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Our featured article is the text of a lecture delivered by Noam Chomsky to launch State Crime, 'Changing Contours of the World order’. The lecture addresses international state terrorism and offers a powerful critique of US endorsed state violence.'

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King’s College London, 10 October 2011

I’m glad to be here on the occasion of the launch of the new journal. The journal is new, the topic obviously isn’t. I might open with a word about the topic of the journal, or at least some subpart of it. I’ll just keep to one of the lesser state crimes, namely international terrorism, putting aside much more serious ones like aggression. That topic, international terrorism, moved into the general agenda 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan entered office and his Administration declared that the prime focus of Administration policy would be state-directed international terrorism (called “the plague of the modern age”, “return of barbarism in our time”, to sample some of the fevered rhetoric). They had in mind Cuban-directed international terrorism, which didn’t exist, and Russian-directed international terrorism, which maybe you could find with a microscope, by comparative standards. But Cuba was a good choice. Cuba had in fact by then already gained the record of being the recipient, the target of more international terrorism than probably the rest of the world combined. But they didn’t have that in mind obviously, that was coming from Washington. The Kennedy Administration after the failure of the Bay of Pigs had launched a campaign, Operation Mongoose, to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. That was the phrase used by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s close Latin American adviser. This was in his more or less official biography of Robert Kennedy, the President’s brother, who was assigned the task of supervising the terrors of the earth as his highest priority. He took it very seriously. The first book just came out of oral history which gives a record of the voices of the victims, by Keith Bolender, a Canadian scholar; I think he may be coming here soon. And it was very serious, that was no joke, in fact it almost led to terminal nuclear war apart from what it did to Cuba. The operation was supposed to culminate in October 1962. You may recall that that was maybe the most dangerous moment in history. It came very close to a nuclear war and that was connected with the terrorist crimes, which were supposed to lead to an invasion of Cuba in that month. That’s one of many examples, unfortunately very many.

At that time, 1981, Reagan launched what these days is called a “global war on terror”; GWOT, pronounced Geewot, so I’ve been told, don’t ask me why. And it also launched a flood of books and articles, a new profession of terrorism studies, a dubious profession, with Britain right at the peak. Among the books and articles were quite a number of mine and of friends of mine, all concentrating on just what the Reaganites said was “the plague of the modern age”: state-directed international terrorism. But these books and articles can’t enter the canon because they have a fundamental error of logic. We used the official definitions of terrorism in the US Code and British government and army manuals, by now codified in UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. And all of that material is kind of politically incorrect because if you accept those definitions, it follows almost immediately that the United States is one of the leading, maybe the leading actor in spreading the plague of the modern age, with Britain, its junior partner, a close second. And that’s the wrong conclusion obviously so that can’t be allowed. A book with a title like “Western State Terrorism”, edited by a British-American philosopher, he was then at Oxford, that can’t enter the canon clearly.

One thing that was set off in the early 80s, when the GWOT began, was a search, a scholarly search to craft a definition of terrorism that would have the right properties. It would exclude the terror that we carry out against others but would include of course what they do to us – typically much less. And there were academic conferences, scholarly meetings, journals as I said that professionals started, and they all agree that it’s a very difficult concept to define (terrorism). So you can’t use the definitions that are in US and British law or international conventions. But you have to somehow craft a definition with the right properties and that’s hard. If anybody has any suggestions you can get a PhD at St Andrews or somewhere by giving them an answer. But so far they haven’t really got the right definition so studies are still going on and it isn’t easy.

Reagan’s GWOT has been “disappeared”, to borrow the terminology of some of their victims, for a good reason. His war on terror led to appalling atrocities very quickly. Central America, one of the main targets: maybe a couple of hundred thousand tortured, mutilated corpses. Middle East: tens of thousands. Southern Africa: estimated roughly at a million and a half as a result of South African depredations in surrounding countries, that’s aside from what was happening in South Africa itself. All supported by the United States as part of the defence against terrorism. And the reason was, as the Pentagon explained in 1988, that you had to defend the South African apartheid state from what they called one of the “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world, that was Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. So obviously, you had to do that and that means supporting their depredations, which were murderous. In fact Mandela himself has just gotten off the terrorist list about two years ago. He can now come to the United States without special dispensation. But none of this – and a lot more like – is appropriate for the historical record. So when Bush number 2 declared a global war on terror in 2001, that was hailed as something new, not the repetition of an old and ugly story.

Right now, state terror has been escalated to new levels. Some of you may be old enough to remember that there once was a concept in British and American law called presumption of innocence. A person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But that’s long disappeared. Now there is a licence to kill anyone you want. Actually there was a transition from Bush to Obama in this respect. Bush’s GWOT included kidnapping people who you suspected of something or other and sending them off to prison camps with not very nice treatment. But Obama has escalated it. Now you don’t kidnap them and imprison them without charges, you just kill them. There’s a massive global assassination campaign going on. Just a couple of weeks ago it escalated to a new level. It went beyond the licence to murder suspects to a licence to murder people who are suspected of encouraging people to engage in what we call terrorist crimes. In the New York Times, about a week ago, there was a headline reading: “As the West celebrates a cleric’s death, the Middle East shrugs.” So we now not only celebrate the assassination of people suspected of criminal activity, but even the murder of someone – a cleric in this case – who was alleged to have inspired others to carry out crimes (with further allegations that can’t be evaluated). This particular case has seen a little mumbling because the cleric who was killed happens to be an American citizen and there’s some sentimental thoughts that American citizens still have some kind of rights unlike the “unpeople” of the world, to borrow the phrase of the great British diplomatic historian Mark Curtis in his studies of British state crimes since World War II.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the category of terrorism is quite broad. A striking example is one of the few cases that almost came to trial: the case of Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old boy who was captured by American soldiers attacking his village in Afghanistan. He was taken to Bagram then Guantanamo, stayed in prison for eight years without charge, at which point he pleaded guilty. I won’t comment on what that means after eight years in US prison camps. After pleading guilty he was given an eight-year sentence. The charge to which he pleaded guilty was trying to defend his village from American soldiers who were attacking it, and that’s obviously terror. He’s a Canadian citizen and Canada could extradite him and save him from the next eight years of prison but they don’t want to step on the toes of the masters and they’re courageously refusing to do this.

None of this of course is completely new. Some of you may even be old enough to remember the slogan of the Gestapo during the Second World War: “terror against terror”. They were talking about the need to carry out terror against the partisans who were also terrorists resisting Nazi aggression. So we’re not breaking any new grounds in that respect.

Let us put aside the miserable topic of state terror, of which this is a tiny sample, and turn to the announced topic, the contours of world order and the changes they’re undergoing, which are very real. One quite prominent concern these days is what is called “American decline”. In the 2011 summer issue of the major political science journal in the US, the journal of the American Academy of Political Science, you read that “it is a common theme that the US which only a few years ago was held to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospects of its final decay”. And there’s also a common corollary to that. Namely that power is shifting, continuing its shift from east to west. First to Western Europe, then across the Atlantic, now taking another step forward to the rising powers of China and India. If there were any truth to that, it would mean that we’re essentially going back to the eighteenth century, when they were the commercial and industrial centres of the world, before Britain helped take care of that.

American decline in fact is very real, but the corollary I think is extremely dubious. They’ve had very impressive economic growth, but these are very poor countries. They have very severe internal problems. The world is in fact surely getting a lot more diverse. But despite America’s decline, which is real, in the foreseeable future I don’t see any indication that there is any competitor for hegemonic global power.

And further qualifications are in order. For one thing the decline is not something new, contrary to what is being said. It started shortly after 1945. In 1945 the US reached the peak of its power and wealth, historically unprecedented. During the war, and the war of course ended the depression, US industrial production almost quadrupled. Competing industrial societies were devastated or destroyed, certainly severely harmed. By the war’s end the US literally had 50 per cent of the world’s wealth. There has never been anything like that in history. It also had incomparable security: controlled the entire hemisphere, controlled both oceans, controlled the opposite sides of the oceans. That was an enormous amount of power and it began to decline right away. By 1949 there was a serious blow to US power. It has a name. It’s called “the loss of China”. That’s an interesting phrase, never questioned. You can only lose something that you possess. So I can’t lose your books. But we of course possessed China, or were supposed to and that’s just taken for granted. And since we possess it and it became independent in 1949, we lost it and the loss of China was a major issue in world affairs.

That was a blow to wartime plans that had been developed during the Second World War. The Roosevelt planners understood very well that the US was going to emerge from the war in a position of extraordinary power and they laid plans, careful plans, which were later implemented, sophisticated plans to organize and run the world that they expected to dominate. They constructed what they called “the Grand Area”. The Grand Area was to include of course the entire Western hemisphere, but also the whole Far East and the former British Empire, which the US was taking over. Britain was to be reduced to a junior partner as the foreign office ruefully recognized. Taking over the British Empire meant crucially taking over the energy reserves of Western Asia called the Middle East, which were understood to be staggering. The State Department in 1945 called the takeover “a stupendous source of strategic power”, “one of the greatest material prizes in world history”. Eisenhower later described it as “the strategically most important part of the world”. One of Roosevelt’s leading advisers, liberal analyst and statesman A.A. Berle, observed that control of Middle-East oil resources will yield “substantial control of the world”. The US didn’t intend to give that up and doesn’t intend to now. That’s highly relevant to current affairs. One of the leading British diplomatic historians, Geoffrey Warner, one of the most respected specialists on that period, is quite correct when he writes that the documentary record shows clearly that President Roosevelt was aiming at US hegemony in the postwar world.

In the early parts of the war (1941–42), it was expected that Germany would survive as a major power, so there would be a German-run world and the Grand Area, an American-run world. After the Russian army started grinding the Germans down after Stalingrad, the planning changed. It was recognized that Germany wouldn’t survive and the Grand Area plans were expanded to include the commercial and industrial centre of Eurasia, Western Europe and also southern Europe, which was important critically because of its perceived role in protecting energy shipments from the Middle East. In fact Greece was part of the Near East section of the State Department until 1974 after the US-backed dictatorship was overthrown. It was not a trivial matter to control all these places, plenty of violence and subversion. Within these domains, however large they could be, there were specific plans, carefully implemented to the extent possible. Within these domains, the US was to maintain “unquestioned power” with “military and economic supremacy” while ensuring the limitation of any “exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with US global designs. It’s a pretty expansive vision. And the doctrines do still prevail in government policy, though the power to implement them has declined.

The wartime plans were not unrealistic. Even before the war, the US had been far and away the richest country in the world and as I said the war greatly enhanced that wealth and power. And the plans were sophisticated. Each region of the world was assigned what was called its “function” within the global system. So South-East Asia, its function was to provide raw materials and resources to the former colonial masters (Britain and Malaya and so on) so they could recover from the war and play their proper role within the US-dominated system. Each region of the world was discussed. Some of them were kind of interesting, like Africa. This was all planned by George Kennan and his State Department planning staff. Kennan is one of the doves. In fact he was kicked out of the State Department because he was considered not to be tough enough for this harsh world. It’s interesting to read his proposals. With regard to Africa, the US at that time was not that interested in Africa, so he said we should hand over Africa to the Europeans for them to “exploit” (that’s his phrase) for their reconstruction. If you look at the history of Africa and Europe, you might think of a different possible relationship, but naturally that was never entertained. But now that’s no longer true, the US is now unwilling to give up Africa to Europe to exploit, wants to take part in it itself.

As I said, by 1949, this grand vision was already beginning to crumble. The “loss of China” was serious. Shortly after that came the threat of loss of South-East Asia, by 1950 or so.

Now the first problem was Indochina, which didn’t matter that much in itself, but was significant because of its relation to a much bigger threat: loss of Indonesia. Indonesia has quite rich resources and the loss of Indonesia could be serious and that enters into the planning for the Vietnam War in ways that are worth understanding. In effect the US won most of its objectives (I disagree with a lot of my friends who share the general conclusion that the US lost the war; I think it basically won the war). If you look at its objectives, which were laid out in the 50s (there is plenty of documentary material about this), Indochina – while not that significant in itself – was regarded as what’s sometimes called in the internal record a virus that might spread contagion. The virus is the threat of independent successful development, which might spread contagion in that others might follow the model and try to pursue the same path themselves. And that could be dangerous if the virus spread say to Indonesia and they pursued a path of independent development and also to the other regions, not just the rest of South-East Asia but also Japan (that was called the superdomino by Asian historian John Dower). Japan might move to accommodate itself to increasingly independent South-East Asia and become its industrial centre, technical industrial commercial centre. And that would have meant in effect that the US would have lost the Pacific phase of World War II which, in the Pacific region was fought to prevent Japan from establishing what it called a New Order in Asia that it would dominate. In the early 1950s, the US was not prepared to lose World War II. So something had to be done about the virus. Well there’s a way to deal with a virus that might spread contagion, a very simple way. You kill the virus and you inoculate the potential victims. The potential victims were inoculated by installing vicious murderous regimes, which kept the place under control. And that’s what was done. By the mid-1960s, Vietnam was pretty much destroyed, it was not going to be a model for anybody. And in the surrounding regions mostly brutal dictatorships were installed.

In South-East Asia, the most significant step was in Indonesia. In 1965 there was a military coup in Indonesia backed, supported, maybe instigated by the US, which was very successful. The coup immediately killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, destroying the only functioning political party, a party that “won widespread support not as a revolutionary party but as an organization defending the interests of the poor within the existing system”, as it was described by Australian scholar Harold Crouch. And it opened up Indonesia to free exploitation of its resources by the West.

The huge massacres were celebrated with absolute euphoria. Western commentators couldn’t control their enthusiasm, Britain too. The New York Times described what was happening pretty accurately. It described what they called “a staggering mass slaughter in Indonesia” which was “a gleam of light in Asia”. That was the conclusion of their highly regarded liberal commentator James Reston. Headlines in the mainstream press read “Hope where there was once none”, “boiling blood bath”, and so on, in general a tremendous success. Interestingly, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in later years, looking back in retrospect, he concluded that the US probably should have pulled back from Vietnam in 1965, after the Indonesia coup. It had already pretty much won the war. Vietnam was destroyed, the region was inoculated, no fear of losing the Second World War, so it was a mistake to waste resources to try to destroy the last traces.

It is worth noting that the same reasoning held in Latin America, first for Guatemala, but more significantly for Cuba. Right away, as soon as Cuba liberated itself in 1959, within months there were internal plans to overthrow the government. Bombings started a couple of months later. When Kennedy came it all escalated pretty sharply. Kennedy intended to concentrate on Latin American issues. He had a Latin American mission, headed by Arthur Schlesinger, and they gave a report to the incoming president, summarized by Schlesinger, a well-known historian. He explained to the incoming President that the problem in Cuba is what he called “the Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands”, an idea which might influence others in the region who face similar problems and might try to do the same thing. So the virus would spread contagion and the cure was the usual one: let’s try to destroy the virus and let’s protect the region. And Kennedy started the series of military coups, first in Brazil and then all over the place, installing really murderous, vicious regimes. It finally reached Central America in the 80s, a plague of repression like nothing that had ever happened in the hemisphere. They couldn’t quite get rid of the virus but it was contained. The terror war restricted any likelihood of growth and development. Of course there’s a tough embargo that was imposed and still remains. The CIA explained that the problem with Cuba is what they called Castro’s “successful defiance” of policies going back to the Monroe doctrine, that’s 1823, which proclaimed that the US should dominate the hemisphere – couldn’t do it then because of the British deterrent, but now they can do it. And successful defiance of the policies set 150 years earlier can’t be tolerated.

If you take a look at these developments it gives you a lot of insight into how foreign policy is formulated. For 30–40 years, public opinion in the US has been strongly in favour of normalizing relations with Cuba. It’s normal for public opinion to be dismissed in what we call democracies. But more interesting in this case is that major sectors of US business want to normalize relations. That includes agri-business, energy, pharmaceuticals, quite significant parts of the business world. They want to normalize relations and their concerns are dismissed. That is unusual, though not unique. There are other cases and they are interesting ones. In these cases the state dedication to punishing successful defiance overwhelms the usual modalities of policy formation, which are typically in the hands of private capital, substantially, an observation as old as Adam Smith. That shows there’s a really significant state interest involved. There are other cases and you learn a lot from them but unfortunately they are not studied in international relations theory. But if you look at them carefully you can learn a lot.

Well, as I said American decline started quickly, meanwhile subversion and violence continued through the South. I don’t have to run though that, you’re familiar with it, it goes on constantly, right to the present.

Europe was particularly important in Grand Area planning for obvious reasons. And there were plans put in place right away for Europe to be reconstituted, reconstructed, but there was a preliminary condition. Before Europe could be reconstructed, it was necessary to impose what’s called stability, meaning subordination to US power. That meant it was necessary to destroy the anti-fascist resistance, which was the first target of US and British forces when they invaded the continent. First in Italy, then Greece, then beyond. That meant destroying the independent labour movement and the left, which was the core of the anti-fascist resistance, and reinstating the traditional order including plenty of fascist collaborators. It began during the war when the British and Americans started marching up through Italy and it was carried out consistently throughout the region, often very bloodily as in Greece, or plenty of subversion as in Italy. Germany was of course particularly important. There it was necessary to dismantle union constitutions, forcefully terminate social experiments, and in general to “wall off” Western Germany from the Eastern Zone – that was George Kennan’s phrase. To wall off the West to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contagion coming from elements of radical democracy in the East. The Marshall Plan came along. It doubtless aided European construction but that wasn’t its only goal. In large part the Marshall Plan was in fact a taxpayer subsidy to major US corporations. And that’s appreciated by the beneficiaries. They may not read the foreign policy literature, but they do look at the record. So the Reagan Administration pointed out that the Marshall Plan set the stage for large amounts of private US direct investment in Europe, laying the groundwork for the rise of the postwar multinational corporations. A business journal described the multinational corporations as the economic expressions of the political framework established by postwar policy makers in which American business “prospered and expanded on overseas orders fuelled initially by the dollars of the Marshall Plan”, protected them from “negative developments” like say the labour movement or something like that by “the umbrella of American power”.

It was always recognized and feared that Europe might follow an independent course, maybe a sort of Gaullist course of an independent Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And there were measures taken to prevent that. One of them is NATO, and it’s quite interesting to see what happened to NATO when the theoretical pretext for it – you know, the Russian hordes – disappeared. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Meanwhile, decolonization followed its agonizing course.

By 1970, the US power had significantly declined. It wasn’t 50 per cent of the world’s wealth anymore, it was about 25 per cent, which it still approximately is. It’s still colossal but nothing like what it was at the end of the Second World War. So there had been significant American decline. By that time, 1970, the world was becoming what’s called tripolar economically, with three major economic centres: North America based in the US, Western Europe – German based – and East Asia, already the most dynamic region of the world at that time – Japan-based, since expanded to China.

Twenty years later, in 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed. Now for those interested in the reality of the Cold War, that’s a very important place to look, to ask what happened when the superpower enemy collapsed. That’s very instructive and I urge you to look at it. Of course Washington immediately instituted new policies. They were all perfectly public, you don’t have to search hidden records. This is the first Bush administration. It immediately presented a new national security strategy and a new defence budget to deal with the world after the Russians have disappeared. And it’s interesting reading. They started by saying that we still have to maintain a huge military system, that’s still necessary. Not to protect themselves from the Russians because they’re not around, but because of the “technological sophistication” of third world powers. Now if you’re a properly educated intellectual you’re not supposed to laugh when you hear that. We’d still need the same system because the third world is so technologically sophisticated. We don’t laugh. With a college degree you would understand that makes sense. It was still necessary they said to maintain the “defence industrial base”. That phrase is a euphemism for high-tech industry. The US and Britain believe in free markets for the weak but not for us please, for us we need a powerful state that sustains the economy, saves the wealthy and so on. The modern high-tech economy, you know, your computers, the Internet, IT revolution and so on mostly comes out of the Pentagon, actually the place where I was working in the 1950s and 60s. Probably about 30 years of development mostly in the state sector before it was handed to private power for profit. And that’s the way the economy pretty much runs. It goes back to the early days of British industrialization, when Britain followed the same path of powerful state and intervention to maintain an industrial economy. The US picked it up, and the same with every developed society. So the US still had to subsidize the defence industrial base, meaning the next stage of high technology.

Now one of the most interesting parts of the new plans was about intervention forces. The administration concluded that we have to maintain intervention forces directed at the Middle East. Then comes an interesting phrase: where the serious threats to our interest “could not have been laid at the Kremlin’s door”. In other words the threat was independent nationalism, what’s called radical nationalism. So, sorry folks, we’ve been lying to you for 50 years, it’s too late to go on with that, so now we’ll tell the truth: we need the intervention forces in case these guys get out of hand. It was in fact what they were for all along but it was now quietly conceded. Here too, in the Middle East, it had, as everywhere, been necessary to destroy viruses that might spread contagion. Many examples: Iran in 1953, Iraq ten years later, most significantly Nasser’s Egypt, which was kind of this centre of secular nationalism, that happened in 1967. The war is described justly as an Israel–Egypt war but there was another war going on in the background, the Saudi-Egyptian war, in fact they were actually at war in Yemen and there was a lot of concern that secular nationalism might spread from Egypt to the radical Islamic dictatorships, the oil dictatorships. Britain and the US have pretty consistently supported radical Islamism against secular nationalism, which kind of makes sense if you think about it. The real problem is viruses that spread contagion and maybe efforts to pursue an independent path. So that continued. 1967 also established US–Israel relations in their present form. Before that they were not so exceptional and since then they have been. And the reason was, it was recognized that Israel performed a great service to the US and its Saudi ally or client whatever you want to call it. It destroyed the threat of secular nationalism.

Then came what’s called the Nixon doctrine, which was public. The Nixon doctrine, mostly for the Middle East, stated that the structure of what they call Middle East security, meaning supporting US dominance in the region, would be of course be focused on the dictatorships, the radical Islamic dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, a major friend. But the dictatorships have to be protected from their populations. That would be done by what they called “cops on the beat”, local gendarmes, surrounding states, preferably non-Arab, they do better at killing Arabs. They would protect the power of the dictatorships from their own populations. Of course, the cops at the time were Iran which was then under the Shah, Pakistan providing protection for the Saudi royal family and more when it had to. The cops included Turkey, a major power. And now Israel, Israel could be a cop on the beat. Unstated but obvious were that the police headquarters are in Washington and there’s a branch office in London where the junior partners assign some roles now and then. So that’s the basic structure of power and things have changed but the basic thinking still remains and the core of the US–Israel relationship is still sort of like that.

Well, let’s go back to the end of the Cold War, 20 years ago. The fate of NATO is quite instructive. Remember: NATO was supposed to be there to protect Western Europe from the Russian hordes. Well, no more Russian hordes so, what should happen? If anyone believed the propaganda of the preceding years, NATO should have disappeared, it’s not needed anymore. It’s not what happened. In fact the opposite happened. It expanded. NATO immediately expanded to the East, incidentally in violation of pledges to Gorbachev who was willing to make accommodations on the condition that NATO would not expand “one inch to the East” as the Bush Administration assured him. Later, when NATO immediately expanded to the East and beyond, Gorbachev complained, he was unhappy about this and Washington explained to him that if he’s naïve enough to accept promises from the US that’s his problem. But a real formal statement would have been no better. And NATO continues to expand to the East. Right now it’s gone way beyond. The current official role of NATO is first to serve as an international US-run intervention force but mainly to protect the infrastructure of the global energy system. That means to protect sea lanes, pipelines all over the world and Europe is supposed to go along with that as indeed it does.

Well, I mentioned before that there was euphoria at the time about the magnificence of the US great colossus and then came a very strange period of intellectual history. You go back to the 1990s, the rhetoric of the Western intellectuals was astonishing, sounds very much like North Korea. So Clinton’s foreign policy was described by leading intellectuals as entering a “noble phase” with a “saintly glow”. For the first time in history, a country is guided by “altruism” alone and dedicated to “principles and values”, an “idealistic new world bent on ending inhumanity”. At last it could carry forward, unhindered, the emerging international norm of humanitarian intervention, leading to a magnificent world. It’s interesting to read, it’s not that long ago and it was all over the Western world. Well, not everybody was so enraptured, needless to say. In the global South, the traditional victims saw it a bit differently, so they bitterly condemned what they called the so-called right of humanitarian intervention, they recognized it as being just the old right of imperialistic domination. There were some more sober voices at home I should say, not everybody was following the Kim il-Sung style. So for example, there were prestigious voices that pointed out that the US was becoming the “rogue super power” considered by much of the world to be “the single greatest external threat” to their societies, and that the prime rogue state today is the US. These were not marginal voices. That’s Samuel Huntington, very prestigious Harvard professor, and Robert Jervis in his presidential address for the American Political Science Association. So not marginal voices. But they were kind of drowned out in the enthusiasm for the noble phase, saintly glow, etc…

Of course, the global South didn’t share in this passionate acclaim. It saw the world much as Huntington and Jervis described. After Bush Junior took over, this hostility to the US in the global South, particularly the Middle East, grew enormously. His approval ratings shot down. Obama has carried out a major feat. He succeeded in lowering his popularity in the Arab world even below Bush. That’s not a small achievement. He’s now down I think to 5 per cent approval in Egypt and similar numbers elsewhere.

Meanwhile the decline continued. In the last decade, something very significant happened: South America has been “lost”. The threat had been around for a long time, there were plenty of brutal interventions and so on, but it finally happened. By the last decade they’ve really moved for the first time in 500 years towards integration, independence. All US military bases have been kicked out of South America. They’re really going their own way. Right now a new organization has been formed, CELAC, which includes every country of the Western hemisphere apart from what’s called the Anglosphere: Britain’s extensions, the US and Canada. The rest of the hemisphere is moving independently. If that actually functions, it will be another great loss to the Grand Area planning. And it’s serious. When the Nixon Administration was planning to destroy another virus, parliamentary democracy in Chile, installing the Pinochet dictatorship, the National Security Council, the main planning body, advised that if the US cannot control Latin America, it won’t be able to achieve “a successful order” elsewhere in the world – that is, to run the rest of the world. So it’s critical to maintain control over Latin America. That’s been lost.

That was bad enough, but the Middle East is far more significant and that’s beginning to happen. I already quoted the government assessments of the significance of the Middle East. And planners recognized, as I quoted, that if we control the Middle East, we can control the world; and as a corollary, if you lose control of the Middle East, control of the world declines. Well, policies are pretty much the same. It doesn’t have much to do with access to Middle East oil. The US had the same policies when it was the major oil producer and wasn’t taking a drop of oil from the Middle East. The issue is control, and its maintenance. There’s a further danger to US hegemony and that’s the possibility that the Middle East might move towards some form of democracy. The Middle East and North Africa, what’s called MENA. Now of course there’s lots of rhetoric about a yearning for democracy and on and on, but there are very elementary reasons why the US and its allies can’t tolerate democracy in the Middle East and would do anything to prevent it. To understand why, it’s only necessary to look at the polls of public opinion. Polls taken by leading American polling agencies, released by prestigious institutions. They barely get reported but planners certainly know about them. So for example they know that in Egypt, the most important country, a year ago about 90 per cent of the population regarded the US and Israel as the major threats to their existence. Maybe 10 per cent think of Iran as a threat, they don’t like Iran, but they don’t consider it a threat. In fact about 80 per cent think the region would be more secure if Iran would have nuclear weapons. Independently of this they don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons but in the context of balancing the major threats, US and Israel, 80 per cent think that would be a good idea. And you get fairly similar figures in the region, it varies a little bit. Well, you know the last thing the US and Britain and France want is for public opinion to have an influence on policy for obvious reasons and that’s supposed to be what democracy means. So they’ll do everything possible to stifle democracy. After the partial victories in Egypt the regime is still pretty much intact. But there have been victories, they shouldn’t be underestimated. The first actions that were taken in Egypt are very threatening to the US and Israel. So right after the overthrow of Mubarak, the Egyptian government permitted Iranian ships to transit the Suez canal, the first time in 30 years, including military vessels, maybe submarines. The Mediterranean is supposed to be an American lake, nobody is supposed to interfere there, especially Iran, the hated enemy. They’re moving towards better relations with Iran. Egypt also sponsored a unification between Hamas and Fatah. Whether they will get anywhere is another question but they did try to implement a unity agreement. That’s extremely threatening to the US and Israel. For 20 years ever since the Oslo accords – the Oslo accords incidentally declare that Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial entity. But as soon as the US and Israel got the accords through, they immediately proceeded to do the opposite, to try to break Gaza from the West Bank. That’s quite important, because if any kind of Palestinian entity ever arises, if it’s separated from Gaza, not only does it lose a lot of its population, but it loses its only access to the outside world. Take a look at the geography. Whatever is left of the West Bank will be contained within Israel and the Jordanian dictatorship. Now if you look at the actual plans of Israeli settlement, they’re proceeding to make this even narrower. So separating from Gaza is quite important and steps towards somehow overcoming that division would be considered very harmful and are strongly opposed by the US and Israel. Now the most serious problem, the one that they’re really worried about, is the 1979 Israel–Egypt peace treaty. Public opinion in Egypt doesn’t want to get rid of the peace treaty, but they don’t like the way the dictatorship interpreted it. It was interpreted right away, and Israel and the US understood this, as giving licence to Israel to do anything it wanted. So the Egyptian deterrent is gone, Israel is now free to attack its northern neighbour, Lebanon, as it did almost immediately and escalate its operations in the West Bank. The Egyptian public didn’t like that, still doesn’t like it. And if they have any influence they might threaten the interpretation of the treaty. The way that’s described in the West is “threatening the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East”. Stability remember, has a technical meaning: “do what we say”. In the literal meaning, the treaty is the cornerstone of instability in the Middle East, like invading Lebanon and taking over the West Bank. But not from the Western point of view.

Now there is a lot more to say but I just want to make a comment about one more crucial fact. American decline is quite real, and in large measure is self-inflicted. That has to do with policies that have been instituted since the 1970s. A major change in the world order took place in the 1970s. The international economic system was radically redesigned in the West. That meant two major developments: shift towards financialization, the financial institutions have just exploded since that time, they don’t do much for the economy except create a lot of concentrated wealth and of course continual crashes and so on. But the economy became financialized and manufacturing started moving offshore. It continues, but somewhere else. That had very significant effects. Both of these developments had to do with an underlying factor: a declining rate of profit in manufacturing, which made it better to invest in games with money, speculating against currencies and so on, and production offshore. What the West has been doing (the US, Britain and others), is living out a kind of a nightmare that was described by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the classical economists. Of course they were interested in England and they described what could happen if in England the people who Smith called the masters of mankind – the merchants and manufacturers – would decide to do their business abroad, invest abroad and import from abroad. Smith concluded business would prosper but England would suffer. However he said, this is not going to happen, and the reason is because the British manufacturers and merchants would have what’s called a home bias. They would prefer to do their business in England. So as if by an “invisible hand”, England would be saved from the ravages of what we call a neoliberal globalized market. Actually that’s a hard paragraph to miss, it’s the one time where the famous phrase “invisible hand” appears in his classic Wealth of Nations, in what amounts to a critique of neoliberal globalization. David Ricardo essentially said the same thing, he said that if England’s merchants and manufacturers decide to invest in Portugal and import from Portugal and so on, it’s all going to collapse. But he said he hoped that at least sentimental reasons would prevent them from doing this. They’d prefer for the home country to prosper.

The classical economists knew what they were talking about, they were not fools and it’s happening, we’re living in the middle of that nightmare, just what they predicted. The effect is very narrow concentration of wealth. The US is going off the spectrum, I mean a tiny sector of the population, so small that the census bureau can’t even pick them up, about a tenth of one per cent, is responsible for most of the massive inequality. And of course the concentration of economic power immediately turns into concentration of political power, so you get further legislation to escalate the same process and a vicious cycle is under way. It’s not becoming a third world country but it’s having very significant effects on the nature of the society, Britain as well. I won’t go into that any further but the business world understands it very well and I should say the successes of the policy are quite real. Apart from the radical concentration of wealth, by shedding the remnants of political democracy, which is what is happening, they are laying the basis for carrying the lethal process forward and will as long as the victims are willing to suffer in silence, not just in the US of course.


John Lyndon from OneVoice: Could you talk a little bit about whether there will be a change in calculus in the part of US foreign policy and also Israeli foreign policy if we do see a democratic surge within the Arab world and if Israel’s behaviour becomes more of a burden to US foreign policy?

It’s happening, it’s very important. That’s actually begging to happen, and there are some interesting indications of recalculation in how US planning circles evaluate the value of Israel’s role. You probably saw the statement of David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, who said that Israel’s intransigence is stirring up dangers and opposition to US forces in the field. We’ve got these armies out there protecting freedom, according to him, and the way Israel is acting is creating opposition to them. He was told to shut up and he instantly shut up but he’s reflecting opinions that are increasingly being voiced in military and intelligence and sometimes even in political circles. If that extends, which it could, you could have a wave of anti-Semitism in the US which would be ferocious, it’s not that far below the surface, I’m old enough to remember. But you start parading the conception that Israeli Jews are threatening our brave boys and girls in Afghanistan, you can guess the reaction, that could happen. There was recently a more polite version of this. There’s a group called the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), it’s kind of a conservative think tank that works out international policy. Pretty conservative, if you know Anthony Cordesman, he’s one of their Middle East/military specialists. They just came out with a study saying that the US ought to rethink its reflexive commitment to Israeli power and violence and that it may be becoming harmful to their interests. I don’t know if that will grow or not. There’s a lot of factors opposed to it including ones that are rarely considered. There’s a lot to overcome. One factor is the strategic relationship, another one is a couple of properties of the Anglosphere, Britain and its offshoots. These are, by comparative standards, deeply religious societies. Christian Zionism long precedes Jewish Zionism. It’s not just evangelicals, it’s high circles like Lord Balfour, Lloyd George and the Roosevelt Administration and others. And it’s pretty strong, so for example during the First World War, when British General Allenby conquered Jerusalem, you read the headlines in the major press, the elite press. Richard the Lionheart has won the crusades, defeating Saladin, he’s now saved the holy land for us, he’s got rid of the pagans, and the holy book says that the next thing that’s supposed to happen is the Jews go back to Palestine. That’s when you get the Balfour Declaration, the mandate basically including the Balfour Declaration, and so on. Of course the very small Zionist movement tried to capitalize on this and it continued. High officials of the Roosevelt Administration described the return of Jews to Palestine as literally the most important event in history. And that continues right up to the present.

There’s another fact about the Anglosphere which is significant. The Anglosphere has a somewhat different history of imperialism from most of the West – there are some exceptions. But in the Anglosphere, the British colonists got rid of the population, pretty much exterminated them, they didn’t get rid of all of them everywhere – in the US huge proportion, in Canada most, Australia the same. And Britain has kind of a similar history in its expansion. This did happen in some other places like the French in Algeria, but most of the imperial record is quite different. And that means in the Anglosphere there is kind of an intuitive support for the idea that this outpost of European civilization should get rid of the natives. I mean we did it so it’s got to be right. They’re doing it and besides it’s following God’s will and that’s a pretty significant factor, I think somewhat underestimated. A cultural factor in addition to the strategic factor, but it can change. There have been a number of times in the past when Washington simply has compelled Israel to abandon plans that it desperately wanted to pursue and when the orders come from Washington, they’ve got to follow it. And that’s true even of the Bush Administration, second Bush Administration, first one also. And that could happen but what the consequences would be is interesting to ask.

Actually what Britain and Europe do is also quite important. Just take the last couple of weeks. The West has this illusion, probably a conscious illusion, about a negotiating process in Palestine. There is this honest broker, the US, who is trying to bring together the two recalcitrant sides and is dedicating enormous efforts to this but can’t quite make it work. Now for 35 years, the US has unilaterally blocked a very broad international consensus on a political settlement. First veto was in 1976, and it’s continued. If there were a serious negotiating process, there would be some neutral party, maybe Brazil, running it. And on one side would be the US and Israel and the other side would be the Palestinians. Well, that’s not the way it’s presented in the elite Western culture. Now the Palestinians did make an effort in the last couple of weeks to try to get around the idle negotiating process, I mean the US and Israel would probably be happy to let the negotiations go on forever while Israel takes over everything it wants and so on. The Palestinians did make an effort to get around it at the UN and it’s interesting to see what happened. Almost the entire world supports the Palestinian call for statehood. The US of course opposes it. So the crucial question is, what’s Europe going to do. And Europe capitulated, very courageous I must say. Totally capitulated, in fact they kind of rubbed it in by picking the pathetic Tony Blair to deliver the message to the Palestinians saying “go back into your corner”. That’s a pretty pathetic performance I must say and very significant. I mean if Europe refuses to act with even minimal courage and integrity, it’s going to be very hard for anything to happen. And they’re not forced to. I mean Europe can be an independent force in the world affairs, it’s a choice.

What’s to be done after that depressing analysis?

Well I think it’s pretty obvious. We live in fairly free countries. There’s not a lot of repression by comparative standards. We have lots of opportunities, lots of things to be done. Right now for example there are very important developments. The Occupy movements which began in Wall Street have grown very fast, spreading all over the country. I think there is one coming up in London next week. These are pretty important. I mean the goals are not very precisely formulated but things can emerge. But it’s a sign that the public is saying we’re just not willing to continue to be victims of this. And if they decide not to be victims, you can almost do anything. You can change the policies, they can move on well beyond the political regime. In fact it’s kind of intriguing to look at the formulated demands of Occupy Wall Street, you know the main one. They have formulated their demands, you can read them on the Internet. And they’re quite interesting. For example they begin by describing themselves as acting in the tradition of the uprisings in the 1930s in the US that led to the New Deal, the civil rights movement and the Arab spring. It would be nice if that were true but it’s not true in crucial ways which can be overcome. In the 1930s it wasn’t occupy Wall Street, it was reconstitution of a labour movement that had been smashed in the 1920s, the beginnings of industrial organizing and quite significant militant activities. Sit down strikes. Sit down strikes are terrifying to the owners. A sit down strike is just one step before recognizing “ok, we’ll kick you out managers and we will take it over and run it ourselves” which they can do and the business world was petrified. If you read the business press at the time, it was kind of trembling in fear. But we’re a long way from that. That didn’t happen but it did lead to New Deal legislation which was a pretty significant kind of social democratic legislation. The civil rights movement, everyone thinks of the march on Washington, Martin Luther King, I have a dream, etc… But there was a long background, a background of hard difficult struggle with a lot of young people in the forefront. And it was pretty bloody, it was pretty repressive. And also the civil rights movement up to that point had northern support. Northern liberals are perfectly happy with denunciation of racist Alabama sheriffs. So they would pat Martin Luther King on the head and say we love your dream. Shortly after that, the civil rights movement and King moved on to King’s express opposition to the Vietnam war, but more significantly he moved on to class issues. He went on to try to organize a poor people’s movement. When he was assassinated he was on his way to Washington to take steps towards that and he appeared in a sanitation workers strike. That’s the time he was assassinated. Listen to the speeches on Martin Luther King day. They’re pretty much stuck with “I have a dream”. When it went on to class issues, the northern liberals didn’t know what to do with that and that part of King’s career is kind of white-washed out. That’s worth remembering.

As far as the Arab spring is concerned, there are some facts about it that shouldn’t be ignored. They’ve been brought out particularly by Joel Beinin, an American scholar who’s done a lot of work on the Arab labour movement for years. And he’s pointed out something which I think is quite correct, that the successes of the Arab spring, which are real even if partial, correlate pretty closely with the existence of an active militant labour movement with a long tradition of struggle. So in the two countries where something notable has happened, Tunisia and Egypt, that’s what they have. In Egypt particularly there’s a militant labour movement that has been operating for years, crushed by the dictatorship but with some victories too. In fact the current January 25 movement, which in the West is usually described as sophisticated young people with Twitter and so on. It’s not false but it’s worth remembering that the movement has a name. It’s the April 6th movement and though it doesn’t mean anything in the West it means something in Egypt. April 6th 2008 is the date when the militant labour movement in Egypt had declared major strike actions in big industrial installations with supporting demonstrations all over. It was crushed by the dictatorship. The US-,West-, UK-backed dictatorship. We don’t know about it but they remember and that’s the April 6th movement. In fact the current tech-savvy organizers were part of that. And in fact when the labour Unions began to enter into the protests, they became much more substantial. A lot more to say but I think this is one core element that shouldn’t be overlooked and that plainly is lacking so far.

The labour leadership doesn’t want to have much to do with occupying movements so far, with a few exceptions, though there’s rank and file participation. So there are big gaps to fill but they can be filled just like these things were done and you have lots of opportunities, by comparative standards again, very free of repression, which means a lot of opportunity for action to be taking place. It’s a question of choice as to whether to be passive in the face of what’s going on or take over and do something about it.

What do you think are the chances of building a globalized resistance where local struggles are joined up and where people here perhaps could support global struggles in other parts of the world where they have less freedom than we have? And where do you think the impetus for that might come from?

I think the prospects are pretty good. All of these “losses” that I’ve described are cases where parts of the world have freed themselves from Western domination and they are significant ones: South America, to an extent the Middle East, East Asia. These are big changes and in fact there have been, in the last ten years, global movements which have been involved with this: the World Social Forum and its offshoots in many places are one example. These provide instruments for cooperative work. In fact, it’s kind of interesting to look at one of the dramatic moments during the Egyptian uprising in this year, around late February when one of the labour activists in Egypt, Kamal Abbas, sent a message to Madison Wisconsin where there were popular demonstrations to protect labour rights that are under attack. And his message was: “we the Egyptian workers are expressing our solidarity for your struggles”. It’s a little sick that that’s the direction it has to go but it’s real. And there’s many more possibilities to go in the opposite direction.

Noam Chomsky is Professor of Linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first Honorary Fellow of the International State Crime Initiative.

© 2011 by Noam Chomsky

The Editors wish to extend special thanks to Sofia Kintis Dilinos for her transcription of this lecture.


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