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April 1, 1985
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STAT Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 WASHINGTON MONTHLY April 1985 STAT Ong Idecuism: 7T~e Right Kind of In~tian By Harden Smith "Meddling in the internal affairs of other countries." American foreign policymakers usual- `, ly take pains to deny such intentions. Yet the economic assistance we provide, the development projects we sponsor, and, above all, the military aid we give to Third World countries are anything i but neutral. These programs inevitably affect the internal dynamics of a country, propping up the existing government or setting in motion political changes that may eventually undermine it. The real question is not whether we are interfering in ~ the political life of the Third World. Rather, it's whether our intervention is effective. Vietnam, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Iran, El =; Salvador, Lebanon-the list of countries that have given us grief despite American-aid is a long one. Our ostensible purpose in providing aid to these countries has been twofold: to contain the j spread of Soviet influences and to promote democracy by encouraging such democratic insti- ~ tutions as a free press, fair elections, trade unions, and representative assemblies. We spend billions, sacrifice both international prestige and countless American lives-and often end up with little to show for it. Why do we keep failing? While second- guessing is easy, I think a major reason is our Harden Smith is a retired foreign service officer. failure to do enough meddling in these countries' internal affairs. Or, more precisely, we restrict our intervention to economic and social programs, hoping that well-fed people will not turn to the Soviets and that grassroots social programs will build responsive political institutions at the na- tional level. Economic aid obviously can be helpful, and not only in feeding malnourished villagers or building a new school or hospital. The economic and social assistance undertaken by John F. Ken- nedy's Alliance for Progress in Latin America; for example, helped solidify the democratic in- stitutions of Costa Rica. But when such efforts go unaccompanied by the right kind of political action, they can produce results contrary to what we seek. Ethiopia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Libya all have received extensive economic assistance; but because we did not work as hard to strengthen the political institutions in these countries, the results have tended to be negligible at best and sometimes even destructive. To be sure, some of the problems come with the territory. Economic aid can produce rising ex- pectations among a populace that the nations in question cannot meet. (See "Great Expectations: The Real Cause of Revolution," October 1983.) But we make matters worse when we neglect a developing country's need for institutions that Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 can give it a chance to resolve these conflicts-and that will ensure that the benefits of our economic and social aid are widely shared. Instead, all too often, our aid strengthens dictators wl~o stand in the way of democratic reform. Witness, among countless other examples, the repressive policies of a President Mobutu of Zaire or a Marcos of the Philippines. In much of the Third World "in .place of the Speaker with a wig, there stands a soldier with a gun," as Dennis Austin sadly com- ments on Britain's ex-colonies in Africa. Our major concern seems to be whether that soldier is on our side. These days "political action" is a dirty word, suggesting such massive and inept interventions as the Bay of Pigs, the campaign to overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile, and the recent min- ing of Nicaragua's ports. But political action doesn't have to be this sinister. It can, and should, be a series of small initiatives taken over a long period of time by various arms of the United States government for the purpose of increasing the odds that massive intervention won't be needed later. After all, isn't it better to risk some embarrassment now with our ostensible allies, than to grapple later with the choices that cur- rently confront us iq countries such as El Salvador? There's nothing fancy about this kind of "political action." Just one example: Why wasn't Benigno Aquino of the Philippines invited to the White House before his fateful return to his home country? Such an invitation would have com- municated an important message to Ferdinand Marcos: that we sympathise with noncommunist reformers who sincerely desire to promote democratic institutions in that troubled country. Why didn't we let the dictator and his cronies know that there would be a price to pay if Aquino came 'to harm? Marc_ os would have been upset, but it's doubtful. he would have done anything more than protest. He needs us more than we need him, despite our military bases in the Philip- pines. Indeed, distancing ourselves from Marcos in such a fashion would have enhanced our abili- ty, in the long run, to keep those bases. To pre- vent a communist takeover in the Philippines- . apossibility that grows each day-we need credibility among Marcos's noncommunist op- ~ ponents. If they see us solely as obstacles to prog- ress, not only will they write us off as hypocrites; more, they may join with the communists out of desperation-and retaliate against us if they ever assume power. The United States must stop being defensive, overlooking a regime's authoritarian behavior un- til a crisis occurs and then invoking the specter of incipient communism. Put another way, as Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge did aquarter- century ago, our foreign policy should promote the Declaration of Independence instead of be- ing constantly on the defensive against the precepts of Karl Marx. Rice 1~iiJt Having served with the State Department for some years in three countries (Libya, Liberia, and Somalia) where coups have destroyed embryonic democracies, I am left with a very strong sense that we missed our opportunities. Perhaps we would have lost anyway, but our chances would have been much better had we aggressively and directly intervened to assist the democratic process. Recent events in Liberia are an apt example. One of the oldest nations in Africa-it was founded in ]847 by former American slaves- Liberia at first glance seems more like a success story than- one of failure. It is not in the com- munist camp; in fact, following a brief flirtation with doctrinaire socialism under the military rule of President Samuel K. Doe, it recently has sought to shore up its traditionally friendly rela- x lions with the West. Appearances, however, do not tell the story. Liberian society today is less open, its institutions less "democratic," than they were a generation j ago. The government is dominated now by the ~ military, which in turn is dominated by the Kranh, one of the country's 23 tribal groups. ', Liberia appears to be starting to succumb to the coup-counter-coup cycle that afflicts so many African nations. And in this regard, Liberia is typical: a decade from now we might well look back upon events in Liberia, as we have done with so-many other countries, and wonder why our efforts came to naught. Like most of our foreign policy failures, it is not self-evident today, but rather is quietly in the making. To understand America's missed opportunities in Liberia, some history is in order. The ad- ministrations of both William V. S. Tubman (1944-1971) and William Tolbert .(1971-1980) I represented primarily the interests of a minority oligarchy-the Americo-Liberian establishment j that descended from the former slaves who created the country. During the Tubman ad- ministration, however, the direction of change was toward wider participation by all groups in government and in the economic life of the coun- try. No one would accuse Tubman of being a front man for Common Cause. But he did set in motion a policy of "unification'sparticipation by all of the country's 23 tribal groups, not just the Americo-Liberians. Early in his administra- tion, Tubman eliminated the dual administrative system that created "counties" along the W'vii uiiwb { Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 Declassified in Part - Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 coastline, where the Americos had settled, but consigned the upcountry areas inhabited by other tribal groups to the status of "territories" The heads of two of the country's four security organizations (Tubman believed in checks and balances) were members of indigenous tribes, not Americo-Liberians. Rather than intimidate potential dissidents Tubman coopted them, ad- vancing many of the brightest into government after informants spotted them while still students. Tubman's under-secretary of state, for instance, had been identified as a student radical while studying in the United States. Tolbert, who succeeded Tubman in 1971, re- versed these trends. His brother Stephen,. the country's finance minister, capitalized on the power he shared with Tolbert to increase vastly their personal wealth. After touring government lands that were in reserve for future expansion of Monrovia, Liberia's capital, President Tolbert appropriated the best land for himself, invoking a provision of a law intended for unsettled rural land. His brother channeled government pur- chases to his own companies and intimidated rivals into selling out to him at depressed prices. With this corruption and the visible shift away from democratization of the political and economic life of Liberia, Tolbert's regime became ', increasingly vulnerable. When concession negotiations with iron and rubber companies failed to produce expected benefits for Liberia, the public presumed that the companies had bought the Tolberts off. When Tolbert revoked . a subsidy on rice, Liberia's basic food, and its price soared, riots broke out in the capital. Tolbert mishandled the riots, and a military coup followed that brought Doe, a former military sergeant, to power. Where did we go wrong in Liberia? In a multitude of small ways; largely sins of omission rather than commission. For instance, we could have insisted, even before the end of Tubman's administration, on a different focus for our economic assistance projects, directing more to tribal areas and less to Monrovia. The existing ~ aid patterns merely increased the resentment of tribal groups that traditionally had been ex-. cluded: Instead of building the huge and under- , staffed W. V. S. Tubman Memorial Hospital in downtown Monrovia, as the government wanted, '~, we could have insisted that our dollars be spent for smaller, upcountry hospitals and clinics sup- ported by a mid-size hospital in Monrovia. This might have antagonized the government, but it would have shown Liberians that we were com- mitted to the continued broadening of the popular. base of government. Similarly, our assistance to Liberian schools was unwisely con- centrated in Monrovia. '~ Secondly, our advisers assigned to the various ', ministries could have filled the watch-dog role that a free press serves in a developed democracy. They should have been instructed to report to the U.S. mission any official abuses. they. observed. . American officials who' advised the Liberian police knew, through the police grapevine, of brutal interrogation techniques, abuse of power by senior police, and foul detention facilities. American personnel tried to counter these trends through better training programs and by exerting pressure on police officials. Our embassy did not, however, systematically attempt to confront higher authorities in the Liberian government with evidence of these abuses, or exert pressure to put a stop to them. Another omission was our failure to react when local politics interfered with programs we sup- ported. For instance, we did nothing when a Peace Corps volunteer was transferred for trying to do his job. The volunteer had attempted to resolve priorities between two road building pro- jects for which he was responsible by ar-~a~rgfr~~? a meeting between the leaders of two clans. This did not please the district commissioner, who had been playing one clan off against the other to protect his own base. The interior ministry transferred the volunteer to the other end of the country. Nobody on the Peace Corps staff or in the U.S. embassy protested. We also should have monitored and countered influence-buying by major American companies investing in Liberia. American missions are not encouraged to report such behavior, even though these corporations are often obstacles to pro- moting open, democratic institutions. In Liberia, a major bank and a rubber company, among others, employed the law firm of the speaker of the house, each paying a monthly retainer of $2,000 for very little legal work. Even such j relatively commonplace corruption can become fodder for anti-American factions within a coun- t try, and frustrate our efforts to nudge local of- I facials in the right direction. A brave ambassador could have raised the problem locally with the companies, or sent such information to Wash- ington and urged the State Department to raise the issue with the companies' home offices. But it was never done. Foreign pay-offs won't stop until there is joint action among the major trading nations. But meanwhile we have to stop them when they give our country a black eye. Our foreign service of- facers are better situated than anyone to blow the whistle, if only they were not so reluctant to do so. Even if Tubman and Tolbert had continued to halt the progress towards democracy, they could ~ not have ignored all complaints by their principal supplier of assistance. Most important, by set- ting apattern of discussing sensitive political issues with Tubman, we could have continued such discussions with Tolbert and his brother without implying a lack of confidence in them during their accession to power. But by the late 1960s, American dialogue with Tubman had. y~ A' , JJ~ NV~j~lIMV1i4 Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 verged on sterility, consisting largely of meetings on such subjects as next year's budget or an up- coming U.N. vote-not on how the U.S. could help expand his nation-building initiatives. If the discussion route failed, we still could have .pressured Tolbert to clean up his act-by cutting aid, inspiring congressional inquiries, briefing journalists, and the like. In short, we should have engaged in a lot more "political action." But we allowed? the situation to deterioriate because of our own cast of mind. On the one hand was the "liberal" impulse that deemed it inappropriate for Westerners to seek to guide the political development of a small, backward coun- try. The conservative view was that it didn't real- ly matter who ran Liberia, as long as the coun- try remained in the "Western camp." (This view was epitomized by the foreign service officer who once told me we needed more "little black fascists" in Africa.) Others were passive because of their sense of the magnitude of the problem. Above all was the bureaucratic inertia of American officials in Liberia and in Washington, bolstered by their knowledge that Liberia was only one of many small countries competing for policymakers' attentions. Quiet American In other countries, what form should our "political action" take? In contrast to the more controversial covert operations with which he has come to be associated William Casey has also proposed a "nation butld-ng" strategy. Ina re- cent speech in Fulton, Missouri, the IA trec- tor urged America to foster "the infrastructure of democracy, the system o a ree press, un-ons, ' political parties, universities, which allows a peo- ple to choose its own ways." With 7itbman, this approac mpg t we l have been effective. How- ever, asey s strategy is doomed to fail with more reca citrant regimes. is notton o applying pressure is tm~te arge y to eman s tactfully and privately" delivered "that our friends observe certain Stan ards of behavior with regard to basic uman rtgltts," along with "land reforms, cor- ruption, and the like." Tolbert might have listened ~ to private lectures by our ambassador on his and his brother's acquisitive abuse of nnw~, but tf a leader is not willing to listen we should make clear that we have ways of embarrassing the regime if he doesn't respond-and that we are willing to use them. Demands "privately de- livered" to countries like South Africa and the Philippines seem to have fallen on deaf ears- I and have failed to identify the United States with change and progress in local eyes. For all ils short- comings, the CarCei- htimah rightspoli~y bene- fited the subjects of repressive regimes throughout the world. There is no reason that public displays of displeasure cannot he used to encourage the democratizing of the political pro- cess as well. In extreme cases, where prolonged repression has already built up a potentially dangerous head o steam, t to CIA as a va id and useful func- t~on. t is not t e stereotyped "bad gum role of helping local security services ferret out op- ponents of the regime; but rather, [ire quiet role of esta ~s mg contact and working with the op- position. It's worth recalling that the CIA has played such roles in the past. Liberals tend to forget this now; memories o Kissinger s an Ntx- on's flawed "Track II" and the heavy-handed machinations by American business in Chile overshadow the CIA's positive role in supporting the Christian Democrats of Eduardo Frei as an alternative to radicals on the right or the left. We helped save democracy in Italy in similar fashion in the turmoil of the late 1940s. Whispering cam- . paigns and street demonstrations to bring pressure upon a recalcitrant regime are also possibilities. There is another valid role for the CIA in our relations with repressive regimes: to counter ex- treme right-wing groups such as the "death squads" in EI Salvador. It's been n~iv~ to~up- pose that protests by our ambassador to the ~. Salvadoran government would be effective. The balance of power there is too tenuous, the courts themselves too threa_ tened b_y_the__d_eath squads, and the military looms too darkly in the background. The CIA should have been trying to penetrate the sgua s an t_eir com_ m_an_ struc- ture (not assisting these squads, as some evidence ' has suggested .More important we should be I --. willing to do something with the information that results from such efforts, even if it proves embar- rassing to the government. Our agents could publicize the names of both killers and_targeted vtcttms, give advance notice of operations, dis- credit the death squads by forgeries-whatever is necessary to destroy their terrible effectiveness. Of course, it's not possible to dispatch the CIA to every oppressed nation on earth where such action may be desirable. But in countries where we are involved for better or worse-El Salvador for example-the CIA can serve a useful role. On the other hand, the CIA should rely much less. Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6 i upon._`.`covert" operations-political or Para- military=m the Third World that are inherently overt tot _ose against whom they are directed. Harry Rositzke, a former Soviet expert with the A, suggested (among others) in The WasJiingfon Posh tFat i Nicaragua's ports had to be mined, it should have been a military, not - ----- a CIA, function. If_we are not_proud of such actions-if we aren't willing to take open respon- sibility for there-_ then we shouldn't do them. Covert operations encourage an admi_n_ istration to wade into foreign commitments that the American public doesn't know about and ulti- ------ mately will?not_support, It,_ispolicy_makng by back room elites. When foreign policy is ou_t in the open, rt is more likely to be what the :American people want. A tighter rein on covert aci~ons would be an effective.wa}' to ward_o_f_f that national~buga oo-an_other Vietnam. Generally, covert operations are most suited for sma -sca e, sort-term projects tat do not become institutionalized-infiltrating the Salvadoran death squads to undo them would be a.prime example. Sometimes we need to resort to_such actions when our open s~ppQrS_would embarrass those we seek to help. But it is far bet- ' ter two public in support of an Aquino (whose followers are generally pro-American) than to ..pro_p_up covertl a Ferdinand Marcos. After all, isn't this where our foreign service ', comes in? Most of what the CIA does- ; especially the ?atherinQ of information-the foreign_service is supposed to do in the first place. There wouldn't be as much need for the CIA if ;more foreign service officers were dorng their i jobs-if they weren't afraid to apply political leverage in the right directron or to drsp ease top ' officials in_their host countries. (Frequently,_by the time the CIA gets involved, it's too late fi anyway_~_But this kind of intervention requires a president who encourages State Department employees, from the ambassador down to the 32-year-old political officer on his first assign- merit, to take risks. This in turn means standing up for those employees when an unhappy, cor- rupt regime tries to send them packing. When the officials on the ground feel that their promotions will come from taking the initiative rather than waiting for their duty tour to end, we will have effected a true revolution in American foreign policy. It's a revolution that, in the long term, is the best strategy for pro- ' moting the kind of revolution we enjoyed two centuries ago-and for avoiding an altogether more unpleasant type of revolution later on. ^ Declassified in Part -Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/03 :CIA-RDP90-009658000605740061-6