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Gerald Ford, East Timor Genocide and Golf, another view of the Ford Presidency

by delicatemonster Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:08:06 PM EST

Gerald Ford is now being lauded as a fair minded and even handed President in the U.S. press and even some liberal quarters are giving him the benefit of the doubt. This is understandable as a kind of human defect: we tend to want to say the best about an individual at their passing, yet with Presidents it's important to enumerate the good as well as the bad because the historical record is being made --especially in the United States where an historical sense lasts usually no more than fifteen minutes. Thus it is with some regret that I bring up, amid all the cloying, hagiographic nonsense surrounding our golf loving, football playing bud, the fact that he was responsible for the slaughter of approximately 200,000 individuals--none of whom he probably even knew. But responsible, none the less.

Let's take a little time trip in the way back machine. It's late fall, 1975, Portugal has relinquished their claim to East Timor, the Eastern half of an Island in the Indonesion archipelago, and the native inhabitants are preparing for independence. But, the US backed Indonesian regime of President Suharto, a brutal tyrant, has no intention of allowing the Timorese to assert their independence. They are busily preparing to snuff out that aspiration by force. In December 1975, President Ford and Secretary Kissinger visit Indonesia. Two newly declassified documents from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, released to the National Security Archive, shed light on the Ford administration's relationship with President Suharto of Indonesia during 1975. Of special importance is the record of Ford's and Kissinger's meeting with Suharto in early December 1975.

( http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/#doc4 )

On the eve of Indonesia's full-scale invasion of East Timor, President Ford and Secretary Kissinger stopped in Jakarta en route from China where they had just met with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.  During this meeting with Suharto, Ford and Kissinger took great pains to assure Suharto that they would not oppose the invasion.  Ford was unambiguous: "We will understand and will not press you on the issue.  We understand the problem and the intentions you have."

Kissinger did indeed stress that "the use of US-made arms could create problems," but then added that, "It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self defense or is a foreign operation."  Thus ...

 Kissinger's concern was not about whether U.S. arms would be used offensively--and hence illegally--but whether the act would actually be interpreted as such--a process he clearly intended to manipulate.(26)  In any case, Kissinger added: "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly."

Indeed, timing and damage control were very important to the Americans, as Kissinger told Suharto: "We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens happens after we return. . .  If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home."  Kissinger also asked Suharto if he anticipated a "long guerilla war," apparently aware that a quick military success would be easier to spin than a long campaign.  Suharto acknowledged that there "will probably be a small guerilla war" but he was cagey enough not to predict its duration.  Nevertheless, his military colleagues were optimistic; as one of the architects of Indonesian policy, General Ali Murtopo explained to a U.S. scholar some months before the invasion, "the whole business will be settled in three weeks."(27)

After the invasion and slaughter of East Timor in which about 1/3 of that island's population was decimated (approximately 200,000), the ever thoughtful Ford sent by diplomatic pouch a small gift to General Suharto, a set of golf balls. It would be years before the record of these conversations were made public and the desperate blight of the East Timorese under the brutal heel of Suharto's U.S. paid military would come to be generally reported. Despite this, yesterday's warm report on the life of President Ford in the New York Times makes absolutely no mention of these events: Over 200,000 people were slaughtered by a U.S. ally, with U.S. arms, and with U.S. Presidential approval but there is no mention in the United States' paper of record? The question that leaps to mind: why? is now really just rhetorical. Of course, we know the answer. Because 200,000 little brown people whose names we could harldy know don't matter to us at all.

But because of this, sadly, that kind gift of the golf balls to Suharto will never be noticed.

Maybe, someday, the New York Times will see fit to print this short history out. If, for no other reason, than to add the anecdote to their eulogizing. I think it might make a small, yet somehow striking grace note to the 'moderate' legacy of the 38th President of the United States..
(cross posted at DailyKos)

Really excellent diary.  Thank you for this.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:19:56 PM EST
An excellent reminder, delicatemonster. Thanks. Your first diary here, too, I think -- let's hope there'll be more!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:32:21 PM EST
Thanks so much. Yes, it's a first diary here. My wife (a Hungarian) reads here all the time--I'd been posting on dKos for awhile, but she said to try it out here because of the more international flavor and interests. Thanks for the nice reception!
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:41:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I second Afew's welcome!

We aim for some kind of tolerant biodiversity that makes the arrguments richer and that spreads understanding.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Dec 29th, 2006 at 05:48:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for that enlightening diary. I've been a bit absent in recent days and now trying to catch up. Welcome aboard!

(and maybe you can convince your wife to post as well?!)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 05:02:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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