Rodrigo Duterte: A Fascist Original

Despite his bloody reign, Duterte remains popular, with the latest domestic poll giving him a trust rating of “excellent.” What makes Duterte tick? What drives many of his admirers to exclaim that they’re ready to die for him?

In 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte placed his country prominently on the global radar screen—too prominently, in the opinion of some Filipinos.

Duterte’s campaign to rid the Philippines of drug users and pushers through extrajudicial executions elicited shock even among the most hardened observers. And his now legendary cursing of President Obama as a “son of a bitch” — part of an angry farewell to a long-standing alliance with Washington and an embrace of China — upended Asian geopolitics.

Despite his bloody reign, Duterte remains popular, with the latest domestic poll giving him a trust rating of “excellent.” What makes Duterte tick? What drives many of his admirers to exclaim that they’re ready to die for him?

Fascism comes in different forms in different societies, so people expecting fascism to develop in the “classic” way often fail to recognize it even when it’s already upon them. In 2016, fascism came to the Philippines in the form of Duterte, but this event continues to elude a large part of the citizenry — some because of their fierce loyalty to the president, others out of fear of admitting that naked force is now the ruling principle in Philippine politics.
Why Duterte Fits the “F” Word

At a panel I was part of last August, one month after Duterte ascended to the presidency, there was considerable hesitation in using what panelists euphemistically called the “F” word to characterize the new executive. There is an understandable reluctance to use the term “fascist,” undoubtedly because the word has been applied very loosely to all kinds of movements and leaders that depart, in some fashion, from liberal democratic practices.

However, there are a few broad characterizations of a fascist leader that could unobjectionably apply to Duterte. In this scheme, a fascist leader is a) a charismatic individual with strong inclinations toward authoritarian rule who b) derives his or her strength from a heated multiclass mass base, c) is engaged in or supports the systematic and massive violation of basic human, civil, and political rights, and d) proposes a political project that contradicts the fundamental values and aims of liberal democracy or social democracy.

If one were to accept these elements provisionally as the key characteristics of a fascist leader, then Duterte would easily fit the bill.
A Fascist Original

Having said that, Duterte is nevertheless an original sort of fascist personality.

His charisma is not the demiurgic sort like Hitler’s, nor does it derive so much from an emotional personal identification with a “nation.” Duterte’s charisma would probably be best described as carino brutal, a Filipino-Spanish term that denotes a volatile mix of will to power, a commanding personality, and gangster charm that fulfills his followers’ deep-seated yearning for a father figure who will finally end what they see as the “national chaos.”

Duterte is not a reactionary seeking to restore a mythical past. He’s not a conservative dedicated to defending the status quo. His project is oriented towards an authoritarian future.

He is best described, using Arno Mayer’s term, as a counterrevolutionary. Unlike Hitler or Mussolini, however, he’s not waging a counterrevolution against the left or socialism. In Duterte’s case, the target is liberal democracy — the dominant ideology and political system of our time. In this sense, he is a local expression as well as a pioneer of an ongoing global phenomenon: the rebellion against liberal democratic discourse that Francis Fukuyama had declared as the “end of history” in the early 1990s.

Counterrevolutionaries aren’t always clear about what their next moves are, but they often have an instinctive sense of what would bring them closer to power. Ideological purity isn’t high on their agenda — they put a premium on the emotional power of their message rather than its ideological coherence.

The low priority accorded to ideological coherence is also extended to political alliances. Duterte’s mobilization of a multiclass base while ruling with the support of virtually all of the elite is unexceptional. However, one of the things that makes him a fascist original is that he’s brought the dominant section of the left into his ruling coalition, something that would have been unthinkable with most previous fascist leaders.

But perhaps Duterte’s distinctive contribution to fascism is in the area of political methodology. The stylized paradigm has the fascist leader or party begin with violations of civil rights, followed by a power grab, then indiscriminate repression. Duterte turns this “Marcosian model” of “creeping fascism” around. He begins with impunity on a massive scale — that is, the extrajudicial killing of thousands of alleged drug users and pushers — and leaves the violations of civil liberties and the grab for absolute power as mopping up operations in a political landscape devoid of significant organized opposition.
A Product of EDSA

Duterte’s ascendancy cannot be understood without taking into consideration the debacle of the EDSA liberal democratic republic that was born in the anti-Marcos uprising of 1986. (It’s named EDSA for the long thoroughfare in Metro Manila where the main actions of the rebellion took place.)

In fact, EDSA’s failure was a condition for Duterte’s success. What destroyed the EDSA project and paved the way for Duterte was the deadly combination of an elite monopoly of the electoral system and neoliberal economic policies with the priority placed on foreign debt repayment imposed by Washington.

By 2016, there was a yawning gap between the EDSA republic’s promise of popular empowerment and wealth redistribution and the reality of massive poverty, scandalous inequality, and pervasive corruption. The EDSA republic’s discourse of democracy, human rights, and rule of law had become a suffocating straitjacket for a majority of Filipinos, who simply could not relate to it owing to the overpowering reality of their powerlessness.

Duterte’s discourse — a mixture of outright death threats, coarse tough-guy talk, and frenzied railing coupled with disdainful humor directed at the elite (whom he called “conos,” or cunts) — was a potent formula that proved exhilarating to his audience, who felt themselves liberated from the stifling hypocrisy of the EDSA discourse.
Fascism in Power

Probably no fascist personality since Hitler has used the mandate of a plurality at the polls to reshape the political arena more swiftly and decisively than Duterte in 2016.

Even before he formally assumed office, the extrajudicial killings began; the elite opposition disintegrated, with some 98 percent of the liberal “Yellow Party” joining the Duterte Coalition; and Duterte achieved total control of both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court, shying away from a confrontation, chose not to challenge the president’s decision to have the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, buried in the national Heroes’ Cemetery. A traditional bulwark of defense of human rights, the Catholic Church, exercised self-censorship, afraid that it would be a sure loser in a confrontation with a popular president who threatened to expose bishops and priests with mistresses and clerical child abusers.

A novice in foreign policy, Duterte was able to combine personal resentment with acute political instinct to radically reshape the Philippines’ relationship with the big powers, notably the United States. What surprised many, though, was that there was very little protest in the Philippines at Duterte’s geopolitical reorientation toward China, given the stereotype of Filipinos being “little brown brothers” to Washington. What protest there was came mainly from traditional anti-American quarters which evinced skepticism about the president’s avowed intentions.

Here, Duterte again showed himself to be a masterful instinctive politician. While ordinary Filipinos often admire the U.S. and U.S. institutions, there’s a strong undercurrent of resentment at the colonial subjugation of the country by the U.S., the unequal treaties that Washington has foisted on the country, and the overwhelming impact of the “American way of life” on local culture. One need not delve into the complex psychology of Hegel’s master-servant dialectic to understand that the undercurrent of the U.S.-Philippine relationship has been the “struggle for recognition” of the dominated party. Duterte has been able to tap into this emotional underside of Filipinos in a way that the left has never been able to with its anti-imperialist program.

The anti-American comments from Duterte supporters that filled cyberspace following President Obama’s criticism of Duterte’s executions were just as fierce as their attacks on local critics of his war on drugs. Like many of his authoritarian predecessors elsewhere, Duterte has been able to splice nationalism and authoritarianism in a very effective fashion, though many progressives have seen this as mainly motivated by opportunism.
What Surprises Await the Philippines?

What are the chinks in Duterte’s armor? And what are the prospects for the opposition?

One vulnerability is the health of the president. Duterte has been candid about his medical problems and his dependence on the drug Fentanyl, reportedly a strongly addictive substance that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and has the same effects as heroin. The age factor is not unimportant either, considering that the president is turning 72. Hitler became chancellor at 44 and Mussolini became prime minister at 39. For the successful pursuit of an ambitious political project, one’s energy level is not unimportant.

More problematic is the issue of institutionalizing the movement.

The force driving Duterte’s electoral insurgency has not yet been converted into a mass movement. So Duterte is leaning on Jun Evasco, the secretary of the cabinet and a longtime Duterte aide, to fill the breach by coalescing a “Movement for Reform,” which was launched in August 2016. Evasco’s vision is apparently a mass organization along the lines of those of the left-wing National Democratic Front, where he cut his political teeth.

This won’t be easy since, as some analysts have pointed out, he would have to contend with competing projects from Duterte’s political allies — like the Pimentels, the Marcoses, and the Arroyos — who would prefer an old-style political formation that brings together elite personalities. Needless to say, a political formation along the lines of the latter would be the kiss of death for Duterte’s electoral insurgency.

A bigger hurdle would be failure to deliver on political and social reforms. Practically all of the key political and economic elites have declared allegiance to Duterte, so it’s difficult to see how he can deliver on his political and economic reform agenda without alienating key supporters. The Marcoses, who still have their ill-gotten wealth stashed abroad; the Arroyos, who have been implicated in so many shady deals; and so many other elites, many of whom have cases pending, are not likely to be disciplined for corruption, especially given their very close links to Duterte. Nor will the Visayan Bloc, which has come in full force behind Duterte, agree to a law that will extend the very incomplete agrarian reform program. Nor will the big monopolists like Manuel Pangilinan and Ramon Ang, who have pledged fealty to Duterte, submit without resistance to being divested of their corporate holdings.

This is not to say that Duterte is a puppet of the elites. Having a power base of his own that he can easily turn on friend or foe, he is beholden to no one. Indeed, one can argue that most of the elite have joined him mainly for their own protection, like small merchants paying protection money to the mafia. The issue, rather, is how serious he is about social reform and how willing he is to alienate his supporters among the elite.

The same goes for economic reform. Ending the increasing contractualization of Philippine employment (or ENDO, for “End of Contract”), one of the president’s most prominent promises, is currently bogged down in efforts to arrive at a “win-win” solution for management and labor, and all the major labor federations are fast losing hope the administration will deliver on this. As for macroeconomic policy, any departure from neoliberal principles on the part of orthodox technocrats like Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and National Economic Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia is far-fetched.

Again, the question lies in how convinced Duterte is that neoliberalism is a dead end — and how willing he is to incur the loss of confidence on the part of foreign investors by pursuing a different program.

Social and economic reform is Duterte’s Achilles heel, and the president himself is aware that popularity is a commodity that can disappear quickly in the absence of meaningful reforms. Dissatisfaction is fertile ground for the build-up of opposition.

This spells danger for the country in the medium term. Even if he’s able to quickly create a mass-based party, Duterte would likely still need to resort to the repressive apparatuses of the state to quell discontent and opposition. This may not be too difficult a course to follow. Having led a bloody campaign that’s already claimed over 6,000 lives, the suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of permanent emergency rule would be in the nature of “mopping up” operations for Duterte. It would be a walk in the park.
The Elite Opposition

Does the opposition matter, though?

The elite opposition is extremely weak at this point, with most of the Liberal Party having joined the Duterte bandwagon out of opportunism or fear. An opposition led by Vice President Leni Robredo, who resigned from Duterte’s cabinet after being told not to attend meetings, is not likely to be viable. While undoubtedly possessing integrity, Robredo has shown poor judgment, receptiveness to bad advice, and little demonstrated capacity for national leadership — and is, in the view even of some of her supporters, largely a creation of Liberal Party operatives who wanted to convert the name of her deceased husband, former Department of the Interior and Local Government head Jesse Robredo, into political capital.

Moreover, her continuing ties to the double-faced Liberal Party and the former administration easily discredit her among both Duterte supporters and opponents.
The Left in Crisis

This brings up the left.

Duterte’s rise to power created a crisis for the left. For one sector of the left — like Akbayan, the social democratic party that had allied itself uncritically with the neoliberal Aquino administration — Duterte’s ascendancy meant their marginalization from power along with the Liberal Party, for which they had essentially become the grassroots organizing arm.

For the traditional left, or what some called the “extreme left,” Duterte posed a problem of another kind. While the National Democratic Front and Communist Party had not supported Duterte’s candidacy, they accepted Duterte’s offer of three cabinet-level positions dealing with agriculture reform, social welfare, and anti-poverty programs. They also accepted the president’s offer to initiate negotiations to arrive at a final peace agreement between the government and rebellious Communist factions.

For Duterte, the entry of personalities associated with the Communist Party into his cabinet provided a left gloss to his regime, a proof that he was progressive — or “a socialist, but only up to my armpits,” as he put it colorfully during his victory speech in Davao City on June 4, 2016.

It soon became clear that Duterte had the better part of the bargain. As the regime’s central policy of killing drug users and pushers without due process escalated, the left’s role in the cabinet became increasingly difficult to justify. This dilemma was compounded by the fact that no new land reform law was passed that would allow agrarian reform to continue, there was little movement in the administration’s promise to end contractualization, and macroeconomic policy continued along neoliberal lines.

The left, however, found it hard to shelve the peace negotiations, from which they had already made some gains, and to part from heading up government agencies that gave them unparalleled governmental resources to expand their mass base.

Duterte had again displayed his acute political instincts. Knowing that the traditional left was at ebb in its fortunes, he gambled that they would accept his offer of cabinet positions. And having accepted these, he knew, they would find it extremely difficult to part from them. The price, the leaders of the left realized, was their association with a bloodthirsty regime.

The Communist Party and its mass organizations tried to alleviate the contradiction by issuing statements condemning Duterte’s bloody policies. But this only made their dilemma keener, since people would ask why they continue to provide legitimacy to the administration by staying on in the cabinet. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Duterte brought the left into his regime — and in doing so, he’s been able to sandbag it and subordinate it as a political force. So far, that is.

Whether he’s fully conscious of it or not, Duterte’s ascendancy has severely shaken all significant political institutions and political players in the country, from right to left.
Civil Society Mobilizes

Where real opposition to Duterte has developed over the last six months has been from civil society.

A leading force is I Defend, a broad grouping of over 50 people’s organizations and non-governmental organizations that has waged an unremitting struggle against the extrajudicial killings. Another is the coalition against the Marcos burial. While Duterte has painted these formations as “yellow,” the reality is that most of their partisans are progressives that are as opposed to a neoliberal “yellow restoration” as they are to Duterte’s policies. Others are newer and younger forces drawn from the post-EDSA and millennial generations that have become alarmed at Duterte’s fascist turn.

This growing opposition doesn’t seek a reprise of 1986, when an uprising toppled the dictator Marcos — perhaps heeding Marx’s warning that “history first unfolds as tragedy, then repeats itself as farce.” It’s increasingly realizing that the fight for human rights and due process must be joined to a revolutionary program of participatory politics and economic democracy — to socialism, in the view of many — if it is to turn back the fascist tide. There is no going back to EDSA.

What the opposition still has to internalize is that opposing fascism in power will not be, to borrow a saying from Mao, “a dinner party.” It will indeed be exceedingly difficult and demand great sacrifices. Moreover, there is no guarantee of success in the short or medium term. Fascism in power can be extraordinarily long-lived. The Franco regime in Spain lasted 39 years, while Salazar’s Estado Novo in neighboring Portugal went on for 42 years.

Like the anti-Marcos resistance four decades back, the only certainty members of the anti-fascist front can count on is that they’re doing the right thing. And that, for some, is a certainty worth dying for.

— source tni.org By Walden Bello

HSBC financing tied to deforestation

Loans and credit from the British bank HSBC have helped support the unsustainable clearing of forests for oil palm plantations in Indonesia, Greenpeace said in a report published Tuesday.

The world’s sixth-largest bank has helped marshal $16.3 billion in financing for six companies since 2012 that have illegally cleared forests, planted oil palm on once-carbon-rich peatland, and failed to secure the support of local communities for their operations – all of which run counter to HSBC’s own environmental commitments, according to Greenpeace.

— source news.mongabay.com

boycott palm oil, palm oil used products and HSBC.

About The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

30 January 2004
Writing in the Guardian, John Pilger reviews what he describes as a ‘spell-binding’ new documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, directed by the Cambodian film-maker, Rithy Panh.

“It is my duty,” wrote the correspondent of the Times at the liberation of Belsen, “to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind.” That was how I felt in the summer of 1979, arriving in Cambodia in the wake of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime.

In the silent, grey humidity, Phnom Penh, the size of Manchester, was like a city that had sustained a nuclear cataclysm which had spared only the buildings. Houses, flats, offices, schools, hotels stood empty and open, as if vacated that day. Personal possessions lay trampled on a path; traffic lights were jammed on red. There was almost no power, and no water to drink. At the railway station, trains stood empty at various stages of interrupted departure. Several carriages had been set on fire and contained bodies on top of each other.

When the afternoon monsoon broke, the gutters were suddenly awash with paper; but this was money. The streets ran with money, much of it new and unused banknotes whose source, the National Bank of Cambodia, had been blown up by the Khmer Rouge as they retreated before the Vietnamese army. Inside, a pair of broken spectacles rested on an open ledger; I slipped and fell hard on a floor brittle with coins. Money was everywhere. In an abandoned Esso station, an old woman and three emaciated children squatted around a pot containing a mixture of roots and leaves, which bubbled over a fire fuelled with paper money: thousands of snapping, crackling riel, brand-new from the De La Rue company in London.

With tiny swifts rising and falling almost to the ground the only movement, I walked along a narrow dirt road at the end of which was a former primary school called Tuol Sleng. During the Pol Pot years it was run by a kind of gestapo, “S21”, which divided the classrooms into a “torture unit” and an “interrogation unit”. I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor, where people had been mutilated on iron beds. Some 17,000 inmates had died a kind of slow death here: a fact not difficult to confirm because the killers photographed their victims before and after they tortured and killed them at mass graves on the edge of the city. Names and ages, height and weight were recorded. One room was filled to the ceiling with victims’ clothes and shoes, including those of many children.

Unlike Belsen or Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng was primarily a political death centre. Leading members of the Khmer Rouge movement, including those who formed an early resistance to Pol Pot, were murdered here, usually after “confessing” that they had worked for the CIA, the KGB, Hanoi: anything that would satisfy the residing paranoia. Whole families were confined in small cells, fettered to a single iron bar. Some slept naked on the stone floor. On a school blackboard was written:

1. Speaking is absolutely forbidden.

2. Before doing something, the authorisation of the warden must be obtained.

“Doing something” might mean only changing position in the cell, and the transgressor would receive 20 to 30 strokes with a whip. Latrines were small ammunition boxes labelled “Made in USA”. For upsetting a box of excrement the punishment was licking the floor with your tongue, torture or death, or all three.

This is described, perhaps as never before, in a remarkable documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, by Tuol Sleng’s few survivors. The work of the Paris-based Khmer director Rithy Panh, the film has such power that, more than anything I have seen on Cambodia since I was there almost 25 years ago, it moved me deeply, evoking the dread and incredulity that was a presence then. Panh, whose parents died in Pol Pot’s terror, succeeded in bringing together victims and torturers and murderers at Tuol Sleng, now a genocide museum.

Van Nath, a painter, is the principal survivor. He is grey-haired now; I cannot be sure, but I may have met him at the camp in 1979; certainly, a survivor told me his life had been saved when it was found he was a sculptor and he was put to work making busts of Pol Pot. The courage, dignity and patience of this man when, in the film, he confronts former torturers, “the ordinary and obscure journeymen of the genocide”, as Panh calls them, is unforgettable.

The film has a singular aim: a confrontation, in the best sense, between the courage and determination of those like Nath, who want to understand, and the jailers, whose catharsis is barely beginning. There is Houy the deputy head of security, Khan the torturer, Thi who kept the registers, who all seem detached as they recall, almost wistfully, Khmer Rouge ideology; and there is Poeuv, indoctrinated as a guard at the age of 12 or 13. In one spellbinding sequence, he becomes robotic, as if seized by his memory and transported back. He shows us, with moronic precision, how he intimidated prisoners, fastened their handcuffs and shackles, gave or denied them food, ordered them to piss, threatening to beat them with “the club” if a drop fell on the floor. His actions confront all of us with the truth about human “cogs” in machines whose inventors and senior managers politely disclaim responsibility, like the still untried Khmer Rouge leaders and their foreign sponsors.

Panh, whose film-making is itself an act of courage, sees something positive in the mere act of bearing witness and, speaking of the prisoners, in “the resistance [that is] a form of dignity that is profoundly human”. He refers to the “little things, these unsubstantial details, so slight and fragile, which make us what we are. You can never entirely ‘destroy’ a human being. A trace always remains, even years later … a refusal to accept humiliation can sometimes be conveyed by a look of defiance, a chin slightly raised, a refusal to capitulate under blows … The photographs of certain prisoners and the confessions conserved at Tuol Sleng are there to remind us of it.”

It seems almost disrespectful to take issue at this point; but one must. For too long Pol Pot and his gang have been an iconic horror show in the west, stripped of the reasons why. And this extraordinary film, it has to be said, adds little to the why. When Pol Pot died in his bed a few years ago, I was asked by a features editor to write about him. I said I would, but that the role of “civilised” governments in bringing him to power, sustaining his movement and rejuvenating it was a critical component. He wasn’t interested.

The genocide in Cambodia did not begin on April 17 1975, “Year Zero”. It began more than five years earlier when American bombers killed an estimated 600,000 Cambodians. Phosphorous and cluster bombs, napalm and dump bombs that left vast craters were dropped on a neutral country of peasant people and straw huts. In one six-month period in 1973, more tons of American bombs were dropped on Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during the second world war: the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. The regime of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did this, secretly and illegally.

Unclassified CIA files leave little doubt that the bombing was the catalyst for Pol Pot’s fanatics, who, before the inferno, had only minority support. Now, a stricken people rallied to them. In Panh’s film, a torturer refers to the bombing as his reason for joining “the maquis”: the Khmer Rouge. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. And having been driven out by the Vietnamese, who came from the wrong side of the cold war, the Khmer Rouge were restored in Thailand by the Reagan administration, assisted by the Thatcher government, who invented a “coalition” to provide the cover for America’s continuing war against Vietnam.

Thank you, Rithy Panh, for your brave film; what is needed now is a work as honest, which confronts “us” and relieves our amnesia about the part played by our respectable leaders in Cambodia’s epic tragedy.

— source johnpilger.com

Why is the Passing of Thailand’s King a Big Deal?

The passing of Thailand’s head of state, the 88 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, marks a historically significant event in Thailand’s history. For most Thais, they have known only one king their entire life – King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The significance of Thailand’s monarchy to Thai people is difficult for Westerners to understand. Unlike Western monarchies who rule from above, Thailand’s monarchy has historically ruled through service to the people. It is in recognition of this service that drives hundreds of thousands of Thais into the streets of Bangkok to participate in the beginning of funeral rites this week.

The depth and scope of this service includes not only the political boundaries and stability the monarchy provided when politicians and political parties clashed within the nation, but also service in driving long-term infrastructure projects regarding irrigation, energy, and agriculture shortsighted politicians refused to pursue.

Many aspects of Thai agriculture, from the introduction of new crops to the concept of cooperatives and localizing rice mills, were introduced through initiatives promoted and funded by the Royal Family itself. King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s royal palace in Bangkok was many years ago converted into a demonstration and training center where today, foreigners and Thais alike can augment their skills and diversify their economic activity.

Politically, the monarchy’s ability to reside above contests of political power and the deep respect Thais hold for the institution, creates a set of boundaries that have prevented dangerous – even violent political struggles – from expanding into the sort of destructive conflicts seen previously in neighboring Cambodia or currently expanding across the Middle East.

For Thailand’s enemies who seek to undermine political stability or overthrow Thailand’s political order, their primary obstacle and thus target has always been the nation’s revered, powerful monarchy. The passing of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej presents a perceived vulnerability Thailand’s enemies will undoubtedly seek to exploit to weaken Thailand and thus by doing so, disrupt regional stability.

Thailand’s Importance to Southeast Asia

Thailand is a prominent Southeast Asian nation, home to 70 million people, a dynamic and diverse economy ranging from agriculture to manufacturing, and remains the only nation in the region to have eluded Western colonization.

It has played a pivotal role throughout history, leveraging colonial powers against one another before the World Wars, a battlefield during World War 2, a contributing factor to France’s loss of Indochina and host to US military forces during the Vietnam War.

Since the conflict in Vietnam, Thailand has slowly and incrementally pivoted away from its role in US regional hegemony toward a more balanced place in the region.

Today, as the US performs its own “pivot toward Asia,” Thailand’s geopolitical shift has become even more pronounced as it seeks to evade US pressure, influence, and domination.

Thailand’s arsenal – once dominated by aging American hardware – now hosts Chinese, Russian, European, and even Middle Eastern defense systems. The nation strives to cultivate multiple relationships so as to not be dominated or overly dependent on any single one of them – which has been the key to Thailand’s longstanding sovereignty throughout history.

Currently, Thailand along with the rest of Southeast Asia, serves as a source of trade and cooperation with Beijing. Contrary to popular belief, both China and Southeast Asia conduct the majority of their trade within Asia itself. The stability of the region is therefore essential to each and every nation within the region.

For the US who seeks to encircle and contain China, the destabilization of the region is key to hindering China’s rise and preventing the all but inevitable waning of US “primacy” in Asia Pacific.

Attacking along China’s peripheries, either by coercing, destabilizing, or overthrowing and replacing the governments of China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia is essential to eventually coercing, destabilizing, or overthrowing and replacing the government of China itself.

Target Thailand

Thailand is just one of several nations currently being destabilized by the US. For each nation in the region, the US pursues similar strategies with only minor differences depending on socioeconomic and culturally factors. The presence of US-funded opposition groups and a virtual army of faux-non governmental organizations (NGOs) exist in each and every nation in Southeast Asia.

In Thailand in particular, the primary target is Thailand’s monarchy and its military – two institutions the US sees as obstacles to ever placing an obedient client regime into power. The US believes this precisely because over the past 15 years, through their proxy Thaksin Shinawatra, they have tried and failed to seize power by proxy because of two military coups and massive street protests organized by Thais rallying around their historical institutions.

The average Thai is acutely aware of – if not the current geopolitical and domestic political dynamics of Thailand’s present – the fact that the military and monarchy now and throughout Thailand’s ancient history have been the primary reason the nation remains unconquered.

Attacks, or perceived attacks on either of Thailand’s revered and respected institutions is perceived by the vast majority of Thais as an attack on Thailand itself.

Thus, throughout the media, those networks including CNN and the BBC who regularly and intentionally target the military and monarchy are reviled by Thais. In 2010, when CNN corespondent Dan Rivers mischaracterized street violence carried out by Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party, Thais campaigned against CNN until Rivers was eventually sent home.

Today, the Western media seeks to exploit the sensitive transition period as Thais mourn the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej – and have already launched a campaign to undermine the heir, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Making or Breaking Relations with Thailand

Those networks perceived as exploiting or disrupting Thailand’s sensitive transition will immediately be identified by Thais as “enemies” of not only the monarchy, but the nation it has historically served.

For Westerners who live in nations where institutions from as large as government to as small as family are mired in dysfunction, the concept of an entire nation existing as a large “extended family” is alien to them. However alien such a concept may be, the consequences of misunderstanding this concept can cost some nations their influence and standing, not only in Thailand but in Southeast Asia in which Thailand resides a central and influential nation.

Those nations whose media avoids sensationalism and gossip, as well as verified US-engineered propaganda, will come out the other side of Thailand’s transition a stronger ally than ever. It appears out of all nations and regions, it will be China and Thailand’s other Asian neighbors who enjoy this status, while the West and even Russia appear disinterested or incapable of fostering closer ties.A recent article published by Russia’s RT, for example, will undoubtedly be perceived by Thais as a collective attack on them. While the article was likely written, edited, and published by a handful of unprofessional journalists – citing the US State Department and paid lobbyists – it will inadvertently reflect poorly on Russia collectively. Just like CNN and the BBC are reviled and the national influence of the US and UK negatively affected by their actions in Thailand and Asia, careless networks in Russia like RT will become a vector of similar backlash directed at Russia itself if such unprofessionalism is not rectified.

Should the West as well as Russia seek better ties with Thailand, they must take the time to carefully understand the nation and shape policy to meet it, rather than insist on imposing cultural, political, and economic prejudices entire empires throughout history have tried and failed to impose upon the Thai people.

— source journal-neo.org By Tony Cartalucci

The Death of One of Washington’s Favorite Tyrants

The death of long-time Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov has brought rare U.S. media attention to the Central Asian country of 30 million. Uzbekistan is ranked among the half dozen worst countries in the world for human-rights abuses. What U.S. government officials and our media mostly ignore, however, is that American taxpayers subsidized that regime and its brutal security apparatus for most of Karimov’s thirty-five years in power.

Torture has been endemic in Uzbekistan, where Karimov banned all opposition groups, severely restricted freedom of expression, forced international human-rights workers and NGOs out of the country, suppressed religious freedom, and annually took as many as two million children out of school to engage in forced labor for the cotton harvest. Thousands of dissidents have been jailed and many hundreds have been killed, some of them literally boiled alive.

Karimov became leader of the Uzbek Communist Party in 1989 while the country was still part of the Soviet Union. He backed the unsuccessful coup by Communist Party hardliners against reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and personally opposed Uzbek independence. But finding himself president of a sovereign state when the Soviet Union suddenly dissolved, he quickly modified his position, changing his first name to “Islam” and morphing into an Uzbek nationalist.

As president of the newly independent Uzbekistan, Karimov banned leading opposition parties and amassed his power through the suppression of opponents and a series of rigged elections and plebiscites, labeling virtually all opponents as Islamist radicals.

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia, and its capital Tashkent sports a modern subway system and an international airport built during the Soviet era. As an independent state under Karimov’s rule, however, Uzbekistan remains one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics. This is despite generous natural resources, including one of the world’s largest sources of natural gas, and sizable, but largely untapped, oil reserves. Karimov pocketed virtually all of the revenue generated by the country’s natural endowments. Corruption is rampant, and his brutal militias routinely engaged in robbery and extortion. Businessmen who refuse to pay bribes were frequently labeled Islamic extremists and then jailed, tortured, and murdered.

U.S. military cooperation with Karimov’s regime began under President Bill Clinton in 1995, but expanded greatly under President George W. Bush, who provided Uzbekistan with close to $1 billion in aid and an agreement to station up to 1,500 U.S. troops in the country. Karimov was invited to the White House in March 2002, where he and President Bush signed a strategic partnership agreement, which included an additional $120 million in U.S. military aid. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has praised Karimov for his “wonderful cooperation” with the U.S. military. President Bush’s former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill spoke admiringly of the dictator’s “very keen intellect and deep passion” for improving the lives of his people.

Uzbekistan became a destination in the “extraordinary rendition” program, where the United States would send suspected Islamist extremists for torture.

Craig Murray, who served as the British ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004, observed how Karimov was “very much George Bush’s man in Central Asia” and that no Bush administration official ever said a negative word about him.

Murray’s exposé of American and British collaboration with Karimov’s despotic regime cost him his career with the foreign service. And it is still a sensitive issue: just this week, the U.S. State Department denied Murray entry into the United States, where he was scheduled to speak before peace, human rights and civil liberties groups.

There is more than a little irony in the way that the U.S. government, which was once willing to back extremist Islamist groups in Central Asia to fight Communist dictators, became so willing to back a Communist dictator to fight Islamists.

In May 2005, following an eruption of pro-democracy demonstrations in Andijan and other cities, Uzbek government forces massacred close to 1,000 protesters over a two-day period. The Bush administration successfully blocked a call by NATO for an international investigation, though a report from Human Rights Watch, based on interviews with scores of eyewitnesses, determined that government troops had used ”indiscriminate use of lethal force against unarmed people.” The British newspaper The Independent reported that Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov “almost certainly personally authorized the use of . . . deadly force.”

The international outcry was so intense, however, that the United States was forced to suspend military aid based on human-rights provisions in foreign aid. To the dismay of human rights advocates, however, the Obama administration in 2011 convinced Congress to waive the restrictions and resume military aid.

In reaction to the Obama administration’s efforts, twenty human rights, labor, consumer, and other groups signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying “We strongly urge you to oppose passage of the law and not to invoke this waiver.” The signers encouraged the administration “to stand behind your strong past statements regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan” and not move toward “business as usual” with that regime.

Signatories included the AFL-CIO, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch, as well as organizations with close ties to the foreign policy establishment like Freedom House and the International Crisis Group. Despite this effort, Congress overwhelmingly approved the waiver and President Obama signed it into law

Despite evidence to the contrary, Clinton, who visited Uzbekistan that October, claimed that the regime was “showing signs of improving its human rights record and expanding political freedoms.” When asked about the 2005 massacres during Clinton’s visit, a senior State Department official responded, “We’ve definitely moved on from that.”

The repression, and U.S. assistance—climbing to as much as $30 million annually—has continued every year since.

Karimov’s death will not likely end systemic, government-sponsored human-rights abuses any time soon. And, despite a new U.S. President and Congress coming into office early next year, it’s unlikely there will be a lessening of U.S. support for the regime.

Indeed, it has been extremely rare for the United States to suspend its support for autocracies like Uzbekistan unless there is pressure from the American public to do so. Living under a repressive dictatorship, the Uzbeks are extremely limited in what they can do to change their government’s policies. We here in the United States, however, don’t have that excuse.

— source progressive.org By Stephen Zunes

Suharto, the model killer, and his friends in high places

28 January 2008

In an article for the Guardian, John Pilger says the death of General Suharto, the former dictator of Indonesia, is an opportunity to review the role of this “model” for high crimes in the modern era – from Indonesia, to Chile, to Vietnam – and the powerful friends who ensured he would never suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein.

In my film ‘Death of a Nation’, there is a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. This is an historically unique moment, says one of them, that is truly uniquely historical. This is Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister. The other man is Ali Alatas, principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. It is 1989, and the two are making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty that allowed Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was zillions of dollars.

Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub and there were the crosses. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament reported that at least 200,000 had died under Indonesia’s occupation: almost a third of the population. And yet East Timor’s horror, which was foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was actually a sequel. No single American action in the period after 1945, wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre. He was referring to Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.

To understand the significance of Suharto, who died on Sunday, is to look beneath the surface of the current world order: the so-called global economy and the ruthless cynicism of those who run it. Suharto was our model mass murderer our is used here advisedly. One of our very best and most valuable friends, Thatcher called him, speaking for the West. For three decades, the Australian, US and British governments worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who were trained by the Australian SAS and the British army and who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler and Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica riot control vehicles. Prevented by Congress from supplying arms direct, US administrations from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton, provided logistic support through the back door and commercial preferences.

In one year, the British Department of Trade provided almost a billion pounds worth of so-called soft loans, which allowed Suharto buy Hawk fighter-bombers. The British taxpayer paid the bill for aircraft that dive-bombed East Timorese villages, and the arms industry reaped the profits. However, the Australians distinguished themselves as the most obsequious. In an infamous cable to Canberra, Richard Woolcott, Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta, who had been forewarned about Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, wrote: What Indonesia now looks to from Australia is some understanding of their attitude and possible action to assist public understanding in Australia…

Covering up Suharto’s crimes became a career for those like Woolcott, while understanding the mass murderer came in buckets. This left an indelible stain on the reformist government of Gough Whitlam following the cold-blooded killing of two Australian TV crews by Suharto’s troops during the invasion of East Timor. We know your people love you, Bob Hawke told the dictator. His successor, Paul Keating, famously regarded the tyrant as a father figure. When Indonesian troops slaughtered at least 200 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, and Australian mourners planted crosses outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, foreign minister Gareth Evans ordered them destroyed. To Evans, ever-effusive in his support for the regime, the massacre was merely an aberration. This was the view of much of the Australian press, especially that controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose local retainer, Paul Kelly, led a group of leading newspaper editors to Jakarta, fawn before the dictator.

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 of Indonesia in 1965-6 as the model operation for the American-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 (PKI) members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, the BBC’s 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 and 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.

Shortly before he died, I interviewed Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was Britain’s minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons. I asked him, 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 about the way animals are killed.

Yeah?

Doesnt that concern extend to humans?

Curiously not.

— source johnpilger.com