So, are you ready to answer the call for volunteers for the East Timor Expeditionary Force? Actually, if anybody were seriously thinking of organizing a volunteer force, on the order of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish civil war, I would have no objection, though I wouldn’t be especially tempted to volunteer myself.
There are plenty of heartbreaking situations in the world about which various people, for various reasons, will have a special concern. The proper way to deal with them if one is convinced that a military or paramilitary effort would be helpful is through assembling volunteer forces. For that matter, it should be possible to entertain the thought of assembling humanitarian rescue missions without a military component through voluntary means. It is difficult to organize such efforts, of course, but it is a sign of decline in the idea of a civil society that hardly anybody, in the course of raising consciousness about the humanitarian disaster in East Timor, even considers the idea of volunteers.
The government isn’t especially interested in volunteers, of course (except insofar as it will be ordering around people who are technically part of a volunteer US military). They could be unpredictable and they don’t feed the Empire’s power. So if the United States does intervene and for the moment I’ll take the officials at their word and believe in the possibility that they are agonizing and maybe even leaning against direct intervention it won’t be with voluntary forces paid for through voluntary contributions.
MEDIA PAVE THE WAY
Perhaps the establishment really isn’t eager to intervene in East Timor. But most of the courtier media are busy propagandizing on behalf of a potential intervention just in case. The unrest, attacks by anti-independence militias and driving out of the sacred United Nations mission have been played up, even called a variant of ethnic cleansing. Most authorities believe some 200,000 people have been killed in political violence in East Timor over the last 20 years or so after the United States winked and nodded at the then-Indonesian regime. None of those deaths was especially newsworthy at the time. But today’s violence seems to demand instant action.
What is perhaps most striking about the news coverage is just how automatically most of the small circle of policy experts and media assume that any incidence of violence or unrest calls for a response from either the United States or the "international community.”
On "Nightline” the other night, for example, the guests (Anthony Lewis of the New York Times and former Congressman Lee Hamilton) quibbled a bit over whether intervention should begin tomorrow or after more economic pressure had been applied, perhaps for a couple of weeks, or whether it should be a UN or a US operation. But, representing as they did the vast ideological gamut from A to B, they had no question that a disturbance in that part of the world required a response of some sort from the wise keepers of the new world order.
To be sure, East Timor did just hold a referendum on independence from Indonesia in which the pro-independence side won. So the idea that independence should be effectuated rather than resisted has a certain amount of legitimacy.
But however contemptible the Indonesian regime is and it is unquestionably contemptible for many reasons having little to do with East Timor under the old theory of international relations it is still the sovereign power on the island. Until very recently it would have been considered unusual and provocative even for the United Nations to presume to dictate how a sovereign power a member in good standing of the club handled an internal problem of civil unrest. Now the notion that the free-floating craps game called the "international community” should make demands and threaten military intervention is virtually automatic and not even viewed as controversial.
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
This assumption that "of course” "we” need to do something is another sign that the theory (or myth) of international relations that prevailed for most of this century is effectively a thing of the past. The idea that the world consists of sovereign nation-states that, so long as they are recognized as sovereign by other sovereign nations (nice bit of self-reinforcing legerdemain, eh?) can do what they like in their own territory (subject to protest but not to discipline unless they invade somebody else) simply doesn’t apply any more.
The theorists haven’t come up with a new theory to justify manic intervention at the whim of those who have the resources to do so yet. World federalism, world government, systems of alliances and even the United Nations don’t offer a coherent rationale for the kind of license our wise and bold leaders want. In effect, the international community has reverted to the age-old "might makes right” paradigm. But that won’t do forever. They have a need or at least a strong impulse to justify their brutality in terms of humanitarian rescue.
Whether the professors of international relations will ever acknowledge that we’re talking about a world empire rather than an enlightened system of coherent principles is doubtful. But such an acknowledgment would be more coherent than the mad scramble for "principled” justifications to act as the world’s policemen currently going on in the academy.
MORAL INVERSION IN KOSOVO
I wrote a few weeks ago about the incipient plans to impose media licensing and censorship in Kosovo, similar to the regime of centralized control and pre-publication censorship that currently prevails in Bosnia (and reflects what our leaders would prefer in the United States if they thought they could get away with it.) In the October issue of Liberty magazine economist and author David Ramsay Steele bemoans the plan as well, and follows with comments worth quoting:
"Under Yugoslavian rule, Albanian, Turkish, and other Muslim media flourished in Kosovo. Some Yugoslavs claim (I have not been able to confirm it) that there were more ethnic Albanian newspapers, TV stations and radio stations in Kosovo than there were in Albania. But unlike the benighted Slobo, the new U.S. puppet regime doesn’t feel that it can simply allow people to say what they want.
"The extirpation of democracy in Kosovo is described as the introduction of democracy. The establishment of the rule of a small gang of racist thugs, and the ruthless imposition of ethnic purity, where ethnic diversity and peaceful co-existence formerly predominated, is described as a victory for racial tolerance. The legitimation of daily murder and terror in the streets is described as liberation. And now, regulation of the media by unelected bureaucrats is described as an introduction to press freedom.
"These are the Western standards of journalism. Observe them.”
Meanwhile, of course, even as imperial overstretch in the Balkans, Indonesia and elsewhere continues to expose the inadequacy of U.S. military forces as presently constituted and recruitment "shortfalls” largely due to the contemptible nature of current military missions threaten to compound the inadequacy various leaders are beating the drums for a larger-scale military intervention in Colombia.
U.S. "drug czar” Gen. Barry McCaffrey made a grand tour of Latin America a couple of weeks ago to "rally regional leaders in the fight against narcotics trafficking,” as Reuters put it. He’s pushing for another billion bucks in unspecified aid to Colombia on top of the $287 million slated to be wasted already this year.
On September 1 Colombia got six refurbished Vietnam-era UH-1 helicopters from the United States, the better to protect crop-dusting planes trying to eradicate cocaine planting sites. Three Blackhawk helicopters, described as more sophisticated, are expected to be sent in November.
Gen. McCaffrey was a military general before he was "drug czar,” of course, and he has made a habit of thinking about and describing domestic drug suppression (or to be more accurate, people-suppression) efforts in military terms. Now, perhaps in part frustrated by the fact that all the money spent seems to have no discernible effect on the availability or use of illicit drugs in the United States, he seems eager to get the United States back into the kind of war he thinks he understands with outright military troops on foreign soil.
The United States will pay a high price if he succeeds.