Morning Report 12/27/04Disasters Natural and Unnatural


Before there was an earthquake and tsunami, there was Wolfowitz

Indonesia finally makes the front page in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s not because of Paul Wolfowitz‘s activities there.

It usually takes either an unnatural disaster like the Iraq Debacle or a natural disaster like a tsunami to get foreign news into most American newspapers. As for TV, forget it, unless you get the satellite feed from CNN International.

As bidness has globalized, U.S. media outlets have actually reduced their overseas bureaus. That trend was noticed by fired CNN reporter Peter Arnett back in 1998 and reiterated in Project Censored’s list of the top squelched stories for the year 2000—No. 7: U.S. Media Reduces Foreign Coverage.

Former CNN International stalwart Ralph Begleiter, who used to host the cable channel’s World Report, is now a journalism prof in Delaware, fighting the good fight to release photos of U.S. military coffins arriving from the Middle East. My journalism prof, the late John B. Bremner, was somewhat of a right-winger, but not a hidebound one.

Bremner taught me to root out the mumpsimus among us—and inside us.

Now my best journalism guide is the Dacron Republican-Democrat, whose pages will never litter my litter box. The paper’s top story back in 1978 (recalled by reader Bill McGraw in a Poynter Institute “Dr. Ink” column) carried this headline: “Two Dacron Women Feared Missing in Volcanic Disaster.” The subhead: “Japan Destroyed.” Here was the first paragraph of the Dacron paper‘s story:

Possible tragedy has marred the vacation plans of Miss Frances Bundle and her mother Olive as volcanoes destroyed Japan early today.

This is where Wolfowitz comes in. We can’t control natural disasters, like volcanoes that erupt under Indonesia. But we can try to keep an eye on manmade problems overseas, and, by jingo, put them in context. We can also try to keep an eye on who we send to places like Indonesia to talk with their officials, and we can’t do that if we don’t have reporters on the ground.

Wolfowitz is a former U.S. ambassador to Jakarta under Reagan and a pal of the military there. Naturally, big oil is involved in how we react to the harsh repression by the Indonesian government in its resources-rich Aceh region and elsewhere in the huge archipelago. Miren Gutierrez of Inter Press Service pointed this out in his August 2003 piece “Is Oil Intrinsically Dirty?”:

The ties between big oil and political power get too close for comfort. Nowhere are they closer than in the U.S. During the period in which the bribery and the illegal oils swaps took place in Kazakhstan, Vice President Dick Cheney was president of Halliburton. Halliburton, the world’s biggest provider of oil services, is involved with ExxonMobil and BP in Kazakhstan.

ExxonMobil was sued for complicity in abuses committed by the Indonesian military forces in war-torn Aceh province, where a major natural gas operation is located. But in July 2002, the U.S. State Department urged Judge Louis Oberdorfer to dismiss the case as it could compromise U.S. interests, and discourage the Indonesian government from cooperating with it in the war against terrorism.

I wonder: Is this the same ExxonMobil that just gave $250,000 to help pay for George W. Bush’s inaugural next month?

Jim Lobe, also of Inter Press, pointed to Wolfowitz’s continued support in 2003 for training Indonesian military officers, even though at the time the military was being being investigated for its role in the killing of two U.S. teachers in West Papua.

Wolfowitz “exerts a profound influence on U.S. policy toward Indonesia,” Ben Terrall points out in Indonesia Alert, adding:

This is an extremely unfortunate reality for dissidents, the underprivileged, and other targets of the Indonesian military.

Terrall puts this mumpsimus under a microscope:

According to his official biography, from 1989 to 1993 Wolfowitz was the “principal civilian responsible for strategy, plans, and policy under Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.” Cheney was Bush Senior’s Secretary of Defense at the time of the November 1991 Dili massacre and traveled to Indonesia just a few months later, meeting with Suharto and top military officials. Rather than airing concerns over the slaughter of more than 270 unarmed East Timorese, Cheney reinforced the value of strong relations with the military, saying, “We have in the past worked with the Indonesian armed forces and are eager to continue to do that in the future.”

Wolfowitz later addressed queries about General Wiranto’s role in supervising 1999 death squad activity in East Timor by arguing that while Wiranto “may have done bad things in East Timor . . . [he] was the general who commanded the army during the first elections in Indonesian history . . . where the army genuinely played a neutral role.” Hence Wiranto should be commended for allowing elections to proceed without opening fire on dissidents.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer calls Wolfowitz “the intellectual force behind the Iraq invasion.” She adds:

Wolfowitz, in an April 2000 essay in the

    • National Interest

, described a new era of American dominance—a Pax Americana. He wrote that U.S. leadership would entail “demonstrating that your friends will be protected and taken care of . . . and that those who refuse to support you will live to regret having done so.”

More unnatural disasters are on the horizon.