Subject: NewPol: Interview with Allan Nairn (part 1 of 2)

This interview runs in the current (Volume VII, Number 3) issue of New Politics, a journal of socialist thought. Subscriptions are $20.00 for four issues; foreign subscriptions (including Canada) are $24.00. Institution rate: $30.00 All payments from foreign countries must be made by U.S. money orders or checks payable in U.S. currency drawn on U.S. banks. Single copies, $6.00. Please send subscription orders to New Politics Associates, P.O. Box 98, Brooklyn, N.Y., USA. e-mail: web:

East Timor and the United States: An Interview with Allan Nairn


Ever since the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, the U.S. government has sought to back Jakarta while keeping news of the atrocities there out of the public eye. But the sustained efforts of grassroots activists and a few persistent writers and journalists have insured that East Timor could not be ignored.

In 1991, U.S. journalists Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman were in Dili, the capital of East Timor, covering a peaceful memorial procession, when Indonesian troops - armed with U.S. weapons - opened fire, killing some 270 people. Though Nairn was severely beaten, he and Goodman were able to get out alive and they spread the word of the massacre around the world. (A photojournalist hiding behind a tombstone was also able to smuggle out videotape of the slaughter.) Since then, Nairn and Goodman have been tireless campaigners on behalf of Timorese freedom. Though banned from ever returning to Indonesia or occupied East Timor, they have defied the bans to bring us continuing information on the heroic struggle of the Timorese people.

Following the Dili massacre, international East Timor activism picked up. In the United States, the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) was formed and it carried out a remarkable program of public education and lobbying. These and similar efforts in other countries were so successful in focusing attention on the situation in East Timor that in 1996 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Bishop Carlos Belo and José Ramos Horta, two leaders of the Timorese struggle.

Growing pressure led in May 1999 to an agreement by Indonesia to permit a referendum on the future of East Timor. The referendum was scheduled for August 30, 1999, and run by the United Nations, but, at Jakarta's insistence, Indonesian forces were alone to be responsible for security. Despite months of terror by army-organized militias, more than 98% of Timorese cast ballots and four out of five voted for independence. At this point, the militias - still under Jakarta's control - exploded into a paroxysm of violence. UN personnel and international observers were forced to flee. The last foreign journalist in Dili was ... Allan Nairn, until his arrest by Indonesian authorities on September 14. Nairn was threatened with ten years in prison and then expelled (again) from Indonesia six days later.

NEW POLITICS editorial board members Joanne Landy and Steve Shalom spoke with Nairn in New York on October 18, 1999, two days before the Indonesian parliament was set to vote on East Timor's independence and on a new president for Indonesia. We talked first about the relationship between Washington and Jakarta and the motives of each. Then we turned to a consideration of differences within the U.S. government between Congress and the Executive branch and the way in which groups like ETAN have been able to bring public pressure to bear on Congress. Next, we discussed the role of the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Finally, we focused on events in East Timor, taking up the issue of international peacekeepers and the position of the East Timorese resistance.

The United States and Indonesia

New Politics: There are some places in the world where the United States has very little influence and other places where Washington's word is law. How much leverage does the U.S. have over Indonesia?

Allan Nairn: The U.S. has vast influence. It has from the start been the main military and political sponsor of the Indonesian regime. If the U.S. had not supported the regime when it first seized power in 1965-67, it would have been much weaker. If the U.S. had said "No" in '75 when Suharto essentially asked permission to invade East Timor, they wouldn't have invaded. If at any point after Indonesian President B. J. Habibie announced in January 1999 that he would tolerate a UN-supervised vote in East Timor, the U.S. had said to General Wiranto [Indonesian defense minister and chief of the armed forces]: "Let it happen. No militias or else we'll cut you off," there wouldn't have been the militia campaign.

NP: Many people say U.S. military aid to Indonesia now is practically nothing. Nairn: No, that's a myth. Due to pressure over the years from the East Timor Action Network and other activist groups, many of the training programs and weapons sales have been cut back substantially. And because of that the Administration makes the argument, and many people believe, "Well, we're not really doing anything for the Indonesian military anyway, so there's no need to call for an end to U.S. support." But in fact that's not true. Since April, when I managed to get back into Indonesia, I've been researching what the U.S. is doing with the Indonesian military, and I testified about this in Congress in September '99. There is a whole web of connections, lifelines that run from Washington, that Congress hasn't been aware of. It's not just the Pentagon that's been training the Indonesian military and police, but also a half-dozen other agencies: the CIA, Justice Department, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Customs. They have also been using many local entities. Just a couple of months ago, as the militia terror was in full swing in East Timor, there were colonels in the Indonesian National Police being trained at the New York Police Academy. And the Indonesian military have made similar deals with other local police departments across the country. They have a deal with Norwich University in Vermont, where Kopassus [Special Forces Command elite commando unit troops] are trained. The Defense Intelligence Agency appears to have had a hand in the Norwich deal. The local police deals were arranged by the Jakarta CIA station and senior State Department people in Washington.

The U.S. continued to ship ammunition and spare parts even as the militia terror was intensifying. Strategic industries in Indonesia that manufacture many of their weapons and maintain the military's communications and electronic infrastructure have contracts and joint ventures with American companies, including GE, General Motors, Textron, Boeing, and many others. American technicians work in the Indonesian army, air force and plants in Indonesian strategic industries. They help to keep the whole machine working.

NP: To what extent is this public policy rather than a series of private acts?

Nairn: Oh, it's all public policy. None of this happens without State Department and Pentagon permission. You're not going to find any Libyan police training with the NYPD, you're not going to find U.S. technicians working with the Iranian armed forces, because those things are prohibited. All these contacts, all these deals, only happen with permission.

NP: Is it "permission," or is it because the powers that be want these things to happen? Nairn: They want it. It's policy to support the Indonesian military.

NP: So what we have is a multi-textured, many-layered relationship, which makes it more difficult for Congress to control.

Nairn: That's exactly right. The relationship actually began many years ago when the U.S. tried to build a relationship with the Indonesian army for the purpose of going after Sukarno, Indonesia's independence leader and first president. He was a nationalist, a founder of the non-aligned movement, he had run-ins with foreign oil companies. The Pentagon and CIA were delighted with the 1965 coup; it's still not documented whether the U.S. played an active role in the coup, but it is documented that they were very happy with the result, and that they actively aided the bloodbath afterwards by providing a list of 5,000 names of Communists and dissidents, who were then assassinated. Over the years the State Department and the CIA, and then many other executive agencies, built on their deep links with the Indonesian armed forces. The web of connections is so intricate that no one in Congress knows them all. I know the members of Congress most engaged in this issue, and the details of these links are news to them. The very complexity of the connections makes it hard to find out. Now that a lot more of it is in the open, though, I think that public pressure can move some in Congress to try to cut off all those lines of support.

NP: These extensive links mean that if the Administration had wanted to pull the rug out from under the regime in the face of the slaughter in East Timor, it could have.

Nairn: Clinton could simply have ordered all executive agencies to cease all forms of support for the Indonesian military and police, and it would have happened, and that would have been that - it would have badly shaken the Indonesian armed forces. Instead, it was not until September 9th - after the worst destruction - when the U.S. corporate press finally discovered East Timor, that Clinton finally gave in to public and Congressional pressure and announced a suspension, a freeze of U.S. military-to-military support. The suspension covered Pentagon programs; it did not cover the other agencies. But even more importantly, Clinton made it clear, virtually in the next breath, that the freeze was only temporary, that it could be lifted within weeks, so the message he sent to Jakarta was "Just hold your breath, just hang on, this will be over soon, and we will resume the usual relationship." This was taken by General Wiranto and other military figures to mean, "Clinton has to do this, but we can get by it, we just have to hold on for a while."

U.S. support is very significant in a material way, and it's even more important politically and psychologically. It reminds me of South Africa. I went there in '83 and was a little stunned by how obsessed the white government was with following every twist of American politics regarding South Africa. If there was a resolution against apartheid or in favor of sanctions passed in the city council of a medium-sized city somewhere in the U.S., it was on the front page of the Pretoria newspapers and they were all upset about it.

I happened to be there when Congressman Bill Gray became head of the House Budget Committee; they were in hysterics, they were desperate, because they didn't understand Congressional organization. They thought the Budget Committee actually spends the money. In fact, it only draws up the broad parameters, and the Appropriations Committee spends it. They thought, "Oh my God, here's this black Congressman who's now wielding power over the American budget!," and they were beside themselves with grief.

Yet at this time the U.S. had already years before cut off military assistance to South Africa. There was some covert intelligence sharing, but it was pretty minor compared to the heavy military support the U.S. had given for years before. The actual substantive military support for South African was a fraction of what it is for Indonesia today, and also economically the U.S. was far from the main supporter or trading partner - Britain was the primary economic partner, and trade was with them, along with Russia, Israel and some others. In all material respects the U.S. was a fairly minor player with South Africa but they looked excessively to Washington as their savior, as their lifeline. The thinking in Pretoria was "If push comes to shove, it's Washington that will save us." They were right, they were not delusional. It was in fact Washington that ultimately held their fate in its hands, because of Washington's dominant position in world politics. At that time Washington was less dominant than it is today, and the material relationship with South Africa was much less important than it is today with Indonesia. It's a very similar thing. Even though all these material ties with Indonesia are important - and I haven't even talked about the IMF loan and World Bank stuff, I've just been talking about the military aspect - much more important is the political and psychological. And if it looks like the patron, Washington, the long-time sponsor, is actually abandoning them, that just terrifies the Indonesian military. That's why, if the U.S. were truly to pull the plug on the Indonesian armed forces, they would be in major trouble.

NP: Some might say that if the U.S. stopped supporting the Indonesian military, it would lose its leverage.

Nairn: The leverage argument is one of my favorites. It's one of the classics. By that logic, the U.S. should be arming and training the Cuban and Libyan armies, to get some leverage over them. But they never get around to proposing that. The real leverage would lie in threatening to cut them off and thereby endangering their survival. It's revealing that in '75 when Suharto and the military were completely in control of Indonesia and there wasn't a whisper of a threat to their power, even then they felt it necessary to ask U.S. permission before invading the tiny nation of East Timor. Today, there is a serious groundswell, a popular challenge to the Indonesian Army and their survival as the power in control is in question. Their ability to maintain a police state is up in the air. In this moment of their maximum vulnerability, the prospect of a real cut-off of the lifeline, of the loss of their U.S. patron, is absolutely terrifying to them. Motives in Washington and Jakarta

NP: What would you say has been the motive for U.S. policy on East Timor over the years?

Nairn: Several years ago I asked former CIA director William Colby, what would have happened if President Gerald Ford had said "No" to Suharto in 1975, telling him you just can't invade Timor. Colby said that there would have been a few weeks of diplomatic tension, because Suharto would have been disappointed, but then after that things would have returned to normal. It was basically for that very marginal gain, to avoid that little political discomfort with an ally, to a protégé, that the U.S. gave the green light. The U.S. didn't really care about East Timor. The CIA two years before had written a report about Timor, saying - this isn't an exact quote, but it's close -, "It's a place of virtually no strategic significance." The Indonesian plan was also not primarily driven by the politics of Fretilin [Revolutionary Front Army for an Independent East Timor, the pro-independence group with the most popular support in East Timor which had just defeated the UDT, its main rival, in a brief civil war]. That's a myth. The army had called in the UDT, the more conservative Timorese party that the army had provoked into starting the civil war with Fretilin, and told them, if you become the government and declare an independent East Timor, we will invade you. So the Indonesian regime didn't care if it was a conservative government or a left-wing government, they just didn't want an independent East Timor, apparently because they feared that independence might put ideas in the heads of Indonesians. If they saw an example of freedom next door, that might somehow inspire them. They by and large didn't have a problem with East Timor being a Portuguese colony, but a next-door example of freedom was considered inconvenient, and also they thought - this is what they told Washington, and I think they sincerely believed it - that they could crush the Timorese in two weeks.

NP: It's often said that they are afraid that there will be other "separatist" movements if East Timor succeeds, but you're saying it goes beyond that.

Nairn: It does. The threat is freedom in general. Concern about other independence movements is an element. Of course the word "separatist" doesn't really apply to East Timor, because it was always a separate, foreign, entity.

NP: Yes, we understand, but the idea of East Timor's success still could trigger that worry.

Nairn: But just the example of freedom, they were uncomfortable with that, and they apparently thought, Well, it'll just take us two weeks, anyway, we'll just smash these people and that'll be that. But the U.S. could have stopped it, and didn't. In fact they very actively supported it. They gave the green light, immediately doubled military aid, blocked the U.N. from enforcing its Security Council resolutions.

NP: In 1999, why did the militias wait to carry out their rampage and allow a losing referendum to take place? Did they think they would win because they had terrorized enough people?

Nairn: I don't think the top military leadership in Jakarta felt that they would win. By a month or two before the vote the Indonesian military already was conceding that they were going to lose. There were internal memos in which they said that, and some militia leaders started to say it publicly. Some publicly called for a boycott of the vote - they knew they were going to lose. I think Wiranto made the decision that if they actually tried to stop the election the international community would have had no choice but to cut the Army off. That would have been too much, too outrageous to force the cancellation of this big UN-sponsored vote. I think they decided they couldn't get away with that. In fact, on election day there were some militia attacks, but very limited. They basically turned them off for election day, but then as soon as the results were announced, then, especially two days after, that's when they started to burn down Dili and the rest of the country. That's when they massacred the people in the church in Suai. I think the basic motives behind the terror were (1) to take revenge on the Timorese; (2) to boost the Army's own internal morale - after all, this had been a horrible defeat, even worse than for the U.S. in Vietnam. Wiranto was seen as waging a very successful campaign - this was a big morale booster, and showed they were still strong, they weren't defeated; and (3) most important, to send a message to Indonesians: "Don't get the wrong idea. We may have lost Timor, but we're still terrorists, we're still able and willing to kill, so if you start thinking of freedom, this is what's in store for you." That failed. The message of intimidation flopped; within less than two weeks of the major terror in Timor, protesters were in the streets protesting against a parliamentary bill that would increase the Army's security power, which is kind of a technicality, since the Army does whatever the hell they want anyway, but they were writing it into law, and people were very angry about that. The military killed four of them in street confrontations. That must have really frightened them. They had just abducted nearly half the population of East Timor, they had just burned the country down. They went to all that trouble, and they found that they didn't intimidate the pro-democracy activists in Indonesia.

Congress & the Executive Branch, Democrats & Republicans

NP: We heard you on the radio, when an interviewer said that he was sure you were having a lot of trouble with Congressional Republicans in your work for human rights in Indonesia and East Timor, and you replied in a way that might be surprising to some that the biggest obstacles you faced were from the Clinton Administration. You went on to explain that this has been true of every administration, whether Republican or Democrat. Congress has been consistently better.

Nairn: Congress is where you can bring public pressure. It's harder to bring public pressure on the Executive branch. On this issue and on most issues it's possible to get more movement out of Congress.

NP: But that doesn't account for someone like Jesse Helms, who has supported some restrictions on aid to Indonesia.

Nairn: No, that doesn't account for him. There aren't many broad explanations and you really have to go case by case. Helms is a racist. He was not only a major backer of the military death squads in Latin America; he also went out of his way to back private ARENA death squads in El Salvador. However, Helms has made a point in recent years of saying he is an advocate of human rights, most prominently on China. I think he takes that position because he mistakenly thinks it's still Communist, but he also has been supportive of cutting off or at least cutting back U. S. military support for the Indonesian regime.

NP: Just in the last short while or going back earlier?

Nairn: Actually as long as I can remember, and I've been dealing with Congress on this since late 1991 and Helms had that position from early on. It is important to understand that East Timor is very low on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities. Recently it's temporarily been near the top, but for most of the years it's been way down there. That means that some kind of side factor that could never sway a position for an issue that's high on the list, for example Israel or the former Soviet Union, can sway a position on something that's low on the list, like Timor. This is not about Helms in particular, but about members of Congress in general. Let's say there's a member of the staff who somebody is able to make a personal contact with, may make an argument, tell a story, the person gets a sympathetic response. Maybe that staff member can determine a member's position on an issue that's way down on the priority list. Another factor for many conservatives is - well the word isolationism is thrown around now, and it's very confusing and misleading - but there is a general tendency among many conservatives to want to cut back on some of the international activities of the U.S., so a proposal to cut back on support for a given regime, whatever it is, is consistent with that general philosophic principal.

NP: Let's turn around the question. Let's say one of these same Republicans (not Helms, but the more "typical" Republicans) were in the Executive. Do you think he or she could afford to take the same position?

Nairn: Well, it's always different if you're president rather than a member of Congress. If you're president, all the pressures come down, pressures to conform to long-standing bipartisan consensus policy, and it's almost unheard of for any president to deviate from that, regardless of party. In fact, there is a ritual for presidential candidates, where they are virtually made to take the pledge about the bipartisan foreign policy. They're expected to consult establishment foreign policy experts, they're expected to sign on to certain basic points. Clinton did that very early in his campaign for the presidency. Being a member of Congress is different. You don't have that obligation, and so many other forces can bear on what position a member of Congress takes. In the case of conservatives one of the other forces is the growing resentment among many of them about the corporate lobby because the corporations are being increasingly aggressive on China. The corporations fight fiercely to get as much as they can for the Chinese regime, and some conservatives fight that very bitterly. There is resentment against those corporate tactics that carries over into some other issues.

NP: But doesn't a lot of their funding come from these corporations?

Nairn: It varies. I probably shouldn't even use the term "conservatives" because there are so many different camps. To be specific, in the House, among those on the right generally who supported a lot of international human rights initiatives you have Dana Rohrbacher of California; Bob Dornan, an ultra-rightist, while he was in Congress, Dan Burton of Indiana, also ultra-right; Frank Wolf of Virginia, whose district includes many Pentagon employees and who is generally considered very conservative; foremost among them; Chris Smith of New Jersey, who is the leader of the anti-choice forces in the House and is also probably the single strongest voice in the House against U.S. support for military repression overseas - in case after case he speaks up very strongly about it. With Smith, I think it's a matter of principle, personal conviction, I think he's very sincere. I think he feels strongly about it. I think it's also that way with Wolf and Rohrbacher. They define themselves as big supporters of the U.S. military but also as big supporters of international human rights. However, if a member has a major company in their district that for some reason puts support for the regime in question high on their agenda, that might change their position, but often they don't have such a company.

NP: So someone hearing you talk would ask, "Well, now, does that mean you think that this brand of Republicans could lead the United States into conducting a democratic foreign policy?"

Nairn: No. No leadership will come from the Executive branch or even the Congress. Leadership has to come from below, from public pressure. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, if someone like Smith became president, his hands would be tied by all the forces around him unless enough support had been built up. If we truly enforced the murder laws every recent President would be in prison. They've all acted as accomplices to crimes against humanity overseas. That's a deeply ingrained policy that has to be exposed and overthrown. Only the public can do that. We ought to treat the parties with equal contempt and recognize that when it comes to violence against civilians overseas their philosophies are basically criminal. The East Timor Action Network NP: You speak of pressure from below. How did this pressure, especially from the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) and other groups, affect the Administration's ability to keep supporting the Indonesian military? Nairn: After the Dili massacre of '91 the U.S. relationship to the Indonesian military did start to change somewhat, but only as a result of the public, and therefore Congressional, pressure. ETAN and other activist groups were able to win the cut-off of support for IMET [International Military Education and Training; a program by which the Pentagon trains foreign military officers], and then the others. That really stung Jakarta, and for the first time they were made to pay a price for atrocities resulting from the invasion of East Timor. And so starting from the fall of '92, when Congress cut off the IMET training, up through the present, there's been an ongoing battle in Washington over U.S. policy. The policy has shifted substantially. Congress thought in '92 that they had succeeded in cutting off training for the Indonesian military. That turned out not to be true, because the Pentagon then started a new program for Indonesia, the JCET- Joint Combined Exchange and Training - program, under which they sent in Air Force commandos, Marines, and Green Berets to train Indonesian troops on Indonesian soil. But then last year, after we in ETAN exposed that, there was an uproar in Congress and the Pentagon suspended that program.

NP: What accounts for your successes and defeats in lobbying Congress on the East Timor issue?

Nairn: The higher up on the list of priorities an issue gets, the more pressure there is around it. For example, in the first years, fighting this issue of Indonesia and East Timor in Congress - 1991-92, '93, until early '94 - working on this issue in Congress, you didn't usually find that many non-governmental lobbyists on the other side. The main opponents were the State Department and the Pentagon and they would have their people going around on the other side of the issue, and in the case of the IMET battle in late '91 General Electric and AT&T were called in by Suharto to lobby on his behalf. Occasionally the America-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. ASEAN Business Council would weigh in, but it was sporadic. It's not like working on NAFTA or the IMF, with hundreds of individual corporations and various coalitions working together on the other side in addition to the Administration and all its agencies. It changed in 1994 when Jakarta launched a counter-attack because we - ETAN and other East Timor activists - had beaten them so badly. We had had four or five victories in a row: cutting off the IMET; stopping F-5 fighter plane sales; winning a ban on small arms sales; reversing the U.S. position at the U.N. Human Rights Commission; winning a ban on the sale of helicopter-mounted weapons. At that point, Jakarta launched a counter-offensive. They did three things: First, they got the corporations more involved to lobby on their behalf. Second, they created a whole new front group called the U.S.-Indonesia Society which had backing from the Indonesian army directly, from former State Department, Pentagon and CIA people, and from corporations, and they became a very active pro-Suharto, pro-Indonesian-army lobby in Washington. And the third element of their campaign was the Riadys. The Lippo Group and the campaign finance scandals were heavily mis-interpreted by the Republicans for partisan reasons and also because they made a tactical error. They chose to focus on China, but in fact the Riadys and the Lippo group had much stronger political connections to Suharto than they did to Beijing. The dramatic increase in their contribution to Clinton and the Democrats in '94 was part of this counter-offensive that I just described. After that, it was really very tough in Washington for the groups supporting human rights in Indonesia and the tide didn't start turning back again in our favor until late '96 when three outside events intervened. One was when the Indonesian military attacked the headquarters of Megawati Sukarnoputri's opposition party. That touched off several days of rioting in Jakarta where people were burning military buildings and so on. Second, there was the exposure of the Lippo-Riady campaign finance money, which became an important secondary issue in the '96 presidential campaign. Third was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Belo and Ramos Horta. Those three events again turned things our way. But you can get a lot more done when there isn't a full corporate mobilization against you.

NP: In the 1992 campaign Clinton raised the issue of East Timor.

Nairn: Well, he didn't really raise it. This was misreported. What happened in the '92 campaign was Clinton had a press conference here in New York at the Foreign Policy Association and Amy Goodman went and asked him a question about Timor. Clinton, being a well-prepared guy, had an answer to the question. He said, "I think we have ignored the issue in ways that I think are unconscionable." That was his full quote, and at the time the quote got absolutely zero attention, it wasn't picked up anywhere in the press. And that was the only time in that campaign that Clinton ever mentioned the subject. However, in 1996, when the Riady money became an issue, reporters went back and found that quote and used it to construct this false scenario which said "Well, Clinton used to be good on Indonesia, after all he made this statement during the '92 campaign, but then when the Riadys gave him money, he turned around and went the other way." That's not accurate. Clinton was terrible all along, he was just following the usual bi-partisan policy. The Riadys didn't have to buy his allegiance, they already had it. He was doing all that he could. Maybe they thought they were buying insurance. He did not make an issue of it in '92 - he just responded to one question. Clinton gave a skilled politician's answer. He didn't make any specific commitment. And he was inaccurate when he said that the U.S. had ignored the issue. Would that they had! Then they wouldn't have been shipping arms to Indonesia or doubling military aid right after the invasion or blocking the U.N. from enforcing Security Council resolutions. Of course ignoring was not what the U.S. was doing. The U.S. was intervening on the wrong side.

The Pentagon & the State Department

NP: You told the story in your Nation article (Sept. 27, 1999) about Admiral Dennis Blair, U.S. Commander in Chief of the Pacific (CINCPAC), going to Indonesia supposedly to see Wiranto and pull the plug on the militias, but instead offering more aid, and then doing that a second time. It wasn't clear in your article to what extent this was a rogue, unauthorized operation and to what extent this was the real U.S. policy.

Nairn: The short answer is, he was defying the State Department, but not the White House. The relationship between the State Department and the Pentagon is a little ambiguous. The State Department is supposed to set the overall framework of U.S. policy, and the Pentagon is supposed to be more of a mechanical implementer, but in fact the Pentagon always makes a certain amount of policy on its own. There's always tension there. In this case, although for years the State Department had been just as adamant as the Pentagon in supporting Suharto and the Indonesian military, for about the last year the State Department finally had started to change its policy in response to Congressional pressure, in response to all the cutoffs that we in the East Timor activist movement had won, and also the passage of the House and Senate resolutions supporting self-determination for East Timor. After all that some people in the State Department did start to shift, though it was very controversial within the Department. Many resisted, including Ambassador Stapleton Roy, who to this day remains a die-hard supporter of Suharto and the Indonesian Army.

NP: And Madeleine Albright?

Nairn: Albright was one of those who accepted the Congressional shift, as did Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering and Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary for East Asia. So throughout '98 State Department policy was slowly shifting, starting to come more into line with the Congressional position. They were doing it very reluctantly, they were being dragged along, but they were moving. They were slowly starting to express support for a UN-sponsored referendum, and as the militia attacks got underway they began to criticize the militia attacks with increasing severity, and even at a certain point started to criticize the Indonesian Army for sponsoring those attacks. The Pentagon, however, was not budging an inch. When Blair went in to see Wiranto, the State Department, especially those in the Department who were accepting the new policy, made a very big priority of setting an agenda, saying, "You tell Wiranto to shut the militias down." Their understanding was that Blair had agreed to do that, but then he went in and essentially did the opposite. The meeting was two days after Liquica, the massacre in the church and the rectory where militias with machetes hacked up about 70 people, and they were backed up by uniformed police Mobile Brigade troops who lobbed in tear gas. When Blair went into the meeting, he said nothing critical of Liquica. Instead, he offered the first new U.S. military training program since 1992, which was to be through the Justice Department and ICITAP - the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, an offshoot of the Justice Department, an FBI-type program; ICITAP was very involved in Haiti and El Salvador. The ICITAP-Justice Department program would train the very Mobile Brigade troops that two days before had helped to commit the Liquica massacre, and other police. Blair even invited Wiranto to his home in Hawaii. He said the Pentagon would join the Indonesian military in lobbying Congress to reverse the standing U.S. policy of cutting off the IMET training. He offered him one political plum after another. Wiranto took this as a sign that the people that counted in Washington and who were really delivering the goods had no problem with the militia. When the State Department heard about this, they were outraged and sent an eyes-only telegram to Ambassador Roy and set up a corrective phone call. But then the same thing happened in the phone call - instead of reading Wiranto the riot act, Blair offered more aid. Then in July, Admiral Archie Clemins, head of the Pacific fleet, gave a briefing to the Indonesian senior commanders in which he discussed stepping up U.S. military ties to the armed forces, establishing a U.S. military training base within Indonesia, and urged the Indonesians to buy a system of elaborate U.S. high-tech military electronics that would more fully integrate the Indonesian Navy with the U.S. Navy for surveillance and electronic warfare. Clemins was talking about a very real deepening of the relationship at the very moment when the militia attacks were intensifying and when there was incredible terror in Aceh, a province with a strong independence movement. All this was contrary to what Congress and even the White House were saying publicly. So it was the Pentagon defying the State Department, but not defying the White House, because the way Clinton and Berger handled this was to let it play out. Clinton has control over the military, but he chose not to step in and bring Blair into line. So in effect, and this angered many State Department people, the result was a two-track policy. The U.S. has used this elsewhere: on the level of words and diplomacy condemning the military and saying we're pulling back, but on the level of substantive involvement in fact drawing closer.

NP: So it was a political decision.

Nairn: Sure, Clinton could have called it off in a minute. He could have called Secretary of Defense Cohen and said, "Hey what are you up to? Look at what the policy is, read the State Department statement, that's our policy." But he chose the two-track policy. Previously the Indonesian military had been very sensitive to even words coming out of Washington, because from '65 through the '91 Dili massacre they had enjoyed 100 per cent uninterrupted support. The only rough spots involved logistics, or occasionally Congress would want, for budgetary reasons, to cut some foreign aid in general. After the massacre, when a movement really started to grow here and there was real opposition in Congress and real things started to get cut and members of Congress started to make strong statements critical of the Indonesian Army, the Indonesian military didn't know what to think. They were very hurt and confused. It took the Generals quite a few years to figure out how American politics actually works, even to understand the distinction between Congress and the Executive branch. They didn't seem to understand that when an American member of Congress condemns the Indonesian military, he is not speaking for the Pentagon or the White House. Naturally, then, these Congressional speeches were very alarming. But by 1998, they started to understand the dynamics. Wiranto was sophisticated enough to realize that though the State Department was saying one thing to him on the public level, and even privately, what really mattered was that the Commander in Chief of the Pacific offered concrete programs and said don't worry about it. Conversely, the moment the CINCPAC comes in and says, "We're canceling the training programs, you get no more spare parts for your American weapons systems, we're pulling all the technicians out of the strategic industries, and it's not coming back," that's when you start getting worried. You don't worry about rhetoric from the State Department.

Peacekeepers & Resistance Forces

NP: To shift a bit, in some of your reports from East Timor you expressed skepticism about an Australian peacekeeping force.

Nairn: I was against sending in an armed peacekeeping force. I think it was completely unnecessary. It was badly confusing the discussion in the West, because the issue was framed as "Should we be sending in peacekeepers to stop the terror in East Timor?" That wasn't the question. The question is, should we keep supporting the terror in East Timor or should we stop supporting the terror in East Timor? If the U.S. government had done that, if they had completely cut off the Indonesian military, that would have shut it down immediately. I spoke with a Western military official serving in East Timor while this was going on who knew the Indonesian Army very well. He had trained the Kopassus extensively in commando tactics. He said that Wiranto is playing a game of brinksmanship. He's pushing as far as he can, seeing how much he can get away with, but the minute he reaches the brink, he stops. When he reaches the point where he's going to actually pay a concrete price, then he will pull back.

NP: When you say you opposed the Australian force, did you also oppose any kind of U.N. force?

Nairn: I opposed any armed U.N. presence. My position on this was definitely a minority position. Most activists including Xanana Gusmão, the leader of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, were calling for an armed force to come in.

NP: What was your reason for opposing it?

Nairn: Because you do not call for an armed U.S. force to come in and fight U.S.-armed, -trained and -financed troops. Instead, you call on the U.S. to stop arming, training and financing them, to cut them off. Also, once you reach the point we're at now, where it's a transition and you're starting a new government, it's a big problem to have armed foreigners hanging around and being the ultimate authority in your country. It was a big problem for Haiti, and they weren't even starting from ground zero like the Timorese are; they were just trying to reconstitute their existing government. The top U.N. staff in New York, including Annan, are mainly sympathetic to the Timorese, but there are problems whenever you have an army that's the only one with the guns.

NP: What do you think about armed resistance by the Timorese? Do you think that has any positive role to play?

Nairn: One part of the May '99 deal made in New York between Indonesia and Portugal that set the terms for the election was that Falintil, the Timorese guerrillas under the command of the CNRT, would go to the "cantonments" in the countryside. Over time they would stop attacks. They weren't really doing them anyway, but they would stop them. And they complied with that, unlike the Indonesian military, which completely defied the May 5th agreement. As the militias started burning down the country, Falintil held their fire. They were very uncomfortable and angry about it, and there were often private political clashes between Xanana and the field commanders, because he would tell them, "Hold back, don't go out." They basically sat there and watched as their people were abducted and their towns were burnt down all around them. In recent weeks that has started to change a bit. They're not doing armed attacks on the remaining Indonesian troops and the remaining militia, but they have also said that they will not turn over their arms.

NP: We read about a confrontation in which a U.N. person said, "You have to disarm," and the response was "Thank you, we're not going to."

Nairn: They're saying, "No, sorry, we're not going to comply now because the Indonesian Army has not complied." They're absolutely right, they would be crazy to turn in their arms at least until the last Indonesian soldier has left, until it's clear that there are no stay-behind Indonesian military intelligence people, and until it's clear that the whole militia operation has been shut down. The restraint has been amazing. Within the Timorese movement Xanana took a great deal of criticism for all the concessions he made during the negotiations for the deal, and many people were very unhappy with the fact that the Falintil was sidelined, and also with the fact that Xanana for many months sent orders down to the young people - orders that were not always followed - not to demonstrate, not to go out on the streets, trying to keep things quiet because he wanted to present a good image to the world community. There was a lot of internal controversy, although his policy did by and large prevail. But now even Xanana, who has been extremely accommodating to all the international intermediaries, is balking at turning over their arms.

NP: Is there anything further that people outside East Timor can do to help the Timorese now?

Nairn: Pressure Congress to end all support for the Indonesian armed forces. And get organized. Join up with the East Timor Action Network ( Many tens of thousands of East Timorese are still being held hostage. There's an entire country that has to be built, that has to win economic freedom. If we can cut off the Indonesian military now, that can help consolidate freedom in Timor and open the door for the possibility of real democracy in Indonesia.


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