Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jonah Goldberg on Pinochet:
He'd Be Perfect for Iraq

Jonah Goldberg writes in an LA Times op-ed that another Pinochet would be the ideal ruler for Iraq:

I THINK ALL intelligent, patriotic and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet. In fact, an Iraqi Pinochet would be even better than an Iraqi Castro.

Both propositions strike me as so self-evident as to require no explanation. But as I have discovered in recent days, many otherwise rational people can't think straight when the names Fidel Castro and Augusto Pinochet come up.

Let's put aside, at least for a moment, the question of which man was (or is) "worse." Suffice it to say, both have more blood on their hands than a decent conscience should be able to bear. Still, if all you want to do is keep score, then Castro almost surely has many more bodies on his rap sheet. The Cuba Archive estimates that Castro is responsible for the deaths of at least 9,240 people, though the real number could be many times that, particularly if you include the estimate of nearly 77,000 men, women and children who have died trying to flee the "socialist paradise."

But there are measures besides body counts. Castro took Cuba, once among the most prosperous nations in Latin America and destined for First World status, and rendered it poorer than nearby Jamaica and heading Haiti-ward. The island is a prison, and trying to leave can be a capital crime.

Civil liberties are a sham, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are nonexistent, and dissidents are routinely thrown in prison. Civil society has become deeply politicized and, hence, corrupted. In the 1990s, Castro dabbled with liberalizing the economy after welfare from the Soviet Union dried up, but he soon realized that free markets bring other freedoms, so he cast the Cuban people back into poverty rather than risk any threat to his rule. Now Castro, rudely taking a long time to die, is transferring all power to his brother, Raul. Not exactly an open primary. On the plus side, we are told, Cuba has very impressive literacy, longevity and infant mortality rates — and lavish hotels for hard-currency-carrying Westerners.

Now consider Chile. Gen. Pinochet seized a country coming apart at the seams. He too clamped down on civil liberties and the press. He too dispatched souls. Chile's official commission investigating his dictatorship found that Pinochet had 3,197 bodies in his column; 87% of them died in the two-week mini-civil war that attended his coup. Many more were tortured or forced to flee the country.

But on the plus side, Pinochet's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure. And by implementing free-market reforms, he lifted the Chilean people out of poverty. In 1988, he held a referendum and stepped down when the people voted him out. Yes, he feathered his nest from the treasury and took measures to protect himself from his enemies. His list of sins — both venal and moral — is long. But today Chile is a thriving, healthy democracy. Its economy is the envy of Latin America, and its literacy and infant mortality rates are impressive.

I ask you: Which model do you think the average Iraqi would prefer? Which model, if implemented, would result in future generations calling Iraq a success? An Iraqi Pinochet would provide order and put the country on the path toward liberalism, democracy and the rule of law. ...

Matthew Yglesias points out that 35-plus years of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba and an open-door immigration policy for anti-Castro Cubans might have something to do with conditions there:

... Cuba, as of the 1950s, was under the dictatorial rule of Fulgencio Batista without apparent objection from the United States which had no particular concern with Cuban democracy. A revolt broke out, came to be led by Fidel Castro, and took control of the country in 1959 at which point many former regime figures were killed. The United States government, fearing that the new regime would implement a pro-Soviet foreign policy and a socialist economy policy that would be detrimental to US strategic interests and the financial interests of American business enterprises began an effort to isolate the new regime in the hopes of precipitating its collapse. This didn't work, but did ensure that the risk of a pro-Soviet foreign policy was destined to become a reality. At this point, the US government engaged in various efforts to overthrow or kill Castro, including the Bay of Pigs invasion in which the US sponsored an invasion of the country by Cuban exiles associated with the old regime.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US ceased active efforts to overthrow Castro. It continued, however, to wage economic warfare against Cuba, subjecting the country to broad unilateral sanctions in the hopes that shackling the country economically would somehow lead to the collapse of the regime. At the same time, America's borders were opened unconditionally to Cubans wishing to emigrate to the United States.

Contrast this with U.S. policy in Chile, after Salvador Allende was elected president:

Some decades later, Salvador Allende came to power through the democratic process in Chile. Here, again, the US government feared the implementation of pro-Soviet foreign policy and socialist economic policy, again damaging America's strategic interests and the financial interests of American business. The US began working with anti-Allende elements in Chile to destabilize the country politically and economically. Eventually, we supported Augusto Pinochet's efforts to mount a coup against Allende. The justification for this coup was that events in Chile were leading in the direction of a Communist dictatorship, and the cure was to implement an anti-Communist dictatorship. Having removed Allende from office, the coup leaders did not, say, organize a swift transition back to democracy. Instead, they remained in power for almost two decades, during which time their political opponents -- including opponents who were democrats in good standing -- were subjected to various forms of persecution including murder, torture, etc.

In contrast to Cuba, the US did nothing to assist the anti-Pinochet opposition, did lot welcome refugees from Chile and, indeed, turned a blind eye to the murder of opposition figures and their allies on US soil. Meanwhile, the campaign to isolate and impoverish Cuba has succeeded in making Cuba even poorer than it otherwise would have been had it merely been subjected to Castro's poor economic policies. It has not, however, made any noteworthy progress in bringing about the end of the Castro regime which, in fact, has now significantly outlasted the Soviet Union and its other main allies. Meanwhile, our insistence on sanctioning Cuba and efforts to implement secondary sanctions on that country has from time to time strained

Steven Taylor asks, How about we stop reducing complex political and social outcomes to one person's leadership?

Of the many things that are missing in the minds of many on this whole Castro/Pinochet/whomever discussion is that political events and outcomes aren’t just about given people. Sure, we tend to study and understand history, certainly in the casual sense, from ye olde Great Man school of thought. However, the structural conditions under which they governed matter as well. Cuba and Chile were, are, and likely always will be, very different places.

For example: part of the reason Cuba is poor now is that it has always been poor. Aside from the upper class folks who fled to Miami after the revolution, it isn’t as if Castro wrecked a first world economy back in 1959. Yes, I agree that Castro’s socialism has kept the Cuban economy from reaching its potential–indeed, Cuba’s sad state of affairs is very much linked to Castro’s rule. However, one wouldn’t expect an economy like Chile’s even if, via a transporter accident, Pinochet had been beamed into Fidel’s fatigues back in 1959.

Similarly, Goldberg and his ilk give Pinochet way too much credit on a host of fronts. Chile’s economy, while hardly a model in 1970 , was far, far, far more developed than Cuba’s. Hence, there was more to work with. As such, even if Pinochet had not engaged in his reforms, Chile would still be in a different class than Cuba economically speaking. And in terms of political development, statements from Goldberg like this one speak volumes about his ignorance of Chilean politics and history:

But on the plus side, Pinochet’s abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure.

That is simply not true. Pinochet shut down the political portion of civil society during his reign and while yes, he wrote a constitution, it was one primarily designed to help the military retain power once he left office. Further, and more importantly, Chile had a healthy civil society well before Pinochet ever put on a uniform. This myth that Augusto Spoke and There Was Democracy is scurrilous, and quite wrong. What’s worse, is that I think a lot of those who seek to downplay Pinochet’s crimes seem to believe that he really was the George Washington of Santiago.

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