Mitt Romney’s Murderous Dictator Gaffe

If you’ve paid attention to the presidential campaign season, you’ve no doubt been entertained by the string of embarrassments and gaffes: Rick Perry blows the voting age! Herman Cain can’t remember what to say about Libya! Mitt Romney talks about the upside of a murderous dictatorship!


In the November 22 debate, Romney gave this answer to a question about what to do about Pakistan:

We don’t want to just pull up stakes and get out of town after the enormous output we’ve just made for the region. Look at Indonesia in the ’60s. We helped them move toward modernity. We need to help bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th, for that matter.

That’s an astonishing comment–and one that was hardly noticed in the corporate media.

To people who were paying attention, Romney would seem to have been praising the reign of Indonesian dictator Suharto, who took power in the mid-’60s. As Ed Herman wrote in Extra! (9-10/98):

Suharto’s overthrow of the Sukarno government in 1965-66 turned Indonesia from Cold War “neutralism” to fervent anti-Communism, and wiped out the Indonesian Communist Party–exterminating a sizable part of its mass base in the process, in widespread massacres that claimed at least 500,000 and perhaps more than a million victims. The U.S. establishment’s enthusiasm for the coup-cum-mass murder was ecstatic (see Chomsky and Herman, Washington Connection and Third World Fascism); “almost everyone is pleased by the changes being wrought,” New York Times columnist C.L. Sulzberger commented (4/8/66).

Suharto quickly transformed Indonesia into an “investors’ paradise,” only slightly qualified by the steep bribery charge for entry. Investors flocked in to exploit the timber, mineral and oil resources, as well as the cheap, repressed labor, often in joint ventures with Suharto family members and cronies. Investor enthusiasm for this favorable climate of investment was expressed in political support and even in public advertisements; e.g., the full-page ad in the New York Times (9/24/92) by Chevron and Texaco entitled “Indonesia: A Model for Economic Development.”

The Progressive‘s Matt Rothschild called Romney’s answer the “most outrageous comment of the whole debate,” noting that the “new leadership” he referred to was a dictator “who killed between 500,000 and 1 million of his own citizens with the help of the CIA. A little follow up from Wolf Blitzer would have been nice there.”

One of the only other journalists to catch this was Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, who spent a decade reporting from Indonesia. As Murphy wrote,the 1960s saw

the systematic destruction of Indonesia’s nascent democratic institutions and political parties (which had already been taking a beating under Sukarno); state repression of opponents with torture, targeted killings and long jail terms; and a military-backed dictatorship that persisted until a popular uprising in 1998 pushed Suharto, finally, from power.

The first sentence of Murphy’s piece was “I don’t generally write about U.S. politics.” Indeed. Hundreds of journalists who spend every day writing about U.S. politics apparently did not find it newsworthy that Romney endorsed a bloody dictatorship.
About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.