East Timor

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Feb 27 07:39:56 MST 2003

Tom writes:

I assumed you were somewhere in or near Australia. So where are you you
then? :-)


Er, Finland.

You continue:

>they were hardly crowing about  it at the time.

Howard wasn't crowing? Come on. He made a meal of it. As any politician
would who gets a surge in the polls.


MK: Okay, fast forward six months from the last article I cited, here's an
excerpt from a World Socialist Web Site analysis:

East Timor provokes Australian foreign policy crisis
By Linda Tenenbaum
14 October 1999

Less than a month after it began, Australia's military deployment into East
Timor has provoked rising political tensions and a profound crisis in
foreign policy. The intensifying pressures exploded last week in a public
slanging match between current Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his
immediate predecessor, the former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

Keating blamed Howard for "the worst foreign policy disaster since the
Vietnam War". The massacres carried out by the Indonesian army-backed
militia gangs against the East Timorese people were caused, Keating
declared, by the failure of the Australian government's strategy.

"[John Howard] wanted to be the independence bringer to East Timor. All he
has brought them is tears and grief."

An incensed Howard called a press conference to "totally reject" Keating's
statement and to accuse him of "reckless indifference to the national
interest", something not far short of treason.

While Keating's remarks were portrayed in the tabloid media as being part of
a "personal" vendetta and "highly exaggerated", they echoed the sentiments
of several political commentators, who have roundly condemned the Howard
government for its handling of the East Timor crisis.

Under the headline, "A holocaust of Canberra's making", the Australian's
Greg Sheridan wrote: "This has been a bloody and appalling failure of
Australian strategy and policy." Paul Lyneham, a reporter for the Nine
television network, asked: "By what God-given right did Australia, with all
the intelligence at its fingertips, decide that proceeding with the ballot
was worth the mass slaughter? Let's not forget that our troops are going
into danger because of the greatest stuff-up ever in Australian foreign

No-one should be under the illusion that the "stuff up" and "disaster"
bemoaned by Keating and sections of the media concerns the fate of the East
Timorese people. No editorials denounced Australia's foreign policy when the
Indonesian junta annexed East Timor, with Australia's blessing, in 1975, or
when 200,000 East Timorese were slaughtered in the late 70s and 80s. Neither
did they demand a "review" when Indonesia's crack troops, trained by the
Australian military, murdered hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in what
became known as the "Dili massacre" in 1991.

The current recriminations are all the more significant because, since the
Vietnam War, whichever of the two major parties-the Australian Labour Party
or the Liberal Party-has held office, a remarkable degree of bipartisan
unanimity has existed in relation to foreign policy. On those rare occasions
when "peacekeeping" troops have been sent abroad-such as during the Gulf war
and Cambodia-unswerving support has been forthcoming from media and
politicians alike.

Now, with Australian forces engaged in the biggest military campaign in
decades, bitter infighting has erupted. The reason is that despite all the
efforts of Howard and his government, Australia's strategic alliance with
Indonesia lies in tatters, with far-reaching economic, political and
military consequences for the Australian bourgeoisie in the Asia Pacific

Full article at: http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/oct1999/pol-o14.shtml

It seems to me that it took Howard rather longer to crow about his "success"
than you have portrayed here so far. And for good reason -- his policy of
preserving at all costs the status quo lay in tatters, and he ended up with
the worst of both worlds, as I tried to explain in connection with another

>>The reconstruction of East Timor was overseen by the UN, whose chief
negotiator, Peter Galbraith, oversaw a massive repatriation of oil

In response to which you say:

Yes of course. This is why we should oppose imperialist interventions, from
East Timor to Iraq.


MK: Actually, I was trying to argue that the repatriation of oil revenues
was a severe blow to Australian imperialism because now most of these would
pay for the reconstruction of East Timor rather than line the pockets of the
Australian bourgeoisie. Meanwhile US companies (e.g. Philips Petroleum)
muscled in on the negotiations with the new East Timor administration and
further cut out Australian interests. All in all, a bit of a disaster for
Australia's bourgeoisie. All Howard could do was bask in the retrospective
and wholly fictitious moral glory that was fabricated following this
debacle. How we remember this episode now is partly a result of this
fabrication process -- we would do well to go back and look at what all the
commentators were saying then -- it was a complete disaster for Howard and
for "Australian interests". Keating was livid that his foreign policy legacy
was in ruins, while Howard's pretensions to being a leader of the "civilised
world" lay exposed to ridicule while month after month of slaughter, in full
view of the Australian government and news media, continued.

In fact I still question whether this particular intervention can be
characterised as "imperialist". Yes, the imperialists organised and
implemented it, but what was its nature? It was in fact a desperate damage
limitation exercise forced upon the imperialists by the sustained
campaigning of conscientious Marxists and others who refused to let the
genocidal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia and the connivance and
cynicism of its Western sponsors go away. The imperialists were hoisted on
their own petard by their contemporaneous moral grandstanding in Kosovo, and
the whole credibility of the new neoliberal global governance regime that
Clinton and Blair (with others) were busy constructing was under threat of a
complete credibility vacuum, owing to the transparent hypocrisy of these two
who would have preferred to sweep the whole affair under the carpet as
before. Eventually it was left to Howard, who had already declared
Australian foreign policy to be an instrument of US foreign policy, to do
the dirty work with the reluctant support of the "international community".
In other words, there are grounds for looking at this episode as, if not an
actual defeat, then at the very least a major setback for imperialism.

As for Ramos Horta you say:

His article and its influence will pass. What is important is that Marxists
reflect on the lessons. Here is someone most ordinary Australians will find
very credible, who tells us: "Howard sent imperialist troops to East Timor
and it was a wonderful thing; so stop demonstrating against the war on
Iraq." Those who agree that sending imperialist troops to East Timor was a
good thing really ought to contemplate this.


MK: Well, this exchange is part of that process and it is a good thing,
assuming we can conduct this without questioning each other's motives and
seeking to expose apostasy/heresy. My response to this is that any halfway
decent response (and it need not be Marxist) would give Ramos Horta's
"analysis" short shrift. And Marxists themselves should be analysing the
class structure of East Timor and the nature of US penetration of both East
Timor and Australia when trying to make sense of Ramos Horta's intervention.
My guess is that East Timor's membership of the dollar bloc and consequent
dependence on US whim might have a lot to do with Ramos Horta's present

Michael Keaney

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list