Chomsky Doubts Change from Obama
Editor’s Note: A year after Barack Obama was elected President, many on the American Left are criticizing him for not achieving all they had hoped for – including an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a complete rejection of George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” and sharp reductions in military spending.
But MIT professor Noam Chomsky suggests those hopes were always naïve and that only a powerful grassroots movement can force such changes, as reported in this guest article by Mamoon Alabbasi that previously appeared in Middle East Online:
As civilized people across the world breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of former U.S. President George W. Bush, top American intellectual Noam Chomsky warned against assuming or expecting significant changes in the basis of Washington's foreign policy under President Barack Obama.
During two lectures organized by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Chomsky cited numerous examples of the driving doctrines behind U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II.
"As Obama came into office, Condoleezza Rice predicted that he would follow the policies of Bush's second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style," Chomsky said.
"But it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric. Deeds commonly tell a different story," he added.
"There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that we if can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world," explained Chomsky.
Chomsky said that a leading doctrine of U.S. foreign policy during the period of its global dominance is what he termed as "the Mafia principle."
"The Godfather does not tolerate 'successful defiance'. It is too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that others understand that disobedience is not an option," said Chomsky.
That’s because the U.S. sees "successful defiance" of Washington as a "virus" that will "spread contagion," he explained.
The U.S. had feared this "virus" of independent thought from Washington by Tehran and therefore acted to overthrow the Iranian parliamentary democracy in 1953. "The goal in 1953 was to retain control of Iranian resources," said Chomsky.
However, "in 1979 the (Iranian) virus emerged again. The U.S. at first sought to sponsor a military coup; when that failed, it turned to support Saddam Hussein's merciless invasion (of Iran)."
"The torture of Iran continued without a break and still does, with sanctions and other means," said Chomsky. "The U.S. continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians."
Chomsky mocked the idea presented by the mainstream media that a future-nuclear-armed Iran may attack already-nuclear-armed Israel.
"The chance of Iran launching a missile attack, nuclear or not, is about at the level of an asteroid hitting the earth -- unless, of course, the ruling clerics have a fanatic death wish and want to see Iran instantly incinerated along with them," said Chomsky, stressing that this is not the case.
Chomsky further explained that the presence of U.S. anti-missile weapons in Israel are really meant for preparing a possible attack on Iran, and not for self-defense, as it is often presented.
"The systems are advertised as defense against an Iranian attack. But ...the purpose of the U.S. interception systems, if they ever work, is to prevent any retaliation to a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran -- that is, to eliminate any Iranian deterrent," said Chomsky.
Chomsky reminded the audience of America's backing of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during and even after Iraq's war with Iran.
"The Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the (Iran-Iraq) war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons' training," said Chomsky.
This support continued while Saddam was committing atrocities against his own people, until he fell out of U.S. favor when in 1990 he invaded Kuwait, an even closer alley of Washington.
"In 1990, Saddam defied, or more likely misunderstood orders, and he quickly shifted from favorite friend to the reincarnation of Hitler," Chomsky added. Then the people of Iraq were subjected to "genocidal" US-backed sanctions, Chomsky said.
Chomsky explained that although the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was launched under many false pretexts and lies and was a " major crime," many critics of the invasion - including Obama - viewed it as merely as "a mistake" or a "strategic blunder."
"It's probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad," he said. "There's nothing principled about it. It wasn't a strategic blunder: it was a major crime."
Chomsky credited the holding of elections in Iraq in 2005 to popular Iraqi demands, despite initial U.S. objection. The U.S. military, he argued, could kill as many Iraqi insurgents as it wished, but it was more difficult to shoot at non-violent protesters in the streets out in the open, which meant Washington at times had to give in to public Iraqi pressure.
But despite being pressured to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S. continues to seek a long term presence in the country. The U.S. mega-embassy in Baghdad is to be expanded under Obama, noted Chomsky.
Chomsky stressed that public pressure in the 'West' can make a positive difference for people suffering from the aggression of 'Western' governments.
"There is a lot of comparison between opposition to the Iraq war with opposition to the Vietnam war, but people tend to forget that at first there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war," said Chomsky.
"In the Iraq war, there were massive international protests before it officially stated... and it had an effect. The United Sates could not use the tactics used in Vietnam: there was no saturation bombing by B52s, so there was no chemical warfare - (the Iraq war was) horrible enough, but it could have been a lot worse," he said.
"And furthermore, the Bush administration had to back down on its war aims, step by step," he added. "It had to allow elections, which it did not want to do: mainly a victory for non-Iraqi protests. … Their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They finally had to abandon - officially at least - virtually all the war aims."
"As late as November 2007, the U.S. was still insisting that the 'Status of Forces Agreement' allow for an indefinite U.S. military presence and privileged access to Iraq's resources by U.S. investors - well they didn't get that on paper at least. They had to back down. OK, Iraq is a horror story but it could have been a lot worse," he said.
"So yes, protests can do something. When there is no protest and no attention, a power just goes wild,” he added.
Chomsky said that Turkey could become a "significant independent actor" in the region, if it chooses to.
"Turkey has to make some internal decisions: is it going to face west and try to get accepted by the European Union or is it going to face reality and recognize that Europeans are so racist that they are never going to allow it in?," said Chomsky.
The Europeans "keep raising the barrier on Turkish entry to the EU," he explained.
But Chomsky said Turkey did become an independent actor in March 2003 when it followed its public opinion and did not take part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Turkey took notice of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population, which opposed the invasion.
But 'New Europe' was led by Berlusconi of Italy and Aznar of Spain, who rejected the views of their populations - which strongly objected to the Iraq war - and preferred to follow Bush, noted Chomsky. So, in that sense Turkey was more democratic than states that took part in the war, which in turn infuriated the U.S.
Today, Chomsky added, Turkey is also acting independently by refusing to take part in U.S.-Israeli military exercises.
Chomsky explained that although 'Western' government use "the maxim of Thucydides" ('the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must'), their peoples are brought along via the "fear factor." Via cooperate media and complicit intellectuals, the public is led to believe that all the crimes and atrocities committed by their governments are "self defense" or "humanitarian intervention."
Chomsky noted that Obama has escalated Bush's war in Afghanistan, using NATO, which is also seen as reinforcing U.S. control over energy supplies. But the U.S. also used NATO to keep Europe under control.
"From the earliest post-World War days, it was understood that Western Europe might choose to follow an independent course," said Chomsky."NATO was partially intended to counter this serious threat."
Middle East Oil
Chomsky explained that Middle East oil reserves were understood to be "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "one of the greatest material prizes in world history," the most "strategically important area in the world," in Eisenhower's words.
Control of Middle East oil would provide the United States with "substantial control of the world." This meant that the U.S. "must support harsh and brutal regimes and block democracy and development" in the Middle East.
Chomsky also tackled the origins of the Somali piracy issue, saying "Piracy is not nice, but where did it come from?"
Chomsky explained that one of the immediate reasons for piracy is European counties and others are simply "destroying Somalia's territorial waters by dumping toxic waste - probably nuclear waste - and also by overfishing."
"What happens to the fishermen in Somalia? They become pirates. And then we're all upset about the piracy, not about having created the situation," said Chomsky.
Chomsky went on to cite another example of harming Somalia.
"One of the great achievements of the war on terror, which was greatly hailed in the press when it was announced, was closing down an Islamic charity - Barakat - which was identified as supporting terrorists.
"A couple of months later... the (U.S.) government quietly recognized that they were wrong, and the press may have had a couple of lines about it - but meanwhile, it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn't have much of an economy but a lot of it was supported by this charity: not just giving money but running banks and businesses, and so on.
"It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia...closing it down... was another contributing factor to the breaking down of a very weak society...and there are other examples."
Chomsky also touched on Sudan's Darfur region. "There are terrible things going on in Darfur, but in comparison with the region they don't amount to a lot unfortunately - like what's going on in eastern Congo is incomparably worse than in Darfur.
"But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy - you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on 'Arabs', 'bad guys'," he explained.
"What about saving eastern Congo where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? Well, that gets kind of tricky ... for people who... are using minerals from eastern Congo that obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals," he said.
Or the fact that Rwanda is simply the worst of the many agents and it is a US alley, he added.
Chomsky appeared to agree that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war was biased, but saw it as biased in favor of Israel. The Goldstone report acknowledged Israel's right to self-defense, although it denounced the methods that Israel used to achieve this goal.
Chomsky stressed that the right to self-defense does not mean resorting to military force before "exhausting peaceful means," something Israel did not even contemplate doing.
In fact, Chomsky points out, it was Israel who broke the ceasefire with Hamas and refused to extend it, as continuing the siege of Gaza itself is an act of war.
As for the current stalled Mideast peace process, Chomsky said that despite adopting a tougher tone toward Israel than that of Bush, Obama made no real effort to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations.
In the absence of the threat of cutting U.S. aid for Israel, there is no compelling reason why Tel Aviv should listen to Washington.
What Can Be Done?
Chomsky stressed that despite all the obstacles, public pressure can and does make a difference for the better, urging people to continue activism and spreading knowledge.
"There is no reason to be pessimistic, just realistic," he said.
Chomsky noted that public opinion in the U.S. and Britain is increasingly becoming more aware of the crimes committed by Israel. "Public opinion is shifting substantially," he said.
And this is where a difference can be made, because Israel will not change its policies without pressure from the West. "There is a lot to do in Western countries...primarily in the U.S.," Chomsky said.
Chomsky also stressed the importance of taking legal action in Western countries against companies breaking international law via illegitimate dealings with Israel, citing the possible involvement of British Gas in Israeli theft of natural gas off the coast of Gaza, as one example that should be investigated.
In conclusion of one of the lectures, Chomsky quoted Antonio Gramsci who famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."
Mamoon Alabbasi can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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