United States Intervention (Part III)
by William Blum Since 1945 the United States has carried out extremely serious wars of aggression and interventions in more than 70 nations. Parts I and II of this series, published in the last two issues of The Guardian, brought the series up to the 1960s. This week, the final in the series, covers actions commenced in the 1970s up to the present. East Timor, 1975 to present: In December 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, which lies at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, and which had proclaimed its independence after Portugal had relinquished control of it. The invasion was launched the day after US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had left Indonesia after giving President Suharto permission to use American arms which, under US law, could not be used for aggression. Indonesia was Washington's most valuable tool in Southeast Asia. Amnesty International estimated that by 1989, Indonesian troops, with the aim of forcibly annexing East Timor, had killed 200,000 people out of a population of between 600,000 and 700,000. The United States consistently supported Indonesia's claim to East Timor (unlike the UN and the EU), and downplayed the slaughter to a remarkable degree. At the same time the US supplied Indonesia with all the military hardware and training it needed to carry out the job. Nicaragua 1978-89: When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1978, it was clear to Washington that they might well be that long-dreaded beast — "another Cuba". Under President Carter, attempts to sabotage the revolution took diplomatic and economic forms. Under Reagan, violence was the method of choice. For eight terribly long years, the people of Nicaragua were under attack by Washington's proxy army, the Contras, formed from Somoza's vicious National Guardsmen and other supporters of the dictator. It was all-out war, aiming to destroy the progressive social and economic programs of the government, burning down schools and medical clinics, raping, torturing, mining harbours, bombing and strafing. These were Ronald Reagan's "freedom fighters". There would be no revolution in Nicaragua. Grenada 1979-84: What would drive the most powerful nation in the world to invade a country of 110,000? Maurice Bishop and his followers had taken power in a 1979 coup. Although their actual policies were not as revolutionary as Castro's, public appearances by the Grenadian leaders in other countries of the region met with great enthusiasm. Washington was again driven by its fear of "another Cuba". US destabilisation tactics against the Bishop Government began soon after the coup and continued until 1983, featuring numerous acts of disinformation and dirty tricks. The US invasion in October 1983 met minimal resistance, although the US suffered 135 killed or wounded; there were also some 400 Grenadian casualties, and 84 Cubans, mainly construction workers. What conceivable human purpose these people died for has not been revealed. At the end of 1984, a questionable election was held. It was won by a man supported by the Reagan administration. One year later, the human rights organisation, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, reported that Grenada's new US-trained police force and counter- insurgency forces had acquired a reputation for brutality, arbitrary arrest, and abuse of authority, and were eroding civil rights. In April 1989, the government issued a list of more than 80 books which were prohibited from being imported. Four months later, the Prime Minister suspended parliament to forestall a threatened no-confidence vote resulting from what his critics called "an increasingly authoritarian style". Libya 1981-89: Libya refused to be a proper Middle East client state of Washington. Its leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, was uppity. He would have to be punished. US planes shot down two Libyan planes in what Libya regarded as its air space. The US also dropped bombs on the country, killing at least 40 people, including Qaddafi's daughter. There were other attempts to assassinate the man, operations to overthrow him, a major disinformation campaign, economic sanctions, and blaming Libya for being behind the Pan Am 103 bombing without any good evidence. Panama, 1989: Washington's mad bombers strike again. December 1989, a large tenement barrio in Panama City wiped out, 15,000 people left homeless. Counting several days of ground fighting against Panamanian forces, 500- something dead was the official body count (what the US and the new US- installed Panamanian Government admitted to). Other sources, with no less evidence, insisted that thousands had died; 3,000-something wounded. Twenty-three Americans dead, 324 wounded. Question from reporter: "Was it really worth it to send people to their death for this? To get Noriega?" George Bush: "Every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it." Manuel Noriega had been an American ally and informant for years until he outlived his usefulness. But getting him was not the only motive for the attack. Bush wanted to send a clear message to the people of Nicaragua, who had an election scheduled in two months, that this might be their fate if they re- elected the Sandinistas. Bush also wanted to flex some military muscle to illustrate to Congress the need for a large combat-ready force, even after the very recent dissolution of the "Soviet threat". The official explanation for the American ouster was Noriega's drug trafficking, which Washington had known about for years and had not been at all bothered by. Iraq 1990s: Relentless bombing for more than 40 days and nights, against one of the most advanced nations in the Middle East, devastating its ancient and modern capital city. 177 million pounds of bombs falling on the people of Iraq, the most concentrated aerial onslaught in the history of the world; using depleted uranium weapons and incinerating people, causing cancer. Chemical and biological weapon storages and oil facilities blasted, poisoning the atmosphere to a degree perhaps never matched anywhere; soldiers buried alive, deliberately. The infrastructure destroyed, with a terrible effect on health; sanctions continued to this day multiplying the health problems; perhaps a million children dead by now from all of these things, even more adults. Iraq was the strongest military power amongst the Arab states. This may have been their crime. Noam Chomsky has written: "It's been a leading, driving doctrine of US foreign policy since the 1940s that the vast and unparalleled energy resources of the Gulf region will be effectively dominated by the United States and its clients and, crucially, that no independent, indigenous force will be permitted to have a substantial influence on the administration of oil production and price." Afghanistan 1979-92: Everyone knows of the unbelievable repression of women in Afghanistan, carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, even before the Taliban. But how many people know that during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, Afghanistan had a government committed to bringing the incredibly backward nation into the 20th century, including giving women equal rights? What happened, however, is that the United States poured billions of dollars into waging a terrible war against this government, simply because it was supported by the Soviet Union. Prior to this, CIA operations had knowingly increased the probability of a Soviet intervention, which is what occurred. In the end, the United States won, and the women, and the rest of Afghanistan, lost. More than a million dead, three million disabled, five million refugees, in total about half the population. El Salvador, 1980-92: Salvador's dissidents tried to work within the system. But with US support, the government made that impossible, using repeated electoral fraud and murdering hundreds of protesters and strikers. In 1980, the dissidents took to the gun, and civil war. Officially, the US military presence in El Salvador was limited to an advisory capacity. In actuality, military and CIA personnel played a more active role on a continuous basis. About 20 Americans were killed or wounded in helicopter and plane crashes while flying reconnaissance or other missions over combat areas, and considerable evidence surfaced of a US role in the ground fighting as well. The war came to an official end in 1992; 75,000 civilian deaths and the US Treasury depleted by US$6 billion. Meaningful social change has been largely thwarted. A handful of the wealthy still own the country, the poor remain as ever, and dissidents still have to fear right-wing death squads. Haiti, 1987-94: The US supported the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, then opposed the reformist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Meanwhile, the CIA was working intimately with death squads, torturers and drug traffickers. With this as background, the Clinton White House found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend — because of all their rhetoric about "democracy" — that they supported Aristide's return to power in Haiti after he had been ousted in a 1991 military coup. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich, and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving literally starvation wages. Yugoslavia, 1999: The United States set about bombing the country back to a pre-industrial era. It would like the world to believe that its intervention was motivated only by "humanitarian" impulses. Perhaps the above history of US interventions, can help one decide how much weight to place on this claim.