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Sharon Smith

Letter from the US

Sabre rattling

(July 1994)

From Socialist Review, No. 177, July/August 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘The US government never intervenes militarily for the purpose of protecting human rights or saving lives. It takes military action only to further its own economic and strategic interests’

In June, as Clinton took his place among world leaders in the D-Day celebration on Normandy Beach, he made a speech honouring the US and its Second World War allies who, he argued, fought against fascism in order to make the world safe for freedom and democracy.

Yet only days earlier in Italy, on the first leg of his European trip, Clinton demonstrated just how committed to fighting fascism he actually is. He apparently saw no contradiction in wining and dining with the fascists from the Italian Social Movement (MSI) who now hold important posts in the Italian cabinet.

In fact, Clinton became the first major world leader to formally – and enthusiastically – endorse Italy’s fascist-backed government, headed by business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. He said that the US ‘looks forward to a very good relationship with this prime minister.’

Clinton argued that it was ‘premature’ to talk of a swing to the extreme right after the March elections. He said:

‘For a number of reasons, some parties that take part in democracies have their roots in the past. But things change. I’m thinking like an Italian citizen and I’m saying – he was elected. Let’s ... give him a chance and support him.’

But despite their own claims to the contrary, present day Italian fascism has stayed true to its historical roots. Just a few days before Clinton arrived, MSI member Piero Buscaroli made this chilling remark about gays while campaigning for the European parliament: ‘If it were up to me, I’d send them all to concentration camps.’

US foreign policy has nothing to do with defending freedom or upholding democracy. All Clinton’s actions this spring have demonstrated this hypocrisy quite clearly. Clinton has been sabre rattling all over the world.

Earlier this spring he used air strikes against Bosnia. More recently, he has become entangled in an escalation cat and mouse game with North Korea, in which he has moved to implement sanctions – and threatened to go to war – if North Korea doesn’t back down. And since May he has been threatening to invade Haiti. Yet regarding the slaughter in Rwanda, which by some estimates has claimed close to half a million lives, Clinton has been virtually silent.

The Clinton administration has even instructed its spokesmen not to describe the mass killings in Rwanda as genocide and to play down the horror of what has occurred there. They are allowed only to say that ‘acts of genocide may have occurred.’ Similarly, in mid-May the UN Security Council dropped the word ‘genocide’ from its resolution on Rwanda, which was watered down to express disapproval over ‘systematic, widespread and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.’

Clinton is afraid that admitting the scale of the butchery might generate calls for the US to intervene in Rwanda. But the US and its European allies have made it clear that Rwanda is neither economically nor strategically important enough to warrant action on their part. As the New York Times wrote, many US officials ‘argue that the land-locked African country has no historic ties to the United States – and no oil or other resources that would make American intervention worth the cost.’

No matter what rhetoric it uses, the US government never intervenes militarily for the purpose of protecting human rights or saving lives. It takes military action only to further its own economic and strategic interests.

The US is more than willing to ignore the most brutal tyranny if it can benefit by doing so. That’s why the list of US allies includes so many ruthless dictators. That is also the reason why US intervention is never the solution to hunger or human rights abuses – even during massive disasters. When the US sent troops to Somalia in December 1992 supposedly to feed starving people, US and UN troops killed an estimated 10,000 Somalis.

Nevertheless, many liberals were pleased when Clinton announced in May that he would consider invading Haiti to oust the military regime which overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide nearly three years ago. Aristide himself recently declared himself in favour of a US invasion of Haiti.

But if the US invades, Haiti will be no closer to democracy that it is now. The last time the US invaded Haiti, US forces occupied Haiti for the next 19 years, from 1915 to 1934. The US has dominated Haitian domestic politics for most of this century, backing one brutal dictator after another – including the notorious father and son Duvalier regimes which spanned three decades. When Jean-Claude Duvalier was finally overthrown by a popular revolt in 1986, the US provided the private jet which whisked him off to exile in France. And after a century of US domination Haiti remains the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Not surprisingly, the US has not shown much enthusiasm for restoring Aristide, a democratically elected reformer, as president of Haiti. Aristide called for raising taxes on the rich, and wages and living standards for the poor. He also criticised the US for meddling so often in Haitian affairs. The US therefore would prefer to work out a compromise with the military regime which overthrew him.

But the intransigence of the military regime in Haiti has become a source of embarrassment for Clinton, at a time when he is facing mounting criticism for the debacle in Somalia last year and for US waffling in Bosnia. So Clinton announced that he would tighten an existing embargo against Haiti and consider a US invasion.

But his reluctance to force a showdown with the Haitian ruling class is obvious. The tightened embargo has only deepened the suffering of poor Haitians, while rich Haitians can easily transfer any amount of money to Swiss or French banks.

Democracy has never been part of the US plan for Haiti. And no matter what is said, it is not part of the plan now, invasion or no invasion. The US government cares only about strengthening its own global power and amassing more profits. The only way it can accomplish this is by keeping more than half the world’s population living in hunger and poverty. That is what is at the heart of US foreign policy.

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