Problems of Population Control
The Post-Cold War Era
excerpted from the book
by Noam Chomsky
Hill and Wang, 1992, paper
For US elites the easing of Cold War tensions was a mixed blessing.
True, the decline of the Soviet deterrent facilitates US resort
to violence and coercion in the Third World, and the collapse
of the Soviet system paves the way to integration of much of East
and Central Europe into the domains that are to "complement
the industrial economies of the West. " But problems arise
in controlling the ever-threatening public at home and maintaining
influence over the allies, now credible rivals in terms of economic
power and ahead in the project of adapting the new Third World
to their needs. Here lie many problems, of a potentially serious
nature. It was therefore hardly surprising that Gorbachev's initiatives
should have elicited such ambivalent reactions, tinged with visible
annoyance and thoughts as to how they could be exploited to Washington's
advantage; or that his unilateral concessions and offers were
so commonly interpreted as moves in a game of PR one-upmanship,
in which our side unfortunately lacked the talent to compete.
The "Unsettling Specter of Peace"
raises "knotty 'peace' questions," the Wall Street Journal
observes.' Crucially, it threatens the regular resort to the military
Keynesian programs that have served as the major device of state
economic management through the postwar years. The Journal quotes
former army chief of staff General Edward Meyer, who thinks that
a more capital-intensive and high-tech military will ensure "a
big business out there for industry": robot tanks, unmanned
aircraft, sophisticated electronics-all of dubious use for any
defensive (or probably any) military purpose, but that is not
the point. It is, however, a rather lame hope; how will the public
be bludgeoned into paying the costs, without a plausible Red Menace
on the horizon?
Business circles have long taken for granted that the state must
play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit.
They may welcome talk about free enterprise and laissez-faire,
but only as a weapon to prevent diversion of public resources
to the , 7 population at large, or to facilitate the exploitation
of the dependencies.
The assumption has been that a probable
alternative to the Pentagon system is investment for social needs.
While perhaps technically feasible by the abstract standards of
the economist, this option interferes with the prerogatives of
owners and managers and is therefore ruled out as a policy option.
But unless driven by fear, the public will neither choose the
path that best serves corporate interests nor support foreign
adventures undertaken to subordinate the Third World to the same
Problems of social control mount in so
far as the state is limited in its capacity to coerce. It is,
after all, hardly a law of nature that a few should command while
the multitude obey, that the economy should be geared to ensuring
luxuries for some instead of necessities for all, or that the
fate-^ even the survival-of future generations be dismissed as
irrelevant to planning. If ordinary folk are free to reflect on
the causes of human misery (in Barrington Moore's phrase), they
may well draw all the wrong conclusions. Therefore, they must
be indoctrinated or diverted, a task that requires unremitting
efforts. The means are many; engendering fear of a threatening
enemy has always been a powerful tool in the kit.
The Vietnam years awakened many minds.
To counter the threat, it was necessary to restore the image of
American benevolence and to rebuild the structure of fear. Both
challenges were addressed with the dedication they demand.
The congressional human rights campaign,
itself a reflection of the improvement in the moral and intellectual
climate, was skillfully exploited for the former end. In the featured
article of the Foreign Affairs annual review of the world, Robert
Tucker comments, cynically but accurately, that since the mid
1970s "human rights have served to legitimize a part of the
nation's post-Vietnam foreign policy and to give policy a sense
of purpose that apparently has been needed to elicit public support."
He adds "the simple truth that human rights is little more
than a refurbished version of America's historic purpose of advancing
the cause of freedom in the world," as in Vietnam, a noble
effort "undertaken in defense of a free people resisting
communist aggression." Such State Department handouts are
all that one can expect about Vietnam in respectable circles;
the plain truth is far too threatening to be thinkable. But the
comments on "America's historic purpose"-also conventional-do
merit some notice. Such rhetoric would elicit only ridicule outside
of remnants of pre-Enlightenment fanaticism-perhaps among the
mullahs in Qom, or in disciplined Western intellectual circles.
In the Reagan years, a "yearning
for democracy" was added to the battery of population control
measures. As Tucker puts it, under the Reagan Doctrine "the
legitimacy of governments will no longer rest simply on their
effectiveness, but on conformity with the democratic process,"
and "there is a right of intervention" against illegitimate
governments-a goal too ambitious, he feels, but otherwise unproblematic.
The naive might ask why we failed to exercise this right of intervention
in South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, or El Salvador, among
other candidates. There is no inconsistency, however. These countries
are committed to "democracy" in the operative meaning
of the term: unchallenged rule by elite elements (business, oligarchy,
military) that generally respect the interests of US investors,
with appropriate forms for occasional ratification by segments
of the public. When these conditions are not satisfied, intervention
is legitimate to "restore democracy."
In the early Reagan years, the Soviet threat was manipulated for
the twin goals of Third World intervention and entrenching the
welfare state for the privileged. Transmitting Washington's rhetoric,
the media helped to create a brief period of public support for
the arms build-up while constructing a useful myth of the immense
popularity of the charismatic "great communicator" to
justify the state-organized party for the rich. Other devices
were also used. Thanks to the government-media campaign, 6 percent
of the public came to perceive Nicaragua as a "vital interest"
of the United States by 1986, well above France, Brazil, or India.
By the mid 1980s, international terrorism, particularly in the
Middle East, assumed center stage. To appreciate the brilliance
of this propaganda feat, one must bear in mind that even in the
peak years of concern, 1985-6, the US and its Israeli ally were
responsible for the most serious acts of international terrorism
in this region, not to speak of the leading role of the United
States in international terrorism elsewhere in the world, and
in earlier years.
To fit the part, a menace must be grave, or at least portrayable
as such. Defense against the menace must engender a suitable martial
spirit among the population, which must accord its rulers free
rein to pursue policies motivated on other grounds and must tolerate
the erosion of civil liberties, a side benefit of particular importance
for the statist reactionaries who masquerade as conservatives.
Furthermore, since the purpose is to divert attention away from
power and its operations-from federal offices, corporate boardrooms,
and the like-a menace for today should be remote: "the other,"
very different from "us," or at least what we are trained
to aspire to be. The designated targets should also be weak enough
to be attacked without cost; the wrong color helps as well. In
short, the menace should be situated in the Third World, whether
abroad or in the inner city at home. The war against the menace
should also be designed to be winnable, a precedent for future
operations. A crucial requirement for the entire effort is that
the media launch a properly structured propaganda campaign, never
A war on drugs was a natural choice for
the next crusade.
Seventy percent of the Bush-Bennett drug budget was for law enforcement;
if the underclass cannot be cooped up in urban reservations and
limited to preying on itself, then it can be imprisoned outright.
Countering criticism from soft-hearted liberals, Bennett supported
"tough policy" over "drug education programs":
"If I have the choice of only one, I will take policy every
time because I know children. And you might say this is not a
very romantic view of children, not a very rosy view of children.
And I would say, 'You're right'." Bennett is somewhat understating
his position when he says that punishment is to be preferred if
only one choice is available. In his previous post as Secretary
of Education, he sought to cut drug education funds and has expressed
skepticism about their value.
The flashiest proposal was military aid
to Colombia after the murder of presidential candidate Luis Carlos
Galan. However, as his brother Alberto pointed out, "the
drug dealers' core military power lies in paramilitary groups
they have organized with the support of large landowners and military
officers." Apart from strengthening "repressive and
anti-democratic forces," Galan continued, Washington's strategy
avoids "the core of the problem"- that is, "the
economic ties between the legal and illegal worlds," the
"large financial corporations" that handle the drug
money. "It would make more sense to attack and prosecute
the few at the top of the drug business rather than fill prisons
with thousands of small fish without the powerful financial structure
that gives life to the drug market."
It would indeed make more sense, if the
goal were a war on drugs. But it makes no sense for the goal of
population control, and it is in any event unthinkable, because
of the requirement that state policy protect power and privilege,
a natural concomitant of the "level playing field" at
As Drug Czar under the Reagan Administration,
George Bush was instrumental in terminating the main thrust of
the real "war on drugs." Officials in the enforcement
section of the Treasury Department monitored the sharp increase
in cash inflow to Florida (later Los Angeles) banks as the cocaine
trade boomed in the 1970s, and "connected it to the large-scale
laundering of drug receipts" (Treasury Department brief).
They brought detailed information about these matters to the Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Justice Department. After some
public exposes, the government launched Operation Greenback in
1979 to prosecute money-launderers. It soon foundered; the banking
industry is not a proper target for the drug war. The Reagan Administration
reduced the limited monitoring, and Bush "wasn't really too
interested in financial prosecution," the chief prosecutor
in Operation Greenback recalls. The program was soon defunct,
and Bush's new war on drugs aims at more acceptable targets. Reviewing
this record, Jefferson Morley comments that the priorities are
illustrated by the actions of Bush's successor in the "war
against drugs." When an $8 billion surplus was announced
for Miami and Los Angeles banks, William Bennett raised no questions
about the morality of their practices and initiated no inquiries,
though he did expedite eviction notices for low-income, mostly
Black residents of public housing in Washington where drug use
had been reported.
There may also be some fine-tuning. A
small Panamanian bank was pressured into pleading guilty on a
money-laundering charge after a sting operation. But the US government
dropped criminal charges against its parent bank, one of Latin
America's major financial institutions, based in one of the centers
of the Colombian drug cartel. There also appear to have been no
serious efforts to pursue the public allegations by cartel money-launderers
about their contacts with major US banks.
The announced war on drugs has a few other
gaps that are difficult to reconcile with the announced intentions,
though quite reasonable on the principles that guide social policy.
Drug processing requires ether and acetone, which are imported
into Latin America. Rafael Perl, drug-policy adviser at the Congressional
Research Service, estimates that more than 90 percent ~ of the
chemicals used to produce cocaine comes from the United States.
', In the nine months before the announcement of the drug war,
Colombian ~ police say they seized 1.5 million gallons of such
chemicals, many found | in drums displaying US corporate logos.
A CIA study concluded that US exports of these chemicals to Latin
America far exceed amounts used for any legal commercial purpose,
concluding that enormous amounts are being siphoned off to produce
heroin and cocaine. Nevertheless, chemical companies are off limits.
"Most DEA offices have only one agent working on chemical
diversions," a US official reports, so monitoring is impossible.
~ And there have been no reported raids by Delta Force on the
corporate | headquarters in Manhattan.
Reference to the CIA brings to mind another
interesting gap in the program. The CIA and other US government
agencies have been instrumental | in establishing and maintaining
the drug racket since World War II, when J Mafia connections were
used to split and undermine the French labor unions and the Communist
Party, laying the groundwork for the "French connection"
based in Marseilles. The Golden Triangle (Laos, Burma, Thailand)
became a major narcotics center as Chinese Nationalist troops
fled to the region after their defeat in China and, not long after,
as the CIA helped implement the drug flow as part of its effort
to recruit a mercenary "clandestine army" of highland
tribesmen for its counterinsurgency operations in Laos. Over the
years, the drug traffic came to involve other US clients as well.
In 1989 General Ramon Montano, chief of the Philippine constabulary,
testified in a public hearing in Manila that drug syndicates operating
in the Golden Triangle use the Philippines as a transshipment
point to other parts of Asia and the West, and conceded that military
officers are involved, as a Senate investigation had reported.
The Philippines are on their way to "becoming like Colombia,"
one Senator observed.
There are good reasons why the CIA and drugs are so closely linked.
Clandestine terror requires hidden funds, and the criminal elements
to whom the intelligence agencies naturally turn expect a quid
pro quo. Drugs are the obvious answer. Washington's long-term
involvement in the drug racket is part and parcel of its international
operations, notably during the Reagan-Bush administrations. One
prime target for an authentic drug war would therefore be close
Hodding Carter, Wall Street Journal observed
The mass media in America have an overwhelming
tendency to jump up and down and bark in concert whenever the
White House-any White House snaps its fingers."
Shortly after the November 1988 elections, 34 percent of the public
had selected the budget deficit as "George Bush's No. 1 priority
once he takes office." Three percent selected drugs as top
priority, down from previous months. After the media blitz of
September 1989, "a remarkable 43% say that drugs are the
nation's single most important issue," the Wall Street Journal
reports, with the budget deficit a distant second at 6 percent.
In a June 1987 poll of registered voters in New York, taxes were
selected as the number 1 issue facing the state (15 percent),
with drugs far down the list (5 percent). A repeat in September
1989 gave dramatically different results: taxes were selected
by 8 percent while the drug problem ranked far above any other,
at a phenomenal 46 percent. The real world had hardly changed;
its image had, as transmitted through the ideological institutions,
reflecting the current needs of power. A martial tone has broader
benefits for those who advocate state violence and repression
to secure privilege. The government-media campaign helped create
the required atmosphere among the general public and Congress.
In a typical flourish, Senator Mark Hatfield, often a critic of
reliance on force, said that in every congressional district "the
troops are out there. All they're waiting for is the orders, a
plan of attack, and they're ready to march." The bill approved
by Congress widens the application of the death penalty, limits
appeals by prisoners, and allows police broader latitude in obtaining
evidence, among other measures. The entire repressive apparatus
of the state is looking forward to benefits from this new "war,"
including the intelligence system and the Pentagon (which, however,
is reluctant to be drawn into direct military actions that will
quickly lose popular support). Military industry, troubled by
the unsettling specter of peace, scents new markets here, and
is "pushing swords as weapons in the drug war," Frank
Greve reports from Washington. "Analysts say sales for drug-war
work could spell relief for some sectors, such as commando operations,
defense intelligence and counterterrorism," and Federal military
laboratories may also find a new role. Army Colonel John Waghelstein,
a leading counterinsurgency specialist, suggested that the narco-guerrilla
connection could be exploited to mobilize public support for counterinsurgency
programs and to discredit critics:
A melding in the American public's mind
and in Congress of this connection would lead to the necessary
support to counter the guerrilla/narcotics terrorists in this
hemisphere. Generating that support would be relatively easy once
the connection was proven and an all-out war was declared by the
National Command Authority. Congress would find it difficult to
stand in the way of supporting our allies with the training, advice
and security assistance necessary to do the job. Those church
and academic groups that have slavishly supported insurgency in
Latin America would find themselves on the wrong side of the moral
issue. Above all, we would have the unassailable moral position
from which to launch a concerted offensive effort using Department
of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD assets.
"Substance abuse," to use the technical term, takes
a terrible toll. The grim facts are reviewed by Ethan Nadelmann
in Science magazine. Deaths attributable to consumption of tobacco
are estimated at over 300,000 a year, while alcohol use adds an
additional 50,000 to 200,000 annual deaths. Among fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds,
alcohol is the leading cause of death, also serving as a "gateway"
drug that leads to use of others, according to the National Council
on Alcoholism. In addition, a few thousand deaths from illegal
drugs are recorded: 3562 deaths were reported in 1985, from all
illegal drugs combined. According to these estimates, over 99
percent of deaths from substance abuse are attributable to tobacco
There are also enormous health costs,
again primarily from alcohol and tobacco use: "the health
costs of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined amount to only
a small fraction of those caused by either of the two licit substances
[alcohol and tobacco]," Nadelmann continues. Also to be considered
is the distribution of victims. Illicit drugs primarily affect
the user, but their legal cousins seriously affect others, including
passive smokers and victims of drunken driving and alcohol-induced
violence; "no illicit drug . . . is as strongly associated
with violent behavior as is alcohol," Nadelmann observes,
and alcohol abuse is a factor in some 40 percent of roughly 50,000
annual traffic deaths.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates
that 3800 nonsmokers die every year from lung cancer caused by
breathing other people's tobacco smoke, and that the toll of passive
smoking may be as many as 46,000 annually if heart disease and
respiratory ailments are included. Officials say that if confirmed,
these conclusions would require that tobacco smoke be listed as
a very hazardous carcinogen (class A), along with such chemicals
as benzene and radon. University of California statistician Stanton
Glantz describes passive smoking as "the third leading cause
of preventable death, behind smoking and alcohol."
Illegal drugs are far from uniform in
their effects. Thus, "among the roughly 60 million Americans
who have smoked marijuana, not one has died from a marijuana overdose,"
Nadelmann reports. As he and others have observed, federal interdiction
efforts have helped to shift drug use from relatively harmless
marijuana to far more dangerous drugs.
One might ask why tobacco is legal and
marijuana not. A possible answer is suggested by the nature of
the crop. Marijuana can be grown almost anywhere, with little
difficulty. It might not be easily marketable by major corporations.
Tobacco is quite another story.
The reactionary statist tendencies of the post-Vietnam period
arose in response to a dual challenge: the decline of US dominance
of the international order and the popular activism of the 1960s,
which challenged the dominance of the same privileged sectors
at home. Neither Kennedy's "Grand Design" nor the efforts
of the Nixon Administration succeeded in restricting Europe to
its "regional interests" within the "overall framework
of order" managed by the United States, as Kissinger urged.
There was no alternative to the trilateralism embraced by the
Carter neoliberals, who, like their predecessors, were no less
troubled by the popular democratic thrust at home-their "crisis
of democracy" that threatened to bring the general population
into the political arena in a meaningful way.
As already discussed, these challenges
inspired a campaign to restore the population to apathy and obedience
and thus overcome the "crisis of democracy," and to
enhance business power generally. By 1978, UAW President Doug
Fraser had seen the handwriting on the wall. Resigning from the
Labor-Management Group, he denounced the "leaders of the
business community" for having "chosen to wage a one-sided
class war in this country-a war against working people, the unemployed,
the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and
even many in the middle class of our society," and having
"broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously
existing during a period of growth and progress." A year
later, in another recognition of reality, Cleveland's populist
mayor Dennis Kucinich told a UAW meeting that there is only one
political party in the United States, the pro-business "Demipublicans."'
The period of steady economic progress
was over. The challenge of rival powers was real for the first
time since World War 11, and the fragile social compact could
not be sustained. Programs designed through the 1970s were implemented,
with an extra touch of crudity, during the Reagan years with the
general support of the other faction of the business party and
the ideological apparatus.
The historical and planning record and
underlying institutional factors provide good reason to expect
the post-Cold War era to be much like the past as far as relations
between the United States and the Third World are concerned, apart
from tactics and propaganda. "Radical nationalism" and
experiments with independent development geared to domestic needs
will raise the danger flags and call forth a reaction, varying
with circumstances and the functions of the region. The same continuity
is to be expected with regard to the concomitants of these policy
goals, including the persistent support for human rights violations,
the general hostility to social reform and the principled antagonism
Democratic forms can be tolerated, even
admired, if only for propaganda purposes. But this stance can
be adopted only when the distribution of effective power ensures
that meaningful participation of the "popular classes"
has been barred. When they organize and threaten the control of
the political system by the business-landowner elite and the military,
strong measures must be taken, with tactical variations depending
on the ranking of the target population on the scale of importance.
At the lowest rank, in the Third World, virtually no holds are
If the security forces are under control,
the death squads can be unleashed while we wring our hands over
our painful inability to instill our passion for human rights
in the hearts of our unworthy allies. Other means are required
when control of the security forces has been lost. Nicaragua,
the obsession of the 1980s, was one such case, a particularly
dangerous one because it was feared that the government in power
was one "that cares for its people," in the words of
Jose Figueres, referring to the Sandinistas who, he said, brought
Nicaragua the first such government in its history, popularly
elected in a free and fair election that he observed in 1984.
It was for expressing such improper sentiments as these that the
leading figure of Central American democracy had to be rigorously
excluded from the US media throughout the 1980s.
It is therefore not at all surprising
that hostility to the Sandinistas was virtually uniform in media
commentary and other elite circles. The official reasons (human
rights, democracy, the Soviet threat, and so on) are too far-fetched
to take seriously, and were, in any event, thoroughly refuted
so many times, with no effect, as to reveal the pointlessness
of the exercise. The real issue is the one Figueres identified.
Throughout, the only debatable question has been tactical: how
to restore Nicaragua to "the Central American mode"
and impose "regional standards"-those of the US client
states. Such matters as freedom of the press and human rights
aroused profound libertarian and moral passions in Nicaragua,
as distinct from the death squad democracies next door, or other
states with vastly worse records but with the compensating merit
that they too were properly respectful of US priorities. Similarly,
elections in the terror states revealed heartening progress towards
democracy, but not in Nicaragua, where radically different standards
were applied. The 1984 elections were intolerable to the United
States because they could not be controlled. Therefore Washington
did what it could to disrupt them, and they were dismissed and
eliminated from history by the media, as required. In the case
of the long-scheduled 1990 elections, the US interfered massively
from the outset to gain victory for its candidates, not only by
the enormous financial aid that received some publicity, but-far
more significant and considered quite uncontroversial-by White
House announcements that only a victory by the US candidate would
bring an end to the illegal US economic sanctions and restoration
In brief, Nicaraguan voters were informed
that they had a free choice: Vote for our candidate, or watch
your children starve.
These efforts to subvert the 1990 election
in Nicaragua are highlighted by a comparison to the reaction at
exactly the same time to elections in neighboring Honduras. Its
November 1989 elections received scanty but generally favorable
coverage in the US media, which described them as "a milestone
for the United States, which has used Honduras as evidence that
the democratically elected governments it supports in Central
America are taking hold." President Bush, meeting with Honduran
President Rafael Callejas after his election, called the Honduran
government "an inspiring example of the democratic promise
that today is spreading throughout the Americas.
A closer look helps us to understand what
is meant by "democracy" in the political culture. The
November elections were effectively restricted to the two traditional
parties. One candidate was from a family of wealthy industrialists,
the other from a family of large landowners. Their top advisers
"acknowledge that there is little substantive difference
between the two and the policies they would follow as president,"
we learn from the press report that hails this milestone in the
progress of democracy. Both parties represent large landowners
and industrialists and have close ties with the military, the
effective rulers, who are independent of civilian authority under
the Constitution but heavily dependent on the United States, as
is the economy. The Guatemalan Central America Report adds: "in
the absence of substantial debate, both candidates rely on insults
and accusations to entertain the crowds at campaign rallies and
political functions"-if that sounds familiar to a US audience,
it is not mere coincidence. Popular participation was limited
to ritual voting. The legal opposition parties (Christian Democratic
and Social Democratic) charged massive electoral fraud.
Human rights abuses by the security forces
escalated as the election approached. In the preceding weeks there
were attacks with bombs and rifle fire against independent political
figures, journalists, and union leaders, condemned as a plan to
repress popular organizations by the head of the Coordinating
Committee of Popular Organizations, ex-rector of the National
University Juan Almendares. In preceding months the armed forces
conducted a campaign of political violence, including assassination
of union leaders and other extrajudicial executions, leaving tortured
and mutilated bodies by roadsides for the first time. The human
rights organization CODEH reported at least seventy-eight people
killed by the security forces between January and July, while
reported cases of torture and beatings more than tripled over
the preceding year. But state terror remained at levels low enough
not to disturb US elite opinion.
Starvation and general misery are rampant,
the extreme concentration of wealth increased during the decade
of "democracy," and 70 percent of the population are
malnourished. Despite substantial US aid and no guerrilla conflict,
the economy is collapsing, with capital flight and a sharp drop
in foreign investment, and almost half of export earnings devoted
to debt service. But there is no major threat to order, and profits
In short, Honduras, like Colombia, is
a praiseworthy democracy, and there is no concern over the "level
playing field" for its elections, unlike those in Nicaragua.
Even El Salvador and Guatemala, murderous
gangster states run by the US-backed military, are considered
democracies. Elite opinion expresses considerable pride in having
established and maintained these charnel houses, with "free
elections" permitted after a wave of slaughter, torture,
disappearance, mutilation, and other effective devices of control.
Physical destruction of the independent media and murder of editors
and journalists by the security forces passes virtually without
comment-often literally without report-among their US colleagues,
among many other atrocities.
Occasionally, one hears an honest comment.
Joachim Maitre of Boston University, one of the leading academic
supporters of Reagan Administration policies in Central America,
observes that the US has "installed democracies of the style
of Hitler Germany" in El Salvador and Guatemala. But such
candor is far from the norm.
Nicaragua, however, was different, because
of the threat of independent nationalism and social reform, heightened
by the loss of US control of the security forces-a problem that
has arisen elsewhere as well, and a serious one, because the standard
device for repressing and eliminating undesirable tendencies is
then no longer available. In the case of Guatemala and Chile it
was necessary to resort to economic strangulation, subversion,
and military force to overthrow the democratic regimes and establish
the preferred regional standards. In the case of the Dominican
Republic in 1965, direct invasion was required to bar the restoration
of a constitutional regime. The response to the Cuban problem
was direct aggression at the Bay of Pigs, and when Soviet deterrence
made further such attempts unfeasible, an unprecedented campaign
of international terrorism along with unremitting economic and
ideological warfare-again, surely not motivated by the reasons
advanced in the official government-media line, which are hardly
credible. Other cases require different measures, including Panama,
another long-term target of US intervention, to which we turn
We may continue to think of the Third World in the terms used
in early post-World War II planning: as the region that is to
"fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials
and a market" for the Western industrial societies. One long-standing
source of international conflict was the Soviet empire's failure
to fulfill its function in the required way. This problem, it
is hoped, will now be remedied as Eastern Europe advances towards
the conditions of Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. The fear
of "creeping Communism" can then be put to rest, as
the modem forms of colonialism expand towards their natural borders.
The three major power groupings are eagerly
swooping down upon the collapsing Soviet empire (as on China,
a few years earlier) in search of markets, resources, opportunities
for investment and export of pollution, cheap labor, tax havens,
and other familiar Third World amenities. These efforts to impose
the preferred model of two-tiered societies open to exploitation
and under business rule are accompanied by appropriate flourishes
about the triumph of political pluralism and democracy. We can
readily determine the seriousness of intent by a look at the reaction
to popular movements that might actually implement democracy and
pluralism in the traditional Third World countries, and to the
"crisis of democracy" within the industrial societies
themselves. The rhetoric need not detain us.
We may also take note of the broad-if
tacit-understanding that the capitalist model has limited application;
business leaders have long recognized that it is not for them.
The successful industrial societies depart significantly from
this model, as in the past-one reason why they are successful
industrial societies. In the United States, the sectors of the
economy that remain competitive are those that feed from the public
trough: high-tech industry and capital-intensive agriculture,
along with pharmaceuticals and others. Departures are still more
radical in most of the other state capitalist systems, where planning
is coordinated by state institutions and financial-industrial
conglomerates, sometimes with democratic processes and a social
contract of varying sorts, sometimes not. The glories of Free
Enterprise provide a useful weapon against government policies
that might benefit the general population, and of course, capitalism
will do just fine for the former colonies and the Soviet empire.
For those who are to "fulfill their functions" in service
to the masters of the world order, the model is highly recommended;
it facilitates their exploitation. But the rich and powerful at
home have long appreciated the need to protect themselves from
the destructive forces of free-market capitalism, which may provide
suitable themes for rousing I oratory, but only so long as the
public handout and the regulatory and protectionist apparatus
are secure, and state power is on call when needed.
What, then, is the probable evolution
of US policy towards the Third World in the post-Cold War era?
The answer to this question, implicit in the earlier discussion,
was announced loud and clear by the Bush Administration on December
20, 1989: More of the same.
But not precisely the same. One problem
is that some adjustments are needed in the propaganda framework.
The US invasion of Panama is a historic event in one respect.
In a departure from the routine, it was not justified as a response
to an imminent Soviet threat. When the US invaded Grenada six
years earlier, it was still possible to portray the act as a defensive
reaction to the machinations of the Russian bear, seeking to strangle
us in pursuit of its global designs. The chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff could solemnly intone that in the event of a Soviet
attack on Western Europe, Grenada might interdict the Caribbean
sea lanes and prevent the US from providing oil to its beleaguered
allies, with the endorsement of a new category of scholars created
for the purpose. Through the 1980s, the attack against Nicaragua
was justified by the danger that if we don't stop the Commies
there, they'll be pouring across the border at Harlingen, Texas,
two days' drive away. There are more sophisticated (and equally
weighty) variants for the educated classes. But in the case of
Panama, not even the imagination of the State Department and the
editorial writers extended that far.
Fortunately, the problem had been foreseen.
When the White House decided that its friend Noriega was getting
too big for his britches and had to go, the media took their cue
and launched a campaign to convert him into the most nefarious
demon since Attila the Hun, a repeat of the Qaddafi project a
few years earlier. The effort was enhanced by the "drug war,"
the government-media hoax launched in an effort to mobilize the
population in fear now that it is becoming impossible to invoke
the Kremlin design-though for completeness, we should also take
note of the official version, dutifully reported as fact in the
New York Times: "the campaign against drugs has increasingly
become a priority for the Administration as well as Congress as
a diminishing Soviet threat has given Washington an opportunity
to turn to domestic issues.
The propaganda operation was a smashing
success. "Manuel Noriega belongs to that special fraternity
of international villains, men like Qaddafi, Idi Amin, and the
Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Americans just love to hate," Ted
Koppel orated, so "strong public support for a reprisal [sic]
was all but guaranteed." Why did Americans hate Noriega in
1989, but not in 1985? Why is it necessary to overthrow him now,
but not then? The questions that immediately come to mind were
systematically evaded. With a fringe of exceptions-mostly well
after the tasks had been accomplished- the media rallied around
the flag with due piety and enthusiasm, funneling the most absurd
White House tales to the public. while scrupulously refraining
from asking the obvious questions, or seeing the most obvious
There were some who found all this a bit
too much. Commenting on the Panama coverage, David Nyhan of the
Boston Globe described the media as "a docile, not to say
boot-licking, lot, subsisting largely on occasional bones of access
tossed into the press kennel," happy to respond to lies with
"worshipful prose. " The Wall Street Journal noted that
the four television networks gave "the home team's version
of the story. " There was a scattering of skepticism in reporting
and commentary, but most toed the line in their enthusiasm for
what George Will called an exercise of the "good-neighbor
policy," an act of "hemispheric hygiene" expressing
our "rights and responsibilities" in the hemisphere-whatever
the delinquents beyond our borders may think, as revealed by their
The Bush Administration was, naturally,
overjoyed. A State Department official observed that "the
Republican conservatives are happy because we were willing to
show some muscle, and the Democratic liberals can't criticize
because it's being so widely seen as a success:" the State
Department follows standard conventions, contrasting "conservatives,"
who advocate a powerful and violent state, with "liberals,"
who sometimes disagree with the "conservatives" on tactical
grounds, fearing that the cost to us may be too high. These salutary
developments "can't help but give us more clout," the
same official continued.
As for the general population, many doubtless
were also enthusiastic about the opportunity to "kick a little
ass" in Panama-to borrow some of the rhetoric designed by
George Bush's handlers in their comical effort to shape an effete
New England aristocrat into a Texas redneck. But it is interesting
to read the letters to the editor in major newspapers, which tended
to express hostility to the aggression, along with much shame
and distress, and often provided information, analysis and insights
that the professionals were careful to avoid.
A more professional reaction was given
by the respected Washington Post correspondent David Broder. He
notes that there has been some carping at "the prudence of
Bush's action" from "the left" (meaning, presumably,
the National Council of Churches and some centrist liberals, anything
else being far beyond his horizons, as is the idea that there
might be criticism on grounds other than prudence). But he dismisses
"this static on the left" with scorn: "what nonsense."
Rather, the invasion of Panama helped to clarify "the circumstances
in which military intervention makes sense." The "best
single definition" of the "new national consensus,"
he goes on to explain, was given by Reagan's Defense Secretary,
Caspar Weinberger, who outlined six "well-considered and
well-phrased" criteria. Four of them state that intervention
should be designed to succeed. The other two add that the action
should be deemed "vital to our national interest" and
a "last resort" to achieve it.
Oddly, Broder neglected to add the obvious
remark about these impressive criteria: they could readily have
been invoked by Hitler.
UN Ambassador Daniel Moynihan in a cablegram to Henry Kissinger
on January 23, 1976,
reported the "considerable progress"
that had been made by his arm-twisting tactics at the UN "toward
a basic foreign policy goal, that of breaking up the massive blocs
of nations, mostly new nations, which for so long have been arrayed
against us in international forums and in diplomatic encounters
generally." Moynihan cited two relevant cases: his success
in undermining a UN reaction to the Indonesian invasion of East
Timor and to Moroccan aggression in the Sahara, both supported
by the US, the former with particular vigor.
Former UN Ambassador Daniel Moynihan in his memoir of his years
at the United Nations, where he describes frankly his role as
Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975:
"... within a few weeks some 60,000
people had been killed, "10 percent of the population, almost
the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during
the Second World War."
"The United states wished things
to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department
of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective
in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me,
and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."