Background Beth Sims is a research associate at the Inter- Hemispheric Education Resource

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[Background: Beth Sims is a research associate at the Inter- Hemispheric Education Resource Center, located in Albuquerque, N.M., and co-author of the Center's report on the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), entitled "The Democracy Offensive." She was interviewed by Tim Wheeler. These people are abbreviated as 'BS' and 'TW' in the following interview. "The Democracy Offensive" is included in the Fall 1989 Bulletin of the Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center. Subscriptions to the Bulletin, which is published quarterly, are $5 ($7.50 outside the US). Copies of the report are $5 each and are available from the Center at Box 4506, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87196.] TW: The argument for funding the NED was that there had been all this terrible covert assistance and that this was going to be a new, clean form of assistance, namely, overt. How do you react to this selling of the NED as a new open effort by Washington to build infrastructures of democracy? BS: One of the things that's new about NED for the United States is that it was established purely to allow this kind of funding and intervention overseas. This is the first time at the political level that the United States has established such and entity. But beyond that, the democracy intervention network that we are talking about refers to a more coordinated intervention in the name of democracy on the part of both government agencies and private organizations. This network supports what is referred to as the infrastructure of democracy. That infrastructure was said by President Reagan to include things like labor unions, free press, political parties, civic institutions like youth and women's groups. TW: What are some of those private organizations in Nicaragua that are working through NED? BS: NED works through U.S. grantees to funnel its money to private groups overseas. For instance, the National Republican Institute for International Affairs and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The leadership of both these organizations are comprised of high- profile members of the Democratic and Republican parties. There's the Free Trade Unions Institute, the umbrella organization for the AFL-CIO's international organization. That's gotten major amounts of money to funnel to opposition union federations in Nicaragua. Then there are some of the more scandalous creatures. For instance PRODEMCA (Friends of the Democratic Center in the Americas), which actually turned out to be hooked into part of Oliver North's network of private aid to the contras. A real scandal was created when PRODEMCA began funding ads in U.S. newspapers supporting military aid to the contras at the same time it was supporting La Prensa [an opposition newspaper] in Managua. TW: So this was not just a foreign operation, but an attempt to influence opinion here in the United States? BS: Precisely. That's illegal according to NED's mandate. However, PRODEMCA did what any sensible organization would do under those conditions -- it kept its account separate and didn't use NED's funds to pay for those ads, but used the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty. But we know whatever money goes to support one end of PRODEMCA is useful in freeing up money to be used in other places. It did create a scandal, and NED dropped them. But that seems to be NED's pattern: wait for a scandal to develop and then drop the offending organization and pass money through another organization. TW: When we look at what's happening in Nicaragua it seems to bear out a point that flows through your report. That is, while the funding of this overt assistance to the infrastructure of democracy in Nicaragua sounds benign, it does not preclude the United States from supporting the contras. It this network linked to the contras? BS: It really isn't so much that supporting the infrastructure of democracy versus funding the contra war are two separate activities. They're two tactics outlined by a military doctrine in vogue right now called "low-intensity conflice" [LIC]. LIC is a doctrine of superpower confrontation that lays out a range of behaviors that are appropriate for different levels of conflict and also proposes that the United States pursue a "total war" strategy that would have simultaneous impacts in economic, political, military and informational arenas. NED, by supporting political and civic groups inside a country, helps to further U.S. low-intensity conflict goals, particularly in the political, cultural and informational areas. While NED is doing that -- without CIA influence sometimes, and without actually having an overlap supporting the contras -- other agencies of the U.S. government are supporting the contras and at the economic end we have a trade embargo and loan cutoffs and have a diplomatic offensive, too. TW: What are the aims of U.S. foreign policy? What interests are being served by this strategy? BS: I see it as in the interests of the superpower United States and in members of the elite in this country. When I read the NED documents and the low-intensity conflict documents, when I see stuff that used to come out of the Reagan administration and now the Bush administration, what it looks like to me is that people are immersed in the notion that the United States is the big guy on the block and wants to keep it that way and wants to beat down the other big guy. TW: You say in the report that one of the aims of this stress on the structures of democracy is an attempt to reestablish bipartisanism in U.S. foreign policy. BS: This bipartisan consensus being pursued by NED and in Congress is a helpful tool in the projection of U.S. power. if you have a consensus between liberals and conservatives, and Democrats and Republicans, then you have less of a source of opposition within the Congress. It's easier for the United States to throw its weight around. The important factor here is that we have a dominant ideology that is already shared by liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans. If that ideology is unquestioned, then bipartisanship is almost always nearby. Sometimes it falls apart a little while. It did that a little while, on and off again, over the contras. It did that a little while, on and off again, for support for "freedom fighters" in Angola. Even over many, many years of the Vietnam conflict you see a real bipartisan support. TW: You've been using the word "superpower." But it seems that there's a profound reappraisal in the Soviet Union. Do you think that the Bush administration is responding to that change? BS: I think the U.S., and particularly what I see in NED, is still bent on following its own hegemonic agenda around the world. The fact that the Soviet Union has been forced by its own change in beliefs and its economic and political problems to backtrack somewhat from its position, doesn't affect the U.S. analysis of a world with limited resources that have to be divided up somewhere. The United States would still like to have the lion's share of those resources. That's a superpower's ideology. The United States is, for the most part, reluctant to see its own decline. TW: A decline in U.S. power? BS: Absolutely. What we're seeing with the rise in Western Europe as an economic and political power, the rise of Japan, we're seeing a breakdown in the traditional bipolar distribution of power in the world. It's becoming much more multipolar. We're actually in the middle of an interesting time period as we watch how everything gets shifted around here. But the United States isn't comfortable with that knowledge. With Reagan was elected in 1980 we saw a rejection of that viewpoint and funneling of resources into reclaiming U.S. power and might around the world. I don't think it's going to hold. TW: They say Nicaragua is a tool of the Soviets. Isn't this a smokescreen to generate support among the American people for U.S. efforts to achieve hegemony? BS: When NED was set up it was touted as a private enterprise. But when you get into some of the National Security Council documents you see an outline of this strategy, which the call "public diplomacy." It's an attempt to create allegiances around the world and generate support for U.S. foreign policy and "national security interests." So by promoting Nicaragua as a client state of the Soviet Union it is participating in a quick and dirty means of generating support for its inteventionism down there. Which has very little to do with the Soviet Union and a lot to do with the United States losing one of its client states. It doesn't want to see its sphere of influence screwed up by having independent actors in it. TW: Isn't this a case in which a group like the Free Trade Union Institute and the Social Democrats, USA, are working with neo-conservative goups that are openly hostile to labor, for example, the Heritage Foundation? BS: Oh sure. Everybody's getting into bed with everybody else. When you look at the Simon Bolivar Fund, we've even got Michael Barnes and Paul Simon in with Elliot Abrams and Richard Allen. It's not only that the Social Democrats and AFL-CIO are working with neo-conservatives but also with traditional conservatives and to a certain extent with liberals. For instance, Orrin Hatch, who's known as anti-labor in this country, is on the board of NED, which also includes Al Shanker of the AFL-CIO. That symbolizes the hand-holding that goes on across ideological territory. If you take those two guys, who may have different approaches and analyses about U.S. labor, and throw them into South Africa or Poland or Chile, suddenly they're more on the same side. That is, will keep labor subservient and compliant in these organizations overseas and preserve international economic relations which put capitalism and our Western form of economic relations at the top and preserve our system. TW: Do you see this as a challenge to people who are concerned about self-determination? BS: Nicaragua is a prime case now because it has the attention of the American people. I would say you could take the crux of the struggle and put it in a number of countries around the world. In Eastern Europe NED has had a lot of programs, and all over Latin America and in the Phillipines and in Africa. Each of those places highlights the essential problems of NED: U.S. intervention in the political and social affairs of other countries. And that's an assault on self-determination, on national sovereignty. And it undermines real democracy because it involves a foreign government messing around with internal affairs, and that is not democratic. Nicaragua is being hit on all sides by U.S. intervention: military, economic, diplomatic, informational, and this internal meddling of the NED network. Because it's hit on all sides, and because it already has our attention, it can prove to be a rallying point for people to say, "Here we can understand it because we see the issues laid out so clearly." But the problem is they don't understand the criticisms that we at the Resource Center are making. They might walk away from Nicaragua and say, "That's a bad place for NED. But it's okay if NED is funding Solidarity in Poland, because we like Solidarity." The important thing is that people get informed about how this helps the United States pursue a projection of its power around the world and hold on to that as something to be in opposition to and oppose it in all the other places, too.


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