Monday, December 11, 2006

Of Condors and Vultures

My reaction when I heard the news that Chilean dictator extraordinaire, Augusto Pinochet, died at the advanced age of 91 was: only the good die young. I suppose it should come as no surprise that many on the right would rush to defend the notoriously savage Pinochet. Still, I had hoped that in the black/white, non-nuanced, "9/11 changed everything" world that we've been lectured about incessantly by that same crowd, that many would just call Pinochet what he was: a brutal, murderous, terrorist and despot. Yes, "terrorist" fits, and here's a partial listing of the reasons why from Randy Paul:

Marc Cooper has more:

It’s not just the numbers, though they are horrific in themselves. In a country of barely 11 million at the time of his seizure of power, 3,000 murdered by the state, more than a thousand disappeared (some of them thrown into the ocean, others into pits of lime), tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands sent into political or economic exile.

Pinochet also embodied a wave of authoritarianism that swept through all of Latin America during the time of his rule. Similar dictatorships imposed their own brand of fear as they clamped down on Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Encouraged by a Reagan administration in Washington and rising Thatcherism in Europe, these military regimes instituted a savage free-market capitalism, in many cases reversing decades of carefully constructed social welfare reforms. At gunpoint unions were outlawed, labor laws were abolished, universities were stifled, tuition was hiked, national health care and social security programs were privatized and these already unequal societies were rigidly stratified into rich and poor, strong and weak, the favored and the invisible.

Pinochet even attempted to build a new Terror International by setting up what became known as Operation Condor. Established in Santiago, the short-lived network aimed at making repression and murder more efficient through increased coordination, information sharing and joint secret operations among the allied dictatorships. The most prominent victim of this alliance in murder was former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his associate Ronni Moffett, blown apart by a 1976 car bomb in downtown Washington DC – a bomb set by Pinochet’s dreaded secret police, known as DINA.

Even after this barbaric act of terror, even after the world began to learn of Pinochet’s other mass crimes, it was jarring to see how much the American press still pandered to him as the man who was bringing economic revival to Chile. No matter that his “shock therapy” nostrums prescribed by the recently deceased Milton Friedman pushed Chile to the brink of bankruptcy and that the first public rebellions against the regime in 1983 were as motivated as much by hunger than by political rage.

Pretty horrific track record, no? He used terrorism, and attempted to create a syndicate to internationalize the effort - in hopes of capitalizing on coordination and other boons inherent to collaborative murder. He actually sponsored terrorist attacks on US soil. Yet this is what we get from clarion of stark moral clarity, and defender of Western values from the barbarians' siege, Mark Steyn (via LGM):

As for General Pinochet, if there's a lesson in all of this it's that dictators should kill more people rather than fewer. His was a benign enough regime to permit thousands of Left-wing opponents to flee the country and form a vocal international opposition that made him, in the UN General Assembly and elsewhere, the poster boy for Right-wing bastards and a cause celebre in the drawing rooms of the West. The tragedy is that, in Chile's transition to democracy, the General has done more for human rights and global democracy than the entire posturing body of international law. [emphasis added]

So not only were Pinochet's crimes excusable, but he actually didn't go far enough in his homocidal and sadistic rampages. How's that for a moral compass? So, er, was Saddam better than Pinochet or worse? Why?

Which is to say that despite all the bluster, and sanctimonious posturing about clear delineations between good and evil, the 'with us or against us' crowd puts paid to the truism that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. They just lack the moral courage to admit it. And they wonder why the world might not be champing at the bit to defer to the benign whims of the unipolar hegemon during the Pax Americana. Here's the answer by the way: memories.

(For those interested, The Lawyers, Guns and Money gang has more. And Matt Yglesias takes note of Jonah Goldberg's pre-emptive tu quoque - strained as it is.)

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