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November 12, 2005

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Yep.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has decided that what the world needs is more torture apologetics. (Summary: the more torture is decried, the more "heroic" it becomes to torture.)

Well, we will just see in time. There were plenty of people who considered Reagan to be a terrible human rights abuser, but I would guess that currently that number is less than the population of Poland, who by and large think he was a champion of freedom and human rights.

I wrote a more statistical comment to DaveC, but it seems to have vanished.

The difference between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, is that while I doubt anyone's really convinced that Reagan didn't know that his administration was funding terrorism with illegal arms sales to Iran (or that Saddam Hussein was a dictator who was torturing people and filling mass graves - Reagan removed Iraq from the "terrorist nations" list for purely business reasons, not because Iraq's human rights record had improved) - nevertheless, when the illegal arms sales for the purpose of funding terrorism went public, Reagan fired Oliver North.

Bush would have hung on to him.

There were plenty of people who considered Reagan to be a terrible human rights abuser

Was it ever any more than the population of Poland?

GWB can get to this glorious future a lot faster if he endorses the legislation that does no more than codify what ought to be the policy of someone interested spreading freedom.

GWB can get to this glorious future a lot faster if he endorses the legislation that does no more than codify what ought to be the policy of someone interested spreading freedom.

It never ceases to amaze me how much someone who so loves the rhetoric of hard work, sacrifice, and spreading freedom, seems to hellbent on trying to avoid all three.

"There were plenty of people who considered Reagan to be a terrible human rights abuser...."

I don't know anyone who thinks or accused Ronald Reagan of either personally abusing human rights, or personally commanding U.S. forces to engage in human rights abuses.

I do know plenty of people who observe that he was quite indifferent, in terms of either actions taken, or opinions recorded, to the death squads of the various Central and South American regimes he backed. I'm really fairly sure that the dead nuns aren't concerned about the opinions of free Poles, and neither are tens of thousands of tortured El Salvadorans, Guatamalans, Nicaraguans, Argentinians, Colombians, and so on. Why don't they count, too, DaveC?

Robert Parry is, to be sure, impassioned in being anti-Reagan, but generally tends to get his figures right:

The death toll was staggering -- an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political "disappearances" in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala.

[...]

The grisly reality of Central America was most recently revisited on Feb. 25 when a Guatemalan truth commission issued a report on the staggering human rights crimes that occurred during a 34-year civil war.
The Historical Clarification Commission, an independent human rights body, estimated that the conflict claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s.
Based on a review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. "The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages ... are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history," the commission concluded.
The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops," the report said. In the north, the report termed the slaughter a "genocide." [WP, Feb. 26,1999]
Besides carrying out murder and " disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the "government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations." 'The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayans.
"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.
"Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people," he added. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]
The report did not single out culpable individuals either in Guatemala or the United States. But the American official most directly responsible for renewing U.S. military aid to Guatemala and encouraging its government during the 1980s was President Reagan.
After his election, Reagan pushed aggressively to overturn an arms embargo imposed on Guatemala by President Carter because of the military's wretched human rights record.
Reagan saw bolstering the Guatemalan army as part of a regional response to growing leftist insurgencies. Reagan pitched the conflicts as Moscow's machinations for surrounding and conquering the United States.
The president's chief concern about the recurring reports of human rights atrocities was to attack and discredit the information. Sometimes personally and sometimes through surrogates, Reagan denigrated the human rights investigators and journalists who disclosed the slaughters.

I'm quite familiar with the regime of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt; it was one of the most appalling in the long and sordid history of Central American slaughterers.

Does Poland make up for our support for him any more than our support for him and his ilk discredits our support for freedom in Eastern Europe? Does or should the U.S. only get credit for its good, and not for its wrong choices, any more than it should get blame only for its bad and not for its right choices?

Is one half of the truth the truth, any direction?

For another approach, try this on El Salvador, DaveC.

Does or should the U.S. only get credit for its good, and not for its wrong choices, any more than it should get blame only for its bad and not for its right choices?

The United States enjoys (or at least it has until the Bush Doctrine) a universally admired stand on human rights overall. It's a big ugly messy world, and so there will be bad apples, but generally speaking the US was able to compare its record with that of any other nation on earth and be proud of the conclusions drawn. That distinction is slipping away. Actually, Bush is smashing it to pieces.

For those who believe in the Bush warmongering approach for spreading freedom and democracy, hopefully they will at some point grasp that it in fact is causing us to lose our uniqueness as a champion of human rights. You just don't get to mix aggressive wars and being a champion of freedom and democracy.

Rather than spreading freedom and democracy, we have been sowing anger and hatred for our country. We have brought elections to Iraq, but somehow have also ended up being universally loathed in that country.

So DaveC, we won't have to wait to see what the locals think of the US efforts in Iraq.

How are the Poles feeling about the US now that we're secretly holding and abusing prisoners in former Soviet facilities in Eastern Europe, possibly including Poland? That's the worst symbolism I've seen since the idea of reviving Abu Ghraib as an "interrogation" facility.

This is strictly anecdotal, so take it for what it's worth, but...I've been to Poland. Most of the Poles I met were downright sarcastic about Reagan. They seemed to think that their improved economic and political lot was due more to their own efforts and local leaders like Lech Walesa than anything the Great Anti-communist Crusader did. They'd also caught on that the invisible hand of capitalism doesn't solve all your problems, whatever Reagan's propoganda implied. Of course, this might say more about who I happened to meet than about what the average Pole (whoever she might be) thinks.

"You just don't get to mix aggressive wars and being a champion of freedom and democracy."

Not unless you succeed, anyway.

dianne, of course. Walesa and co. were truly putting their lives on the line. They are the true heroes of the crumbling of the East European bloc. Americans like to take credit for everything, like a clueless middle manager.

The locals have a finely tuned bullshit detector. Living under an authoritarian regime makes that a necessity.

While Bush is starting to sound more and more like Andropov or others of the undead (Soviet propaganda was all about spreading Freedom and True Democracy too), he still lacks the raw power to enforce his created reality on us. Blackwater and Sen. Graham are eagerly trying to fix that.

They'd also caught on that the invisible hand of capitalism doesn't solve all your problems, whatever Reagan's propoganda implied. Of course, this might say more about who I happened to meet than about what the average Pole (whoever she might be) thinks.

They voted in large amounts for former communists after Walesa's first term...

Edward, I don't really see how your 10:12 post responds in any substantive way to what Gary Farber said. The US deserves credit for its stand for human rights in Poland and blame for its support of genocidal killers in Guatemala. What our "reputation" might have been probably depends on who you ask and what they know. The notion that we had a universally respected record on human rights is um, implausible-- I suspect that people in Latin America probably see Bush's policies as a more open embrace of torture rather than something completely unprecedented.

As for comparing us to other countries, I doubt we're much better or worse than other democracies. It's setting the bar awfully darn low anyway.

I agree with your criticism of Bush, of course. Bad as the US has sometimes been, Bush is doing his best to make us considerably worse.

"As for comparing us to other countries, I doubt we're much better or worse than other democracies."

I'm appalled, myself, at the record of Swedish covert interventions around the world during the last half of the 20th century.

They were very covert, to be sure.

:-)

(Seriously, a case can be made, though, for morally faulting some Swedish (or whomever) stances for other reasons; countries don't have equally parallel circumstances any more than people do, and nobody is perfect; on the other hand, there's considerable difference on the scale between many.)

Perhaps the headline here should be "Even The Economist admits that the U.S. human rights record is now a matter of legitimate debate." You wouldn't expect them to arrive at that conclusion quickly.

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