Liberal Genius


Don’t you just love it when liberals try to be insightful, particularly about foreign policy? In the March 15 Sunday New York Times "News of The Week" section, the lead article by Steve Erlanger begins with, "The end of the Cold War was supposed to bring not only a peace dividend, with less money spent on defense, but a sort of moral dividend, too. The United States, which had suppressed its ethical standards in the higher battle against godless Communism, was now supposed to be able to pick its friends with a little more discretion." Can you imagine this: the article actually went downhill from there.

Erlanger wants us to believe that during the Cold War U.S. foreign policy succumbed to awful compromises, like bombing Indochina back to the stone age, overthrowing efforts at liberation in Central America, and supporting dictators throughout the world, all to withstand the Russians. It doesn’t matter that even a cursory examination shows that Washington was often supporting allies of the Russians. It doesn’t matter that U.S. pursuits were in every instance precisely aligned with the interests of our multinationals and of capital more broadly, with no regard for the well being of non-elite populations abroad or at home. These facts, easily discerned at a glance—or demonstrated for skeptics by revealing the almost perfect correlation between U.S. military and police aid and interventions, on the one hand, and the domestic repression of recipient regimes and preservation of free access for U.S. capital to cheap labor and resources, on the other—are tossed aside or, more accurately, never perceived in the first place.

But Erlanger isn’t 100 percent blinded by the light of his allegiances. After cataloging some current U.S. alliances he notes that, "In other words, nearly a decade after the Berlin Wall fell, the United States is still keeping some sordid company." Ooops. He has a problem. If the only reason we "kept sordid company" before (never mind that we are the most sordid bully on the block) was because the big bad Russians gave us no choice, then, with the Russians no longer on our doorstep, why do we still do it?

Here comes liberal genius, such as it is. "Either the post-Soviet world is more complex than Americans can handle, or bad old habits die hard." Wow. What comprehensive logic. Here’s another angle to consider: The reasons the U.S. regularly aligned with trained, armed, and protected cutthroat butchers, both during and after the Cold War, are because then and now the U.S. government and its elite constituencies prefer regimes who will defend our corporate and geopolitical interests against their own populations, by any means necessary.

This hypothesis, which would snap into Erlanger’s lockjaw-like mind in an instant if he were viewing a similar pattern of policy on the part of, say, the Soviet Union, is ruled out of court. Erlanger gives himself away, however, when he indicates that what replaced Somoza (the Sandinistas) was worse than Somoza. So a regime hell bent on utilizing Nicaragua’s resources for Nicaragua’s citizens and, at the outset, quite willing to enter agreements with the U.S., was worse than a grotesque terror regime? What standards are at work here, one wonders? Is it that the Sandinistas inclined toward the Soviets? Nah, it can’t be that, or we wouldn’t have bent them that way by preventing them from dealing with anyone else in the world. Or is it that the Sandinistas threatened U.S. business interests, both directly and by the possibility that others would emulate their plans to benefit their population (instead of our multinationals) with their country’s resources?

Of course the Republicans aren’t a whole lot more astute than Erlanger, at least when trying to alibi in public. So Erlanger quotes Peter Rodman of the Nixon Center: "You can’t have a China strategy without Indonesia as a counterweight, and a lot of the people who attack Suharto on human-rights grounds also get badly worried about China, which is the big enchilada, and don’t connect the two." How profound. So our policy has nothing to do with U.S. business interests? There is no relation between the horrible treatment of populations at the hands of the butchers we train and arm, and our corporation’s aims? Barbaric repression, for these analysts, is just a nasty sidebar to some subtle geopolitical balancing act against maniacal terrorists and in the interests of all right-thinking humanity. Too bad the Timorese have to pay the price.

The truth, of course, however ugly and sad, is that barbaric repression of indigenous populations is the main motive of our support, on behalf of our corporations—and capitalism more generally. But that isn’t news that’s fit to print in the New York Times.