The neocons have a hand in Aceh, too
Date: Thursday, January 06 @ 16:27:25 UTC
US support for Indonesia's army is compromising its relief effort
By Sidney Blumenthal, Guardian UK
Two days after the tsunami struck, President Bush, who had made no public statement, was vacationing at his ranch in Texas, and a junior spokesman was trotted out. The offer of US aid was $15m - $2m less than the star pitcher of the Boston Red Sox was paid that year.
On December 27, UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland had criticised wealthy nations for "stinginess". The next day Bill Clinton described the tsunami as a "horror movie", and explained that international leadership was required for a sustained effort once the "emotional tug" waned.
Now the White House spokesman reassured the country that Bush was "clearing some brush this morning; I think he has some friends coming in ... that he enjoys hosting; he's doing some biking and exercising ... taking walks with the first lady..." The spokesman said US aid would be increased to $35m, and added a jibe at Clinton: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'we feel your pain'."
For Bush, the war on terrorism is the alpha and omega of foreign policy, and it did not occur to him or to his national security team that the tsunami disaster, devastating Muslim regions, provided an opportunity for the US to demonstrate humanitarian motives. In this crisis, his advisers acted in character: Vice-president Cheney was duck-hunting on the plantation of a Republican donor; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, suggested nothing to disturb her boss; and Colin Powell, the secretary of state, defended Bush as "not stingy".
Eight days after the tsunami, Bush appeared in the White House flanked by his father and Clinton, who, he announced, would lead a private aid effort, and moreover that US aid would be increased tenfold to $350m. Attacking Clinton hadn't worked; so Bush recruited him to deflect criticism.
The coastline of south Asia has been radically altered, but the political landscape in Washington remains familiar. Behind the stentorian rhetoric about the battle between good and evil lies the neoconservative struggle to remove human rights sanctions against the Indonesian military, which is waging a vicious war against the popular separatist movement on Banda Aceh, the province hardest hit by the tsunami.
The war between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has raged for more than two decades. A ceasefire negotiated in 2002, with the involvement of former general Anthony Zinni as US representative, was brutally broken by the military in May 2003. The Indonesian military is a virtual state within a state and is unaccountable for its human rights violations and criminal activities. After its war of ethnic cleansing against East Timor concluded with independence following diplomatic intervention, the military was determined not to lose Banda Aceh.
In its war there, the military has mimicked the language of the war on terrorism and the Iraq war, calling its operation "shock and awe", targeting the population as terrorist supporters, and expelling all international observers, including the UN, from the region. Human Rights Watch documented extensive torture and abuse.
Bush administration policy has been conflicted, confused and negligent. The leading neoconservative at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence, has tried to overthrow US restrictions on aid to, and relations with, the Indonesian military. The neoconservative thrust is undeterred by the military's obstruction of the FBI investigation into the murder of two US businessmen in 2002, killings that appear to implicate the military. When the state department issued a human rights report on Indonesia's abysmal record, its spokesman replied: "The US government does not have the moral authority to assess or act as a judge of other countries, including Indonesia, on human rights, especially after the abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison."
On his tour of Banda Aceh, Powell made no determined effort to restore the cease-fire. Meanwhile, GAM reports that the Indonesia military is using the catastrophe to launch a new offensive. "The Indonesians get the message when you have no high-level condemnation of what they're doing," Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told me. A renewed effort by Wolfowitz against sanctions is expected soon.
In the name of the war on terrorism, neoconservatives attempt to bolster the repressive military, which flings the Bush administration's sins back in its face. In the "march of freedom", human rights are cast aside. The absence of moral clarity is matched by the absence of strategic clarity.
· Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is Washington bureau chief of salon.com