The dire threat of Iran is widely recognized to be the most serious foreign policy crisis facing the Obama administration. Congress has just strengthened the sanctions against Iran, with even more severe penalties against foreign companies. The Obama administration has been rapidly expanding its offensive capacity in the African island of Diego Garcia, claimed by Britain, which had expelled the population so that the US could build the massive base it uses for attacking the Middle East and Central Asia. The Navy reports sending a submarine tender to the island to service nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines with Tomahawk missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads. Each submarine is reported to have the striking power of a typical carrier battle group. According to a US Navy cargo manifest obtained by the Sunday Herald (Glasgow), the substantial military equipment Obama has dispatched includes 387 “bunker busters” used for blasting hardened underground structures. Planning for these “massive ordnance penetrators,” the most powerful bombs in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons, was initiated in the Bush administration, but languished. On taking office, Obama immediately accelerated the plans, and they are to be deployed several years ahead of schedule, aiming specifically at Iran.
“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” according to Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London. “US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he said. “The firepower of US forces has quadrupled since 2003,” accelerating under Obama.
The Arab press reports that an American fleet (with an Israeli vessel) passed through the Suez Canal on the way to the Persian Gulf, where its task is “to implement the sanctions against Iran and supervise the ships going to and from Iran.” British and Israeli media report that Saudi Arabia is providing a corridor for Israeli bombing of Iran (denied by Saudi Arabia). On his return from Afghanistan to reassure NATO allies that the US will stay the course after the replacement of General McChrystal by his superior, General Petraeus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen visited Israel to meet Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and senior Israeli military staff along with intelligence and planning units, continuing the annual strategic dialogue between Israel and the U.S. in Tel Aviv. The meeting focused “on the preparation by both Israel and the U.S. for the possibility of a nuclear capable Iran,” according to Haaretz, which reports further that Mullen emphasized that “I always try to see challenges from Israeli perspective.” Mullen and Ashkenazi are in regular contact on a secure line.
The increasing threats of military action against Iran are of course in violation of the UN Charter, and in specific violation of Security Council resolution 1887 of September 2009 which reaffirmed the call to all states to resolve disputes related to nuclear issues peacefully, in accordance with the Charter, which bans the use or threat of force.
Some respected analysts describe the Iranian threat in apocalyptic terms. Amitai Etzioni warns that “The U.S. will have to confront Iran or give up the Middle East,” no less. If Iran’s nuclear program proceeds, he asserts, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other states will “move toward” the new Iranian “superpower”; in less fevered rhetoric, a regional alliance might take shape independent of the US. In the US army journal Military Review, Etzioni urges a US attack that targets not only Iran’s nuclear facilities but also its non-nuclear military assets, including infrastructure – meaning, the civilian society. "This kind of military action is akin to sanctions - causing 'pain' in order to change behaviour, albeit by much more powerful means."
Such harrowing pronouncements aside, what exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided in the April 2010 study of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Military Balance 2010. The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it does not rank particularly high in that respect in comparison to US allies in the region. But that is not what concerns the Institute. Rather, it is concerned with the threat Iran poses to the region and the world.
The study makes it clear that the Iranian threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” and less than 2% that of the US. Iranian military doctrine is strictly “defensive,… designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”
Though the Iranian threat is not military, that does not mean that it might be tolerable to Washington. Iranian deterrent capacity is an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that interferes with US global designs. Specifically, it threatens US control of Middle East energy resources, a high priority of planners since World War II, which yields “substantial control of the world,” one influential figure advised (A. A. Berle).
But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence. As the Institute study formulates the threat, Iran is “destabilizing” the region. US invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence in neighboring countries is “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate. It should be noted that such revealing usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace, former editor the main establishment journal Foreign Affairs, was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected Allende government and installing the Pinochet dictatorship).
Beyond these crimes, Iran is also supporting terrorism, the study continues: by backing Hezbollah and Hamas, the major political forces in Lebanon and in Palestine – if elections matter. The Hezbollah-based coalition handily won the popular vote in Lebanon’s latest (2009) election. Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian election, compelling the US and Israel to institute the harsh and brutal siege of Gaza to punish the miscreants for voting the wrong way in a free election. These have been the only relatively free elections in the Arab world. It is normal for elite opinion to fear the threat of democracy and to act to deter it, but this is a rather striking case, particularly alongside of strong US support for the regional dictatorships, particularly striking with Obama’s strong praise for the brutal Egyptian dictator Mubarak on the way to his famous address to the Muslim world in Cairo.
The terrorist acts attributed to Hamas and Hezbollah pale in comparison to US-Israeli terrorism in the same region, but they are worth a look nevertheless.
On May 25 Lebanon celebrated its national holiday, Liberation Day, commemorating Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon after 22 years, as a result of Hezbollah resistance – described by Israeli authorities as “Iranian aggression” against Israel in Israeli-occupied Lebanon (Ephraim Sneh). That too is normal imperial usage. Thus President John F. Kennedy condemned the “the assault from the inside, and which is manipulated from the North.” The assault by the South Vietnamese resistance against Kennedy’s bombers, chemical warfare, driving peasants to virtual concentration camps, and other such benign measures was denounced as “internal aggression” by Kennedy’s UN Ambassador, liberal hero Adlai Stevenson. North Vietnamese support for their countrymen in the US-occupied South is aggression, intolerable interference with Washington’s righteous mission. Kennedy advisors Arthur Schlesinger and Theodore Sorenson, considered doves, also praised Washington’s intervention to reverse “aggression” in South Vietnam – by the indigenous resistance, as they knew, at least if they read US intelligence reports. In 1955 the US Joint Chiefs of Staff defined several types of “aggression,” including “Aggression other than armed, i.e., political warfare, or subversion.” For example, an internal uprising against a US-imposed police state, or elections that come out the wrong way. The usage is also common in scholarship and political commentary, and makes sense on the prevailing assumption that We Own the World.
Hamas resists Israel’s military occupation and its illegal and violent actions in the occupied territories. It is accused of refusing to recognize Israel (political parties do not recognize states). In contrast, the US and Israel not only do not recognize Palestine, but have been acting for decades to ensure that it can never come into existence in any meaningful form; the governing party in Israel, in its 1999 campaign platform, bars the existence of any Palestinian state.
Hamas is charged with rocketing Israeli settlements on the border, criminal acts no doubt, though a fraction of Israel’s violence in Gaza, let alone elsewhere. It is important to bear in mind, in this connection, that the US and Israel know exactly how to terminate the terror that they deplore with such passion. Israel officially concedes that there were no Hamas rockets as long as Israel partially observed a truce with Hamas in 2008. Israel rejected Hamas’s offer to renew the truce, preferring to launch the murderous and destructive Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in December 2008, with full US backing, an exploit of murderous aggression without the slightest credible pretext on either legal or moral grounds.
The model for democracy in the Muslim world, despite serious flaws, is Turkey, which has relatively free elections, and has also been subject to harsh criticism in the US. The most extreme case was when the government followed the position of 95% of the population and refused to join in the invasion of Iraq, eliciting harsh condemnation from Washington for its failure to comprehend how a democratic government should behave: under our concept of democracy, the voice of the Master determines policy, not the near-unanimous voice of the population.
The Obama administration was once again incensed when Turkey joined with Brazil in arranging a deal with Iran to restrict its enrichment of uranium. Obama had praised the initiative in a letter to Brazil’s president Lula da Silva, apparently on the assumption that it would fail and provide a propaganda weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the US was furious, and quickly undermined it by ramming through a Security Council resolution with new sanctions against Iran that were so meaningless that China cheerfully joined at once – recognizing that at most the sanctions would impede Western interests in competing with China for Iran’s resources. Once again, Washington acted forthrightly to ensure that others would not interfere with US control of the region.
Not surprisingly, Turkey (along with Brazil) voted against the US sanctions motion in the Security Council. The other regional member, Lebanon, abstained. These actions aroused further consternation in Washington. Philip Gordon, the Obama administration's top diplomat on European affairs, warned Turkey that its actions are not understood in the US and that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West,” AP reported, “a rare admonishment of a crucial NATO ally.”
The political class understands as well. Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations, observed that the critical question now is "How do we keep the Turks in their lane?" – following orders like good democrats. A New York Times headline captured the general mood: “Iran Deal Seen as Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.
There is no indication that other countries in the region favor US sanctions any more than Turkey does. On Iran’s opposite border, for example, Pakistan and Iran, meeting in Turkey, recently signed an agreement for a new pipeline. Even more worrisome for the US is that the pipeline might extend to India. The 2008 US treaty with India supporting its nuclear programs – and indirectly its nuclear weapons programs -- was intended to stop India from joining the pipeline, according to Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia adviser to the United States Institute of Peace, expressing a common interpretation. India and Pakistan are two of the three nuclear powers that have refused to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), the third being Israel. All have developed nuclear weapons with US support, and still do.
No sane person wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons; or anyone. One obvious way to mitigate or eliminate this threat is to establish a NFWZ in the Middle East. The issue arose (again) at the NPT conference at United Nations headquarters in early May 2010. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, proposed that the conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations in 2011 on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the US, at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.
Washington still formally agrees, but insists that Israel be exempted – and has given no hint of allowing such provisions to apply to itself. The time is not yet ripe for creating the zone, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the NPT conference, while Washington insisted that no proposal can be accepted that calls for Israel's nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the IAEA or that calls on signers of the NPT, specifically Washington, to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.” Obama’s technique of evasion is to adopt Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the US can delay indefinitely, as it has been doing for 35 years, with rare and temporary exceptions.
At the same time, Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, asked foreign ministers of its 151 member states to share views on how to implement a resolution demanding that Israel "accede to” the NPT and throw its nuclear facilities open to IAEA oversight, AP reported.
It is rarely noted that the US and UK have a special responsibility to work to establish a Middle East NWFZ. In attempting to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of the Iraq in 2003, they appealed to Security Council Resolution 687 (1991), which called on Iraq to terminate its development of weapons of mass destruction. The US and UK claimed that they had not done so. We need not tarry on the excuse, but that Resolution commits its signers to move to establish a NWFZ in the Middle East.
Parenthetically, we may add that US insistence on maintaining nuclear facilities in Diego Garcia undermines the nuclear-free weapons zone (NFWZ) established by the African Union, just as Washington continues to block a Pacific NFWZ by excluding its Pacific dependencies.
Obama’s rhetorical commitment to non-proliferation has received much praise, even a Nobel peace prize. One practical step in this direction is establishment of NFWZs. Another is withdrawing support for the nuclear programs of the three non-signers of the NPT. As often, rhetoric and actions are hardly aligned, in fact are in direct contradiction in this case, facts that pass with little attention.
Instead of taking practical steps towards reducing the truly dire threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, the US must take major steps towards reinforcing US control of the vital Middle East oil-producing regions, by violence if other means do not succeed. That is understandable and even reasonable, under prevailing imperial doctrine.
Noam Chomsky: Israel’s War against Palestine – Now What?
The past few years have proven to be particularly awful for the Palestinian people. The suffocating Israeli siege of Gaza, despite some slight loosening, continues to this day, with Egypt’s active support and Washington’s tacit approval; Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, was the single most devastating event for the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories since 1967; Israel’s settlement program proceeds unabated; Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has raised the level of violent confrontation further; and Israel’s crackdown on domestic dissent, particularly among its Palestinian citizens, has reached unprecedented levels with the arrest of activists and threatened measures against Arab MPs.
The Israeli Occupation Archive asked Noam Chomsky for his assessment of the current situation and future prospects.
IOA: The Goldstone report, the Abu Dhabi Mossad assassination, the Gaza Flotilla attack: all these have severely weakened Israel’s international reputation – in Europe, in Turkey, in Egypt. How has the US-Israeli relationship fared through all this, and how has this affected the larger US strategic project in the Middle East and its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Noam Chomsky: I would add the Gaza attack itself, quite apart from the Goldstone report. It was so savage that it led to a substantial change in attitudes among the general population, though not noticeably among the political class or the media. But governmental relations haven’t changed, and no change should have been expected. Washington strongly supported the Gaza attack, and participated directly in it. The attack was clearly timed so that Obama could keep to the hypocritical “there’s only one president so I cannot comment” stance. It ended, surely by plan, at the moment that he took office, so that he could adopt the posture of “let’s look forward and forget the past,” very convenient for partners in crime. The media and commentators — unanimously, to my knowledge — evaded the central fact about the war: the issue was not whether Israel had a right to defend itself from rockets, but whether it had the right to do so by force. It surely did not, because the US-Israel knew that peaceful means were available but refused to pursue them: accepting Hamas’s offer to renew the cease-fire, which Hamas had observed even though Israel did so only partially. That suffices to establish the criminality of the attack. Disproportionality in the use of force is a minor crime by comparison. The other events you mention had little impact in the US, with one exception: there is now some concern in the US military and intelligence that support for Israeli crimes and intransigence may harm military operations in the field. General David Petraeus quickly retracted his comments to this effect, but others are expressing the same concern, among them Bruce Riedel, an influential long-time senior intelligence official and presidential advisor. Israeli intelligence understands this problem very well. Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned the Israeli Knesset that they are treading on thin ice for this reason. That might prove significant.
IOA: The Obama administration announced a Middle East peace initiative following the president’s June 2009 speech in Cairo. What is your assessment of this initiative – what was its original intention and where has it gone, and in what respects does it differ from the policies of previous US administrations?
NC: Obama basically reiterated the terms of the Road Map, which bans Israeli settlement expansion, but with a wink: his spokesperson informed the press that his demands were purely “symbolic” and that unlike Bush I, he would not consider penalties if Israel rejected the demands, as of course it did, in various overt and devious ways. George Mitchell is a reasonable choice as negotiator, but in nominating him Obama made it quite clear that he is not serious about a meaningful political settlement, so that Mitchell’s hands are tied. I wrote about that at the time, and won’t repeat.
IOA: Arab allies of the US remain committed to the Arab League peace initiative. Is a settlement along these lines – a Two-State solution, based on the 1967 borders – consistent with US interests in the region? If so, what is stopping the United States from actually applying pressure on Israel, and not just talking about peace?
NC: The Arab initiative reiterates the longstanding international consensus and goes beyond, calling also for normalization of relations. It is accepted by virtually the entire world, including Iran. Would this be consistent with US interests? It depends on how we understand the phrase “US interests.” In general, it is well to bear in mind that the concept “national interest” is a rather mystical one. There are some shared interests among the population: not to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, for example. But on a great many issues interests differ sharply. The interests of the CEO are not the same as those of the woman who cleans his office. The interests of the huge mass of Christian Zionists or those allied with AIPAC are quite different from yours and mine.
It should hardly be controversial that the operative “national interest” is largely determined by those who control the domestic economy, an observation as old as Adam Smith and amply confirmed since. They seem quite satisfied with US rejectionism. In the media, the most fervent supporter of Israeli actions is the Wall Street Journal, the journal of the business world. Though Jews mostly vote for and fund Democrats, the Republican Party is even more extreme than the Democrats in support for Israeli actions, and is even closer to the business community High tech industry maintains close ties with its Israeli counterparts, and investment continues. For military industry, Israel is a double bonanza: it sells advanced armaments to Israel (courtesy of the US taxpayer) and that induces Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates to purchase a flood of weapons, less advanced, helping to recycle petrodollars and contributing to profits. Close intelligence connections go back to the 1950s. There seems to be no significant domestic force pressing Washington to join the world on this issue. A popular movement might make a difference, but for the present it is too weak and disunited to weigh significantly in the balance. Our primary task should be to change that.
IOA: Recent revelations about Netanyahu’s attempts to trick the US and derail the Oslo “peace process” exposed not his “lack of commitment” to the “peace process” but, rather, his commitment to stop it. How far do you think Israel can go against the publicly-declared positions of the United States before the Obama Administration states its displeasure and backs its words with some action? Do you think Washington has the will, or courage, to block further Israeli actions that are designed to stop the “peace process”?
NC: There is so far no sign that Washington has the will, or that some substantial force is pressing it to change direction.
IOA: Netanyahu’s on-going settlement program prompted the Palestinian Authority to stop negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians are now in a bind: accepting anything short of a complete stop of settlement construction means negotiating while Israel is undermining their future, while refusing to negotiate allows Israel to continue undermining their future. In the face of Netanyahu’s intransigence, what can the Palestinian leadership, current or future, do to extract itself from this predicament? And how can a Palestinian popular movement point its leadership in the right direction?
NC: Israel and its US backers would no doubt prefer for the Palestinian leadership to be immobilized in endless negotiations, while the concrete work of colonization proceeds — the traditional Zionist practice for a century. But the Palestinian leadership has other choices, and to some extent is pursuing them. Among these are boycotting settlements, participating in non-violent protests at Bil’in, Sheikh Jarrah, and elsewhere; construction and development, even in Area C (the area of full Israeli control), and rebuilding when Israel destroys what they do; countering the US-Israeli program since Oslo of splitting the West Bank and Gaza and finding ways to bring together conflicting factions; and vigorously making their case internationally, particularly in the US, which will continue to play a decisive role for the foreseeable future.
This last effort raises what should be the crucial question for those of us in the US. It is not our right or responsibility to lecture the Palestinian leadership on what they should do. That is up to the Palestinians to decide. But it is very definitely our responsibility to focus attention on what we should be doing. Of prime importance is to educate and organize the American public and to develop popular forces that can overcome the dominant propaganda images that sustain the US policies that have been undermining Palestinian rights. Here the tasks are vast. The examples I briefly mentioned are illustrations. On none of these issues is there public understanding beyond extremely narrow circles. Even the absurd doctrine that the US is an “honest broker” desperately seeking to bring together two recalcitrant opponents is reiterated daily with almost no challenge. Thus the US is hailed for conducting “proximity talks” between Netanyahu and Abbas. Departing from doctrinal mythology, some neutral entity should be conducting proximity talks between the US and the world, elementary truths that are next to incomprehensible in the US or much of the West. The same is true on specific issues. Take the invasion of Gaza. It is little understood that it was a US-Israeli invasion. Furthermore, there is virtually no recognition of the crucially important fact that the primary issue was not disproportionality or specific crimes during the military operations, but rather the right to use force in the first place, which was in fact zero, as mentioned. Skirting this central issue, as is done in virtually all commentary and even in the human rights investigations, gives the US-Israel a “free pass,” restricting critique to what are footnotes to the major crime. It is a major failing of the Palestine solidarity movements to have left such myths as these virtually unshaken.
In these and other areas there are important tasks of education and organization that have to be addressed seriously if US policies are to be shifted. They should lead to actions focusing on specific short-term objectives: ending the savage and criminal siege of Gaza; dismantling the illegal “Separation Wall,” by now a de facto annexation wall; withdrawing the IDF from the illegally annexed Golan Heights and from the West Bank (including illegally annexed “Greater Jerusalem”), which would, presumably, be followed by departure of most of settlers, all of whom, including those in East and expanded Jerusalem, have been transferred (and heavily subsidized) illegally, as Israel recognized as far back as 1967; and of course ending all Israeli construction and other actions in the occupied territories. Popular movements in the US should work to end any US participation in these criminal activities, which would, effectively, end them. That can be done, but only if a level of general understanding is reached that far surpasses what exists today. That is not a very difficult task as compared to many others that popular movements have confronted in the past, often with some success. In fact, it pretty much amounts to insistence that we act in conformity with domestic and international law, and that we adopt the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” called for in the Declaration of Independence. Hardly a radical stance, or one that should be difficult to bring to the general public, with enough effort. This by no means exhausts what should be our concerns. Others include the desperate conditions of refugees outside of Palestine, particularly in Lebanon. An immediate concern is to relieve these conditions, though what we can do in this case is more limited. There is no shortage of immediate tasks to be addressed.
IOA: What is your view of the current approaches of those opposing the Occupation – globally, as well as in the US? Where do you stand on BDS in its various forms? Your position on BDS has, at times, been challenged by anti-occupation activists. Has your position evolved over time? Is BDS more appropriate in Europe than in the US? And, what other strategies and tactics do you think people opposing the Occupation should focus on?
NC: The most important tasks, I think, are those I just briefly sketched, particularly in the US but also in Europe, where illusions are also widespread and far-reaching. There are many familiar tactics and strategies as to how to pursue these crucial objectives. They can also be supplemented by various forms of direct action, such as what is now called “BDS,” though that is only one of many tactical options. Merely to mention one, demonstrations at corporate headquarters, especially when coordinated in many countries, have sometimes been quite effective. And there are many other choices familiar from many years of activism.
As for what is now called BDS, my views are the same as when I was engaged in these actions well before the BDS efforts crystallized, and I am unaware of any challenge to them apart from inevitable disagreement on specific cases that are unclear. BDS is a tactic, one of many, and not a doctrine of faith. Like other tactics, particular implementations of BDS have to be evaluated by familiar criteria. Crucial among them is the likely consequences for the victims. As those seriously involved in anti-Indochina war activities will recall, the Vietnamese strongly objected to Weathermen tactics, which were understandable in the light of the horrendous atrocities but seriously misguided, predictably strengthening support for state violence. The Vietnamese urged nonviolent tactics that would help educate public opinion and increase popular opposition to the wars, and didn’t care whether protesters “feel good” about what they are doing. Similar issues arise constantly, in the case of BDS as well. Some implementations have been highly constructive, both in educating the public here — a primary consideration always — and in raising the costs of participation in ongoing crimes. Good examples are boycotting settlement products and US corporations that are engaged in support for the occupation. Such actions both impose costs and help educate the public here, by emphasizing what should be our prime concern: our own major role in these criminal actions, which is what we can hope to influence. It would be sensible to go far beyond: for example, to join the appeal of Amnesty International for termination of all military aid to Israel, which violates international law as AI observes, and domestic law as well. Unfortunately, there have been other initiatives that were poorly formulated and played directly into the hands of hardliners, who of course welcome them. Again it is easy to identify examples. We should at least be able to learn from ample experience, as well as to understand the reasons for these different consequences.
Careful evaluation of tactical choices is sometimes disparaged as “lacking principle.” That is a serious error, another gift to hardline supporters of violence and repression. It is the tactical choices that have direct human consequences. Evaluating them is often difficult, and reasonable people may have different judgments in particular cases, but the principle of selecting tactical choices that help the victims and rejecting those that harm them should not be controversial among people concerned about the Palestinians. And it should also not be controversial that those who differ in particular judgments should be able to unite in pursuing the common goals of helping the victims, and should avoid the destructive tendencies that sometimes arise in popular movements to try to impose a Party Line to which all must conform. Norman Finkelstein has recently warned that BDS is sometimes taking on a cult-like character, another tendency that has sometimes undermined popular movements. His warnings are apt.
Tactical priorities should be somewhat different in Europe and the US, because of their different roles. The US stand is a decisive factor in implementing Israel’s policies, and therefore tactics here should aim to bring to the fore the US role, which is what activists can hope to influence most effectively. Tactics in Europe should be directed to what Europeans should know about and can directly influence: their own role in perpetuating the crimes against Palestinians.
IOA: Finally, what are the prospects for Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and under siege in Gaza?
NC: One is along the lines I outlined earlier: withdrawal of the IDF from the occupied territories, ending the siege of Gaza and the efforts to separate it from West Bank, etc. That would probably lead to some variant of the international consensus on a two-state settlement, perhaps along the lines almost reached in the Taba negotiations of January 2001 (called off prematurely by Israel, another important matter virtually swamped by propaganda here) or the Geneva Accord presented in December 2003, welcomed by most of the world, rejected by Israel, ignored by Washington.
There is much discussion of what is often taken to be the alternative to a two-state settlement: “hand over the keys” of the territories to Israel, and then wage a civil rights/anti-apartheid struggle within the whole of Palestine. But there is no reason to suppose that the US-Israel would accept the keys, because they have another alternative that doesn’t leave them with a “demographic problem”: continue the US-backed Israeli programs of takeover of what is valuable in the occupied territories, leaving Palestinians in unviable cantons, with an island of elite prosperity in Ramallah, basically adopting the Sharon plan (essentially Olmert’s “convergence” of 2006) and the advice of Israeli industrialists years ago to shift policy from colonialism to neo-colonialism. The basic outlines are familiar, and by now Israel has effectively taken over more than 40% of the West Bank, isolating it from Gaza — with decisive US military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support throughout.
Posted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:56 am Post subject: Outrage, Misguided
By Noam Chomsky
The U.S. midterm elections register a level of anger, fear and disillusionment in the country like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. Since the Democrats are in power, they bear the brunt of the revulsion over our current socioeconomic and political situation.
More than half the “mainstream Americans” in a Rasmussen poll last month said they view the Tea Party movement favorably—a reflection of the spirit of disenchantment.
The grievances are legitimate. For more than 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined while work hours and insecurity have increased, along with debt. Wealth has accumulated, but in very few pockets, leading to unprecedented inequality.
These consequences mainly spring from the financialization of the economy since the 1970s and the corresponding hollowing-out of domestic production. Spurring the process is the deregulation mania favored by Wall Street and supported by economists mesmerized by efficient-market myths.
People see that the bankers who were largely responsible for the financial crisis and who were saved from bankruptcy by the public are now reveling in record profits and huge bonuses. Meanwhile official unemployment stays at about 10 percent. Manufacturing is at Depression levels: one in six out of work, with good jobs unlikely to return.
People rightly want answers, and they are not getting them except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence—if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit.
Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, however. It is far more appropriate to understand what lies behind the movement’s popular appeal, and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by the kind of constructive activism that rose during the Depression, like the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations).
Now Tea Party sympathizers are hearing that every institution—government, corporations and the professions—is rotten, and that nothing works.
Amid the joblessness and foreclosures, the Democrats can’t complain about the policies that led to the disaster. President Ronald Reagan and his Republican successors may have been the worst culprits, but the policies began with President Jimmy Carter and accelerated under President Bill Clinton. During the presidential election, Barack Obama’s primary constituency was financial institutions, which have gained remarkable dominance over the economy in the past generation.
That incorrigible 18th-century radical Adam Smith, speaking of England, observed that the principal architects of power were the owners of the society—in his day the merchants and manufacturers—and they made sure that government policy would attend scrupulously to their interests, however “grievous” the impact on the people of England; and worse, on the victims of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” abroad.
A modern and more sophisticated version of Smith’s maxim is political economist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of politics,” which sees elections as occasions when groups of investors coalesce in order to control the state by selecting the architects of policies who will serve their interests.
Ferguson’s theory turns out to be a very good predictor of policy over long periods. That should hardly be surprising. Concentrations of economic power will naturally seek to extend their sway over any political process. The dynamic happens to be extreme in the U.S.
Yet it can be said that the corporate high rollers have a valid defense against charges of “greed” and disregard for the health of the society. Their task is to maximize profit and market share; in fact, that’s their legal obligation. If they don’t fulfill that mandate, they’ll be replaced by someone who will. They also ignore systemic risk: the likelihood that their transactions will harm the economy generally. Such “externalities” are not their concern—not because they are bad people, but for institutional reasons.
When the bubble bursts, the risk-takers can flee to the shelter of the nanny state. Bailouts—a kind of government insurance policy—are among many perverse incentives that magnify market inefficiencies.
“There is growing recognition that our financial system is running a doomsday cycle,” economists Peter Boone and Simon Johnson wrote in the Financial Times in January. “Whenever it fails, we rely on lax money and fiscal policies to bail it out. This response teaches the financial sector: Take large gambles to get paid handsomely, and don’t worry about the costs—they will be paid by taxpayers” through bailouts and other devices, and the financial system “is thus resurrected to gamble again—and to fail again.”
The doomsday metaphor also applies outside the financial world. The American Petroleum Institute, backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the other business lobbies, has intensified its efforts to persuade the public to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming—with considerable success, as polls indicate. Among Republican congressional candidates in the 2010 election, virtually all reject global warming.
The executives behind the propaganda know that global warming is real, and our prospects grim. But the fate of the species is an externality that the executives must ignore, to the extent that market systems prevail. And the public won’t be able to ride to the rescue when the worst-case scenario unfolds.
I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, to borrow the words of Fritz Stern, the distinguished scholar of German history. In a 2005 article, Stern indicates that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.”
The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind as we register the consequences of another election cycle. No shortage of tasks waits for those who seek to present an alternative to misguided rage and indignation, helping to organize the countless disaffected and to lead the way to a better future.
It's not radical Islam that worries the US – it's independence The nature of any regime it backs in the Arab world is secondary to control. Subjects are ignored until they break their chains
“The Arab world is on fire,” al-Jazeera reported on January 27, while throughout the region, Western allies “are quickly losing their influence.”
The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a Western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator’s brutal police.
Observers compared the events to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences.
Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless it is properly tamed.
One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the East European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased.
That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo Hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure that a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path.
The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist Gen. Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt’s vice president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.
A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. In the Arab world, the United States and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.
A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological center of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan’s dictators and President Reagan’s favorite, who carried out a program of radical Islamization (with Saudi funding).
“The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” says Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. “With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground.”
Therefore the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalizes worldwide, to U.S. home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.
The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against “a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems,” ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. This was the assessment by U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.
Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks “documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren’t asleep at the switch”—indeed, that the cables are so supportive of U.S. policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)
“America should give Assange a medal,” says a headline in the Financial Times. Chief foreign-policy analyst Gideon Rachman writes that “America’s foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic—the public position taken by the U.S. on any given issue is usually the private position as well.”
In this view, WikiLeaks undermines the “conspiracy theorists” who question the noble motives that Washington regularly proclaims.
Godec’s cable supports these judgments—at least if we look no further. If we do, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec’s information in hand, Washington provided $12 million in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most U.S. military aid in the hemisphere.
Heilbrunn’s Exhibit A is Arab support for U.S. policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.
Unmentioned is what the population thinks—easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and Western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10 percent. In contrast, they regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats (77 percent; 88 percent).
Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington’s policies that a majority (57 percent) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control” (as Marwan Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored—unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.
Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington’s nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of “legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28 forced removal of President Manuel `Mel’ Zelaya.”
The embassy concluded that “there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch.” Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.
Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.
The cables reveal that the U.S. embassy is well aware that Washington’s war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state” and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
Again, the revelations “should create a comforting feeling—that officials are not asleep at the switch” (Heilbrunn’s words)—while Washington marches stalwartly toward disaster.
“Democracy Uprising” in the U.S.A.?: Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to Assault on Public Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists, and the Distorted Legacy of Ronald Reagan
World-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky discusses several domestic issues in the United States, including the protests in defense of public sector employees and unions in Wisconsin, how the U.S. deification of former President Ronald Reagan resembles North Korea, and the crackdown on political activists with anti-terror laws and FBI raids.
1. What are U.S. motives in international relations most broadly? That is, what are the over arching motives and themes one can pretty much always find informing U.S. policy choices, no matter where in the world we are discussing? What are the somewhat more specific but still over arching motives and themes for U.S. policy in Middle East and the Arab world? Finally, what do you think are the more proximate aims of U.S. policy in the current situation in Libya?
A useful way to approach the question is to ask what U.S. motives are NOT. There are some good ways to find out. One is to read the professional literature on international relations: quite commonly, its account of policy is what policy is not, an interesting topic that I won’t pursue.
Another method, quite relevant now, is to listen to political leaders and commentators. Suppose they say that the motive for a military action is humanitarian. In itself, that carries no information: virtually every resort to force is justified in those terms, even by the worst monsters – who may, irrelevantly, even convince themselves of the truth of what they are saying. Hitler, for example, may have believed that he was taking over parts of Czechoslovakia to end ethnic conflict and bring its people the benefits of an advanced civilization, and that he invaded Poland to end the “wild terror” of the Poles. Japanese fascists rampaging in China probably did believe that they were selflessly laboring to create an “earthly paradise” and to protect the suffering population from “Chinese bandits.” Even Obama may have believed what he said in his presidential address on March 28 about the humanitarian motives for the Libyan intervention. Same holds of commentators.
There is, however, a very simple test to determine whether the professions of noble intent can be taken seriously: do the authors call for humanitarian intervention and “responsibility to protect” to defend the victims of their own crimes, or those of their clients? Did Obama, for example, call for a no-fly zone during the murderous and destructive US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, with no credible pretext? Or did he, rather, boast proudly during his presidential campaign that he had co-sponsored a Senate resolution supporting the invasion and calling for punishment of Iran and Syria for impeding it? End of discussion. In fact, virtually the entire literature of humanitarian intervention and right to protect, written and spoken, disappears under this simple and appropriate test.
In contrast, what motives actually ARE is rarely discussed, and one has to look at the documentary and historical record to unearth them, in the case of any state.
What then are U.S. motives? At a very general level, the evidence seems to me to show that they have not changed much since the high-level planning studies undertaken during World War II. Wartime planners took for granted that the US would emerge from the war in a position of overwhelming dominance, and called for the establishment of a Grand Area in which the US would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The Grand Area was to include the Western hemisphere, the Far East, the British empire (which included the Middle East energy reserves), and as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its industrial and commercial center in Western Europe. It is quite clear from the documentary record that “President Roosevelt was aiming at United States hegemony in the postwar world,” to quote the accurate assessment of the (justly) respected British diplomatic historian Geoffrey Warner. And more significant, the careful wartime plans were soon implemented, as we read in declassified documents of the following years, and observe in practice. Circumstances of course have changed, and tactics adjusted accordingly, but basic principles are quite stable, to the present.
With regard to the Middle East – the “most strategically important region of the world,” in Eisenhower’s phrase -- the primary concern has been, and remains, its incomparable energy reserves. Control of these would yield “substantial control of the world,” as observed early on by the influential liberal adviser A.A. Berle. These concerns are rarely far in the background in affairs concerning this region.
In Iraq, for example, as the dimensions of the US defeat could no longer be concealed, pretty rhetoric was displaced by honest announcement of policy goals. In November 2007 the White House issued a Declaration of Principles insisting that Iraq must grant US military forces indefinite access and must privilege American investors. Two months later the president informed Congress that he would ignore legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of US Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” – demands that the US had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance, just as it had to abandon earlier goals.
While control over oil is not the sole factor in Middle East policy, it provides fairly good guidelines, right now as well. In an oil-rich country, a reliable dictator is granted virtual free rein. In recent weeks, for example, there was no reaction when the Saudi dictatorship used massive force to prevent any sign of protest. Same in Kuwait, when small demonstrations were instantly crushed. And in Bahrain, when Saudi-led forces intervened to protect the minority Sunni monarch from calls for reform on the part of the repressed Shiite population. Government forces not only smashed the tent city in Pearl Square – Bahrain’s Tahrir Square -- but even demolished the Pearl statue that was Bahrain’s symbol, and had been appropriated by the protestors. Bahrain is a particularly sensitive case because it hosts the US Fifth fleet, by far the most powerful military force in the region, and because eastern Saudi Arabia, right across the causeway, is also largely Shiite, and has most of the Kingdom’s oil reserves. By a curious accident of geography and history, the world’s largest hydrocarbon concentrations surround the northern Gulf, in mostly Shiite regions. The possibility of a tacit Shiite alliance has been a nightmare for planners for a long time.
In states lacking major hydrocarbon reserves, tactics vary, typically keeping to a standard game plan when a favored dictator is in trouble: support him as long as possible, and when that cannot be done, issue ringing declarations of love of democracy and human rights -- and then try to salvage as much of the regime as possible.
The scenario is boringly familiar: Marcos, Duvalier, Chun, Ceasescu, Mobutu, Suharto, and many others. And today, Tunisia and Egypt. Syria is a tough nut to crack and there is no clear alternative to the dictatorship that would support U.S. goals. Yemen is a morass where direct intervention would probably create even greater problems for Washington. So there state violence elicits only pious declarations.
Libya is a different case. Libya is rich in oil, and though the US and UK have often given quite remarkable support to its cruel dictator, right to the present, he is not reliable. They would much prefer a more obedient client. Furthermore, the vast territory of Libya is mostly unexplored, and oil specialists believe it may have rich untapped resources, which a more dependable government might open to Western exploitation.
When a non-violent uprising began, Qaddafi crushed it violently, and a rebellion broke out that liberated Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and seemed about to move on to Qaddafi’s stronghold in the West. His forces, however, reversed the course of the conflict and were at the gates of Benghazi. A slaughter in Benghazi was likely, and as Obama’s Middle East adviser Dennis Ross pointed out, “everyone would blame us for it.” That would be unacceptable, as would a Qaddafi military victory enhancing his power and independence. The US then joined in UN Security Council resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone, to be implemented by France, the UK, and the US, with the US supposed to move to a supporting role.
There was no effort to limit action to instituting a no-fly zone, or even to keep within the broader mandate of resolution 1973.
The triumvirate at once interpreted the resolution as authorizing direct participation on the side of the rebels. A ceasefire was imposed by force on Qaddafi’s forces, but not on the rebels. On the contrary, they were given military support as they advanced to the West, soon securing the major sources of Libya’s oil production, and poised to move on.
The blatant disregard of UN 1973, from the start began to cause some difficulties for the press as it became too glaring to ignore. In the NYT, for example, Karim Fahim and David Kirkpatrick (March 29) wondered “how the allies could justify airstrikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s forces around [his tribal center] Surt if, as seems to be the case, they enjoy widespread support in the city and pose no threat to civilians.” Another technical difficulty is that UNSC 1973 “called for an arms embargo that applies to the entire territory of Libya, which means that any outside supply of arms to the opposition would have to be covert” (but otherwise unproblematic).
Some argue that oil cannot be a motive because Western companies were granted access to the prize under Qaddafi. That misconstrues US concerns. The same could have been said about Iraq under Saddam, or Iran and Cuba for many years, still today. What Washington seeks is what Bush announced: control, or at least dependable clients. US and British internal documents stress that “the virus of nationalism” is their greatest fear, not just in the Middle East but everywhere. Nationalist regimes might conduct illegitimate exercises of sovereignty, violating Grand Area principles. And they might seek to direct resources to popular needs, as Nasser sometimes threatened.
It is worth noting that the three traditional imperial powers – France, UK, US – are almost isolated in carrying out these operations. The two major states in the region, Turkey and Egypt, could probably have imposed a no-fly zone but are at most offering tepid support to the triumvirate military campaign. The Gulf dictatorships would be happy to see the erratic Libyan dictator disappear, but although loaded with advanced military hardware (poured in by the US and UK to recycle petrodollars and ensure obedience), they are willing to offer no more than token participation (by Qatar).
While supporting UNSC 1973, Africa -- apart from US ally Rwanda -- is generally opposed to the way it was instantly interpreted by the triumvirate, in some cases strongly so. For review of policies of individual states, see Charles Onyango-Obbo in the Kenyan journal East African (http://allafrica.com/stories/201103280142.html).
Beyond the region there is little support. Like Russia and China, Brazil abstained from UNSC 1973, calling instead for a full cease-fire and dialogue. India too abstained from the UN resolution on grounds that the proposed measures were likely to "exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya,” and also called for political measures rather than use of force. Even Germany abstained from the resolution.
Italy too was reluctant, in part presumably because it is highly dependent on its oil contracts with Qaddafi – and we may recall that the first post-World War I genocide was conducted by Italy, in Eastern Libya, now liberated, and perhaps retaining some memories.
2. Can an anti-interventionist who believes in self determination of nations and people ever legitimately support an intervention, either by the U.N. or particular countries?
There are two cases to consider: (1) UN intervention and (2) intervention without UN authorization. Unless we believe that states are sacrosanct in the form that has been established in the modern world (typically by extreme violence), with rights that override all other imaginable considerations, then the answer is the same in both cases: Yes, in principle at least. I see no point in discussing that belief, so will dismiss it.
With regard to the first case, the Charter and subsequent resolutions grant the Security Council considerable latitude for intervention, and it has been undertaken, with regard to South Africa, for example. That of course does not entail that every Security Council decision should be approved by “an anti-interventionist who believes in self-determination”; other considerations enter in individual cases, but again, unless contemporary states are assigned the status of virtually holy entities, the principle is the same.
As for the second case – the one that arises with regard to the triumvirate interpretation of UN 1973, and many other examples – then the answer is again Yes, in principle at least, unless we take the global state system to be sacrosanct in the form established in the UN Charter and other treaties.
There is, of course, always a very heavy burden of proof that must be met to justify forceful intervention, or any use of force. The burden is particularly high in case (2), in violation of the Charter, at least for states that profess to be law-abiding. We should bear in mind, however, that the global hegemon rejects that stance, and is self-exempted from the UN and OAS Charters, and other international treaties. In accepting ICJ jurisdiction when the Court was established (under US initiative) in 1946, Washington excluded itself from charges of violation of international treaties, and later ratified the Genocide Convention with similar reservations – all positions that have been upheld by international tribunals, since their procedures require acceptance of jurisdiction. More generally, US practice is to add crucial reservations to the international treaties it ratifies, effectively exempting itself.
Can the burden of proof be met? There is little point in abstract discussion, but there are some real cases that might qualify. In the post-World War II period, there are two cases of resort to force which – though not qualifying as humanitarian intervention – might legitimately be supported: India’s invasion of East Pakistan in 1971, and Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, in both cases, ending massive atrocities. These examples, however, do not enter the Western canon of “humanitarian intervention” because they suffer from the fallacy of wrong agency: they were not carried out by the West. What is more, the US bitterly opposed them and severely punished the miscreants who ended the slaughters in today’s Bangladesh and who drove Pol Pot out of Cambodia just as his atrocities were peaking. Vietnam was not only bitterly condemned but also punished by a US-supported Chinese invasion, and by US-UK military and diplomatic support for the Khmer Rouge attacking Cambodia from Thai bases.
While the burden of proof might be met in these cases, it is not easy to think of others. In the case of intervention by the triumvirate of imperial powers that are currently violating UN 1973 in Libya, the burden is particularly heavy, given their horrifying records. Nonetheless, it would be too strong to hold that it can never be satisfied in principle – unless, of course, we regard nation-states in their current form as essentially holy. Preventing a likely massacre in Benghazi is no small matter, whatever one thinks of the motives.
3. Can a person concerned that a country's dissidents not be massacred so they remain able to seek self determination ever legitimately oppose an intervention that is intended, whatever else it intends, to avert such a massacre?
Even accepting, for the sake of argument, that the intent is genuine, meeting the simple criterion I mentioned at the outset, I don’t see how to answer at this level of abstraction: it depends on circumstances. Intervention might be opposed, for example, if it is likely to lead to a much worse massacre. Suppose, for example, that US leaders genuinely and honestly intended to avert a slaughter in Hungary in 1956 by bombing Moscow. Or that the Kremlin genuinely and honestly intended to avert a slaughter in El Salvador in the 1980s by bombing the US. Given the predictable consequences, we would all agree that those (inconceivable) actions could be legitimately opposed.
4. Many people see an analogy between the Kosovo intervention of 1999 and the current intervention in Libya. Can you explain both the significant similarities, first, and then the major differences, second?
Many people do indeed see such an analogy, a tribute to the incredible power of the Western propaganda systems. The background for the Kosovo intervention happens to be unusually well documented. That includes two detailed State Department compilations, extensive reports from the ground by Kosovo Verification Mission (western) monitors, rich sources from NATO and the UN, a British Parliamentary Inquiry, and much else. The reports and studies coincide very closely on the facts.
In brief, there had been no substantial change on the ground in the months prior to the bombing. Atrocities were committed both by Serbian forces and by the KLA guerrillas mostly attacking from neighboring Albania – primarily the latter during the relevant period, at least according to high British authorities (Britain was the most hawkish member of the alliance). The major atrocities in Kosovo were not the cause of the NATO bombing of Serbia, but rather its consequence, and a fully anticipated consequence. NATO commander General Wesley Clark had informed the White House weeks before the bombing that it would elicit a brutal response by Serbian forces on the ground, and as the bombing began, told the press that such a response was “predictable.”
The first UN-registered refugees outside Kosovo were well after the bombing began. The indictment of Milosevic during the bombing, based largely on US-UK intelligence, confined itself to crimes after the bombing, with one exception, which we know could not be taken seriously by US-UK leaders, who at the same moment were actively supporting even worse crimes. Furthermore, there was good reason to believe that a diplomatic solution might have been in reach: in fact, the UN resolution imposed after 78 days of bombing was pretty much a compromise between the Serbian and NATO position as it began.
All of this, including these impeccable western sources, is reviewed in some detail in my book A New Generation Draws the Line. Corroborating information has appeared since. Thus Diana Johnstone reports a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on October 26, 2007 by Dietmar Hartwig, who had been head of the European mission in Kosovo before it was withdrawn on March 20 as the bombing was announced, and was in a very good position to know what was happening. He wrote:
“Not a single report submitted in the period from late November 1998 up to the evacuation on the eve of the war mentioned that Serbs had committed any major or systematic crimes against Albanians, nor there was a single case referring to genocide or genocide-like incidents or crimes. Quite the opposite, in my reports I have repeatedly informed that, considering the increasingly more frequent KLA attacks against the Serbian executive, their law enforcement demonstrated remarkable restraint and discipline. The clear and often cited goal of the Serbian administration was to observe the Milosevic-Holbrooke Agreement [of October 1998] to the letter so not to provide any excuse to the international community to intervene. … There were huge ‘discrepancies in perception’ between what the missions in Kosovo have been reporting to their respective governments and capitals, and what the latter thereafter released to the media and the public. This discrepancy can only be viewed as input to long-term preparation for war against Yugoslavia. Until the time I left Kosovo, there never happened what the media and, with no less intensity the politicians, were relentlessly claiming. Accordingly, until 20 March 1999 there was no reason for military intervention, which renders illegitimate measures undertaken thereafter by the international community. The collective behavior of EU Member States prior to, and after the war broke out, gives rise to serious concerns, because the truth was killed, and the EU lost reliability.”
History is not quantum physics, and there is always ample room for doubt. But it is rare for conclusions to be so firmly backed as they are in this case. Very revealingly, it is all totally irrelevant. The prevailing doctrine is that NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing – though supporters of the bombing who tolerate at least a nod to the rich factual evidence qualify their support by saying the bombing was necessary to stop potential atrocities: we must therefore act to elicit large-scale atrocities to stop ones that might occur if we do not bomb. And there are even more shocking justifications.
The reasons for this virtual unanimity and passion are fairly clear. The bombing came after a virtual orgy of self-glorification and awe of power that might have impressed Kim il-Sung. I’ve reviewed it elsewhere, and this remarkable moment of intellectual history should not be allowed to remain in the oblivion to which it has been consigned. After this performance, there simply had to be a glorious denouement. The noble Kosovo intervention provided it, and the fiction must be zealously guarded.
Returning to the question, there is an analogy between the self-serving depictions of Kosovo and Libya, both interventions animated by noble intent in the fictionalized version. The unacceptable real world suggests rather different analogies.
5. Similarly, many people see an analogy between the on-going Iraq intervention and the current intervention in Libya. In this case too, can you explain both the similarities, and differences?
I don’t see meaningful analogies here either, except that two of the same states are involved. In the case of Iraq, the goals were those that were finally conceded. In the case of Libya, it is likely that the goal is similar in at least one respect: the hope that a reliable client regime will reliably supported Western goals and provide Western investors with privileged access to Libya’s rich oil wealth – which, as noted, may go well beyond what is currently known.
6. What do you expect, in coming weeks, to see happening in Libya and, in that context, what do you think ought to be the aims of an anti interventionist and anti war movement in the U.S. regarding U.S. policies?
It is of course uncertain, but the likely prospects now (March 29) are either a break-up of Libya into an oil-rich Eastern region heavily dependent on the Western imperial powers and an impoverished West under the control of a brutal tyrant with fading capacity, or a victory by the Western-backed forces. In either case, so the triumvirate presumably hopes, a less troublesome and more dependent regime will be in place. The likely outcome is described fairly accurately, I think by the London-based Arab journal al-Quds al-Arabi (March 2. While recognizing the uncertainty of prediction, it anticipates that the intervention may leave Libya with “two states, a rebel-held oil-rich East and a poverty-stricken, Qadhafi-led West… Given that the oil wells have been secured, we may find ourselves facing a new Libyan oil emirate, sparsely inhabited, protected by the West and very similar to the Gulf's emirate states.” Or the Western-backed rebellion might proceed all the way to eliminate the irritating dictator.
Those concerned for peace, justice, freedom and democracy should try to find ways to lend support and assistance to Libyans who seek to shape their own future, free from constraints imposed by external powers. We can have hopes about the directions they should pursue, but their future should be in their hands.
After the assassination of bin Laden I received such a deluge of requests for comment that I was unable to respond individually, and on May 4 and later I sent an unedited form response instead, not intending for it to be posted, and expecting to write it up more fully and carefully later on. But it was posted, then circulated. It can now be found, reposted, at http://www.zcommunications.org/my-reaction-to-osama-bin-laden-s-death-by-noam-chomsky.
That was followed but a deluge of reactions from all over the world. It is far from a scientific sample of course, but nevertheless, the tendencies may be of some interest. Overwhelmingly, those from the “third world” were on the order of “thanks for saying what we think.” There were similar ones from the US, but many others were infuriated, often virtually hysterical, with almost no relation to the actual content of the posted form letter. That was true in particular of the posted or published responses brought to my attention. I have received a few requests to comment on several of these. Frankly, it seems to me superfluous. If there is any interest, I’ll nevertheless find some time to do so.
The original letter ends with the comment that “There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.” Here I will fill in some of the gaps, leaving the original otherwise unchanged in all essentials.
On May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in his virtually unprotected compound by a raiding mission of 79 Navy Seals, who entered Pakistan by helicopter. After many lurid stories were provided by the government and withdrawn, official reports made it increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law, beginning with the invasion itself.
There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 79 commandos facing no opposition - except, they report, from his wife, also unarmed, who they shot in self-defense when she “lunged” at them (according to the White House).
A plausible reconstruction of the events is provided by veteran Middle East correspondent Yochi Dreazen and colleagues in the Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/goal-was-never-to-capture-bin-laden/238330/). Dreazen, formerly the military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is senior correspondent for the National Journal Group covering military affairs and national security. According to their investigation, White House planning appears not to have considered the option of capturing OBL alive: “The administration had made clear to the military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.”
The authors add: “For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance.” Furthermore, “Capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges.” Better, then, to assassinate him, dumping his body into the sea without the autopsy considered essential after a killing, whether considered justified or not – an act that predictably provoked both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.
As the Atlantic inquiry observes, “The decision to kill bin Laden outright was the clearest illustration to date of a little-noticed aspect of the Obama administration's counterterror policy. The Bush administration captured thousands of suspected militants and sent them to detention camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration, by contrast, has focused on eliminating individual terrorists rather than attempting to take them alive.” That is one significant difference between Bush and Obama. The authors quote former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who “told German TV that the U.S. raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law’ and that bin Laden should have been detained and put on trial,” contrasting Schmidt with US Attorney General Eric Holder, who “defended the decision to kill bin Laden although he didn't pose an immediate threat to the Navy SEALs, telling a House panel on Tuesday that the assault had been ‘lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way’.”
The disposal of the body without autopsy was also criticized by allies. The highly regarded British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who supported the intervention and opposed the execution largely on pragmatic grounds, nevertheless described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity” that should have been obvious to a former professor of constitutional law (http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-03/osama-bin-laden-death-why-he-should-have-been-captured-not-killed/). Pakistan law “requires a colonial inquest on violent death, and international human rights law insists that the ‘right to life’ mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action. The U.S. is therefore under a duty to hold an inquiry that will satisfy the world as to the true circumstances of this killing.” Robertson adds that “The law permits criminals to be shot in self-defense if they (or their accomplices) resist arrest in ways that endanger those striving to apprehend them. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how bin Laden came to be ‘shot in the head’ (especially if it was the back of his head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation. Why a hasty ‘burial at sea’ without a post mortem, as the law requires?”
Robertson attributes the murder to “America’s obsessive belief in capital punishment—alone among advanced nations—[which] is reflected in its rejoicing at the manner of bin Laden’s demise.” For example, Nation columnist Eric Alterman writes that “The killing of Osama bin Laden was a just and necessary undertaking.”
Robertson usefully reminds us that “It was not always thus. When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden -- namely the Nazi leadership -- the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride…the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear’."
The editors of the Daily Beast comment that “The joy is understandable, but to many outsiders, unattractive. It endorses what looks increasingly like a cold-blooded assassination as the White House is now forced to admit that Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot twice in the head.”
In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In June 2002, FBI head Robert Mueller, in what the Washington Post described as “among his most detailed public comments on the origins of the attacks,” could say only that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan…. We think the masterminds of it were in Afghanistan, high in the al Qaeda leadership.” What the FBI believed and thought in June 2002 they didn’t know eight months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence. Thus it is not true, as the President claimed in his White House statement, that “We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”
There has never been any reason to doubt what the FBI believed in mid-2002, but that leaves us far from the proof of guilt required in civilized societies – and whatever the evidence might be, it does not warrant murdering a suspect who could, it seems, have been easily apprehended and brought to trial. Much the same is true of evidence provided since. Thus the 9/11 Commission provided extensive circumstantial evidence of bin Laden’s role in 9/11, based primarily on what it had been told about confessions by prisoners in Guantanamo. It is doubtful that much of that would hold up in an independent court, considering the ways confessions were elicited. But in any event, the conclusions of a congressionally authorized investigation, however convincing one finds them, plainly fall short of a sentence by a credible court, which is what shifts the category of the accused from suspect to convicted. There is much talk of bin Laden's “confession,” but that was a boast, not a confession, with as much credibility as my “confession” that I won the Boston marathon. The boast tells us a lot about his character, but nothing about his responsibility for what he regarded as a great achievement, for which he wanted to take credit.
Again, all of this is, transparently, quite independent of one’s judgments about his responsibility, which seemed clear immediately, even before the FBI inquiry, and still does.
It is worth adding that bin Laden’s responsibility was recognized in much of the Muslim world, and condemned. One significant example is the distinguished Lebanese cleric Sheikh Fadlallah, greatly respected by Hizbollah and Shia groups generally, outside Lebanon as well. He too had been targeted for assassination: by a truck bomb outside a mosque, in a CIA-organized operation in 1985. He escaped, but 80 others were killed, mostly women and girls, as they left the mosque – one of those innumerable crimes that do not enter the annals of terror because of the fallacy of “wrong agency.” Sheikh Fadlallah sharply condemned the 9/11 attacks, as did many other leading figures in the Muslim world, within the Jihadi movement as well. Among others, the head of Hizbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, sharply condemned bin Laden and Jihadi ideology.
One of the leading specialists on the Jihadi movement, Fawaz Gerges, suggests that the movement might have been split at that time had the US exploited the opportunity instead of mobilizing the movement, particularly by the attack on Iraq, a great boon to bin Laden, which led to a sharp increase in terror, as intelligence agencies had anticipated. That conclusion was confirmed by the former head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 at the Chilcot hearings investigating the background for the war. Confirming other analyses, she testified that both British and US intelligence were aware that Saddam posed no serious threat and that the invasion was likely to increase terror; and that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had radicalized parts of a generation of Muslims who saw the military actions as an “attack on Islam.” As is often the case, security was not a high priority for state action.
It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course). Uncontroversially, he is not a “suspect” but the “decider” who gave the orders to invade Iraq -- that is, to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: in Iraq, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country and the national heritage, and the murderous sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. Equally uncontroversially, these crimes vastly exceed anything attributed to bin Laden.
To say that all of this is uncontroversial, as it is, is not to imply that it is not denied. The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat. Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Stalin and Hitler were responsible for horrendous crimes, though loyalists deny it. All of this should, again, be too obvious for comment, and would be, except in an atmosphere of hysteria so extreme that it blocks rational thought.
Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the “supreme international crime,” the crime of aggression, at least if we take the Nuremberg Tribunal seriously. The crime of aggression was defined clearly enough by Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg, reiterated in an authoritative General Assembly resolution. An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the Tribunal in his opening statement, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “Invasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State….” No one, even the most extreme supporter of the aggression, denies that Bush and associates did just that.
We might also do well to recall Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg on the principle of universality: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” And elsewhere: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”
It is also clear that alleged intentions are irrelevant. Japanese fascists apparently did believe that by ravaging China they were laboring to turn it into an “earthly paradise.” We don’t know whether Hitler believed that he was defending Germany from the “wild terror” of the Poles, or was taking over Czechoslovakia to protect its population from ethnic conflict and provide them with the benefits of a superior culture, or was saving the glories of the civilization of the Greeks from barbarians of East and West, as his acolytes claimed (Martin Heidegger). And it’s even conceivable that Bush and company believed that they were protecting the world from destruction by Saddam’s nuclear weapons. All irrelevant, though ardent loyalists on all sides may try to convince themselves otherwise.
We are left with two choices: either Bush and associates are guilty of the “supreme international crime” including all the evils that follow, crimes that go vastly beyond anything attributed to bin Laden; or else we declare that the Nuremberg proceedings were a farce and that the allies were guilty of judicial murder. Again, that is entirely independent of the question of the guilt of those charged: established by the Nuremberg Tribunal in the case of the Nazi criminals, plausibly surmised from the outset in the case of bin Laden.
A few days before the bin Laden assassination, Orlando Bosch died peacefully in Florida, where he resided along with his terrorist accomplice Luis Posada Carilles, and many others. After he was accused of dozens of terrorist crimes by the FBI, Bosch was granted a presidential pardon by Bush I over the objections of the Justice Department, which found the conclusion “inescapable that it would be prejudicial to the public interest for the United States to provide a safe haven for Bosch. ”The coincidence of deaths at once calls to mind the Bush II doctrine, which has “already become a de facto rule of international relations,” according to the noted Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison. The doctrine revokes “the sovereignty of states that provide sanctuary to terrorists,” Allison writes, referring to the pronouncement of Bush II that “those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves,” directed to the Taliban. Such states, therefore, have lost their sovereignty and are fit targets for bombing and terror; for example, the state that harbored Bosch and his associate -- not to mention some rather more significant candidates. When Bush issued this new “de facto rule of international relations,” no one seemed to notice that he was calling for invasion and destruction of the US and murder of its criminal presidents.
None of this is problematic, of course, if we reject Justice Jackson’s principle of universality, and adopt instead the principle that the US is self-immunized against international law and conventions -- as, in fact, the government has frequently made very clear, an important fact, much too little understood.
It is also worth thinking about the name given to the operation: Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound that few seem able to perceive that the White House is glorifying bin Laden by calling him “Geronimo” -- the leader of courageous resistance to the invaders who sought to consign his people to the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty, among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement,” in the words of the great grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the intellectual architect of manifest destiny, long after his own contributions to these sins had passed. Some did comprehend, not surprisingly. The remnants of that hapless race protested vigorously. Choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk. Tomahawk,… We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes "Jew" and "Gypsy".
The examples mentioned would fall under the category “American exceptionalism,” were it not for the fact that easy suppression of one’s own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated and forced to acknowledge reality. Other current illustrations are too numerous to mention. To take just one, of great current significance, consider Obama’s terror weapons (drones) in Pakistan. Suppose that during the 1980s, when they were occupying Afghanistan, the Russians had carried out targeted assassinations in Pakistan aimed at those who were financing, arming and training the insurgents – quite proudly and openly. For example, targeting the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who explained that he “loved” the “noble goal” of his mission: to “kill Soviet Soldiers…not to liberate Afghanistan.” There is no need to imagine the reaction, but there is a crucial distinction: that was them, this is us.
What are the likely consequences of the killing of bin Laden? For the Arab world, it will probably mean little. He had long been a fading presence, and in the past few months was eclipsed by the Arab Spring. His significance in the Arab world is captured by the headline in the New York Times for an op-ed by Middle East/al Qaeda specialist Gilles Kepel; “Bin Laden was Dead Already.” Kepel writes that few in the Arab world are likely to care. That headline might have been dated far earlier, had the US not mobilized the Jihadi movement by the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, as suggested by the intelligence agencies and scholarship. As for the Jihadi movement, within it bin Laden was doubtless a venerated symbol, but apparently did not play much more of a role for this “network of networks,” as analysts call it, which undertake mostly independent operations.
The most immediate and significant consequences are likely to be in Pakistan. There is much discussion of Washington's anger that Pakistan didn't turn over bin Laden. Less is said about the fury in Pakistan that the US invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor had already reached a very high peak in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it.
Pakistan is the most dangerous country on earth, also the world’s fastest growing nuclear power, with a huge arsenal. It is held together by one stable institution, the military. One of the leading specialists on Pakistan and its military, Anatol Lieven, writes that “if the US ever put Pakistani soldiers in a position where they felt that honour and patriotism required them to fight America, many would be very glad to do so.” And if Pakistan collapsed, an “absolutely inevitable result would be the flow of large numbers of highly trained ex-soldiers, including explosive experts and engineers, to extremist groups.” That is the primary threat he sees of leakage of fissile materials to Jihadi hands, a horrendous eventuality.
The Pakistani military have already been pushed to the edge by US attacks on Pakistani sovereignty. One factor is the drone attacks in Pakistan that Obama escalated immediately after the killing of bin Laden, rubbing salt in the wounds. But there is much more, including the demand that the Pakistani military cooperate in the US war against the Afghan Taliban, whom the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, the military included, see as fighting a just war of resistance against an invading army, according to Lieven.
The bin Laden operation could have been the spark that set off a conflagration, with dire consequences, particularly if the invading force had been compelled to fight its way out, as was anticipated. Perhaps the assassination was perceived as an “act of vengeance,” as Robertson concludes. Whatever the motive was, it could hardly have been security. As in the case of the “supreme international crime” in Iraq, the bin Laden assassination illustrates that security is often not a high priority for state action, contrary to received doctrine.
There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.
You have been a leading critic of United States foreign policy in the past – what view do you take on Barack Obama's performance as President in this area since he took office, I know you were critical of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden?
"There used to be a principle in Anglo-American law called presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. When a suspect is apprehended and can easily be brought to trial, to assassinate him is simply a crime. Incidentally, the invasion of Pakistan was also a violation of international law."
So is there any possible moral justification for the CIA's drone strikes in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, which have allegedly occurred under Obama's leadership of the White House?
"There is no justification for targeted assassination. There were things going on before, under the last president, but the Obama administration has extended earlier procedures to a global assassination campaign directed at people suspected of encouraging others to carry out what the US calls terrorist acts. What are called 'terrorist acts' also raises rather serious questions and that's an understatement. Take, for example, the Guantanamo Bay case of a 15-year-old boy – who was accused of having picked up a rifle to defend his village, in Afghanistan, when it was being attacked by American soldiers. He was accused of terrorism and then sent to Guantanamo for a total of eight years. After eight years of imprisonment, where what happens is no secret, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to another eight years in prison. This is terrorism, a 15-year-old boy defending his village from terrorism?"
So you think that, potentially, Obama's foreign policy approach has been worse than that of George W. Bush – in certain areas?
"In terms of state terror and that's what I would call this, I have to say yes – and that has already been pointed out by military analysts. The Bush administration policy was to kidnap suspects, send them to secret prisons where they were not treated very nicely as we know. But the Obama administration has escalated that policy to you don't kidnap them, but you kill them. Now remember, these are suspects – even, in the case of Osama bin Laden. It is plausible that he did plan and organise the 9/11 attacks, but plausible and proven are two different things. It is worth remembering that eight months after the attacks, in April 2002, the head of the FBI – in his most detailed statement to the press was only able to say that they believed that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan by bin Laden but implemented in the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the US. No firm evidence has been presented, at least publicly, since that time. The government-created 9/11 commission had a lot of material that was circumstantial evidence that was reasonably plausible, but it's doubtful that any of it would have held up in an independent court. The evidence they had was provided to them by the government on the basis of interrogation of suspects under very cruel conditions, as we know. It is highly unlikely that an independent tribunal could have considered such evidence seriously."
How do you see the Libya conflict – were western forces, particularly Europe, right to intervene?
"The three traditional imperial powers of Britain, France and the US participated in a civil war on the side of the rebels that had nothing to do with the United National Security Council resolution. Was the imperial triumvirate acting appropriately, I think that is a question that has to be discussed and debated. It certainly was not a popular move internationally. I mean it's called the international community, but most of the world opposed it. Libya is an African country and the African Union was calling for negotiations and diplomacy, and they were disregarded. Brazil, Russian, India and China – the BRIC countries – had a conference in China at the time, and they also issued a declaration calling for diplomacy and negotiations. Even Turkey, at the beginning, was tepid and Egypt didn't support it, and there was practically no support in the Arab world.
"The real question is - could the mandate to protect civilians have been carried out through diplomacy? Libya is a highly tribal society and there is a lot of conflict among the tribes, who knows what is going to come out of all this. The transitional government has already stressed that there will be strict adherence to Sharia law and denying the rights of women and so on and so forth. Very few people in the west understand much about all this. On the other hand, there was tremendous popular support for getting rid of Gaddafi - who was a terrible thug."
And do you see a widening and deepening of the Arab spring as time goes by and rebels in states like Syria and Iran gain heart from the achievements of the once oppressed citizens in Libya?
"Iran is a different case – it has a harsh regime, but quite different circumstances. Syria is an extremely ugly situation that is descending into violent civil war. Nobody has proposed a sensible policy to deal with it. In large parts of the Arab world, the pro-democracy uprisings have been very quickly crushed. In Saudi Arabia, the most extreme radical Islamist state and closest ally of the US and Britain, there were mild efforts at protest and they were crushed pretty quickly – so much so that people were afraid to come out on the streets again. The same is true of Kuwait and that whole region – the oil region. In Bahrain, protests were initially tolerated before being violently crushed with the assistance of a Saudi-led invasion force in very ugly ways, like invading a hospital and attacking patients and doctors.
"In Egypt and Tunisia, there has been significant progress – but it is limited. In Egypt, the military has shown no intention of relaxing its control of society – although, the country now has a free press and a labour movement has been able to organise and act independently. Tunisia also has a history of labour activism. And so, the progress towards democracy and freedom is pretty closely correlated with the rise of long-term militant activism. That shouldn't surprise westerners because that is exactly what happened in the west."
How do you see geopolitics playing out over the coming decades with the rise of the BRICs, the lack of stability in the Middle East and the decline of the west?
"The US and Europe have somewhat different problems. Europe is facing quite severe financial problems, that is no secret, that are in part traceable to the relatively human approach towards integrating the poorer countries together with the richer nations. Before the European Union was established and the poorer southern countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain were brought in, there were efforts to made to reduce the sharp differences between the rich advanced countries and poorer ones – so that northern European workers wouldn't have to face competition from an impoverished and exploited working class in the south. There was compensatory funding and other measures, which – of course – didn't eliminate the gap but removed it sufficiently so that the poorer countries could be brought in without a very harsh effect on the rich northern ones.
"Europe is now paying the price of its relatively humane approach and its failure to deal with some very serious problems such as the extraordinary independence of the European Central Bank and its religious dedication to anti-inflation policies – which are not the ones that should be followed at a time of decline and recession. Europe should be doing the opposite like the US where the policies are somewhat more realistic."
What role do you think Europe and the US will play in this new world order – potentially, reflecting multi-polarity rather than western hegemony?
"Europe and the US are still a huge part of the global economy; there is no doubt about that. If Europe can get its house in order, and I think it will have to change its economic policies, it has options. What Europe needs now is not an austerity programme, but a stimulus package to restore growth so that down the road you can take care of the debt problem. The same is true in the US. There is plenty of money for a stimulus programme in both regions. It might increase debt, but that is a much longer-term problem. There is plenty of wealth in our societies; the question is how it is going to be used.
"The common theme all over the international affairs literature is what's called western decline and the corollary conclusion that global power is once again shifting to the rising powers of China and India. That argument is implausible, economic growth in China has been quite spectacular in many ways – but these are very poor countries. Per capita income is well below that in the west and they have enormous internal problems. China, considered to be the main economic engine, is still today largely an assembly plant. If you calculate the US trade deficit with China accurately in terms of value added, you find that the figure declines by about 25 per cent and increases with Japan, Taiwan and Korea by approximately the same. The reason is that parts, components and high technology are flowing into China from the peripheral, more industrialised, societies as well as the US and Europe – and China is assembling them. If you buy an iPad or something that says 'exported from China', very little of the value added is in China.
"Certainly, later on, China will climb up the technology ladder – but it's a hard climb and the country has very serious internal problems including a demographic problem. The country's growth period has been associated with a big bulge in young workers in their twenties and thirties, but that is changing – partly, because of the 'one child' policy. What is coming is a decline in the working-age population and an increase in the elderly population. The Chinese will doubtless grow and be important, but India is even more impoverished with hundreds of millions of people living in misery. The world is becoming more diverse and a more diverse century is coming. With the rise of the BRICs, there is a diffusion of power coming. As far as American decline is concerned, it began in the 1940s. The US reached the peak of its powers in 1945, when it literally had half the world's wealth and production with incredible security – there was nothing like it in history. That began to decline very quickly and the so-called 'loss of China' occurred in 1949. It was taken for granted that we possessed the world, that we owned it. Pretty soon, there was the 'loss of South East Asia'. That's what the inter-China wars were about and the coup in Indonesia
"In the last decade, we have seen what is called the 'loss of South America'. South America has started to move towards independence and integration and the US has been expelled from every military base there. And there are unions being created in Latin America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. The west and its allies are trying hard to control this, but its continuing. And, in China, there is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - which includes the central Asian states, with Russia, India and Pakistan being observers. The US has been excluded and so far it is an energy-based, economic-based international organisation. Yet, it is another part of this diversification of power in the world.
"American decline is to a significant extent self-inflicted. Since the 1970s, western economies took a sharp turn. Throughout history, the tendency has been towards growth and hopefulness. That changed in the 1970s, when there was a shift in the economy towards financialisation and offshoring of production because of the declining rate of profit in manufacturing. What has happened is very high concentration of wealth – mostly, in a tiny part of the financial sector – and stagnation and decline for the larger part of the population. You have slogans today like the "99 per cent and the 1 per cent". The numbers aren't entirely correct, but the general picture is. It is very serious as it has led to spectacular wealth in very few pockets – although, it is very harmful to the countries involved. The protests we are seeing around the world at the moment are another symptom of that."
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