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June 07, 2004

Comments

Rich

Several of the points Oliver has made are echoed in an article from last year in the Washington Monthly: "Reagan's Liberal Legacy," by Joshua Green. Green also gives Reagan's desire for total nuclear disarmament special attention. Here's the link:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0301.green.html

Barry Meislin

Most fascinating.

Is one to assume, therefore, that the ultimate point of SDI was to render nuclear weapons ineffective? (Even missiles with multiple-warheads?) And that hence SDI was Reagan's gambit for eliminating the need for nuclear weapons, altogether?

Curious indeed; for as I recall, the left, together with the USSR, vociferously criticized SDI as an offensive, not a defensive, initiative, one that would increase the military power of the American hegemon (and where else have we heard that?) and accelerate arms production and nuclear development.

And should this therefore serve as an instructive example (in case confusion still reigns) about how democracy's detractors view---and will view---the defensive military initiatives and efforts of democratic countries?

WJ Phillips

Reagan was a two-term president of the Screen Actors Guild during the most difficult period in Hollywood's political history. It was battered from one side by the House Un-American Activities Committee, sniffing out subversive leftism in the most improbable corners, and from the other by liberals and covert Communist Party members in the business.

He was a New Deal Democrat who neither panicked into becoming a red-basher administering loyalty oaths and blacklists nor fell into the CP trap of pleading the First Amendment and posturing as a friend of liberty. However, he privately informed on communist suspects to the FBI.

I feel this episode left Reagan with a certain cynicism about professional anti-communism (like Ike) and coloured his approach to the Red Menace's masters in later life. Much of the bleeding-heart liberalism of his younger days never left him, transmuted into a vague all-purpose goodwill and geniality that made him (unlike Nixon) hard to hate.

As for SDI: whether it would have worked or not, it called the bluff of a USSR that had neither the financial will power nor technological nous to construct something similar-- and so had to come to terms.

halldor

The rest of the Cold War may be history, but the fact remains that for all President Reagan's (and Prime Minister Thatcher's) admirable achievement in backing the Soviet Union into a corner, the Cold War was finished one day too early. As the former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has pointed out:

'Our national tragedy (as well as the tragedy of all other former communist countries) is that there was no clear defeat of the ruling communist system, no Nuremberg-style trial of its crimes, no vigorous lustration (de-communisation) process. The West was quick to celebrate the end of the Cold War and the victory of democracy in the former Iron Curtained countries, but in reality there was no change of "elites" there. The former communist "nomenklatura" has remained in the position of power in all branches of the government, albeit under a different name.'

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=13210

lbom

Bridget Kendall on the Beeb was worse than that as I recall - not only had it just "happened on his watch" but this was 'in spite' of his reference to an "evil empire" in the earlier years of his Presidency (again remarked upon archly). It is incredible how much some people can choose to remain oblivious to the basic truth of the statement, and to the point that it was precisely this clarity that allowed him to maintain the support of his country and pursue a clear line with the Soviets.

As for Reagan the ideologue... my feeling is that his legacy has become symbolic for both Left and Right, leaving rational debate difficult to maintain. The situation with Thatcher's similar - it's just that in the US, the Right's symbolic representation became conventional wisdom, whereas in the UK the Left won the hearts and minds. But I have to say I could do without either side's caricatures - I say this from the Right, by the way.

Your analysis of his foreign policy rings true, although it is interesting to consider how he responded to Soviet perceptions of Able Archer. On the one hand, it could be that he knew he'd demonstrated seriousness and could negotiate from a position of strength; on the other, some of the words and actions you cite sound almost as a man who caught the abyss looking right back at him. Regardless, I think you're correct in that closing judgement - he was one-of-a-kind and you can't divorce the man from the policy and its conduct.

occam

Let's not forget that Reagan was partly responsible for mounting a sustained terrorist campaign against the democratically elected government in Nicaragua. In typical political doublespeak, these terrorists were named 'freedom fighters' by the President. They fought for freedom by murdering and terrorising civilians. Of course, one can't entirely blame Reagan for this, just as one cannot hold him responsible for almost anything carried out under his administration.

lbom

Occam, let's be clear:

The Sandinistas came to power through the barrel of a gun. After several years of escalating violence, they disposed of the Somoza family's dictatorship and replaced it with... their own!

The Sandinistas started by putting in place Sandinista Defence Committees in every neighbourhood, to bring all of life under control of the Party. As usual the economy was thoroughly socialised, and was only able to carry on with regular infusions of international aid. Following the typical 20th century pattern of a Communist dictatorship, when the economy proved to be unable to continue, the Sandinistas turned on their own people.

Must I go on? The regime proceeded to torture, executions, human rights abuses, forceable relocations of indigineous peoples...

Incidentally, like many thuggish regimes, the Sandinistas have achievements. Somoza's rule was no model, after all. And it should be said that Ortega did submit to (and lose) free elections. It should also be said that the Contras doubtless were hardly clean. But to pretend that the Sandinista regime didn't deserve (even aside from the Soviet dimension) vigorous opposition is to ignore the facts.

Andrew Ian Dodge

Thank you Ibom, I would have said the same thing. I lived in Miami in the 80s and know many people who were driven from their homes, had family members killed and were ill-treated by the Sandinistas. Never mind the genocide committed by the Sandinistas against the English-speaking blacks on the north coast of the country. As with many such groups the left seems to turn a blind eye if they group was inspired by left-wing rhetoric.

The Contras weren't perfect either, but compared to the Sandinistas they were virtual saints.

The purpose of SDI was to convince the Soviets that their weapons would be ineffective. Reagan aimed to bring the Soviet Union to its knees with an arms race they could not win. It worked rather nicely.

mike

If proof were needed that Reagan could act "non-ideologically", consider that at the same time he was arming Saddam Hussein to the teeth (coinciding, non-coincidentally incidentally, with Saddam's most horrific crimes), he was also providing Ayatollah Khomeini's regime with military intelligence and, later, with TOW missiles!

Not only that, but he used the Ayatollah's money to fund some of the most brutal, ruthless drug lords and terrorists the world has ever known, during the same period he and his dear Nancy were telling America's youth to "Just Say No!"

As if that weren't enough, he was rightly repulsed by what he hyperbolically termed the Soviet "Evil Empire", with Afghanistan almost becoming a cassus belli, and yet he saw fit to support Suharto in his genocidal rampage in East Timor, and massacre around 30,000 Nicaraguans from the skies (not even pausing for breath after being convicted as an international terrorist by the International Court of Justice).

Ah, such innocent, undogmatic willingness to embrace life's little contradictions...

maor

mike,
what arms were given to Iraq?
details please.

occam

Ibom,

Curiously,you say that the Sandinistas replaced one dictatorship with another. This at once raises the question as to why one of these dictatorships (The Somoza dynasty) was a valued friend of the USA, while the other was the subject of terrorist activity condemned by the world court. What might account for this? As its presumably not an objection to 'dictatorship' per se, we must look elsewhere. Could it have been the improvements in health, literacy, nutritional levels and social welfare under the Sandanistas? Perhaps it was 'attempts to address inequities in land ownership' (Oxfam America)?

In 1984 elections were held in NIcaragua returning the Sandinistas. These were regarded by most impartial observers as open and honest, considering the sustained violenceof the contra attacks. Meanwhile, U.S. Administration officials were conceding that their strategy was to destabilise the Sandanistas by forcing them to divert resources away from welfare programmes and into the war.


Now, to the (comparatively) 'saintly' activity of the contras. If you are genuinely interested, i can provide you with (references to)various reports from human rights organisations listing routine barbarity against civilians - rapes, torture, killing of children etc, all done either to intimidate or purely for sadistic delight.

So, just two questions:

1. Do you deny that contra activity can be characterised as 'terrorist'?

2. Do you maintain that the U.S. sought to undermine the Sandinistas because of some principled objection to dictatorship??

mike

There is a chronology, with references, here:

http://tinyurl.com/zc3x

and an article (Times Online) here:

http://tinyurl.com/3yn0

Many more sources available on request, if necessary.

Of particular relevance to those who are interested in the current administration's links with Saddam, Rumsfeld's December 1983 tour of regional capitals included Baghdad, where he was to establish "direct contact between an envoy of President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein," while emphasizing "his close relationship" with the president.

PDF file:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/iraq28.pdf

GrimReaper

I rather suspect that Reagan's enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament was a bluff to encourage the Soviets to believe that SDI was going to work.

David Crawford

"...arming Saddam Hussein to the teeth..."

Yup, Reagan sold Saddam all those Migs and Mirage jets, all those T-72 tanks, all those AK-47 rifles. The U.S.'s military sales to Iraq in the 17-year perion (1973 - 1990) was roughly the same amount as Denmark's military sales to that country (around 1% of total military sales to Iraq in the time period of 1973 - 1990.)).

And which countries accounted for the overwhelming amount of miliatry sales? The Soviet Union (57%), FRANCE (13%), China (12%), Czechoslovakia and Poland (11%). That's 93% of total military sales to Iraq in that period.

(And that information is from an organization called the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.)

I guess another one of the left's favorite canards about Reagan is shot down.

(Source:
http://www.command-post.org/archives/002978.html.)

lbom

Occam, in answer to your questions (apols for the length, thought I'd be thorough):

1. Do you deny that contra activity can be characterised as 'terrorist'?
Nope. But then I should make the point that terrorism is a form of warfare. Some resistance groups that fought the Nazis could be described as terrorist. Especially Communist ones (not that I'm suggesting any correlation between that ideology and violence, ho no).

I don't doubt the Contras committed atrocities (feel free to share the references though). But the portrayal of them as a force of mercenaries existing only because of US support doesn't fit the facts. Explain to me please why (a) after genuinely free elections in 1990 (when Ortega was trounced), the Contras came down from the Segovia mountains - 28,000 of them? (b) rather than former Somoza thugs, 95 percent of them were highland indio peasants? (c) as a hated sadistic insurrection, they were absorbed back into Nicaraguan society rather than forced into exile, along with 80,000 dependents who lived with them in the mountains? (d) so many of the officers were ex-Sandinistas?

2. Do you maintain that the U.S. sought to undermine the Sandinistas because of some principled objection to dictatorship??
No, I maintain that the U.S. sought to undermine the Sandinistas because they were a client of that Evil Empire Mike missed when he took History 101, Soviet Communism. The US took a principled stand against Communism - that it was wrong.

The Somoza regime was a nasty tinpot dictatorship. The world is a better place without it. The world has always, alas, bred such regimes and where we can replace them with something better we should rejoice. But that something better requires some interesting horse-trading on standards of judgement:

(a) I'll grant you the literacy rate but raise you at least 15,000 indigineous peoples killed or imprisoned. Not that the Sandinistas would torture in their prisons, mind. Or hold people in chiquita cells, a metre in each direction. Of course not. Imagine!

(b) those 'free and fair' 1984 elections would've followed those 8,000 executions and 20,000 political prisoners being rounded up and tortured... I'll move on.

(c) 'social welfare' didn't apply to the indio peasants, compelled at the point of a (loaded, firing) gun to work for the 'co-operative' run by the party, enough that 100,000 of them ran for the hills to fight back (see q.1 above). When it comes to welfare - I've heard of the kindness that kills, but please!

All that (cheap sarcasm) aside, let me make the main point here: the principled objection the US made to the Sandinista regime was that it was a dicatorship under Soviet auspices. As such it was another branch out from said Evil Empire, the advance of which US policy was committed to halting. This commitment was from principle - that Communism was a threat to world peace and was not authoritarian, but totalitarian.

This is a difference you need to grasp. The Somoza regime was grotty and horrible, no doubt - but it was authoritarian. It allowed the society to carry on, even if brutally repressed. The Sandinistas wanted to completely rebuild Nicaraguan society, build their Utopia from Year Zero. Anybody that wasn't going to play ball would be imprisoned, tortured, executed. That totalitarianism was an export product, ready to spread across Central America (the US backyard).

So, 3 more questions right back:

3. Do you deny that the Sandinista regime, like all such regimes, responded to its ideological failures with extreme violence?

4. Do you deny that it was in the world's interest for the growth of Communism to be curtailed?

5. Do you maintain that the Sandinistas governed in a realm of peace, love, understanding with the unforced consent of all major sections of Nicaraguan society?

Rich

Um- how precisely did Reagan "massacre around 30,000 Nicaraguans from the skies"?

In case anyone happens to be interested in facts, the vast majority of the estimated 30,000 deaths in the Nicaraguan civil war were inflicted by the Sandinistas, according to their own government records.

occam

The answer to Q.5 is of course no, as it would be for any government. As to question 4., bear in mind: The Sandinistas were NOT commitedly pro-Soviet as such. Military aid to Nicaragua from US allies was blocked by the US, forcing the regime to rely on the USSR. There were also various coercive economic measures, condemned by Gatt and UNCTAD. In any case, the Sand. regime was not simply an undemocratic client state a la East Germany.

Put simply, the war against Nicaragua was patently illegal, unless you argue that the UN charter that permits self-defence against armed attack was applicable. BUt in this case, that would seem to be the exact reverse of the truth.Of course the Sandinistas didn't behave like a liberal democracy. No country under attack from a foreign power would do. But they did behave far more democratically than many US favoured regimes in the region.

I don't see how illegal violent attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians can be a justified means. if the U.S. wanted to isolate the regime, they should have relied on measures which were not contrary to international law - economic sanctions etc.

Rich

"In 1984 elections were held in NIcaragua returning the Sandinistas. These were regarded by most impartial observers as open and honest, considering the sustained violence of the contra attacks."

An "open and honest" election in which media is controlled and censored by the Sandinistas, in which opposition rallies are broken up by Sandinista thugs carrying chains and bats, in which opposition leaders are arrested and put in jail, and in which comandante Daniel Ortega states that not voting FSLN is "treason," is not really my idea of an open and honest election at all.

Rich

"The Sandinistas were NOT commitedly pro-Soviet as such. Military aid to Nicaragua from US allies was blocked by the US, forcing the regime to rely on the USSR."

I'm afraid that isn't true, occam.

An excerpt from page 130 of A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua 1977-1990, by Robert Kagan:

"[The Sandinistas] were convinced that their future lay in strategic partnership with the Soviet Union and Cuba... the Sandinistas were confident of the protection and support of the Soviet bloc. 'The leadership in the Soviet Union at that moment was very supportive,' Humberto Ortega recalls. 'Cuba looked strong, with its forces in Africa. We thought we would have substantial support.' Far from being pushed into the arms of the Soviets and Cubans by American policy, as many critics of American policy later claimed, the Sandinistas actively sought to align themselves with Soviet foreign policy. They took every opportunity to show the Soviet Union where their loyalties were. They even voted to abstain on a January 1980 United Nations resolution condemning the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, even though many of the other "non-aligned" nations voted for the resolution. By March of 1980, the Sandinistas had already signed a party-to-party agreement with the Soviet Communist Party, as well as secret military protocols to begin receiving arms from the Soviet bloc. Deliveries of Soviet weapons from Cuba began almost immediately thereafter."

In an interview with Kagan, Humberto Ortega also told him: "Remember, this was the strong Soviet Union. We thought it would last. We thought that it was as rich as the United States. We truly believed that the Utopia existed."

Matty

I think Reagan's fear of nuclear war and desire to avoid it was his only redeeming feature as US President. Let us not forget:

His choosing to back the monsterous Saddam Hussein (something Oliver has castigated other world leaders for, so why not Reagan?).

The selling of arms under his administration by the criminal Oliver North to Iran, then the world's foremost sponsor of international terrorism.

The proceeds of those sales used to fund the Contra guerillas.

Reagan was not an evil man, he was a foolish and idealistic one. His "evil empire" quote, whilst containing much truth, is the words of an idealist, not a politician. In the real world, idealists are the playthings of cynical and often brutal people and Reagan fitted the mould perfectly.

Matty

Regarding the Sandinistas, no they were not democratic and no it was not a good government. But the guerillas offered nothing better (lest we forget, the Sandinistas had come to power after ejecting the kleptocratic and degenerate US-backed Samosa dictatorship). The Americans should have been trying to bring democracy or not been there at all. Given the character of many of the dictators the Reagan administration supported, I wouldn't have betted on Nicaragua improving following a Contra victory.

occam

It is quite true that Nicaragua was Soviet-armed and heavily armed. And the reason was that it was being attacked by a superpower which had specifically blocked every other source of supply. For example, up until the May embargo of 1985, twenty percent of Nicaraguan trade was with the Soviet bloc. Prior to that, its arms were coming from everywhere. The idea that Nicaragua might have attacked the US is lunacy.

If the US had wanted to get the Soviet tanks out of Nicaragua (and there are were very few of them) and the Cuban advisors out, they should have called off the war and the Sandinistas would have returned to what they were doing before the US attacked them; namely creating the most effective reforms in the hemisphere, which were widely praised by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and organizations like OXFAM, which described them as unique in their experience in seventy-six developing countries.

When I said the Sandinistas were not commitedly pro-Soviet, i was referring to the fact that they did not seek to extend/ copy the Soviet system and they were in no sense a Soviet satellite. If you read some of Daniel Ortega's interviews from teh period you'll see that the relation with the Soviet Union was largely pragmatic. In any case, even if a country has favourable relations with the USSR it does not justify state terrorist intervention. Instead, you go thorugh the relevant internatioanl institutions. Simple as that. The idea that any means - however violent - is justified by the end is a curiosly Leninist doctrine. I didn't expect to encounter many Leninists on this particular board.

lbom

Rich - you beat me to it. Had been posting from work and planned to grab my copy of Kagan's Twilight Struggle here at home. The quote demonstrates that the commitment was more than purely utilitarian.

occam - "the idea that Nicaragua might have attacked the US is lunacy." Well quite. Doesn't mean it might not have attacked US allies in the sphere. Why did the Sandinistas have to tool up to that extent? Nobody was threatening to invade to my knowledge. Yet nearly 50% of the budget was devoted to military expenditure (so much for 'progressive'!). Tell me, why did a country with 5m population need to plan on having 600,000 men in its armed forces, giving the Soviets a 5-year supply deal (p.565, Kagan, Twilight Struggle)?

Your argument seems to rest on two bases: (1) that the Sandinistas' nastier tendencies were a reaction to US provocation; and (2) that if the US hadn't of interfered, Nicaragua was going to be a much better place. Then you finish with a suggestion that US Nicaragua policy was on an 'ends justifies means' basis (surely Machiavelli's virtu predates Lenin's work by around 500 years?).

(1) You externalise responsibility for every bad thing under the Sandinistas. Economy collapsed? Americans. Civil war? Americans. Military spending through the roof? Americans. Playing footsy with the Soviets? Americans. I'm no great believer in Danny Ortega, but at least give him due respect for the choices he made. Earlier you said: "Of course the Sandinistas didn't behave like a liberal democracy. No country under attack from a foreign power would do." This makes it sound like Danny Ortega was really Nicaragua's very own Jefferson but for the situation forced upon him. Spare me.

Underlying your argument here is that the US forced the Sandinistas into the Soviet embrace by leaving no other option. Kagan again (p.194-5):

"[this argument fails] to understand the Sandinistas' strategic assessment at the time. The Sandinistas earnestly sought alliance with the Soviet Union, and by the time Enders [the American envoy] arrived in Managua the Sandinistas had already made a strategic decision to align themselves with the socialist block precisely so that they might resist such pressures from the United States to change either their foreign or their domestic policies.

"Many contemporary observers believed the Sandinistas would pursue a course of nonalignment between the superpowers, but the Sandinistas simply did not believe nonalignment was possible in a region dominated by the United States. Humberto Ortega [Defence Minister] saw the world as divided into two camps, 'one side the camp of imperialism, the camp of capitalism headed by the United States and the rest of the capitalist countries of Europe and the world, and on the other side the socialist camp, composed of distinct countries... with the Soviet Union as their vanguard.'

"The Sandinistas, therefore, we eager suitors of Soviet patronage - more eager, in fact, than the Soviets were to act as patrons."

(2) Now, the Sandinistas' much vaunted reforms. Up front, let me say that Somoza Nicaragua was an unjust society; land reform was necessary. Collectivisation was more questionable. Nationalisation of industry even more so. Appropriation of luxury homes and top businesses by Sandinista officials going a bit beyond the pale.

Just as with the Contras' atrocities, references would be good here. I'm intrigued at the possibility of a socialist reform programme that doesn't end up in catastrophe. Outwardly, of course, by the end of 1984, per capita GNP had slumped to $500; even this had been achieved on the back of $4.5bn foreign debt. The local currency was ruined by inflation peaking eventually at a mind-boggling 36,000% in 1989. The World Bank may or may not praised the Sandinistas - they did though give them the first ever past-6 months credit line.

I know you are right, to an extent - there was progress in some areas, such as illiteracy or health. But at what price? Mass repression, tipping into civil war. Politican executions. Torture. Foreceable relocations. Well I guess Danny lived up to his 'Leninist' billing, at least. But like any Communist programme - the fatal flaw is that the economy is bankrupted along the way, so any progress that is made cannot be sustained.

In terms of your wider point about the policy being built on an 'ends justify means' approach, well no. The US did not without significant internal support in Nicaragua. You can't dismiss 100,000 people forming a resistance group in the mountains. At this time (as now) the international institutions you had so much faith in allowed the bad guys to vote too. What had the UN been able to do about the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan? - which would leave (if memory serves) around three-quarters of a million dead? Nothing.

In the real world, things work differently.

occam

The original proposition, and the one relevant to the Reagan post, was simply that Reagan and his administration had waged a terrorist war against a foreign government, and that this war was deemed to be contrary to international law. NOw as far as i can see you have not sought to refute that. You have conceded that Contra activity was 'terrorist'. What you have done is to 'contextualise' the above and to argue that the terrorist war was justified. It seems to me that this leads into a number of other issues which can not adequately be resolved here. Incidently, the invokation of teh 'real world' is a familiar enough rhetorical ploy. Sadly, it often translates into a mere acceptance of the status quo and, in this case, capitulation to the rule of force.

mike

David:

"...arming Saddam Hussein to the teeth..."

=>

"...enthusiastically helping arm Saddam Hussein to the teeth..."

Happy?

Rich:

> Um- how precisely did Reagan "massacre around 30,000 Nicaraguans from the skies"?

Mostly bombing. OK, other methods were used, but the ICJ found the US guilty international terrorism, including "armed attacks against Nicaragua by air, land and sea", and a lot more:

http://www.gwu.edu/~jaysmith/nicus1.html

Ibom:

"4. Do you deny that it was in the world's interest for the growth of Communism to be curtailed?"

Yes, and exactly the same goes for American imperialism.

lbom

occam - fair point about the 'real world' invocation. In response to your post (I confess I'm no lawyer):

1. Let's recall that Nicaragua was, despite the Sandinista overthrow of Somoza, in the grip of a vicious civil war that claimed around 40,000-50,000 lives. Although a legal grey area, there is a longstanding (since the late 19th century) custom of being able to intervene in failed states. Nicaragua was a failed state.

2. Following from that, the US was not the only international actor within Nicaragua. The Soviets, taking a broad view on 'sphere of influence', were also actively involved in the conflict. Like the US, the Soviets were taking sides.

3. Both sides in the civil war were terrorist: that is, they used violence or the threat of violence as a political weapon.

4. The international institutions were little use for arbitration over involvement because the 2 superpowers who drove the UN (US and USSR) were also actors in the conflict. The UN simply became a political plaything.

5. The international law position becomes very murky in the absence of an authoritative and legitimate state. However, the US could claim a right to intervene on the basis that Nicaragua was being set up as an armed camp which could threaten US allies in central America (much like with Afghanistan).

Ultimately though, I think we have to accept that here (as on many occasions) both the US and USSR had gone outside of international law. But I think you hold out for an idealised view of international law. As our host pointed out in this post, international law is a form of accountability for state actors - but it does not supplant their sovereignty. The reason for that is that there is not any prior international authority. This case proves why the international institutions you place so much faith in cannot take that role - the power behind the throne has its own interests, and so any condemnation of one side implies condoning the other.

I think there is a strong case for the US to answer in terms of interference in some Central American countries prior to the 1980s. But I find that here the US responded to prior action by an aggressive foreign superpower.

If the scenario I've outlined is correct, you seem to be suggesting either (a) such a moral equivalence between US and Soviet ends, that you wish a plague on both their houses; or (b) the US should not have resisted the Soviets' continue expandsion of their sphere of influence unless it had a specific UN mandate to do so. So, which one of these positions do you hold?

Squander Two

The real world is not a rhetorical ploy. It's the place where you live.

The Cold War was fought as a series of proxy wars, of which Nicaragua was one. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of how those wars were fought, it should be remembered that they were fought as an alternative to global thermonuclear war. I would not have preferred that alternative.

Talking of preferences, if I had to choose between being able to read and being allowed to speak my mind without being tortured to death, I don't think it'd be a tough call. Notice how people who try to balance literacy rates or healthcare services against freedom are never in a position to actually have to make that choice.

lbom

Mike:

Forgive me, I scanned the ICJ statement briefly, using 'Find' and couldn't find any specifics. I must say I've never heard of any air strikes aside from the harbour mining. Could you substantiate the "massacring 30,000 from the skies" please? It's quite a claim, and I'd join Rich in doubting its veracity (I kinda get the feeling you're going to cite Chomsky here, I confess).

In terms of my question - I guess, much like Occam, I'd ask you to clarify here: are you suggesting American imperialism (your word, but I'll leave it for now) was/is morally equivalent to Soviet Communism? Saying yes means that you are saying you would be just as willing to live in a Soviet society as in the US today. I have to say, if you do think that, perhaps it's time you read up on some history. Like this or this or this. I guess what I'm saying here again is - can you substantiate? Can you explain to me how you could propose an equivalence between Soviet and American domination?

occam

Squander Two,

Please read carefully: i said the invocation of the 'real world' was a familiar rhetorical ploy, not the real world itself (which would of course be a meaningless claim). The war in Nicarague was certainly a 'proxy war', i.e., the US carrying out a proxy war against a democratically elected government. The USSR were certainly not using Nicaragua as a 'proxy'. As someone else above points out, The USSR were less eager to supply arms than the Nicaraguans were to receive.


I'm afraid that "well, would you rather have had a thermonuclear war' is, again, just rhetorical flimflam and a way of shutting down actual debate. There was never any suggestion - by anybody - that the alternative to the contra terrorist campaign was nuclear war.

When you speak of 'torturing to death' you are of course aware that this is precisely what the contras engaged in, amongst many other crimes - but hey, i suppose that if the alternative was thermonuclear war it was all ok.

occam

Squander Two,

Please read carefully: i said the invocation of the 'real world' was a familiar rhetorical ploy, not the real world itself (which would of course be a meaningless claim). The war in Nicarague was certainly a 'proxy war', i.e., the US carrying out a proxy war against a democratically elected government. The USSR were certainly not using Nicaragua as a 'proxy'. As someone else above points out, The USSR were less eager to supply arms than the Nicaraguans were to receive.


I'm afraid that "well, would you rather have had a thermonuclear war' is, again, just rhetorical flimflam and a way of shutting down actual debate. There was never any suggestion - by anybody - that the alternative to the contra terrorist campaign was nuclear war.

When you speak of 'torturing to death' you are of course aware that this is precisely what the contras engaged in, amongst many other crimes - but hey, i suppose that if the alternative was thermonuclear war it was all ok.

lbom

Again occam: by what standard do you classify the Sandinistas as a 'democratically elected government'? I don't know how elections are managed where you are, but assassinations, beatings, torturings, media control, persecution of opponents and declarations that voting against the government is 'treason' is not my experience of democratic elections!

Your justification for saying the USSR didn't use Nicaragua as a proxy is, I'd guess, my earlier quote from Kagan's Twilight Struggle: "The Sandinistas, therefore, we eager suitors of Soviet patronage - more eager, in fact, than the Soviets were to act as patrons." But (1) just because the recipient is more grateful than the donor, doesn't deny the donor's agency; (2) it was the Sandinistas, not Nicaragua - the country was the proxy war's subject; and (3) this is in the context of a discussion by Kagan about Soviet policy - which moved away from economic support in favour of military aid. Why did they do that? Because Nicaragua's socialist 'experiment' was a disaster that they couldn't use, but it could be useful as a military camp.

Re rhetorical ploys, I must say you do amuse with how you keep attempting to redirect discussion by bringing up contra acts. Does that mean you agree that it was right to seek to end the Sandinista tyranny, but you just disagree on the means selected? Or is it just that you're embarassed to realise you've been cheering the wrong side?

Could still do with those references, by the way, about Contra atrocities and the Ortega 'miracle'.

occam

JUst quickly,before i finish work: on contra atrocities, you may remember Edgar Chamorro, a contra PR official. Sickened by the atrocities and his role as a propaganda stooge, Chamorro resigned and told his story in a sworn affadavit to the World Court in 1985.

In a letter published in the Jan. 9, 1986 New York Times, he described the end results of one particular policy countenanced by the Reagan-CIA-Negroponte crowd: "During my four years as a 'contra' director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the [Sandinista] Government. Hundreds of civilian murders, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the contra leaders and their CIA superiors were well aware."

But i wonder if this is pertinent, i.e., under what conditions would verification of contra atrocities make any difference to your argument? I mean, would your position be the same WHATEVER atrocities they had carried out?

I don't really see how drawing attention to contra acts is 're-directing' discussion. Imagine if i'd said 'It amuses me that you keep trying to re-direct discussion by drawing attention to the acts of the Sandinista government.' Or imagine in a discussion of terrorism in NOrthern Ireland, "It amuses me how you keep trying to re-direct discussion by drawing attention to the acts of the IRA.'

Strictly speaking, my argument does not involve support of the Sandinista government. For instance, i do not 'support' the current Israeli government but would of course oppose a terrorist war against them conducted by a foreign power. You immediately reply - but Israel is democratic whereas the Sandinistas were not. So is any imperfectly democratic country game for covert attack from any fully democratic one? And who is to be the ultimate arbiter here of what constitutes a valid democratic polity? Is it to be the USA?

lbom

occam - you must be as bad as me for posting whilst at work. One of us is surely going to get fired sooner or later.

My point about you redirecting is that, first, you question the ends of policy; second, when you meet a dead end on that you say that it was wrongly conducted. If you have a problem with the policy tout court then try to persuade us of that; the Contras' methods are a subordinate issue. If the policy was unjust in its ends, who cares how it was done?

You're right that strictly speaking your argument isn't predicated on support of the Sandinistas, although your posts here have implied a strong sympathy. But on the other hand, once a conflict starts (which it had, given the Sandinistas' rise to power and their backing from the Soviets), to not take sides against evil is moral cowardice. From 1980 onwards, the Nicaragua situation was no longer a hypothetical but a reality. I know you'll demur from this characterisation, but to not take up the fight would have been to allow the triumph of evil. Think Burke, good men, standing by, doing nothing...

Now to our old chums the Contras. I fully accept your point that excessive atrocities could invalidate an otherwise just policy. I also accept that the Contras did commit serious atrocities (although past a certain point, I would have a reservation about Chamorro - he did make a career for himself, and he was a Miami-based PR man, not a footsoldier). However, to my knowledge (which is far from perfect), I do think that this can squeak through as just in bello given the wider circumstances.

The Contras were a rag-tag peasant army (as Sandinista foreign minister Alejandro Bendana later pointed out, probably the first one in Central America to be supported in US policy) which was quite chaotic. In fact, the Chibcha indians' resistance to Sandinista repression can be seen as part of a more generalised individualism in Chibcha culture (just as they opposed Somoza before). Example: Contra units would recruit in the field and split in two once big enough, without central control. Probably the CIA's attempts (and those of their chosen liaisons, ex-Somoza thugs) at structure owed more to their experience with armies-in-exile and mercenaries. But it does have to be said, there were some efforts made. There were some Contras working to limit excesses - most famously Marta Patricia Baltadano, but also a wider Contra reform movement. Examples of such workers within the Sandinista movement welcome, if difficult to come by. Now fair enough, Contra reform was an opportunity not taken up. Tragically, the Left were so absolutist in condemning (and the Right in defending) any anti-Communist policy that they failed to work for a better, cleaner implementation of such a policy. Steps were taken within the movement though.

And whilst there is evidence on Contra abuses, documentation of large-scale issues seems a bit thin. Contrast this with the Sandinistas. Internment camps? Free-fire zones? Mass graves for their victims? Whilst the Contras may have committed atrocities, what they were fighting against was, within and outside Nicaragua, was a far more evil thing. Consequently, whilst I would say no to your question - would I support them WHATEVER the atrocities? - in this case, on the basis of the evidence seen, I stand by my support for the policy and my support for the Contra cause.

Bill

Question for Occam-

Is it or is it not true that Ronald Reagan's policies in Nicaragua forced the dictatorial Sandanista regime into holding free elections(In which they still made efforts to play dirty) in which the Nicaraguan people made clear they did not desire the rule of Sandinistas and Danny Ortega? Is it or is it not true that there have been two subsequent free elections in which voters have rejected the Sandinistas again? Is it or is it not true that now Nicaragua is a fairly free and democratic nation, in sharp contrast to life under the Sandinista? Before and after comparison makes Reagan look pretty good, doesn't it?

Is the Nicaragua "miracle" anything like the Cuban "miracle"? Which is to say, a total fraud. You know, those incredible health improvements that for some reason the government won't let independent organizations verify.

Is "imperfectly democratic" your synonym for "not at all democratic"? Seems a convenient ploy for turning "not at all democratically elected" into "imperfectly democratically elected", which is then shortened to "democratically elected." Nice trick.

occam

Bill,

having carefully scrutinzed your questions, the answer to each of them turns out to be, by a bizarre coincidence, 'no'.

Like many totalitarian governments, the Sandinistas allowed international observation of their elections in 1984. The observers, almost all from respected and impartial organisations, concluded that the elections were as fair as could be expected given the circumstances (i.e., a country under sustained terrorisst attack.) Now, obviously these observers were simply dupes, and i admire your perspicacity in seeing straight through them. Seriously, there is no 'trickery' here. The elections were a damn sight fairer than anything under the previous regime and also fairer than the absurd theatrics in El Salvador around the same time. But all this is irrelevant because the US was not attempting to depose the Sandinistas for being undemocratic, right? The US has of course supported many tyrannical regimes in Latin America.

To be clear, i opposed the attempt to depose the Sandinistas and the particular means involved. HOwever, in this case, took the debate to be about the means - i.e., state sponsored terrorism. This is a fairly unprobletic distinction - e.g., i might suppport the idea of a united Ireland but deplore the IRA's policy of murdering civilians.

Matty

"And whilst there is evidence on Contra abuses, documentation of large-scale issues seems a bit thin. Contrast this with the Sandinistas. Internment camps? Free-fire zones? Mass graves for their victims? Whilst the Contras may have committed atrocities, what they were fighting against was, within and outside Nicaragua, was a far more evil thing. Consequently, whilst I would say no to your question - would I support them WHATEVER the atrocities? - in this case, on the basis of the evidence seen, I stand by my support for the policy and my support for the Contra cause"

I'm reminded of Orwell's famous "comfortable professors defending Stalinism" essay. You admit that the Contras were murderers and butchers, so any support for them is basically support for murder and butchery and therefore has no moral basis.

It is possible to fight a totalitarian government, such as the Sandinistas, without resorting to terrorism or civilian-murder and so this is the only policy that should have been persued by the US. Anything else is and was inexcusable. In fact one of the key-issues of Oliver's blog in the last year is that there is never an excuse for tyranny and a "less-bad" tyranny is never an acceptable option.

lbom

Matty - quite right, it is possible to fight a totalitarian government without resorting to terrorism or civilian murder. An invasion, Grenada-style, would've been a better, cleaner option.. But was America preferred for another major jungle war in, say, 1983?

As for "comfortable professors", nice. I know you've used it before. Your point is to position yourself as somehow anointed with a truer, more human understanding, against we benighted 'theorists'. Thanks for telling me. I'll now just bask in your positive aura for a while...

That's better. Now, Orwell wouldn't quite go along with your rather pitiable reductio ad stalinum:

"... the only big political questions in the world today are: for Russia-against Russia, for America-against America, for Democracy-against Democracy."

"If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other... In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'"

"If someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother. The only apparent alternatives are to smash dwelling houses to powder, blow out human entrails and burn holes in children with lumps of thermite, or be enslaved by people who are more ready to do these things that you are yourself; as yet no one has suggested a practical way out."

In sum: Communism was evil, to be fought without compromise, and America its opposite; that to then not take sides is moral cowardice; and that really taking sides can involve violent action. You though seem to take an 'all-or-nothing' position, where if we can't make clean interventions resulting in perfect liberal democracy, we shouldn't act. Quietism, in practice. Policy means choosing, which means making proportionate trade-offs to achieve the higher good. To compare the Contras' rebellion, ugly as it was, with Stalin's Great Terror is at once bizarre and grotesque.

o

Ok, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was NOT a 'soviet client state'/ 'a client of that Evil Empire'. If it had been the US would doubtless have been more circumspect about waging war on it. It WAS no worse (to say the least) than other US 'client regimes' in Latin America. Secondly, does anyone seriously think that post-war US foreign policy was guided principly by a firm moral stance against 'evil' and the evil of Communism in particular?? This seems to me so utterly at variance with the truth that its difficult to know where to begin in response. Like any powerful state, the US acts in accordance with its perceived economic and political interests. This involves, typically but not always, pragmatism and strategy rather than rigid adherence to principle. This, i'm almost tempted to say, is how it is in the real world.

lbom

Quickly (for once): nobody would suggest that post-war US foreign policy was guided consistently by a firm moral stance against the evil of Communism. The discussion was about the Reagan Administration, the record of which (in rhetoric and action) suggests that it was. States do act with their interests, but those interests are usually perceived through a lens of ideas. Pursuing principled ends through prudent means is not contradictory, and nor is it cynical. Such moral realism is a better approach than any other combination I know of (realpolitik=prudent/prudent; modern idealism=principled/principled; ????=prudent/principled).

lbom

Further thought - maybe the ???? is best represented by today's 'anti-war' crowd who, behind a puritan mask hide some very isolationist, self-interested instincts.

janus

The Reagan Admin. 'guided by a firm moral stance' against communism/ anything else. Genuinely funny and more than a little naive. Perhaps you're thinking of the military aid to Guatamala, with its death squads and organised brutality, the support for other murderous regimes, the support for South Africa and the evasion of the embargo and so on, ad nauseum. Cloud cuckoo land must be an interesting place to live

Matty

Ibom,

My point was that people will take a pro-tyrant position (from the luxury of not having to live under that tyrant and from the position of playing down that tyranny) in order to argue that "ends justify means". I have heard defenders of communist dictatorships defend them with almost identical language ("yes, there were some abuses, but the other side were so much worse...") As I have said, the Sandinistas could have been defeated by supporting democrats rather than simply neo-Samozan "anti-communists" or, as you stated, by a Grenada, Iraq or Haiti-style invasion (which the USA was prefectly capable of) followed by the imposition of a democratic system (which the Sandinistas had pretended they wanted, hence the popularity of their "revolution" against Samoza). In the 1940s and 50s the Americans wisely fought the cold war as the defender of democracy against communist totalitarianism which, along with a staunchly defensive NATO, secured Western Europe against any possible Communist takeover. During the 1970s and into the 1980s they increasingly simply backed "anti-communist" tyrants including Pinochet, Galltiari, Samoza, Suhartu, Saddam Hussein and even armed and trained an Islamist army (many of whom were fundamentalists and future terrorists) in Afghanistan. The result of this, apart from arming both Saddam Hussein and the future Taliban (the inevitable fallout from which has only recently been dealt with) was to damage America's internatinoal reputation and near-cripple it's reputation as the defender of democracy. I don't think these policies helped the democratic forces, I think they helped the Communist totalitarians. President Bush is correct, "stability" (ie backing tyrants for short-term gain) didn't help the United States, it simply bred loathing, future instability, popularised America's enemies (whether communists or islamist extremists) in the minds of the repressed population and eventually left the USA with an enormous mess. It was a stupid and immoral foreign policy and has rightly been thrown into the historical dustbin. I am not convinced of any arguments that would defend it.

lbom

Cloud Cuckoo Land? Must be, yes. Drop me a postcard when you get so elevated. Where I am, I work to understand the world as it is, rather than according to an ideology.

"Firm moral stance against Communism" hardly implies anything about the morality of the policy per se. So, they might have been morally flawed in their dealings with Guatemala or South Africa, but their anti-Communism could still be morally-driven. To make such a statement doesn't even mean I endorse either the stance or the wider programme of which it was a part. Naive indeed.

Your suggestion seems to be that the Reagan Administration opposed Soviet Communism for cynical reasons: that their moral rhetoric was a sham. Without reducing to pop psychology or 'structural' explanations, can you explain that? Their rhetoric, and that of the political movement from which they sprang, was of a crusade against Communism. Some people like to suggest that American conservatism's anti-Communism bordered on the 'paranoid'. If that's the case then your argument must either be that Reagan & Co were an elite that hijacked American conservatism for their own nefarious purposes; or (horrors!) that Nixon's prosecution of Hiss; McCarthyism; JBS; and Goldwaterism were all shams in a 40-year masterplan to seize power under a cloak of moralising and looking swivel-eyed. Hmmmmm... Cunning!

Janus, please consider this: during World War II, Britain and then America themselves committed atrocities, and then allied themselves with, and provided massive military aid to, Stalin's Soviet Union. I assume you know the atrocities that regime was guilty of make Guatemala or South Africa look like your Cloud Cuckoo Land. That being the case, Janus, was our war on Nazism no longer "a firm moral stance"? Was the whole war effort morally bankrupt?

Your reason for calling me "more than a little naive" seems to be that I don't seek to reduce people's motives without evidence. Maybe you could do with a bit of that kind of naivete. On the other hand, your naivete is the more sinful because you are the one insisting on Panglossian integrity tests to see if morality meets your standards. As with Matty, you need to realise that the logical conclusion of your approach is quietism.

lbom

Matty: quickly 'cause I've got to go (I'm sure you probably emitted a sigh of relief just then). I think ultimately your argument is one of means, and that the difference between us is probably more one of degree than type - and I accept my standards might be more base than yours! I think you idealise US policy before the 1970s somewhat - a lot of the grottier Latin American dictatorships grew up then, and think when Greene was writing The Quiet American.

Don't get me wrong - I have no love of that world and its 'stability', but I think there were compromises forced upon us then by the wider situation. My guess is that President Bush would accept that too - although it may have been that we were too cautious. In today's world, we are free to be, and should be, much more stringent in our standards. But sometimes in focusing on the greater evil, we do have to make some of those compromises - our challenge is never to forget that they are compromises. Maybe that happened to an extent in the 1970s and 1980s; we know it certainly happened at Yalta - but that doesn't invalidate the wider cause or condemn for eternity the men who led it and cut the deal.

janus

' I work to understand the world as it is, rather than according to an ideology' - this is of course THE ideological gesture par excellence. Ideology, like halitosis, is always what the other fellow has, right? The Reagan administration wasn't 'morally flawed' in its 'dealings' with S.A., Guatamala, Haiti etc, it was IMmoral. Needless to say, none of these 'dealings' had anything to do with the noble fight against Communism, and cannot therefore be excused as part of the 'collateral damage' of that fight.

If the US opposed communism BECAUSE it was 'evil', then that logically implies a principled opposition to evil itself, but the administration demonstrated no such principled opposition. You ask me how one measures the truth of official rhetoric. Well, its actually a fairly crucial critical skill and one i suggest you acquire. One technique is to compare rhetoric (which by definition is for public consumption)with practice/ implementation. Or you compare the PR stuff with what the planning documents etc disclose. In any case, conflating rhetoric with realpolitik is, to use your nice phrase, sinfully naive.

Frankly, i don't see any reason to suppose that the Reagan administration would have disagreed with the oft quoted words of George Kennan, head of state department planning staff until 1950:

"We should cease to talk about vague and.. unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."

The role of 'Communism' in your argument exactly replicates its function in the official rhetoric of the Administration - it means you can justify atrocities as the 'unfortunate' collateral damage of a nobler project, the result of some understandable lapse in essentially good intentions. It is of course self-serving nonsense, allowing one to portray oneself as saddled with an intolerable moral burden.

Finally, let me remind you, seing sceptical about power is not simply some affliction of the Left, it is, from Aristotle onwards, a moral duty.

Oh, by the way, you wanted a postcard from cloud cuckoo land - just click on 'janus'.

Matty

Ibom, I think we shall have to agree to disagree on the question of means ;)

lbom

Janus: I'm interested in your approach to identifying intentions. It seems that any failure to live up to a declared value demonstrates that it is obviously a lie, but that you can work out the real truth... Wow, I thought you were paranoid, turns out you're just clued up.

You "don't suppose that the Reagan administration would have disagreed" with Kennan's words - but they did. Whether from belief (as I say) or as falseface (as you say), they did not cease to talk of such objectives. And why would that be? Because (crazy guys that they were!) they genuinely believed that Communism was an evil to be combated. It may surprise you, but there was actually something called Soviet Communism - it was highly expansive and committed some of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th century. I'm surprised you haven't heard about it? Perhaps you should read this.

I ask again: do you damn Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman as immoral for their military aid to Stalin?

Matty: Fair dues. Was a good discussion and you certainly made me think agan. Cut a deal with you: you can call be thuggish and I'll call you hopelessly optimistic, but we can at least agree that, in the end, the right side won.

occam

Ibom,

Was reluctant to post any references, as I see no reason to believe they will make any difference to your position. Anyway, here are SOME, offered under the proviso that you concede that they might conceivably have some bearing on what you think! N.b., As I made no reference to a ‘miracle’ I hardly feel obliged to provide supporting material. I think I referred you already to the Chamorro testimony. You might also like to look at the International Court of Justice Report, online at: http://www.gwu.edu/~jaysmith/nicus3.html. (Military and Paramilitary Activities ion and against Nicaragua, International Court of Justice, 27 June 1986.)

The following books all document contra atrocities (with plenty of primary sources):


Walker, Reagan versus the Sandinistas (Boulder 1987)
Walker, Thomas, Nicaragua (Westview, 2003)
____ Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua

Reed Brody, Contra Terror in Nicaragua (1985)
Morely and Petras, The Reagan Administration in Nicaragua.


See also:

Melrose, Nicaragua: the threat of a good example? (London: Oxfam, 1985)
Joseph Collins et al, What Difference Could a Revolution Make? (1982)

(p.s. the post from 'o' above is me - for some reason the name was truncated.)

lbom

Occam

Cheers for the references. I will make an effort to go and look up some of them and, if good enough, they might just move my position (narrow minded I may be, but there's still an opening). I do want to have a good read of the ICJ report, although the others may have to wait (big stack of books to get through already!). I get the impression that Nicaragua touches such a nerve with anybody (as we've noticed here!) that most of the historians seem to take sides in the discussion, whether for or against.

Anyway - been good sparring with you on the subject. Cheers again.

Mel

Sorry it's taken me a while to put in a comment here, but I've been out in the bush planting trees for the last few weeks. Anyways, I think I do have an interesting perspective on the recent history of Nicaragua as I was actually there (as well as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador though the lastter two were fairly brief transits) six months ago. I went there with the specific purpose of trying to sort out what had happened there under Somoza and the Sandinistas and it certainly was very interesting to hear the perspective of some of the people who actually lived through it all.
So as to the chronology of Soviet vs US involvement there, I heard quite clearly that even prior to the revolution that overthrew Somoza Cuban and Soviet agents were in Nicaragua most notably in the most pro-Sandinista cities of Leon and Esteli. Don't forget that the success of the revolution was due partly to Carter's withdrawal of support and aid to the Somoza regime and that once he was overthrown in '79 million of dollars in aid were approved and sent to help with the reconstruction. It had become quite obvious by later in 1980, however, that the USSR and Cuba were heavily involved in Nicaragua and that some of the money and arms that they were pouring into Nicaragua was being exported to Marxist rebels in El Salvadore and Guatemala. Given the obvious strategic goal of the USSR to de-stabilize Central America and put in jeapordy the USA's control of the Panama Canal, the USA had little choice but to involve themselves in working to stop that influence. I certainly agree that the USA allied itself with very reprehensiblw elements in many of these countries and that more attention should have been focused on preventing human-rights abuses, but the sad reality is that in any war such things are going to occur.
As for Nicaraguans themselves, well I had a few really good conversations that were certainly enlightening. Though my Spanish is far from great, it's passable and I luckily met one guy who was fluently bilingual. One man I talked to in Granada fought against Somoza and had a brother who died doing the same, but honestly felt that compared to the Sandinistas Somoza was preferable, same with the bilingual guy I met on Ometeppe. The latter even had a friend in Managua who named his two sons Ronald and Oliver after you know you.
As for the Contras, well as anyone who's studied their organization and actions know they were far from a monolithic group. Many different factions existed and their paucity of military success is largely explained by this. Some were made up of agrived indigenous peoples of the Carribean coast who had no interest in the Sandinistas attempts at forces collectivisation, one was led by an ex-Sandinista leader who felt that Ortega and co. had sold out Nicaragua to the Soviets, while some were made up of former Somoza National Guardsmen who were undoubtedly responsible for most of the atrocities that certainly did occur against civilians. As with the civil war in Guatemala, however, there was somewhat of a tit-for-tat situation in which atrocities by one side were responded in kind by the other. War sucks, but given the geo-political situation in the world when Reagan came into power I very much understand the decision to intervene against the Sandinistas and by proxy the USSR. The Iran-Contra affair was obviously stupid, but it's interesting that for this clearly impeachable offence, the Democrats didn't dare try because of Reagan's immense personal popularity.
For one of the best studies on the Nicaragua I've ever read, though it is long, check out http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1984/WJW.htm. Very interesting...

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