[ETAN-key] Joseph Nevins: A Single Standard for Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein
John M Miller
fbp at igc.org
Fri Jan 5 04:24:53 PST 2007
AntiWar.com (Redwood City, CA)
Friday, January 5, 2007
A Single Standard for Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein
by Joseph Nevins
During the same week that former U.S. president
Gerald Ford passed away, Iraqi authorities
executed Saddam Hussein. As one might expect,
official Washington's reactions to the two events were radically different.
President Bush expressed sadness in the wake of
Ford's death, calling the former president a
"great man" while Representative Nancy Pelosi
voiced respect for Ford's "fair and reliable
leadership." By contrast, George Bush welcomed
Hussein's execution, characterizing it as "an
important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming
a democracy," and Senator Joseph Biden, incoming
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, declared with satisfaction that "Iraq
has . . . rid the world of a tyrant."
On the surface, it makes sense to judge the two
men in such divergent ways. After all, an Iraqi
court convicted Hussein of a crime against
humanity for ordering the killing of 148 Shi'ite
villagers, only one of many atrocities he oversaw
while ruling Iraq. Gerald Ford, to the contrary,
was never even indicted for any such crime. But
it turns out that this distinction reflects a
double standard for judging similar conduct.
Ford, too, was responsible for mass murder in
East Timor and basic justice and honesty
demands that he be remembered for it.
On Dec. 6, 1975, Ford and Henry Kissinger, his
secretary of state, were in Jakarta, Indonesia to
meet the country's dictator, General Suharto.
Ford was fully cognizant of Indonesia's plans to
launch an imminent invasion of the former
Portuguese Timor. According to declassified
documents published by the Washington-based
National Security Archive, Ford assured Suharto
that with regard to East Timor, "[We] will not
press you on the issue. We understand . . . the intentions you have."
Suharto needed Washington's green light due to a
1958 agreement that prohibited Indonesia from
using U.S.-origin weaponry, which made up 90% of
Jakarta's arsenal, except for "legitimate
national self-defense." For this reason Kissinger
suggested that the invasion be framed as
self-defense, thus circumventing any legal obstacles.
Kissinger then expressed understanding for
Indonesia's "need to move quickly" and advised
"that it would be better if it were done after we
[he and Ford] returned [to the United States]."
About 14 hours after their departure, Indonesian
forces invaded neighboring East Timor.
While Indonesian forces massacred civilians
during the first hours of the Dec. 7 invasion,
Ford spoke at the University of Hawaii. There, he
declared his commitment to a "Pacific doctrine of
peace with all and hostility toward none," and
spoke of an Asia "where people are free from the threat of foreign aggression."
Ford and his White House successors helped make
sure that his lofty vision was not realized in
Indonesia-ravaged East Timor. According to the
now-independent country's truth commission
report, released late last year, Indonesia's war
and illegal occupation resulted in many tens of
thousands of East Timorese deaths, widespread
rape and sexual enslavement of women and girls,
and, in the waning days of Jakarta's presence,
systematic destruction of the territory's
buildings and infrastructure. Today, East Timor
is one of the world's poorest countries.
Over the almost 24 years of Indonesian rule,
Democratic and Republican administrations alike
provided invaluable diplomatic cover and billions
of dollars' worth of weapons, military equipment
and training, and economic aid to Jakarta. For
such reasons the truth commission report
characterizes U.S. assistance as "fundamental" to
the invasion and occupation, and calls upon
Washington to apologize and pay reparations to East Timor.
Washington's considerable share of the blame for
East Timor's plight does not rest solely at
Ford's feet. But it was Gerald Ford that opened
the door to this dreadful chapter in history.
There is little doubt that Ford's authorization
was key to Indonesia's invasion. Intelligence and
diplomatic documents reveal that Jakarta was so
worried about how the U.S. would react to its
aggression that Suharto had vetoed earlier plans
to invade. His administration had previously
warned Indonesia against using American weaponry
in any planned aggression. But any reservations
that the administration may have had about the
employment of U.S. weaponry seem to have
disappeared by Dec. 6, 1975, with horrific
results for the people of East Timor.
One week after the meeting in Jakarta, Ford sent
Suharto a package of golf balls as "a personal
gift." In the months that followed, his U.N.
ambassador prevented the United Nations from
taking effective steps to compel Jakarta to end
its aggression. Later in 1976, Ford's
administration shipped a squadron of U.S. OV-10
"Bronco" ground-attack planes to Indonesia's
military, ones ideal for counterinsurgency of the
type it was waging in East Timor.
We in the United States, and people throughout
the world, should make these events a central
part of our collective memory of Ford's
presidency for the sake of the victims and the
rule of law just as Saddam Hussein will
justifiably be remembered for his role in crimes against humanity.
Joseph Nevins is an assistant professor of
geography at Vassar College, and the author of A
Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East
Timor (Cornell University Press, 2005).
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