September 17, 1999


Can't this Administration tell the truth about anything? Yesterday, President Clinton announced that "I have decided to contribute to the [East Timor "peacekeeping"] force in a limited but essential way." The U.S., we are now told, will contribute "about 200" U.S. troops. Last week, however, it was a completely different story: September 8th was a day of denials, in which the Clintonistas scurried for cover and stoutly maintained that, as Defense Secretary William Cohen put it, "The United States is not planning an insertion of any peacekeeping forces." Whether you call it an "insertion," or something a little more graphic, is a matter of style and perspective, but one thing's for sure: if this White House sticks to any principle, if it is consistent about anything, it is the importance of constantly lying – especially when it comes to foreign policy.


The Sept. 8th Associated Press report continued: "'The government of Indonesia is responsible for bringing order and peace to East Timor,' Cohen said. He did not spell out what U.S. reaction would be but repeated assertions that the United States cannot act as the world's policeman and has to be selective in crises where it commits troops." Cohen didn't just deny that the U.S. had plans to send troops to East Timor, he repeatedly enunciated a broader principle: the United States cannot act as the world's policeman. Now we find out that it can indeed be the world's policeman, at least as far as East Timor is concerned. What kind of two-faced double-talking double-dealing is this? And what is even more astonishing is that the lying passes not only unremarked on, but also virtually unnoticed. Are we so inured to duplicity in everything that we no longer bother to note that it is even occurring?


But the Clintonians don't just lie out of high principle, or even just for the fun of it (except, perhaps, in the President's case): there is a strategic point to the complete lack of honesty in foreign policy matters, and this is illustrated in the Administration's use of Cohen to run interference with the Republicans. For a week the Defense Secretary had the Republicans sufficiently mollified to forestall any action on their part, while the Administration furiously lobbied for support among the internationalists of both parties. It was a clever ruse, and it worked – as it worked in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in every intervention (major and minor) undertaken by Clinton & Company. They fall for it every time.


Weasel words are the language of this scurrilous Administration, and their style of operation is almost more damaging to our republic than their policies. For the fog of war has become permanent: it is impossible to tell, in war or peace, what rash action the U.S. government is capable of from one moment to the next. This is what it means to be the World's Only Superpower – reckless, capricious, and highly egregious.


You can't get much more weasely than the linguistic knots administration officials tie themselves into in a futile effort to convince us that this intervention is "limited," as you'll note Clinton made a point of saying: But at the Pentagon, it was a slightly different story, with Navy Vice Admiral Scott Fry telling reporters that the U.S. could cave in to Aussie demands for additional U.S. troops. "The door has got to stay open,'' said Fry. And there was a slightly different spin coming from Pentagon mouthpiece Kenneth Bacon: "We're comfortable with the contribution we've made so far. We're comfortable with our offer to consider additional requests. And without ruling anything in or out, we'll just have to wait and see what requests, if any, come forward."


What will Clinton do? In the words of our officials and their spokesmen, the policy is: nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out – and anything is possible. From "The Yanks Are Not Coming," the song U.S. officials were singing last week, it has come down to "Ask, And Ye Shall Receive" – and that inside of a single week! At this rate, I hate to think how deep we will be sunk in this quagmire a month from now. The same day Cohen denied we were sending any troops, Sandy Berger chimed in with: "Because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we have to bomb in Dili." Dili my eye – Jakarta is more like it.


The President was cautious enough to warn of the possibility of casualties in the course of this open-ended operation, and no sooner had he spoken than the pretense of Indonesian compliance was already collapsing. Yesterday, Indonesia canceled its treaty of cooperation with Australia, blasting the Aussies' "arrogance" in a sharply-worded statement by Feisal Tanjung, the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs: "The government of Indonesia deeply regrets Australia's attitude, which has damaged the bilateral agreement with Indonesia, as shown by Australia's decision to stop military cooperation and help as well as receiving cooperation in the field of security." Meanwhile, thousands of nationalist students demonstrated outside the UN mission in Jakarta, burning U.S., and Australian flags and accusing the UN of rigging the recent referendum in which some 70 percent of the East Timorese population voted against the central government's autonomy plan. With the military already out of control, the prospect of "rogue" Indonesian troops engaging in combat with their Australian "saviors" is more than likely. How long before we have to bail our Australian allies out?


Just as the Kosovo intervention was justified by the U.S. government in the name of preserving NATO, so the East Timor expeditionary force will be rationalized in the name of the Australian-U.S. partnership, which goes back to World War II. But that isn't all . . .


The President, in announcing his decision in favor of a supposedly "limited" military intervention, declared that "this mission is in America's interest for several reasons. Indonesia's future is important to us not only because of its resources and its sea lanes, but for its potential as a leader in the region, and the world." And so now we have extended U.S. hegemony not only over the whole of Europe, the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, and North and South America, but we have also decided that it is time to annex the world's sea lanes. Next step: the Moon and Mars.


In the dark days of the Cold War, sea-lane hysteria was at least a plausible reaction to instability in the region. Cold Warrior policymakers could point to the ever-present danger of the Soviet Union and its regional allies, including the Vietnamese and the various guerrilla insurgencies that owed allegiance to either Moscow or Beijing. But outside of the Cold War context, this insistence that we must control every port and way station in an archipelago of some 15,000 islands is entirely irrational. For who is going to block the sea-lanes and forbid passage to oil shipments bound for Japan and beyond?


Certainly not the Indonesian government, which is in enough financial trouble as it is – and certainly not any of the secessionist movements, such as the Aceh Liberation Front or the rebels of Irian Java, should they come to power. Will the navy of the Aceh Liberation Front – a couple of dinghies, and a fleet of hollowed-out logs – block all shipping from passing through their waters? As a military project, not to mention as an economic program, such an action by a newly independent government would make little sense, aside from being entirely ineffective. The point is that it matters not one whit to the freedom of the sea-lanes whether Indonesia breaks up, or remains intact. We have no vital national interest anywhere near Indonesia, and Clinton knows it.


As usual, our President is lying: his reasons for intervening, like his decision to free the Puerto Rican terrorists of the FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), are entirely political, having more to do with the domestic landscape than events on the ground in East Timor. To begin with, he is under pressure from his Left – not only from the Barney Franks of this world, and the "East Timor solidarity network" crunchy granola leftists who want the U.S. to intervene on the side of the Fretilin Marxist guerrillas, but he is also being pressured internationally, by his fellow "Third Way" comrades in the British Labor Party.


Tony Blair is sending in the British Gurkhas, known for their toughness, as "peacekeepers" alongside the 4,500 Australians due to land on Saturday. The Australian section of the Socialist International, the opposition Labor Party, is looking to its British and American cousins to carry the banner of Blairite "internationalism" into the South Asian arena: this will give the party a political issue to use against Howard in the upcoming elections With the warmongering Australian unions, the base of the party, calling for Indonesian blood, the Aussie Laborites are pressing the issue, with the more rabid warmongers posing the possibility of literally declaring war on Jakarta.


The politics of this intervention are underscored by the remonstrations between Australia and the U.S. over the issue, with the latter bitter about Prime Minister John Howard's call for "U.S. boots on the ground." U.S. officials are reportedly angry that the Australians had underestimated the extent of the East Timor problem. The opposition Labor Party has gone on the offensive, frantically beating the war drums and pouncing on a report in the Australian Financial Review of a highly-placed Indonesian spy in either the office of the Minister of Defense or within the intelligence service. With the Australian Laborites even more belligerent than Tony Blair – the Maggie Thatcher of the Third Way – Howard's government has made many requests for additional assistance from the U.S., including more Americans in the occupation (ooops! I mean, "peacekeeping") force. If Washington is waiting to "see what requests, if any, come forward," as Bacon puts it, then perhaps it is waiting to hear the request from a Labor government. Or, then again, it may be forced to act sooner, as events in the region veer out of control.


Little noticed throughout this crisis is that China is watching the situation intently, and is "very much concerned about the development of the situation in East Timor," as Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan put it. He also announced that China is not going to sit on the sidelines while the fate of nearby Indonesia is decided by the West. Tang took the occasion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to make it known that China was considering whether to contribute to the UN peacekeeping force, and yesterday it was confirmed that China will indeed contribute "police forces" to the multinational corps of gendarmes. This underscores the potential volatility of the Indonesian meltdown. Indonesian nationalist elements have long agitated against Chinese immigrant merchants, whose income is considerably higher than that the native population: riots regularly break out, with hundreds if not thousands of Chinese routed from their homes and many killed and injured. If another outbreak of Indonesian nationalism occurs, and resentment of foreigners continues to rise, as is happening right now, then the Chinese are likely targets. As to how Chinese cops sent by Beijing will react to anti-Chinese riots – let your imagination roam free.


I described the situation in Indonesia as a meltdown, and with each passing day this assessment seems almost certain, The government of B. J. Habibie is rapidly losing whatever authority it once had, as financial scandals rock Habibie's party: and now the loss of East Timor, which has both the Indonesian right as well as the left up in arms, has further undermined his legitimacy. With the Aceh Liberation Front, which has fought for independence nearly as long as the Fretilin of East Timor, now calling for a UN-sponsored referendum on independence, can there be any doubt that many others – perhaps dozens of islets and sub-archipelagos – are headed in the same direction?


The reaction from Jakarta, and from the Indonesian people, is hardly going to be passive. A recent news photo shows a young protester of not more than fifteen or sixteen holding a placard that reads: "Australian Soldiers, Welcome to East Timor. Graves Have Been Prepared for You! Rest in Hell."


With very little forethought, and even less debate, are we marching our soldiers off to another Asian hell, another war to secure nonexistent "vital interests" in a region where the national income is less than Bill Gates makes in one month? It certainly looks that way. Where are the Republicans who stood up against the President's meddling in the Balkans? They are going to wake up, one morning, to discover that we are embroiled in a major war on the other side of the world, without hope of either justifying it to the American people or declaring victory and going home. It seems the Republicans have yet to learn the lesson of Kosovo – a failure they will live to regret.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, “China and the New Cold War”

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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