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Face-off: Bush's Foreign Policy Warriors

by Peter Roff and James Chapin

United Press International, 18 July 2001

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), Montréal
Posted at globalresearch.ca 3 November 2001

Three times each week, UPI National Political Analysts Peter Roff, a conservative, and Jim Chapin, a liberal, face off from opposite sides of the political spectrum on a key issue in the news.

Today: Has President Bush chosen his foreign policy team wisely?

Chapin: Bush -- Extreme policies, extreme appointments

President George W. Bush may be following extreme policies, but at least he's appointing extreme personnel to carry them out. That's been most obvious in the domestic policy arena, in which various foxes have been put in charge of various chicken coops -- environmental, energy, labor, and so on.

But the same kind of appointments are being made in foreign policy. Bush has been choosing people from the most dubious part of the Republican stable of the 1980s, those engaged in the Iran-Contra affair. His first such appointment, that of Richard Armitage as Deputy Secretary of State, went through the Senate quietly back in March by a voice vote. Armitage served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan years, but a 1989 appointment in the elder Bush administration was withdrawn before hearings because of controversy over Iran-Contra and other scandals.

Bush followed up the Armitage appointment by appointing Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State, Elliot Abrams, as the National Security Council's senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations, a post which does not require Senate approval. Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of lying to Congress during the Iran Contra hearings and was subsequently pardoned by George H.W. Bush. Abrams is immortalized in the book of quotations for his testimony before Congress: "I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I had no idea about." Luckily for him, but maybe not for quotations, he will not have to face the Senate this time.

Two similar nominees are subject to Senate confirmation: John D. Negroponte as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN (which Bush has downgraded from a Cabinet-level job), and Otto Reich as Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the highest ranking official overseeing Latin America and Canada.

Negroponte has plenty of diplomatic experience: nearly four decades including eight postings on several continents. His first overseas assignment was to the U.S. embassy in Saigon in the mid-1960s and he has been ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines. He speaks four foreign languages: Vietnamese, Greek, French, and Spanish.

At a time when one of the important functions of America's UN team will be to hold the feet of human-rights violators such as China, Burma and Afghanistan to the fire, Bush proposes to send a man whose record in Honduras was an impressive example of turning a blind eye to what was going on.

He served from 1981 to 1985 and he helped to prosecute the contra war against Nicaragua and to strengthen the military dictatorship in Honduras. Under the rule of General Gustavo Alvarez Martnez, Honduras's military government was both a close ally of the Reagan administration and was "disappearing" dozens of political opponents in classic death squad fashion.

In a 1982 letter to The Economist, Negroponte wrote that it was "simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras." The Country Report on Human Rights Practices that his embassy sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took the same line, insisting that there were "no political prisoners in Honduras" and that the "Honduran government neither condones nor knowingly permits killings of a political or nonpolitical nature."

Yet according to a four-part series in the Baltimore Sun in 1995, in 1982 alone the Honduran press ran 318 stories of murders and kidnappings by the Honduran military. The Sun described the activities of a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 316, that used "shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves."

On August 27, 1997, CIA Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz released a 211-page classified report entitled "Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980's." This report was partly declassified on Oct. 22, 1998, in response to demands by the Honduran human rights ombudsman. Opponents of Negroponte are demanding that all Senators read the full report before voting on his nomination.

Reich, unlike Negroponte, is primarily a lobbyist and anti-Castro activist rather than a diplomat. He is director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba and works for some of America's favorite industries: liquor (Bacardi), tobacco (British-American Tobacco), and weapons (Lockheed Martin). He also serves as vice-chairman of the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Program, or WRAP, an apparel industry-backed group characterized by union activists as an artifice for clothing importers to avoid serious scrutiny of their factories in developing countries.

In the 1980s, he headed a propaganda department in the State Department called the Office of Public Diplomacy. This unit, staffed with CIA and Pentagon psychological warfare specialists, reported to Oliver North. The function of the operation was to win support for administration policy in Central America. They wrote op-eds under the name of Nicaraguan rebel leaders and attacked those who differed with Reagan's policies. The Congressional investigation of the Iran-contra scandal identified numerous illegalities which led to the closure of the Office of Public Diplomacy.

Reich followed up these activities by serving as ambassador to Venezuela from 1986-89, at the height of the Iran-contra scandal. The Venezuelan government tried unsuccessfully to block his nomination.

While working for Bacardi, he successfully lobbied to slip Section 211 into the 1998 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, thus stripping Cuba of trademark protection. Ironically, he will be overseeing the Helms-Burton Act, which he helped to draft, which the administration has just decided not to carry into effect.

It would have been easy to find better and less controversial appointees than this group of tainted Cold Warriors. Let's hope the Senate will give them the full grilling they deserve. Roff: Reliving old fights

Yesterday's fights are yesterday's fights. Clinging tenaciously to past battles does not produce good future outcomes nor do they undo prior results.

The eastern Europeans have, apparently, learned this lesson as regards the former Communist apparatchiks who once terrorized them. When the Berlin Wall fell, there were many who counseled that national reconciliation took precedence over the persecution of former secret police thugs who had suppressed human freedom within national borders. Some of the former apparatchiks rose to leadership positions in post-Cold War governments in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. Little effort has been expended to punish most operatives of these once-criminal states.

This fight mattered, yet the eastern Europeans have largely moved beyond them. What does the continued persecution of those who worked on behalf of President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy say about America?

The direction Reagan's policies in Central America took should have surprised no one. Much was made of his high regard for Jeanne Kirkpatrick's essay "Dictatorships and Double Standards," positing that authoritarian regimes, while oppressive, needed to be viewed as transitional actors in the march to a democratic system based in market capitalism.

was the right prescription for the region. Stable democracies have taken root in Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua and elsewhere. This is a stark repudiation of American liberal support for the neo-Brezhnevian position that once the left seized a country it was theirs in perpetuity.

The American lefts' anger over being wrong on Central America and unable to repudiate Reaganism left them bitter. Now, they are taking it out on several Bush's appointees, trying to resurrect fading days of glory, railing against the so-called Irangate affair about which the country little cared then or now.

Had the imbroglio only been about an effort to sell arms to Iran for use in its war against Iraq in exchange for which U.S. hostages in Lebanon would be released, the country would have probably supported the deal by overwhelming majorities. But because a few people thought the weapons' sales proceeds could be diverted to ordinary people engaged in an extraordinary struggle for freedom in and around Nicaragua, a political football was created.

Neither Congress nor the Reagan administration were willing to fight the battle over the freedom fighters full out, leaving quasi-measures in place that created a lot of gray areas on both sides. America got to watch as Democrats attempted to gain through press leaks and public hearings a political advantage the American people denied them in the voting booth, in case anyone forgets where the playbook for Whitewater was developed.

It is unimpeachably true that executive branch officials must tell the truth to congressional oversight committees. If they feared press leaks, or worse, leaks of sensitive materials to foreign governments unfriendly to the United States, as was true in this case, then they should have refused to answer. For this reason, some of the Bush foreign policy appointees -- able, smart, capable and patriotic people who did their duty as they saw it to be -- are nonetheless politically problematic.

The Bush administration likely will survive the criticism, most of the American people giving it less than a second thought. Dredging all this up again will likely do the left as much good as it does the right to remind everyone that Alger Hiss was a spy for the Soviets, after all.

Copyright UPI, 2001, for fair use only.