not a member? click here to sign up
How long must we sing this song?
30th Anniversary Retrospective: Thirty years ago, the USA was engaged in a bloody and illegal war, and led by a discredited President with no compunction about breaking domestic or international law. Sound familiar?
Eamonn McCann, 22 Jun 2007
Huston, we have a problem.
So remarked a worried Richard Nixon back in 1971.
The worry was that teamsters, nuns, Trotskyites and suchlike were storming the streets of the crystal cities of the USA demanding that he stop killing Cambodians.
The administration had been carpet-bombing Cambodia since the previous year, ostensibly to stop the Vietnamese resistance using the territory as sanctuary and as a route for resistance fighters from the North infiltrating South Vietnam.
The bombing ceased in 1973, when Congress cut off funds.
The reason Congress took this tough line was not just that a majority was opposed to bombing Cambodia “back to the stone age” (Henry Kissinger), but that the entire enterprise was illegal. The US was not at war with Cambodia. The President did not have authority without recourse to Congress to order an attack on a sovereign State, much less daily and devastating attacks over a prolonged period.
Said Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield: “It’s as clear-cut as can be that this is an abuse of power. The only way to face up to our responsibilities, the only way to do it effectively, is to cut the purse strings.”
It wasn’t solely in relation to the bombing that Nixon had abused power. He had also trampled on the constitution to suppress opposition to the bombing.
The B52 onslaught on Cambodia had transformed the terrain of one of the poorest countries on earth into a moonscape sculpted from mud. Lawyers, college students, suburban mums and brothers off the block were marching arm-in-arm, demanding that the President resign. Mainstream newspapers carried stories from deep within the administration, itemising moral corruption in pursuit of an immoral war. Nixon, dumbfounded, demanded to be told how this wave of dissent could have arisen. The administration, he reckoned, needed far more accurate intelligence on what was afoot in US society.
Deputy White House Counsel Tom Huston was dispatched to liaise with the CIA, the FBI and the various intelligence agencies and to come back with a plan. Thus, the Huston Plan, involving wire-taps, burglaries, mail openings, black-bag jobs, the infiltration of organisations suspected of harbouring anti-war sentiment and so on.