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Deterring Democracy

By Noam Chomsky

VIII. The Agenda of the Doves: 1988

1. The Common Interests: 1980

2. The Common Interests: 1988

3. The Freedom to Act Responsibly

4. Containment without Rollback

5. Laying Down the Law

6. Foreign Agents

7. Yearning for Democracy


From Z Magazine, September, November 1988.

The basic contours of domestic and foreign policy are determined by institutional structures of power and domination. These being stable over long periods, policies vary little, reflecting the perceived interests and shared understanding of those whose domestic privilege confers power. There is a range of tactical choices falling within these narrow bounds. This consensus is articulated by "experts" in the sense candidly defined by Henry Kissinger, a master in the art: one qualifies as an "expert," he explains, by "elaborating and defining" the consensus of one's constituency "at a high level." In practice, the "expert" is the loyal and useful servant of those who hold the reins of power. 1

As for public opinion, it is considered a threat to order and good government. The reason lies in the "ignorance and superstition of the masses" and "the stupidity of the average man," with the result that "the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality" (Harold Lasswell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Walter Lippmann, respectively). The "specialized class" include the "experts" in the Kissingerian sense, articulating the "common interests" -- otherwise known as "the national interest."

Presidential transitions commonly elicit commentary on the agenda for the future, thus revealing the bounds of elite consensus. We focus here on the liberal-dove extreme, as it was articulated at the end of the Reagan era in 1988, a picture that offers the best case for those who look forward to a "kindler, gentler" New World Order.

  1. The Common Interests: 1980

In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the common interests were to overcome the "crisis of democracy" that arose at home with the awakening of the ignorant masses, to reverse the declining fortunes of U.S. business in the face of international competition and lowered profitability, and to overcome the threat of Third World "ultranationalism" that responds to domestic concerns and popular pressures rather than the transcendent needs of the rich industrial societies. The common interests therefore required an attack on labor and the welfare system, expansion of the public subsidy to high technology industry through the standard Pentagon funnel and other measures to enrich the wealthy, a more aggressive foreign policy, and domestic propaganda to whip the ignorant masses into line in fear for their lives. Such policy proposals were advanced by the Carter administration, then implemented under Reagan; military spending, for example, was in general accord with Carter administration projections apart from the shape of the curve, a brief propaganda success at the outset having been exploited to accelerate spending, which then levelled off. Throughout the period, the public continued its long-term drift towards support for New Deal-style welfare state measures, while in articulate opinion, the "L word" ("liberal") followed the "S word" ("socialist") into disgrace and oblivion, and government policy, with general bipartisan support, implemented the agenda of the powerful.

The common interests were outlined by the experts as state management shifted from Carter to the Reaganites, committed to the use of state power as an instrument of privilege. In the domain of international policy, a perceptive analysis by Robert Tucker in Foreign Affairs gave a foretaste of what was to come on the eve of the inauguration. 2 The costs of the Vietnam war had compelled a temporary abandonment of the postwar policy of containment in favor of détente, he observed, but now a more activist foreign policy was required for a "resurgent America."

Tucker distinguished between "needs" and "wants." Domination of the oil-producing regions of the Middle East is a "need," and therefore we should be prepared to use force to bar threats arising "from developments indigenous to the Gulf" that might endanger our "right of access" or our "economic well-being and the integrity of [the nation's] basic institutions." Turning from "the realm of necessity," Tucker identified a second major area where forceful intervention was in order: Central America, where we have only "wants," not "needs." Our right to satisfy our "wants" in this region is conferred by history: "We have regularly played a determining role in making and unmaking governments, and we have defined what we have considered to be the acceptable behavior of governments." Thus "reasons of pride and historical tradition" confer upon us the authority to ensure that "radical movements or radical regimes must be defeated" while "right-wing governments will have to be given steady outside support, even, if necessary, by sending in American forces." Such intervention should be relatively costless for us, so the liberal counter-argument is voided, he argued.

Tucker feared that "the prevailing public mood" might permit only the halfway measures of "moderate containment" and impede the proper pursuit of our "wants." He therefore recommended the conventional appeal to "security interests" to manufacture consent to these imperatives; as events were to show, the refractory public was less malleable than he had anticipated. Meanwhile Jeane Kirkpatrick derided the idea that "forceful intervention in the affairs of another nation is impractical and immoral" while the editors of the New Republic deplored Carter's "failure to defend the capitalist democratic idea" and his "moralistic excesses," urging military intervention if necessary to rescue the ruling killers in El Salvador, and preference for a Somoza over the Sandinistas if these are the only realistic alternatives. 3 The bloody onslaught on Central America ensued.

  2. The Common Interests: 1988

As the Reagan term drew to an end, the common interests were perceived somewhat differently. It was clearly necessary to face the costs of Reaganite military Keynesianism and refrain from writing "hot checks for $200 billion a year" to create the illusion of prosperity, as vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen phrased the perception of conservative business elements in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. State-directed international terrorism (the celebrated "Reagan doctrine") is also perceived as too costly to us, hence dubious practice. Correspondingly, there was a tendency in the later Reagan years to favor diplomacy over confrontation, economic and ideological warfare over outright terror. Inflammatory rhetoric also, predictably, gave way to more statesmanlike tones.

Still, it is understood that we must keep up our guard. Editor H.D.S. Greenway of the liberal Boston Globe cites a Cavafy poem portraying "a classical kingdom incapacitated by the imminent arrival of barbarians who, of course, threaten civilization itself." 4 We are in the same position: "For more than 40 years, the United States has braced its walls to keep barbarians at bay." A critic of Reaganite excesses, Greenway warns that we should beware "lest the buttresses become a substitute for strategy." "The perceived necessity of standing up to communism in Indochina did more damage to our domestic tranquility than anything since World War II" -- also harming the "tranquility" of others, as the former Saigon bureau chief of Time-Life is well aware, but does not remind us. "The deficit we incurred in order to build our defenses in the 1980s may have similar repercussions in the 1990s"; repercussions of this defensive stance in Central America and elsewhere likewise pass unnoticed. Today, thanks to Gorbachev's initiatives and the success of the Reagan administration in "keeping up the pressure and making it hot for Soviet adventurism," new opportunities are open to us. While "the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev may not be exactly suing for peace," nevertheless the INF treaty was signed, "the Soviet fleet is assuming a more defensive and less aggressive posture than before," and Gorbachev is "now talking about reducing Soviet troops in Eastern Europe." But "letting down our guard is not the answer and might tempt the Soviets into seeking advantages instead of accommodations with us." Greenway noted approvingly that Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was "moving right" on these issues, taking the position that these new opportunities "require a tough, pragmatic step-by-step effort" to test the possibility that the barbarians at the walls might at last agree to limit their onslaught against civilization itself, thanks to our steadfast defense of virtue.

That is the liberal view. The conservative stance is expressed in an accompanying report by columnist David Wilson from South Africa under the headline "Despite the odds, South Africa survives." The South African white community, he writes, "have built a society of authentic grandeur in a country of great comfort and physical beauty and long-term potential for the creation of even more wealth. They know this and are proud of it. And they cannot see why they should commit cultural and economic suicide and bring all this down just to appease the fantasies of drug-drenched American undergraduates and mendacious politicians."

Across the spectrum, it is agreed that the task of keeping the barbarians at bay falls on our shoulders. The world economy may be tripolar, but there is only one tough guy on the street to keep order when trouble brews, a stance only reinforced by the later Gulf crisis, with its more explicit call for the U.S. to be "the world's cop" -- or more accurately, the gunman who makes sure that people know their place -- while others pay for the service.

Within the foreign domains defended by American power, the common interests also regularly "elude public opinion entirely," so that disciplinary action is required, as in Central America in the past decade. But in 1988 the measures employed seemed only partially successful. Though tens of thousands were slaughtered and this traditional domain of U.S. influence was plunged still more deeply into misery and suffering, deluded natives persist in their resistance, leading to fears that U.S. efforts may have failed. In the case of Nicaragua, the hawks feared that we might abandon the cause, while doves responded that our efforts "to force the Sandinista revolution into the American democratic mold" may not be worth "the risk" (John Oakes) and that Nicaragua may be "beyond the reach of our good intentions" (Jefferson Morley). 5 And in El Salvador, the "moderate center," marching towards reform and democracy under our tutelage while seeking to stem the terrorism of the left and ultra-right, was facing collapse, though ARENA, the party of the death squads, still offers prospects for our benevolence, as do the "fledgling democracies" of Guatemala and Honduras. These too are doctrinal truths.

Through the Reagan years, the general public at home also proved unmanageable, sufficiently so as to drive the government underground to clandestine terror. Although the specialized class performed their function, the ignorant masses were never adequately tamed.

  3. The Freedom to Act Responsibly

As in 1980, it is worthwhile attending carefully to the words of the experts as the new Administration took charge in 1988, particularly the liberal doves who set the limits of permissible dissent, in effect announcing: "Thus far, and no further." As amply documented elsewhere, 6 through the Reagan years the media allowed virtually no challenge to the project of "establishing democracy" in the U.S.-backed terror states of Central America and "restoring democracy" in Nicaragua, a "noble cause" even if the means were flawed in the latter case because the proxy forces attacking Nicaragua proved to be an "imperfect instrument." Later assessments rarely depart from these doctrinal conditions.

An enlightening perspective is provided by political scientist Robert Pastor, director of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs on the National Security Council through the Carter years, in a valuable study of U.S. policy towards Nicaragua. 7 The basic "question of substance" that he raises is whether it is "possible for a powerful, idealistic nation like the United States and small, poor nations on its periphery to establish fair and respectful relationships." His policy proposals have to do with "ways in which future succession crises and revolutions could be managed more effectively by the United States"; the role of "manager" is assumed, along with the principle that "U.S. interventionism" had been "almost always undertaken with good intentions."

There has hardly been a figure in the political or ideological system more committed to liberal values and avoidance of forceful means, so Pastor's perceptions gain particular interest in assessing the prospects for a New World Order. Pastor is highly critical of the Reaganite effort to "promote democracy in Nicaragua" by supporting the contras. He rejects the common belief that the Sandinistas alone are to blame for the tensions and conflict. Rather, he sees the problem as one of "mutual obsessions" on the part of Managua and Washington: "both governments were insecure and distrusted each other so completely that they were unable to consider any way to influence the other except by force."

By recognizing "mutual obsessions" and "insecurity" on both sides, Pastor stakes out a position at the far left extreme of the admissible spectrum, opposed to the dominant view that the Sandinistas alone bear responsibility for the violence and suffering of these years. On similar grounds, President Carter held that we owe the Vietnamese no debt because "the destruction was mutual." In contrast, those who are not given to his "moralistic excesses" (p. 255) assign sole responsibility to Hanoi and its Vietcong minions (or their masters in the Kremlin and Peking) for the "mutual destruction."

Despite the sharing of responsibility, the blame for the reliance on force by Nicaragua and the United States "to influence the other" falls primarily on the Sandinistas, Pastor holds. Because of Sandinista "preconceptions of imperialism, the United States was limited in its ability to influence them positively," for example, to influence them to accept negotiations, which they " a sign of weakness" (and in reality, regularly advocated, while the U.S. consistently ruled out these and other peaceful means, unattractive to a contestant who is politically weak though militarily and economically strong).

Sandinista responsibility goes still deeper, Pastor continues:

By calling their opponents class enemies and mercenaries, the Sandinistas have precluded a dialogue that could permit them to negotiate an exit from their war and their national predicament. Instead, the harder they fight, the further they move from their original aims. The Sandinistas sought independence, but they have been forced to become more dependent on the Soviet Union. They sought to build a new nation, but they have turned their nation into an army. They sought to improve the quality of life for the poor, but it is the poor who are fighting and dying. The important advances made at the beginning of the revolution in health care and literacy and their commendable efforts at land reform have been jeopardized by the militarization of the country and the diversion of scarce resources to the war.

Thus, while the Reaganites overreacted to Sandinista provocations, nevertheless the responsibility for the virtual demolition of Nicaragua falls primarily on the Sandinistas, because of their verbal denunciation of the domestic opposition. Such harsh treatment of dissidents is deeply offensive to the United States. To measure the depth of this concern, we need only reflect upon the reaction of the Carter and Reagan administrations to what was happening in El Salvador and Guatemala during the same years, or the treatment of dissident opinion in the United States itself during the first and second World Wars. 8

A second cause for the conflict, Pastor continues, was the support of the Sandinistas for those driven to the hills by U.S.-backed terror in El Salvador. Reacting with excessive zeal to this crime, the U.S. produced "the Reagan Doctrine on national liberation [which] came to resemble the Sandinistas' `revolution without borders'." This last reference is a tribute to one of the great achievements of Reaganite Agitprop ("public diplomacy"): a speech by Tomás Borge, in which he emphasized that Nicaragua would not try to export its revolution but rather hoped to be a model for others, was brilliantly converted by U.S. commissars into a threat to conquer the hemisphere ("a revolution without borders") -- a propaganda coup so useful that it remained quite immune to the exposures from the first days of these conscious State Department lies, and has by now been established as virtual official history. 9

In short, plainly it is their fault, however improper the obsessive Reaganite response after the forthcoming Carter years. In those better days, Somoza's Nicaragua was a friend, and remained one of the highest per capita recipients of U.S. aid in Latin America, including military aid, because, as the AID mission explained in 1977, Somoza was a valued ally and "U.S. investment is welcomed in Nicaragua's developing free enterprise economy." "As late as May 1979," Walter LaFeber observes, "two months before Somoza fled, the United States supported his request for a $66 million loan from the IMF," and shortly after, the White House "declared the Guard had to be kept to `preserve order'" while "at that moment Somoza's troops were dive-bombing slums, murdering unarmed people in the streets, and looting the cities," "killing thousands of women and children." 10

Reviewing the Carter years, Pastor makes it clear that no thought was given to displacing Somoza until the tyrant had become "indefensible" in the face of internal opposition so broad as to include the conservative business community, the natural U.S. allies. "Somoza's decision to strike at the moderate opposition" in September 1978, including the arrest of the far-right corporate manager Adolfo Calero and other business leaders, "was one of the major factors motivating the United States to review its previous policy of strict noninterference in internal affairs." The fate of the poor at his hands had elicited no such review.

The U.S. then sought to ease Somoza out, but, as Pastor makes clear, always on the condition that his National Guard, which had been attacking the population "with the brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy," remain intact. In November 1978, the Policy Review Committee of the National Security Council "emphasized again that the unity of the Guard was an important objective for U.S. policy." "There was no disagreement on this latter point," he writes, "as everyone recognized that a post-Somoza government that lacked a firm military base would be overrun by the [Sandinista] FSLN." 11

As the policy of sustaining "Somocismo without Somoza" collapsed, the objective remained to support the "democrats" against the Sandinistas. A meeting of June 29, three weeks before the end, "was the first time in a year of NSC meetings that anyone had suggested the central U.S. objective was something other than preventing a Sandinista victory"; efforts to maintain the National Guard and exclude the Sandinistas from power had by then collapsed after the refusal of the "moderates," including the business association COSEP, to go along with the U.S. plan. Carter doves then sought "to moderate the FSLN" through military training and economic aid, classic means of control. When the U.S.-backed regime collapsed, Carter offered economic aid, mostly to the private sector, with the enthusiastic support of business lobbyists, "including the Council of the Americas, which represented 80 percent of U.S. businesses with investments in Latin America." 12

Meanwhile policymakers weighed such "tough questions" as whether to support an October 1980 coup attempt by "a group of moderate civilians" led by "the young and dynamic president of the Union of Nicaraguan Agricultural Producers," Jorge Salazar -- a question put to rest when Salazar was killed in a confrontation with security forces. And the Administration remained "unaware" when National Guard officers including Enrique Berm£dez (later contra commander) met with Somoza lobbyist congressman John Murphy and held a press conference in Washington in August 1979, warning of the threat of communism and meeting to prepare plans to overthrow the Sandinistas. Presumably, it also remained "unaware" when the Argentine military regime sent advisers to train ex-Guardsmen in Honduras for the attack against Nicaragua a year later. Sandinista transgressions then set the mutual reliance on force on its inevitable course, according to Pastor's account.

Pastor calls for an end to "the resulting relationship of counterproductive policies and strident name-calling." He endorses the position of the "moderates" who are "interested in democracy," specifically Ramiro Gurdián, the leader of the pro-U.S. business opposition (other qualifications as a "moderate democrat" are not offered), who calls for "reality" in place of "mutual obsession."

Pastor holds that the United States has never been motivated primarily by "a desire to extract resources or to implant a political philosophy, although the history of U.S. policy in Central America is replete with examples of both"; rather, by fear. This is perhaps "an unseemly fear," but nevertheless one that is quite real: "the fear that a hostile group could come to power and ally with a rival of the United States" -- what we bitterly denounce as the "Brezhnev doctrine" when advanced by the enemy, which, perhaps, has security concerns in Eastern Europe approaching ours in Central America, in the light of history.

Pastor's basic thesis is straightforward, and a clear expression of political opinion at the left-dove dissident extreme:

The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations in the region, but it also did not want to allow developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely. [His emphasis]

In short, Nicaragua and other countries should be free -- free to do what we want them to do; they should choose their own course independently, as long as their choice conforms to U.S. interests. If they use the freedom we accord them unwisely, we have every right to respond in self-defense, though opinions vary as to the proper tactical choices.

Note that the conception of freedom and independence corresponds closely to liberal doctrine concerning the domestic population, who must also be free to ratify the decisions of their betters, but not to choose unwisely out of failure to comprehend the common interests that lie beyond their limited grasp. One should appreciate the intensity of the concern that the ignorant masses might choose a path that is not laid out for them by their betters.

Another example, pertinent here, is provided by a declassified National Intelligence Estimate of July 26, 1955, on "probable developments in Guatemala" after the successful CIA coup of 1954 that terminated Guatemala's 10-year experiment in capitalist democracy -- or, as the intelligence analysts prefer to put it, after "the Arbenz regime collapsed in June 1954" when army leaders, "concerned at his tolerance of Communists in the government," forced Arbenz to resign. 13 U.S. intelligence detected an impressive commitment of the U.S.-imposed Castillo Armas regime to "democratic forms and practices, to land reform, to the development of a modern economy, and to the protection of a free labor movement and other social gains"; the evidence is that democratic forms were dismantled by violence and most of the population was disenfranchised, land reform was reversed, "the Guatemalan economy weakened considerably following the fall of Arbenz," the labor movement was "virtually destroyed" and "rural groups are having even more difficulty in obtaining favorable government action" with the destruction of peasant organizations and the denial of "the right to organize," while the social gains of the democratic decade were abolished. Equally impressive was the fact, explained by Assistant Secretary Holland, that Castillo Armas "led the first liberation movement ever to free a nation which had fallen captive to international Communism" (in a country were "there were almost certainly no more than 4,000, and perhaps substantially fewer, the height of Arbenz's power").

Nevertheless, despite these favorable developments, some problems still remained. One problem was that "Most politically conscious Guatemalans believe that the US planned and underwrote the 1954 revolution," an unacceptable insight into the reality that must be concealed even in an internal intelligence analysis. "A keen sense of nationalism, at times verging on the irrational, colors Guatemalan politics. There is a strong tendency to attribute Guatemala's backwardness to foreign investors, especially those from the US" -- who had been prime movers in the unmentionable CIA operation. "Even the most pro-US elements in the area are not immune to this type of extreme nationalism" -- the "low level of intellectualism" of the people of Guatemala constantly deplored by the CIA, for which no cure has yet been found. 14

No less serious was "the heritage of the revolution of 1944." "Many Guatemalans are passionately attached to the democratic-nationalist ideals of the 1944 revolution," particularly, to "the social and economic programs initiated by the Arévalo and Arbenz regimes." During these years of excessive democracy, "the social and economic needs of labor and the peasantry were articulated and exploited by the small Communist leadership" who "were able to promote measures which appeared to meet some of the aspirations of these groups," including "considerable progress in the organization of urban and rural unions" and "inducing the government to expropriate large tracts of land for distribution among the landless" in a successful agrarian reform.

Though these strange delusions are held by "many Guatemalans," including workers and peasants and even the political class and pro-U.S. elements, nevertheless "there are probably not over 200,000 Guatemalans who are more than marginally politically conscious." And of this tiny minority, "few understand the processes and responsibilities of democracy," so that "responsible democratic government is therefore difficult to achieve."

Once again, the benevolence of the U.S. government is thwarted by the "stupidity of the average man." And subsequent history reveals how Guatemala too remained "beyond the reach of our good intentions." It is not easy to manage democracy in the dependencies when the ignorant masses fail to comprehend their responsibilities and fall "out of control." These problems have bedeviled us for generations. They are not likely to disappear.

This National Intelligence Estimate is typical of the genre in the scrupulous evasion of unwanted fact, the easy tolerance of self-contradiction, and the parrotting of ideological pieties in a manner that we would regard as comical in the case of some official enemy. The editors of the government publication (Foreign Relations of the United States) in which it appears introduce it with the observation that "National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) were high-level interdepartmental reports presenting authoritative appraisals of vital foreign policy problems," carefully drafted, discussed and revised by the CIA and other agencies represented on the Intelligence Advisory Committee, and "circulated under the aegis of the CIA to the President, appropriate officers of cabinet level, and the National Security Council." An important function of intelligence, as of the specialized class generally, is to construct a framework of illusion that protects decision-makers and other influential elite sectors from awareness of the meaning of what they are doing, so that they can carry out their necessary tasks -- articulated with brutal clarity when necessary -- with no compunctions and a sense of rectitude. It is not easy to man the ramparts in defense against the barbarians on all sides, and those who bear the burden need all the help they can get.

In addressing the ignorant masses, in contrast, the illusions suffice, and the parallel articulation of actual policy goals must be carefully suppressed. We thus find a characteristic difference between the "public diplomacy" conducted by the media and much of scholarship, on the one hand, and the internal record, on the other. Both spin the required web of illusion, but the parallel analysis of actual policy concerns and goals is restricted to the internal record in a properly functioning ideological system.

  4. Containment without Rollback

During the Carter years, the policy-planning spectrum ran from the hawkish National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to the liberal doves: Pastor at the National Security Council and Viron Vaky, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. Brzezinski's principle was that "we have to demonstrate that we are still the decisive force in determining the political outcomes in Central America and that we will not permit others to intervene." 15 In the liberal journal Foreign Policy, Vaky offered his assessment of the Reagan years and his proposals for "positive containment in Nicaragua," avoiding the Reaganite fallacies. 16 Let us consider the alternative promoted by the doves.

Vaky sees two "realistic" policy choices: "containment" or "rollback." The violent "rollback" option of the Reaganites has failed, so we must seek "alternatives for containing the Sandinista revolution." "The principal arguments" for supporting the contras "have been that a longer war of attrition will so weaken the regime, provoke such a radical hardening of repression, and win sufficient support from Nicaragua's discontented population that sooner or later the regime will be overthrown by popular revolt, self-destruct by means of internal coups or leadership splits, or simply capitulate to salvage what it can."

Vaky suggests no qualms concerning these aims, but he does see a problem. The contras "have been unable to elicit significant political support within Nicaragua even with declining Sandinista popularity" and have not "registered any significant military successes" -- a most remarkable fact, incidentally, given the historically unprecedented advantages afforded them by their superpower sponsor. 17 It is, furthermore, a fact that can neither be acknowledged nor discussed within the U.S. ideological institutions. The media and assorted commentary cannot, for example, ask why it is unnecessary for the KGB to fly daily supply flights with arms, food and equipment to keep the Salvadoran rebels in the field, while the contras break for their Honduran sanctuaries when deprived of a regular flow of equipment and supplies on a scale, and of a quality, that no authentic guerrillas in history could have even imagined, and would have quickly been dispersed, all agree, had the U.S. not introduced military force and threatened further retaliation to protect them in their sanctuaries at the border.

To the extent that the Administration had a diplomatic objective, Vaky continues, it has been "a negotiation on the terms and schedule under which the Sandinistas would turn over power." But "however reasonable or idealistic these demands may seem," they are not realistic, and alternatives must be considered. Note that it is "reasonable and idealistic" to demand that the elected government should "turn over power" to U.S. proxy forces that "have been unable to elicit significant political support." Again we see clearly displayed the true meaning of "democracy" in the political culture.

The preferred alternative must rest on the recognition that "none of the contending forces in Central America, including the United States, can impose a negotiated settlement entirely satisfactory to itself"; that the U.S. should be one of the "contending forces in Central America" -- indeed, the decisive one -- remains the unquestionable premise of analysis. If indeed "allowing the Sandinistas to survive would by itself be devastating to U.S. security and the global balance of power," then we must fault the Administration strategy in that the means were inadequate to the "logically inevitable...conclusion that the regime must be ousted." But the premise is dubious; perhaps the U.S. might survive as a viable society even if Nicaragua is out of control. Assuming so, we must move "toward a realistic form of containment," meeting "the same objectives that rightly concern the administration: preventing Nicaragua from posing a military threat to the United States by becoming a platform for Soviet or Cuban power; keeping the Sandinista regime from subverting its neighbors; and promoting the evolution of Nicaragua's internal system into a more open, less virulent one," perhaps even one as benign as those we have sponsored in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. To this end, we should provide economic aid for these "Central American democracies" while "draw[ing] a line for the Sandinista regime." We should demand that Nicaragua refrain from accepting Cuban and Soviet "bases, missiles, and high-performance aircraft," an imminent threat to our security in the past years, apparently.

In our magnanimity, we should permit Nicaragua "to participate in a multilateral development program to the degree it moves toward a more open, pluralistic society" like its neighbors, which are "pluralistic" in that the efficient use of violence has eliminated any challenge to the "democrats": the security forces in effective control, the oligarchy, business interests, and rising professional classes, all "moderate" in that they recognize the need to satisfy the common interests of the master of the region. And we must take steps "to deal with the threat of Nicaraguan aggression or subversion against its neighbors" by means of a peace treaty calling for "no aggression, no cross-border subversion, no terrorism, no foreign bases, specified armed force levels, observance of human rights, and amnesty for combatants"; the events of the past decade do not, evidently, suggest that such conditions need be imposed on some actors in the Central American drama apart from the treacherous Sandinistas. The advantage of this approach is that "it would catch the Sandinistas in a web of international commitments" and "make it more difficult for the Soviet Union and Cuba to challenge or sabotage a settlement." This too is a most natural proposal, in the light of the firm commitment of the United States to such instruments of international order as the United Nations and the World Court, and its scrupulous observance of the legal obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force in international affairs. The U.S. should further insist on "border inspection teams" and other measures of verification -- of a sort that Nicaragua has requested since 1981, rejected consistently by the United States, and generally unreported.

In the light of the readily-established facts, these policy proposals from a knowledgeable Central American specialist at the liberal extreme of the spectrum provide considerable insight into the prevailing political culture. We might ask ourselves, again, how we would react to a similar performance on the part of some enemy commissar. Whatever the answer, at home it is regarded as the height of judicious assessment and responsible analysis.

Vaky observes that there is a "larger problem": to ensure compliance with any agreement. "The United States frankly will have to bear the major share of enforcement, and that means being prepared to use force if necessary -- for example, to repel an invasion, to patrol borders or sea and airspace, or to remove bases or installations established in violation of the treaty." Not falling under this injunction are U.S. bases in Honduras, or in Panama and Puerto Rico, or the sole foreign military installation in Cuba, the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo.

We should not suppose, Vaky continues, "that Americans do not have the will or staying power to support the use of force abroad and therefore will back down from enforcing any settlement or any security line drawn." We have "maintained a strategic containment line around Cuba for 25 years," and Americans will show the same fortitude in the case of the Nicaraguan threat, Vaky assures us. Thus if the liberal model prevails, Nicaraguans might look forward to economic strangulation; terrorist attacks to destroy industrial installations, blow up civilian aircraft, sink fishing boats, and bombard hotels; the spreading of epidemics to destroy livestock; and the other concomitants of our "strategic containment" of Cuba for 25 years, all happily forgotten here -- and, incidentally, eliminated from the new "scholarly discipline" of terrorology.

Finally, Vaky turns to "the most difficult" objective to achieve: "the objective of promoting Nicaraguan self-determination," which motivated our "reasonable and idealistic" effort to transfer power, by force, into the hands of terrorist elements unable to gain political support. But we will have to pursue "the objective of a more open Nicaraguan political system," and the "self-determination" to which we have been dedicated, "by other strategies"; those just outlined.

Writing in the Washington Post, the liberal editor of Foreign Policy, Charles Maynes, sees the main problem in Central America in a similar light. 18 "The issue is no longer whether Nicaragua can be regained as an American pawn on the geopolitical chessboard but whether it can be tamed and contained." "There remains at least an outside chance that Nicaragua's relative isolation both economically and politically will persuade its leaders that the main hope for the country lies in cooperation with its neighbors," who should "set as a price for cooperation a relative democratization of life inside Nicaragua." "For Nicaragua to be contained, the administration would have to end its opposition to direct U.S. negotiations with Managua." We should at least attempt the diplomatic path to determine whether Nicaragua will be willing "to meet U.S. security concerns" and provide us with "relevant commitments." Nicaraguan security concerns, and "a relative democratization of life" in the U.S. death squad democracies, are not a problem.

The editors of the Washington Post, ruminating on "the Central American mess" under the proud slogan "An Independent Newspaper," ask "what went wrong" during the Reagan years. "Each country is different," they observe, "but the common aggravation of their difficulties can be traced to the onset of leftist revolutions -- built of local tinder, blown to fire by Soviet-bloc support -- in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua," with " Honduras, which in fear of Nicaragua lent itself to an anti-Sandinista insurgency sponsored by the United States, and in Panama, whose strong man's usefulness to the anti-Sandinista cause long blinded Washington to his corruption and unreliability." The strong man's defects are now happily recognized -- crucially, his unreliability, which compelled a reassessment of policy and a somewhat belated discovery of his corruption by the Independent Newspapers.

"Inevitably," the editors continue, "the revolutions evoked an American response." Finally, "the policy broke down," and now "American frailties compound Central America's," particularly, the failure to address properly "the lingering and unresolved post-Vietnam issue of intervention in the cause of anticommunism." The "formula for enlightened engagement" that the editors have recommended "has its own flaw": "It does not adequately address the change brought about by Soviet power in making Moscow-oriented revolution possible in Central America and the Caribbean." We should try to engage Latin Americans in our quest for democracy and self-determination, and thus "to spare the United States the political loneliness that comes from being an activist and interventionist in the region." But this is difficult, because "the cast built into democratic Latin politics by leftism and resentment of American intervention has hindered Latins in dealing with these revolutions themselves and in delegating the task to Washington."

The editors are deeply sensitive to "the wounds American policy has suffered in Central America," so "fresh" as to impede a constructive course; no other "wounds" are identified. We should somehow steer a path between two extremes: "an engagement that in its carelessness took policy beyond the reach of feasibility in the field and support at home"; and "detachment in frustration and disgust." Such detachment on our part would threaten the very survival of Central America, the editors warn. 19

Strikingly absent from these ruminations is any consideration of what Central Americans might think about the course the U.S. should follow. Evidence on the matter is not too hard to find. For El Salvador, one might, for example, turn to the published records of the National Debate for Peace, bringing together under Church auspices virtually all organized groups in the country. These records, readily available not far from the editorial offices, provide some useful insights into the attitudes of Salvadorans towards the issues addressed by the Post editors. On the danger that U.S. "detachment" might threaten the survival of Central America, there was near unanimous condemnation of "the enormous interference of the U.S. in El Salvador's national affairs," of U.S. military aid, of military interference in state and society "in support of the oligarchy and dominant sectors, and thus in support of North American interests" as the country is "subjugated to the interests of international capital," and so on. Such conclusions being unacceptable to U.S. elite opinion, the entire enterprise has been expunged from the record, ignored by the media and other commentary, a clear sign of how important the opinions of Salvadorans are to their benefactors. If our little brown brothers reveal their stupidity in such ways, it is hardly to be expected that we will humor them by paying attention. 20

The return to forceful intervention during the Reagan years, and the Iran-contra affair, prompted reassessment of the resort to covert action more generally. Reviewing books by Gregory Treverton on covert action and Trumbull Higgins on the Bay of Pigs affair, Stanley Hoffmann of Harvard University, who stretches critical dissent to its outer limits within mainstream scholarship, considers the "risks and costs" of these ventures. 21 He notes that "both men show how much euphoria about covert action was created by two early successes of the CIA": restoring the Shah to power in Iran in 1953 and overthrowing the Arbenz government in Guatemala a year later. But the lessons of history "are stark." "As the targets of United States action became more formidable (Castro learned from Arbenz's fate), the chances of success decreased." Furthermore, "the fine-tuning of covert actions is difficult," and more generally, "covert action raises formidable issues in an open society." Taking the position of "the idealists," Treverton "recognizes that covert operations may be necessary at times" but "he doubts they'll remain secret, warns about their unintended effects and long-term costs" (to us, that is), and urges better procedures. His study is "enlightening, thoughtful and wise," particularly his conclusion that "most covert-action successes have been small, ambiguous and transitory (Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, for example)."

These are the only words of evaluation; further thoughts that might be suggested by the fate of Iran, Guatemala, Laos, and other targets of our initiatives remain unmentioned, apart from the limits and "ambiguity" of these successes. Only an irresponsible fanatic would recall the hundreds of thousands of corpses, the disappeared, the countless victims of torture, starvation, disease and semi-slave labor. The victims of official enemies do warrant such concern in an enlightened society, but not the dregs of the world that we have to kick out of our way, in self-defense.

Further insights into the foreign policy agenda are provided in a study of "bipartisan objectives for foreign policy" in Foreign Affairs by the Secretaries of State of the 1970s, Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance, who span the spectrum of thinking among the specialized class. 22 They are concerned that many Americans appear less willing than before to accept "the global responsibilities thrust on the United States," in a national mood of "frustration" over the failure of other nations to "assume greater risks, responsibilities and financial burdens for the maintenance of world order and international prosperity" and for "the cause of freedom" to which we have been dedicated. But the United States must continue "to play a major and often vital role," and can do so because of its economic and military strength, and because it is "a model democracy and a society that provides exceptionally well for the needs of its citizens"; no comparative statistics on such matters as infant mortality, homelessness, and other indices of quality of life are provided to buttress this judgment.

Keeping just to Central America, Vance and Kissinger see one essential problem: Nicaragua. We must "obtain the withdrawal of Cuban and Soviet military advisers from Nicaragua, significant reductions in the armies and armaments in the region (especially in Nicaragua), a total ban on Sandinista help to guerrillas elsewhere, and the internal democratization of Nicaragua." "The situation in Central America," they observe, "can be one measure of U.S.-Soviet relations: whether the Soviet Union is willing to suspend arms shipments into this area of our most traditional relationships." Nothing is said about the consequences for Nicaragua, deprived of any other support by U.S. edict. The U.S. must also "continue to support democracy within Nicaragua," providing "diplomatic and material aid to those who work for pluralistic economy and representative political process." No problems are perceived in the terror states, already within the reach of our benevolence.

  5. Laying Down the Law

Another alternative to the flawed Reagan policies is presented by Alan Tonelson, a respected liberal policy analyst, in the New Republic.23 He urges that we transcend the sterile debate between defenders of the contras and their critics -- the latter being those who note "correctly that the contras cannot possibly achieve military victory." As usual, those who object in principle to terror and "the unlawful use of force" (to borrow the terms of the World Court ruling) are off the spectrum entirely. A new policy, "more palatable to both the hawks and doves,"

involves handling the Sandinistas and other threats in Central America the way that great powers have always dealt with pesty, puny neighbors: by laying down the law unilaterally and enforcing our will through intimidation and direct uses of military force. If the intimidation is successful -- as it easily could be -- the actual use of force would be unnecessary.

This "back-to-basics approach would satisfy America's needs in Central America, if not all of our wants"; unlike Robert Tucker, the liberal critic is willing to sacrifice some of "our wants," reluctantly, to be sure. Peace treaties, such as the Arias plan, are faulty because they "would prohibit Washington from responding to foreign Communist presences unless local states agreed," and one could hardly expect a Mexican politician in an election year "to endorse an American retaliatory strike against Nicaragua." Besides, "legal constructs like treaties raise the prospect of lengthy deliberations to document and prove charges, protracted appeal processes, the filing of countercharges, and other complicated procedures that all conflict with the security need to respond to violations quickly, before they become dangerous."

Legal instruments being too unwieldy and unreliable for the liberal mentality, and proxy terror having failed, the United States should turn to "frankly intimidating and pushing Nicaragua around with our own military power." After all, "the U.S. Navy still rules the waters off Central America" and "Nicaragua is defenseless against American air and sea power" if intimidation does not suffice. "If Ortega and Company have a healthy sense of self-preservation, Americans should be able to bring Nicaragua to heel without slogging through its jungles -- especially if it is clear that good behavior will bring a postponement of the regime's rendezvous with the ash heap of history." Latin Americans may object to the show of force, but "it is unreasonable to expect the United States to await a favorable consensus to develop among its politically fragile neighbors before acting to protect itself," and "the hemispheric bargain proposed here would permit a modicum of mutual respect but would also reflect power realities."

We should announce "general guidelines" for Central America, but should not be too specific in our demands: "Vagueness in Washington can keep Central Americans looking over their shoulders -- and to the skies -- and more likely to err on the side of caution." Thinking along similar lines, the Reagan White House announced that it had formulated a list of demands for Nicaragua going well beyond the August 1987 peace agreements, but "the list has not been published or formally given to the Nicaraguans or to Congress," the New York Times reported in a front-page story. The subsequent sabotaging of the despised cease-fire talks follows the same script, with the constant invention of new and often outlandish demands when Nicaragua, always "pesty" in these matters, accepts the previous list. 24

We should avoid "paralyzing debates," Tonelson continues; "the verdict must be left up to the president." The doves need not fear that some president will "order air strikes just for the fun of it, without genuine provocation"; the American people will ensure that in this case, he "will pay politically," which should satisfy any hapless victims, or at least, any surviving friends and relatives. With a properly orchestrated campaign of intimidation and with adequate force at the ready, Washington can "return Central America to the obscurity it so richly deserves."

Both the tone and the substance provide further understanding of the prevailing political culture in its more moderate and liberal range, as does the absence of any reaction to such thoughts in the left-liberal community they address.

These samples are, to my knowledge, representative. There are differences between the hawks and the doves. Given the scale of American power, even small differences translate into large effects for the victims. Illusions about the political culture generally will impede the one mechanism available to deter the resort to intimidation and violence and other means available to a superpower faced with "pesty, puny" adversaries that stand in the way of its "needs" and "wants": an unmanageable public at home. That lesson has been taught over and over again, and should not be forgotten by those concerned with their fate.

  6. Foreign Agents

At home, the spectrum ranges from doves to hawks, though there are also some odd creatures who express skepticism about the very doctrines of the faith, those who McGeorge Bundy once called "wild men in the wings," succinctly capturing the common view. 25 Abroad, there are moderates and extremists. The moderates are those who accept the basic norms, crucially, the need to maintain a favorable climate for business operations, investment, and resource extraction. They hold the middle ground, confronting the extremists on all sides. The extremists are a motley crew, including advocates of social reforms that challenge privilege, excessive nationalism, or other such disorders. Another category of extremists are the perpetrators of atrocities that we find embarrassing and therefore choose not to attribute to our moderate friends, who, in reality, are often directing them or fronting for them in the service of our cause. The moderates range from such figures as Mussolini, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, assorted Latin American and Caribbean mass murderers and dictators, and so on, to figureheads of the Duarte variety who are constructed to salve the liberal conscience while arms flow to the killers. Moderates become villains if they attack U.S. interests.

Let us turn now to the extreme doves among the Central American moderates. This quest carries us to Costa Rica, the one Western-style democracy. As noted earlier, the U.S. always regarded this experiment with some ambivalence, despite the commitment of the political leadership to safeguarding the needs of investors and serving U.S. interests generally. Its leading figure, José Figueres, was always most sensitive to the needs of business and particularly foreign investors, and supportive of U.S. policies (see chapter 12, p. 385-6). In the Kennedy period, he advocated secret funding from the CIA for projects of the "Democratic Left," and dismissed later revelations of CIA funding as "silly and adolescent" while praising the CIA for the "delicate political and cultural tasks" it was performing "thanks to the devotion of the liberals in the organization." He particularly valued the contributions of Jay Lovestone and other U.S. labor bureaucrats, who had worked effectively to undermine the labor movement in Latin America and elsewhere for many years. Figueres supported the Bay of Pigs invasion, anticipating "a quick victory by the democratic forces which have gone into Cuba" and later expressing his regrets for their "lamentable" defeat. He suggested that the Dominican Republic be used as a base for intervention in Cuba, though only after his enemy Trujillo was deposed. When the Johnson administration invaded the Dominican Republic to prevent the reestablishment of the constitutional government under the democratic capitalist reformer Juan Bosch, Figueres pleaded for understanding of Johnson's actions which, he held, were necessary to avoid his impeachment. 26

As the U.S. geared up for its attack on popular organizations and social reform in Central America in the 1980s, Costa Rica continued to cooperate, though with insufficient enthusiasm by Reaganite standards. Figueres became a nonperson in the media -- apart from ritual invocation of his name in the course of denunciations of Nicaragua -- because of his completely unacceptable reactions to the Sandinista revolution, the U.S. attack against Nicaragua, and Reagan administration efforts to reverse Costa Rican exceptionalism. Other leading figures of Costa Rican democracy also remained beyond the pale, among them, former president Daniel Oduber, who had the poor taste to observe that the "thugs" who threaten "the lives of Central Americans and their families...are not the Leninist commissars but the armed sergeants trained in the United States." Ex-president Rodrigo Carazo, who had assisted the Sandinistas in overthrowing Somoza (a long-time enemy of Costa Rica), was described by Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Thomas Enders as "a thieving crook." The Monge government of the early 1980s was better-mannered, joining in the contra war and acceding to U.S. pressure to rebuff Sandinista efforts to create a demilitarized zone along the border. But it too had its faults. Thus the media could hardly be expected to report the observations of Monge's Vice-Foreign Affairs Minister Gerardo Trejos Salas on how the U.S. "strongly pressured" Costa Rica and its client states as "Washington tried by all means available to block the signing of the Contadora Peace Act." 27

President Oscar Arias was at first profoundly disliked by the Reagan administration, but by 1988 he was tolerated, and in liberal circles, always regarded with great respect. His credentials as an authentic dove were made official by the Nobel Peace Prize he won for his initiatives leading to the Esquipulas accords of August 1987. His record is therefore instructive with regard to the agenda of the doves.

Internally in Costa Rica, Arias promoted a neoliberal economic model, participating in the dismantling of the social democratic institutions. He also presided over the Reagan-backed restoration of the police to a "camouflaged army" and the increase in human rights violations by the security forces, 28 though these remained far below the level of his Central American colleagues. Arias supported the system of obligatory press licensing condemned by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, rejecting its ruling that state licensing limits freedom of expression and refusing to comply with it. Unlike Figueres, he did not -- at least in commentary in the United States -- condemn the media structure of Costa Rica, where, though the media are free from censorship or state terror, in practice "Costa Ricans often can obtain only one side of the story, since wealthy ultraconservatives control the major daily newspapers and broadcasting stations," the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and the Newspaper Guild observed. Figueres complained bitterly that "the oligarchy owns the newspapers and the radio stations, by which it has heavily influenced public opinion in Costa Rica" in support of U.S. policies for the country and the region. 29 In these respects, Costa Rica was always in violation of the Esquipulas accords (often misleadingly called "the Arias plan"), which require free access of "all ideological groups" to the media.

Shortly after his inauguration in early 1986, Arias joined newly-elected president Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala in opposing overt U.S. violence against Nicaragua. These moves brought Costa Rica into line with general Latin American opinion and elite opinion in the United States, which, by then, was overwhelmingly critical of the contra effort as unsuccessful and too costly. Both presidents pressed for a political settlement, to the dismay of the Reaganites though with the general support of the political class and the business community in the United States.

Arias always accepted the basic norms, describing Washington's client states as "democracies" and condemning the Sandinistas for failing to observe the regional standards to which the terror states conform. At a meeting of Central American presidents in May 1986, he objected to Daniel Ortega's being included among the leaders "freely elected by the majority wills of their respective countries." By his standards, the U.S. clients were democratic leaders, elected under conditions of freedom and the rule of law. In taking this stand, Arias again lined up with hawk-dove doctrine in the United States, in opposition to a broad range of other opinion, including Amnesty International, Americas Watch, and all bona fide human rights organizations, none of which exhibit his tolerance for the death squad democracies and their practices; and with regard to Nicaragua, including Costa Rica's leading democratic figure, José Figueres, and virtually all of the large number of election observers from Western governments, human rights groups, the professional association of Latin American scholars, and others. Arias also repeatedly called upon the USSR and Cuba to halt arms shipments to Nicaragua, so that it would be left defenseless against U.S. terror, the U.S. having successfully pressured its allies to refrain from providing Nicaragua with means of self-defense. But he is not on record with objections to military support for Washington's terror states and the "thugs" who run them. 30

Arias's tolerance for terror and repression in the U.S.-backed "fledgling democracies" made him particularly welcome to U.S. elite opinion. His probity was further demonstrated as he cooperated fully with the U.S. government in undermining the Esquipulas accords. He kept silent about the rapid escalation of U.S. supplies to the contras immediately after the accords, in violation of what the accords termed the one "indispensable condition" for peace in the region. He also backed U.S. initiatives to revise the accords so that they would apply to Nicaragua alone, and to eliminate international supervision that would stand in the way of Washington's efforts to disrupt them. Thus, he fully accepted the blatant violations of the accords in the states where he recognizes "freely elected governments," agreeing that mounting atrocities there are of no real significance. Arias of course continued to insist upon the provisions of the accords that call for "the fully guaranteed participation of the people in truly democratic political processes based on justice, freedom and democracy," guarantees for "the inviolability of all forms of life and liberty," "social justice, respect for human rights," and so on -- but only as these apply to Nicaragua. His tolerance for the practices of his "democratic" colleagues, who provide a fig leaf for state terror as he knows, has served effectively to legitimate, and thus enhance, the continuing atrocities and U.S. participation in them, another reason for his immense popularity and prestige in the West.

Observing these principles, Arias informed the press in August 1988 that "I told Mr. Shultz that the Sandinistas today are bad guys, and you are good guys, that they have unmasked themselves." The Sandinistas had "unmasked themselves" when police used tear gas and violence after they had been attacked at a protest march at Nandaime in July 1988, arresting several dozen participants. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs commented that this "mob assault on police followed exactly instructions in the notorious August 1984 CIA psychological warfare manual issued to the contras. U.S. embassy officials were present, and videotapes and accounts of eyewitnesses support Nicaraguan government charges that they directed the affair." That the U.S. had been actively engaged in fomenting opposition to the government with the goal of evoking a repressive response had long been known, including Embassy activities of a sort that few countries would tolerate for a moment, surely not the United States. 31

The Nicaraguan reaction was a "major sin" against the peace accords, Arias announced, singling out Nicaragua for criticism and urging that "it is time to rally some support to put pressure on those who fail to comply," that is, Nicaragua alone. During these July transgressions, the Sandinistas had behaved much in the manner of the Costa Rican security forces at the same time, approaching some of the lesser abuses of the "democratic" states -- which were not only continuing to break up demonstrations with tear gas and violence, but also conducting their "pedagogy of terror" in the bloodier manner that Arias found acceptable, escalating since the 1987 accords were signed. The Sandinista-style abuses in the other countries evoked not a whisper of protest, and in fact hardly a mention in news reports. 32

At a meeting with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and Secretary of State George Shultz, Arias said that "Nicaragua has unfortunately failed us." He expressed "my disappointment, my pain, my sadness," as he discussed abuses in Nicaragua with his colleagues from the "democratic" states; about their murderous repression he expressed no disappointment, pain or sadness, as least so far as the media report. "Mr. Shultz and the Foreign Ministers of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica expressed `their respect for the principles of peace, democracy, security, social justice and economic development'," Stephen Kinzer reported without comment. 33

For Oscar Arias, Mr. Shultz is a "good guy" despite his enthusiastic sponsorship of extreme and continuing terror in the "fledgling democracies," where he sees "the results [as] something all Americans can be proud of" (see p. 388). Evidently, Arias agrees. Accordingly, he is granted the role of arbiter of adherence to the provisions of the peace accords and of democratic practice, though he is a shade too independent for the hard-liners who demand still higher standards of obedience.

Arias lent his support to the demolition of the peace accords in other ways as well. The New York Times reported him as saying that "Honduras could not be expected to close contra camps and ban clandestine supply flights if the Sandinistas do not negotiate a cease-fire with the contras and issue a broad amnesty." 34 The accords set no such condition on cessation of contra aid, and Arias did not announce that foreign aid to the indigenous guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala is legitimate until the governments begin to live up to the terms of the accords and accept guerrilla offers to negotiate. The continued refusal of these governments to negotiate despite appeals from the Church, from Arias, and others, while Nicaragua did reach a cease-fire agreement in March 1988, also did not affect Arias's judgment that Nicaragua alone stands in the way of a peace settlement.

In subsequent months, the process of tightening the screws on Nicaragua through the device of demand escalation by the contras continued, no doubt following the script of Arias's "good guys" in the State Department. Each new government agreement, going far beyond the terms of the accords, simply led to new demands. Sandinista proposals to renew negotiations were repeatedly rejected by the U.S. and its clients. Arias backed the project all the way, expressing his pain and sadness over Sandinista iniquity as the U.S. and its forces continually pressed for further advantage and atrocities continued to mount in the terror states under the cover of legitimation provided by Arias and his fellow democrats, and in violation of the long-forgotten peace accords. In August 1988, Senate doves implemented legislation providing renewed aid to the contras -- in violation of international law and the peace accords -- and warning Nicaragua that military aid would follow if they continued to stand alone in the way of peace and democracy or attack the contra forces, who, at that time, were refusing to enter into negotiations and continuing to carry out terrorist atrocities in Nicaragua. 35 Across the political spectrum, it was taken to be illegitimate, a further proof of communist totalitarianism, for Nicaragua to defend itself against U.S. attack or to protect the population from U.S.-run terrorists.

If Arias had any objections to what his "good guys" were up to, I have been unable to discover it. He also apparently kept silent about the delivery of "humanitarian" aid to the contras -- which does not qualify as humanitarian under international law, as the World Court determined unequivocally. The aid was also in blatant violation of the terms of the March 1988 cease-fire agreement and the congressional aid legislation, and elicited a strong protest from OAS Secretary General Soares, who was assigned responsibility for monitoring the agreement, to which the congressional legislation was explicitly subordinated. Arias remained untroubled. Doubtless aware of the character of these aid deliveries, Arias banned them in Costa Rica; government spokesman Guido Fernández stated that to permit supplies to pass through Costa Rica to the contras would be a form of "aggression against a government of the region" and "contrary to the peace accords," the Honduran press reported. But I have found no statement available to the American public. 36

  7. Yearning for Democracy

While domestic hawks and doves differ on tactical choices, they are in accord in preferring democratic forms, where this is feasible. Some see this preference as an absolute passion. Thus, New York Times diplomatic correspondent Neil Lewis writes that "The yearning to see American-style democracy duplicated throughout the world has been a persistent theme in American foreign policy." Lewis was reflecting on the situation in Haiti, where the U.S.-backed military government had suppressed the scheduled elections by violence, the widely predicted consequence of U.S. support for the junta. These events, Lewis observed, are "the latest reminder of the difficulty American policy-makers face in trying to work their will, no matter how benevolent, on other nations." Our righteous endeavors had succeeded in the Philippines, with the overthrow of Marcos by "people power," but were coming to grief in Haiti. 37

The sentiments are conventional. At the rhetorical level, the yearning for democracy has indeed been a persistent theme, coexisting easily with the regular resort to violence and subversion to undermine democracy.

Given the conventions of ideological warfare, it is quite possible to describe even the most brutal regimes as "democracies," as long as they serve the goals of the policy-makers. The example of the "fledgling democracies" of Central America is notorious. Another familiar case is the doctrine that "democracy is on the ideological march" because the experience of the last several decades shows that it leads to prosperity and development: "As an economic mechanism, democracy demonstrably works," James Markham writes in the lead article in the Times Week in Review.38 We are to understand, then, that the economic miracles of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore took place under democracy. The conventional thesis that Markham expresses reveals, once again, the prevailing contempt for democracy.

The countries that inspired Neil Lewis's thoughts about our unfulfilled yearnings are, in fact, instructive examples of the attitude toward democracy. In the case of the Philippines, few seem to find it jarring to read an upbeat report on "the return of full democracy" to the country under the headline "Aquino's decree bans Communist Party," with a lead paragraph explaining that a presidential decree stipulated penalties of imprisonment for membership in the party, which had been legalized under the Marcos dictatorship. Not long before, Marcos himself had been a model democrat, a man "pledged to democracy" (Ronald Reagan); "we love your adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes" and your "service to freedom," Vice-president George Bush proclaimed in Manila. That, however, was before Marcos had lost control, and with it, his credentials as a freedom-loving democrat. The nature of Philippine democracy before and after the Marcos dictatorship also evokes little self-reflection -- or even comment. 39

The reference to Haiti is also instructive. After many earlier interventions, Woodrow Wilson launched murderous counterinsurgency wars in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola), leaving the countries shattered and demoralized, the constitutional structure reduced to mere farce, and American corporations able to "work their will" without local impediments. In subsequent years, the U.S. supported savage tyrants, turning against them only when they began to infringe upon U.S. interests or lose their effectiveness, with direct intervention when necessary to ensure that events proceeded on their proper course. 40

The Reagan administration continued to certify the progress of "democratic development" in Haiti as President-for-life Jean-Claude Duvalier invoked still more repressive legislation in 1985, described as "an encouraging step forward" by the U.S. Ambassador at a July 4th celebration. But not long after, it became clear that the dictator's days were numbered. As the Wall St. Journal observed perceptively, when "U.S. analysts learned that Haiti's ruling circle had lost faith" in Duvalier, "U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, began openly calling for a `democratic process' in Haiti." 41 At the same time, the U.S. favorite Marcos lost his usefulness, with similar consequences. Since then, we sing our praises for these renewed demonstrations of our yearning for democracy.

Throughout the period, the independent media and other right-thinking people have been much impressed with our benevolence. A survey of New York Times editorials from 1916 through 1928 illustrates the prevailing conception, which persists to this day. As Wilson set forth on his crusades in Hispaniola, the editors wrote that the long record of U.S. intervention "clearly shows that the attitude of the United States has been unselfish and helpful." We had acted "in a fatherly way" and were now doing so again as Haiti "sought help here," provided by the marines. This "unselfish intervention" over the years "has been moved almost exclusively by a desire to give the benefits of peace to people tormented by repeated revolutions," without any thought for "preferential advantages, commercial or otherwise. The people of the island should realize that [the U.S. government] is their best friend" while Wilson's troops rampage. "The good-will and unselfish purposes of our own government" are demonstrated by the consequences, the editors wrote 6 years later, when they were all too apparent. Two years before, they had explained that it was necessary for us to see to it that "the people were cured of the habit of insurrection and taught how to work and live"; they "would have to be reformed, guided and educated," and this "duty was undertaken by the United States." "To wean these peoples away from their shot-gun habit of government is to safeguard them against our own exasperation," with the righteous resort to force that it elicits. 42

Similarly in Nicaragua, as the marines pursued the "elusive bandit chief" Sandino, it was plain that we were continuing to act, as we always had, with "the best motives in the world," the Times editors assured the reader. And surely no serious person could accept "the mistaken assumption that the presence of the marines is distasteful" to the Nicaraguans, or could heed the attacks on our policy "by professional `liberals' in this country." The editors did, however, regard it as unfortunate that the clash "comes just at a time when the Department of State is breathing grace, mercy and peace for the whole world." No less admirable is our record in Cuba, where we were able "to save the Cubans from themselves and instruct them in self-government," granting them "independence qualified only by the protective Platt amendment" -- which "protected" U.S. corporations and their local allies who turned the country into a U.S. plantation, averting the threat of democracy and independent development. In the preferred version, "Cuba is very near at hand to refute" the charge of "the menace of American imperialism." We were "summoned" three times until the Cuban people, under our tutelage, "mastered the secret of stability." And while it is true that "our commercial interests have not suffered in the island," "we have prospered together with a free Cuban people," so "no one speaks of American imperialism in Cuba." 43

The years pass, the inspiring thoughts remain.


1 American Foreign Policy (Norton, 1969), 28.

2 Tucker, "The Purposes of American Power," Foreign Policy, Winter 1980/1. For more extensive discussion, see Towards a New Cold War, chapter 8.

3 Commentary, January 1981; TNR, Nov. 29, 1980.  

4 BG, July 24, 1988.

5 Oakes, "The Wrong Risk in Nicaragua," NYT, Feb. 10, 1987; Morley, "Beyond the Reach of Our Good Intentions," NYT Book Review, April 12, 1987.  

6 See Culture of Terrorism, Necessary Illusions.

7 Pastor, Condemned to Repetition (Princeton, 1987).

8 For comparison of the record in Nicaragua with that of the United States and its most favored client (Israel; comparison with the U.S. terror states is an absurdity, of course), see Necessary Illusions, Appendix II, sec. 2, and Appendix V, secs. 6-8. Also Michael Linfield, Freedom Under Fire (South End, 1990).

9 See Turning the Tide, 270; Culture of Terrorism, 219f.; Necessary Illusions, 71f.  

10 Tom Barry and Deb Preusch, The Soft War; LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions.

11 On the support for the Guard by Carter doves, see chapter 10.

12 See chapter 10, section 3, for more on these efforts and the reasons for them.  

13 FRUS, 1955-7, Vol. VII, 88f., NIE 82-55.

14 See chapter 1, p. 51; chapter 12, section 5

15 Pastor, op. cit., citing Brzezinski's diaries.

16 Foreign Policy, Fall 1987.

17 See Culture of Terrorism, 90f.  

18 WP-Manchester Guardian Weekly, Nov. 29, 1987.

19 Editorial, WP, June 20, 1988.

20 See Necessary Illusions, 243-4.

21 NYT Book Review, Nov. 29, 1987.

22 Foreign Affairs, Summer, 1988.  

23 TNR, Oct. 5, 1987.

24 Joel Brinkley, NYT, Oct. 4, 1987. On the strategy of demand escalation to prevent a political settlement, see "Cease-Fire Primer," International Policy Report, July 1988. For a review of the demolition of the accords through 1988, see Necessary Illusions. On subsequent steps, see chapters 2, 9

25 Bundy's reference was to those who questioned the basic assumptions of the "first team" that was directing U.S. policy in Vietnam; Foreign Affairs, January 1967. See Manufacturing Consent, 175f.

26 See Charles Ameringer, Don Pepe (U. of New Mexico, 1978); Necessary Illusions, 111f., and appendix V, sec. 1.

27 Oduber, cited in Kenneth M. Coleman and George C. Herring, eds., The Central American Crisis (Scholarly Resources Inc., 1985). Carazo, Monge, see Roy Gutman, Banana Diplomacy (Simon and Schuster, 1988), 67, 302n. The charge against Carazo, possibly accurate, was that he had profited from gun-running. Oduber's record may also be none too savory (see p. 118), but that has never been a problem here. Trejos Salas, see Culture of Terrorism, 135.

28 See chapter 7, pp. 223f.

29 COHA-Newspaper Guild, Survey of Press Freedom in Latin America, 1986. On Figueres's attitudes, see Necessary Illusions, and sources cited.

30 Gutman, Banana Diplomacy, 327ff., 359.  

31 Arias, Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 5, 1988; COHA, "News and Analysis," Sept. 23, 1988. For more on this U.S. propaganda triumph, see next chapter, p. 287.

32 See Necessary Illusions, 247ff.

33 Boudreaux, LAT, Aug. 5; Kinzer, NYT, Aug. 2, 1988.

34 Stephen Kinzer, NYT, Oct. 15, 1987.

35 For one serious example, three days earlier, see chapter 9, p. 289.

36 See Necessary Illusions, 94f.; Fernández, El Tiempo (Honduras), Aug. 22, 1988. See next chapter, p. 297.  

37 Lewis, NYT, Dec. 6, 1987.

38 NYT, Sept. 25, 1988. See chapter 3, p. 90, for another example.

39 UPI, BG, July 27, 1987. Reagan, NYT, Feb. 12, 1985; Bush, State Department Bulletin 81, August 1981, 30. On democracy under Aquino, see chapter 7, sec. 4.

40 For details, see Turning the Tide and On Power and Ideology.

41 WSJ, Feb. 10, 1986.

42 Editorials, NYT, Sept. 2, Dec. 5, 1916; July 13, 1922; Oct. 5, 1920; May 12, 1928.

43 Editorials, NYT, Jan 4, 14, May 3, 1928; May 3, 1922; Jan. 8, 1928.  

Table of Contents ] Introduction ] I. Cold War: Fact and Fancy ] II. The Home Front ] III. The Global System ] IV. Problems of Population Control ] V. The Post-Cold War Era ] VI. Nefarious Aggression ] VII. The Victors ] [ VIII. The Agenda of the Doves: 1988 ] IX. The Mortal Sin of Self-Defense ] X. The Decline of the Democratic Ideal ] XI. Democracy in the Industrial Societies ] XII. Force and Opinion ] Afterword ]

 ] Deterring Democracy ] Necessary Illusions ] The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many ] Keeping the Rabble in Line ] Rethinking Camelot ] Powers and Prospects ] Year 501 ] Secrets, Lies and Democracy ] What Uncle Sam Really Wants ] Interviews, Debates and Talks ] About Noam Chomsky ]


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