EXCLUSIVE-Neo Liberal policies are the cause for world strife: Prof. Noam Chomsky

 

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The world’s leading public intellectual, Prof. Noam Chomsky in an exclusive interview with Daily Mirror, spoke on many issues that have pervaded the current political scenario.  In the interview, he details the reasons behind the election victory of Donald Trump, his views on the rise of the ‘Right Wing’ and the causes that resulted in the people losing confidence in mainstream political establishments. Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s most cited scholars, considered the ‘Father of modern linguistics’, a paradigm shifter in Human Sciences, Cognitive Scientist, Philosopher and the world’s leading political dissident, spoke to Daily Mirror on a wide array of topics at his study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Boston. Having written his first landmark work ‘Synctactic Structures’ laying the groundwork for the scientific study of language in 1957, he co-created the Universal Grammar theory and the Generative grammar theory among others. Chomsky’s foray into political dissidence was during the Vietnam War when he penned down an anti-war essay titled ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’. His activism resulted in multiple arrests and was placed on consecutive watch lists by the Government of United States. He has since spearheaded thought through numerous books and publications, most of which are political in nature including ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (1988), ‘Understanding Power’ (2002), ‘Necessary Illusions’ (1989), ‘On Power and Ideology’ (1987), ‘Problems of Knowledge and Education’ (1971) ‘Propaganda and the Public Mind (2001) and ‘On Palestine’ (2015), among many others. Born on December 7, 1928 to Jewish parents in Philadelphia, Avram Noam Chomsky developed a keen and critical mind, questioning the existing institutional, academic and governance structures since his early teens. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Chomsky studied philosophy, logic and languages after which he was named to the Society of Fellows at the Harvard University. Thereafter he commenced teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he currently continues to have ties with as a Professor Emeritus. He married Carol Doris in 1949 to whom he remained faithful until her death in 2008. He is the father of three children and currently resides in Boston. He shared the following: Q: It is both a pleasure and a privilege to have you speak for the first to a Sri Lankan entity – The Daily Mirror. Since we are confined by time, I would appreciate if the answers are kept as brief as possible. To start off with, during the recent election of Donald Trump, we saw a kind of rise of racism and xenophobia, a phenomenon of right wing populism that we are seeing across the world including in Sri Lanka. What are your views on this? A: There are many factors but there are some that are pretty common, certainly for the United States and Europe from which I have just returned, incidentally. One factor that is common and which is very significant is the Neo Liberal programme that was instituted globally, roughly around 35 years ago, around 1980 or a little before and picking up afterwards. These are programmes that were designed in such a way that they marginalize and cast aside a considerable majority of the population. So in the United States if you take a look at say the Trump voters, they are not the poorest people. They have homes, they have jobs, and they have small businesses. They may not have the jobs they like but they are not starving and are not living on US$ 2 a day. These are people who have been stuck for 30 years. Their history and their own image of life and history and the country is- that they have worked hard all their lives, they have done all the right things. They have families, they go to Church and they have done everything right just as their parents did. They’ve been moving forward, which they expected to continue: that their children would be better off than they are, but it hasn’t happened. It stopped. As if they are in a line, in which they were moving forward and it stopped. Ahead of them in the line are people who have just shot up into the stratosphere: that is Neo Liberalism. It concentrates wealth in tiny sectors. They don’t mind that, because part of the American mythology is that you work hard and you get rewards. It is not what happens but that fits the picture, the mythology. The people behind them are the ones they resent. This is not untypical; scapegoating. Blame your problems on those who are even worse off than you. And their conception is that the Federal Government is their enemy, which works for the people behind them. That the Federal Government gives Food Stamps to people who don’t want to work, that it gives welfare payments to women who drive in rich cars to welfare offices. (These are) images that Ronald Reagan concocted. Their thinking is that, ‘the Federal Government is helping to put them in line ahead of me, but nobody is working for me’. That picture is all over the West. A large part of it was behind the Brexit vote, in the United States they would blame Mexican immigrants, or Afro Americans, in the UK they would blame the Polish immigrants, in France the North Africans and in Austria the Syrian immigrants. The choice of target depends on the society, but the phenomenon is pretty similar. The general nature is pretty similar. There are streaks of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and opposition to gay rights and all sorts of things. And they coalesce when economic and social policies have been designed in such a way which essentially ignores these people and their concerns and doesn’t work for them — and seems to them to work against them. Q: But don’t you think Professor, the notion of an isolationist imperial power, a non-intervening imperial interest that Donald Trump has promised, is something positive for countries like Sri Lanka and the third world at large? A: Isolationist is a very funny word. Take Donald Trump’s recent appointments — the important appointments. The most important appointment is his National Strategy Advisor who is Michael Flynn. He is a radical Islamophobe. He thinks we should go to war with the whole Islamic world,– the whole Islamic world. And his view of Islam is not that of a religion, but that it’s a political ideology like fascism, and it is at war with us and that we should destroy it. Is that isolationism? Donald Trump’s position and that of Paul Ryan and other Right Wingers is that we should sharply build up the Pentagon. They talk about our depleted military forces. I mean you don’t know whether to laugh or not. The US spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. It is technologically far more advanced. No other country has hundreds of military bases all over the world, actually forces fighting all over the world. But ‘we are a depleted military force and everybody is about to attack us and we have to build the military more’, is that isolationist? We have to carry out economic war against other countries, is that isolationist? No of course not. This is vulgar imperialism masked by a fraudulent concern for the working people and the middle class. Is there any such concern apparent from his cabinet appointments? (they are) straight out of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. Take a look at the stock market, that tells you how people with power are evaluating his Presidency. (it) Shot up as soon as he was elected. The financial institutions zoomed. The world’s biggest Coal Company ‘Peabody’ which was in bankruptcy had its stock go up by about 50% within days of his election. The military industry, energy industries, pharmaceuticals..they are all going to the sky. Is that an illusion? No, it’s not. That’s the policy, the appeal is not so much the poor, but working people who have suffered, not suffered in the sense of real deep poverty, but suffered in the sense of a loss of status, a loss of dignity, and a loss of hope for the future. In the United States this is combined with an objective fact. That this country is built on extremist white supremacy, comparative measures of white supremacy across the world has put the United States way in the lead, even ahead of white South Africa, and now the white population is becoming a minority. Q: You bring in two interesting points; one is on white supremacy and the other is on Islam and Islamophobia. Firstly though, this idea of supremacy, we have seen this even in parts of South Asia. If you see the rise of Narendra Modi, it was along the same populist lines and even in post war Sri Lanka we are seeing these same attitudes swelling up. So it is not something confined to the US. What do you think the real reason is for this? A: Different reasons for different places. In India it’s the rise of Hindu nationalism, which is extremely dangerous. It looks like there is an alliance building up with these xenophobic Right Wing forces around the world. If you noticed, the reactions to Trumps election across the world, was great enthusiasm from the ultra-Right all over. In fact, his first contact was with Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP in England and it went on like that. There are common features, but different factors in different countries. In India, it is the Muslims, in the United States it’s Muslims too. But there were also Mexicans and so on. But I think throughout the world you see a similar failure of mainstream establishment institutions to deal with the people’s real problems. Q: Aren’t these fears about the Muslims real? Even in Sri Lanka, there is this fear about the Muslims, along the lines of the fear prevailing in the West. Aren’t these fears about the Muslims real? A: They are not unreal. Hitler’s fears about the Jews under the Nazis were not totally unreal. There were rich Jewish bankers, there were Jewish Bolsheviks. Any propaganda system, no matter how vulgar or disgraceful, can only succeed if there are at least small elements of truth. They may be small. While you are in Boston if you listen to ‘Talk Radio’ the main radio- all very Right Wing – you will hear people speaking about Syrian refugees and how they are being treated like princes. That they have been given all kinds of money, that they have been given health services, and education – ‘all kinds of things that we don’t have the Syrian refugees get’- How many Syrian refugees are there? A couple of thousand! They probably do get health services, so it is not totally false. But the typical history of scapegoating is to pick vulnerable people and find something that is not totally false about them- because you have to have some element of truth- and then build it up into a colossus which is about to overcome you. I mean there are states in the United States in the Midwest, where the legislature has passed laws banning Shari’a. How likely is Shari’a going to be imposed in Oklahoma? I mean you know it is not zero. You can find a woman somewhere who is wearing a veil, so there is something. But that’s the way it works. I think in Sri Lanka there is a pretty ugly history after all; I don’t have to recount it. You can find plenty of cases of massive atrocities and crimes and so on. A demagogic leader and the administration which is not working in the interest of the population but in the interest of wealth and power, almost reflexively is going to turn to attacks on the vulnerable with the support of the media and often the intellectual classes, and blow up small elements of truth into a massive attack. The United States is extremely interesting in this respect. It is the most safe and secure country in the world, but it is probably the most frightened country in the world. Do you know any other country where people feel that unless they take a gun to Church or a restaurant they might be attacked? I mean, does it happen in Sri Lanka? No! Does it happen anywhere else? but it happens in the United States of America. All over the United States people feel terrified — ‘they are coming after us’, and that goes way back in American history, and it has roots. There are historical roots. Q: Going by what you just said Professor, Edward Said, one of your contemporaries and friends writing in the early 80’s in his seminal work ‘Orientalism’ and ‘Covering Islam’ points out that Islam has been portrayed by the West, as a monolithic entity. That the West ignored the different histories and different cultures and so on. Have the Muslims of today, 30 years on, bought into this propaganda and believe themselves that they are in fact a monolithic entity? A: Take the US or the British policy towards Islam. It has been highly supportive of the most radical elements of Islam. That is true of the British and it’s true of the Americans after they took over from the British. So who is the leading US ally in the Islamic world? Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most extreme, radical, fundamentalist State in the world. But certainly in the Islamic world. And a missionary State, which uses its huge resources to sponsor its Wahabist extremism through Madrasas and so on. It is the main source of Jihadism. The main ally is that — monolithic. I mean what state power does, and propaganda usually follows, is (to) find what will support a power interest. In these cases imperial policy. If it happens to be radical Islam that’s fine. At the same time we might be fighting radical Islam somewhere else. The propaganda system would create images of Islamic terror seeking to destroy us when that turns out to be the plausible kind of scapegoating. So 9/11 happened and the Tamil Tigers atrocities happened. You can use those as ways of building up fear, anger, and anxiety to support the tendency to hide under the umbrella of power from these forces about to destroy us. Like Shari’a law in Oklahoma, got to protect ourselves! Q: You spoke of a new shifting of the world order when you spoke of Nigel Farage and other Right wing elements shifting towards Donald Trump. Is there a shift in the international sphere, like we saw during the Cold War, where the world went into two different sides including the non-aligned? A kind of shift today that is happening, between the Right Wing nativists on the one hand and the Left wing internationalist on the other? A: First of all, I don’t really agree with the conventional version of the Cold War. You take a look at the events of the Cold War. Not what intellectuals talk about, not the ideology. Take a look at the events. The events of the Cold War consisted of violent attacks by the US within its domains — which is most of the world. And Russian, violent attacks its much smaller domain, which was Eastern Europe. That was the Cold War. Each side used the alleged threat of the other as justification for its own internal repression. So the US had to support a terrorist war against Nicaragua because of the Russians, who were not anywhere nearby. The Russians had to invade Hungary because of the Americans. That was the Cold War. There was, in a way, you could describe it as a kind of tacit compact between the two imperial powers: The huge imperial power of the United States, the smaller imperial power of Russia. Kind of a tacit compact in which each side was authorized to carry out violence and repression in its own domains, for the US this means most of the world, without an actual conflict. Now there was a danger, always, a serious danger that an actual conflict might blow up in which case we’re finished. As soon as there is a major nuclear war, humans are done with. So there was always a fear, if there is a confrontation; but if you look at the events of the Cold War you get a very different picture. And it’s the events that matter, not the words. Q: But is there a realignment across the world, Professor, between this Right-wing populist xenophobic elements and… A: No, there is Left liberal populism too, take the United States. Q: You gave me a good precursor to the next question. Isn’t the left liberal dead? I know you’ve had your differences with Slavoj Zizek but as he points out what Clinton personified and is a symbol of is that Left liberal position- a coalition which had you and also Alan Dershowitz, which had ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and Wall Street together. Isn’t this coalesce… A: There is lack of comparison there. Alan Dershowitz speaks for the, it’s kind of a mixture, but the xenophobic extremist Right -he is all over the place. The Left liberal media, say NPR, he’s on it all the time, Right wing media he is on it all the time. Then there’s me. Am I on (them)? In fact, when you leave, take a photograph of one of my favourite front pages of a journal. I liked it so much I framed it. It’s the main Left liberal journal – ‘American Prospect’ – and it has a picture of two evil creatures who are threatening American liberalism, one is Dick Cheney and the other is me. That’s the parallel. And it indicates what’s in the mind of American liberals -“We’re being attacked by these monsters on both sides”- One of them who sits in an office and has no access to anything, the other- the guy who controls the biggest military machine in the world and is invading Iraq, those are the two forces. Same with the rest, ‘Occupy’ versus Wall Street, what’s the comparison? Actually, there is a comparison, but not what’s being described. ‘Occupy’ is very small, it doesn’t begin to compare with Wall Street. But the population does. And a lot of the population supports them (Occupy). In fact take the US election, in terms of numbers, Clinton won pretty easily. But more interestingly, if you look at younger voters, first of all Clinton won overwhelmingly, but Sanders won even more overwhelmingly. Here is somebody who came out of nowhere, no economic support, no rich supporters, no corporate support, 100% media opposition, basically unknown, talking about socialism, which is a bad word, and overwhelmingly won the youth support. Well, the constituency that supported him does not have money, power, corporate backing, and so on. So they are not considered popular, they are just kind of off the spectrum of discussion, but they are there. And they can change policies. Q: Professor, since you spoke of the youth, we have watched you speaking about how Universities dumb down thinking or intellect. You are a person who, since your early teens, you have questioned the status quo, do you see that among the youth today? Are the youth questioning the status quo as much as they should? A: Well, why did an overwhelming majority of young people support Bernie Sanders? That is the answer to your question. Yes, of course they are challenging the status quo. They don’t have wealth, military power, corporate backing, media backing, nor support from intellectuals; but sure, they are challenging the status quo. All the time. Q: But across the globe, aren’t you also seeing them move toward the nativist nation state concept? A: You are seeing that, but you are also seeing something like the Sanders phenomenon, Soy Podemos in Spain. I just happened to be in Barcelona, Barcelona is a major city, and the mayor who was just elected is a Left-wing activist. These things exist all over Europe. The Corbyn phenomenon in England, the Labour Party elite is bitterly opposed to it, of course the Tories kind of like it, because they want to see the Labour Party collapsing. But, it’s substantial. As soon as Corbyn opened a possibility for people, ordinary people, to participate, the Labour Party shot up. These are real opportunities. Take the Trump voters in the United States, many of them voted for Obama in 2008. Why? If you remember the campaign slogan, it was ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and they were voting for hope and change. They didn’t get any hope and they didn’t get any change, so they are disillusioned and now they are voting for someone else who is calling for hope and change. Q: But don’t you see that happening even in South Asia? That it’s either Trump versus Corbyn? That the liberal middle ground, for which I use Hillary Clinton as a symbol is losing ground. That you need to pick a side, instead of staying in the centre? A: Everywhere. Everywhere, the mainstream political organisations which are kind of centrist — centre Left or centre Right — are diminishing and collapsing. That is true of institutions too. There’s anger at institutions, contempt for them, hatred of them. Not just the political institutions, but the banks, the corporations, just about everything except the military. This, to go back to our original discussion, is a reflection, substantially, of the Neo Liberal policies of the past generation. It has harmed much of the population, offered nothing to them, given power and prestige to extreme wealth and professional elites who are protected. So, it leads to anger and resentment against the established institutions. Q: Moving on, has the media changed landscape since you wrote ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in 1989? Is the media manufacturing consent now? A: Well, we didn’t actually say that media is manufacturing consent; we said that -that is what they are trying to do. We discussed the nature of the media. There’s a separate question – to what extent is it effective? And that’s an interesting question, but we didn’t discuss it. They’re still doing it in the same way. In fact, dramatically. Take November 8, two things of critical significance happened on November 8. One of them was massively reported, the other, which was much more important, received no report – that was the Marrakesh Conference of two hundred countries that tried to implement the Paris programmes to try to save the human species from destruction. That’s a lot more important than what happened in the US election. And, in fact, it was undermined by the US election. What happened in Morocco is astounding if you look at it; one country was leading the way to try to save civilization from self-destruction. One country was way behind, trying to lead the way towards self-destruction, the first was China the second was the United States. That is a remarkable spectacle. Did you see a comment on it? Q: Nothing A: That is manufacturing consent. Q: Finally, you have come to the evening of your life after over half-a-century of being the epitome of pioneering thought and intellectual discourse, what are your views on religion? And what is your personal belief of life after death? A: Personally, it means nothing to me, but if it means something to other people, that is fine. As long as they don’t bother others. I don’t ridicule it, I don’t have contempt for it, I have respect for their views, but they are not mine. Q: And your views on religion, you were born into a Jewish family and raised… A: Well, remember that Judaism is fundamentally a religion of practice, more than belief. So, say my grandfather, who was basically still living in the 17th century Eastern Europe was ultra religious. But if I had asked him, did you believe in God? He probably wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. Judaism means carrying out the practices. My father was basically secular, but deeply involved in Jewish life. If you go to a New England church on Sunday morning, you would find people who are deeply religious, but not believers. Religion to them means community, associations, helping each other, having some common values and so on. Religion could be all sorts of things. But to me, it doesn’t happen to be a value; if other people do, that is their business. (Hafeel Farisz) 

source : Dailymirror

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A Brief History of America’s Cold-Blooded, Terroristic Treatment of Cuba

The establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba has been widely hailed as an event of historic importance. Correspondent John Lee Anderson, who has written perceptively about the region, sums up a general reaction among liberal intellectuals when he writes, in the New Yorker, that:

“Barack Obama has shown that he can act as a statesman of historic heft. And so, at this moment, has Raúl Castro. For Cubans, this moment will be emotionally cathartic as well as historically transformational. Their relationship with their wealthy, powerful northern American neighbor has remained frozen in the nineteen-sixties for fifty years. To a surreal degree, their destinies have been frozen as well. For Americans, this is important, too. Peace with Cuba takes us momentarily back to that golden time when the United States was a beloved nation throughout the world, when a young and handsome J.F.K. was in office — before Vietnam, before Allende, before Iraq and all the other miseries — and allows us to feel proud about ourselves for finally doing the right thing.”

The past is not quite as idyllic as it is portrayed in the persisting Camelot image. JFK was not “before Vietnam” – or even before Allende and Iraq, but let us put that aside. In Vietnam, when JFK entered office the brutality of the Diem regime that the US had imposed had finally elicited domestic resistance that it could not control. Kennedy was therefore confronted by what he called an “assault from the inside,” “internal aggression” in the interesting phrase favored by his UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.

Kennedy therefore at once escalated the US intervention to outright aggression, ordering the US Air Force to bomb South Vietnam (under South Vietnamese markings, which deceived no one), authorizing napalm and chemical warfare to destroy crops and livestock, and launching programs to drive peasants into virtual concentration camps to “protect them” from the guerrillas whom Washington knew they were mostly supporting.

By 1963, reports from the ground seemed to indicate that Kennedy’s war was succeeding, but a serious problem arose. In August, the administration learned that the Diem government was seeking negotiations with the North to end the conflict.

If JFK had had the slightest intention to withdraw, that would have been a perfect opportunity to do so gracefully, with no political cost, even claiming, in the usual style, that it was American fortitude and principled defense of freedom that compelled the North Vietnamese to surrender. Instead, Washington backed a military coup to install hawkish generals more attuned to JFK’s actual commitments; President Diem and his brother were murdered in the process. With victory apparently within sight, Kennedy reluctantly accepted a proposal by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to begin withdrawing troops (NSAM 263), but only with a crucial proviso: After Victory. Kennedy maintained that demand insistently until his assassination a few weeks later. Many illusions have been concocted about these events, but they collapse quickly under the weight of the rich documentary record.

The story elsewhere was also not quite as idyllic as in the Camelot legends. One of the most consequential of Kennedy’s decisions was in 1962, when he effectively shifted the mission of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” — a holdover from World War II — to “internal security,” a euphemism for war against the domestic enemy, the population. The results were described by Charles Maechling, who led US counterinsurgency and internal defense planning from 1961 to 1966. Kennedy’s decision, he wrote, shifted US policy from toleration “of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military” to “direct complicity” in their crimes, to US support for “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.” Those who do not prefer what international relations specialist Michael Glennon called “intentional ignorance” can easily fill in the details.

In Cuba, Kennedy inherited Eisenhower’s policy of embargo and formal plans to overthrow the regime, and quickly escalated them with the Bay of Pigs invasion. The failure of the invasion caused near hysteria in Washington. At the first cabinet meeting after the failed invasion, the atmosphere was “almost savage,” Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles noted privately: “there was an almost frantic reaction for an action program.” Kennedy articulated the hysteria in his public pronouncements: “The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong … can possibly survive,” he told the country, though was aware, as he said privately, that allies “think that we’re slightly demented” on the subject of Cuba. Not without reason.

Kennedy’s actions were true to his words. He launched a murderous terrorist campaign designed to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba — historian and Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger’s phrase, referring to the project assigned by the president to his brother Robert Kennedy as his highest priority. Apart from killing thousands of people along with large-scale destruction, the terrors of the earth were a major factor in bringing the world to the brink of a terminal nuclear war, as recent scholarship reveals. The administration resumed the terrorist attacks as soon as the missile crisis subsided.

A standard way to evade the unpleasant topic is to keep to the CIA assassination plots against Castro, ridiculing their absurdity. They did exist, but were a minor footnote to the terrorist war launched by the Kennedy brothers after the failure of their Bay of Pigs invasion, a war that is hard to match in the annals of international terrorism.

There is now much debate about whether Cuba should be removed from the list of states supporting terrorism. It can only bring to mind the words of Tacitus that “crime once exposed had no refuge but in audacity.” Except that it is not exposed, thanks to the “treason of the intellectuals.”

On taking office after the assassination, President Johnson relaxed the terrorism, which however continued through the 1990s. But he was not about to allow Cuba to survive in peace. He explained to Senator Fulbright that though “I’m not getting into any Bay of Pigs deal,” he wanted advice about “what we ought to do to pinch their nuts more than we’re doing.” Commenting, Latin America historian Lars Schoultz observes that “Nut-pinching has been U.S. policy ever since.”

Some, to be sure, have felt that such delicate means are not enough, for example, Nixon cabinet member Alexander Haig, who asked the president to “just give me the word and I’ll turn that f— island into a parking lot.” His eloquence captured vividly the long-standing frustration of US leaders about “That infernal little Cuban republic,” Theodore Roosevelt’s phrase as he ranted in fury over Cuban unwillingness to accept graciously the US invasion of 1898 to block their liberation from Spain and turn them into a virtual colony. Surely his courageous ride up San Juan Hill had been in a noble cause (overlooked, commonly, is that African-American battalions were largely responsible for conquering the hill).

Cuba historian Louis Pérez writes that the US intervention, hailed at home as a humanitarian intervention to liberate Cuba, achieved its actual objectives: “A Cuban war of liberation was transformed into a U.S. war of conquest,” the “Spanish-American war” in imperial nomenclature, designed to obscure the Cuban victory that was quickly aborted by the invasion. The outcome relieved American anxieties about “what was anathema to all North American policymakers since Thomas Jefferson — Cuban independence.”

How things have changed in two centuries.

There have been tentative efforts to improve relations in the past 50 years, reviewed in detail by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh in their recent comprehensive study, Back Channel to Cuba. Whether we should feel “proud about ourselves” for the steps that Obama has taken may be debated, but they are “the right thing,” even though the crushing embargo remains in place in defiance of the entire world (Israel excepted) and tourism is still barred. In his address to the nation announcing the new policy, the president made it clear that in other respects too, the punishment of Cuba for refusing to bend to US will and violence will continue, repeating pretexts that are too ludicrous for comment.

Worthy of attention, however, are the president’s words, such as the following:

“Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We’ve done so primarily through policies that aim to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people … Today, I’m being honest with you. We can never erase the history between us.”

One has to admire the stunning audacity of this pronouncement, which again recalls the words of Tacitus. Obama is surely not unaware of the actual history, which includes not only the murderous terrorist war and scandalous economic embargo, but also military occupation of Southeastern Cuba for over a century, including its major port, despite requests by the government since independence to return what was stolen at gunpoint — a policy justified only by the fanatic commitment to block Cuba’s economic development. By comparison, Putin’s illegal takeover of Crimea looks almost benign. Dedication to revenge against the impudent Cubans who resist US domination has been so extreme that it has even overruled the wishes of powerful segments of the business community for normalization — pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, energy – an unusual development in US foreign policy. Washington’s cruel and vindictive policies have virtually isolated the US in the hemisphere and elicited contempt and ridicule throughout the world. Washington and its acolytes like to pretend that they have been “isolating” Cuba, as Obama intoned, but the record shows clearly that it is the US that is being isolated, probably the primary reason for the partial change of course.

Domestic opinion no doubt is also a factor in Obama’s “historic move” — though the public has, irrelevantly, been in favor of normalization for a long time. A CNN poll in 2014 showed that only a quarter of Americans now regard Cuba as a serious threat to the United States, as compared with over two-thirds thirty years earlier, when President Reagan was warning about the grave threat to our lives posed by the nutmeg capital of the world (Grenada) and by the Nicaraguan army, only two days march from Texas. With fears now having somewhat abated, perhaps we can slightly relax our vigilance.

In the extensive commentary on Obama’s decision, a leading theme has been that Washington’s benign efforts to bring democracy and human rights to suffering Cubans, sullied only by childish CIA shenanigans, have been a failure. Our lofty goals were not achieved, so a reluctant change of course is in order.

Were the policies a failure? That depends on what the goal was. The answer is quite clear in the documentary record. The Cuban threat was the familiar one that runs through Cold War history, with many predecessors. It was spelled out clearly by the incoming Kennedy administration. The primary concern was that Cuba might be a “virus” that would “spread contagion,” to borrow Kissinger’s terms for the standard theme, referring to Allende’s Chile. That was recognized at once.

Intending to focus attention on Latin America, before taking office Kennedy established a Latin American Mission, headed by Arthur Schlesinger, who reported its conclusions to the incoming president. The Mission warned of the susceptibility of Latin Americans to “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands,” a serious danger, as Schlesinger later elaborated, when “The distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes … [and] The poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.”

Schlesinger was reiterating the laments of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who complained to President Eisenhower about the dangers posed by domestic “Communists,” who are able “to get control of mass movements,” an unfair advantage that we “have no capacity to duplicate.” The reason is that “the poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich.” It is hard to convince backward and ignorant people to follow our principle that the rich should plunder the poor.

Others elaborated on Schlesinger’s warnings. In July 1961, the CIA reported that “The extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power … Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,” for which Castro’s Cuba provides a model. The State Department Policy Planning Council explained further that “the primary danger we face in Castro is…in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries… The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half,” ever since the Monroe Doctrine declared the US intention to dominate the hemisphere. To put it simply, historian Thomas Paterson observes, “Cuba, as symbol and reality, challenged U.S. hegemony in Latin America.”

The way to deal with a virus that might spread contagion is to kill the virus and inoculate potential victims. That sensible policy is just what Washington pursued, and in terms of its primary goals, the policy has been quite successful. Cuba has survived, but without the ability to achieve the feared potential. And the region was “inoculated” with vicious military dictatorships to prevent contagion, beginning with the Kennedy-inspired military coup that established a National Security terror and torture regime in Brazil shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, greeted with much enthusiasm in Washington. The Generals had carried out a “democratic rebellion,” Ambassador Lincoln Gordon cabled home. The revolution was “a great victory for free world,” which prevented a “total loss to West of all South American Republics” and should “create a greatly improved climate for private investments.” This democratic revolution was “the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century,” Gordon held, “one of the major turning points in world history” in this period, which removed what Washington saw as a Castro clone.

The plague then spread throughout the continent, culminating in Reagan’s terrorist wars in Central America and finally the assassination of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, by an elite Salvadoran battalion, fresh from renewed training at the JFK Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, following the orders of the High Command to murder them along with any witnesses, their housekeeper and her daughter. The 25th anniversary of the assassination has just passed, commemorated with the usual silence considered appropriate for our crimes.

Much the same was true of the Vietnam war, also considered a failure and a defeat. Vietnam itself was of no particular concern, but as the documentary record reveals, Washington was concerned that successful independent development there might spread contagion throughout the region, reaching Indonesia, with its rich resources, and perhaps even as far as Japan — the “superdomino” as it was described by Asia historian John Dower — which might accommodate to an independent East Asia, becoming its industrial and technological center, independent of US control, in effect constructing a New Order in Asia. The US was not prepared to lose the Pacific phase of World War II in the early 1950s, so it turned quickly to support for France’s war to reconquer its former colony, and then on to the horrors that ensued, sharply escalated when Kennedy took office, later by his successors.

Vietnam was virtually destroyed: it would be a model for no one. And the region was protected by installing murderous dictatorships, much as in Latin America in the same years — it is not unnatural that imperial policy should follow similar lines in different parts of the world. The most important case was Indonesia, protected from contagion by the 1965 Suharto coup, a “staggering mass slaughter” as the New York Times described it accurately, while joining in the general euphoria about “a gleam of light in Asia” (liberal columnist James Reston). In retrospect, Kennedy-Johnson National Security advisor McGeorge Bundy recognized that “our effort” in Vietnam was “excessive” after 1965, with Indonesia safely inoculated.

The Vietnam war is described as a failure, an American defeat. In reality it was a partial victory. The US did not achieve its maximal goal of turning Vietnam into the Philippines, but the major concerns were overcome, much as in the case of Cuba. Such outcomes therefore count as defeat, failure, terrible decisions.

The imperial mentality is wondrous to behold.

Noam Chomsky

Alternet, February 5, 2015

Magna Carta Messed Up the World, Here’s How to Fix It: The “logic” of capitalist development has left a nightmare of environmental destruction in its wake.

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In a few months, we will be commemorating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta—commemorating, but not celebrating; rather, mourning the blows it has suffered.

The first authoritative scholarly edition of Magna Carta was published by the eminent jurist William Blackstone in 1759. It was no easy task. As he wrote, “the body of the charter has been unfortunately gnawn by rats”—a comment that carries grim symbolism today, as we take up the task the rats left unfinished.

Blackstone’s edition actually includes two charters: the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest. The former is generally regarded as the foundation of Anglo-American law—in Winston Churchill’s words, referring to its reaffirmation by Parliament in 1628, “the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land.” The Great Charter held that “No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned,” or otherwise harmed, “except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land,” the essential sense of the doctrine of “presumption of innocence.”

To be sure, the reach of the charter was limited. Nevertheless, as Eric Kasper observes in a scholarly review, “What began as a relatively small check on the arbitrary power of King John eventually led to succeeding generations finding ever more rights in Magna Carta and Article 39. In this sense, Magna Carta is a key point in a long development of the protection of rights against arbitrary executive power.”

Crossing the Atlantic, the Great Charter was enshrined in the US Constitution as the promise that “no person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”

The wording seems expansive, but that is misleading. Excluded were “unpeople” (to borrow Orwell’s useful concept), among them Native Americans, slaves and women, who under the British common law adopted by the founders were the property of their fathers, handed over to husbands. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1975 that women gained the right to serve on juries in all fifty states.

The Fourteenth Amendment applied the “due process”provisions to states. The intent was to include freed slaves in the category of persons, but the effect was different. Within a few years, slaves who had technically been freed were delivered to a regime of criminalization of black life that amounted to “slavery by another name,” to quote the title of Douglas Blackmon’s evocative account of this crime, which is being re-enacted today. Instead, almost all of the actual court cases invoking the Fourteenth Amendment had to do with the rights of corporations. Today, these legal fictions—created and sustained by state power—have rights well beyond those of flesh-and-blood persons, not only by virtue of their wealth, immortality and limited liability, but also thanks to the mislabeled “free-trade” agreements, which grant them unprecedented rights unavailable to humans.

The constitutional lawyer in the White House has introduced further modifications. His Justice Department explained that “due process of law”—at least where “terrorism offenses” are concerned—is satisfied by internal deliberations within the executive branch. King John would have nodded in approval. The term “guilty” has also been given a refined interpretation: it now means “targeted for assassination by the White House” Furthermore, the burden of proof has been shifted to those already assassinated by executive whim. As The New York Times reported, “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties [that] in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants…unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” The guiding principles are clear: force reigns supreme; “law” and “justice” and other frivolities can be left to sentimentalists.

Problems do arise, however, when a candidate for genuine personhood is targeted. The issue arose after the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was accused of inciting jihad in speech and writing as well as unspecified actions. A New York Times headline captured the general elite reaction when he was assassinated: As the West Celebrates a Cleric’s Death, the Mideast Shrugs. Some eyebrows were raised because Awlaki was an American citizen. But even these doubts were quickly stilled.

Let us now put the sad relics of the Great Charter aside and turn to the Magna Carta’s companion, the Charter of the Forest, which was issued in 1217. Its significance is perhaps even more pertinent today. As explained by Peter Linebaugh in his richly documented and stimulating history of Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest called for protection of the commons from external power. The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: food, fuel, construction materials, a form of welfare, whatever was essential for life.

In thirteenth-century England, the forest was no primitive wilderness. It had been carefully nurtured by its users over generations, its riches available to all. The great British social historian R. H. Tawney wrote that the commons were used by country people who lacked arable land. The maintenance of this “open field system of agriculture…reposed upon a common custom and tradition, not upon documentary records capable of precise construction. Its boundaries were often rather a question of the degree of conviction with which ancient inhabitants could be induced to affirm them, than visible to the mere eye of sense”—features of traditional societies worldwide to the present day.

By the eighteenth century, the charter had fallen victim to the rise of the commodity economy and capitalist practice and moral culture. As Linebaugh puts it, “The Forest Charter was forgotten or consigned to the gothic past.” With the commons no longer protected for cooperative nurturing and use, the rights of the common people were restricted to what could not be privatized—a category that continues to shrink, to virtual invisibility.

Capitalist development brought with it a radical revision not only of how the commons are treated, but also of how they are conceived. The prevailing view today is captured by Garrett Hardin’s influential argument that “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” This is the famous “tragedy of the commons”: that what is not owned will be destroyed by individual avarice. A more technical formulation is given in economist Mancur Olson’s conclusion that “unless the number of individuals is quite small, or unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests.” Accordingly, unless the commons are handed over to private ownership, brutal state power must be invoked to save them from destruction. This conclusion is plausible—if we understand “rationality” to entail a fanatic dedication to the individual maximization of short-term material gain.

These forecasts have received some challenge. The late Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work showing the superiority of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins. The historical review in her study, Governing the Commons, ignores the Charter of the Forest and the practice over centuries of nurturing the commons, but Ostrom did conclude that the success stories she’d investigated might at least “shatter the convictions of many policy analysts that the only way to solve [common-pool resource] problems is for external authorities to impose full private property rights or centralized regulation.”

***

As we now understand all too well, it is what is privately owned, not what is held in common, that faces destruction by avarice, bringing the rest of us down with it. Hardly a day passes without more confirmation of this fact. As hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan on September 21 to warn of the dire threat of the ongoing ecological destruction of the commons, The New York Times reported that “global emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels,” while in the United States, emissions rose 2.9 percent, reversing a recent decline. August 2014 was reported to be the hottest on record, and JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association predicted that the number of 90-degree-plus days in New York could triple in three decades, with much more severe effects in warmer climates.

It is well understood that most of the world’s fossil-fuel reserves must remain in the ground if an environmental disaster for humankind is to be averted, but under the logic of state-supported capitalist institutions, the private owners of those reserves are racing to exploit them to the fullest. Chevron abandoned a small renewable-energy program because its profits are far greater from fossil fuels. And as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, ExxonMobil announced “that its laserlike focus on fossil fuels is a sound strategy, regardless of climate change.” This is all in accord with the capitalist doctrine of “rationality.”

A small part of the remaining commons is federal land. Despite the complaints of the energy lobbies, the amount of crude oil produced from onshore federal lands in 2013 was the highest in over a decade, according to the Interior Department, and it has expanded steadily under the Obama administration. The business pages of newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post are exultant about “the boom in American energy production,” which shows “no signs of slowing down, keeping the market flush with crude and gasoline prices low.” Predictions are that the United States will “add a million more barrels of oil in daily production over the next year,” while also “expanding its exports of refined products like gasoline and diesel.” One dark cloud is perceived, however: maximizing production “might have a catastrophic effect” in “the creation of a major glut.” And with climate-change denier James Inhofe now chairing the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and others like him in positions of power, we can expect even more wonderful news for our grandchildren.

Despite these long odds, the participants in the People’s Climate March are not alone. There is no slight irony in the fact that their major allies throughout the world are the surviving indigenous communities that have upheld their own versions of the Charter of the Forest. In Canada, the Gitxaala First Nation is filing a lawsuit opposing a tar-sands pipeline passing through its territory, relying on recent high-court rulings on indigenous rights. In Ecuador, the large indigenous community played an essential part in the government’s offer to keep some of its oil in the ground, where it should be, if the rich countries would compensate Ecuador for a fraction of the lost profits. (The offer was refused.) The one country governed by an indigenous majority, Bolivia, held a World People’s Conference in 2010, with 35,000 participants from 140 countries. It produced a People’s Agreement calling for sharp reductions in emissions, as well as a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. These are key demands of indigenous communities all over the world.

So, as we commemorate the two charters after 800 years, all of this gives us ample reason for serious reflection—and for determined action.

Noam Chomsky

The Nation, March 23, 2015

One Day in the Life of a Reader of the New York Times

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A front-page article is devoted to a flawed story about a campus rape in the journal Rolling Stone, exposed in the leading academic journal of media critique. So severe is this departure from journalistic integrity that it is also the subject of the lead story in the business section, with a full inside page devoted to the continuation of the two reports. The shocked reports refer to several past crimes of the press: a few cases of fabrication, quickly exposed, and cases of plagiarism (“too numerous to list”). The specific crime of Rolling Stone is “lack of skepticism,” which is “in many ways the most insidious” of the three categories.

It is refreshing to see the commitment of the Times to the integrity of journalism.

On page 7 of the same issue, there is an important story by Thomas Fuller headlined “One Woman’s Mission to free Laos from Unexploded Bombs.” It reports the “single-minded effort” of a Lao-American woman, Channapha Khamvongsa, “to rid her native land of millions of bombs still buried there, the legacy of a nine-year American air campaign that made Laos one of the most heavily bombed places on earth” – soon to be outstripped by rural Cambodia, following the orders of Henry Kissinger to the US air force: “A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” A comparable call for virtual genocide would be very hard to find in the archival record. It was mentioned in the Times in an article on released tapes of President Nixon, and elicited little notice.

The Fuller story on Laos reports that as a result of Ms. Khamvongsa’s lobbying, the US increased its annual spending on removal of unexploded bombs by a munificent $12 million. The most lethal are cluster bombs, which are designed to “cause maximum casualties to troops” by spraying “hundreds of bomblets onto the ground.” About 30 percent remain unexploded, so that they kill and maim children who pick up the pieces, farmers who strike them while working, and other unfortunates. An accompanying map features Xieng Khouang province in northern Laos, better known as the Plain of Jars, the primary target of the intensive bombing, which reached its peak of fury in 1969.

Fuller reports that Ms. Khamvongsa “was spurred into action when she came across a collection of drawings of the bombings made by refugees and collected by Fred Branfman, an antiwar activist who helped expose the Secret War.”  The drawings appear in the late Fred Branfman’s remarkable book Voices from the Plain of Jars, published in 1972, republished by the U. of Wisconsin press in 2013 with a new introduction. The drawings vividly display the torment of the victims, poor peasants in a remote area that had virtually nothing to do with the Vietnam war, as officially conceded. One typical report by a 26 year-old nurse captures the nature of the air war: “There wasn’t a night when we thought we’d live until morning, never a morning we thought we’d sur¬vive until night. Did our children cry? Oh, yes, and we did also. I just stayed in my cave. I didn’t see the sunlight for two years. What did I think about? Oh, I used to repeat, `please don’t let the planes come, please don’t let the planes come, please don’t let the planes come.’”

Branfman’s valiant efforts did indeed bring some awareness of this hideous atrocity. His assiduous researches also unearthed the reasons for the savage destruction of a helpless peasant society. He exposes the reasons once again in the introduction to the new edition of Voices. In his words:

“One of the most shattering revelations about the bombing was discovering why it had so vastly increased in 1969, as described by the refugees. I learned that after President Lyndon Johnson had declared a bombing halt over North Vietnam in November 1968, he had simply diverted the planes into northern Laos. There was no military reason for doing so. It was simply because, as U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in October 1969, `Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do’.”

Therefore the unused planes were unleashed on poor peasants, devastating the peaceful Plain of Jars, far from the ravages of Washington’s murderous wars of aggression in Indochina.

Let us now see how these revelations are transmuted into New York Times Newspeak: “The targets were North Vietnamese troops — especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos — as well as North Vietnam’s Laotian Communist allies.”

Compare the words of the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, and the heart-rending drawings and testimony in Fred Branfman’s cited collection.

True, the reporter has a source: U.S. propaganda. That surely suffices to overwhelm mere fact about one of the major crimes of the post-World War II era, as detailed in the very source he cites: Fred Branfman’s crucial revelations.

We can be confident that this colossal lie in the service of the state will not merit lengthy exposure and denunciation of disgraceful misdeeds of the Free Press, such as plagiarism and lack of skepticism.

The same issue of the New York Times treats us to a report by the inimitable Thomas Friedman, earnestly relaying the words of President Obama presenting what Friedman labels “the Obama Doctrine” – every President has to have a Doctrine. The profound Doctrine is “’engagement,’ combined with meeting core strategic needs.”

The President illustrated with a crucial case: “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.”

Here the Nobel Peace laureate expands on his reasons for undertaking what the leading US left-liberal intellectual journal, the New York Review, hails as the “brave” and “truly historic step” of reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. It is a move undertaken in order to “more effectively empower the Cuban people,” the hero explained, our earlier efforts to bring them freedom and democracy having failed to achieve our noble goals. The earlier efforts included a crushing embargo condemned by the entire world (Israel excepted) and a brutal terrorist war. The latter is as usual wiped out of history, apart from failed attempts to assassinate Castro, a very minor feature, acceptable because it can be dismissed with scorn as ridiculous CIA shenanigans. Turning to the declassified internal record, we learn that these crimes were undertaken because of Cuba’s “successful defiance” of US policy going back to the Monroe Doctrine, which declared Washington’s intent to rule the hemisphere. All unmentionable, along with too much else to recount here.

Searching further we find other gems, for example, the front-page think piece on the Iran deal by Peter Baker a few days earlier, warning about the Iranian crimes regularly listed by Washington’s propaganda system. All prove to be quite revealing on analysis, though none more so than the ultimate Iranian crime: “destabilizing” the region by supporting “Shiite militias that killed American soldiers in Iraq.” Here again is the standard picture. When the US invades Iraq, virtually destroying it and inciting sectarian conflicts that are tearing the country and now the whole region apart, that counts as “stabilization” in official and hence media rhetoric. When Iran supports militias resisting the aggression, that is “destabilization.” And there could hardly be a more heinous crime than killing American soldiers attacking one’s homes.

All of this, and far, far more, makes perfect sense if we show due obedience and uncritically accept approved doctrine: The US owns the world, and it does so by right, for reasons also explained lucidly in the New York Review, in a March 2015 article by Jessica Matthews, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “American contributions to international security, global economic growth, freedom, and human well-being have been so self-evidently unique and have been so clearly directed to others’ benefit that Americans have long believed that the US amounts to a different kind of country. Where others push their national interests, the US tries to advance universal principles.” Defense rests.

 

Noam Chomsky

chomsky.info, April 6, 2015

Chomsky-Videos.com

“The Iranian Threat” Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?

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“The Iranian Threat” Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace? By Noam Chomsky

Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”

There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat. After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?

Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”

The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting. The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as “a death sentence for the state of Israel,” which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts — and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.

Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretense of functioning as a normal congressional party. They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a “radical insurgency” that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.

Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force. Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that “they” are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society — though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.

The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency. Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the “pragmatic” conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not “prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement,” even though a unilateral military strike is “far less likely” if Iran behaves.

Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that “Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force” even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants. In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, “the greatest single problem with the agreement.” He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.

“The Greatest Threat”

Opponents of the nuclear deal charge that it does not go far enough. Some supporters agree, holding that “if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.” The author of those words, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, added that “Iran, in its national capacity and as current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement [the governments of the large majority of the world’s population], is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the skeptics of peace and diplomacy.” Iran has signed “a historic nuclear deal,” he continues, and now it is the turn of Israel, “the holdout.”

Israel, of course, is one of the three nuclear powers, along with India and Pakistan, whose weapons programs have been abetted by the United States and that refuse to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Zarif was referring to the regular five-year NPT review conference, which ended in failure in April when the U.S. (joined by Canada and Great Britain) once again blocked efforts to move toward a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Such efforts have been led by Egypt and other Arab states for 20 years. As Jayantha Dhanapala and Sergio Duarte, leading figures in the promotion of such efforts at the NPT and other U.N. agencies, observe in “Is There a Future for the NPT?,” an article in the journal of the Arms Control Association: “The successful adoption in 1995 of the resolution on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was the main element of a package that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT.” The NPT, in turn, is the most important arms control treaty of all. If it were adhered to, it could end the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Repeatedly, implementation of the resolution has been blocked by the U.S., most recently by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2015, as Dhanapala and Duarte point out, “on behalf of a state that is not a party to the NPT and is widely believed to be the only one in the region possessing nuclear weapons” — a polite and understated reference to Israel. This failure, they hope, “will not be the coup de grâce to the two longstanding NPT objectives of accelerated progress on nuclear disarmament and establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.”

A nuclear-weapons-free Middle East would be a straightforward way to address whatever threat Iran allegedly poses, but a great deal more is at stake in Washington’s continuing sabotage of the effort in order to protect its Israeli client. After all, this is not the only case in which opportunities to end the alleged Iranian threat have been undermined by Washington, raising further questions about just what is actually at stake.

In considering this matter, it is instructive to examine both the unspoken assumptions in the situation and the questions that are rarely asked. Let us consider a few of these assumptions, beginning with the most serious: that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace. In the U.S., it is a virtual cliché among high officials and commentators that Iran wins that grim prize. There is also a world outside the U.S. and although its views are not reported in the mainstream here, perhaps they are of some interest. According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States. The rest of the world regards it as the gravest threat to world peace by a large margin. In second place, far below, is Pakistan, its ranking probably inflated by the Indian vote. Iran is ranked below those two, along with China, Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

“The World’s Leading Supporter of Terrorism”

Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat? Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, U.S. intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are defensive — designed, that is, to deter aggression. The U.S. intelligence community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program and that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the U.S., as usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second with about one-third of U.S. expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state. Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which finds “a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have… an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms.”

Iran’s military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight, an imbalance that goes back decades. The CSIS report adds: “The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah.” In other words, they are virtually obsolete. When it comes to Israel, of course, the imbalance is even greater. Possessing the most advanced U.S. weaponry and a virtual offshore military base for the global superpower, it also has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.

To be sure, Israel faces the “existential threat” of Iranian pronouncements: Supreme Leader Khamenei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously threatened it with destruction. Except that they didn’t — and if they had, it would be of little moment. Ahmadinejad, for instance, predicted that “under God’s grace [the Zionist regime] will be wiped off the map.” In other words, he hoped that regime change would someday take place. Even that falls far short of the direct calls in both Washington and Tel Aviv for regime change in Iran, not to speak of the actions taken to implement regime change. These, of course, go back to the actual “regime change” of 1953, when the U.S. and Britain organized a military coup to overthrow Iran’s parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah, who proceeded to amass one of the worst human rights records on the planet.

These crimes were certainly known to readers of the reports of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, but not to readers of the U.S. press, which has devoted plenty of space to Iranian human rights violations — but only since 1979 when the Shah’s regime was overthrown. (To check the facts on this, read The U.S. Press and Iran, a carefully documented study by Mansour Farhang and William Dorman.)

None of this is a departure from the norm. The United States, as is well known, holds the world championship title in regime change and Israel is no laggard either. The most destructive of its invasions of Lebanon in 1982 was explicitly aimed at regime change, as well as at securing its hold on the occupied territories. The pretexts offered were thin indeed and collapsed at once. That, too, is not unusual and pretty much independent of the nature of the society — from the laments in the Declaration of Independence about the “merciless Indian savages” to Hitler’s defense of Germany from the “wild terror” of the Poles.

No serious analyst believes that Iran would ever use, or even threaten to use, a nuclear weapon if it had one, and so face instant destruction. There is, however, real concern that a nuclear weapon might fall into jihadi hands — not thanks to Iran, but via U.S. ally Pakistan. In the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, two leading Pakistani nuclear scientists, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian, write that increasing fears of “militants seizing nuclear weapons or materials and unleashing nuclear terrorism [have led to]… the creation of a dedicated force of over 20,000 troops to guard nuclear facilities. There is no reason to assume, however, that this force would be immune to the problems associated with the units guarding regular military facilities,” which have frequently suffered attacks with “insider help.” In brief, the problem is real, just displaced to Iran thanks to fantasies concocted for other reasons.

Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as “the world’s leading supporter of terrorism,” which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of those movements emerged in resistance to U.S.-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.

Those two villainous Iranian clients also share the crime of winning the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world. Hezbollah is guilty of the even more heinous crime of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon, which took place in violation of U.N. Security Council orders dating back decades and involved an illegal regime of terror and sometimes extreme violence. Whatever one thinks of Hezbollah, Hamas, or other beneficiaries of Iranian support, Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.

“Fueling Instability”

Another concern, voiced at the U.N. by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, is the “instability that Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program.” The U.S. will continue to scrutinize this misbehavior, she declared. In that, she echoed the assurance Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered while standing on Israel’s northern border that “we will continue to help Israel counter Iran’s malign influence” in supporting Hezbollah, and that the U.S. reserves the right to use military force against Iran as it deems appropriate.

The way Iran “fuels instability” can be seen particularly dramatically in Iraq where, among other crimes, it alone at once came to the aid of Kurds defending themselves from the invasion of Islamic State militants, even as it is building a $2.5 billion power plant in the southern port city of Basra to try to bring electrical power back to the level reached before the 2003 invasion. Ambassador Power’s usage is, however, standard: Thanks to that invasion, hundreds of thousands were killed and millions of refugees generated, barbarous acts of torture were committed — Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century — leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world according to WIN/Gallup polls. Meanwhile, sectarian conflict was ignited, tearing the region to shreds and laying the basis for the creation of the monstrosity that is ISIS. And all of that is called “stabilization.”

Only Iran’s shameful actions, however, “fuel instability.” The standard usage sometimes reaches levels that are almost surreal, as when liberal commentator James Chace, former editor of Foreign Affairs, explained that the U.S. sought to “destabilize a freely elected Marxist government in Chile” because “we were determined to seek stability” under the Pinochet dictatorship.

Others are outraged that Washington should negotiate at all with a “contemptible” regime like Iran’s with its horrifying human rights record and urge instead that we pursue “an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states.” So writes Leon Wieseltier, contributing editor to the venerable liberal journal the Atlantic, who can barely conceal his visceral hatred for all things Iranian. With a straight face, this respected liberal intellectual recommends that Saudi Arabia, which makes Iran look like a virtual paradise, and Israel, with its vicious crimes in Gaza and elsewhere, should ally to teach that country good behavior. Perhaps the recommendation is not entirely unreasonable when we consider the human rights records of the regimes the U.S. has imposed and supported throughout the world.

Though the Iranian government is no doubt a threat to its own people, it regrettably breaks no records in this regard, not descending to the level of favored U.S. allies. That, however, cannot be the concern of Washington, and surely not Tel Aviv or Riyadh.

It might also be useful to recall — surely Iranians do — that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the U.S. was not harming Iranians. After all, as soon as they overthrew the hated U.S.-imposed regime of the Shah in 1979, Washington put its support behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who would, in 1980, launch a murderous assault on their country. President Reagan went so far as to deny Saddam’s major crime, his chemical warfare assault on Iraq’s Kurdish population, which he blamed on Iran instead. When Saddam was tried for crimes under U.S. auspices, that horrendous crime, as well as others in which the U.S. was complicit, was carefully excluded from the charges, which were restricted to one of his minor crimes, the murder of 148 Shi’ites in 1982, a footnote to his gruesome record.

Saddam was such a valued friend of Washington that he was even granted a privilege otherwise accorded only to Israel. In 1987, his forces were allowed to attack a U.S. naval vessel, the USS Stark, with impunity, killing 37 crewmen. (Israel had acted similarly in its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.) Iran pretty much conceded defeat shortly after, when the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian ships and oil platforms in Iranian territorial waters. That operation culminated when the USS Vincennes, under no credible threat, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in Iranian airspace, with 290 killed — and the subsequent granting of a Legion of Merit award to the commander of the Vincennes for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and for maintaining a “calm and professional atmosphere” during the period when the attack on the airliner took place. Comments philosopher Thill Raghu, “We can only stand in awe of such display of American exceptionalism!”

After the war ended, the U.S. continued to support Saddam Hussein, Iran’s primary enemy. President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran. Sanctions against that country were intensified, including against foreign firms dealing with it, and actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system.

In recent years the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists (presumably by Israel), and cyberwar, openly proclaimed with pride. The Pentagon regards cyberwar as an act of war, justifying a military response, as does NATO, which affirmed in September 2014 that cyber attacks may trigger the collective defense obligations of the NATO powers — when we are the target that is, not the perpetrators.

“The Prime Rogue State”

It is only fair to add that there have been breaks in this pattern. President George W. Bush, for example, offered several significant gifts to Iran by destroying its major enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. He even placed Iran’s Iraqi enemy under its influence after the U.S. defeat, which was so severe that Washington had to abandon its officially declared goals of establishing permanent military bases (“enduring camps”) and ensuring that U.S. corporations would have privileged access to Iraq’s vast oil resources.

Do Iranian leaders intend to develop nuclear weapons today? We can decide for ourselves how credible their denials are, but that they had such intentions in the past is beyond question. After all, it was asserted openly on the highest authority and foreign journalists were informed that Iran would develop nuclear weapons “certainly, and sooner than one thinks.” The father of Iran’s nuclear energy program and former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was confident that the leadership’s plan “was to build a nuclear bomb.” The CIA also reported that it had “no doubt” Iran would develop nuclear weapons if neighboring countries did (as they have).

All of this was, of course, under the Shah, the “highest authority” just quoted and at a time when top U.S. officials — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger, among others — were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programs and pressuring universities to accommodate these efforts. Under such pressures, my own university, MIT, made a deal with the Shah to admit Iranian students to the nuclear engineering program in return for grants he offered and over the strong objections of the student body, but with comparably strong faculty support (in a meeting that older faculty will doubtless remember well).

Asked later why he supported such programs under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then.

Putting aside absurdities, what is the real threat of Iran that inspires such fear and fury? A natural place to turn for an answer is, again, U.S. intelligence. Recall its analysis that Iran poses no military threat, that its strategic doctrines are defensive, and that its nuclear programs (with no effort to produce bombs, as far as can be determined) are “a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

Who, then, would be concerned by an Iranian deterrent? The answer is plain: the rogue states that rampage in the region and do not want to tolerate any impediment to their reliance on aggression and violence. In the lead in this regard are the U.S. and Israel, with Saudi Arabia trying its best to join the club with its invasion of Bahrain (to support the crushing of a reform movement there) and now its murderous assault on Yemen, accelerating a growing humanitarian catastrophe in that country.

For the United States, the characterization is familiar. Fifteen years ago, the prominent political analyst Samuel Huntington, professor of the science of government at Harvard, warned in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs that for much of the world the U.S. was “becoming the rogue superpower… the single greatest external threat to their societies.” Shortly after, his words were echoed by Robert Jervis, the president of the American Political Science Association: “In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States.” As we have seen, global opinion supports this judgment by a substantial margin.

Furthermore, the mantle is worn with pride. That is the clear meaning of the insistence of the political class that the U.S. reserves the right to resort to force if it unilaterally determines that Iran is violating some commitment. This policy is of long standing, especially for liberal Democrats, and by no means restricted to Iran. The Clinton Doctrine, for instance, confirmed that the U.S. was entitled to resort to the “unilateral use of military power” even to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” let alone alleged “security” or “humanitarian” concerns. Adherence to various versions of this doctrine has been well confirmed in practice, as need hardly be discussed among people willing to look at the facts of current history.

These are among the critical matters that should be the focus of attention in analyzing the nuclear deal at Vienna, whether it stands or is sabotaged by Congress, as it may well be.

Noam Chomsky

tomdispatch.com, August 20, 2015

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Turkey continues to muzzle democracy’s watchdogs

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By Noam Chomsky and Christophe Deloire

Journalists are the “watchdogs” of democracy, according to the European Court of Human Rights. Anyone who wants to control a country without being troubled by criticism tries to muzzle reporters, and unfortunately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a past master at stifling the cries of freedom. As journalists from around the world converge on Antalya to cover this weekend’s Group of 20 summit, many of their Turkish colleagues are being denied accreditation.

Sidelining opposition media has become a bad habit in Turkey, which is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Four days before the Nov. 1 parliamentary elections, the police stormed Ipek Media Group headquarters and shut down its two opposition dailies and two opposition TV stations. After control of management had been secured and 71 journalists fired, these outlets resumed operations with a new editorial line verging on caricature. The dailies, Bugun and Millet, ran Erdogan’s photo on the front page along with the headlines “The president among the people” and “Turkey united.”

Journalism is being murdered. The fact that the AKP, the ruling party for the past 13 years, recovered an absolute majority in parliament has not sufficed to halt the oppression. Two days after the elections, two journalists were jailed on charges of “inciting an armed revolt against the state” in a story. Since then, some 30 other journalists have been placed under investigation for “terrorist propaganda” or “insulting the president” — the two most common charges.

On Nov. 17, 18 editors and publishers will go on trial for “terrorist propaganda” because of a photograph. They face up to 7½ years in prison. One of these journalists, Cumhuriyet editor Can Dundar , already stood accused of “spying” by Erdogan, who has vowed that Dundar “won’t get away with it.” His paper published evidence that Syria-bound trucks leased by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization had, as suspected, been carrying arms.

For years, the growing concentration of media ownership in the hands of government allies has eroded pluralism and encouraged self-censorship. The authorities have also reined in the Internet. Following draconian reforms, the blocking of Web sites has become systematic. Turkey is responsible for more than two-thirds of the requests to Twitter to remove content. The government does not hesitate to block the entire YouTube platform.

These practices compound problems inherited from the years of military rule: laws restricting freedom of expression, a judicial culture centered on defense of the state and impunity for police violence. The metastasizing Syrian conflict and the resumption of fighting with Kurdish rebels have accentuated governmental paranoia about critical journalists. Far from defusing political and communal tension, the accelerating censorship and aggressive government rhetoric have sharpened it. Demonstrators egged on by the government’s discourse attacked the Istanbul headquarters of the daily Hurriyet twice in early September.

The G-20’s leaders must take stock of the course on which their host has embarked. They need a stable Turkey to help limit the spread of the Syrian chaos and to guarantee its people’s security and prosperity. The Turkish government must stop fueling tension and, for this, it is essential that the truth can be told. Reopening the space for democratic debate is essential for stabilizing the country. Freedom of information is part of the solution.

The Washington Post, November 12, 2015