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After Secretary of State Colin Powell surveyed the devastated coast of Aceh in Indonesia from a military helicopter, he proclaimed at a press conference that Americans “care about the dignity of every individual and the worth of every individual” and have a “need to respond to the needs of every individual of whatever faith.”
Most Americans are indeed empathetic and generous to others. Unfortunately the Bush administration of which Powell is a part does not represent America. It’s very actions in the aftermath of the quake and the tsunamis point out it’s hypocrisy as it spins out images for the global media while maneuvering to protect corporate interests and project the Pentagon’s power even deeper into the Muslim world.
Consider, for example, that the only place in the Indian Ocean basin that received full advance warning of the impending tsunamis was the US military base on the British isle of Diego Garcia. It houses “Camp Justice,” one of the secret facilities used to imprison and torture suspects in the US war on terror. As it battened down the hatches on the base, the Pentagon made no effort to alert the nations in the region of the impending doom that was about to strike them.
Consider, too, that with the death toll mounting in the days after the tsunamis hit, Americans reacted with dismay and embarrassment as President Bush at first pledged only a meager $35 million in aid to the region while continuing to do photo ops and chop wood while vacationing on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Only after the head of the United Nation’s emergency relief effort and The New York Times called that offer stingy and others pointed out that the President planned to spend more than three times that much on his inaugural events and parties did he up the ante to $350 million. Japan pledged half a billion. Three hundred and fifty million is approximately what the US spends in a day and a half on the war in Iraq.
Now the President is trying to use the tsunami tragedy to bolster his image in the world. There is no question that US aid workers and agencies who have converged on countries stricken by the tsunamis are dedicated to their lifesaving roles. But the President appears to be less interested in saving lives than on burnishing his image and the Pentagon’s to divert attention from the criminal activities of his administration in Iraq and elsewhere.
Hence, we are treated to film coverage of U.S. military helicopters taking off from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln with food and medicine for the tsunamis victims. The Abraham Lincoln is the same ship on which the president, decked out as a fighter pilot, landed on May 1, 2003 to proclaim an end to the hostilities in Iraq. The use of this ship symbolizes how Bush is adept at saying one thing and doing another and then using staged events and the media to mislead large numbers of his constituents about his intentions and actions. He told us and the world, for example, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when he had evidence that it did not. Then he said that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda when he knew that was not true. Next he insisted he wants to promote democracy and the rule of law by holding elections in Iraq. Tens of thousands have died and are dying in Iraq as a result of these fabrications.
Now he says his goal in Indonesia is to aid the victims of the tsunamis. But instead of funneling aid through neutral sources he is now channeling it in Aceh through the brutal Indonesian military, where a Free Aech Movement has been fighting for independence since 1976.
The Indonesian military, according to Human Rights Watch, has been responsible for “executions, disappearances, torture, and collective punishment, as well as its efforts to restrict fundamental rights of expression, assembly, and association.” The military is also protecting the Exxon-Mobil natural gas facility in Aceh. As Amy Goodman noted on Democracy Now, ExxonMobile makes direct payments to the Indonesian military contingents stationed around its natural gas facilities. The Aceh movement has proclaimed a cease fire since the tsunamis struck, but its relief workers and a dozen villages have been attacked by the Indonesian military.
Since 9/11, the United States has extended military aid and training to the Indonesia military (TNI) as part of the US war on terror in the largest Muslim nation in the world. Powell announced in Indonesia that the United States is “increasing the number of helicopters to help the TNI.” Just as in Iraq there is an imbroglio unfolding between the Pentagon, petroleum corporations and proxy military forces.
Little wonder, then, that the world needs to be skeptical of President Bush’s reasons for sending U.S. troops and aid to Indonesia as a result of the tsunamis.
Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the study of the Americans (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He is co- author with Jim Tarbell of “Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire,” He released late last year “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.”
Paul Cantor is a professor of economics at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut.