January 13th, 2005

Voted for Dean

Administration Trial Balloon: Death Squads Redux

When I first saw in the Rude Pundit's blog that the Bush administration is gearing up to create another set of death squads, my reaction was not too far off from the Rude Pundit's own reaction, allowing for his tendency to dramatic exaggeration. I was not only horrified, but shocked. That policy was such a total failure the last dozen or so times that it was tried, that it blows my mind that the idea still has any currency anywhere. Never mind that it's as immoral as anything the Third Reich or Stalin ever came up with, it doesn't work. And my first reaction was, Dear Ghod, this is what it's like to have the most "uncurious" President in American history. The man doesn't know any history, doesn't want to know it. So whenever he comes up with some obvious idea, he doesn't know if it's been tried before and failed, so he doesn't have any reason not to try it again.

But I'm glad I got distracted from writing about it for a while, because it gave me time to realize that no, that's not what's going on at all. First of all, it's incredibly unlikely that he doesn't know, because so much of that history affected him personally, and I don't care what quantity of cocaine and alcohol he's gone through in his life, he has to remember some of it. He was in the service (more or less) during Vietnam, and going to college when Operation Phoenix was in the news and one of the burning issues on campus. Odds are he doesn't remember much about Operation Phoenix, but he has to have at least heard of it and must remember that a lot of people hated it; he must also remember that despite (or because of) Operation Phoenix, Vietnam fell anyway. It's possible that he doesn't know that the Shah's Iranian death squads were what lead to his downfall, but given that that was a Democratic Party screwup, surely somebody most have told him. But here's the kicker, whether George W. Bush remembers it or not, the huge failure and horrible blowback of the American-backed death squads in Latin America happened during an administration that included Cheney and Rumsfeld, and I guarantee to you that they remember it. What's more, when this policy blew up in the Reagan/Bush administration's face in the late 1980s, Bush's dad was one of the people that Congressional Democrats were gunning for. Bush the Younger may not have personally cared, but I guarantee you that his mother made him pay at least some attention to that part!

A quick overview of the subject of pro-American death squads, for those of you who never paid much attention to the subject: Collapse )

This strategy was tried in Vietnam; it has a lot to do with why we lost. This strategy was tried in Iran, and was the direct cause of why we lost. This strategy was tried, is still being tried, almost everywhere from Guatemala to Columbia, and it has made the US look really, really evil. But on the other hand, it occurred to me today, it may well look to Rumsfeld and Cheney like in Latin America, it worked. After all, the death squads have been able to prevent a Marxist takeover in almost every country where they are being used. What's more, where they weren't tried in time, in Nicaragua, anti-Marxist death squads are credited by most American Republicans as having successfully defeated the Marxist-lead coup d'etat that put the Sandanista Party in power there. So for all that the policy killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam and many hundreds of thousands in Latin America, and for all that nearly all of the dead were civilians, this administration may actually consider that policy to have been a success.

Pro-American death squads, in our name, raped and tortured nuns and priests to death because it was believed that their "liberation theology" was encouraging the Marxists. Pro-American death squads, in our name, burned down schools with the children and teachers barricaded inside, so that the Marxists wouldn't get credit for providing education. Pro-American death squads, in our name, murdered doctors and nurses, and blew up clinics and water treatment and sewage handling facilities, if they suspected that they had been paid for with Moscow's rubles, again so that the Marxists wouldn't get credit. And if they suspected the residents of a village of disapproving of the fact that their doctors, nurses, teachers, children, and sanitation workers had been murdered, then sometimes whole villages were murdered in our name for being Marxist sympathizers. When all of this came out in Congressional hearings over money illegally sent to the Contras in Nicaragua, some Democrat (Kennedy?) asked some White House official (Rumsfeld? I forget) how this was any different from terrorism? The reply was, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

So now the US military is facing a 300,000 or more combatant entrenched insurgency in Iraq, one that assassinates collaborators and occupation troops with impunity from one end of the country to the other, and just as in Vietnam the killers effortlessly slip back into a civilian population that will not turn them in to the collaborationist government or to the US occupation troops. And now Rumsfeld is floating a trial balloon, leaking to the media to see if the American public will sit still for the idea of taking Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and Islamist Shiite militias, who might hate the Iraqi resistance for their own personal reasons, bringing them back to the School for the Assassins, equipping them with fully automatic assault rifles and explosives and body armor, and turning them loose on Iraq's Sunni population, and if they rob and kill a few tens of thousands or a hundred thousand innocent Sunnis but manage to contain or even kill the leaders of the Iraqi resistance, well, then, we win, right? And since it won't be US troops doing the killing, or even the collaborationist government, we can't be blamed for it, right?

News Flash: It's not "our freedoms" that they hate. It's stuff like this. The Newsweek article says that nothing has been done yet, that the idea is only being debated. There's an update from 3 days after the article in which Rumsfeld seems to be backing away from the idea, in which case the punditocracy by raising outrage will have done their job. But God, it's a frightening thought to think that people at the top of the US government might actually think that the death squad policies of Vietnam, Iran, and Central America were a good idea, a success, something that should be tried again, that they might think that the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dead poor brown people were actually a good thing.