State Department: the Pentagon’s war partner

A B-52 drops bombs over Vietnam, circa 1965. PHOTO: USAF.
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U.S. presidents claim to always “give peace a chance” when pursuing foreign policy objectives. The State Department is the supposed fount of diplomatic solutions, opposed to the Pentagon’s warmongering.

But history tells a different story. The “soft power” of the State Department and the “hard power” of the Pentagon are complementary, not antagonistic. Not only is mediation backed by armed might, but war may be the true aim of diplomatic maneuvers.

And the State Department is in the thick of it all. It negotiates arms deals, enabling other countries to fight for U.S. interests. It imposes sanctions, crippling targeted countries’ defenses. It engineers military coups abroad, fomenting upheavals and overthrowing regimes, all without direct involvement of U.S. troops.

The State Department employs more devious means as well. Appealing to liberals’ progressive instincts, it funds NGOs to work in underdeveloped countries. The supposed goals are to provide relief for the impoverished and disenfranchised. But the true objective is to defuse protest and secure support for imperialist policies.

Through means open and clandestine, the track record of the State Department shows that it, no less than the Pentagon, spreads death and misery throughout the world.

Arming the Saudis. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton arranged a $29.4 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in 2011. Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro noted that the sale of Boeing F-15 fighter jets was “critical to our economic interests.” He assuaged Zionist fears, stating that it would not diminish “Israel’s qualitative military edge,” which is a prime objective in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia ranks as one of the world’s most misogynist, undemocratic regimes. But this does not affect Washington’s longstanding commitment to shoring up Saudi strength in the Middle East, and it did not deter Clinton. Civil libertarian and humanitarian concerns are readily sacrificed to the objective of forestalling or shutting down rebellion, especially if it’s potentially anti-imperialist.

And Saudi Arabia is on the job. In the months before the arms deal, for example, the Saudis intervened militarily in Bahrain to put down a pro-democracy Arab Spring uprising.

The façade of de-nuking Iran. Current Secretary of State John Kerry recently negotiated an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear weapons capabilities. Former Vice President Dick Cheney revealed divisions within top echelons over the deal, bleating, “We don’t negotiate with evil.”

“Give diplomacy a chance,” said President Obama. “Either the issue … is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation,” he said, or “through war.” So, with Kerry’s expertise, war has been averted.

Or has it? The agreement reinforced a balance of power that actually makes more war inevitable. Israel remains the region’s sole nuclear-armed nation, free to continue oppressing Palestinians and to threaten its neighbors. And Saudi Arabia can count on limited resistance to its military campaigns now that Iran, its chief regional rival, has been curbed.

A violent history. State Department support for violence and war is hardly new. Under President Bill Clinton, the State Department coordinated economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Five hundred thousand children died as a result. “The price is worth it,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said infamously.

Under President Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger helped orchestrate the 1973 military coup in Chile. The U.S. agitated to overthrow democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende. It achieved its goal. Tens of thousands were murdered. To cement the U.S. relationship with the new government, Kissinger was appointed Secretary of State 10 days later.

Under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk was the leading architect of the invasion of Vietnam. Rusk’s guiding principle: stop communism at all costs. And the costs were vast, including the deaths of three million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and 58,000 U.S. military personnel.

Rusk pinpointed one of the main challenges facing imperialism then and now — the threat posed by the world’s poor and oppressed. “The third world … was a time bomb for the entire human race,” he wrote. “Time bomb” is imperialist lingo for “revolution.” And revolution must be stopped.

Phony shine on a poison apple. Rusk admitted that a great mistake of his Vietnam policy was underestimating the anti-U.S. resistance of the Vietnamese people. The lesson learned: find means to minimize local resistance.

The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), for example, was introduced by Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2002. Its declared mission is to curtail the possibility of “extremism” in the Middle East and North Africa, supposedly by promoting democratic reforms from the “bottom up.” It funds U.S.-based NGOs to work with local communities in places like Tunisia on education, women’s “empowerment,” and more.

MEPI’s education work includes making sure Palestinian schoolbooks don’t express an anti-Israel narrative. Its work with women is spelled out clearly on its website: “MEPI strengthens women’s entrepreneurship.” Nothing about reproductive rights. Lots about working with North African women, where the Arab Spring frightened the U.S. rulers, but zero about Saudi women, still relatively free from the Spring fever.

Supporters of MEPI praise its gradual transition to “democracy,” noting that a quick overthrow of the regimes that oppress women would risk a rise in Islamic extremism.

Thus, the State Department can claim to support human rights while it arms undemocratic governments. MEPI provides humanitarian cover for its crimes.

The State Department has long squelched democracy at home as well. For example, during the 1950s McCarthy witch-hunts, the State Department confiscated passports from communists strictly on political grounds. The McCarran-Walter Immigration Act empowered the State Department to prevent foreign radicals from entering the country.

The sacrifice of justice to political expediency continues. For over two years, the State Department has refused to pressure the Mexican government to release political prisoner Nestora Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen framed up in her native country for defending the right of her community to armed self-defense against drug lords and their government patsies.

Hypocrisy exposed. The State Department talks peace and democracy, but practices war and repression. And it does this on behalf of the privileged super-rich bankers and industrialists who rule the country.

Arms deals, economic sanctions, and military coups are what the State Department is all about. If Prussian militarist Clausewitz was right that war is the pursuit of politics by other means, then the U.S. State Department proves the corollary, that imperialist diplomacy is the pursuit of war by other means.

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