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Document Friday: The Department of State, Arms Seller Extraordinaire

November 4, 2011

"Boy, have I got a deal for you!"

Three days before leaving office, President Eisenhower gave his famed speech on the Military-Industrial Complex.  After admitting that the United Stated had “been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,”  he warned that “the total influence [of the Military-Industrial Complex] — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.”  This certainly includes the Department of State.

Take for example this recently declassified 1996 cable in which the Ambassador to Indonesia, J.S. Roy practically begs President Clinton to intervene and “advocate for” the President of Indonesia to buy F-16 fighter jets manufactured by the US corporations General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.

Oh yeah.  The reason for this pressing need?  The jets had already been paid for by Pakistan but due to the Pressler amendment –a Congressional embargo punishing Pakistan for producing nuclear weapons– the planes couldn’t be delivered.  The Department of State (and General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, and the people owning shares in General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, and all the people employed by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin) didn’t want to reimburse Pakistan for the 685 million dollars that it paid for the weapons that it couldn’t have.  Instead, US corporations and the US government wanted Indonesia to take the jets, and then reimburse Pakistan for them.

Pakistani F-16s for sale! Purchased, never used.

The Ambassador to Indonesia, J. S. Roy even drafted a letter that Clinton could send to Indonesian president Suharto (spelled Soeharto in the cable) that  could “provide the impetus for a positive decision.”  (In this case, “impetus for a positive decision” meant convincing Indonesia to pay Pakistan for US weapons that Pakistan paid for but couldn’t have because of a US law.)

And Indonesia had its own problem with a US embargo!  At the same time that the State Department was advocating for the sale of US fighter jets to Indonesia, it was also enforcing a ban on selling the country small arms weapons, due to the government’s occupation of and human rights abuses in East Timor, which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.  Hypocritical?

The cable warned that Indonesia (which already had a range of fighter jets, including some older F-16s) had other suitors in addition to the US, specifically mentioning Britain, France, and Russia.  The cable warned, “Our foreign competitors all work through agents and middlemen, who are able to channel fees and commissions to key players int he decision-making process.”

It also warned that “the biggest uncertainty in this potential purchase has been the financing package.”  The Indonesians “asked repeatedly for soft financing.”  The ambassador wrote that the US government stated that it, itself, could not provide soft financing, but offered “to help find commercial financing at attractive rates.”

The proposed letter mentioned a brief meeting between Clinton and Suharto at the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations; outlined the benefits of F-16 fighter jets (including compatibility with Indonesia’s older F-16s and their ability to “contribute[] materially to closer bilateral military cooperation” with the US); offered “to arrange low-cost commercial financing;” and urged Suharto that “the timing is now right for considering expanding Indonesia’s fleet of front-line fighters.”

"Impetus for a positive decision."

The Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott agreed.  He instructed Ambassador Roy to present a slightly tweaked letter to Suharto, and state it was from President Clinton.  But you won’t find a copy in the Clinton Presidential Library.  Talbott instructed, “There will be no signed original.” 

In March 1996, Indonesia agreed to buy nine of the F-16s originally sold to Pakistan.  But in June 1997 Suharno reneged.  Indonesian animosity towards the US for criticism of  its occupation of East Timor and human rights abuses, the Asian fiscal crisis, and the alleged inappropriate contact with the Clinton election campaign have been cited as reasons Indonesia chose to purchase Russian fighters instead of American-made F-16s.  The F-16s were put on blocks stored at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, also known as The Boneyard.

The Boneyard

There was chatter that the aircraft could be used in the Bosnia conflict, but that did not happen.  A proposed sale of the F-16s to New Zealand also fell through.  After 11 September 2001, some of the planes were finally transported to Pakistan.

In October, 2011 the Indonesian government agreed to purchase 24 used F-16s from the United Sates.  This August, the government of Pakistan –which harbored Osama bin Laden is our ally in the War on Terror– finalized its purchase of at least 18 new F-16 fighters.

Disclosures from wikileaks have shown that, “American officials act[] as de facto pitchmen for U.S.-made weapons.”  This marketing process is described in the cables as “advocacy.”

Troubling for some, the same time that the Department of State “advocates” for the sale of these weapons, is also the sole US institution responsible for clearing all sales of US arms to foreign countries.

The Military-Industrial Complex –especially at the Department of State– remains alive and well.

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