John Negroponte was Mullah Omar
By Dennis Hans
Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, the Islamist movement
that mis-governed the failed state of Afghanistan from 1996
to 2001? He and the Taliban played host to Osama bin Laden,
providing him and his al Qaeda organization a safe haven from
where they could plot terror attacks and train recruits who
came to Afghanistan from every corner of the globe.
Well, it turns out that Mullah Omar has much in common with
- may even have patterned his career after - John Negroponte,
the veteran U.S. diplomat who's about to be confirmed as our
Ambassador to Iraq, where he'll oversee the largest embassy
and CIA station in the world.
You see, the most important chapter in Negroponte's career
took place in the failed state of Honduras. From 1981 to 1985
he was the most powerful figure in that banana republic, just
as Mullah Omar was The Man 15 years later in Afghanistan.
And while Omar welcomed and protected bin Laden and al Qaeda,
Negroponte arranged for Honduras to provide sanctuary for
the nastiest terrorist group in the entire Western Hemisphere:
Yes, the contras. You may remember them as the outfit hailed
by President Ronald Reagan as "the moral equivalent of the
Founding Fathers." But the voluminous reports of Human Rights
Watch and Amnesty International show that my characterization,
not Reagan's, is the correct one.
Precise body counts are hard to come by, but the contras
may well have killed more defensiveless civilians in the 1980s
than al Qaeda has killed in its decade of terror - albeit
one slit throat at a time rather than 3,000 blown up one day
in New York and 2,000 another day in Africa, among other al
Negroponte was dispatched to Honduras in 1981 to replace
U.S. ambassador Jack Binns, who had provoked the wrath of
the Reagan administration. Binns was concerned over escalating
torture and killings by Honduran security forces at a time
when U.S. policy was to hush up such crimes. From the Reaganites'
perspective, Binns just didn't have the right stuff to supervise
what was about to become the largest U.S. embassy in Central
America and the transformation of large chunks of Honduras
into a sanctuary and training facility for cold-blooded killers.
The Reagan team in 1981 had an unstated policy of "regime
change" in Nicaragua, although it pretended to Congress and
the media (yep, both were lapdogs then, just like now!) that
its actual goal was to stop the alleged flow of Weapons of
Minimal Destruction (small arms and the like) from Nicaragua,
overland through Honduras, and on to El Salvador, where Marxist
guerrillas had the audacity to resist a 50-year-old U.S.-backed
military dictatorship that, in 1980-81 alone, had killed 20,000
or so civilians.
But the arms flow was largely illusory (another parallel
to the present), particularly by the time Negroponte arrived
in Honduras. The Reaganites' pretense that the contras' mission
was to interdict the alleged arms flow was a necessary lie
to get a spineless and gullible Congress to fund the project.
In fact, the Reaganites were all about regime change, and
their chosen instrument would be led by former officers of
the Nicaraguan National Guard - itself a U.S.-trained outfit
that killed 30-40,000 Nicaraguan civilians from 1977-79 in
a vain attempt to keep in power the long-time U.S.-backed
dictator Anastasio Somoza.
The new outfit came to be known as "contras" - short for
counter-revolutionaries, for the regime the Reaganites wanted
to change was the Marxist-oriented Sandinista government.
Whether called Guardsmen or contras, these guys were darn
good at killing nurses and teachers, and absolutely fearless
in executing captured and disarmed enemy combatants - executions
that were standard operating procedure. But the Guardia pedigree
and cutthroat tactics prevented the contras from functioning
as a true guerrilla force, where you live among the people
you're ostensibly liberating and rely on them for food, shelter
and information. Hence the need for a sanctuary in a neighboring
failed state run by corrupt, authoritarian army officers and
an imperious U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte.
Without that sanctuary, the contras wouldn't have lasted
a month. With it, they terrorized for a decade. Relying on
the U.S. for food, intelligence, arms and assassination manuals,
they'd maraud through the Nicaraguan countryside for a spell,
then retreat to their safe haven when they needed a break
from raping, torturing and killing. Actually, they also committed
such crimes in their Honduran camps, albeit at a more leisurely
Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan government didn't have the
firepower to blow up the contra camps. Probably just as well,
for if the Sandinistas had wiped out the camps, the Reaganites
would have destroyed Nicaragua and the U.S. media would have
cheered the destruction. That's because only the U.S. has
the right to attack a state that harbors terrorists who've
killed thousands of its citizens.
Negroponte's pretend job in Honduras was to implement the
pretend U.S. policy of democracy promotion. (Sound familiar?)
His real job was to prevent any meaningful democracy, and
to ensure that key foreign-policy decisions were made not
by the democratic fašade - the irrelevant Honduran president
and legislature - but by two hard-nosed, hard-line SOBs: Negroponte
and the head of the armed forces, General Gustavo Alvarez.
Thus, in the name of "democracy," Negroponte and the Reaganites
not only supported military rule, they even prevented the
military itself from ruling democratically! Alvarez's extremist
views and repressive policies didn't reflect a consensus within
the army. Many officers believed Alvarez had prostituted the
nation, sold it body-and-soul to Uncle Sam. And there were
rumblings over the escalating torture and killings perpetrated
by a CIA-backed army unit, Battalion 316.
So in 1984, right under Negroponte's nose, a group of officers
overthrew Alvarez! This was treated in the U.S. as a "change
of government," and rightly so. But democracies don't "change
government" when army officers oust their boss, because in
a democracy the army chief is not "the government." If Negroponte
and the Reaganites had believed their own rhetoric about Honduran
democracy, Alvarez's ouster would not have been a big deal,
because Honduras still had the same president and legislature.
But it was a big deal. Really big.
Negroponte and the CIA swung into action, confident they
could marginalize a faction of reformist army officers who
supported Alvarez's ouster and were intent on reducing repression
and re-claiming Honduran sovereignty. Using such time-honored
democracy-enhancing and sovereignty-respecting tactics as
bribery and arm-twisting, the U.S. team averted the crisis.
It was a slow process, but by late 1985 (at which point Negroponte
had moved on) the reformers were isolated and army power rested
with a clique of CIA-backed corrupt, rightwing officers.
Thanks to the good work of the CIA, Negroponte and his successor,
Honduras would continue its role as hospitable host to the
contra terrorists, enabling them to rape, torture and murder
ordinary Nicaraguans for several more years.
My guess is that when young Negroponte decided to pursue
a career in diplomacy, he didn't anticipate an assignment
where he would be required to subvert an impoverished country's
institutions to ensure rule by a corrupt, brutal military
that would rent out its country to U.S.-trained terrorists.
But the assignment came, and Negroponte carried it out. He's
obviously very bright and capable, but also amoral if not
What will his real duties be in Iraq? Will he be promoting
a transition to genuine Iraqi sovereignty and democracy, or
merely the appearance? He'll be supervising a huge staff of
diplomats and intelligence officers. Will they respect Iraqis,
or will they engage in massive bribery and other dirty tricks
to manipulate and subvert Iraqi institutions and individuals?
Is the real goal to purchase influence over so wide a range
of Iraqis that even a freely elected government in 2005 will
end up serving U.S. strategic and economic interests at the
expense of Iraq's own legitimate interests?
Negroponte is capable of promoting either real or fake democracy,
and history shows that if asked to do the latter he'll nevertheless
tell Congress and the media he's doing the former. And that
leads to our closing parallel: The current U.S. president,
just like the one we had when Negroponte was in Honduras,
has a great appreciation for underlings who make false or
misleading statements to keep the U.S. Congress and citizenry
in the dark. Iraq is not the only nation in need of a transparent
and genuine democracy.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the
University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq
war he wrote "Lying
Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'"
Disinformation Age." He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.