by Australia, U.N.-sponsored peacekeepers continue to arrive in East Timor,
where they are finding a staggering level of destruction. Reconnaissance
flights over the half-island territory report scenes of Biblical dimensions,
where the "Lord rained down fire and brimstone from the skies."
what a breathtaking difference in the West's handling of this crisis from
their treatment of Yugoslavia just a few months earlier!
in East Timor, even though Indonesia's deadly occupation has never been
recognized by the UN, the West has insisted that Indonesia's permission
be obtained before any (belated) entry of peacekeepers, whose small forces
have been obliged to work with many of the same Indonesian troops that
had participated in the killing. Crucially, no troops are contemplated
for West Timor to rescue the thousands essentially kidnapped and removed
out of East Timor. And no further pressure is being exerted on Indonesia
to rein in its death squads on the island. No U.S. or British leaders
have called for a war crimes tribunal for East Timor, and there has been
no suggestion that Indonesia should have to pay massive reparations for
its devastation of East Timor. In the East Timor case "moral values" have
had to take a back seat to "interests," and to a newly discovered U.S.
inability to "do everything everywhere." But if "interests" can override
moral values their use anywhere is compromised, and questions must be
raised concerning the possible role of interests whenever these admittedly
second order considerations are proclaimed to be the basis of action,
as in Kosovo.
the West's dishonorable behavior and betrayal runs much deeper. When the
referendum was organized, Indonesia was given the responsibility for security,
which was like putting Saddam Hussein in charge of security for Iraq's
Kurds after the Persian Gulf war. This was surely done because the West,
on friendly terms with Indonesia, would not insult its friend by demanding
more reasonable security arrangements. (The blame for the East Timor policy
failure is frequently put on the UN, but this is misplaced. The UN worked
within the limits fixed by the United States and its allies, who use the
UN for sanctioning forcible responses only when convenient, as in the
case of the Persian Gulf war.) But even after Indonesia organized the
militias to disrupt the referendum, and failed to quell their violence,
the United States and its allies did not press for changes.
believe that the West, having close ties to the Indonesian military and
enormous financial power to discipline Indonesia, could have forced that
country to behave reasonably, if it gave this high priority. But its "interests"
outweighed its willingness to apply serious pressure. Last April, the
chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Dennis Blair, visited with
Indonesian Defense Minister General Wiranto, but instead of pressing him
to behave he reassured him of continued U.S. friendly support, which reporter
Allan Nairn says "delighted Wiranto, who considered it a U.S. "green light"
to proceed as he did. Given Western knowledge of Indonesia's plans, the
West's failure to take preventive action goes beyond mere appeasement
to tacit collusion.
In short, our "friends"--and the dictator Suharto was our friend for 32 years--can kill without any threat of interference from us, and even with our support. That point was made clear once again during the current East Timor crisis. The difference between the earlier and later years is that with the UN-sponsored referendum the publicity level has been high, so that continued Western support of Indonesia has been more exposed and it has been obliged to make gestures of concern. It has even been pushed to gently induce Indonesia to lay off, although perhaps not soon enough for the second Western-supported genocide in East Timor to have been largely completed.
Published in Z Magazine
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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