By Donella Meadows
–June 9, 1994–
One day after he celebrated the 50th anniversary of D-Day, President Clinton, still in France, agreed to hand over half of Bosnia to the Serbs.
He had resisted doing that for more than a year, pointing out that it amounts to rewarding the most brutal genocide the world has seen since Hitler.
How he could time his capitulation to coincide with the remembrance of the day when the remaining free nations, fewer and less powerful than they are today, hurled their utmost force against a government of entrenched evil — how he could walk serenely through that contradiction, I can’t imagine.
Bosnia is not the only place where the free nations are standing aside while evil rulers have their way. There is Haiti. There is Iraq, still headed by Saddam Hussein. There is East Timor, a place we never hear about, though if we did, we would be sickened. There is China. Just last week Clinton declared that trading with China would make its government treat its people in a civilized manner — though he is prescribing exactly the opposite policy for Haiti.
The greatest threat in the New World Order is one of the oldest scourges in history. A friend of mine calls it ABOTIP — A Bunch Of Thugs In Power. Or, as in Somalia and Rwanda, a bunch of thugs battling for power. The nations that think of themselves as decent are doing essentially nothing about these thugs — worse than that, we are being manipulated by them. Kim Il-Sung in North Korea plays peek-a-boo with nuclear weapons inspectors, and we sputter in impotent fury. The Serbs break cease-fires and crush people at just the rate that will make us mad but not make us act.
President Clinton doesn’t know what to do about thugs in power. But then, who does? The only three ideas under discussion are jawboning, economic sanctions, and war. The first and most popular, jawboning, telling the thugs how bad they are, is utterly ineffective. You can’t shame a thug. Our condemnations and warnings with no follow-through are nothing but jokes to the Milosevics of the world.
Economic sanctions are almost impossible to make effective, and they hurt the already-suffering populace much more than they hurt the guys with the guns and the offshore bank accounts.
Force is the one policy thugs understand, so it’s tempting to advocate more Panama- or Gulf-type heroics. But bombings or invasions also punish the innocent, and in this case a blood sacrifice is required not only of them, but of us. Going to war against thugs seems to be a non-starter these five distant decades from D-Day — unless oil is involved.
So instead of solving the thug problem, we bash each other. Conservatives who were gung-ho for Panama and the Gulf War are suddenly pacifists. Peaceniks since Vietnam demand that something violent be done about the pain of Bosnia. Each side accuses the other of hypocrisy, though as far as I can tell, each side is being perfectly consistent. The issue isn’t whether you are willing to go to war, but for what you are willing to go to war — to ensure America’s dominance over strategic markets and resources, or to relieve the oppressed.
Rather than hash out those differences endlessly while the thugs go on terrorizing their populations, maybe we can think of some more imaginative ways to act on the ABOTIP problem.
We could start by clearly labeling the thugs. Any leader who sets the military loose on his own people, or a people he would like to call his own, clearly doesn’t deserve to govern. Any leader who practices or encourages hate-talk. Anyone who arrests those who speak against him. Anyone who imbues everyday life with a constant chill of fear.
If we’re in doubt about whether a government is thuggish, we could ask its people. Or we could refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says clearly: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. All are equal before the law. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” And so forth.
A leader who violates these principles should be treated not as a head of state, but as a criminal. You don’t negotiate with criminals. You don’t welcome them to your house, you don’t protect their assets in your banks, and you don’t sell them weapons. You arrest them the minute they cross a border into a place where your police have power.
In addition to criminalizing the thugs, we could actively support the people suffering under them, not only with food or other necessities, but with the tools of determined passive resistance. If there is to be heroism, let it be in the difficult but precisely aimed art of mass non-cooperation. If peoples’ lives are going to be at stake, let it be their choice and with them as the actors, not as the collateral damage of our weapons. If there is a need for a CIA in this new world order, it is for nurturing effective resistance against thugs in power.
I have a friend who fled Nazi Germany fifty years ago and has been trying ever since to understand what happened there, and why it seems to keep happening. He wrote me the other day, “It is bad enough that there are human beings who inflict pain on others in order to feel themselves strong. Even worse, there are those who without direct participation join such aggressors, in that they act as if their deeds are of no concern. Albert Einstein said that the world is not threatened by those who do evil, but by those who let it happen.”
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1994