Singing for Suharto: The Lasting Values of the Great and Good

One of the most bloodthirsty dictators of the 20th century -- who killed up to a million of his own people, then ruthlessly raped a defenseless country, took it over and killed 200,000 more -- died last week. The Bush Administation's reaction was swift, and entirely characteristic of a government that has devoted itself to the advancement of human liberty across the globe:

They sang the mass murderer a hymn of praise.

As Australia's Herald Sun reports:

THE United States hailed former Indonesian president Suharto as a "historic figure" who "achieved remarkable economic development", in a statement released by its embassy in Jakarta.

“President Suharto led Indonesia for over 30 years, a period during which Indonesia achieved remarkable economic and social development,” ambassador Cameron Hume said in the release....

Offering his condolences on behalf of the United States, Mr Hume praised Suharto for his close ties to the United States and his role in creating the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

But we wouldn't like to leave the impression that the Bush response was nothing more than a big wet kiss from one bloodstained tyrant to another. No, in the midst of his laudatory statement, Ambassador Hume suddenly lashed out with a daring verbal blow for the cause of freedom, going so far as to say that "there may be some controversy" over Suharto's legacy. "Some controversy!" Boy, that's telling it like it is. Say on, brother!

He quickly tempered this rash outburst, however, by noting that "President Suharto was a historic figure who left a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region." In much the same way that, oh, say, Adolf Hitler left a lasting impression in his neck of the woods.

What exactly did this remarkable historic figure do to earn such paens? John Pilger tells the tale in his fond remembrance of Suharto in The Guardian:

Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror of Suharto's takeover in 1965-6 as "the model operation" for the US-backed coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. "The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders," he wrote, "[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965." The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, BBC south-east Asia correspondent at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved in this slaughter. "British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust," he said. "I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time ... There was a deal, you see."

The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called "the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia". In November 1967 the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens, US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto's US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on "a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened". Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a "model pupil".

The holocaust in East Timor -- like the maniacal frenzy of Suharto's original coup -- was of course greenlighted and abetted by Washington, as I noted in an earlier piece marking the death of another bagman of empire: "The Enduring Legacy of Gerald Ford."

But Ford's enduring legacy is in no way exhausted by the glories of his bloodthirsty political progeny [his top staffers Dick Cheney and Don Rumseld]. For the sad occasion of the statesman's death is certainly a most appropriate time to recall what is probably his greatest geopolitical masterstroke: the green-lighting of Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor -- an act of state-sponsored terrorism that killed more than 200,000 people...

...The documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – in June 2001, before George W. Bush gutted the law – but only reported in December of that year by the Washington Post. Kissinger and Ford had long denied any prior knowledge of the murderous assault, even though they'd been feasting with the genocidal Indonesian tyrant Suharto the day before the troops went in. However, in a secret State Department cable, Ford and Kissinger actually told Suharto before the attack that "we understand the problem you have and the intentions you have" and "we will not press you on the issue."

Kissinger, ever mindful of the media angle, added in another love note: "We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned."

The murders were carried out with U.S. weaponry. Congress had restricted their use to defensive purposes only, but Kissinger blithely brushed this aside, assuring Suharto that America would "construe" the invasion as "self-defense rather than a foreign operation." Kinda like Hitler did with Poland.

Naturally, the December 2001 story was buried by the usual bull-roaring of Bush praise in the media. In fact, in the same issue of the Post in which news of the declassification first appeared, you might have been diverted from its revelations by a fascinating piece on the editorial page, a long disquisition on the new ordering of the world, penned by one of our most revered elder statesmen:

Henry Kissinger.

[I should also note] that on September 21, 1999, Sander Thoenes, a former colleague of mine at The Moscow Times, was murdered in East Timor, almost certainly by Indonesian military forces, while covering the last throes of Jakarta's fury before East Timor won its independence -- another fact to be recorded with the high and mighty deeds of Gerald R. Ford.

But how does such blood and filth come to be countenanced by the great and the good of the West, the defenders and embodiments of the values of civilization? Pilger and Jon Schwarz provide two excellent glimpses into the mindset of the Establishment grandees who create government policy and shape the public discourse.

First, Schwarz offers this "funny little story about Suharto":

When Suharto was falling from power during 1998, I listened to an NPR show on Indonesia. It was hosted by the father of someone with whom I went to high school. The guests and the host spoke about Indonesian history, but made no mention of the "staggering mass slaughter" after Suharto took over in 1965, nor of the US support for all of it. Then someone called in and asked why they hadn't. Specifically the caller spoke of how the US embassy had given the Indonesian military lists of thousands of members of the communist party, so they could be more efficiently killed.

The host found all this preposterous and scoffed. In particular he wanted to know how the caller had gotten the ridiculous idea that the US had handed over death lists.

I don't know where the caller had gotten that idea, but I know where I'd gotten it: from a book on Indonesia I checked out from a library THREE BLOCKS AWAY FROM THE HOST'S HOUSE.

Of course, you can't really fault the host for not knowing about this. He was only a New York Times reporter and graduate of Harvard, so no one had ever taught him how to read.

Also, if I remember correctly, Lyndon Johnson had attended his wedding...which must have been during the same period as the coup, when Johnson was making decisions that led to the hundreds of thousands of people being shot and hacked to death with machetes. You can see how you might not want to find out you're the kind of person who has friends like that.

Then Pilger offers this chilling -- and telling -- conclusion to his piece on Suharto's death:

Shortly before the death of Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was the minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons, I interviewed him, and asked: "Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?"

"No, not in the slightest," he replied. "It never entered my head."

"I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned with the way animals are killed."


"Doesn't that concern extend to humans?"

"Curiously not."

When it comes to the great and the good, never forget this one fact: they hate you, and they don't care if you suffer and die, just as long as they can keep gorging on the perks of loot and power.