Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Destructive Engagement & Youthful Indiscretion of ABC News' Jon Karl

Jonathan Karl

So, y'know ABC News White House Chief Correspondent Jonathan Karl? The guy who lied about seeing that oh-so-revealing (not actually revealing) White House email that allegedly authorized (but didn't actually) a cover-up of Benghazi and was taken to task for his bad journalism by Stephen Colbert?

Well, he's apparently had some questionable ethics for quite some time.

In November 1986, early on in his freshman year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, Karl co-authored a opinion piece for the school's paper, The Miscellany News. The topic? Why divestment from Apartheid South Africa was a terrible idea.

Entitled "The Other Side of Divestment," Karl's article - written jointly with fellow frosh Andrew Metcalf, who has since made a career of lawyering for the U.S.Marine Corps and is currently Staff Judge Advocate for the Marines' "Cyberspace Command" - mocked anti-apartheid activism on campus as "increasingly fashionable" and protesters as overly "emotional," deriding analogies between Apartheid and Nazism.

In their wisdom, Karl and Metcalf urged their fellow students to "put down [their] signs and stop shouting for a moment," so that their could be educated about how bad boycott and divestment is for black South Africans, whom the editorialists must have cared so much about.

They decried the Red Cross for leaving South Africa because they "can no longer help the oppressed blacks of South Africa." More importantly, though, they warned against the "emotional protests" demanding "that American industry pull out of South Africa."

"Obviously," these bleeding hearts write, "we want to accomplish an end to apartheid, but is divestment the way to achieve this goal? We think not." They explain why:
The argument for divestment is based on the violent and frightening belief that South Africa must be destroyed before it can be built up. It is evident that while divestment has troubled the South African leaders, it has also put many blacks, barely earning their subsistence, out of work entirely. But more important, each new divestment further separates us from the troubled nation and thus decreases our influence until it is virtually non existent.
By claiming to stand on the side of the oppressed black and colored majority of South Africa, while wholly advocating for the disastrous and amoral policy of "constructive engagement" championed by then-US president Ronald Reagan and then-UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Karl and Metcalf revealed their own disassociation from the actual anti-Apartheid struggle and disinterest in heeding the voices of those actually suffering under the racist regime.

Claiming that the peaceful call for boycott and divestment was "based on the violent and frightening belief that South Africa must be destroyed before it can be built up," reveals not only the extreme ignorance and arrogance of writers trafficking in "White Man's Burden"-ism and colonial sanctimony, but also directly contradicts the demands of the anti-Apartheid movement.

As far back as December 1959, the nascent, indigenous South African anti-Apartheid movement - including leaders of the African National Congress, South African Indian Congress, and Liberal Party of South Africa - were calling for boycotts. The purpose of the boycott, they wrote, "is a protest against apartheid, the removal of political rights, the colour bar in industry, the extension of passes to African women and the low wages paid to Non-White workers. In the towns and cities of South Africa over half the African families live below the breadline."

Well-aware of what the counter-argument would be, they preempted it:
It has been argued that Non-White people will be the first to be hit by external boycotts. This may be so, but every organisation which commands any important Non-White support in South Africa is in favour of them. The alternative to the use of these weapons is the continuation of the status quo and a bleak prospect of unending discrimination. Economic boycott is one way in which the world at large can bring home to the South African authorities that they must either mend their ways or suffer for them.
Such a boycott - and subsequent calls for increased divestiture - would, in their words, "strike a blow for freedom and justice in South Africa and for those whom the State would keep in continuing subjection in the Union."

In a statement before the a United Nations General Assembly committee on October 29, 1963, ANC activist Oliver Tambo declared,"We believe that the world, too, can destroy apartheid, firstly by striking at the economy of South Africa," adding, "There is no answer to apartheid apart from striking directly at its head. It is so evil and has been condemned so forcibly and so genuinely that the only way to handle it is by destroying it."

Tambo also explained that, by calling for a internationally respected boycott, "We knew that what we were asking for would involve suffering on our part, but we also knew that apartheid would never be abandoned, that racial discrimination in South Africa would never cease to be the official policy of that country, until and unless there were sacrifices, and the sacrifice of going hungry, of going without jobs because factories had been closed was a very elementary kind of sacrifice in the situation in which we were. It could hardly be compared with the ravages of apartheid on our people, who even then were being treated like unwanted animals in their own country."

In June 1982, the ANC's Mfanafuthi Makatini made clear in a speech commemorating the Soweto Uprising that "the apartheid system cannot be reformed but must be destroyed and replaced by a democratic and unitary State which will secure and guarantee the birthright of all the South African people, regardless of race, colour, sex or creed."

"We don't want apartheid reformed--who wants a Frankenstein (monster) reformed?--we want apartheid destroyed," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in 1987.

More recently, Tutu noted the absurdity of opposing boycotts under the banner of solidarity with the victims of apartheid. Countless universities around the world, which have since honored him with honorary degrees, had previously punished their own faculty members for anti-Apartheid political activities and "refused to divest from South Africa because 'it will hurt the blacks' (investing in apartheid South Africa was not seen as a political act; divesting was)," Tutu wrote in South Africa's Times.

A year before Karl and Metcalf penned their appeal against divestment, MIT Finance professor John E. Parsons articulated a critique of this approach widely held in the anti-apartheid movement saying that failure to divest from apartheid was tantamount to supporting it:
US corporations continue to operate in South Africa because it is profitable. Apartheid makes it very profitable. These corporations pay millions of dollars in taxes which pay for the police, prisons, weapons, and armaments that maintain the apartheid system. They sell the government its armored personnel carriers, its computers and communications technologies. Westinghouse has sold South Africa several licenses for the manufacture of nuclear power facilities.
And every US industrial facility is integrated into the civil defense plans of the South African government...includ[ing] turning over its facilities for military production at the direction of the South African government.
That's "constructive engagement."
Perhaps we should try disinvestment.
The Vassar freshmen disagreed. "Instead," they suggested, "we should strengthen our role in their economy through heavy investment, and use it as a tool to achieve a new and reformed South Africa."

They continued:
As investors, our corporations have an integral and influential place in the country. In the past, multinational corporations, such as IBM and General Motors, have been able to improve working conditions for their black employees. If our corporations expand their holdings in South Africa they can continue to aid the blacks in the struggle for a better livelihood by offering better working conditions and higher wages while also appointing black managers. Corporations can only help blacks if they are in South Africa to do so. Indeed, those corporations that pull out of South Africa are turning their backs on the problem and abandoning the workers they leave behind.
Calling upon "multinational corporations" to support "black-dominated labor unions," Karl and Metcalf wrote that, if our corporations arc an important and powerful part of their economy, South Africa's government will be forced to listen to what we have to say. By withdrawing, we forfeit any basis for making demands on behalf of the oppressed blacks who are in desperate need of our support."

Concluding their call to action, they preached:
So let's pick up our posters and once again begin our protest against apartheid, but this time may the posters say, "INVEST! INVEST! INVEST IN SOUTH AFRICA NOW!!!"
This was a clarion call direct from the Ronald Reagan playbook. On July 22, 1986 - just a few months before Karl and Metcalf's oped - Reagan maintained that "the key to the future lies with the South African government," and encouraged, "not a Western withdrawal but deeper involvement by the Western business community as agents of change and progress and growth."

Two years earlier, Philip Wetz, a spokesman for the Exxon Corporation, concurred with this assessment. "We feel we can do more good by staying in South Africa," he told The New York Times. "If companies such as Exxon were forced to withdraw, 'the adverse economic effects would be disproportionate to nonwhites.'"

The Vassar freshmen found common cause, too, with the conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell and conservative columnist George Will.  Falwell, after returning from a trip to South Africa in 1985, denounced Bishop Desmond Tutu as a "phony" and urged "reinvestment" rather than divestment in Apartheid South Africa calling upon "Americans to support the Pretoria Government by buying its one-ounce gold coins, called Krugerrands, and by investing in companies that do business there."

Will, writing around the same time, opposed divestment from and sanctions on the Apartheid regime, blithely insisting that "the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while," advocating instead for "a long, tedious, morally ambiguous and largely unsatisfying process of constructive pressure through continued engagement."

Needless to say, Vassar College's own Student Coalition Against Apartheid (SCAA) took issue with Karl and Metcalf's analysis. In the very next issue of The Miscellany News, the group responded by explaining that "divestment is the only effective nonviolent tactic with which we may combat apartheid. It is apartheid that is violent, not us," adding, "it is not South Africa that we want to destroy, but apartheid, and yes, apartheid must be destroyed to build up South Africa. The dismal failure of Reagan's 'constructive engagement' policy has proved that 'the evils of apartheid' cannot be solved through reform; apartheid itself must be destroyed." Only then, they state, can the "South African people as a whole to build a new society as they see fit."

The dismantling of Karl and Metcalf's claims by the SCAA continued. They were lambasted not only for "misinterpreting the nature and strategy of the anti-apartheid movement," but also for "attempt[ing] to transcend material reality to create a fantasy South Africa in which they advocate investment." The SCAA explained, "Foreign corporations in South Africa do a great deal to support apartheid, but very little to help the plight of its victims," noting that "the same people who have had an influence in South Africa for decades" are "the ones who have upheld apartheid and supplied it with weapons and technology; the ones who have been profiting from their involvement in South Africa for years."

"The authors' disregard for these facts seems to be in line with the colonialist tone of the article: we should build up and then flex our economic muscle in South Africa so that 'South Africa's government will be forced to listen to what we have to say,'" the article says.

It continues:
What makes Messrs. Karl and Metcalf think that the supporters of this racist regime will suddenly become socially responsible? Last spring, IBM said of its South African operations: "We are not in business to conduct moral activity, we are not in business to conduct socially responsible action. We are in business to conduct business." Their interests are clearly synonymous with the interests of apartheid and are as concerned about its victims as P.W. Botha is.

As for the assertion that South African labor unions will "have no power if multinational corporations divest," when was the last time you saw one of these companies support a labor union? IBM does not allow its U.S. employees to form unions; what makes the authors think that they feel differently about South Africans? We can only hope that Messrs. Karl and Metcalf were simply misguided and illinformed with regards to the current situation in South Africa.

Unfortunately, they started with the goal of working towards the end of apartheid and, with cries of "Invest in South Africa," ended up supporting the most completely fascist and racist nation in the modern world. Sorry, guys; apartheid's economy is the foundation of apartheid, and supporting that economy is nothing else but support of apartheid. Divestment removes this support because we cannot continue to finance this brutal oppression.
Yes, Jonathan Karl was then a young student at a liberal arts college and his views may have changed over the course of his studies, though considering his conservative bona fides, that may be doubtful. But a look back at past arguments made by those who now wield tremendous influence in the mainstream media reveals a consistency in their devotion to power, both economic and political; a devotion that remains present in their current reporting and continues to prevent progress and stifle justice where it is often needed most.

*****

UPDATE:

December 20, 2013 - During President Obama's final press conference of the year, ABC News' White House correspondent Jon Karl played psychiatrist to the commander-in-chief.

Noting that 2013 was "a tough year" for the president, Karl asked Obama, "[W]hen you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn't do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?"

If Karl turned that question back onto himself and reflected upon his own past, how do you think he'd respond?

*****

1 comment:

Amir said...

Boycotts and sanctions were the correct policy against Aparteid South Africa, just as they are the correct policy against the regime of Myanmar and the Khomeinst regime. Of the three regimes, the Islamist tyranny is the most prolific executioner. In fact, it is the world's Number One executioner, in relation to the size of the country's population. If sanctions are good for the Apartheid goose, then they are good for the Khomeinist gander.