The Anti-Empire Report #38
By William Blum – Published October 19th, 2006
The jingo bells are ringing
“Who really poses the greatest danger to world peace: Iraq, North Korea or the United States?” asked Time magazine in an online poll in early 2003, shortly before the US invasion of Iraq. The final results were: North Korea 6.7%, Iraq 6.3%, the United States 86.9%; 706,842 total votes cast. 1
Imagine that following North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test neither the United States nor any other government cried out that the sky was falling. No threat to world peace and security was declared by the White House or any other house. It was thus not the lead story on every radio and TV broadcast and newspaper page one. The UN Security Council did not unanimously condemn it. Nor did NATO. “What should we do about him?” was not America Online’s plaintive all-day headline alongside a photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Who would have known about the explosion, even if it wasn’t baby-sized? Who would have cared? But because all this fear mongering did in fact take place, www.vote.com was able to pose the question – “North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: Is It Time For An International Economic Blockade To Make Them Stop?” – and hence compile a 93% “yes” vote. It doesn’t actually take too much to win hearts and mindless. Media pundit Ben Bagdikian once wrote: “While it is impossible for the media to tell the population what to think, they do tell the public what to think about.”
So sometime in the future, the world might, or might not, have nine states possessing nuclear weapons instead of eight. So what? Do you know of all the scary warnings the United States issued about a nuclear-armed Soviet Union? A nuclear-armed China? And the non-warnings about a nuclear-armed Israel? There were no scary warnings or threats against ally Pakistan for the nuclear-development aid it gave to North Korea a few years ago, and Washington has been busy this year enhancing the nuclear arsenal of India, events which the world has paid little attention to, because the United States did not mount a campaign to tell the world to worry. There’s still only one country that’s used nuclear weapons on other people, but we’re not given any warnings about them.
In 2005, Secretary of War Rumsfeld, commenting about large Chinese military expenditures, said: “Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: Why this growing investment?” 2 The following year, when asked if he believed the Venezuelans’ contention that their large weapons buildup was strictly for defense, Rumsfeld replied: “I don’t know of anyone threatening Venezuela - anyone in this hemisphere.” 3 Presumably, the honorable secretary, if asked, would say that no one threatens North Korea either. Or Iran. Or Syria. Or Cuba. He may even believe this. However, beginning with the Soviet Union, as one country after another joined the nuclear club, Washington’s ability to threaten them or coerce them declined, which is of course North Korea’s overriding reason for trying to become a nuclear power (or Iran’s if it goes that route). Indeed, it was the initial stationing of US tactical nuclear artillery shells along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in the late 1960s that prompted North Korea to begin a nuclear program. 4
Undoubtedly there are some in the Bush administration who are not unhappy about the North Korean test. A nuclear North Korea with a “crazy” leader serves as a rationale for policies the White House is pursuing anyway, like anti-missile systems, military bases all over the map, ever-higher military spending, and all the other nice things a respectable empire bent on world domination needs. And of course, important elections are imminent and getting real tough with looney commies always sells well.
Did I miss something or is there an international law prohibiting only North Korea from testing nuclear weapons? And just what is the danger? North Korea, even if it had nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and there’s no evidence that it does, is of course no threat to attack anyone with them. Like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, North Korea is not suicidal.
And just for the record, contrary to what we’ve been told a million times, there’s no objective evidence that North Korea invaded South Korea on that famous day of June 25, 1950. The accusations came only from the South Korean and US governments, neither being a witness to the event, neither with the least amount of credible impartiality. No, the United Nations observers did not observe the invasion. Even more important, it doesn’t really matter much which side was the first to fire a shot or cross the border on that day because whatever happened was just the latest incident in an already-ongoing war of several years. 5
Operation Because We Can
Captain Ahab had his Moby Dick. Inspector Javert had his Jean Valjean. The United States has its Fidel Castro. Washington also has its Daniel Ortega. For 27 years, the most powerful nation in the world has found it impossible to share the Western Hemisphere with one of its poorest and weakest neighbors, Nicaragua, if the country’s leader was not in love with capitalism.
From the moment the Sandinista revolutionaries overthrew the US-supported Somoza dictatorship in 1979, Washington was concerned about the rising up of that long-dreaded beast – “another Cuba”. This was war. On the battlefield and in the voting booths. For almost 10 years, the American proxy army, the Contras, carried out a particularly brutal insurgency against the Sandinista government and its supporters. In 1984, Washington tried its best to sabotage the elections, but failed to keep Sandinista leader Ortega from becoming president. And the war continued. In 1990, Washington’s electoral tactic was to hammer home the simple and clear message to the people of Nicaragua: If you re-elect Ortega all the horrors of the civil war and America’s economic hostility will continue. Just two months before the election, in December 1989, the United States invaded Panama for no apparent reason acceptable to international law, morality, or common sense (The United States naturally called it “Operation Just Cause”); one likely reason it was carried out was to send a clear message to the people of Nicaragua that this is what they could expect, that the US/Contra war would continue and even escalate, if they re-elected the Sandinistas.
It worked; one cannot overestimate the power of fear, of murder, rape, and your house being burned down. Ortega lost, and Nicaragua returned to the rule of the free market, striving to roll back the progressive social and economic programs that had been undertaken by the Sandinistas. Within a few years widespread malnutrition, wholly inadequate access to health care and education, and other social ills, had once again become a daily fact of life for the people of Nicaragua.
Each presidential election since then has pitted perennial candidate Ortega against Washington’s interference in the process in shamelessly blatant ways. Pressure has been regularly exerted on certain political parties to withdraw their candidates so as to avoid splitting the conservative vote against the Sandinistas. US ambassadors and visiting State Department officials publicly and explicitly campaign for anti-Sandinista candidates, threatening all kinds of economic and diplomatic punishment if Ortega wins, including difficulties with exports, visas, and vital family remittances by Nicaraguans living in the United States. In the 2001 election, shortly after the September 11 attacks, American officials tried their best to tie Ortega to terrorism, placing a full-page ad in the leading newspaper which declared, among other things, that: “Ortega has a relationship of more than thirty years with states and individuals who shelter and condone international terrorism.” 6 That same year a senior analyst in Nicaragua for the international pollsters Gallup was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.” 7
Additionally, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – which would like the world to believe that it’s a private non-governmental organization, when it’s actually a creation and an agency of the US government – regularly furnishes large amounts of money and other aid to organizations in Nicaragua which are opposed to the Sandinistas. The International Republican Institute (IRI), a long-time wing of NED, whose chairman is Arizona Senator John McCain, has also been active in Nicaragua creating the Movement for Nicaragua, which has helped organize marches against the Sandinistas. An IRI official in Nicaragua, speaking to a visiting American delegation in June of this year, equated the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States to that of a son to a father. “Children should not argue with their parents.” she said.
With the 2006 presidential election in mind, one senior US official wrote in a Nicaraguan newspaper last year that should Ortega be elected, “Nicaragua would sink like a stone”. In March, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the UN under Reagan and a prime supporter of the Contras, came to visit. She met with members of all the major Sandinista opposition parties and declared her belief that democracy in Nicaragua “is in danger” but that she had no doubt that the “Sandinista dictatorship” would not return to power. The following month, the American ambassador in Managua, Paul Trivelli, who openly speaks of his disapproval of Ortega and the Sandinista party, sent a letter to the presidential candidates of conservative parties offering financial and technical help to unite them for the general election of November 5. The ambassador stated that he was responding to requests by Nicaraguan “democratic parties” for US support in their mission to keep Daniel Ortega from a presidential victory. The visiting American delegation reported: “In a somewhat opaque statement Trivelli said that if Ortega were to win, the concept of governments recognizing governments wouldn’t exist anymore and it was a 19th century concept anyway. The relationship would depend on what his government put in place.” One of the fears of the ambassador likely has to do with Ortega talking of renegotiating CAFTA, the trade agreement between the US and Central America, so dear to the hearts of corporate globalizationists.
Then, in June, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said it was necessary for the Organization of American States (OAS) to send a mission of Electoral Observation to Nicaragua “as soon as possible” so as to “prevent the old leaders of corruption and communism from attempting to remain in power” (though the Sandinistas have not occupied the presidency, only lower offices, since 1990).
The explicit or implicit message of American pronouncements concerning Nicaragua is often the warning that if the Sandinistas come back to power, the horrible war, so fresh in the memory of Nicaraguans, will return. The London Independent reported in September that “One of the Ortega billboards in Nicaragua was spray-painted ‘We don’t want another war’. What it was saying was that if you vote for Ortega you are voting for a possible war with the US.” 8
Per capita income in Nicaragua is $900 a year; some 70% of the people live in poverty. It is worth noting that Nicaragua and Haiti are the two nations in the Western Hemisphere that the United States has intervened in the most, from the 19th century to the 21st, including long periods of occupation. And they are today the two poorest in the hemisphere, wretchedly so.
Don’t look back
The cartoon awfulness of the Bush crime syndicate’s foreign policy is enough to make Americans nostalgic for almost anything that came before. And as Bill Clinton parades around the country and the world associating himself with “good” causes, it’s enough to evoke yearnings in many people on the left who should know better. So here’s a little reminder of what Clinton’s foreign policy was composed of. Hold on to it in case Lady Macbeth runs in 2008 and tries to capitalize on lover boy’s record.
Yugoslavia: The United States played the principal role during the 1990s in the destruction of this nation, republic by republic, the low point of which was 78 consecutive days of terrible bombing of the population in 1999. No, it was not an act of “humanitarianism”. It was pure imperialism, corporate globalization, getting rid of “the last communist government in Europe”, keeping NATO alive by giving it a function after the end of the Cold War. There was no moral issue behind US policy. The ousted Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, is routinely labeled “authoritarian” (Compared to whom? To the Busheviks?), but that had nothing to do with it. The great exodus of the people of Kosovo resulted from the bombing, not Serbian “ethnic cleansing”; and while saving Kosovars the Clinton administration was servicing the Turkish massacre of Kurds. NATO admitted (sic) to repeatedly and deliberately targeting civilians; amongst other war crimes. 9
Somalia: The 1993 intervention was presented as a mission to help feed the starving masses. But the US soon started taking sides in the clan-based civil war and tried to rearrange the country’s political map by eliminating the dominant warlord, Mohamed Aidid, and his power base. On many occasions, US helicopters strafed groups of Aidid’s supporters or fired missiles at them; missiles were fired into a hospital because of the belief that Aidid’s forces had taken refuge there; also a private home, where members of Aidid’s political movement were holding a meeting; finally, an attempt by American forces to kidnap two leaders of Aidid’s clan resulted in a horrendous bloody battle. This last action alone cost the lives of more than a thousand Somalis, with many more wounded.
It’s questionable that getting food to hungry people was as important as the fact that four American oil giants held exploratory rights to large areas of Somali land and were hoping that US troops would put an end to the prevailing chaos which threatened their highly expensive investments. 10
Ecuador: In 2000, downtrodden Indian peasants rose up once again against the hardships of US/IMF globalization policies, such as privatization. The Indians were joined by labor unions and some junior military officers and their coalition forced the president to resign. Washington was alarmed. American officials in Quito and Washington unleashed a blitz of threats against Ecuadorian government and military officials. And that was the end of the Ecuadorian revolution. 11
Sudan: The US deliberately bombed and destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in 1998 in the stated belief that it was a plant for making chemical weapons for terrorists. In actuality, the plant produced about 90 percent of the drugs used to treat the most deadly illnesses in that desperately poor country; it was reportedly one of the biggest and best of its kind in Africa. And had no connection to chemical weapons. 12
Sierra Leone: In 1998, Clinton sent Jesse Jackson as his special envoy to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the latter being in the midst of one of the great horrors of the 20th century – an army of mostly young boys, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), going around raping and chopping off people’s arms and legs. African and world opinion was enraged against the RUF, which was committed to protecting the diamond mines they controlled. Liberian president Charles Taylor was an indispensable ally and supporter of the RUF and Jackson was an old friend of his. Jesse was not sent to the region to try to curtail the RUF’s atrocities, nor to hound Taylor about his widespread human rights violations, but instead, in June 1999, Jackson and other American officials drafted entire sections of an accord that made RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, the vice president of Sierra Leone, and gave him official control over the diamond mines, the country’s major source of wealth. 13
Iraq: Eight more years of the economic sanctions which Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, called “the most pervasive sanctions ever imposed on a nation in the history of mankind”, 14 absolutely devastating every aspect of the lives of the Iraqi people, particularly their health; truly a weapon of mass destruction. At the same time, continuous US and UK illegal overflights with frequent bombings and killing of Iraqis.
Cuba: Eight more years of economic sanctions, political hostility, and giving haven to anti-Castro terrorists in Florida. In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the first forty years of this aggression. The suit holds Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others.
Only the imperialist powers have the ability to enforce sanctions and are therefore always exempt from them.
As to Clinton’s domestic policies, keep in mind those two beauties: The “Effective death penalty Act” and the “Welfare Reform Act”. And let’s not forget the massacre at Waco, Texas.
Three billion years from amoebas to Homeland Security
“The Department of Homeland Security would like to remind passengers that you may not take any liquids onto the plane. This includes ice cream, as the ice cream will melt and turn into a liquid.”
This was actually heard by one of my readers at the Atlanta Airport recently; he laughed out loud. He informs me that he didn’t know what was more bizarre, that such an announcement was made or that he was the only person that he could see who reacted to its absurdity. 15 This is the way it is with societies of people. Like with the proverbial frog who submits to being boiled to death in a pot of water if the water is heated very gradually, people submit to one heightened absurdity and indignation after another if they’re subjected to them at a gradual enough rate. That’s one of the most common threads one finds in the personal stories of Germans living in the Third Reich. This airport story is actually an example of an absurdity within an absurdity. Since the “bomb made from liquids and gels” story was foisted upon the public, several chemists and other experts have pointed out the technical near-impossibility of manufacturing such a bomb in a moving airplane, if for no other reason than the necessity of spending at least an hour or two in the airplane bathroom.
- Time European edition online: http://www.time.com/time/europe/gdml/peace2003.html
- Washington Post, June 4, 2005
- Associated Press, October 3, 2006
- Washington Post, October 14, 2006, p.A14
- William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military & CIA Interventions Since World War II (2004), chapter 5
- Nicaragua Network (Washington, DC), October 29, 2001 and New York Times, November 4, 2001, p.3
- Miami Herald, October 29, 2001
- The remainder of the section on Nicaragua is derived primarily from The Independent (London), September 6, 2006, and “2006 Nicaraguan Elections and the US Government Role. Report of the Nicaragua Network delegation to investigate US intervention in the Nicaraguan elections of November 2006”; see also: “List of interventions by the United States government in Nicaragua’s democratic process.”
- Michael Parenti, “To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” (2000); Diana Johnstone, “Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions” (2002); William Blum, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower” (2005), see “Yugoslavia” in index.
- Rogue State, pp. 204-5
- Ibid., pp. 212-3
- William Blum, “Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire”, chapter 7
- Ryan Lizza, “Where angels fear to tread”, New Republic, July 24, 2000
- White House press briefing, November 14, 1997, US Newswire transcript
- Story related to me by Jack Muir
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.