A DULL PUPIL
time blurs the tragic lessons of history, and so they are
endlessly repeated the second and third and fourth
times as farce, parody, and pastiche, respectively. By 1991,
with the Gulf
War in full swing, President
George Bush was exultantly proclaiming: "By God, we've
kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!" But that distinction
does not belong to Bush: the credit must go to Bill Clinton,
the man who made imperialism popular with a generation brought
up on the slogan "make love, not war." Now that many of them
can't make love like they used to, yesterday's flower children
have turned into post-millennial
warmongers all in the name of "humanitarianism,"
of course. Kosovo was their holy war, and now they turn their
sights on Austria,
Colombia the one nation on earth
where the analogy to Vietnam is the closest.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
turn to a discussion of how and why the US is slowly sinking
into the Colombian quagmire with a strange sense of detachment,
and despair at the seemingly invincible self-destructiveness
of Homo sapiens. Are we lemmings, or is there some
higher meaning or purpose in the suicidal pattern of events
unleashed by our mindlessly interventionist foreign policy?
Today the Clinton administration is unveiling its $1.3 billion
plan to fight drug-dealing leftist insurgents and shore up
the shaky government of President Andres Pastrana. Here is
a country that has everything Vietnam had jungles,
rebels, grinding poverty
with a post-millennial twist being the drug connection.
This massive infusion of military aid and equipment reflects
Washington's growing commitment to crushing the 40-year-old
guerrilla insurgency and establishing an American beachhead
in South America. But why Colombia, and why now?
PHONY WAR ON DRUGS
I go any further, let us put aside the hypocritical and completely
unconvincing rhetoric about the "War on Drugs" nobody
but nobody believes a word of it. If we have
to pour billions into every Third World hellhole that cultivates
illegal drugs and markets them to US consumers, then we will
have to invade all of South America, as well as large parts
of Asia. Is the bipartisan coalition backing the Colombian
adventure prepared to launch such a global war? What utter
nonsense. No, our deepening intervention in Colombia has nothing
to do with waging a war on drugs and everything to do with
ensuring that important US corporations, such
as America Online Time-Warner, involved in commercial
ventures dependent on regional stability, have their investments
protected with a little help from American taxpayers.
When the President of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard
to the isolated jungle hamlet of La Machaca to meet with
Paul Reyes, Colombia's chief guerrilla commandante,
what else are we to make of it?
was a remarkable occasion: Grasso and Reyes met for two and
a half hours. What did they talk about? The Associated Press
reported that Grasso, in 'his first visit with a rebel chief,"
underscored the commitment of "the world financial community
" to the stalled negotiations between the rebels and the Colombian
government. Here was the living symbol of the world capitalist
system holding out a promise of peace and collaboration with
the last of the Marxist revolutionaries holed up in his jungle
hideout, and announcing that he hoped his visit would "mark
the beginning of a new relationship between the FARC [Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Columbia] and the United States." Inviting
Reyes to join the global economy, he sought to reassure that
this would not be a betrayal of socialism but only a refinement:
"We talked about economic opportunity and how developed and
developing markets around the world were broadening the participation
of ownership, the democratization of capitalism." While Grasso
stated that he wanted to keep his deliberations with Reyes
private, the AP article went on to report that the FARC "although
ostensibly Marxist," doesn't "oppose foreign investment or
free market mechanisms as long as social justice is guaranteed."
On the other hand, we are told that "critics of the FARC's
peasant-based leadership say it is out of touch with the modern
world and needs to better grasp how the international economy
works." This should give us a good enough inkling of how the
Grasso-Reyes dialogue went:
"The situation here is intolerable. The peasants have no land,
and the elites run the show for their own profit. That is
why we are fighting for socialism."
"Never mind all that old-fashioned Marxist stuff, we can give
you socialism with cell phones if you'll just turn
your country over to us. After all, what can you do to build
socialism here in this god-forbidden jungle? Listen, Paul,
we're all socialists now haven't you ever heard of
Way? Instead of being doctrinaire and stubborn and living
in this little shanty, you and your comrades could be living
it up in Bogota, investing in the stock market and talking
on your cell phone. Hey, listen, why not come and visit the
Stock Exchange? I'll show you around and we'll do lunch. And
who knows If we're lucky, another move by the Federal Reserve
to cut interest rates may send stock prices soaring
and then you can get to see real
socialism in action!"
Reyes and his guerrillas fight on, increasingly confident
that they don't have to compromise or temporize in their battle
for total power. In Washington, meanwhile, the Clinton administration
is getting serious, putting Colombia at the top of its foreign
policy agenda in what may perhaps ultimately prove
to be the most shameful aspect of a perfectly depraved Administration..
House drug czar General
Barry McCaffrey has become the War Party's chief publicist
and spokesman in the Latin American theater of operations.
As the Administration's point man, he dismissed rising complaints
by top defense officials as organizational jealousy, averring
that "everybody tried to get aboard this mule in Sunday's
New York Times. But the same piece describes these
unnamed critics as opposed to the operation per se, as not
only "decidedly unenthusiastic about the military's growing
role in the antidrug effort" but also gravely "worried that
it may be dragged deeper into the civil war that has ravaged
Colombia for almost 40 years." McCaffrey admitted that "there
wasn't a huge fight among agencies over this package": what
the huge fight is about is whether the mule should go forward
at all, or whether it is likely to throw whomever is foolish
enough to mount it.
NO, NOT THEIR CELL PHONES!
are screaming "who lost Colombia?" and General McCaffrey
is pushing for the militarization of the antidrug effort,
with strong Administration backing, law enforcement officials
are more cynical. The Times cites anonymous officials
as suggesting that the Colombian government could take measures
that would cost nothing, such as "taking cellular telephones
away from jailed traffickers so they cannot operate from prison."
Oh, now I get it: while we send 30 sophisticated UH-60
Blackhawk helicopters to Colombia at a cost of more than $400
million, drug traffickers are making deals on their cell phones
from the comfort of their Colombian jail cells.
Administration spin job on this vast increase in the US military
and political investment in Colombia was succinctly summed
up by one Defense Department official quoted by the Times,
who said: "Here's the dilemma: Do you just let them go down
the tubes? It is far preferable for us to try to train them
and equip them than it is for American troops to ultimately
have to be there."
HAVE A QUESTION
Will somebody please tell me why American troops will
"ultimately have to be there?" Are we fated to reenact the
worst disasters in our history? Why not "let them go
down the tubes?" Governments are overthrown around the world
all the time: another coup in Ghana, a revolution in Venezuela,
an uprising in Burma, yet another insurgency threatens the
"legitimate" government of the Congo who cares?
And don't tell me that the difference is that Pastrana was
democratically elected: the US is now siding with the European
Union in attempting to nullify the results of the Austrian
election. What is so important about Colombia, of all
places, that it requires such a costly commitment?
in doubt, follow the money, and the AOL-Time-Warner connection
is just the beginning: British Petroleum is another big investor,
currently involved in a
dispute with native Indians who claim the company is poaching
on their land and polluting their cultural and religious heritage.
BP facilities have been a target
of opportunity for the various guerrilla groups: if the
huge new aid package to Colombia is passed by Congress, then
BP will no longer have to contract out with a private security
force to protect the pipelines the American taxpayers
will pick up the bill. While Administration officials insist
that US combat personnel will not be "directly" involved in
counterinsurgency operations, a recently-released White House
document described the central purpose of the new aid package
as "helping the Colombian government push into the coca-growing
regions of southern Colombia, dominated by insurgent guerrillas."
As General Fred
F. Woerner, the former commander of US military forces
in Latin America, put it: "How do you push into a area dominated
by these guys without having anything to do with them?" Good
question, General, and one that I expect we'll be asking whenever
this issue begins to show up on the national radar screen.
OUR RADAR SCREEN
Colombia has been on Antiwar.com's radar screen all along.
Faithful readers of this column will perhaps remember my last
column on this subject, which I recommend with one caveat:
Pastrana is no hero, as I depicted him, perhaps inadvertently,
but instead the chief architect of US intervention. It was
in this role that he recently made a special
lobbying trip to the United States to lobby for US aid
and assistance, stopping just short of asking for direct military
intervention. Significantly, he
appeared before the US Chamber of Commerce, in Washington,
DC, and basically pursued his agenda of offering up the entire
state-run apparatus of railroads, oil facilities, and communications
media to the highest bidder in exchange for military
and economic assistance. This is 'market socialism" or the
Third Way, in the era of Clinton and Blair: privatize the
profits but socialize the costs.
surprising aspect of the Colombian intervention that throws
new light on this whole operation is the Cuban factor. Last
year around this time Pastrana
arrived in Cuba seeking assistance from Fidel Castro.
Two top items on the agenda: Castro's intervention with the
guerrillas to enforce a cease fire and cooperation between
the two countries in drug interdiction operations. With Pastrana
facing military defeat at the hands of the rebels, and Castro
increasingly concerned about increasing drug usage in Cuba,
there was a natural confluence of interests. Like our own
rulers, Castro is currently on an antidrug kick, blaming their
influence instead of life under Cuban socialism
for the restlessness and alleged nihilism of increasingly
violent Cuban youth. This US-Colombian-Cuban alliance is much
easier to understand as US immigration authorities legitimize
Castro's regime by doing their damnedest to send
Elian Gonzalez back into slavery.
far as I know, not a single presidential candidate has even
mentioned the word "Colombia." This issue, about ready to
explode onto the headlines, is not even going to be debated
by the candidates this election year. Here is yet another
ominous parallel with Vietnam: that war, too, was "escalated"
so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. Eisenhower
got us involved, and the program was expanded by each succeeding
President. Nobody really noticed it until it burgeoned into
a national tragedy.