In the wee morning hours on Friday, Jan. 23, a U.S.
spy plane killed at least 15 in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. It was
Barack Obama's first blood and the U.S.' first violation of Pakistan's sovereignty
under the new administration. The attack was an early sign that the newly minted
president may not be overhauling the War on Terror this week, or even next.
As the U.S. government fired upon alleged terrorists in the rugged outback
of Pakistan, Obama was back in Washington appointing Richard Holbrooke as a
special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, like
the remote-control bombing that claimed human life, Obama's vision for the
region, in the embodiment of Holbrooke, may not be a drastic departure from
the failed Bush doctrine.
"[Holbrooke] is one of the most talented diplomats of his generation," Obama
said during a Jan. 22 press conference at the State Department. In his speech
Obama declared that both Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the "central front"
in the War on Terror. "There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that
we cannot deal with our problems in isolation," he said.
Despite Obama's insistence that Holbrooke is qualified to lead new efforts
in the War on Terror, history seems to disagree.
In 1975, during Gerald Ford's administration, Indonesia invaded East Timor
and slaughtered 200,000 indigenous Timorese. The Indonesian invasion of East
Timor set the stage for a long and bloody occupation that recently ended after
an international peacekeeping force was introduced in 1999.
Transcripts of meetings among Indonesian dictator Mohamed Suharto, Ford, and
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have shown conclusively that Kissinger and
Ford authorized and encouraged Suharto's murderous actions. "We will understand
and will not press you on the issue [of East Timor]," said President Ford in
a meeting with Suharto and Kissinger in early December 1975, days before Suharto's
bloodbath. "We understand the problem and the intentions you have," he added.
Henry Kissinger also stressed at the meeting that "the use of U.S.-made arms
could create problems," but then added, "It depends on how we construe it;
whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation." Thus, Kissinger's
concern was not about whether U.S. arms would be used offensively, but whether
the act could be interpreted as illegal. Kissinger went on: "It is important
that whatever you do succeeds quickly."
After Ford's loss and Jimmy Carter's ascent to the White House in 1976, Indonesia
requested additional arms to continue its brutal occupation, even though there
was a supposed ban on arms transfers to Suharto's government. It was Carter's
appointee to the Department of State's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
Richard Holbrooke, who authorized additional arms shipments to Indonesia during
this supposed blockade. Many scholars have noted that this was the period when
the Indonesian suppression of the Timorese reached genocidal levels.
During his testimony before Congress in February 1978, Professor Benedict
Anderson cited a report that proved there was never a U.S. arms ban, and that
during the period of the alleged ban the U.S. initiated new offers of military
weaponry to the Indonesians:
"If we are curious as to why the Indonesians never felt the force of the
U.S. government's 'anguish,' the answer is quite simple. In flat contradiction
to express statements by Gen. Fish, Mr. Oakley, and Assistant Secretary of
State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate
offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during
the January-June 1976 'administrative suspension.' This equipment consisted
mainly of supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam War-era planes designed
for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft
weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy. The
policy of supplying the Indonesian regime with Broncos, as well as other counterinsurgency-related
equipment, has continued without substantial change from the Ford through the
present Carter administrations."
The disturbing symbiosis between Holbrooke and figures like überhawk
Paul Wolfowitz is startling.
"In an unguarded moment just before the 2000 election, Richard Holbrooke opened
a foreign policy speech with a fawning tribute to his host, Paul Wolfowitz,
who was then the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International
Studies in Washington," reported
Tim Shorrock following the terrorist attacks in 2001.
Shorrock continued: "Holbrooke, a senior adviser to Al Gore, was acutely aware
that either he or Wolfowitz would be playing important roles in the next administration.
Looking perhaps to assure the world of the continuity of U.S. foreign policy,
he told his audience that Wolfowitz's 'recent activities illustrate something
that's very important about American foreign policy in an election year, and
that is the degree to which there are still common themes between the parties.'
The example he chose to illustrate his point was East Timor, which was invaded
and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with U.S. weapons – a security policy backed
and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. 'Paul and I,' he said, 'have
been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential
campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.'"
In sum, Holbrooke has worked vigorously to keep his bloody campaign silent,
and it appears to have paid off. In chilling words, Holbrooke described the
motivations behind his support of Indonesia's genocidal actions:
"The situation in East Timor is one of the number of very important concerns
of the United States in Indonesia. Indonesia, with a population of 150 million
people, is the fifth largest nation in the world, is a moderate member of the
Non-Aligned Movement, is an important oil producer – which plays a moderate
role within OPEC – and occupies a strategic position astride the sea lanes
between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. … We highly value our cooperative relationship
If his bloody history in East Timor is anything, it's a sign that Richard
Holbrooke is not qualified to lead the U.S. in a new direction in today's Middle
East, a region that has been brutalized by the War on Terror.