Cashbox Diplomacy

Bush is Wall Street’s president. His top advisers are all former CEO’s, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Don Evans and Paul O’Neill. Thus it’s not surprising that the administration has chosen to build its revenge coalition through a combination of tough talk in the media and discreet back room bribes totaling billions of dollars in direct aid and eased trade sanctions.

In his speech to congress, Bush, doing his best Gary Cooper imitation, issued a clipped warning to the nations of the world: “you’re either with us or with the terrorist.” What does this mean, exactly? Ari Fleischer laid it all out a week after the 9/11 attacks. “The approach of the government will involve a carrot and a stick,” Fleischer said. “And in different nations, the carrot may be bigger, in other nations the stick may be bigger.” But rest assured everyone who plays along will get paid off. Except, perhaps, Cuba and, of course, Iraq.

Of course, here Junior is only operating from the same playbook that his father used to solidify his coalition against Iraq in 1989: bribery. In aftermath of the Gulf War, the US handed out billions in paybacks for participation in the vaunted alliance. Indeed, the US’s semi-permanent buy-out of Saudi military bases is said to be one of the things that fueled bin Laden’s hatred of all things American.

The chief broker for these trade pacts has been Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Rep, and an old-line hawk, who worked at the State Department during Bush I and also served a personal adviser to President GHW Bush. Zoellick, a former Goldman Sachs exec, is a prot?g? of James Baker and is following the Texan’s precedent in handing out bribes to ensure international acquiescence to American military campaigns. “Now we have a clear enemy who is not only trying to do us great damage, but is also trying to terrorize us . . . to paralyze us by terrorizing us,” said Zoellick. ” The terrorists deliberately chose the World Trade towers as their target. While their blow toppled the towers, it cannot and will not shake the foundation of world trade and freedom. Our response has to counter fear and paniccounter it with free trade.”

Zoellick’s first major trade pact was with Jordan, the Arab state that has always proved reliably compliant to the demands of the US government. But that’s not all. Zoellick wants to use the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for congress to grant Bush the so-called fast track authority, which will allow him to freelance trade deals with little oversight from legislators. ” Congress needs to enact U.S. trade promotion authority so America can negotiate agreements that advance the causes of openness, development and growth, said Zoellick in September 20 op-ed piece in the Washington Post. “It is a sad irony that just as the old world of bipolar blocs faded into history and the new world of globalization fast-forwarded, the United States let its trade promotion authority lapse.”

Of course, Zoellick is doing quite a bit of business without the benefit of fast track. And much of the money is going to regimes that have in the very recent past been cast by the US State Department and human rights organizations with records of brutality that are just as bracing as the Taliban’s. Pakistan, for instance, which looks to be a prime staging area for any US incursion into Afghanistan was, only months ago, vilified as a rogue nation, threatening its neighbors with nuclear weapons and other forms of state sanction terror. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, takes a backseat to no one in terms of its disregard for the most elemental human rights and served as the training ground for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

In addition to direct US aid, Pakistan also discovered on September 25 that more than $850 million in loan payments to 13 countries had been miraculously rescheduled to a date in the distant future. Meanwhile, the World Bank said it is poised to give Pakistan further financial aid. Apparently, all the Pakistani’s have to do is ask.

Sanctions, which included bans on weapons sales and high tech computers, were imposed on both Pakistan and India following the two nation’s nuclear saber-rattling in 1998. India saw its sanctions dissolve after it pledged to turn over to the Pentagon its intelligence dossiers on bin Laden and the Taliban. There’s no word whether the Indian government also chose to hand over dossiers detailing the ties between bin Laden and its rivals in the Pakistani government. India also offered to lease to the US three air bases as well as unspecified port facilities on the western seaboard. This prospect has not sat well with Pakistan, which has said that under no circumstances could India or Israel participate in the coming raids on Afghanistan.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic nation, also had its hand out and was rewarded with billions in inducements to keep its burgeoning fundamentalist movement under heal. Prime Minister Megawati Sukarnoputri traveled to Washington a few days after the attack, stood by a tenuous-looking Bush, as he struggled to pronounce her name correctly, and vowed unflinching opposition to terrorism.

On the eve of Megawati’s visit Robert Zoellick had hinted that US aid was in the offing. “One of the things that the President will be talking about is some ways that we may be able to open up our markets to help her succeed with growth.” No mention was made of the Indonesian army’s rampages in East Timor, the ongoing bloody reprisals in Aceh province against the Free Aceh Movement, and the general demeanor of the Indonesia military which is one of the world’s most ruthless and undiscriminating. These abuses have not ended with the ouster of Suharto. Indeed, the crackdown in Aceh is being carried out with a particular ferocity with all the old techniques of repression, torture and state-sanctioned murder, including extra-judicial executions, disappearances, arrests of protesters, journalists and human rights workers, and collective punishment.

Megawati took back to Jakarta commitment for more US military aid and reduced duties on Indonesian timber products, gold and copper. With US environmental groups in a self-induced state of hibernation, this giveaway prompted nary a bleat of protest. But indeed it is a remarkable turn of events and a blow to the Indonesia environment. Indonesia’s primary rainforests, which once rivaled the diversity of the Amazon, have been decimated. The duties were token measures to slow the rapacious pace of the logging. Now nothing stands in the way. “We’re coming to the end of the line,” says Lisa Curran, a Yale University ecologist who has led a 15-year study of the rainforests of Borneo. “It means the forest may not have a future.”

The deal with Indonesia has the stench of Kissinger’s handiwork. After all, Kissinger sits on the board of Freeport McMoran, the New Orleans-based mining giant that operates the Grasberg gold mine in Indonesia, one of the world’s ongoing acts of environmental crime and terrorism. The Indonesian military has doubled as a security force for the mining company, slaughtering hundreds of residents who have protested the destruction of their community. When things got hot for Freeport after the ouster of the dictator Suharto, Kissinger asserted himself, has also served as an economic and political adviser to the Indonesian government.

Even Iran, which may have been promised goodies by Bush’s father in exchange for delaying the release of the hostages taken in the raid on the American embassy, seems to have put in a bid at the auction. To revive a phrase from the Iran/Contra days, the back channel to Iran has been the British diplomat, Jack Straw, who went to Teheran this week bearing gifts and promises of future indulgences should the Iranians mute their anger at US raids across the border. Iran remains still classified as a state that “harbors” terrorists. But the regime in Teheran is no friend of the Taliban and the cost of 500,000 famished and frightened refuges pouring across the border is daunting and expensive.

Meanwhile, the Russians have agreed to lease the decrepit Dushanbe air base in Tajikistan airport for a nominal fee and promises by the Pentagon that it will upgrade the facility, which has been in a state of advanced deterioration since the end of the Soviet/Afghan war. In return, Putin wants the US to quickly secure Russian’s entry into the WTO.

But this is just the beginning. Russia is still smarting from its disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and its bloody conflict in Chechnya that tarnished both Yeltsin and Putin. Similar uprisings are taking place throughout Central Asia. The US military build-up across the region, including upgraded intelligence facilities, new airports and roads, will make it easier for Putin to suppress these insurgencies after the Americans leave.

Apparently, the Russians will also serve as a cut-out for US-financed arm shipments to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces.

But the Northern Alliance isn’t the only game in town. Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostam, leader of anti-Taliban ethnic rebels in Uzbekistan, told the Germany magazine Der Speigel, that he is willing to have his 15,000 men serve as a proxy army in the hunt for bin Laden and his cadre.

Uzbekistan, the central Asian republic with the largest standing army, is slated to be a major launching paid for any US military strike on the Taliban, now code-named Enduring Democracy. It has been fighting its own savage war against Islamic separatists known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that Bush linked to bin Laden in his recent speech to congress.

Of course, Uzbekistan is hardly a model of an enlightened democracy. A recent report by Human Rights Watch outlines the situation: “In the last decade, the government has decimated Uzbekistan’s secular political opposition, arresting and harassing its leaders and prominent members and forcing others into exile. The Uzbek government will not register any political parties other than those aligned with the president, and organized political opposition is not tolerated. The state exercises tight control of the media, including through pre-publication censorship. There are no independent news outlets. Journalists critical of the government are routinely threatened by state authorities and have been driven out of the country under threat of arrest. There is no freedom of assembly in Uzbekistan.”

Uzbek human rights groups estimate that there are more than 7,000 Muslims in prison in Uzbekistan today, most for “anti-state activity” or “attempted subversion of the constitutional order.” The sentences range from fifteen to twenty years. A stint in an Uzbek prison is no laughing matter. Conditions are abhorrent and torture is routine. Political prisoners are inflicted with particularly brutal treatment, including being hung from their feet, beaten with batons and bottles of water, by their feet or wrists, beat them with batons, electroshocked, and raped. Police torture of this sort has resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people in the last two years.

Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have both auctioned off their countries’ air corridors for US military overflights, although Saparmurat Niyazov, president of Turkmenistan, said that at this point he would only permit the Pentagon to use Turkmeni air space for what he called “humanitarian flights to Afghanistan.” Kazakistan, another former Soviet Republic, has also offered to lease its air space and military bases to the US. But the human rights record in all of these republics is little better than that of Uzbekistan. Political dissent is not tolerated, secret police rove the countryside, newspapers are censored and members of non-sanctioned religious sects are persecuted.

The government of the Philippines, which has been anxious to kick the US military out of the country, has now done an about face and is willing to allow U.S. military planes to use its air space and refuel on its territory. In return, the Philippine government is expecting a new trade pact, an arms package and financial aid from the World Bank and IMF.

Turkey is the only Muslim nation in NATO, a big recipient of US aid and military largesse. A week after the attacks, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said that he would be happy to open Turkish military bases to the Northern Alliance and to have the Turkish military train them for a sustained war against the Taliban. Turkey’s economic minister, Kemal Dervis, was a little more upfront in his demand for generous infusions of cash into the ailing Turkish economy. “Within the framework of the developments, friendly countries will realize Turkey’s importance in a better way,” Dervis said. “If Turkey’s importance is well realized, its integration process with the European Union can accelerate.”

Spain will also rent several of its military bases as “support installations” for US aircraft and troops. Under the framework of a bilateral defense cooperation agreement, the Pentagon will reimburse the Spanish government to the tune of several million dollars depending on the duration of the retaliatory campaign.

Although New Zealand has remained resolute in opposition to the invoking of the Anzus Treaty, the defense security pact for the Pacific region, the same can’t be said for Australia, which was quick to enter the fray. On Sept. 18 Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia would include troops in its support of U.S. military action in Afghanistan. But Howard isn’t an altruist. He wants payback, too, in the form of US support for a new bi-lateral free-trade pact.

Even Algeria has been promised recompense for rounding up 350 militants supposedly linked to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network at the request of the US government. The arrests were made by the same security forces that are now under international scrutiny for the violent suppression of protests in the Kabylie region that have left more than 80 dead and hundreds injured. Earlier this year Algerian secret police arrested one of the country’s most prominent human rights activists, Mohammed Smain, after he accused the former mayor of Relizane of leading a terror militia that was responsible for kidnappings, executions and torture of political dissidents.

What about that big stick? There will be bombs and missiles. There’s no question about that. There will be raids on bin Laden’s camps led by the Delta Force. The Taliban may be driven into the caves of the Hindu Kush. But there are other ways to punish and kill. Ways that are silent, discreet and quite lethal. Trade sanctions that stop the flow of even the most basic humanitarian goods, including medical supplies, food, and sanitation equipment. The sanctions will be leveled not only on Afghanistan, but any country that refused to comply with US demands. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has indicated that there may be as many as 60 countries that fit the description.

“If they don’t want to co-operate and don’t want to be on our side, there are measures we can take, sanctions and other kinds of barriers to our markets here,” warned Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans.

In the context of this you’re either with us or against us rhetoric, Bush has issued a kind of American fatwa, condemning those who live in nations that refuse to play along to the prospect of a kind of hidden genocide. The precedent here is Iraq– half a million dead children and counting. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.