Sunday, 6 February 2011

Peace through War.

War without Honour.

In the 1970s there was a power struggle in Washington between realists and idealists over foreign policy. Though it should be noted that there is very little practical difference between the two factions. Watergate had sunk public belief in politicians along with Nixon, whose administration had sought a balance of power in the world between the Soviet Union and the United States. This involved making peace with China, slaughtering millions of people in South-East Asia for the sake of "peace with honour", and propping up dictatorships around the world. After Nixon resigned, a caretaker administration followed with Henry Kissinger retained his dual roles as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser. The nationalists Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both idealists, were introduced into the White House around the same time. As Kissinger attempted to seize all levers of foreign policy from President Ford, Cheney and Rumsfeld acted to ostracise and remove Kissinger from the government.

The Reagan administration turned away from the detente approach of realpolitik that had been a key-part of American foreign policy for many years by that time. This could not have been done had Kissinger won the power struggle in the 70s. The White House was heavily influenced by neoconservatives, self-described "democratic revolutionaries", who felt that America should lead the way for freedom and democracy in the world. Reagan had soon declared the "War on Terrorism" and went on to describe the USSR as the "Evil Empire". All of this provided a justification for increasing military spending, which is not just about pouring money into high-tech industry but also about expanding the influence of the US government and its economic interests around the world. Of course, spreading freedom and democracy around the world to defeat Communism involved propping up extreme right-wing governments.

As part of the new strategy, dubbed without irony as "peace through strength", the Reagan administration quickly acted to support General Zia ul-Haq, in his support of the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan whilst turning a blind-eye to the General's nuclear ambitions and radicalisation of Pakistani society - the consequences of which we are still living with today. This policy succeeded in driving the Russians out of Afghanistan but it left the Mujahideen to tear apart Kabul, carrying out mass-rapes and slaughtering thousands, which in turn led to the rise of the Taliban - one of the most reactionary movements in the history of the Middle East. Incidentally, the US supported the Taliban  with aid from the time it took power in 1996 until 2001 when the US invaded. Though it was not just Pakistan which received such support from the US under Reagan, there is a long list of undesirable regimes supported by the US government.

The justification given for supporting such regimes is that these governments were anti-communist. Apartheid in South Africa was supported because the state was fighting Communism, specifically in the form of the ANC. General Pinochet and Suharto violently suppressed leftist elements in Chile and Indonesia, with total support from the US for the sake of "containment". The same can be said of General Zia ul-Haq, Hosni Mubarak, the House of Saud and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But what about Vietnam? The official justification for the Vietnam war was the "containment" of Maoism. The US used this to justify supporting the autocrat Diem, the nationalist regime was later overthrown and Diem was executed on orders from Washington in 1963. South Vietnam was subjected to a horrendous campaign of bombing from the US, far worse than the campaigns which the Communist North was subjected to. Where's the logic here?

The Perpetual War.

The Cold War was not really a conflict between two superpowers, between capitalism and socialism, a grand narrative which is a part of national myths - e.g. a white man's burden, democracy promotion and internationalism. The Cold War was real in the sense that it was violent and brutal, mostly for the people of places like Vietnam and Nicaragua, but the battle between two superpowers was almost nonexistent. If anything there was a competition between America and Russia over spheres of influence. All currents of independence are a threat, regardless of the political tendency of independence, so a country like Vietnam had to be torn apart not for any political reason. The suppression of independence in South and North Vietnam, to prevent the emergence of a state which might inspire others, was given the narrative of "containment" of Maoist China to provide a justification.

The Reaganites backed the Contras in Nicaragua in an attempt to bring down the Sandinistas and bring back the economic policies that led to impoverished Nicaraguans selling their blood at $1 a litre. The Reagan administration argued that if the left-wing movement triumphed in Nicaragua that could bring Communism to America's back yard and even fed deluded fears that Nicaragua could invade the US. Of course, the Sandinistas had no intention to take on the US as that would mean suicide and was a grass-roots reaction to the murderous regime led by Somoza with the complete support of the US government. The support the Reagan administration gave to the Contras went as far as outright violation of law. As Congress cut off funding to the Contras, the Reaganites permitted the CIA to use unscrupulous means to raise funds which went as far as running drugs and selling arms to Iran in exchange for hostages (all the while pouring arms into Iraq to fight Iran).

The Iran-Contra scandal rocked Washington to an extent not seen since Watergate and its rightful exposure brought into public view the disgraces of the Reagan administration. Though it was only "exposed" in the West after it had been picked up by a Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa after Mehdi Hashemi arranged demonstrations in opposition to the dealings between the US and Iran. The White House would go on to admit only that $30 million was handed over to the Contras, actually the funding was probably far higher if you consider the millions of dollars that could be made from cocaine trafficking. Naturally President Reagan and Vice President Bush (who watched over the operation) were not indicted, the convicted would later be pardoned by Bush and only Oliver North served any prison time for the crimes. On an interesting side-note, today Oliver North often appears on Fox News and still holds that the illegal sales were justified by the cause of fighting Communism.

The idea that the US government backed right-wing extremists to contain and ultimately to defeat Communism is laughable considering, not only the bombing of South Vietnam, that the US government was actively supporting Ceau┼čescu in Romania right up until the end. Though it's certainly true that the Reagan White House acted to crush movements for independence wherever they emerged, but the Soviet Union should not be equated with such grass-roots movements. The ANC in South Africa and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were the kinds of target that the US government acted to suppress because these were grass-roots emancipatory movements. If you want to know how much Washington really "feared" that the Russians were coming, you should consider the implications of the fact that since the fall of the Soviet Union military spending has increased considerably in the US and accounts for 50% of military spending in the world today.

No comments: