The first month of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has elicited chilling testimony from Mayan survivors who – as children – watched their families slaughtered by a right-wing military that was supported and supplied by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
As the New York Times reported on Monday, “In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included. Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached ‘100 percent support.’”
President Ronald Reagan meeting with Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.
So, everyone was targeted in these scorched-earth campaigns that eradicated more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands. But this genocide was not simply the result of a twisted anticommunist ideology that dominated the Guatemalan military and political elites. This genocide also was endorsed by the Reagan administration.
A document that I discovered recently in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.”
This supportive attitude toward the Guatemalan regime’s brutality took shape in spring 1981 as President Reagan sought to ease human-rights restrictions on military aid to Guatemala that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress in the late 1970s.
As part of that relaxation effort, Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” according to a White House “Situation Room Checklist” dated April 8, 1981. The document added:
“State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding support for another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.
“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue [with Guatemala] would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation.”
The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].
“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”
But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.
Sympathy for the Generals
The distinction was spelled out in “Talking Points” for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read: “The President and Secretary Haig have designated me [Walters] as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.
“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.
“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. … We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. … We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army. …
“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.
“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents through error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents. …
“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism … we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”
In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they amounted to an acceptance of scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanisms.” The way that played out in Guatemala – as in nearby El Salvador – was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.
The newly discovered documents – and other records declassified in the late 1990s – make clear that Reagan and his administration were well aware of the butchery underway in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America.
According to one “secret” cable also from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban. On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas.
A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]
In May 1981, despite the ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.
The “Talking Points” also put the Reagan administration in line with the fiercely anticommunist regimes elsewhere in Latin America, where right-wing “death squads” operated with impunity liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes like demanding greater economic equality and social justice.
Despite his aw shucks style, Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was morally troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces.
The death toll was staggering — an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization, emanating in large part from Ronald Reagan’s White House.
Despite their claims to the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming that Reagan and his advisers knew the extraordinary brutality going on in Guatemala and elsewhere, based on their own internal documents.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before — that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”
Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully on board with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”
U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.
“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”
The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …
“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle. … The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”
On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, one of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:
“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, … it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support. …
“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”
The Rise of Rios Montt
However, Reagan remained committed to supplying military hardware to Guatemala’s brutal regime. So, the administration welcomed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s March 1982 overthrow of the thoroughly bloodstained Gen. Lucas.
An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”
By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations in the cities. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.
The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres, but ideologically driven U.S. diplomats fed the Reagan administration the propaganda spin that would be best for their careers. On Oct. 22, 1982, embassy staff dismissed the massacre reports as communist-inspired “disinformation campaign,” concluding that “that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala.”
Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately about massacres that the administration knew, all too well, were true.
On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”
Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.
A different picture — far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government — was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]
Putting on a Happy Face
Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.
Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.
On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]
“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”
However, more political changes were afoot in Guatemala. Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled so out of control, even by Guatemalan standards, that Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup on Aug. 8, 1983.
Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.
In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.
By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who favored increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”
It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the atrocities in Guatemala was publicly revealed by a truth commission that drew heavily on U.S. government documents that President Bill Clinton had ordered declassified.
On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.
The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]
Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]
Impunity for Reagan’s Team
However, back in Washington, there was no interest in holding anyone accountable for aiding and abetting genocide. The story of the Guatemalan butchery and the Reagan administration’s complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.
For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States has demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.
Even Rios Montt, now 86, after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted in Guatemala in 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The first month of his trial has added eyewitness testimony to the atrocities that the Guatemalan military inflicted and that Ronald Reagan assisted and covered up.
On Monday, the New York Times reported on some of this painful testimony, but – as is almost always the case – the Times did not mention the role of Reagan and his administration. However, what the Times did include was chilling, including accounts from witnesses who as children fled to mountain forests to escape the massacres:
“Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire.
“Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. ‘I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,’ Mr. Chávez told the court. ‘After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.’”
Lawyers for Rios Montt and his co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, have maintained that the pair did not order the killings, which they instead blamed on over-zealous field commanders.
However, the Times reported that “prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. ‘The army’s objective with the children was to eliminate the seed for future guerrillas,’ Marco Tulio Alvarez, the former director of Guatemala’s Peace Archives, testified last week. ‘They used them to get information and to draw their parents to military centers where they arrested them.’
“In a study of 420 bodies exhumed from the Ixil region and presumed to date from the Ríos Montt period, experts found that almost 36 percent of those who were killed were under 18 years old, including some newborns.
“Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.”
Though some belated justice may still be possible in Guatemala, there is no talk in the United States about seeking any accountability from the Reagan administration officials who arranged military assistance to this modern genocide or who helped conceal the atrocities while they were underway.
There has been no attention given by the mainstream U.S. news media to the new documents revealing how the Reagan administration gave a green light to the slaughter of Guatemalans who were considered part of the “civilian support mechanisms” for the Mayan guerrillas resisting the right-wing repression.
Ronald Reagan, the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide, remains a hero to much of America with his name attached to Washington’s National Airport and scores of other government facilities. U.S. officials and many Americans apparently don’t want to disrupt their happy memories of the Gipper.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
- Genocide trial of former Guatemala dictator Rios Montt opens (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Guatemala: Ríos Montt Trial Implicates Current President (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- How Reagan Promoted Genocide (consortiumnews.com)
- Guatemala genocide trial continues; watch or listen live (boingboing.net)
Hours after the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the history books are being re-written and the beatification of the Iron Lady is well underway.
Current British premier David Cameron praised Lady Thatcher for having “saved Britain” and for making the has-been colonial power “great again”.
Tributes poured forth from French and German leaders, Francoise Hollande and Angela Merkel, while US President Barack Obama said America had lost a “special friend”.
Former American secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev also lamented the loss of “an historic world figure”. Polish ex-president Lech Walesa hailed Margaret Thatcher for having brought down the Soviet Union and Communism.
Such fulsome praise may be expected coming from so many war criminals. But it is instructive of how history is written by the victors and criminals in high office. Obama, Cameron, Hollande and Merkel should all be arraigned and prosecuted for war crimes in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Mali, among other places. Kissinger has long evaded justice for over four decades for his role in the US genocide in Southeast Asia during the so-called Vietnam War in which over three million people were obliterated in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The British state is to give Thatcher, who died this week aged 87, a full military-honours funeral. The praise, eulogies, wreaths and ceremonies are all self-indictments of association with one of the most ruthless and criminal political figures in modern times.
So, here is a people’s history of Thatcher’s legacy.
She will be remembered for colluding with the most reactionary elements of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid media empire to launch a war over the Malvinas Islands in 1982, a war that caused hundreds of lives and involved the gratuitous sinking of an Argentine warship, the Belgrano, by a British submarine.
By declaring war, rather than conducting political negotiations with Argentina over Britain’s ongoing colonial possession of the Malvinas, Thatcher salvaged her waning public support in Britain, and the bloodletting helped catapult her into a second term of office in Downing Street. Her political “greatness” that so many Western leaders now eulogize was therefore paid in part by the lives of Argentine and British soldiers, and by bequeathing an ongoing source of conflict in the South Atlantic.
It wasn’t just foreigners that Thatcher declared war on. Armed with her snake-oil economic policies of privatisation, deregulation, unleashing finance capitalism, pump-priming the rich with tax awards subsidised by the ordinary working population, Thatcher declared war on the British people themselves. She famously proclaimed that “there was no such thing as society” and went on to oversee an explosion in the gap between rich and poor and the demolition of social conditions in Britain. That legacy has been amplified by both successive Conservative and Labour governments and is central to today’s social meltdown in Britain – more than two decades after Thatcher resigned. Laughably, David Cameron, a protégé of Thatcher, claims that she “saved” Britain. The truth is Thatcher accelerated the sinking of British capitalism and society at large. What she ordered for the Belgrano has in a very real way come to be realised for British society at large.
During her second term of office in the mid-1980s, the Iron Lady declared war on the “enemy within”. She was referring to Britain’s strongly unionised coal-mining industry. Imagine declaring war on your own population. That is a measure of her pathological intolerance towards others who did not happen to share her obnoxious ideological views – ideological views that have since become exposed as intellectually and morally bankrupt.
For over a year around 1984, her Orwellian mindset and policies starved mining communities in the North of England into submission. Her use of paramilitary police violence also broke the resolve and legitimate rights of these communities. Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill would later be vindicated in the eyes of ordinary people, if not in the eyes of the mainstream media. Britain’s coalmines were systematically shut down, thousands of workers would be made unemployed, and entire communities were thrown on the social scrap heap. All this violence and misery was the price for Thatcher’s ideological war against working people and their political rights.
The class war that Thatcher unleashed in Britain is still raging. The rich have become richer, the poor decidedly more numerous and poorer. The decimation of workers’ rights and the unfettered power given to finance capital were hallmarks of Thatcher’s legacy and are to this day hallmarks of Britain’s current social decay. But that destructive legacy goes well beyond Britain. The rightwing nihilistic capitalism that Thatcher gave vent to was and became a zeitgeist for North America, Europe and globally. The economic malaise that is currently plaguing the world can be traced directly to such ideologues as Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagan.
A final word on Thatcher’s real legacy, as opposed to the fakery from fellow war criminals, is her role in Ireland’s conflict. Her epitaph of “Iron Lady” is often said with admiration or even sneaking regard for her supposed virtues of determination and strength. In truth, her “iron” character was simply malevolent, as can be seen from her policies towards the Irish struggle for independence from Britain. In 1981, 10 Irish republican prisoners, led by a young Belfast man by the name of Bobby Sands, died from hunger strikes. The men died after more than 50 days of refusing prison food because they were demanding to be treated as political prisoners, not as criminals. Thatcher refused to yield to their demands, denouncing them as criminals and callously claiming that they “took their own lives”. No matter that Bobby Sands had been elected by tens of thousands of Irish voters to the British House of Parliament during his hunger strike. He was merely a criminal who deserved to die, according to the cold, unfeeling Thatcher.
As a result of Thatcher’s intransigence to negotiate Irish rights, the violence in the North of Ireland would escalate over the next decade, claiming thousands of lives. As with Las Malvinas dispute with Argentina, Thatcher deliberately took the military option and, with that, countless lives, rather than engage in reasoned, mutual dialogue. Her arrogance and obduracy blinded her to any other possibility.
As the violence gyrated in Ireland, Thatcher would also embrace the criminal policy of colluding with pro-British death squads. Armed, funded and directed by British intelligence, these death squads would in subsequent years kill hundreds of innocent people – with the knowledge and tacit approval of Lady Thatcher. It was a policy of British state terrorism in action, sanctioned by Thatcher. One of those victims was Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, who was murdered in February 1989. He was shot 12 times in the head in front of his wife and children by a British death squad, after the killers smashed their way into the Finucane home on a Sunday afternoon.
Thus whether in her dealings with the Las Malvinas row with Argentina, the British working people or Irish republicans, Margaret Thatcher was an intolerant militarist who always resorted to demagoguery, violence and starvation to get her political way. She was a criminal fascist who is now proclaimed to be a national hero.
Reports this week say that Thatcher died with Alzheimer’s, the brain-degenerating disease in which the patient loses their faculty for memory. Western leaders, it seems, would also like to erase public memory of Thatcher’s criminal legacy.
Rebel: The Story of Gerry Adams
Thanks to the efforts of the indefatigable James Morris, a seeming transformation of the view of the illustrious Noam Chomsky was revealed, which, if not equivalent to the change that Saul of Tarsus underwent while on the road to Damascus, was significant nonetheless. Morris seems to have a knack for ferreting out the unknown views of the famous, as was illustrated in his 2010 email exchange with General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, in which he was able to reveal the latter’s close relationship with neocon Max Boot and his ardent desire to propitiate the pro-Zionist Jewish community at a time when it was generally thought that Petraeus was critical of the negative effects of the intimate U.S.-Israeli relationship on America’s position in the Middle East.
The Chomsky revelation took place while the latter was a guest on Phil Tourney’s “Your Voice Counts” program on Republic Broadcasting Network from 2:00 pm to 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, February 24, 2013. While Chomsky is a strong and very knowledgeable critic of Israel, he also has been (at least, was before this program) a stringent critic of the idea that the neocons have any significant impact on American Middle East policy. Rather, he presents a somewhat nebulous, quasi-monolithic, corporate elite, which includes the oil interests, as determining American policy in that region—as it does everywhere else in the globe—for its own economic interests. In what has been Chomsky’s view, Israel only serves as an instrument for American imperialism; that it too might benefit from American policies is, presumably, only an incidental by-product.
Chomsky was quite impressive on the program as he demonstrated extensive knowledge of the USS Liberty issue, which is a major issue of the program, since Tourney was a seaman on that ill-fated ship that was deliberately attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats during the Six Day War in June 1967, causing the deaths of 34 U.S. seamen and wounding 171 others out of a crew of 297.
Chomsky included an injection of his standard theme that Israel became a valuable strategic asset to the United States with the 1967 war when it wrecked Nasser and secular Arab nationalism in general, thus aiding America’s conservative client states, such as Saudi Arabia.
Listener phone calls were restricted to the last 15 minutes. Consequently, James Morris wasn’t able to get on the program until the last five minutes when he tried to get Chomsky to address the issue of the connection between the neocons and Israel. Morris cited then-Secretary of State Powell’s reference to the “JINSA crowd” (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) as the primary force for the war on Iraq within the Bush Administration. Morris went on to say that the neocons were a leading element of the Israel lobby.
After Morris made these statements, Chomsky amazingly blurted out that he “agreed completely” with him regarding the importance of the neocons—describing the neocons as “tremendously important.” Chomsky acknowledged that the neoconservatives had been the “dominant force” in the Bush administration, and that they had “pushed through” the Iraq war over many objections even from within the government. What Chomsky had said about the importance of the neocons was radically different from his usual portrayal of a monolithic corporatist dominance of U.S. Middle East policy. Chomsky even seemed to agree that the neocons held positions that diverged from those of the traditional foreign policy establishment—Morris had earlier mentioned Scowcroft and Brzezinski as opponents of the neocons.
What Chomsky said pertaining to the neocons being the leading force for the Iraq war is essentially identical to my position in “The Transparent Cabal.” And it is not only the opposite of what it appeared that he used to hold but what his protégé Norman Finkelstein continues to expound, as I discuss in my article, “Norman Finkelstein and Neocon Denial.”
Finkelstein denies that the neocons were a factor in causing the U.S. to go to war—and has nothing to do with my book, describing it as conspiracist—but he does not seem to realize that his position contrasts with that of his mentor. Since the two are quite close, it would seem that Chomsky has not even expressed this new view to Finkelstein in private conversation. When Finkelstein finds out that his mentor holds that the neocons were the “dominant force” for war with Iraq, one wonders if he will then charge him with believing in a conspiracy.
Unfortunately, however, Chomsky still stops far short of the full truth. For in his response to Morris, he went on to maintain that the neocons are different from the Israel lobby—definitely implying, though not explicitly stating, that the neocons are not motivated by the interests of Israel. He quickly put forth two arguments for this contention. First, he claimed that the neocons are simply a mainstream force in American conservatism going back to the Reagan administration. Even if true, this would not necessarily preclude their being biased in favor of Israel. However, it is not true—the neocons did not just fit into existing mainstream conservatism, but altered it to fit their own goals.
As I bring out in “The Transparent Cabal” (with numerous citations from secondary sources, this being a rather conventional view), the neocon movement originated among liberal Democrats, mainly Jewish, who gravitated to the right in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In significant part, this reflected a concern that American liberalism was moving leftward in ways detrimental to Jewish interests. In foreign policy, this involved diminished support by American liberals for Israel—in line with the world left’s support for Third World movements that included the Palestinians—and the liberals’ turn against an anti-Communist foreign policy, as a reaction to the Vietnam imbroglio, at a time when the Soviet Union’s policies were exhibiting discrimination against Soviet Jewry and opposition to Israel in support of its Arab enemies. In opposing what they saw as liberalism’s move to the left, these proto-neoconservatives did not see themselves as becoming conservative, but were dubbed with the moniker “neoconservative” by left-wing social critic Michael Harrington, who intended it as a pejorative term, and the name soon stuck.
Neoconservatives basically wanted to return mainstream American liberalism to the anti-Communist Cold War positions exemplified by President Harry Truman (1945–1953), which had held sway through the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969). When this effort failed to achieve success, neocons would turn to Ronald Reagan in the 1980. Despite being newcomers to the conservative camp, neoconservatives were able to find significant places in the Reagan administration, especially in the national security and foreign policy areas, although at less than Cabinet-level status.
Neoconservatives, however, did not become traditional conservatives, but instead altered the content of conservatism to their liking. “The neoconservative impulse,” pro-neocon Murray Friedman maintains in his book “The Neoconservative Revolution,” “was the spontaneous response of a group of liberal intellectuals, mainly Jewish, who sought to shape a perspective of their own while standing apart from more traditional forms of conservatism.”[Quoted in “Transparent Cabal,” pp. 39-40]
In domestic policy, neoconservatives supported the modern welfare state, in contrast to the traditional conservatives, who emphasized small government, states’ rights, and relatively unfettered capitalism. Most importantly, they differed significantly from the conservative position on foreign policy. Although the American conservatives of the Cold War era were anti-Communist and pro-military, they harbored a strain of isolationism. Their interventionism was limited largely to fighting Communism, but not to nation-building and the export of democracy, the expressed goals of the neocons. Nor did traditional conservatives view the United States as the policeman of the world. Most significantly, traditional conservatives had never championed Israel.
While traditional conservatives welcomed neoconservatives as allies in their fight against Soviet Communism and domestic liberalism, the neocons in effect acted as a Trojan Horse within conservatism: they managed to secure dominant positions in the conservative political and intellectual movement, and as soon as they gained power, they purged those traditional conservatives who opposed their agenda, particularly as it involved Israel. Support for Israel and its policies had become, and remains, a veritable litmus test for being a member of the multitudinous political action groups and think tanks that comprise the conservative movement.
In his 1996 book, “The Essential Neoconservative Reader,” editor Mark Gerson, a neocon himself who served on the board of directors of the Project for the New American Century, jubilantly observed: “The neoconservatives have so changed conservatism that what we now identify as conservatism is largely what was once neoconservatism. And in so doing, they have defined the way that vast numbers of Americans view their economy, their polity, and their society.” [Quoted in “Transparent Cabal”, p. 42]
While in domestic policy Gerson’s analysis might not be completely accurate, it would seem to be so in US national security policy, as illustrated by the near unanimous Republican opposition in the US Senate to the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense because of his past statements critical of both US all-out support for Israel and its hardline position toward Iran (currently Israel’s foremost enemy) that might lead to war.
Now the fact that Cheney and Rumsfeld may not be motivated by a desire to aid Israel in their support for neocon Middle East policy, the Middle East policies they have supported have been formulated by those who identify with Israel. Since both of them have been closely associated with the neocons, Cheney more so than Rumsfeld, they were undoubtedly influenced by the pro-Israel neocons. Cheney even went so far as to serve on JINSA’s Advisory Board. And JINSA was set up in 1976 to put “the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship first.”
Moreover, as Vice President, Cheney specifically relied on advice from the eminent historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, a right-wing Zionist and one of the neocons’ foremost gurus, who strongly advocated war against Iraq and other Middle Eastern states. (Barton Gellman, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” p. 231) Chomsky has said that “Bernard Lewis is nothing but a vile propagandist,” and he presumably means a propagandist for Israel.
The influence of ideas per se was not the only factor that likely motivated Cheney. The fact that Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who was with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI—known as “neocon central”), had close personal and professional relations with the neocons also would have predisposed him to give his support to the neoconservatives and their agenda.
The same arguments would apply for Rumsfeld, with one additional one: a war on Iraq would give him the chance to demonstrate the value of his concept of a smaller, mobile, high tech American military. Rumsfeld held that a small, streamlined invasion force would be sufficient to defeat Iraq. As Bob Woodward writes in his book, “State of Denial”: “The Iraq war plan was the chess board on which Rumsfeld would test, develop, expand and modify his ideas about military transformation. And the driving concept was ‘less is more’ – new thinking about a lighter, swifter, smaller force that could do the job better. Rumsfeld’s blitzkrieg would vindicate his leadership of the Pentagon.”[“State of Denial,” p. 82]
For the neocons, Rumsfeld’s approach would not have the drawbacks of the conventional full-scale invasion initially sought by the military brass. The neocons feared that no neighboring country would provide the necessary bases from which to launch such a massive conventional attack, or that during the lengthy time period needed to assemble a large force, diplomacy might avert war or that peace forces in the U.S. might increase their size and political clout and do likewise. In short, it was this convergence on interests between the Rumsfeld and the neocons that made them so supportive of each other in the early years of the George W. Bush administration.
It must be acknowledged that the neocon Middle East war agenda did resonate with both Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s general positions on national security policy, but there is little reason to think that they would have come up with the specifics of the policy, including even the identification of Iraq as the target, if it had not been for their neocon associates, whose policy reflected their close identification with Israel. It should also be pointed out that in Chomsky’s usual presentation of an American foreign policy shaped by the corporate elite, the actual government officials who implemented the policy were not necessarily members of the corporate elite nor motivated by a desire to advance the interests of the corporate elite as opposed to the national interest of the United States. In order for any type of elite to be successful, it is essential that it attract significant numbers of people outside of itself, which Chomsky himself has discussed at length regarding the corporate elite. This is also the very purpose of the neoconservative network and the information that it disseminates.
Acknowledging as much as he did, it is hard to see how Chomsky can fail to discern that the neocons identify with Israel. The evidence is overwhelming. The following are a few examples of this connection.
The effort to prevent Chuck Hagel from becoming the Secretary of Defense has been spearheaded by the Emergency Committee for Israel, the creation of which in 2010 was in large part the work of leading neocon, Bill Kristol, and which claims “to provide citizens with the facts they need to be sure that their public officials are supporting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.” As Bill Kristol states: “We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community.” Kristol had co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which promoted the war on Iraq. Kristol’s father, the late Irving Kristol, a godfather of neoconservatism, is noted for his identification with Israel. In 1973, he said: “Jews don’t like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States . . . American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel.” [Congress Bi-Weekly (1973), published by the American Jewish Congress]
Noah Pollak, a contributor to “Commentary” magazine, is the Emergency Committee’s executive director and, while living in Israel for two years, was an assistant editor at the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center.
Eliot Cohen, a veteran neocon, was a founding signatory of the Project for the New American Century and advised the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He coined the term “World War IV” for the war on terror. During the George Bush administration, he served on the Defense Policy Board in Bush’s first term and was closely affiliated with those neocons around Vice President Cheney. He is on the International Academic Advisory Board of the Began Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel, which is affiliated with Bar Ilan University, and is involved in contract work for the Israeli government.
Douglas Feith, who as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in George W. Bush’s first term set up and controlled the Office of Special Plans, which spread the most specious war propaganda, was closely associated with the right-wing Zionist group, the Zionist Organization of America. In 1997, he co-founded One Jerusalem, a group whose objective was “saving a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.” Before entering the Bush administration, Feith ran a small Washington-based law firm, which had one international office – in Israel. And the majority of the firm’s work consisted of representing Israeli interests.
Richard Perle has had very close personal connections with Israeli government officials, and has been accused of providing classified information to that country on a number of occasions. Perle not only expounded pro-Zionist views, but was a board member of the pro-Likud “Jerusalem Post” and had worked as a lobbyist for the Israeli weapons manufacturer Soltam.
Norman Podhoretz is considered a godfather, along with Irving Kristol, of the neoconservative movement. When editor of “Commentary” magazine, he wrote that “the formative question for his politics would heretofore be, ‘Is it good for the Jews?’” (“Commentary,” February 1972) In 2007, Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award, which is given to individuals for their support for Israel, from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Neocon Charles Krauthammer was the 2002 winner of the Guardian of Zion Award.
Max Singer, co-founder of the neocon Hudson Institute and its former president, who pushed for the war on Iraq, has moved to Israel, where he is a citizen and has been involved with the Institute for Zionist Strategies, which advocates the need to better infuse Zionist ideology in the Jewish people of Israel.
The neocons’ support for Israel does not necessarily mean that they were deliberately promoting the interest of Israel at the expense of the United States. Instead, as I point out in “The Transparent Cabal,” they maintained that an identity of interests existed between the two countries – Israel’s enemies being ipso facto America’s enemies. However, it is apparent from their backgrounds that the neoconservatives viewed American foreign policy in the Middle East through the lens of Israeli interest, as Israeli interest was perceived by the Likudniks.
Despite this professed view of the identity of American and Israel interests, sometimes the neocons’ actions verged on putting Israel interests above those of the United States government. For example, some leading neocons—David Wurmser, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith—developed the “Clean Break” proposal outlining an aggressive policy for Israel intended to enhance its geostrategic position, which they presented in 1996 to then-incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One part of the plan was to get the United States to disassociate itself from peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and simply let Israel treat the Palestinians as it saw fit. “Israel,” stated the report, “can manage it’s own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of [US] pressure used against it in the past.” It was highly noteworthy that the neocons would devise a strategy to enable Israel to become free from adhering to the goals of their own country. [“Transparent Cabal,” p. 93]
In conclusion, while Chomsky’s change was far from being complete, his acknowledgement that the neoconservatives were the “dominant force” in driving the U.S. to the war on Iraq in 2003 is, nonetheless, very significant. Chomsky, who was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll, certainly influences many people, most particularly on the anti-war left, and his new view should make them rethink their belief that the war was all about oil. It is to be hoped that Chomsky’s words were not a one-time aberration and that he will not revert to his previous publicly-espoused position. Rather, it is to be hoped that he will now look more deeply into the neocons’ activities and thus discern their close connection to Israel.
Stephen J. Sniegoski is the author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel.
- Shameful Symbolism: Commemorating the Ten Year Anniversary of the Beginning of the Disastrous Iraq War (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On December 4, 1982, former President Ronald Reagan spoke in Honduras after meeting with Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Guatemalan General who seized power in a military coup a little over 8 months earlier.
“I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said Reagan. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”
Two days later the regime that Reagan said was getting a “bum rap” sent a contingent of Kabiles, Guatemala’s notorious special forces unit, to the department of Peten. There they entered the village of Dos Erres, where they tortured the men, raped the women, took hammers to the children, and in the end murdered as many as 250 people. Afterwards they burnt the village to the ground as part of Rios Montt’s “scorched earth” campaign against the country’s Mayan population.
Thirty years later Ríos Montt may finally face justice. On January 28, 2013 a Guatemalan judge ruled that the former head of state accused of responsibility for “1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans” would be tried for genocide in a domestic court. This precedent-setting decision was lauded internationally by human rights activists and NGOs.
“Until recently, the idea of a Guatemalan general being tried for these heinous crimes seemed utterly impossible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”
The Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action issued a joint statement on the day of the decision, also emphasizing the significance of the trial.
“This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows for the path of memory, truth and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country,” the statement noted. “We are hopeful that this case will continue on its course according to law and that soon there will be a final judgment against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.”
However, in order for justice to overcome impunity in Guatemala there needs to be an international component.
The cozy relationship between Ríos Montt and the Reagan administration needs to be dug up from the graveyards of history, much like the bodies that are still being dug up from mass graves in Guatemala.
The US media should use this case as an opportunity to act like the forensic anthropologists in Guatemala to sort through Washington’s skeletons when it comes to the history of foreign policy in Guatemala. This could be done very simply by sifting through declassified documents, old press articles, and other past reports to accurately retell the story of modern US-Guatemalan relations and Washington’s role in aiding and abetting what the United Nations declared a genocide, a genocide in which over 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans were killed and tens of thousands tortured, disappeared, raped and displaced.
While the recovery and discussion of national historical memory is central to creating lasting peace and justice in war-ravaged countries like Guatemala, US citizens must consider their own country’s history of promoting systemic violence in Guatemala if there is to be an improvement in US foreign policy toward the country.
Meanwhile, former US officials like Elliott Abrams, Reagan’s State Department point man for Latin American policy, should be called to testify as a witness at Ríos Montt’s trial, much like he did for a case in Argentina in January 2012.
Abrams testified via video conference that the Reagan administration knew that Argentina’s military regime were stealing babies from political prisoners and giving them to right-wing and military families. After finding out about such crimes, the Reagan administration then provided the military junta political cover by certifying its “improving” human rights record.
In the case of Guatemala, complicity in war crimes is not limited to the United States; there are other international actors with blood on their hands.
In December 2012 the Jubilee Debt Campaign released a report, Generating Terror, which made the case that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) helped legitimize and subsidize Guatemala’s genocidal regimes of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The report uses the Chixoy Dam project as a case study. The World Bank and IDB funded this dam project, the construction of which resulted in a series of massacres that resulted in over 400 deaths. Even after the documented massacres, these same international financial institutions provided additional funding to the same project seven years later.
Guatemala also turned to countries like Israel, Switzerland, France and Belgium during the civil war for aid, equipment and training.
There can be no peace in Guatemala without justice. In order for justice to prevail, the war crimes and impunity in the country need to be dealt with as an international issue, not just a local problem. While the Guatemalan government, again with the assistance of Washington, is re-militarizing the country, and corpses once more pile up, the need for accountability becomes more urgent—people’s lives depend on it.
- Does Guatemala Include “Extrajudicial Executions” in its Calculation of National Murder Rates? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results.
– Ed Husein, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
It has been said that America’s last liberal President was Richard Nixon. Nixon set up the EPA, OSHA, and created the Clean Water Act. Additionally, he had a better health plan than Obamacare, and proposed a guaranteed minimum income. Nixon also implemented price controls, which notably — in recent history — Hugo Chavez, has been attacked in Western media, for introducing on basic foodstuffs and household goods.
1981 is said to be the breaking point of when the modern Republican Party began its failure in accepting that government has a role to play in propping up — and, moreover, aiding and abetting — Americans’ livelihood and well-being: the much ballyhooed advent of the so-called Reagan Revolution. This began the coalescing of a system of essentially two neoliberal, militarist, Wall Street political parties largely indifferent to the needs of significant sections of the American population.
We should keep this in mind considering that we have just been enduring the revolting, gross, and gratuitously self-congratulatory (taxpayer funded) spectacles of the — decrepit, moribund and abounding with cretinism — duopoly conventions. So, what are we to make of things after envisaging these überlurid, radically self-aggrandizing, and entirely putrefactive celebrations? For one it’s clear to me that a battle royale between Jill Stein and Gary Johnson would be a marked improvement over the bromides, platitudes, and, undoubtedly, soon-to-be-broken promises of the plutocracy’s kept candidates of their choosing.
Clearing brush, pork rinds, arithmetic, surreptitious tax returns, “presidential” beer recipes and gaffing vice presidential candidates, are about the utmost the level of “cerebreality” that these folks, unequivocally, want to “ascend” toward. Celebreality is much more important anyhow! That is to say, what kerfluffle has a prominent Scientologist befallen him or herself into at the present moment! This stock in trade is all the more important than wars and peace, progressive taxation (or a Tobin tax), guaranteeing health care, poverty, the Great Recession, unemployment, and the greatest disparity of wealth in all of the Western world!
On the foreign affairs front, the French have lurched forward into the preeminent imperialist role in the decapitation, sacking and dismemberment of the Arab Republic of Syria. The “socialist” Hollande is now planning to arm Islamist guerrillas who include voluminous battle-hardened Salafis, and even — the sometime NATO/Western mortal enemy/adversary — Al Qaeda. The neocon enemy image, in fact, which has eroded so many civil liberties in America; cast aside the Constitution and metamorphosized the country into a police/surveillance society and/or (take your pick!) ultra-security state.
Now, of course, Al Qaeda has been reborn as an ally planting “American” values against a regime that is unequivocally authoritarian, but not without its positive attributes. Which includes tolerance of a mosaic of religious and faith traditions, exceedingly low cost university-level education, and government subsidy of many basic provisions, foodstuffs, household items, and everyday wares. In fact, in 2005 the Christian Science Monitor ran an article about what an agreeable experience — that so many Americans were having — studying Arabic in the capital city of Damascus. The Arab Republic of Syria, even with all of its drawbacks, is certainly preferable to the theocratic, anachronistic, strict sharia caliphate “alternative” proffered by precisely the wild-eyed militants that the NATO/Western countries are currently so myopically and narrow-mindedly backing, and so vehemently in support of. (Many of them are not from Syria by the way. They are being brought in from Libya, Chechnya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere — about 60% according to a Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor, who was only recently in the country.)
The French are no doubt stepping up the brazen adventure/interventionism, whilst the American political silly season places handcuffs on some of America’s hegemony; that might spell trouble for Beltway spin doctors to massage, repackage, gussy up, and/or twist or otherwise festoon for the voting “riffraff”, “the great unwashed”, and “the rabble”. Better off not to patently and intentionally seriously over-complicate, a (previously) unsophisticated and garden variety flimflam/deception.
In Libya some Muslim radicals, that are now readily operating in that country — and exceedingly armed-to-the-gills — recently destroyed some sacred Sufi sites, to no doubt christen the US/NATO-brought “freedom” to that country. This, undoubtedly, reminds one of the benighted mentality that led the Taliban to bringing about the batty-headed, incoherent, and lunatic bombing of the Afghan Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Of course, the ignominious Ronald Reagan christened the inordinately fanatical mujaheddin, as much like America’s own Founding Fathers. And perhaps, ironically, today our “democrats” in Libya would seem to be of rather similar rearing, upbringing, tack, style, attitude, worldview and overall demeanor. No doubt, anyone of any other faith would have a difficult run-in with these folks — should they encounter them in a dark alleyway — or, for that matter, any place at all! And moreover, anyone who has been persistently following the events in Libya since the “mainstream” media lost all interest in them, was not, of course, surprised at all to the see the Benghazi consulate attack — and the needless deaths that occurred there (sadly), as a result.
The Christians in Syria, who predominantly support Dr. Bashar al-Assad, know precisely what kind of “freedom fighters” that the West has taken great relish in seemingly infallibly, consistently and unflinchingly backing. In fact, Patriarch Gregorios III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, has cautioned against foreign interventionism in his country, and furthermore accused the Western media of negligently misreporting on the conflict. A Syrian nun, Sister Agnes Mariam, has recently recounted that she personally witnessed the beheading of nine Alawite Syrians. According to the Sister, they were murdered simply for being Alawite, by, of course, the Western-backed “democratic”, and indeed, raucous proxy forces.
Clearly, an agenda of stopping development on a multitude of levels is an aspect of the pernicious strategy that appears to be at work here. Freedom, human rights, women’s rights, and rights of speech and expression are thinly veiled patinas for domination and “creative destruction” of a ravenous, retrograde, ignoble, antediluvian, and in-illustrious breed. Of course, America has never acted truly consistently toward Wilsonianism, but this is, certainly, a far cry from it, indeed!
Seemingly, that once great beacon on a hilltop has become a beacon of benightedness, for sure. Allied with some of the most backward absolutist monarchies, and the most obtuse of “pious” militants, death squads, and “Godly” roving “religious” warriors, miscreants, and thugs. Unfortunately, for Americans and non-Americans alike, Americans have virtually no choice in this matter at their polling places in the ongoing presidential election/food fight/sham. Either of the two candidates that are capable of winning will continue on with this sordid trash.
Fortunately, we seem to see other nations (and blocs) rising, unalike that of which we have envisioned in some time. Some examples, of course, include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the BRICS. This sort of thing, I think, is most probably the beacon lying abreast of today’s enlightened hilltop for all to look upon with great positive portent, and the highest and the utmost of regard.
The wanting of a world with the ending of these vicious cycles of domination, with “great powers” dictating schemes to “lesser”, and “inferior” subsidiary client nations. Of course, the new power configurations aren’t going to be any guarantee of rule by the diminutive, the genteel, the dignified, the noble — and the altruistically and the courageously strong. But at least there is new hope within these nascent rising power configurations. There is hope for elements to originate and to fully consummate that will far outweigh, if it even had any, the positive elements of the previous (ancien) global de facto administration/regime.
Sean Fenley is an independent progressive who would like to see the end of the dictatorial duopoly of the so-called two party adversarial system. He would also like to see some sanity brought to the creation and implementation of current and future U.S. military, economic, foreign and domestic policies.
- The Terrorist War Against Syria (intifada-palestine.com)
One of the most striking socio-economic features of the past two decades is the reversal of the previous half-century of welfare legislation in Europe and North America. Unprecedented cuts in social services, severance pay, public employment, pensions, health programs, educational stipends, vacation time, and job security are matched by increases in tuition, regressive taxation, and the age of retirement as well as increased inequalities, job insecurity and workplace speed-up.
The demise of the ‘welfare state’ demolishes the idea put forth by orthodox economists, who argued that the ‘maturation’ of capitalism, its ‘advanced state’, high technology and sophisticated services, would be accompanied by greater welfare and higher income/standard of living. While it is true that ‘services and technology’ have multiplied, the economic sector has become even more polarized, between low paid retail clerks and super rich stock brokers and financiers. The computerization of the economy has led to electronic bookkeeping, cost controls and the rapid movements of speculative funds in search of maximum profit while at the same time ushering in brutal budgetary reductions for social programs.
The ‘Great Reversal’ appears to be a long-term, large-scale process centered in the dominant capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America and in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe. It behooves us to examine the systemic causes that transcend the particular idiosyncrasies of each nation.
The Origins of the Great Reversal
There are two lines of inquiry which need to be elucidated in order to come to terms with the demise of the welfare state and the massive decline of living standards. One line of analysis examines the profound change in the international environment: We have moved from a competitive bi-polar system, based on a rivalry between the collectivist – welfare states of the Eastern bloc and the capitalist states of Europe and North America to an international system monopolized by competing capitalist states.
A second line of inquiry directs us to examine the changes in the internal social relations of the capitalist states: namely the shift from intense class struggles to long-term class collaboration, as the organizing principle in the relation between labor and capital.
The main proposition informing this essay is that the emergence of the welfare state was a historical outcome of a period when there were high levels of competition between collectivist welfarism and capitalism and when class-struggle oriented trade unions and social movements had ascendancy over class-collaborationist organizations.
Clearly the two processes are inter-related: As the collectivist states implemented greater welfare provisions for their citizens, trade unions and social movements in the West had social incentives and positive examples to motivate their members and challenge capitalists to match the welfare legislation in the collectivist bloc.
The Origins and Development of the Western Welfare State
Immediately following the defeat of fascist-capitalist regimes with the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and its political allies in Eastern Europe embarked on a massive program of reconstruction, recovery, economic growth and the consolidation of power, based on far-reaching socio-economic welfare reforms. The great fear among Western capitalist regimes was that the working class in the West would “follow” the Soviet example or, at a minimum, support parties and actions which would undermine capitalist recovery. Given the political discredit of many Western capitalists because of their collaboration with the Nazis or their belated, weak opposition to the fascist version of capitalism, they could not resort to the highly repressive methods of the past. Instead, the Western capitalist classes applied a two-fold strategy to counter the Soviet collectivist-welfare reforms: Selective repression of the domestic Communist and radical Left and welfare concessions to secure the loyalty of the Social and Christian Democratic trade unions and parties.
With economic recovery and post-war growth, the political, ideological and economic competition intensified: The Soviet bloc introduced wide-ranging reforms, including full employment, guaranteed job security, universal health care, free higher education, one month paid vacation leave, full pay pensions, free summer camps and vacation resorts for worker families and prolonged paid maternity leave. They emphasized the importance of social welfare over individual consumption. The capitalist West was under pressure to approximate the welfare offerings from the East, while expanding individual consumption based on cheap credit and installment payments made possible by their more advanced economies. From the mid 1940’s to the mid 1970’s the West competed with the Soviet bloc with two goals in mind: To retain workers loyalties in the West while isolating the militant sectors of the trade unions and to entice the workers of the East with promises of comparable welfare programs and greater individual consumption.
Despite the advances in social welfare programs, East and West, there were major worker protests in East Europe: These focused on national independence, authoritarian paternalistic tutelage of trade unions and insufficient access to private consumer goods. In the West, there were major worker-student upheavals in France and Italy demanding an end of capitalist dominance in the workplace and social life. Popular opposition to imperialist wars (Indo-China, Algeria, etc.), the authoritarian features of the capitalist state (racism) and the concentration of wealth was widespread.
In other words, the new struggles in the East and West were premised on the consolidation of the welfare state and the expansion of popular political and social power over the state and productive process.
The continuing competition between collectivist and capitalist welfare systems ensured that there would be no roll-back of the reforms thus far achieved. However, the defeats of the popular rebellions of the sixties and seventies ensured that no further advances in social welfare would take place. More importantly a social ‘deadlock’ developed between the ruling classes and the workers in both blocs leading to stagnation of the economies, bureaucratization of the trade unions and demands by the capitalist classes for a dynamic, new leadership, capable of challenging the collectivist bloc and systematically dismantling the welfare state.
The Process of Reversal: From Reagan-Thatcher to Gorbachev
The great illusion, which gripped the masses of the collectivist-welfare bloc, was the notion that the Western promise of mass consumerism could be combined with the advanced welfare programs that they had long taken for granted. The political signals from the West however were moving in the opposite direction. With the ascendancy of President Ronald Reagan in the US and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, the capitalists regained full control over the social agenda, dealing mortal blows to what remained of trade union militancy and launching a full scale arms race with the Soviet Union in order to bankrupt its economy. In addition, ‘welfarism’ in the East was thoroughly undermined by an emerging class of upwardly mobile, educated elites who teamed up with kleptocrats, neo-liberals, budding gangsters and anyone else who professed ‘Western values’. They received political and material support from Western foundations, Western intelligence agencies, the Vatican (especially in Poland), European Social Democratic parties and the US AFL-CIO while, on the fringes, an ideological veneer was provided by the self-described ‘anti-Stalinist’ leftists in the West.
The entire Soviet bloc welfare program had been built from the top-down and, as a result, did not have a class-conscious, politicized, independent and militant class organization to defend it from the full-scale assault launched by the gangster-kleptocratic-clerical-neo-liberal-‘anti-Stalinist’ bloc. Likewise in the West, the entire social welfare program was tied to European Social Democratic parties, the US Democratic Party and a trade union hierarchy lacking both class consciousness and any interest in class struggle. Their main concern, as union bureaucrats was reduced to collecting members’ dues, maintaining internal organizational power over their fiefdoms and their own personal enrichment.
The collapse of the Soviet bloc was precipitated by the Gorbachev regime’s unprecedented handover of the allied states of the Warsaw Pact to the NATO powers. The local communist officials were quickly recycled as neo-liberal proxies and pro-western surrogates. They quickly proceeded to launch a full-scale assault on public ownership of property and dismantling the basic protective labor legislation and job security, which had been an inherent part of collectivist management-labor relations.
With a few noteworthy exceptions, the entire formal framework of collectivist-welfarism was crushed. Soon after came mass disillusion among the Eastern bloc workers as their ‘anti-Stalinist’ western-oriented trade unions presented them with massive lay-offs. The vast majority of the militant Gdansk shipyard workers, affiliated to Poland’s ‘Solidarity’ Movement were fired and reduced to chasing odd jobs, while their wildly feted ‘leaders’, long-time recipients of material support from Western intelligence agencies and trade unions, moved on to become prosperous politicians, editors and businesspeople.
The Western trade unions and the ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left (Social Democrats, Trotskyists and every sect and intellectual current in between), did yeoman service in not only ending the collectivist system (under the slogan: ‘Anything is better than Stalinism’) but of ending the welfare state for scores of millions of workers, pensioners and their families.
Once the collectivist-welfare state was destroyed, the Western capitalist class no longer needed to compete in matching social welfare concessions. The Great Rollback moved into full gear.
For the next two decades, Western regimes, Liberal, Conservative and Social Democratic, each in their turn, sliced off welfare legislation: Pensions were cut and retirement age was extended as they instituted the doctrine of ‘work ‘til you drop’. Job security disappeared, work place protections were eliminated, severance pay was cut and the firing of workers was simplified, while capital mobility flourished.
Neo-liberal globalization exploited the vast reservoirs of qualified low-paid labor from the former collectivist countries. The ‘anti-Stalinist’ workers inherited the worst of all worlds: They lost the social welfare net of the East and failed to secure the individual consumption levels and prosperity of the West. German capital exploited cheaper Polish and Czech labor, while Czech politicos privatized highly sophisticated state industries and social services, increasing the costs and restricting access to what services remained.
In the name of ‘competitiveness’ Western capital de-industrialized and relocated vast industries successfully with virtual no resistance from the bureaucratized ‘anti-Stalinist’ trade unions. No longer competing with the collectivists over who has the better welfare system, Western capitalists now competed among themselves over who had the lowest labor costs and social expenditures, the most lax environmental and workplace protection and the easiest and cheapest laws for firing employees and hiring contingent workers.
The entire army of impotent ‘anti-Stalinist’ leftists, comfortably established in the universities, brayed till they were hoarse against the ‘neo-liberal offensive’ and the ‘need for an anti-capitalist strategy’, without the tiniest reflection over how they had contributed to undermining the very welfare state that had educated, fed and employed the workers.
Labor Militancy: North and South
Welfare programs in Western Europe and North America were especially hit by the loss of a competing social system in the East, by the influx and impact of cheap labor from the East and because their own trade unions had become adjuncts of the neo-liberal Socialist, Labor and Democratic Parties.
In contrast, in the South, in particular in Latin America and, to a lesser degree, in Asia, anti-welfare neo-liberalism lasted only for a decade. In Latin America neo-liberalism soon came under intensive pressure, as a new wave of class militancy erupted and regained some of the lost ground. By the end of the first decade of the new century – labor in Latin America was increasing its share of national income, social expenditures were increasing and the welfare state was in the process of re-gaining momentum in direct contrast to what was occurring in Western Europe and North America.
Social revolts and powerful popular movements led to left and center-left regimes and policies in Latin America. A powerful series of national struggles overthrew neo-liberal regimes. A growing wave of worker and peasant protests in China led to 10% to 30% wage increases in the industrial belts and moves to restore the health and public education systems. Facing a new grassroots, worker-based socio-cultural revolt, the Chinese state and business elite hastily promoted social welfare legislation at a time when Southern European nations like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy were in the process of firing workers and slashing salaries, reducing minimum wages, increasing retirement age and cutting social expenditures.
The capitalist regimes of the West no longer faced competition from the rival welfare systems of the Eastern bloc since all have embraced the ethos of ‘the less the better’: Lower social expenditures meant bigger subsidies for business, greater budgets to launch imperial wars and to establish the massive ‘homeland security’ police state apparatus. Lower taxes on capital led to greater profits.
Western Left and Liberal intellectuals played a vital role in obfuscating the important positive role which Soviet welfarism had in pressuring the capitalist regimes of the West to follow their lead. Instead, during the decades following the death of Stalin and as Soviet society evolved toward a hybrid system of authoritarian welfarism, these intellectuals continued to refer to these regimes as ‘Stalinist’, obscuring the principle source of legitimacy among their citizens – their advanced welfare system. The same intellectuals would claim that the ‘Stalinist system’ was an obstacle to socialism and turned the workers against its positive aspects as a welfare state, by their exclusive focus on the past ‘Gulag’. They argued that the ‘demise of Stalinism’ would provide a great opening for ‘democratic revolutionary socialism’. In reality, the fall of collectivist-welfarism led to the catastrophic destruction of the welfare state in both the East and West and the ascendancy of the most virulent forms of primitive neo-liberal capitalism. This, in turn, led to the further shrinking of the trade union movement and spurred the ‘right-turn’ of the Social-Democratic and Labor Parties via the ‘New Labor’ and ‘Third Way” ideologies.
The ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left intellectuals have never engaged in any serious reflection regarding their own role in bringing down the collective welfare state nor have they assumed any responsibility for the devastating socio-economic consequences in both the East and West. Furthermore the same intellectuals have had no reservations in this ‘post-Soviet era’ in supporting (‘critically’ of course) the British Labor Party, the French Socialist Party, the Clinton-Obama Democratic Party and other ‘lesser evils’ which practice neo-liberalism. They supported the utter destruction of Yugoslavia and US-led colonial wars in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Not a few ‘anti-Stalinist’ intellectuals in England and France will have clinked champagne glasses with the generals, bankers and oil elites over NATO’s bloody invasion and devastation of Libya – Africa’s only welfare state.
The ‘anti-Stalinist’ left intellectuals, now well-ensconced in privileged university positions in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles have not been personally affected by the roll-back of the Western welfare programs. They adamantly refuse to recognize the constructive role that the competing Soviet welfare programs played in forcing the West to ‘keep up’ in a kind of ‘social welfare race’ by providing benefits for its working class. Instead, they argue (in their academic forums) that greater ‘workers militancy’ (hardly possible with a bureaucratized and shrinking trade union membership) and bigger and more frequent ‘socialist scholars’ forums’ (where they can present their own radical analyses … to each other) will eventually restore the welfare system. In fact, historic levels of regression, insofar as welfare legislation is concerned, continue unabated. There is an inverse (and perverse) relation between the academic prominence of the ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left and the demise of welfare state policies. And still the ‘anti-Stalinist’ intellectuals wonder about the shift to far-right demagogic populism among the hard-pressed working class!
If we examine and compare the relative influence of the ‘anti-Stalinist’ intellectuals in the making of the welfare state to the impact of the competing collectivist welfare system of the Eastern bloc, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: Western welfare systems were far more influenced by their systemic competitors than by the pious critiques of the marginal ‘anti-Stalinist’ academics. ‘Anti-Stalinist’ metaphysics have blinded a whole generation of intellectuals to the complex interplay and advantages of a competitive international system where rivals bid up welfare measures to legitimate their own rule and undermine their adversaries. The reality of world power politics led the ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left to become a pawn in the struggle of Western capitalists to contain welfare costs and establish the launch pad for a neo-liberal counter-revolution. The deep structures of capitalism were the primary beneficiaries of anti-Stalinism.
The demise of the legal order of the collectivist states has led to the most egregious forms of predator-gangster capitalism in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact nations. Contrary to the delusions of the ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left, no ‘post-Stalinist’ socialist democracy has emerged anywhere. The key operatives in overthrowing the collectivist-welfare state and benefiting from the power vacuum have been the billionaire oligarchs, who pillaged Russia and the East, the multi-billion dollar drug and white slave cartel kingpins, who turned hundreds of thousands of jobless factory workers and their children in the Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania and elsewhere into alcoholics, prostitutes and drug addicts.
Demographically, the biggest losers from the overthrow of the collectivist-welfare system have been woman workers: They lost their jobs, their maternity leave, child care and legal protections. They suffered from an epidemic of domestic violence under the fists of their unemployed and drunken spouses. The rates of maternal and infant deaths soared from a faltering public health system. The working class women of the East suffered an unprecedented loss of material status and legal rights. This has led to the greatest demographic decline in post-war history – plummeting birth rates, soaring death rates and generalized hopelessness. In the West, the feminist ‘anti-Stalinists’ have ignored their own complicity in the enslavement and degradation of their ‘sisters’ in the East. (They were too busy feting the likes of Vaclav Havel).
Of course, the ‘anti-Stalinist’ intellectuals will claim that the outcomes that they had envisioned are a far cry from what evolved and they will refuse to assume any responsibility for the real consequences of their actions, complicity and the illusions they created. Their outrageous claim ‘that anything is better than Stalinism’ rings hollow in the great chasm containing a lost generation of Eastern bloc workers and families. They need to start counting up the multi-million strong army of unemployed throughout the East, the millions of TB and HIV-ravaged victims in Russia and Eastern Europe (where neither TB nor HIV posed a threat before the ‘break-up’), the mangled lives of millions of young women trapped in the brothels of Tel Aviv, Pristina, Bucharest, Hamburg, Barcelona, Amman, Tangiers, and Brooklyn …..
The single biggest blow to the welfare programs as we knew them, which were developed during the four decades from 1940’s to the 1980’s, was the end of the rivalry between the Soviet bloc and Western Europe and North America. Despite the authoritarian nature of the Eastern bloc and the imperial character of the West, both sought legitimacy and political advantage by securing the loyalty of the mass of workers via tangible social-economic concessions.
Today, in the face of the neo-liberal ‘roll back’, the major labor struggles revolve around defending the remnants of the welfare state, the skeletal remains of an earlier period. At present there are very few prospects of any return to competing international welfare systems, unless one were to look at a few progressive countries, like Venezuela, which have instituted a series of health, educational and labor reforms financed by their nationalized petroleum sector.
One of the paradoxes of the history of welfarism in Eastern Europe can be found in the fact that the major ongoing labor struggles (in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and other countries, which had overthrown their collectivist regimes, involve a defense of the pension, retirement, public health, employment, educational and other welfare policies – the ‘Stalinist’ leftovers. In other words, while Western intellectuals still boast of their triumphs over Stalinism, the real existing workers in the East are engaged in day-to-day militant struggles to retain and regain the positive welfare features of those maligned states. Nowhere is this more evident than in China and Russia, where privatizations have meant a loss of employment and, in the case of China, the brutal loss of public health benefits. Today workers’ families with serious illnesses are ruined by the costs of privatized medical care.
In the current world ‘anti-Stalinism’ is a metaphor for a failed generation on the margins of mass politics. They have been overtaken by a virulent neo-liberalism, which borrowed their pejorative language (Blair and Bush also were ‘anti-Stalinists’) in the course of demolishing the welfare state. Today the mass impetus for the reconstruction of a welfare state is found in those countries, which have lost or are in the process of losing their entire social safety net – like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy – and in those Latin American countries, where popular upheavals, based on class struggles linked to national liberation movements, are on the rise.
The new mass struggles for welfarism make few direct references to the earlier collectivist experiences and even less to the empty discourse of the ‘anti-Stalinist’ Left. The latter are stuck in a stale and irrelevant time warp. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the welfare, labor and social programs, which were gained and then lost in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet bloc, have returned as strategic objectives motivating present and future workers struggles.
What needs to be further explored is the relation between the rise of the vast police state apparatuses in the West and the decline and dismantling of their respective welfare states: The growth of ‘Homeland Security’ and the ‘War on Terror’ parallels the decline of Social Security, public health programs and the great drop in living standards for hundreds of millions.
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has taken a page from right-wing mythology as the foundation for his tough-guy policy toward Iran, citing the supposed “history” of Ronald Reagan scaring the Iranians into releasing 52 American hostages on Jan. 20, 1981.
This account of a macho Reagan staring down the Iranians after they had mocked Jimmy Carter for 444 days is a cherished canard of the American Right, reprised again Tuesday in Romney’s Washington Post op-ed, which states:. “Running for the presidency against Carter [in 1980], Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior.”
But that swaggering tale of Reagan’s toughness is not supported by the historical record. Not only does the overwhelming evidence now show that Reagan’s campaign team negotiated secretly behind President Carter’s back to undercut his efforts to free the hostages, but Reagan then followed up their release by authorizing secret shipments of weapons to Iran via Israel.
In other words, instead of bullying the Iranians over their hostage-taking, Reagan rewarded them. And those shipments did not begin in 1985, with the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage deals, but rather almost immediately after Reagan took office in 1981, according to a number of Israeli and U.S. government officials.
For instance, Israeli arms dealer William Northrop claimed in an affidavit that even before Reagan’s inauguration, Israel had sounded out the incoming administration regarding its attitudes toward more weapons shipments to Iran and got “the new administration’s approval.”
By March 1981, millions of dollars in weapons were moving through the Israeli arms pipeline, Norththrop said, including spare parts for U.S.-made aircraft and tons of other hardware. Northrop added that Israel routinely informed the new Reagan administration of its shipments.
(Northrop was indicted by the U.S. government in spring 1986 for his role in allegedly unauthorized shipments of U.S. weapons to Iran, but the case was thrown out after Reagan’s Iran-Contra arms deal with Iran was exposed in fall 1986).
On July 18, 1981, one of Israel’s secret weapons deliveries to Iran went awry. A chartered Argentine plane strayed off course and crashed (or was shot down) in Soviet territory, threatening to reveal the clandestine deliveries, which surely would have outraged the U.S. people if they had learned that Israel was supplying weapons to Iran with Reagan’s secret blessing – just months after the hostage crisis had ended.
After the plane went down, Nicholas Veliotes, a career diplomat serving as Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, tried to get to the bottom of the mysterious weapons flight.
“We received a press report from Tass [the official Soviet news agency] that an Argentinian plane had crashed,” Veliotes said in a later interview with PBS “Frontline” producers. “According to the documents … this was chartered by Israel and it was carrying American military equipment to Iran. …
“And it was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment. Now this was not a covert operation in the classic sense, for which probably you could get a legal justification for it. As it stood, I believe it was the initiative of a few people [who] gave the Israelis the go-ahead. The net result was a violation of American law.”
The reason that the Israeli flights violated U.S. law was that Reagan had not given formal notification to Congress about the transshipment of U.S. military equipment as required by the Arms Export Control Act. If he had, the embarrassing reality of the arms pay-off to Iran would almost surely have leaked — and questions might have been asked about why Reagan was making the pay-off in the first place.
In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election.
“It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”
Veliotes: “Between Israelis and these new players.”
Veliotes added that the embarrassing facts about the downed plane were obscured by Reagan’s State Department, which issued misleading guidance to the U.S. press.
In my work on the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, I also had obtained a classified summary of testimony from a mid-level State Department official, David Satterfield, who saw these early arms shipments as a continuation of Israeli policy toward Iran.
“Satterfield believed that Israel maintained a persistent military relationship with Iran, based on the Israeli assumption that Iran was a non-Arab state which always constituted a potential ally in the Middle East,” the summary read. “There was evidence that Israel resumed providing arms to Iran in 1980.”
Over the years, senior Israeli officials have claimed that those early shipments, which Carter had tried to block, received the blessing of Reagan’s team.
In May 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Washington Post that U.S. officials had approved Iranian arms transfers. “We said that notwithstanding the tyranny of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini, which we all hate, we have to leave a small window open to this country, a tiny small bridge to this country,” Sharon said.
A decade later, in 1993, I took part in an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Tel Aviv during which he said he had read Gary Sick’s 1991 book, October Surprise, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Jimmy Carter’s reelection.
With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”
“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”
Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh also came to suspect that those later arms-for-hostage deals traced back to 1980, since it was the only way to make sense of why the Reagan team kept selling arms to Iran in 1985-86 when there was so little progress in reducing the number of American hostages then held by Iranian allies in Lebanon. When one hostage was released, another was taken.
In conducting a polygraph of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser (and former CIA officer) Donald Gregg, Walsh’s investigators added a question about Gregg’s alleged participation in the secret 1980 negotiations between Reagan’s team and the Iranians.
“Were you ever involved in a plan to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential election?” the examiner asked. Gregg’s denial was judged to be deceptive. [See Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, p. 501]
So, the historical evidence suggests that the dramatic timing of Iran’s hostage release – as Reagan was giving his Inaugural Address – was not the result of the Iranians fearing Reagan’s retaliation, but rather was a choreographed P.R. event between Reagan’s team and the Iranians.
In the days before Reagan’s Inauguration, his acolytes had been busy circulating a joke around Washington which went: “What’s three feet deep and glows in the dark? Tehran ten minutes after Ronald Reagan becomes President.”
Instead the Iranians released the hostages at the moment most favorable to Reagan – to enhance his standing with the American people as someone whom America’s enemies feared. Republicans got busy working the myth of the Mighty Reagan while Reagan’s team quietly approved Israeli-brokered weapon sales to Iran.
Now, this mythology has found a new place in Romney’s campaign, which has entrusted its foreign policy largely to neoconservatives who came of age during the Reagan administration in the 1980s and helped shape George W. Bush’s foreign policy last decade. In part, here is what Romney published in Tuesday’s Washington Post:
“Beginning Nov. 4, 1979, dozens of U.S. diplomats were held hostage by Iranian Islamic revolutionaries for 444 days while America’s feckless president, Jimmy Carter, fretted in the White House. Running for the presidency against Carter the next year, Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior.
“On Jan. 20, 1981, in the hour that Reagan was sworn into office, Iran released the hostages. The Iranians well understood that Reagan was serious about turning words into action in a way that Jimmy Carter never was.
“America and the world face a strikingly similar situation today; only even more is at stake. The same Islamic fanatics who took our diplomats hostage are racing to build a nuclear bomb. Barack Obama, America’s most feckless president since Carter, has declared such an outcome unacceptable, but his rhetoric has not been matched by an effective policy.
“While Obama frets in the White House, the Iranians are making rapid progress toward obtaining the most destructive weapons in the history of the world. …
“The overall rubric of my foreign policy will be the same as Ronald Reagan’s: namely, ‘peace through strength.’ Like Reagan, I have put forward a comprehensive plan to rebuild American might and equip our soldiers with the weapons they need to prevail in any conflict. By increasing our annual naval shipbuilding rate from nine to 15, I intend to restore our position so that our Navy is an unchallengeable power on the high seas. …
“My plan includes restoring the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. It also includes increasing military assistance to Israel and improved coordination with all of our allies in the area.”
Sometimes, I’m asked why I have worked so hard trying to get the history of the Reagan era correct. The question often goes: “Why not leave that to the historians?” In the tone, there is a suggestion that this history is not as important as investigating current events.
But my concern is this: If the bogus history is allowed to stand unchallenged today, the Reagan mythology will continue to control how many Americans perceive their recent past – and thus this propaganda will keep influencing the present and the future.
Romney’s op-ed is a good example of the price the nation and the world might pay for the tendency of many Americans (including prominent Democrats) to duck difficult confrontations with Republicans over a truthful accounting of the Reagan history.
With the Reagan myth lovingly protected by Republicans (and rarely contested by Democrats), it can become a touchstone for dangerous policies, now and in the future, both foreign and domestic.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek.