Sunday, September 17, 2006
Well, alright, if the left is reduced to the layer of liberal middle class professionals that make up the core of Cohen's readership these days, then he is partly right. Their focus on 'aid' for Africa, the total absence of any understanding of capitalism and the current phase of neoliberal 'reforms' that is responsible for genocidal levels of death - indeed, that sort of myopic narrowness can lead one to take a supercilious moralising posture about corrupt governments thwarting Western generosity. It isn't a surprise either that Cohen now accepts that questions about capitalism, neoliberal 'reforms' and accumulation by dispossession (through debt, privatisation and other devices) are utterly off the agenda. And if you further mistake the World Bank for a charitable organisation, then the ensuing flattery of those who appear to insist on probity from those receiving the funds is predictable. Yet, the creepy eulogising about Paul Wolfowitz is truly disturbing. Here is what Cohen says:
Wolfowitz is a conservative who, during his career, has championed democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia, feminism in Iran and opposition to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, causes that were once the preserve of the liberal-left.
Once, when book editors were heaping deserved praise on Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi's poignant account of educated women suffering under the Iranian mullahs, I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life by asking if they realised the 'Paul' Nafisi had dedicated her book to was Paul Wolfowitz.
Azar Nafisi didn't dedicate the book to Paul Wolfowitz: Cohen has lifted this fictitious claim straight from the mouth of Christoper Hitchens. The dedication in the book is unambiguous: "In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi; For my father, Ahmad Nafisi, And my family: Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi". The acknowledgments page mentions a 'Paul', but Nafisi isn't very happy that some people insist on giving him a surname. Nafisi is close to the neoconservatives, and has been criticised by the Hamid Dabashi for her book, putting her in the league of 'native informants' like Irshad Manji and Fouad Ajami. But that is a separate and slightly more delicate matter. The irony is that for Cohen, Nafisi fulfils precisely the role of the native informant.
Still more important are the moist fantasies about Wolfowitz's commitments to democracy, free markets and incorruptible governance.
Oddly enough, in violating his supposed commitments, he has usually hit the trifecta. As State Department Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, he oversaw support for the crony capitalist Chun dictatorship and the massively corrupt Marcos kleptocracy. As Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia, he favoured funding a dictatorial thief who happily suppressed the market in the interests of American capital. As Deputy Secretary of Defense, he wanted Iraq to be governed by corrupt, unelected (and unelectable) exiles while allowing its industry to be owned by kleptocratic companies with monopoly access.
In no place and at no time has Paul Wolfowitz been a champion of democracy, least of all in the Phillipines or Indonesia. Indeed, for someone allegedly devoted to economic efficiency, incorruptible leadership and poverty reduction, Wolfie spent an awful lot of time midwiving the deregulation of Indonesia's banking sector under the massively corrupt Suharto family, which contributed to massive economic collapse, but which allowed the Suhartos to hold on to the largest ever private money pot for dictators, an estimated $35bn. As the architect of Iraq's postwar 'reconstruction', he oversaw one of the biggest corruption scandals in imperial history. According to Professor Jeffrey Winters, "there is not one instance" of Wolfowitz "speaking up on human rights or democracy in Indonesia" during his entire time as ambassador there. Indeed, according to Indonesian human rights activists, "Of all former U.S. ambassadors, he was considered closest to and most influential with Suharto and his family". According to the head of the National Human Rights Commission, "he never showed interest in issues regarding democratization or respect of human rights ... I also never heard him publicly mention corruption, not once". Binny Buchori, director of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development - a coalition of 100 agencies promoting democracy in Indonesia, said that "He went to East Timor and saw abuses going on, but then kept quiet." Indeed, Winters cites reports from Wolfowitz's time under Suharto where he denounced an article criticising the corruption of the regime as "'bad' and told a press conference on his arrival in Jakarta that the U.S. would handle the sort of situation it created with the Indonesian Government by playing down the article and trying to ignore it". Wolfowitz "never alluded to any concerns about the level of corruption or the need for more transparency", according to Buchori.
US journalist Tim Shorrock adds that "East Timor ... was invaded and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with US weapons - a security policy backed and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. 'Paul and I,' [Holbrooke] said, 'have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.'" Joseph Nevins described in the National Catholic Reporter how Wolfowitz had consistently argued against Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor, and especially against US support for such a scenario. When the Indonesian government was using the tsunami as a cover for increased repression in Aceh, Wolfowitz visited and demanded US military aid for the TNI. (Nevins, cited in Chomsky, Failed States p 135). He had advocated resuming military ties to Indonesia ever since they were suspended in 1999. In 1997, he told the US Congress that "my balanced judgment of the situation in Indonesia today, including the very important and sensitive issue of human rights, needs to take account of the significant progress that Indonesia has already made and needs to acknowledge that much of this progress has to be credited to the strong and remarkable leadership of president Suharto".
As Tim Shorrock notes, Wolfowitz has repeatedly taken the credit for democratisation in which he has taken no part. He now claims to be an advocate of 'democracy' in Indonesia, and also claims the credit for persuading the South Korean dictator Chun to step down, and for the fall of the Marcos regime. In each case, decades of US support for tyrants was preserved by Wolfowitz right up until there was no longer any chance of survival, and US interests would be threatened by instability. Yet, Wolfowitz fought moves to end military aid to Marcos by the US Congress, in case it should strengthen "the communists". He himself had overseen the continued aid to Chun, Marcos and Suharto, and he didn't try once to cut off the supply on account of 'corruption'.
The creepy, arse-tonguing mythology about Paul Wolfowitz from Cohen shouldn't be countered by a mirror supposition that merely places a negative value on Wolfowitz's supposed theoretical commitments. He might well have imbibed something from Leo Strauss, and he might indeed be among the more ideological neoconservatives. But he is essentially a businessman, whose entire career has involved making things work for American capitalism. Nothing else has ever stopped him in that, and no putative commitment to democracy or free markets or fiscal probity has ever interfered with his service to capital.