Friday, January 18, 2008

On New Hitlers and Reforming Dictators

Matthew Yglesias, whom I tend to respect even if he is not one with whom I always agree, shows a surprising lack of understanding about the history of American support of what he calls "tin-pot dictators", as he reflects on George Bush's lie concerning the non-existent reform efforts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The pretense that every country we have a dispute with is run by the New Hitler while every country we opportunistically ally with is run by a Bold Reformer is incredibly dumb and something a grownup country ought to be able to move past.

This is as old as American hegemonic actions. During the first days of the Cold War, the communist rebels in Greece were linked directly to the Soviet Union, even though Stalin has explicitly denounced them, and pulled both funding and arms shipments via Yugoslave before the situation reached a supposed crisis. For those who may not know, it was the alleged Greek crisis that spurred on the rewriting of our defense and intelligence laws, creating the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Act is in many ways a similar over-reaction to a non-event in Greece to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as a response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Not that these were non-events; it is just the response is disproportionate to the action that created them.

In his one trip to South Vietnam, then Vice President Lyndon Johnson called President Ngo Dihn Diem the Winston Churchill of southeast Asia, which was about as realistic as calling Ho Chi Minh the anti-Christ. During the 1980's, Jose Napolean Duarte, President of El Salvador, was championed by various interests in Washington, even as he turned a blind eye to the multiple massacres perpetrated by the death squads his military sent out as wild patrols. Daniel Ortega was the Josef Stalin of Central America, even as the contradoras supported by the United States raised money through cocaine smuggling (I well remember one Reagan speech, in which he held up a photo, supposedly of members of the Nicaraguan regime smuggling drugs; the claim was almost immediately proved false as the people shown were well-known leaders of the contras).

Before Vietnam, President Sukarno of Indonesia was ousted in a military coup, as his reformist, somewhat socialist regime, was seen as a direct threat to . . . well the oil companies, since Indonesia controls oil reserves in the southwestern Pacific.

Of course, there is the horrid events in Chile in 1973, which resulted in neo-Fascist states not just in that poor land, but in Ururguay, Paraguay, and Argentina, Operation Condor, and a reign of terror across South America, and indeed the world. Even now that he is rotting in his grace, and one hopes his soul is suffering in hell, General Pinochet is still lauded by Robert Novak and others in Washington, as if he were the best thing to happen in Chile.

Bush's stupid bald-faced and easily disproved lie in Egypt is just the latest in a long series of nonsensical drivel on our client states and their adversaries that American leaders have done for close to two generations. It is infuriating, but it is also par for the course.

Virtual Tin Cup

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