Kissinger's Green Light to Suharto

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, February 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

Kissinger's Green Light to Suharto


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


In a few weeks, East Timor will be able to celebrate both its independence as a country and its status as a democracy. Elections will have produced a government able to seek and receive international recognition. An undetermined number of Timorese, herded by the Indonesian Army into the western part of the island during the last spasms of cruelty before Jakarta formally abandoned its claim to the territory, will not be able to celebrate. And the entire process is gruesomely overshadowed by the murder of at least a quarter of a million Timorese during the illegal Indonesian occupation. The new nation will need friends, and help of all kinds, and everybody should consider contributing something (send checks to Global Exchange/East Timor Relief, PO Box 420832, San Francisco, CA 94142).

The elections and the independence ceremony were supposed to take place twenty-seven years ago, when the Portuguese colonial power surrendered its authority. But the Indonesian military dictatorship had another idea, which was to engulf its tiny neighbor by force. General Suharto and his deputies made it fairly obvious that they wanted the territory but not the people. They came horribly close to succeeding in this foul design. Ever since, there has been an argument over the precise extent of US complicity with the 1975 aggression. It was known that President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, were in Jakarta on December 6 of that year, the day before Indonesian air, land and naval forces launched the assault. Scholars and journalists have solemnly debated whether there was a "green light" from Washington.

Kissinger, who does not find room to mention East Timor even in the index of his three-volume memoir, has more than once stated that the invasion came to him as a surprise, and that he barely knew of the existence of the Timorese question. He was obviously lying. But the breathtaking extent of his mendacity has only just become fully apparent, with the declassification of a secret State Department telegram. The document, which has been made public by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, contains a verbatim record of the conversation among Suharto, Ford and Kissinger. "We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto opened bluntly. "We will understand and will not press you on the issue," Ford responded. "We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have." Kissinger was even more emphatic, but had an awareness of the possible "spin" problems back home. "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," he instructed the despot. "We would be able to influence the reaction if whatever happens, happens after we return.... If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home." Micromanaging things for Suharto, he added: "The President will be back on Monday at 2 pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned." As ever, deniability supersedes accountability. …

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