Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why does political science not speak out against tyranny?

           So-called value neutrality has sucked much of the vigor out of political science.  Yes, one wants to overcome one’s biases.  No, one doesn’t want to be neutral about anti-democratic and murderous activities, to paint American interventions against nonwhite democracies in the corpse-like colors of “interdemocratic peace” – see here and here.  15 or so elected regimes have been overthrown by American democracy during and after the Cold War; yet political science classifies interventions separately and silently as distinct from wars and trumpets that democracies are not belligerent toward one another.  Such interventions are acts in a particular interest by a largely unrestricted executive, tyrannical or imperial acts, which by a methodological sleight of hand vanish in American political "science." 

          Now interdemocratic peace is a great hope, as Kant long ago suggested, where citizens, short of mass protest, can influence the regime, not grovel as subjects to be wasted in the authoritarian “pleasure party of war.”  In his Law of Peoples, John Rawls, the great democratic theorist, rightly worries about American covert interventions against nonwhite democracies. He suggests five conditions to make America a serious democracy, two of which would eliminate the influence of oligarchy or the military-industrial (academic-political-media) complex on politics. But war is the American regime until just yesterday.  President Obama strives to change course and have a larger sphere of mutual recognition and negotiation.  But even he is caught up in mainstream American politics and works with a bipartisan (Democratic as well as Republican) political elite.  He seeks to  continue the occupation of Afghanistan even though the American people do not want to maintain, let alone enlarge that occupation.  Even in Iraq, Obama, the anti-War candidate with much insight about what he named a dumb war, has yet to withdraw a single division. Now Senator Russ Feingold and former Senator Chuck Hagel are lonely, intelligent voices trying to move the U.S. out of Afghanistan; as the U.S. government plunges further and further in, in the New York Times last Saturday, Bob Herbert wrote a powerful column on "Reliving the Past" here and on Sunday, Nick Kristof warned of "the Afghanistan Abyss" here.  To get the troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq, however, democratic protest will have to emerge much more sharply from below. 

        Stepping away from current American wars may make the bipartisan consensus which smooths over reaction clearer. In the Miami Herald for August 21, Heraldo Munoz, the Chilean ambassador to the United Nations and President of the Security Council during the Iraq vote, published a revelatory op-ed about the role of the Brazilian tyranny in overthrowing Chilean democracy on September 11, 1973. Brazilian torturers walked the Stadium where thousands were cordoned in Santiago after the coup, tutoring the Chilean military in its crimes against ordinary people, and collecting Brazilians who had fled the tyranny to democratic Chile.  See It can’t happen here here and  Heraldo Munoz, The Dictators’s Shadow and the inter-democratic peace hypothesis here.

        Heraldo emphasizes the role of Nixon and Kissinger in fostering this solidarity of tyrants to strike down one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the Hemisphere.  In addition, the coup against Joao Goulart, the elected President of Brazil, was organized by the CIA and American military contacts and training (not really two different things, working often in coordination) in 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson.  Thus, the Democrats under Kennedy and Johnson were responsible not just for aggression in Vietnam, but for anti-democratic coups in this Hemisphere (against Cheddi Jagan in Guyana, Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic, involving American troops, as well as Goulart in Brazil).  As the second to last post indicated here, President Truman, having set the monster loose, then warned against covert operations.  American crimes against Brazilian democracy under a Democrat fostered CIA-Brazilian crimes against Chilean democracy under a Republican. The CIA term blowback, made indelible in our public idiom by Chalmers Johnson in his book of that name, refers to the harmful impact of American foreign policies on American citizens, which are below the radar of bipartisan foreign policy consensus and  mainstream media commentary. When one thinks of the international interplay of anti-democratic belligerence among  Johnson and Nixon - the role of the new tyranny in Brazil in overthrowing Chilean democracy, torturing and disappearing ordinary people – one sees this bipartisan consensus in a deeper way.  That a spuriously value-neutral political science has perfumed this odious conduct as something consistent with inter-democratic peace makes the ordinary “emperor’s new clothes,” by comparison, glitter indeed.

        As Heraldo suggests, another fairy tale, that of the sorcerer’s apprentice (according to Thucydides, all those who give themselves airs in foreign policy are sorcerer’s apprentices) fiercely illuminates the unintended consequences of international belligerence.  Remember Saddam Hussein – “he may be a bastard but he’s our bastard” as a CIA man said;  Robert Gates, once in a different avatar, director of the CIA, helped Saddam and mused, regretfully, “he’s no agrarian democrat.”  We trained Osama Bin Laden in terror to topple the USSR in Afghanistan.  Thus, the monsters we sustain often turn on us (or we on them) with devastating effects. As Heraldo emphasizes, Pinochet’s secret police reached even into Washington, blowing up the car of exiled Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Roni Moffitt (they worked together at the Institute for Policy Studies). The anti-democratic feedback of American empire, I suggest in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? reaches daily and hourly home to undermine democracy. As with our initial invasion of Afghanistan, so the Patriot Act; as with the lies fostering Iraq, so the revocation of habeas corpus and the emergence from the shadows of the CIA into leading, at Presidential behest, full-blown American torture prisons. Lawyers, serious CIA people, and many ordinary citizens have spoken out against these crimes (also some professors, the American Psychological Association in a revolt from below and some reporters).

           Today, Obama is trying to halt this slide abroad at least about torture. But escalation in Afghanistan, the attempt to protect elite torturers from the rule of law, and the temptations of executive power all undermine his initial steps, make his policy at best indirect or even turn it in the wrong direction.  In a note on my post Abolish all covert operations here, John Dunn put the current movement very well: “Obama started off with the will to ensure that it didn't ever happen again and sacrificed accountability for the past to improve that (and other) prospects. Natural enough and undiscreditable in itself, but foreseeably inadequate to the historical occasion. my sense is that very few, if any of the people who have his ear, know what to say to him. Especially in time.”

         In a commendable reversal of previous American belligerence in Latin America, Obama did not overthrow the Honduran democracy of Zelaya, though American trained officers and quite possibly the apparatus of covert influence did.  But despite universal (except for the United States) condemnation, the tyrant Micheletti remains, with high supporters in Washington, in power.  Obama refuses to call the coup a coup – here the true name has legal consequences, requiring the withdrawal of American military aid and training.  See here.  Now more than ever, we need straightforwardness and truth, in politics, journalism and political science.

        Roni Moffitt is one of many Americans who stood with Chilean democracy against American-Brazilian sponsored tyranny. Embodying democratic internationalism, many Americans stood up against the war in Iraq.  Many now speak out against the war in Afghanistan and for the rule of law.

         As a student in the United States and friend of American democracy, as Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, Heraldo Munoz asks the United States for an apology.  The Chileans in the stadium, long disappeared, the folk singer, theater director and teacher  Victor Jara whose hands were crushed and who was then shot in the head by a police officer playing “Russian roulette,” ask for contrition (the Chilean people renamed the Stadium in 2003 for Victor Jara; the law has finally jailed one of the 3 executioners and is proceeding against others).  The United States government is “the greatest [military] power in the world.” We are always in other people’s countries, working for the profit of American multinationals and the extension of military purchases and influence, usually to the harm of those who live there.  Often, our presence is marked by troops, the destruction of democracy, the blood of innocents.  We need to take stock of ourselves, to remember  the Bill of Rights, “our values” which as Obama said in defeating McCain, underpin our security. We need to apologize.


Fri, Aug. 21, 2009

Pinochet's enablers in U.S., Brazil


The news media has reported that in 1971 the Nixon administration discussed with Brazilian military ruler, General Emilio Garrastazu Médici, a cooperative effort to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

The secret talks made public this week reveal another dark side of the Nixon-Kissinger contribution to the bloody overthrow of the Allende government on Sept. 11, 1973, and to the emergence of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

Some indications were known regarding the Brazilian connection in the Chilean coup d'etat even before this recent public disclosure.

The Chilean navy coup plotters had maintained secret contacts with the Brazilian military and had even gauged the Brazilian reaction to a possible coup against Allende, which the Brazilians supported, as told by former Chilean navy officer Roberto Kelly in his memoirs.

Copying '64 Brazilian coup

Brazilian businessmen from Sao Paulo gave money to right-wing paramilitary groups like Patria y Libertad, while Brazilian ambassador to Santiago, Antonio Castro da Camara Canto, hosted coup plotters at his residence so that they could quietly prepare plans for the overthrow of Allende.

In 1973 the White House was copying in Chile the 1964 Brazilian coup against the left-leaning Joao Goulart, with the help of the original perpetrators. On the late afternoon of the coup against Allende, the Brazilian ambassador was at the military school where the members of the Chilean Junta first assembled.

Brazil was the first country to deliver diplomatic recognition to the Pinochet-led junta -- the United States had agreed with Pinochet that, for practical purposes, it should not be the first to do so, though it welcomed the military regime.

A few days later, Brazil gave Pinochet an emergency $100 million loan. The Nixon administration's ``invisible blockade'' against Allende also ended, and American economic and military aid, under preferential terms, began to flow generously to the Pinochet regime.

The Brazilian generals requested ``interrogating,'' and eventually transferring out of Chile, Brazilian refugees who had been taken as prisoners to the National Stadium in Santiago.

From then on, Brazilian military officers were seen at the stadium advising in torture techniques and picking up their detained compatriots. Some Brazilian prisoners recognized the chief Brazilian interrogator: Alfredo Poeck, a known torturer.

``Brazil is the key to the future,'' President Nixon had confided to the British prime minister in 1971. It surely seemed so, as more military dictatorships were born in Latin America, promoted by Washington, with a little help from Brasilia, guided by a Cold War mentality.

Forces unleashed

History should teach lessons. That of 1973 was that the White House, in contributing to the overthrow of a democratic government, like a sorcerer's apprentice, unleashed forces that it could not control as the Pinochet secret police would even perpetrate terrorist attacks against dissidents on the streets of Washington, D.C.

After all these years and so much evidence revealed about U.S. covert action against a democratically elected government, perhaps a formal apology is due to the Chilean people.

Heraldo Muñoz is the ambassador of Chile to the United Nations and the author of The Dictator's Shadow: Life under Augusto Pinochet.


Chris said...


Reading Alan’s blog, one may be tempted to dismiss his words as those of a radically liberal college professor, an academic elite. If you find yourself leaning towards this conclusion, I urge you to continue to research the comments and interpretations of world events that he presents. You might start with the link below, and listen to Ray McGovern’s talk.


Talk by Ray McGovern, 27-year Veteran of the CIA and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) speaking at the Veterans for Peace Northwest Regional Conference March 8, 2009 in Kirkland, WA.

My point here is that Alan’s interpretation reflects that of a common (maybe universal) moral and ethical standing, not that of a political ideology. It transcends party lines and the labels of liberal or conservative. It transcends war participant (i.e. soldier, sailor, airman, marine) and war protestor. In fact, both Alan and Ray lend current credence to the words of John Quincy Adams, “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Anonymous said...

Why Not Speak Out?

I have just placed my three calls about our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. DeGette(303) 844-4988
Sen. Bennett (303) 455-7600
Sen. Udall (303) 650-7820


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