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Corporations, Law, & Democracy
Bush's Multiplex Wars Iraq, “terrorism,” â€¦
Preventing Iraqi Self-Determination
World Challenges GMOs
Syria: The Next Domino? Will â€¦
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Supporting the Troops A code â€¦
Press the Press
Direct Action at Boeing
Boycott Azteca Tortillas
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Iraq is a Trial Run New “norm” in international relations
N oam Chomsky, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founder of the modern science of linguistics and political activist, spoke on the phone with V. K. Ramachandran about the current U.S.attack on Iraq.
V. K. RAMACHANDRAN: Does the present aggression on Iraq represent a continuation of United States’ international policy in recent years or a qualitatively new stage in that policy?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It represents a significantly new phase. It is not without precedent, but significantly new nevertheless. This should be seen as a trial run. Iraq is seen as an extremely easy and totally defenseless target. It is assumed, probably correctly, that the society will collapse, that the soldiers will go in, and that the U.S. will be in control and will establish the regime of its choice and military bases. They will then go on to the harder cases. The next case could be the Andean region, it could be Iran, it could be others.
The trial run is to try and establish what the U.S. calls a “new norm” in international relations. The new norm is “preventive war.” Notice that new norms are established only by the United States. So, for example, when India invaded East Pakistan to terminate horrendous massacres, it did not establish a new norm of humanitarian intervention, because India is the wrong country, and besides, the U.S. was strenuously opposed to that action.
This is not pre-emptive war; there is a crucial difference. Pre-emptive war has a meaning, it means that, for example, if planes are flying across the Atlantic to bomb the United States, the United States is permitted to shoot them down even before they bomb and may be permitted to attack the air bases from which they came. Pre-emptive war is a response to ongoing or imminent attack.
The doctrine of preventive war is totally different; it holds that the United States—alone, since nobody else has this right—has the right to attack any country that it claims to be a potential challenge to it.
The doctrine of preventive war was announced explicitly in the National Security Strategy last September. It sent shudders around the world, including through the U.S. establishment, where, I might say, opposition to the war is unusually high. The Security Strategy said, in effect, that the U.S. will rule the world by force, which is the dimension—the only dimension—in which it is supreme. Furthermore, it will do so for the indefinite future because if any potential challenge arises to U.S. domination, the U.S. will destroy it before it becomes a challenge.
This is the first exercise of that doctrine. If it succeeds on these terms, as it presumably will, because the target is so defenseless, then international lawyers and Western intellectuals and others will begin to talk about a new norm in international affairs. It is important to establish such a norm if you expect to rule the world by force for the foreseeable future.
I shall mention one precedent, just to show how narrow the spectrum is. In 1963, Dean Acheson, who was a much respected elder statesperson and senior adviser of the Kennedy administration, gave an important talk to the American Society of International Law, in which he justified the U.S. attacks against Cuba. The attack by the Kennedy administration on Cuba was large-scale international terrorism and economic warfare. The timing was interesting—it was right after the Missile Crisis, when the world was very close to terminal nuclear war. In his speech, Acheson said that no “legal issue” arises when the United States responds to a challenge to its “power, position, or prestige,” or words approximating that.
Is it also a new phase in that the U.S. has not been able to carry others with it?
That is not new. In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, the United States did not even try to get international support. Nevertheless, you are right in that this is unusual. This is a case in which the United States was compelled, for political reasons, to try to force the world to accept its position and was not able to. Usually, the world succumbs.
So does it represent a “failure of diplomacy” or a redefinition of diplomacy?
I wouldn’t call it diplomacy—it’s a failure of coercion. Compare it with the first Gulf War. In the first Gulf War, the U.S. coerced the Security Council into accepting its position, although much of the world opposed it. NATO went along and the one country in the Security Council that did not—Yemen—was immediately and severely punished.
In any legal system that you take seriously, coerced judgments are considered invalid, but in the international affairs conducted by the powerful, coerced judgments are fine—they are called diplomacy.
What is interesting about this case is that the coercion did not work. There were countries—in fact, most of them—who stubbornly maintained the position of the vast majority of their populations.
The most dramatic case is Turkey. Turkey is vulnerable to U.S. punishment and inducements. Nevertheless, the new government, I think to everyone’s surprise, maintained the position of about 90 percent of its population. Turkey is bitterly condemned for that here, just as France and Germany are bitterly condemned because they took the position of the overwhelming majority of their populations. The countries that are praised are countries like Italy and Spain, whose leaders agreed to follow orders from Washington over the opposition of maybe 90 percent of their populations.
That is another new step. I cannot think of another case where hatred and contempt for democracy have so openly been proclaimed, not just by the government, but also by liberal commentators and others. There is now a whole literature trying to explain why France, Germany, the so-called “old Europe,” and Turkey and others are trying to undermine the United States. It is inconceivable to the pundits that they are doing so because they take democracy seriously and they think that when the overwhelming majority of a population has an opinion, a government ought to follow it.
That is real contempt for democracy; just as what has happened at the United Nations is total contempt for the international system. There are now calls—from the Wall Street Journal , people in government and others—to disband the United Nations.
Fear of the United States around the world is extraordinary. It is so extreme that it is even being discussed in the mainstream media. The cover story of the upcoming issue of Newsweek is about why the world is so afraid of the United States. The Post had a cover story about this a few weeks ago.
Of course, this is considered to be the world’s fault, that there is something wrong with the world with which we have to deal somehow, but also something that has to be recognized.
The idea that Iraq represents any kind of clear and present danger is, of course, without any substance.
Nobody pays any attention to that accusation, except, interestingly, the population of the United States. In the last few months, there has been a spectacular achievement of government-media propaganda, very visible in the polls. The international polls show that support for the war is higher in the United States than in other countries. That is, however, quite misleading, because if you look a little closer, you find that the United States is also different in another respect from the rest of the world. Since September 2002, the United States is the only country in the world where 60 percent of the population believes that Iraq is an imminent threat—something that people do not believe, even in Kuwait or Iran.
After the September 11 attack, the figure was about 3 percent. Government-media propaganda has managed to raise that to about 50 percent. If people genuinely believe that Iraq has carried out major terrorist attacks against the United States and is planning to do so again, well, in that case people will support the war.
This has happened after September 2002. September 2002 is when the government-media campaign began and also when the mid-term election campaign began. The Bush administration would have been smashed in the election if social and economic issues had been in the forefront, but it managed to suppress those issues in favor of security issues—and people huddle under the umbrella of power.
This is exactly the way the country was run in the 1980s. Remember that these are almost the same people as in the Reagan and the senior Bush administrations. Through the 1980s they carried out domestic policies that were harmful to the population and which, as we know from extensive polls, the people opposed. But they managed to maintain control by frightening the people. So the Nicaraguan army was two days’ march from Texas and the airbase in Grenada was one from which the Russians would bomb us. It was one thing after another, every year, every one of them ludicrous. The Reagan administration actually declared a national emergency in 1985 because of the threat to the security of the United States posed by the government of Nicaragua.
If somebody were watching this from Mars, they would not know whether to laugh or to cry.
They are doing exactly the same thing now and will probably do something similar for the presidential campaign. There will have to be a new dragon to slay, because if the Administration lets domestic issues prevail, it is in deep trouble.
You have written that this war of aggression has dangerous consequences with respect to international terrorism and the threat of nuclear war.
I cannot claim any originality for that opinion. I am just quoting the CIA, other intelligence agencies, and virtually every specialist in international affairs and terrorism. Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy , the study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the high-level Hart-Rudman Commission on terrorist threats to the United States all agree that it is likely to increase terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The reason is simple: partly for revenge, but partly for self-defense. There is no other way to protect oneself from U.S. attack. The United States is making the point very clearly and is teaching the world an extremely ugly lesson.
Compare North Korea and Iraq. Iraq is defenseless and weak; the weakest regime in the region. While there is a monster running it, it does not pose a threat to anyone else. North Korea, on the other hand, does pose a threat. North Korea, however, is not attacked for a very simple reason: it has a deterrent. It has amassed artillery aimed at Seoul and if the United States attacks it, it can wipe out a large part of South Korea.
So the United States is telling the countries of the world: if you are defenseless, we are going to attack you when we want, but if you have a deterrent, we will back off, because we only attack defenseless targets. It is telling countries that they had better develop a terrorist network and weapons of mass destruction or some other credible deterrent; if not, they are vulnerable to “preventive war.” For that reason alone, this war is likely to lead to the proliferation of both terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
How do you think the U.S. will manage the human and humanitarian consequences of the war?
No one knows, of course. That is why honest and decent people do not resort to violence—because one simply does not know. The aid agencies and medical groups that work in Iraq have pointed out that the consequences can be very severe. Everyone hopes not, but it could affect up to millions of people. To undertake violence when there is even such a possibility is criminal.
There is already—that is, even before the war—a humanitarian catastrophe. By conservative estimates, ten years of sanctions have killed hundreds of thousands of people. If there were any honesty, the U.S. would pay reparations just for the sanctions.
The situation is similar to the bombing of Afghanistan. It was obvious the United States was never going to investigate the consequences.
Or invest the kind of money that was needed.
No. First, the question is not asked, so no one has an idea of what the consequences of the bombing were for most of the country. Then almost nothing comes in. Finally, it is out of the news, and no one remembers it any more.
In Iraq, the United States will make a show of humanitarian reconstruction and will put in a regime that it will call democratic, which means that it follows Washington’s orders. Then it will forget about what happens later and will go on to the next one.
How have the media lived up to their propaganda-model reputation this time?
Right now it is cheerleading for the home team. Look at CNN, which is disgusting—and it is the same everywhere. That is to be expected in wartime; the media are worshipful of power.
More interesting is what happened in the build-up to war. The fact that government-media propaganda was able to convince the people that Iraq is an imminent threat and that Iraq was responsible for September 11 is a spectacular achievement and, as I said, was accomplished in about four months. If you ask people in the media about this, they will say, “Well, we never said that,” and it is true, they did not. There was never a statement that Iraq is going to invade the United States or that it carried out the World Trade Center attack. It was just insinuated, hint after hint, until they finally got people to believe it.
Look at the resistance, though. Despite the propaganda, despite the denigration of the United Nations, they haven’t quite carried the day.
The United Nations is in a very hazardous position. The United States might move to dismantle it. I don’t really expect that, but at least to diminish it, because when it isn’t following orders, of what use is it?
You have seen movements of resistance to imperialism over a long period. What are your impressions of the present resistance to U.S. aggression? We take heart in the extraordinary mobilizations all over the world.
There is nothing like it. Opposition throughout the world is enormous and unprecedented and the same is true of the United States. Recently, for example, I was in demonstrations in downtown Boston. The first time I participated in a demonstration there, at which I was to speak, was after the United States had started bombing South Vietnam. Half of South Vietnam had been destroyed and the war had been extended to North Vietnam. At that time, we couldn't hold a demonstration because it was physically attacked, mostly by students, with the support of the liberal press and radio, who denounced these people who were daring to protest against an American war.
On this occasion , however, there were massive protests before the war was launched and once again on the day it was launched—with no counter-demonstrators. That is a radical difference. If it were not for the fear factor that I mentioned, there would be much more opposition.
The government knows that it cannot carry out long-term aggression and destruction as in Vietnam because the population will not tolerate it. There is only one way to fight a war now. First of all, pick a much weaker enemy, one that is defenseless. Then build it up in the propaganda system as either about to commit aggression or as an imminent threat. Next, you need a lightning victory. An important leaked document of the first Bush administration in 1989 described how the U.S. would have to fight war. It said that the U.S. had to fight much weaker enemies and that victory must be rapid and decisive, as public support will quickly erode. It is no longer like the 1960s, when a war could be fought for years with no opposition at all.
In many ways, the activism of the 1960s and subsequent years has made a lot of the world, including this country, much more civilized in many domains.
This interview appeared in Frontline .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.