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Jewish World ReviewSept. 15, 1999 /5 Tishrei, 5760

David Corn

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The Years Of Living Hypocritically -- WHEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE on East Timor last week, it looked as if Bill Clinton was going to be more Rwanda than Kosovo. After nearly 80 percent of the residents of East Timor voted on Aug. 30 for independence from Indonesia, its occupier, anti-independence squads working with the Indonesian military, forcibly evacuated 200,000 East Timorese—nearly one-quarter of the region’s population—from their homes. Hundreds, including nuns and priests, were slaughtered.

How did Clinton respond at first? With bombs? With this-cannot-stand rhetoric? No, with neither. As the militias took over, Clinton said, “I’m very concerned about the continuing violence, and the people who lost the election should recognize that they lost it fair and square and should now find a way to go forward peacefully.” No doubt that made the military goons of Indonesia quiver. Instead of sending a clear signal to the military men behind the terror, Clinton’s gang publicly maintained that East Timor is not Kosovo. “The question of East Timor and Kosovo are not the same,” State Dept. spokesman James Rubin said last Wednesday. “It doesn’t mean we care less about East Timor than we care about Kosovo.” But that same day administration officials were telling reporters that Clinton & Co. had, as The New York Times put it, “made the calculation that the United States must put its relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of more than 200 million people, ahead of its concern over the political fate of East Timor, a tiny, impoverished territory.” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, in making the case for doing nothing, told reporters at a briefing: “You know, my daughter has a very messy apartment up in college; maybe I shouldn’t intervene to have that cleaned up.” Sounds like he cares a whole lot. Such a crass statement warrants resignation.

The Clinton administration’s initial plan was to have Pentagon officials persuade Indonesian military chief Gen. Wiranto to end the military-backed violence in East Timor. That is, to rely on the good graces of the man in charge of the marauders. This was a fool’s mission, for Wiranto had already done nothing to rein in the military commanders mounting the paramilitary violence in East Timor. At one point last week, Wiranto had even told an adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that he could not ensure the safety of the UN personnel in the capital city of Dili.

But toward the end of the week, the Clinton administration took a half-step: it suspended relations with the Indonesian military. This meant no more joint military exercises or exchanges of liaison officers.

(Still, according to a Pentagon spokesman, it wasn’t clear whether the suspension would interrupt U.S. arms sales to Indonesia.) This was hardly a bold move. Indonesia’s leaders might have been more concerned had Clinton heartily supported a cutoff of assistance from the International Monetary Fund. Instead, he noted, “My own willingness to support future assistance will depend very strongly on the way Indonesia handles this situation.” Not much of a threat, there. And at a press conference he referred to East Timor as a legitimate part of Indonesia—which it is not. It took a week for Clinton to state the obvious: “ It is now clear that the Indonesian military is aiding and abetting the militia violence.” Why the delay? Did the CIA, State Dept., and National Security Council not know what everyone in East Timor knew?

Clinton went slow, for the U.S. government, including the Clinton administration, has long cared little about the East Timorese, and it has long maintained a cozy relationship with the abusive Indonesian government and military. One historical fact left out of most reporting on the current East Timor crisis is that Washington in 1975 condoned Indonesia’s bloody invasion of East Timor, which is one half of the island of Timor. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were in Jakarta in December 1975, and were told of Indonesia’s intention to invade the former Portuguese colony. They didn’t protest.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, later wrote in his memoirs that Ford and Kissinger’s policy was for the U.S. to stall UN efforts to reverse the invasion.

Since the U.S.-approved invasion, administrations in Washington have happily shipped tons of weapons to the Indonesian military, even as its occupation of East Timor resulted in the deaths of up to 200,000. The militia men who attacked UN personnel in Dili did so with M-16 assault weapons—firearms that originated in the United States. Up until a few years ago, the United States was a key supplier of guns and ammunition to Indonesia. Then Congress imposed a ban. Still, the Clinton State Dept. licensed the sale to Indonesia of ammunition-manufacturing technology and the raw materials for ammunition—items not covered by the ban. Despite Indonesia’s lousy human-rights record, the Clinton administration has not turned off the tap of weapon sales to the Indonesian military. In 1996, the U.S peddled $28 million worth of military goods to Jakarta. In 1998, it licensed the sale of $33 million of equipment, including tear gas and spare parts for fighter jets, missiles, missile launchers, radar systems and tanks.

The recent ban on gun sales, unfortunately, came too late. (An immediate total cutoff in military sales to Indonesia would also be too late to help those being massacred now.) Over the years, the Indonesian military received enough guns from the United States to go around today. “We’ve been making this point for a while,” says Luke Warren, an analyst at the Council for a Livable World Educational Fund, a nonprofit watchdog group that monitors U.S. weapons sales abroad. “The Indonesian military has used American weapons and riot gear for years in East Timor and other provinces. Some of the most egregious activity it has engaged in has been done with American weapons. Once you sell them these things, you can’t get rid of them. The United States should have seen this coming for a long time.”

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the number-one arms dealer in the world, and the leading supplier of weaponry to developing nations, many of which cannot truly afford these goods or are not stable, human-rights-respecting democracies. There are approximately 6000 people employed by the U.S. government to promote arms sales overseas. The Clinton administration generally has opposed constraints on arms deals, favoring a laissez-faire policy that boosts sales for U.S. arms manufacturers. Remember the campaign theme of the first Clinton presidential campaign? Putting People First. Regarding its arms export policy—the consequences of which are now being seen on the streets of Dili—the Clinton White House, like its predecessors, believes in Putting (American) Profits First, and (Foreign) People Second.

The United States armed and supported the Indonesian military for years and helped create the current mess. Unlike his daughter’s room, East Timor is a place that Sandy Berger, as a representative of past and present U.S. foreign policy, must help clean up.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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©1999, David Corn