In the 1980s El Salvador and Iraq were two of the most egregious human
rights abusing nations in the world. What did these nations have in
common at the time? Strategic relationships with the U.S. government. El
Salvador had the infamous paramilitary "death squads", including
national police forces like the now defunct Treasury Police, a military
headed by lunatics like Major Roberto D'Aubuisson that seemed to
specialize and delight in brutalizing the civilian population (they were
far better at that than fighting in the battlefield), and a seemingly
endless supply of money, guns, and Special Forces advisers from the
Reagan administration. $6 billion from 1981 to 1992--70,000 people
killed--the vast majority innocent civilians.
Iraq of course was controlled by one of the most infamous dictators in
recent history-Saddam Hussein-who at the time was seen as a key
strategic ally against the fundamentalist Shiite regime of the Ayatollah
Khomeini in Iran. With the help of the U.S., Hussein managed to
brutalize his own population (on a par with the Salvadoran government)
while waging a vicious war with Iran during the course of the decade.
Fast forward to January 2005, the U.S., engaged in an ostensible
"liberation from tyranny" of the Iraqi population, finds itself engaged
in an intractable conflict against a guerrilla insurgency that exists
within the fabric of Sunni society. Donald Rumsfeld & Co. at the
Pentagon, fretting over the fact that the seemingly all-powerful U.S.
military cannot quell the insurgency and in fact is probably losing the
conflict, desperately look to El Salvador's bloody death squad past as a
possible course of action to take. The "Salvador option", as it is being
called, would entail the sending of Special Forces advisers to "advise,
support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish
Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and
their sympathizers". A crucial component of such operations would be to
instill fear in the Sunni population, who so far have not been forced to
pay for their support of the resistance.
What's particularly disgusting to me is the widespread conservative
belief that U.S. foreign policy towards El Salvador in the 1980s and
early 90s was a success. That the policies of STATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM
somehow succeeded in quelling the leftist guerrilla insurgency. An
examination of the facts leads to a different conclusion. For starters:
The "insurgents" (nee "terrorists") won the war in El Salvador. The
other Salvador option for Iraq.
That's right-the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN)
guerrilla army, while not achieving a military victory, nevertheless
succeeded in forcing the right-wing Salvadoran government and their
benefactors the U.S. government to the negotiating table that led to the
historic peace accords of 1992. The fundamental steps taken towards
democracy in El Salvador (e.g. establishment of a civilian police force,
the U.N. truth commissions that put the public spotlight on military
officers and their government for countless human rights abuses and
numerous atrocities, the successful transition of the FMLN into a
progressive political party) were absolutely NOT due to our government's
provision of $6 billion dollars to the Salvadoran government to fight
the civil war. Rather, it was the extreme sacrifice of over 70,000
Salvadorans who struggled and died for social and economic justice.
So, in order to take the offensive against the insurgency in Iraq the
Pentagon is thinking about employing strategy and tactics that are
inspired by our shameful legacy in El Salvador. Torture, assassinations,
kidnappings, "draining the pond to starve the fish." I'm sure that
Saddam Hussein would like to join in the fun! And do note that some
other nefarious characters from the 80s are involved: Rumsfeld, John
Negroponte (Ambassador to Iraq), Elliot Abrams (Middle East advisor for
President Bush). This is perhaps the clearest indication yet of what the
invasion and occupation of Iraq is really about-the extension of
imperial control over a nation that is deemed to be of (obvious)
strategic importance for American economic interests. Yes folks, it's a
three letter word that starts with "O".
Jim Goronson is the National Coordinator of U.S.- El Salvador Sister Cities.