Metropolitan Washington, DC
September 21, 1999
"On the Left"
Berger: Call Your Daughter!
Sandy Berger: call your daughter. Her apartment is
on fire. She started the fire and she's pouring
gasoline on it. The apartment is full of people. You
gave her the matches and the gasoline, knowing that
your daughter is a pyromaniac. Call her and tell her
to put out the fire.
In Washington lying is a credential. A candid resume
for a top job in Washington might include: advanced
my career by telling a whopper. Like the
accountant's job interview: "How much is two times
six?" "How much do you want it to be?"
Occasionally, though, officials are thrown off
balance by the course of events, and before they've
had a chance to caucus and figure out what the
latest version of the lie is, they tell the truth by
This is what happened to Sandy Berger. Last week
people wanted to know why the Clinton Administration
was not doing anything to stop the slaughter in East
Timor by anti-independence militias and the
Indonesian military, after all the high rhetoric
used to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia. "Whether
you live in Africa, or Central Europe, or any other
place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians
and tries to kill them en masse because of their
race, their ethnic background or their religion, and
it's within our power to stop it, we will stop it,"
Clinton had said. So the Administration had a
"credibility" problem, or a hypocrisy problem. And
apparently Administration officials had not gotten
their talking points in order.
Berger explained why the U.S. was taking a hands-off
attitude: "You know, my daughter has a very messy
apartment up in college. Maybe I shouldn't intervene
to have that cleaned up."
We could dismiss this on the grounds that people say
dumb things. This was Berger's explanation. After
withering criticism from Congress and the press,
Berger acknowledged that he gave a "dumb answer"
using an "unfortunate metaphor." Almost an apology.
A less charitable explanation is that Berger
accidentally told the truth, and characterized the
situation the way that top officials in the
Administration and the U.S. military actually see
it. The situation in East Timor is a "mess." A
public relations fiasco. Very awkward. Hard to
And what are we to make of Berger's comparison of
the Indonesian military to his daughter? Perhaps
Berger was saying that the U.S. has a long
relationship with the Indonesian military, our
offspring, if you will, whom we've armed and
trained. And thus you can't expect us to criticize
them too harshly. "I curse my son and hate the one
who says amen," as the Arabic saying goes. We've
invested a lot in building up the Indonesian
military as a powerful force in Indonesian society.
We don't want to jeopardize that over a little mess
in tiny Timor.
Berger made another interesting comment that day --
one which he did not, apparently, think was dumb or
stupid. Mr. Berger asserted that while there was a
"humanitarian problem" in East Timor, there were
"strong security and strategic consequences" at
stake in Kosovo.
This is interesting because a few months ago we were
told that we were bombing Yugoslavia for
humanitarian reasons. And those who questioned
whether this was really the case, and whether the
Administration wanted to bomb Yugoslavia for other
reasons, were dismissed. But now it seems the
humanitarian intervention story is no longer useful.
It is said that we cannot intervene everywhere, and
that's absolutely true. But something is deeply
wrong when our government ignores human rights
atrocities by our "allies" which it could stop with
a few phone calls, while bombing our "enemies" for
equal or lesser crimes. When our "friends" are doing
the killing, it takes days of televised carnage and
public pressure before the Administration will clear
its throat to stop military aid, commercial arms
sales, and IMF and World Bank loans. And who knows
what's going on behind the scenes: as Allan Nairn --
currently a prisoner of the Indonesian military --
reported in the Nation, past instructions to tell
the Indonesian government to stop killing in East
Timor have been ignored by U.S. military officials.
Double standard, or one standard? The investments of
multinational corporations, like Nike, Freeport
McMoRan, Texaco, Chevron and Mobil in Indonesia, and
the maintenance of our military empire trump human
rights concerns, until massive public pressure
forces the opposite.
Sandy, call your daughter -- General Wiranto -- and
tell him to stop the killing.