Next Wednesday, April 11, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan is having its 58th annual dinner fundraiser and has invited former Clinton Secretary of Defense William Cohen to speak “in the spirit of President Ford and bipartisanship values.” The Council’s Executive Director recently heard Cohen speak and made this comment online: “He (Cohen) deftly discussed the relationship between global politics and the international economy. He was substantive, no-nonsense and forthright, with a message that will resonate with our own members and guests.” What sort of no-nonsense guy is the former Defense Secretary?
Cohen was a Republican Senator from Maine for three terms before being tapped by President Bill Clinton to be Defense Secretary in 1997, a position that he held until 2001. Cohen also served on the boards of a variety of think-tanks friendly to United States domination including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cohen has further supported the status quo of United States power through his position on corporate boards including CBS, American International Group, Viacom, and others.
Cohen’s role as Secretary of Defense is useful in illuminating what has been largely bipartisan support for the imperialist policies of the United States. Cohen came to his position as Secretary of Defense in 1997 and served during a time when the United States maintained a genocidal policy towards Iraq both through frequent bombing and a sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations at the behest of the United States that violated international law. The sanctions against Iraq, aside from causing an almost complete breakdown in Iraqi society, caused the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five due to malnutrition according to UNICEF. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was questioned about these deaths in 1996 when a reporter asked Albright “is the price worth it?” to which she responded for the Clinton administration by stating that “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”
As for the bombings, analyses have shown that the United States and Britain dropped more bombs on Iraq in 1999 as part of “regular” bombings of Iraqi air defenses than in any other year before the 2003 invasion. Secretary of Defense Cohen expanded the target list from air defense weapons sites to “command and control, communications centers” in March of 1999. The bombings reached a high point in December of 1998 during a three day sustained campaign , when the United States launched “Operation Desert Fox” under the leadership of Secretary Cohen while many in the political establishment were advocating a “decisive” strike that would topple Saddam Hussein. The December 1998 bombings–like the 2003 invasion–were justified by claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that the United States had to enforce the will of the United Nations after the UN pulled its inspectors out of Iraq due to a lack of cooperation from Iraqis. At the time, the United States failed to show that the weapons existed, though it was willing to launch attacks to destroy both the weapons and the infrastructure necessary to manufacture them despite Pentagon estimates that the attacks could kill as many as 10,000 civilians. According to international law scholar Phyllis Bennis, the bombings were a violation of international law. The administration’s Iraq policies were somewhat famously opposed in a live CNN “town hall meeting” featuring Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and National Security Adviser Sandy Burger that was disrupted by protestors while live on air. Other protests took place as well in the United States and around the world, although they never reached a level of intensity that could deter the Clinton administration from pursuing its policy towards Iraq.
In 1999, Cohen participated in the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia that was launched as a “humanitarian intervention” in response to ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia. A report by the International War Crimes Tribunal found that western nations greatly exaggerated the number of victims of ethnic cleansing, with Cohen himself claiming that “we’ve now seen about 100,000 military-aged [Albanian] men missing… they may have been murdered,” despite subsequent reports placing the number closer to 3,000. According to author John Pilger, the bombings were justified by NATO after the Serbian delegation failed to sign up for the Rambouillet accord. However, what is often left out of “official” histories is that the Rambouillet accord had an “Annex B” that was inserted at the last minute that would have allowed for the occupation of Yugoslavia, which even Milosevic’s political opponents opposed. “Annex B” was inserted by the Albright delegation to guarantee that the overall accord would be rejected. In the same article, the Canadian ambassador in Belgrade during the attack, James Bissell, asserted that NATO deliberately bombed civilian infrastructure such as “public transport, hospitals, schools, museums, [and] churches” in a set of targets that NATO referred to as “Stage Three.” Bissell stated that “it was common knowledge that NATO went to Stage Three [after a couple of weeks]… otherwise, they would not have been bombing bridges on Sunday afternoons and market places.” Secretary Cohen, along with other Clinton administration officials and NATO commanders, were the targets of a war crimes complaint arguing that they were responsible for the violations of international law relating to the killing of innocent civilians, the targeting of civilian areas, destruction of media outlets in a “crime against the freedom of speech,” and the destruction of economic and transportation infrastructure. These efforts have gone nowhere, and will likely never be resolved, given the death of war criminal Slobodan Milosevic who could have provided extensive details of the United States’ crimes . An activist-oriented tribunal held in 2000 found fourteen NATO war criminals–including Secretary Cohen–guilty.
Aside from campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo, Cohen oversaw a military that bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and oversaw a huge increase in US military support of the brutal tactics of the Colombian military and paramilitary groups.
In addition to his role in war crimes committed in the late 1990s, Cohen is a textbook example of “the revolving door” in which someone goes from the government sector to the private sector and uses the government connections to benefit corporations, even those in the defense industry. After leaving the Pentagon, Cohen started a major consulting firm called The Cohen Group. Based out of the nation’s capitol, The Cohen Group has become a major power broker. Cohen recruited some big names from the military establishment to help negotiate contracts for his friends in the defense industry, including people like Ret. General Paul Kern and former Gen. Joseph Ralston. Ralston sits on the board of one of the largest defense contractors, Lockheed Martin. The Cohen Group is one of the primary and most active members of the American Turkish Council (ATC), one of the leading business associations in the United States. Cohen’s client, Lockheed Martin, happens to be on the board of ATC, in addition to being listed as ATC’s top paying client. Ralston’s appointment to the board of the ATC came just before the US vote on weapons sales to Turkey, weapons which included items that Lockheed Martin manufactured, particularly the F-16.
The local group ACTIVATE is planning to protest Cohen’s visit to Grand Rapids on April 11. The group is calling for people to meet at Rosa Parks Circle at 5:30pm.