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Give Neutrality a Chance

Mises Daily: Friday, September 10, 1999 by

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The government of Indonesia must stop the slaughter in East Timor, says National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, or else. Or else what? Or else, there will be "implications for the capacity of the international community to support Indonesia's economic program." Whoa, that’s some pretty big talk there, Mr. Berger. Imagine: the Clinton administration is thinking, just thinking, about actually cutting some foreign aid. Must be serious.

Indeed it is. A religiously distinct, economically oppressed, and militarily conquered people meekly voted for political independence, and are now paying the ultimate price. The East Timorese still have their sacred honor, but their fortunes were long ago stolen by the Indonesian central state, and now their lives are being sacrificed for the preservation of an imperial military nation state.

Say, wasn’t it only yesterday this administration proclaimed that it had the divine duty to stop ethnic cleansing wherever it may occur? Well, it’s occurring–really occurring–but Berger is singing a different tune: "Because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we have to bomb in Dili."

Actually, to make the analogy stick, the US would have to bomb Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the way it bombed the ancient city of Belgrade. You can’t help noticing the hypocrisy. When Serbia wouldn’t let Kosovo go, the US terrorized the Serbian population until Milosevic relented. Indonesia won’t let East Timor go, and Clinton barely bothers to suggest Jakarta might politely invite UN peacekeepers in, with US troops not among them.

Indonesia and Serbia have common elements. Each has a recalcitrant province dominated by a religion alien from the majority faith. The Timorese Catholics are as much a minority in Indonesia as the Moslems in Kosovar are in Yugoslavia proper. Both provinces have attempted to secede following catastrophic central government economic upheavals that destroyed their currencies. Both face a refugee crisis brought about by state terrorism (domestic in one case and foreign in the other).

But many of the reported "atrocities" carried out by Serbs against Kosovars have turned out to be wildly exaggerated or entirely made up. In the war’s aftermath, mass graves have turned up, but they are filled with Serbs. The much-heralded liberation army of the KLA, ally of the US, has shown its true colors as a terrorist mob out for a complete ethnic cleansing of the region.

Meanwhile, the massacres in East Timor have been carried out in the most brutal fashion and without apology. People have been mowed down as they worship in churches and clamored for food in what remains of stores. Merchants have been looted and murdered. Killings of priests, nuns, old people, women, and children are the norm. This is the culmination of a long-running policy that is well-documented and not disputed by anyone except the Indonesian government.

It’s not up to the US to settle these conflicts, which are rooted in a very complicated history. However, it should be clear that secession in East Timor makes far more sense than secession in Kosovo. East Timor was a province of Portugal for centuries that was only recently conquered militarily. It is now occupied by an imperial power that hates its indigenous people, religion, and politics. To underscore the point, the people have since voted for independence by nearly 80 percent, despite a reign of terror.

Kosovo, in contrast, is historically Serbian and has profound religious significance to the Orthodox faith. In the last several decades, it was effectively conquered through immigration. But the US position is the reverse: Kosovo should be independent but East Timor should be an obedient client state, albeit one that doesn’t "descend into chaos," as the passively voiced cliche has it.

It makes an interesting study to discern why the US weighed in on behalf of Moslem Kosovars but is telling the Christian East Timorese to go jump in the Pacific. In the 1960s, in the midst of the Cold War, the US gave the supposedly anti-communist Indonesian dictatorship the green light to massacre its Chinese merchant class. Indonesia and the US became blood brothers in a relationship that survives to this day.

In 1975, Jakarta invaded and suppressed East Timor under the supervision and approval of US President Ford and Henry Kissinger, both in the capital city the day it began. Despite the reports of tens and even hundreds of thousands of deaths (up to a third of the population), and relentless oppression, the US has been funneling foreign aid and weapons of mass destruction to the regime ever since. Only now, responding to world outrage, has the Clinton administration temporarily suspended formal military ties.

During the war on Serbia, every establishment organ from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal echoed the Clinton line that the US was bombing for "humanitarian" reasons. Clinton enlisted moral metaphors from the civil rights movement to say that the poor Kosovar Albanians were suffering under discrimination on grounds of their religion and ethnicity.

But in his press conference on East Timor, Clinton could muster no moral indignation. There was no talk about the human rights of the Timorese and the bloody campaign—complete with concentration camps—being conducted against them. Why not? Is the Clinton administration committed to a policy of siding against any Christians in any foreign policy decision? That would explain why he backed both Jakarta and the KLA. Or we might also consider that the Clinton administration has benefitted directly from massive campaign contributions from government- connected Indonesian business interests.

More likely, the bottom line is that this particular oil-rich rogue state is a client of the US, and therefore is permitted to engage in all the ethnic cleansing and genocide it desires. Hey, international politics is a rough business. But then let’s hear no more about the "humanitarian" impulses behind the US wars. The bottom line is that the US will kill people when its interests are at stake, and let them be killed when they are not.

As bloody and repulsive as it is to see the continuing rape of East Timor, US should not intervene militarily. Indeed, its interventions brought about the problem in the first place. The answer to the massacre is to do exactly what Berger is suggesting: turn off the spigot. The US, along with international financial institutions the US supports, should stop supporting the Jakarta regime at the expense of the American taxpayer. For once, let’s give neutrality a chance: neither arming nor bombing at least one country in the world.

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Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.


For a full discussion of the most important political trend of our time, see Secession, State, and Liberty, edited by David Gordon.