really can plant democratic seeds in Middle Eastern deserts!
The investment certainly has been huge. It includes more than 1,606 Multilateral Force fatalities, 10,371 US wounded, 1,200 other MLF forces wounded, at least 1,362 fatalities among pro-Coalition Iraqi security forces, and anywhere from 15,563 to 100,000 or more Iraqi civilian and insurgent fatalities, depending on who is counting.
The direct dollar cost of the war and its aftermath is fast approaching $220 billion for the US alone, plus whatever costs the other Coalition members and the Iraqi interim government have paid out of their own pockets – and another $9 billion of Iraqi money that apparently simply vanished under Paul Bremer's administration.
All told, this amounts to nearly$30,000 per Iraqi voter, 15 times the country’s per capita income.
Nor was all this spending only a financial cost, because there were opportunity costs – a fancy way of saying that the money could have been spent elsewhere and saved thousands of lives. After all, it amounts to eight times the annual level of all foreign aid provided by all First World countries,and100 times the amountrequested this year by the World Health Organization to fight the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
In practice, of course, if President Bush had not been able to launch his pet project in Iraq, he might well have just pursued another tax cut.
But for that much money, maybe we could at least have persuaded Saddam and his loyalists to leave the country and set up shop in Panama or Cuernavaca, following in the Shah’s footsteps. Like the Shah, Saddam has now contracted cancer, and may just have a couple years to live.If only we had waited…..?
Under a microscope, most of the ex-post back-patting turns out to be simplistic, self-serving nonsense. Before we take off the flak jackets and break out the champagne, let's recall some sobering realities:
1. Most Iraqis Want Us Gone Whether or not most First Worlders and the Bush Administration “embrace” Iraqi democracy,most Iraqis have clearly not “embraced” occupation. Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority – not only the insurgents, but also those who voted in this election – would like nothing more than for the foreign occupation to end. Indeed, if they had had the chance to vote directly on this subject, one suspects that Sunday's turnout would have increased to 90 percent, and that more than 80 percent would have voted to send all US and British troops packing, to replace them with a few thousand peacekeepers from neutral countries, and to immediately cease construction of the Pentagon's 14 permanent military bases in Iraq. 2. We Could Have Held Better Elections, Much Earlier In recent months, as the insurgency gathered steam, some observers began to suggest that it should be postponed. But Sunday’s election came nearly two years after the US-led invasion. The real issue is, what did we really gain from waiting so long?
1. Most Iraqis Want Us Gone
Whether or not most First Worlders and the Bush Administration “embrace” Iraqi democracy,most Iraqis have clearly not “embraced” occupation.
Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority – not only the insurgents, but also those who voted in this election – would like nothing more than for the foreign occupation to end.
Indeed, if they had had the chance to vote directly on this subject, one suspects that Sunday's turnout would have increased to 90 percent, and that more than 80 percent would have voted to send all US and British troops packing, to replace them with a few thousand peacekeepers from neutral countries, and to immediately cease construction of the Pentagon's 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.
2. We Could Have Held Better Elections, Much Earlier
In recent months, as the insurgency gathered steam, some observers began to suggest that it should be postponed. But Sunday’s election came nearly two years after the US-led invasion. The real issue is, what did we really gain from waiting so long?
In fact, largely because of the deteriorating security situation, this election was almost certainly much less effective, efficient, and democratic than the election that we could have held within a few months of the invasion – using the same simple ration card- and finger-printing based system for voter registration that we ended up using anyway.
Way back then, we probably could have achieved even higher turnout at much lower cost, with a much weaker insurgency -- as the Ayatollah Al-Sistani, Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, advised Paul Bremer some 20 months ago.
Indeed, in other transitional situations, like South Africa’s transition from apartheid in 1994 and East Timor’s election in 2001, snap elections were held with only a few months of preparation, with great success – more than 90 percent turnout in both cases.
Instead, the Bush Administration decided to postpone the election for almost two years, in a failed effort to manage Iraqi’s political destiny, assert control over Iraq’s domestic policies, head off Shiite and Kurdish regionalism, and install a government that would be more sympathetic to US "neocon" ambitions.
As a result, the Bush team really deserves responsibility for stoking an insurgency -- now estimated by some observers at having at least 10,000 to 20,000 fighters. This armed resistance, in which foreign fighters actually play only a minor supporting role, has derived much of its fire from the continued occupation and the perpetuation of the unelected “interim” government.
This insurgency, in turn, came very close this month to squelching this election entirely -- to the point where Prime Minister reportedly called President Bush in mid-January to propose delaying it again.
In the end, only an all-out mobilization of Coalition forces, including shipping another 12,000 US troops to Iraq on top of the 140,000 already there, prevented a disaster.
While this transition was never going to be easy, the US control-oriented strategy also antagonized many other Iraqis, making it harder to work with local allies and train Iraqi forces. It exacerbated divisions within Iraqi society, as groups like the Kurds grew more and more independent, radical Shiites took up arms, and more and more Sunni Arab areas became no-go war zones.
Far from serving democracy’s cause, therefore, the Bush Administration’s high-risk strategy actually amounted to a dangerous game of “chicken.” After two years of this, we arrived at a situation where people were amazed that the election could even take place. It is bizarre for us to celebrate this close escape as a triumph for the President -- we really have only the Iraqi people and our troops on the ground to thank for narrowly avoiding disaster. As usual, the fortuitous G. W. has just skated by.
3. The Real Meaning of “High” Turnout
“Higher than expected” turnout in this election has been the main cause for celebration so far. But in fact many other developing countries have also held first-time elections and achieved even higher turnouts, even under occupation.
We already mentioned the case of Palestine’s recent elections. UN-supervised elections in Indonesian-occupied East Timor in August 2001 saw a 93 percent turnout. Kosovo’s 2001 legislative election, also supervised by UN peacekeepers, recorded a 65 percent turnout. In Afghanistan’s October 2004 Presidential election, the turnout was 70 percent.
Only in the US, where voter turnout struggles to exceed fifty percent, does he Iraqi turnout look like a big number.
The overall turnout also masks some important potential problems in Iraq, because turnout rates varied sharply along religious, ethnic, and regional lines.
For example, among the Shiites, who constitute 60 percent of Iraq’s population and live mainly in better-defended parts of Baghdad and the south, turnout reportedly averaged more than 80 percent. Among the 15 percent of the population that lives in Iraq’s three Sunni/Kurdish provinces in the better-defended north, turnout was even higher.
Iraq’s population statistics are subject to huge uncertainties – there has been no census since 1997, and in the case of the Kurdish areas, since 1987. But if we assume that these conventional population share estimates are roughly right, they already add up to more than 8 million votes in Sunday’s election -- even if turnout in Iraqi’s Sunni Arab-dominated provinces was zero.
In other words, the final voter turnout would have to have been substantially greater than 8 million for there to be any room left over for Sunni Arab participation. This is consistent with many reports that this participation was very low.
4. Signs of Disunity?
Since the overall turnout rate was partly a product of these growing divisions, it may not be a sign of health.
Sunday’s election employed a nation-wide list proportional representation system to select the 275-member National Assembly that will choose interim leaders and draft a new Iraqi constitution.
In other contexts, such a voting system is arguably much more democractic than many others. For example, if it had been employed to elect representatives to the US Congress, rather the current "single member district/first one past the post" system, the Democratic Party would control both the House and the Senate.
However, in Iraq's case, this system asked a great deal of many people who had never before voted, did not know the candidates, and, indeed, often could not even read. Almost half of them are under the age of 18; the median age of voters is under 25. Adult literacy is just 39 percent. These voters were expected to choose among more than 111 different national parties and 200 separate candidate lists, which, in turn, contained 7,000 candidates for the Assembly and 12,000 for regional offices.
Most of these parties and candidates were virtually unknown. The ballots were so complex that even the Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, needed special instructions on how to fill them out. Because of the security situation, there were severe constraints on how much campaigning could be done beforehand by all but the best-funded parties – for example, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi List party, which was somehow rich enough to afford massive TV advertising and $100 bills for embedded journalists. Most individual candidates chose not to be publicly identified – the leading United Iraqi Alliance party only identified 37 of its 225 candidates, “to keep them alive.”
This peek-a-boo national list system may have been the only one that was feasible, given the late date of the election and the precarious security situation. But as we have just argued, that was not inevitable. It almost certainly increased the leverage of a handful of political gatekeepers like Allawi. It also reinforced the incentives for block voting, and the potential for regionalism and fratricide.
5. Another “Mission Accomplished?"
5. Another “Mission Accomplished?"
While Sunday’s election was an essential battle for democracy to win, it is premature to declare victory. Even apart from the insurgency, which is likely to continue as long as there are any US or UK troops in the country, Iraq remains a semi-artificial colonial construction that is subject to strong centrifugal forces. This election may have only succeeded in increasing these forces, by reinforcing group and regional polarities.
For example, to maximize their influence on the constitutional debate, and press their not-so-secret ambition to have an independent Kurdish state, the two leading Kurdish political parties established a united front, the Kurdish Alliance List, for Sunday’s election. They also sponsored a referendum on "Kurdistan’s" independence, side-by-side with the election.
One country’s liberation is another’s nightmare. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan recently expressed grave concern over the Kurds’ designs on oil-rich Kirkuk, their continued interest in an independent state, and the refuge they have provided to some 5000 fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters – “terrorists” in some vernaculars -- in northern Iraq. Two pro-PKK parties also participated in the Iraqi elections, despite Turkey’s denunciation of them as “terrorists.” There were also complaints from Kirkuk’s Turkomen community that 72,000 Iraqi Kurds had migrated there and registered to vote, to shift the balance of power.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shiites are also struggling to organize their political power. One reason why Shiite turnout was so high is that 75-year old Iran-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, issued an edict declaring it a religious duty for them to vote, and also permitted women to vote. Al-Sistani could not vote in the elections himself because he is not even an Iraqi citizen. But together with fellow cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, and accused Iran spy/ bank fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, al-Sistani helped to organize the United Iraqi Alliance, which has reportedly captured at least 45 percent of the vote.
The UIA is a diverse lot, and it is by no means clear who will lead it or what policies it will support. But what is clear is that some of its leaders would make very strange bedfellows for the United States of America, and that perhaps, at a minimum, we should not count on them to serve as the vanguard of our efforts to export democracy to the Middle East.
For example, Al-Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of two leading Shiite parties in Iraq, has been openly opposed the “US occupation.” The second element of the Alliance’s program demands: “…A timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq.”
In May 2003, two months after the US invasion, Al-Hakim returned from exile in Iran and set up shop in Najaf. SCIRI, which has been called the “Hezbollah of Iraq,” also maintains the Badr Corps, an Iranian-trained militia that Al-Hakim helped to found in the early 1980s, is based in Teheran, and numbers anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000.
There is more. In the run-up to the war, SCIRI was one of six Iraqi exile organizations that shared at least $92 million in US military aid. (Another was Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.)
However, in April 2003 it earned Donald Rumsfeld’s wrath. He sternly warned Iran about using Badr Corp, which had also developed strong relations with the Kurd’s military wing, to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs. The SCIRI is also staunchly opposed to the recognition of Israel until the “occupation of Palestine” has ended.
In October 2004, Iraq’s national intelligence chief Mohammed al-Shahwan accused the Badr militia of assassinating 10 of his agents, and accused Chalabi, Al-Hakim’s ally, of being a spy for Iran. Indeed, according to the US 9/11 Commission, SCIRI, Hezbollah, and Hamas are all basically sister organizations that are heavily supported by Iran.
Of course this is the Middle East, so one has to take all such scuttlebutt with a grain of saffron. Maybe just the experience of participating in elections will cause religious radicals to become moderates! True, that hasn't exactly happened yet on the US religious right, much less among Iranian, Arab, or Israeli true believers. But hope springs eternal -- after all, US foreign policy is a faith-based initiative!
So perhaps now we understand another reason why Iran’s Foreign Minister was just as enthusiastic about the elections in Iraq as President Bush. Hamas’ recent victory in Palestine may not have been his only cause for celebration. Or perhaps everyone is reading Woodrow Wilson these days!
But you ‘re still either for democracy or against it, right?
6. Seedbed for Democracy?
6. Seedbed for Democracy?
Whatever the longer-term consequences of this election for Iraq, can we at least be assured that it has had a salutary effect on the rest of the Middle East? Here again the waters are murky.
Not surprisingly, Hamid Kharzai, “the mayor of Kabul,” was enthusiastic about the election. Jordan's King Abdullah, a dapper, English-speaking Arab Sunni monarch and a leading US aid recipient whose own country doesn’t quite yet hold Iraq-style elections for some reason, worried that the Sunni Arab turnout was "a lot lower than any of us hoped.” But he also added that "This is a thing that will set a good tone for the Middle East, and I am optimistic."
Other US allies in the Muslim world have found Iraq’s example much less contagious.
Pakistan’s President Musharraf has made no public comment on the elections. But in December 2004 he called the Iraq War a “mistake” that “made the world a more dangerous place.” That same month he also broke his solemn promise to give up absolute power, extending his term as Army Chief and President several more years. The US currently gives Musharraf's nuclear-armed military dictatorship more than $300 million a year in military aid and $306 million in economic aid, and has also recently helped it reschedule billions of foreign debt.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak ventured the hope that the Iraqi election “would open the way for the restoration of calm and stability.” But just last week, Mubarak, who gets $2 billion a year of US economic and military aid, said he may run for a fifth 6-year term – unless his son runs. Just this weekend, as Iraq starting to hold elections, his government detained Egypt’s main opposition leader.
So now that we’re here, where are we? How do we make sense of this bizarre, contradictory outcome, where the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want us to leave their country forthwith, but could not retain their electoral freedoms for one New York minute without us?
Was trying to force-feed democracy-to-go in this complex environment really ever a good idea? Once there, couldn't we have done a vastly better job of it than we have? Will the astronomical price that we and the Iraqi people have paid, in terms of blood, distraction, international law, and treasure, ever be worth it? How long will it be until we will know for sure?
But history is not made by critics, historians, and other second-guessers. For better or worse, it is often made by simplistic, decisive little men (and women) who are able, one way or another, to grab hold of the reigns of power and say -- "Follow me - I'm sure the trail is this way." Our continuing propensity to respond to such appeals, in the face of mounds of evidence about the likely results, is astounding and disturbing.
In any case, whatever else the Iraqi experiment has accomplished, at least the Iraqi people have now held their first election since…..Well, come to think of it, up to now, there never has been a truly free election in “Iraq,” the pseudo-nation that Britain and the World War I Allies cobbled together out of three Ottoman Empire administrative eyalets (provinces), Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in 1921, and deemed “independent” in 1932.
For that matter, the Great Powers of that day probably could have mandated an election way back then that was no less free, secure, or fair than last Sunday’s and avoided the whole bloody sequel.
(Note to readers: SubmergingMarkets™ enjoys the dubious satisfaction of having been roughly right about developments in Iraq for the past year and a half. For example, see Reference 1 and Reference 2.)
© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™, February 05
Saturday, October 30, 2004
IRAQI FUBAR: The Road to God Knows Where
Whatever Americans may choose to believe about whether they are really better off with Saddam Hussein gone, it is by now evident that, nineteen months after the US invasion of Iraq, most ordinary Iraqis feel much less secure, much less well-off, and more anti-American than ever before.
Indeed, the country appears to be spiraling out of control. Nor is it clear that even a sharp post-US election crackdown by Coalition Forces, with all the attendant Iraqi casualties that it is likely to produce, will be able to turn this trend around.
So far, neither leading US Presidential candidate appears to have fully come to grips with this deteriorating situation in Iraq, or the fundamental strategic blunders that underlie it. At least they are not saying so in public.
A rather undistinguished, pig-headed, President continues to defend his faith-based initiative for “democratizing” the Middle East.
A rather undistinguished junior Senator from Massachusetts -– who has spent much of his life trying to be on all sides of recent US wars -- continues to argue that the key problems with the Iraq War have been tactical – too few troops and equipment, too little Allied support, too few trained Iraqis, careless handling of high explosives, and so forth.
Neither of these positions is realistic.
Indeed, as we will argue below, regardless of who is elected US President on November 2, the facts on the ground in Iraq are now pointing relentlessly toward one seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion:
The US will only be able to stabilize Iraq, preserve that country's national unity, win more support for the interim government, undermine the role of “foreign terrorists” in the country, and secure a modicum of domestic and international support for “democratization” if and when it links the calendar for Iraqi democratization and constitutional reform to a firm, near-term timetable for the withdrawal of all US forces (though not necessarily all Coalition forces) from the country.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
The "Reagan Revolution," Part Two: The View from Developing Countries
"Man wants to forget the bad stuff and believe in the made-up good stuff. Its easier that way."
"He (Reagan) may have forgotten us. But we have not forgotten him."
"Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force....Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; acts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved. Indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside.... So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive...."
Following last week's prolonged national memorial to President Reagan, the most elaborate in US history, most Americans have turned their attention back to the troubled present. But we cannot resist continuing down the revisionist path that we started on in Part One of this series.
Contrary to Henry Ford, history is not "bunk," nor is it "just one damn thing after another." In fact, it is one of our most valuable possessions. But unless we take the time to learn from it, it can easily come back to haunt us -- as it is doing right now. At the very least this exercise will prepare us to evaluate President Clinton's new autobiography, which is due out next week.
As noted in Part One, most recent discussions of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy legacy have focused almost entirely on the Cold War. Even there, as we argued, his legacy is decidedly mixed. While he may have helped to pressure the Soviets to reform, he also took incredible risks with the balance of nuclear forces, including some risks that we are still living with to this day.
When we turn from superpower relations to Reagan's impact on developing countries, the legacy is even starker. In The Blood Bankers, we've detailed how the Reagan Administration's lax policies toward country lending and bank regulation exacerbated the 1982-83 Third World debt crisis. And then the administration did very little to help developing countries fundamentally restructure their debt burdens and recover. By the end of the 1980s, most country debt burdens were higher than ever.
Here we will focus on another long-term legacy of Reagan's relations with the developing world -- the consequences of his support for a plethora of reactionary dictatorships and contra armies all over the globe.
Most Americans are probably not aware of it, but this bloody-minded policy fostered several nasty wars in developing countries that have cost literally millions of lives -- and are still producing fatalities every day, by way of wounds, continuing conflicts, unexploded ordnance, and landmines.
Furthermore, as described below, the Reagan Administration was also responsible for several of the clearest examples in history of state-sponsored terrorism.
Unfortunately, it turns out that very little of this was really necessary, either from the standpoint of defeating the Soviets, pushing the world toward democracy and free markets, or enhancing US security.
Indeed, in the long run, Reagan's policies basically destabilized a long list of developing countries and increased their antagonism towards the US. Combined with the policies of "benign neglect," stop-go intervention, and ineffective neoliberal reforms that characterized the Clinton Administration's policies toward developing countries, and the neoconservative policies pursued by both Bushes, it is no accident that America's reputation in the developing world is now at a record low.
Unfortunately, like some of the risks that Reagan's policies introduced into the nuclear balance, these effects may have a very long half-life. Surely they will be with us long after Ronald Reagan has met his Maker. We just hope for the Gipper's sake that his Maker does not read this article before pronouncing judgment upon him.
There is an abundance of examples of the Reagan Administration's strong negative impacts on developing countries. To cite just a few:
In the case of the Philippines, the Reagan Administration was a staunch ally of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos right up to their last helicopter ride to Hawaii in February 1986. Vice President George H.W. Bush visited Manila in March 1981, soon after Reagan was elected, to thank him for his generous support. He toasted Marcos in glowing terms: "We love your adherence to democratic principles and democratic process....." The thousands of political opponents who were tortured, imprisoned, or died fighting this corrupt conjugal dictatorship and the millions of Filipinos who have spent the last twenty-five years servicing the couples' unproductive foreign and domestic debts would probably disagree.
In the case of Iran and Iraq, Reagan helped arm and finance Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s, encouraged the Saudis and Kuwaitis to finance his invasion of Iran when it bogged down, helped to equip him with chemical and biological weapons, sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to assure close relations and propose a new pipeline to Saddam to help him export his oil, and even provided a team of 60 Pentagon analysts who sat in Baghdad, using US satellite imagery to target Saddam's chemical weapons against the Iranians.
At the same time, as the Iran-Contra arms scandal later disclosed, Reagan also helped Iran buy spare parts and advanced weapons for use against Iraq. He also looked the other way when Saddam decided to turn his US-supplied Bell Helicopters and French-supplied Mirage jets and chemical weapons on the defenseless Kurds at Halabja. Of course, the fact that the UN, under strong US pressure, did nothing at the time to condemn Saddam for this behavior did not exactly discourage further aggression.
This bipolar policy contributed to prolonging the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, one of the largest and bloodiest land wars since World War II. It cost 500,000 to 1 million lives and 1-2 million wounded, and created more than 2.5 million refugees. It also caused a huge amount of damage to both countries' economies, and left Iraq, in particular, broke and heavily indebted. As we've argued in The Blood Bankers, that destabilization, in turn, contributed significantly to Saddam's 1991 decision to invade Kuwait in 1991 -- and ultimately, our current Iraq fiasco.
In the case of South Africa, the Reagan Administration steadfastly opposed any US or UN sanctions on international trade and investment. Indeed, it continued to work closely with the apartheid regime on many different fronts, including the civil wars in Angola (see below), Namibia, and Mozambique.
It also now appears that both Carter and Reagan turned a blind eye to South Africa's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in collaboration with Israel, which purchased its uranium from the Pretoria regime. Fortunately, no thanks to Reagan, Bush I, or for that matter, Bill Clinton, apartheid came to an end in the early 1990s, and South Africa became the first nuclear power ever to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
In the case of Guatemala, Reagan gave a warm embrace to the brutal dictatorship of General Efrain Rios Montt in the early 1980s. Rios Montt, a graduate of Fort Benning's School for the Americas, was also an ordained "born-again" minister in California-based Gospel Outreach's Guatemala Verbo evangelical church. Evidently that combination endeared him to the Reagan Administration -- US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders praised him for his "effective counter-insurgency," and President Reagan called him "a man of great personal integrity," "totally dedicated to democracy," someone who Amnesty International had given "a bum rap."
This cleared the way for hundreds of $millions in World Bank loans and US aid that helped to make Rios Montt and his generals rich. Meanwhile, the junta implemented a genocide that a UN-backed Truth Commission later found was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalan peasants, mainly Mayan Indians.
In the case of Argentina, Reagan turned a blind eye to the "dirty war" waged by the military junta against its opponents, at a cost of 30,000 lives and many more destroyed families.
When this junta launched the April 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands to deflect public attention from its political and economic woes, Reagan and Secretary of State Al Haig ultimately decided to side with the UK's Margaret Thatcher, a fellow neoconservative. However, key Reagan aids Jeane Kirkpatrick and Michael Deaver worked behind the scenes to support the fascist junta, encouraging it to believe that the US might stay neutral. The very evening that the invasion was launched, Kirkpatrick was the guest of honor at an elaborate Washington D.C. banquet that was sponsored by the junta.
In the case of Panama, Reagan's CIA subsidized and promoted the rise of General Manual Noriega, another graduate of the notorious US School of the Americas. The US made extensive use of Noriega's intelligence gathering capabilities during the contra war with Nicaragua (see below).
This encouraged Noriega to believe that he could get away with anything. For a while he did: in the early 1980s, he became one of the most important cocaine wholesalers in the region, shipping a ton of coke per month to Miami on INAIR, a Panama airline that he co-owned, literally under the US Customs' nose. By 1989, even George H.W. Bush was embarrassed, and he had the dictator forcibly removed -- at a cost of the lives of 23 US troops, 314 Panamanian Defense Forces, and several hundred Panamanian civilians.
In the case of tiny Honduras, the poorest country in Central America, the Reagan administration turned another of its many blind eyes to the rise of death squads in the early 1980s. John Negroponte, the former US Ambassador to the UN and our new "proconsul" in Iraq, served as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. As this author knows from first-hand experience, reports of human rights abuses in Honduras were rampant during this period. It is hard to believe that Negroponte, who cultivated close relations with the Honduran military, was simply unaware of all these reports.
One of the key offenders was Battalion 3-16, the CIA-trained and funded Honduran military unit that was responsible for hundreds of disappearances and torture cases, including several that involved Americans.
One US embassy official later reported that in 1982, Negroponte had ordered any mention of such abuses removed from his annual Human Rights reports to Congress. Negroponte has denied any knowledge of this, and has skated through several confirmation hearings to arrive at the very top of the US diplomatic corps, where he will soon be running the world's largest US embassy.
In the case of El Salvador, the Reagan Administration also sharply increased economic and military support to a brutal oligarchical regime that was also deeply involved in death squads. President Carter had also provided military aid to the regime -- indeed, Archbishop Oscar Romero's condemnation of that aid was one key factor in his assassination in March 1980. After Reagan's November 1980 election, the Salvadoran military felt it had a "green light" to become even more aggressive with its opponents in the Church and unions, as well as the FMLN rebels.
One immediate byproduct of the "green light" was the murder of four US Maryknoll nuns in December 1980. Reagan's first Secretary of State, Al Haig, later suggested that the nuns might have been killed in a "crossfire" when they "ran a roadblock. " But their murders were later attributed to five Salvador National Guard members, who, in turn, appear to have acted on orders from senior members of the Salvador military.
A law suit was eventually brought on behalf of the nuns against the commanders to whom these guardsmen ultimately reported -- Jose Guillermo Garcia, El Salvador's Minister of Defense from 1979-1983, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the former head of the National Guard. These were the Reagan Administration's key Salvadoran allies in the early 1980s, and they'd been rewarded with retirement in Florida.
In 2000 a jury ruled that even though they had given the orders, they did not have "effective control" over their subordinates, given the instability in the country. However, in July 2002, another jury in West Palm Beach found the duo liable for torture and other human rights abuses against three other victims, and ordered them to pay $54.6 million in damages.
Meanwhile, their paymasters and other collaborators in the Reagan Administration have gotten off scot free. Reagan's insistence on a military solution to the conflict in El Salvador helped to perpetuate the civil war throughout the 1980s, at a cost of more than 75,000 lives. Ultimately, under Bush I and Clinton, the long-delayed negotiated solution was achieved.
As for Archbishop Romero's assassin, he has never been found. There are credible reports, however, that the actual triggerman now lives -- naturally enough -- in Honduras.
In the case of Lebanon, Reagan was responsible for a broken promise to the Palestinians that ultimately contributed to the 1982 massacres at the Sabra/ Shatila refugee camps. To get the PLO to withdraw from Beirut, Reagan promised to protect Palestinian non-combatant refugees in those camps. Indeed, the PLO fighters left on August 24, 1982, and US Marines landed on August 25. But they were withdrawn just three weeks later, on September 10, after the PLO fighters left. Ariel Sharon,Israel's Defense Minister at the time, promptly ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to surround the camps. They refused to let anyone leave, and then permitted his Lebanese allies, the rightist Christian Phalangists, to move in.
The result was the slaughter of at least 900 to 3000 unarmed Palestinians, including many women and children, on September 16-18, 1982. As former Secretary of State George Schultze later commented, "The brutal fact is, we are partially responsible." Israeli's own Kahan Commission later found Sharon "indirectly responsible" for the massacre, but imposed no penalties, other than forcing him to resign as Defense Minister.
In the case of Angola, Reagan, in cooperation with South Africa's apartheid regime and Zaire's dictator Mobutu, helped to sponsor UNITA, Joseph Savimbi's rebel band, against the left-leaning MPLA, which also happened to have far stronger support from the Angolan people. Reagan hailed the power-hungry Savimbi as a "freedom fighter," and enlisted wealthy arch-conservatives like beer merchant Joseph Coors and Rite-Aid owner Lewis E.Lehrman to organize assistance and lobby Congress for millions in aid.
In fact Savimbi turned out to be one of the world's most lethal terrorists. Even after UNITA lost UN-supervised elections in September 1992, he continued the war, financing his operations by trafficking in "blood diamonds."
The resulting guerilla war cost the Angolan people up to 1 million dead, turned a quarter of Angola's 12 million people into refugees, and devastated health and education programs and the domestic economy. It also left an estimated 6 to 20,000,000 land mines scattered all across the country, one of the world's most heavily mined countries, with more than 80,000 amputees as a byproduct. Only with Savimbi was finally killed in May 2002 was the country finally restored to peace.
In the case of Afghanistan, Reagan considerably expanded aid to the Afghan rebels in the early 1980s, providing them more than $1 billion in arms and sophisticated weapons like Stinger missiles to fight the Soviets. The resulting battle ultimately cost the Soviets 15,000 lives. But the price to Afghanistan was much higher -- the Afghan people lost more than 1 million dead and wounded, plus millions of refugees. Furthermore, after the Soviets finally left in the 1989, the country became a stomping ground for opium-dealing warlords, religious fanatics like the Taliban, and al-Qaeda's global terrorists.
Furthermore, we now know that Gorbachev had offered to pull Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in 1987, in exchange for reduced US arm shipments to the rebels. However, he was rebuffed by the Reagan Administration, which wanted to prolong the Soviets' agony. This not only cost a great many more Afghan (and Soviet) lives, but also helped turn Osama Bin Laden from a nobody into a folk hero. All this helped to pave the way to 9/11, the continuing war in Afghanistan, and the even more dangerous global terrorist war.
All told, then, the Reagan Administration clearly has a lot to answer for with respect to the developing world. And this is even apart from one of the most perfidious examples of Reagan's brutilitarian policies, that of Nicaragua -- as the following excerpt from The Blood Bankers makes clear.
By the end of 1980, with Nicaragua's civil war concluded, General Anastasio Somoza deBayle dead in Paraguay, and the country''s debt settlement with its foreign banks concluded, many Nicaraguans were looking forward to rebuilding their economy and finally achieving a more peaceful society. Alas, it was not to be.
Undoubtedly the Sandinistas deserve some of the blame for the way things turned out, though, as we will see, the odds were clearly stacked against them. As the strongest faction in the winning coalition, and “the boys with the guns,” at first they commanded overwhelming popular support for having rid the country of the world’s oldest family dictatorship outside of Saudi Arabia and Paraguay. However, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in the 1990s, they were torn between leading a social revolution and building a multi-party democracy.
Their hero, Augusto “Cesar” Sandino, “the general of free men,” had fought the US military and the Nicaraguan army for six years to a standstill, before he was betrayed and murdered by General Anastasio Somoza Garcia in 1934. After a decade of insurgency in the 1970s, the Sandinistas’ most important experiences to prepare them for the job of running the country were limited to armed struggle, clandestine organizing, and some very rough times in Somoza’s jails. Unhappily, one of their most accomplished political leaders, Carlos Fonseca, had been murdered by the National Guard in 1976.
On the other hand, as South Africa demonstrates, it is not impossible for committed revolutionaries to lead a fairly peaceful transition to a multi-party democracy. After all, the ANC had waged just as long a struggle against a state that was no less repressive as Somoza’s. Many of the ANC’s supporters were also just as radical as the Sandinistas, and it also sourced most of its weapons and advisors from radical watering holes like the Soviet Union, East Germany and Libya.
However, ironically, South Africa was not as easy for the US to push around as Nicaragua. South Africa accounted for two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa’s economy and most of the world’s gold, diamonds, platinum, and vanadium. By 1982, with some help from the UK and Israel, it had acquired nuclear weapons. Compared with Nicaragua, South Africa’s economy was actually in pretty good shape when the ANC came to power. While there had been a protracted low-intensity war against apartheid, South Africa managed to avoid the full-blown civil war that Nicaragua was forced to undertake in the 1970s to rid itself of the Somoza dictatorship.
Nicaragua was also objectively a far less strategically important target. To Washington’s national security planners, however, that made it an ideal opportunity for a relatively low-cost “demonstration." Its population was the same as Iowa’s. Its entire economy was smaller than Des Moines’s. It had few distinctive natural resources. Its only “weapons of mass destruction” were volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes. It was surrounded by other countries that were also of modest strategic value – except for whatever symbolic value was associated with repeatedly crushing the aspirations of impoverished peasants into the dirt.
During the late 19th century, Nicaragua had been selected several times over by US Canal Commissions for a canal across Central America, until Teddy Roosevelt finally opted to create Panama and build a canal across it in 1902, for reasons that had more to do with Wall Street than engineering. After that, Nicaragua’s canal plans went nowhere, especially after the US Marines landed in 1910 to collect debts owed to British and US banks and to depose a nationalist leader who, among other things, made the fatal mistake of seeking European funding for an alternative to the Panama canal.
The ANC also had one other weapon that the Sandinistas clearly lacked. This was the extraordinary wisdom and good fortune of 72-year old Nelson Mandela, who had earned everyone’s respect during his 27 years in prison. He had also learned survival skills like patience, diplomacy, and the capacity for making adroit compromises with bitter enemies. Under his influence, the ANC set out to build a mass party. It agreed to hold new elections within two years of his release. It went out of its way to commit itself publicly to multi-party democracy, a market economy, civil liberties, and peaceful reconciliation.
Most of the Sandinistas’ top leaders – the so-called cupola -- were not really interested in building a mass party, much less a multi-party democracy, at least not initially. They saw themselves as a vanguard party, leading the masses toward a social revolution. As Sergio Ramirez, a leading FSLN member who served as Nicaragua’s Vice President under Daniel Ortega from 1984 to 1990, wrote in his 1999 book, Adios Muchachos,
The FSLN was not prepared...to assume its role of party of opposition inside a democratic system, because it had never been designed for this. Its vertical structure was the inspiration of Leninist manuals, of the impositions of the war and of caudillismo, our oldest cultural heritage.
To be fair, the FSLN leadership also believed that the first priority was to attack the country’s dire health, literacy, land ownership, and education problems, and to build “direct democracy” through civic organizations, not through party politics and national elections. Given the country’s emergency and the need to recover from the civil war, this was entirely understandable. But it did provide cheap shots for the FSLN’s opponents and the mainstream US media, which basically wrote Nicaragua off very early as a reprise of Castro’s Cuba.
The Sandinistas were also widely criticized for lacking the soft touch when it came to domestic politics. Among their many ham-handed moves was their May 1980 decision to expand the Council of State to include “mass organizations,” the August 1980 decision to postpone elections until 1984, the rough way they dealt with the Miskito Indians, the 1986 decision to shut down the (by then, CIA-subsidized) La Prensa, and Daniel Ortega’s various high-visibility trips to Havana, Moscow, Libya and Gucci’s eyeglass counter in New York They were also criticized for implementing a compulsory draft, detaining alleged contra sympathizers without trial after the contra war heated up, permitting the FSLN’s National Directorate (Daniel Ortega, Tomas Borge, Victor Tirado, Henry Ruiz, and Bayardo Arce) to remain an unelected (all-male) body until 1991, and seizing a huge amount of property from ex-Somocistas, even middle-class ones, for their own use during the “pinata” period after Ortega lost the 1990 election -- including more than a few beach houses.
At the same time, they were not given much credit for preserving a mixed economy, reforming the health and education systems, pursuing aid from numerous non-Communist countries in Latin America and Europe, implementing a badly-needed land reform, tolerating the virulent La Prensa, which supported the contras and called for their overthrow, until they finally reached the limit and shut it down in 1986, ultimately holding free elections in November 1984 and February 1990, and respecting the outcome of those elections even when, as in 1990 (...and 1996, and 2001..) they lost.
The basic reality is that from at least 1981 on, Nicaragua’s new government was operating in an increasingly hostile international environment, where the Western media and the USG, as well as the Miami-based Somocistas, were predisposed to seize upon the slightest departures from Roberts’ Rules of Orders to consign them to hell – and if no such departures were readily at hand, to invent them out of whole cloth. These hostile attitudes had much less to do with the FSLN’s behavior than with the USG’s new aggressive stance with respect to the Soviet Union – actually dating back at least to President Carter’s initiation of a contra-like war against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan in July 1979.
STATE-FUNDED TERRORISM - REAGAN STYLE
So, despite all the FSLN’s undeniable missteps, it would probably have taken divine intervention to save Nicaragua from the wrath of Ronald Reagan, who decided almost immediately upon taking office to single tiny Nicaragua out for a replay of the Carter/ Brzezinski strategy in Afghanistan.
As former CIA analyst David MacMichael testified at the International Court of the Hague’s hearings on a lawsuit brought by Nicaragua against the US in 1986, from early 1981 on, the US Government set out to create a “proxy army” that would “provoke cross-border attacks by Nicaraguan forces and demonstrate Nicaragua’s aggressive nature,” forcing the Sandinistas to “clamp down on civil liberties.....arresting its opposition, (and) demonstrate its allegedly inherent totalitarian nature.”
In other words, if they were not totalitarian enough to begin with, we would see to it that they became totalitarian – and then blame them for making the switch.
President Reagan offered several different justifications for this ultimately rather bloody-minded policy. In March 1983, in a speech to Congress, he presented his subversion theory, Congress, warning that the Sandinistas had already “imposed a new dictatorship…supported by weapons and military resources provided by the Communist bloc, (that) represses its own people, refuses to make peace, and sponsors a guerrilla war against El Salvador. (emphasis added).”
At other times, he emphasized the beachhead theory, according to which the Sandinistas provided a “Soviet beachhead… only two hours flying time away from our borders…with thousands of Cuban advisors…camped on our own doorstep…close to vital sea-lanes.” He offered similar characterizations of the threat posed by left-wing guerillas in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In 1982, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan's hawkish UN Ambassador, also promoted this beachhead theory with her own profound geographical analysis:
I believe this area is colossally important to the US national interest. I think we are dealing here not...with some sort of remote problem in some far-flung part of the world. We are dealing with our own border when we talk about the Caribbean and Central America and we are dealing with our own vital national interest.
Other elements were also sometimes thrown into the mix. On November 6, 1984, just two days after the Sandinistas won a decisive 67-percent victory in the country’s freest elections in history, there was a huge media flap in the US press over their alleged attempt – later proved false – to buy Soviet MiGs for air defense. This story later turned out to be a wholesale concoction of the State Department’s “Office of Public Diplomacy,” and of Oliver North, Otto Reich, and Robert McFarlane in particular, just one of many US propaganda efforts that were designed to distract attention from the FSLN’s victory in those elections.
Together, the subversion theory and the beachhead theory added up to a revival of the time-worn domino theory, transposed from Southeast Asia to Central America. Apparently, the notion was that since Nicaragua bordered on Honduras and El Salvador, which bordered on Guatemala and Belize, which bordered on Mexico, the Red Army might soon be drinking margaritas on the banks of the Rio Grande. Or the Reds might just jet in to El Paso in their MiGs from Managua, “only two hours away.” The fact that “they” were already 90 miles away in Havana, armed with brand new MiG 23 Flogger bombers and MiG 29s, did not get much mention from the Gipper. After all, Cuba had already demonstrated that it could stand up to a US invasion, and the Bay of Pigs was not a happy memory.
This rather strained analysis of Nicaragua’s purported threat to US national security was later endorsed, with only slight variations, by the January 1984 Bipartisan National Commission on Central America chaired by Dr. Henry Kissinger. One might have expected Kissinger to reach a different conclusion, given his long personal experience with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and China, whose leftist regimes spent most of the 1970s fighting with each other, demonstrating conclusively the power of nationalism over solidarity. But he was performing the assignment to ingratiate himself with the Republican Party’s conservative wing. And unlike the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, which he resigned from in December 2002, it did not require him to identify his consulting firms’ private clients.
In any case, well into the 1990s, long after there were peace settlements in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and long after the Sandinistas had handed over political power to their opponents, hawkish Republicans like Senators John McCain and Jesse Helms were still seeing ghosts in Nicaragua, trying to make hay out of the Sandinistas’ potential subversive threat. Indeed, as we’ll see, these charges even played a role in Daniel Ortega’s defeat in Nicaragua’s Presidential elections in 2001, even when his running mate was Violeta Chamorro’s son-in-law!
Eventually, in fact, all the stockpiles of AK47s, landmines, rocket launchers, and surface-to-air missiles acquired by the Sandinistas to defend Nicaragua against the contras did end up posing a security threat to the US. But it was not precisely the one that that the Sandinistas' right-wing critics had predicted. In November 2001, Colombia’s 11,000-strong nasty, right-wing, drug-dealing paramilitary group, the AUC, procured 3,500 AK47’s from Nicaragua’s military stockpiles, by way of Israeli arms merchants based in Panama and Guatemala. The arms were part of a five-shipment package that included 13,000 assault rifles, millions of bullets, grenade and rocket launchers, machine guns, and explosives. The AUC, which was on the G.W. Bush’s administration’s official list of terrorist groups, was supported by landlords who wanted to combat Colombia’s leftist guerillas, the ELN and the FARC. The AUC was also supposedly fighting Colombia’s Army. From 2000 to 2003, Colombia received $2.5 billion of US military aid, plus more than 400 Special Forces troops, making it the world’s third largest recipient of US aid. The AUC also reportedly purchased arms from army stockpiles in El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2002, a OAS study also revealed that a Lebanese arms broker with al Qaeda links had tried to purchase 20 SA-7 missiles from Nicaragua’s stockpiles. The US starting pressuring Nicaragua’s President Bolanõs, a neoliberal businessman, to reduce these stockpiles – but hopefully not by selling more of them to the AUC.
In the long run, therefore, by forcing the comparatively-harmless Sandinistas to stockpile all these weapons to defend themselves, and by also arming the right-wing militaries of El Salvador and Guatemala to the teeth, the US had set a trap for itself.
In reality, of course, Nicaragua’s leftists, even if they had been so inclined, were neither necessary nor sufficient to “subvert” their neighbors. Those neighbors with the most serious liberation movements, like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia, had long since done a perfectly good job of subverting themselves. Their rebel movements developed over many decades from within, on the basis of incredibly-unbalanced social structures. For example, El Salvador’s catorce, its top 14 families, controlled 90-95 percent of that country’s land and finance capital, while in Guatemala, just 2 percent of the population controlled more than 70 percent of arable land. These situations were only a slightly more anonymous version of Nicaragua, where the Somoza family alone had laid claim to a quarter of the country’s arable land. And the resulting social conflicts were similar -- in the 1980s, El Salvador’s class war claimed more than 80,000 lives, while Guatemala’s claimed 200,000, with the vast majority due to their own brutal armed forces and paramilitaries.
On the other hand, Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s good neighbor to the south, had long since inoculated itself against revolution by developing an old-fashioned middle-class democracy, with lots of small farms and more teachers than police, having completely abolished its military in 1948.
Furthermore, while the Reagan Administration asserted over and over again in the early 1980s that the Sandinistas had shipped arms to leftist guerillas in El Salvador, two decades later, these allegations have been shown to be as spurious as the MiG purchases. In fact, the Sandinistas’ aid to El Salvador’s rebels, the FLMN, was miniscule, and it was terminated in 1981, as the World Court concluded in 1986. The claim that El Salvador’s FLMN had acquired several hundred tons of weapons from the East Bloc, Arafat and Libya (!), had also been pulled out of thin air. In fact, the rebel armies in El Salvador and Guatemala were poorly armed, except for Galil rifles and rocket launchers they managed to steal or purchase from corrupt army officers. Leading Sandinistas like Tomas Borge also explicitly rejected the notion of “exporting revolution,” except by way of the FSLN’s own example. After all, the FSLN had not needed Soviet or Cuban backing for their own revolution. They also had their hands full rebuilding Nicaragua. The last thing they needed was another war with El Salvador or Guatemala, in addition to the contra war.
Finally, while the Sandinistas were not liberal democrats, and, as noted, committed many political blunders, they were scarcely in a position to run a “dictatorship,” even within Managua’s city limits. To their credit, they had greatly increased the amount of popular involvement in the country’s governance. In November 1984, they held national elections that most international observers, including Latin American scholars and Western European parliaments, agreed were reasonably clean, despite the Reagan Administration’s provision of $17 million to opposition candidates, its systematic efforts to discredit the elections, and the fact that by then Nicaragua was already under steady assault from US-backed contras. Certainly by comparison with the Somozas’ rigged elections, other countries in post-war situations, and El Salvador and Guatemala in particular, Nicaragua’s degree of political freedom was tolerable, if not beyond reproach.
Yet when 75 percent of registered voters turned out for the November 1984 elections, and the FSLN received a commanding 67 percent of the vote, capturing the Presidency and 61 of 96 seats in the new National Assembly, Nicaragua was again accused by the Reaganites of being a “dictatorship.” As former New York Times Editor John Oakes remarked at the time, “The most fraudulent thing about the Nicaraguan election was the part the Reagan Administration played in it.”
The other troubling fact for Reagan’s Nicaraguan policy was that, objectively, the Soviet Union really did not have much interest in acquiring yet another dependent, state-socialist backwater like Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Cuba -- which by the early 1980s was already costing the USSR about $3 billion a year in aid. In hindsight, we now know that, far from being an expansionist Evil Empire, at this point, the USSR was really just hanging on for dear life -- a wounded giant, obsessed with its own serious economic problems, which were even forcing it to import grain from Argentina’s fascist junta! Internationally, it had its hands full just trying to stave off an embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan on its own southern border. It was also pressing existing client states in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia hard to practice self-reliance.
Finally, in 1980-81, before the US made it absolutely clear that it was seeking “regime change” in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas tried to restore good economic relations, plus access to World Bank and IDB loans. But for the US intervention, this access would have been maintained. And that, in turn, would have significantly reduced Nicaragua’s dependence on East-Bloc aid. After all, as a senior World Bank official noted in 1982, “Project implementation has been extraordinarily successful in Nicaragua, perhaps better than anywhere else in the world.”
About that time, Nicaragua also sought aid from many non-Soviet countries, including Venezuela, Mexico, and France. It was most successful with Mexico, which resisted US pressure and became Nicaragua’s largest aid provider until 1985. Nor did Nicaragua turn immediately to the Soviet Bloc for aid. When it tried to buy $16 million of arms from France in early 1982, however, President Reagan got the French President, Francois Mitterand, to delay the sale “indefinitely.” Only then – under increasing attack from the contras -- did Nicaragua turn to the Soviet Union and Cuba for significant quantities of arms and advisors.
Of course, as noted, many Sandinistas were undoubtedly committed radicals, dedicated to policies like land reform, free health and education, and the seizure of Somocista-owned properties. But these policies were entirely defensible, given Nicaragua’s economic conditions and its need to play catch-up with basic social justice. These are, after all, policies that the US has itself supported, or at least tolerated, in other times and places, when they happened to serve its interests.
The Sandinistas may have been mulish and full of radical bravado, but they were far from anyone’s pawns. These characterizations were 1950-vintage hobgoblins, left over from the days when Ronnie ran the Commies out of the Actors Guild in LA. At best, they reflected a desire to show the Evil Empire who was boss, by making an example of some weak little pinko regime.
On this view, then, in the early 1980s, the USG basically succeeded in pushing tiny Nicaragua into relying heavily on Soviet and Cuban arms and economic aid for its own survival– as, indeed, the USG may have also done with Fidel’s Cuba back in 1959-60. The USG then used that reliance as an excuse to expand its own provocations into a full-scale war that ultimately claimed 30,000 lives. In the historical record books, this is surely one of the clearest examples of state-funded terrorism ever.
All these inconvenient little details were brushed aside by the Reaganites when they took office in January 1981, raring, in President Reagan’s words, to make the Sandinistas “say uncle.” Say uncle they never did -- in fact, by 1988, they’d “whupped” Olly North’s contras pretty good. But that was not for want of US efforts.
In March 1981, President Reagan signed an Executive Order that mandated the CIA to undertake covert operations in Central America, to interdict arms shipments “by Marxist guerillas.” By November 1981, the US focus had shifted from arms interdiction to regime change. That month, the Administration provided an initial $19 million to mount a pretty transparent “covert” effort to destabilize Nicaragua. The strategy, implemented by the now-famous gang of Presidential pardonees, was the classic scissors tactic that had been employed by the US and its allies in many other 20th century counterrevolutionary interventions, notably Russia (1918), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959-60), and Chile(1973).
On the one hand, the USG tried to cut off Nicaragua’s cash flow, reducing access to new loans from the IMF, the World Bank, and the IDB, as well as all EXIM Bank funding and OPIC risk insurance. In September 1983, the US slashed Nicaragua’s sugar quota. In November 1985, it added a total embargo on all trade with the US, Nicaragua’s main trading partner and foreign investor up to then. Given the country’s dire economic straits, this had the practical effect of cutting off all US private investment and bank lending.
At the same time, the Reagan Administration was stubbornly opposing all efforts to embargo trade or investment with respect to South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. In September 1983, for example, the State Department approved a Westinghouse application to bid on a $50 million ten-year contract to maintain and supply South Africa's two nuclear power stations. The US also continued to support World Bank and IDB loans to the right-wing regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador throughout the 1980s.
The other half of the scissors strategy was the USG’s effort to create, finance, arm, and determine strategy and tactics for an 18,000-person contra army, financed with $300 million of taxpayer money, in-kind military assistance, another $100-$200 million raised from private donors like the Sultan of Brunei, and an untold amount of cocaine proceeds. The main faction, the Frente Democrático Nacional (FDN), consisted of 3,000 ex-Somocista National Guard members and another 12-13,000 assorted mercenaries, anti-Castro Cubans, Israeli trainers, Argentine interrogators, and cocaine traffickers of several different nationalities. The Reaganites knew they were not dealing with angels here. As the CIA’s Inspector General later admitted in 1998, the agency made sure to get a statement from the US Department of Justice in 1982, waiving the CIA’s duty to report drug trafficking by any contra contractors.
From 1982 to 1989, this murderous scalawag army stoked a war that ultimately took about 30,000 lives, including those of 3,346 children and more than 250 public school teachers. Another 30,000 people were wounded, and 11,000 were kidnapped, according to the National Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. Another half million fled the country to avoid the chaos. With the help of Harvard Law School Professor Abram Chayes, Nicaragua later successfully sued the US for launching these and other terrorist attacks and causing all this damage. In November 1986, the International Court at the Hague found the US liable for several clear violations of international law – notably, for launching an unprovoked war that was not justified by any “right of self defense.” The Court suggested that appropriate damages for the resulting property damage were on the order of $17 billion. But the Reagan Administration declined to appear in court, and refused to recognize the judgment.
THE WORLD'S HEAVIEST DEBT BURDEN
The detailed history of Nicaragua’s contra war has been told elsewhere, at least those parts of it that are not still classified, like much of the record of US knowledge about the contras’ extensive cocaine trafficking activities, and President Reagan’s confidential discussions with his aides, kept off limits for an indefinite period by a Executive Order signed in 2001 by President G.W. Bush.
Our main interest here is in the war’s devastating impact on Nicaragua’s economy and its crushing foreign debt burden. Ultimately, the FSLN soundly defeated the contras with a combination of adroit military tactics – for example, heavily-mined “free-fire” zones along its northern border with Honduras – and a large standing army, raised by draft. To pay for all this, however, the FSLN had to boost military spending, from 5 percent of national income in 1980 to 18 percent in 1988, when the first in a series of armistices was finally signed. By then, more than half of Nicaragua’s government budget was devoted to paying for an army that numbered 119,000 regular soldiers and militia – 7 percent of all Nicaraguans between the ages of 18 and 65.
Early on, the Sandinistas had made a strong commitment to building new health clinics and schools in the county. These social programs, plus land reform, were among their most important accomplishments. Even in the midst of the war, with the help of 2500 Cuban doctors, they managed to increase spending on health and education, open hundreds of new medical clinics, and sharply reduce infant mortality, malnutrition, disease, and illiteracy. They also implemented a land reform that redistributed more than 49 percent of Nicaragua’s arable land to small farmers.
But the war made it very hard to sustain these undeniable social accomplishments Despite the FSLN’s military “victory,” Nicaragua’s regular economy took a direct hit. Trade and investment plummeted, unemployment soared to 25 percent, and inflation reached more than 36,000 percent by 1988-89. From 1980 to 1990, Nicaragua’s average real per capita income fell 35 percent, and the incidence of poverty rose to 44 percent. To deal with shortages in the face of soaring inflation, the FSLN had to implement a rationing system for food and other basic commodities. As the Nixon Administration had done to the Allende regime in Chile a decade earlier, so the Reaganites did to Nicaragua – they made the economy “scream.”
All told, by 1990, Nicaragua had displaced Honduras as the poorest country in Central America. It had also become the world’s most heavily indebted country. To fund the defense budget and their other commitments in the face of declining tax revenues, trade, investment, and multilateral funding, the FSLN partly relied on inflationary finance, by having the Central Bank just print more cordobas. But for vital foreign purchases, including oil and weapons, it required dollar loans from sympathetic countries, mainly the Soviet Union ($3.3 billion), Mexico ($1.1 billion), Costa Rica, Germany, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, and Guatemala (!), plus more than $500 million from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, one multilateral institution that the US did not control.
When the newly-elected government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took office in April 1990, the debt stood at $10.74 billion – more than 10 times its level in 1980, and nearly 11 times Nicaragua’s national income.
This was by far the highest foreign debt burden in the world, thirty times the average debt-income ratio for all developing countries. And it was not derived from “technical policy errors,” “economic accidents,” or “geographic misfortune. ” Part of it was the $1.5 billion of dirty debt left over from the Somoza years. The rest derived from the ruthless persecution by world’s most powerful country of a tiny, stubborn Central American nation that was determined to finally make its own history.
CONCLUSION - REAGAN'S IMPACT ON NICARAGUA
In the 1980s, against all odds, and woefully ignorant of economics, politics, business, and diplomacy, a handful of rather foolhardy Nicaraguans dared to challenge the Reagan Administration's attempt to prevent them from controlling their own destiny.
They made many mistakes, and they required much on-the-job training. But at least they tried to stand up.
When they did so, they were attacked, and when they defended themselves, they were portrayed as the aggressors. Ultimately they won a victory of sorts, but it left their country a shambles.
Then their successors, worshipers of the latest fashions in neoliberal economic theology, came to power promising reform and freedom, and ended up turning the country into a bantustan.
Perhaps Nicaragua will need another revolution.
(c) James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets.com(tm) 2004. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent from the author. All rights reserved.