The Godfather’s New World Order

Edward S. Herman

we should take heart in the rationality of the process whereby power affects
global moral judgments and policies, even if this results in the
institutionalization of truly laughable double standards. Examples abound. The
Godfather can get away with supporting tyrants of the most monstrous sort for
decades (e.g., the Duvaliers of Haiti, Mobutu of Zaire, Gen. Alfred Stroessner
of Paraguay, and Indonesia’s Gen. Suharto) while proclaiming a devotion to
democracy. He can destroy or support the destruction of entire regions of the
world (e.g., Indochina, southern Africa) in order to “save” them. He can
run the banners of international law and the UN up his flagpole (e.g., in
Iraq, in Somalia, and in Bosnia in this decade), and he can pull the same
banners down again when they cease to be useful and the “national
interest” is at stake (e.g., in rejecting the World Court’s 1986
condemnation of his acts of aggression against Nicaragua, the General Assembly
vote castigating his invasion of Panama, last year’s cruise missile strikes
against the Sudan and Afghanistan, and this year’s bombings of Iraq and

The Godfather can even pick
and choose his bombing targets, all the while relying on the support of the
“international community,” one of the many angels in the Godfather’s
pantheon and one that in the end always seems to get in line just long enough
to affirm the justness of his actions as self-appointed global judge and

The bombables are those who
cross the Godfather and his friends (Iraqis, Lebanese), who interfere with
their plans to dominate (Serbs; earlier, Vietnamese), or who may be guilty of
aiding the established villains (Afghans, Sudanese). Those engaging in similar
or worse behavior, but allies or clients of the Godfather and serving his
interests, are exempt from bombing and are even given aid and protection
(Israelis, Turks, Colombians). It is possible to move quickly from one class
to another, as Saddam Hussein did on August 2, 1990—previously given aid and
diplomatic protection by the U.S. and its British toady, thereafter “another
Hitler” and bombable.


Acceptable &
Unacceptable Impunity

those designated villains, like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (KR), war crimes
tribunals are “the only way to reconciliation,” as Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright explained to Thai officials in Bangkok on March 5.
Otherwise, the reasoning goes, the Cambodian people will be unable to summon
up the courage to face the future and bury the past. Power having spoken, the
“international community” agrees, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also
gets on board, urging that the KR leaders be brought before an international
tribunal because “impunity is unacceptable in the face of either genocide or
crimes against humanity.” Nor is there likely to be any impunity either for
Slobodan Milosevic, the current Bad Fellow Number One on the international
community’s short list of designated criminals. With the Western media
focusing intently on the details of his army’s ethnic cleansing, and with a
Finnish forensic group reportedly declaring the Serb killings at Racak a
“crime against humanity,” and recommending that the atrocity be referred
to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it would clearly be
unacceptable for this latest “Hitler” to escape accountability.

But it turns out that
“impunity” is acceptable for the allies, clients, and friends of the
Godfather as well as the Godfather himself. The Godfather having supported
Suharto for 33 years, and declaring him “our kind of guy” in 1995, his
triple genocide (Indonesia, 1965-1969, East Timor, West Papua) does not cause
the international community, Kofi Annan, or Western media and moralists to
call for forensic investigations of his killing fields, much less a trial for
crimes against humanity. Even with the extensive publicity given Suharto
during his downfall in the spring of 1998, nowhere in the mainstream U.S.
media was it suggested that he was a war criminal deserving the same treatment
as Pol Pot. Madeleine Albright even discussed the need for a war crimes trial
of the KR leaders in Jakarta on March 4 without anybody in the western media
raising an eyebrow about double standards. Suharto is a “good genocidist”
who killed unworthy victims (i.e., he served western interests), and western
reporters and editorialists internalize his special impunity status.

Similarly, prior to last October’s
surprise request by the Spanish Magistrate Balthasar Garzon for Great
Britain’s arrest and extradition of Chilean Senator for Life Augusto
Pinochet, his impunity and continuing anti-democratic power in Chile had
hardly aroused the international community. On the contrary, Chile had been
treated as a success story. The wee bit of class cleansing that occurred there
had a happy ending, with a constrained neoliberal democracy, a battered
working class reduced to a political non-factor, and the Chilean economy a
model of free market “reform.” The Spanish extradition request took the
West by surprise, and while some media commentators now say that Pinochet
deserves extradition and trial, none of them had previously declared him a war
criminal and urged that he be cuffed, packaged, and shipped to The Hague. Like
Suharto, he was a good geno- cidist, his impunity unchallenged.

With the KR leaders, national
reconciliation requires “accountability for the past” and therefore the
convening of an internationally sponsored war crimes tribunal. In the case of
good genocidists, however, it is amusing to see how frequently reconciliation
and accountability allegedly clash, ruling out

Official apologies for gross
misdeeds play a varied role in the Godfather’s world. They can serve as a
means of exonerating his associates and himself, and this can be contrasted
with the outrageous refusal of enemies to do the same. During the long
Israeli-Palestinian conflict the Palestinian leadership frequently refused to
apologize for violent acts (some of which they denied being responsible for),
whereas in a number of gross cases the Israelis would say they were sorry.
This was regularly put forward as demonstrating a higher Israeli moral
standard. After Sabra-Shatila, where the Christian Phalange in a refugee camp
under Israeli control butchered more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians, an
Israeli commission investigated the incident, found several Israeli officers
guilty of negligence, subjected them to minor penalties, and expressed regrets
at the incident. The high morality of this process greatly impressed the U.S.
media, and from their curious perspective it more than offset any negative
assessments of Israeli virtue stemming from its role in a massacre of
Palestinian civilians vastly greater than any inflicted on Israel by the

Similarly, the Soviet
Union’s failure to apologize for the September 1993 destruction of the
Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which they had mistaken to be an encroaching spy
plane, helped reinforce the furious media denunciations of Soviet barbarism
and cold-blooded murder. On the other hand, when the Missile Cruiser U.S.
Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, killing 290
Iranians, the act was defended here as an understandable if regrettable error,
and the U.S. graciously expressed regrets and offered reparations. However,
Captain William C. Rogers, III, the officer in charge of the Vincennes when
this shoot down occurred, was given a hero’s welcome on his return to the
ship’s port of call in San Diego, and was subsequently awarded the Navy’s
Legion of Merit medal for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and
“outstanding service” in a ceremony presided over by President George
Bush, somewhat weakening the force of the apology. At the time (1990), this
award for distinguished service was given near-zero publicity by the
mainstream media.

Another function of apologies
is to confirm the lesser moral standing of rival states, helping keep them in
their place, and demonstrating the appropriateness of the U.S. role as leader.
The U.S. media regularly and with relish feature demands on the French,
Germans, and Japanese for apologies (and reparations) for past crimes —the
French and Germans for their mistreatment of the Jews; the Japanese for their
crimes in China and Korea. Reporting these demands and apologies subtly
elevates the moral status of the U.S., even if based on a chauvinistic
ignoring of our own crimes and failure to mention the postwar U.S. protection
and use of Nazi and Japanese war criminals.

The Godfather rarely
apologizes for his own numerous and very large crimes. This is because of the
self-righteous arrogance of power, reinforced by a deeply rooted racism,
recorded in the numerous racist-supremacist statements made by a string of
U.S. presidents and secretaries of state. In imperial ideology, the leadership
of the imperial power always means well, so that any deaths inflicted on
distant peoples are a regrettable side-effect of the leader/ policeperson’s
benevolent intent. As we suffer casualties in these noble endeavors, the
people we are trying to save should be thanking us for our generous service
rather than expecting apologies.

So the U.S. has felt no
obligation to apologize very often—not for slavery, lynching, segregation,
the genocidal treatment of Native Americans, the dropping of two atomic bombs
on cities of the defeated Japan, the devastation of Indochina, the
underwriting of the National Security States, death squads and disappearances
of the years 1950-1990, or the putting into place Mobutu, Marcos, Pinochet,
and Suharto, among many other crimes.

Clinton has therefore broken
new ground on the apologies front. Suddenly, the president is terribly sorry
for his Administration’s foot dragging on the Rwandan atrocities in 1994. He
is sorry for what the government of his country helped do in Guatemala for
almost a half-century. In the Guatemala case, of course, Clinton tells us that
the exigencies of the Cold War and anti- communism explained but did not
justify our behavior. The media response to Clinton’s apology on Guatemala
has been generally positive. The prevailing view is that the apology is
morally cleansing, and as in the case of Israeli apologies displays our high
moral quality. The right wing has been less pleased, some cynically noting how
“cheap” it is to apologize, others questioning our making any apologies
whatsoever, given the evil of communism and the desirable long run effects of
its defeat. Clinton, of course, did not explain why we supported the murderous
Guatemalan tyrant Jorge Ubico (1931-1944) long before the Cold War. None of
the media analysts suggest that maybe the Cold War was a cover for policies
desired on other grounds— like protecting United Fruit’s investments and
meeting the general corporate objective of assuring a favorable climate of

Not a single mainstream media
commentator has suggested that Clinton is doing today exactly what he is
apologizing for our having done in the past, and that some apology-minded
leader a decade or two down the line may well be apologizing for Clinton’s
“sanctions murder” of over a million Iraqis, his support of very serious
state and paramilitary terror in Colombia, and his major role in the
dismantlement and destruction of Yugoslavia.

S. Herman is professor of finance at the Wharton School, University of
Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books and articles, and has been a
contributor to
Z since 1988.