Timor chickens home to roost

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Feb 27 06:14:20 MST 2003

Tom O'Lincoln writes:

Yes it's rubbish, but it SEEMS credible because of the East Timor
intervention. I said "seeming credibility"; go back and look.


MK: Fair enough -- the point was a more general one and not aimed at you

You continue:

>>East Timor was an absolute disgrace from start to finish<<

Very true, strange you should say it though.


MK: Why is this? Why is it so strange that I would regard the entire episode
as an absolute disgrace from start to finish? What "insight" have you into
my views that you are able to divine such strangeness?

You continue:

>>even now we do not find the "humanitarians" crowing about their success

They crow about it all the time. And I have just pointed you to an article
where Ramos Horta backs them up.


MK: In this part of the world the crowing is much less audible. And in any
case is this not a retrospective crowing? -- they were hardly crowing about
it at the time. Much as they might like to bandwagon on any moral gains to
be made now, at the time there was a profound reluctance to life a finger by
Howard and co.

You continue:

Until the 1998 crisis, the Australian ruling class relied on Suharto. After
that, they decided a direct Australian intervention was needed to stabilise
East Timor.


MK: Yes, but how long after? Intervention in East Timor was very much a last
resort -- had the Habibie regime been able to guarantee the safe continuance
of the Timor Gap Treaty there is no question that Australian imperialists
would have been happier to leave it to the Indonesians to sort out their
"internal matter", as Gough Whitlam shamefully called it in 1975. That's how
they treated it until the global outcry, combined with the deteriorating
situation, forced the UN machinery into action. That it was left to the UN
at all tells us a lot about the importance attached to East Timor by the
"international community" at the time.

And to your point here:

>>Howard had to be dragged kicking and screaming into agreeing the

Come now, he loved it. As well he might, given he surged in the polls. He
had Shirley Shackleton praising him at the biggest of the rallies - I heard
it with my own ears. And now he is milking it for all he's worth.


MK: We must not confuse what people say now with what they did then. Of
course it makes sense for Howard to milk it for all it is worth now -- all
it would take is a little digging by the suitably inclined to reveal what a
shabby morality he has evinced with respect to East Timor, never mind the
other disgusting aspects of his premiership.

For example, check this article from the International Herald Tribune of 27
April 1999 -- long after 1998. Aside from the factual content of the
article, the opinion expressed by the author is entirely sympathetic towards
both Howard and Habibie in their "dilemma" over East Timor. It shows how
reluctant Howard was to adopt policies in any way threatening to his
precious Timor Gap Treaty. In spite of the slaughter then on-going, Howard
was still giving aid to the regime *and* authorising military cooperation
between Australia and Indonesia.

See http://www.iht.com/IHT/PB/99/pb042799.html

The reconstruction of East Timor was overseen by the UN, whose chief
negotiator, Peter Galbraith, oversaw a massive repatriation of oil revenues,
effectively destroying the Timor Gap Treaty. For all Howard might crow now
about Australia's humanitarian intervention, the consequences of that
intervention can be seen in terms of the revenues lost by Australian
imperialists fully expecting to cash in on their blood-soaked deal with the
Suharto regime -- i.e., a loss of 80% of the expected revenue stream. It is
all Howard can do to crow about the moral superiority of his intervention,
because to do otherwise would be to expose the grotesque role played by
Australian imperialism in the whole episode -- a disgrace from start to

You continue:

>>The NATO campaign was in direct contravention of the UN and international
law, while the liberation of East Timor was in fact a long-awaited
enforcement of UN resolutions ...<<

Now you are legitimising the UN. This is perversely logical; one imperialist
force is as good as another. And if the UN resolves to make war on Iraq?


MK: What is perversely logical is the intent of this thread which was not to
expose the hypocrisy of Howard or the other imperialists, or the misguided
foolishness of Ramos Horta, but to poke a stick in the eye of Marxists who
argued in favour of the liberation of East Timor. I supported that at the
time, and so feel obliged to defend a position I am prepared to revise if
and when some convincing evidence or analysis is put my way. Relying on the
pitiful posturings of Howard and co. won't cut it, however. As for
legitimising the UN, even in 1999 the UN was in a very different position to
the one it finds itself in now. Under Clinton (and no doubt influenced by
Helms and his ilk) the US was eager to bypass the UN and throughout the
1990s NATO was the preferred vehicle for this. Thus could the US disavow
unilateralism but still avoid the messy business of negotiation and
compromise that an institution like the UN entails. Bush and co. have no
such pretensions to multilateralism -- you do as we say or fuck you. It is
only because of the immense uprising of opposition to this that they are
dealing with the UN at all, whilst assembling a "coalition of the willing"
by bribing and bullying whosoever has any direct bearing over a future
invasion of Iraq. Bush has accelerated a trend that was in train under
Clinton anyway -- that the "credibility" of the UN rests upon its ability
and willingness to follow a US lead. That is hardly credible and it is even
less possible now for any bourgeois appeal to the UN to have credibility
even on bourgeois terms. As Charles Brown pointed out in another thread, the
duress to which the UN is being subjected by the US is enough to disqualify
whatever credibility may once have emanated from that institution.

So, no, I am not legitimising the UN. I am in fact doing two things:
charting the gradual but now increasingly rapid demise of the UN ideal as it
once resounded globally (and remained still strong in smaller countries like
Finland, where people are only beginning to understand that big powers like
the US and Britain never treated the institution seriously); and exposing
contradictions in the imperialists' rationale for intervention. And I have
stated my views on an invasion of Iraq here clearly more than once: no
invasion, no occupation, no sanctions, period. The idea that a second UN
resolution would be sufficient to justify mass slaughter is utterly
contemptible when even applying the bourgeois criteria of due process, never
mind a halfway decent Marxist analysis.

I question your purpose in raising this topic in the manner you do. What
good does it do? I am quite willing to consider serious arguments against
intervention in East Timor and would be prepared to change my mind
accordingly if I were sufficiently convinced of their merits. If you really
think that this is a topic worth exploring in detail right now, within the
confines of a Marxist debate on the merits or otherwise of the 1999
intervention, then let's get to it and keep it apart from our current
preoccupations to avert armageddon. And where the two topics are connected
(e.g. intervention then as a legitimation of intervention now) we ought to
be able to discuss these connections without the discussion being soured
from the beginning by what looks to me like a serious case of bad faith.

Michael Keaney

ps Perhaps we should wait to see just how many people are swayed by Ramos
Horta's arguments before we rush to conclusions about how effective they are
in sidetracking the anti-war movement.

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