You can’t pursue any kind of inquiry without a relatively clear framework that’s directing your search and helping you choose what’s significant and what isn’t… If you don’t have some sort of a framework for what matters—always, of course, with the proviso that you’re willing to question it if it seems to be going in the wrong direction.
You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand…And cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track—that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books.
Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests and, in fact, if that’s the kind of educational career you’re given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you discovered.
LEXINGTON, MA—Describing himself as “terribly exhausted,” famed linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky said Monday that he was taking a break from combating the hegemony of the American imperialist machine to try and take it easy for once.
"Take Canada and the United States, very similar societies. Canada has a functioning national healthcare system. The United States is alone in the industrial world in that it doesn’t. Part of the reason for that is the difference in the ways the unions acted. If you go back to the initiation of the healthcare system in Canada came from the labor unions. Except, what they fought for is healthcare for everyone. The American unions fought for healthcare for themselves… The unions were willing to just trust management. Since we’re all in it together, you guys will take care of us. Well, you can see what happened. Management decides, "Sorry, game’s over." They ended up with nothing…
"…[That’s] part of the reason why there’s such a constant effort to try to malign and undermine social security. For example, a lot of young people think that it’s unfair that they have to pay for elderly people… Social security takes money from working people and gives it to elderly people. Now, any civilized society would say that’s very fair. They were working, they took care of you when you were young, why shouldn’t you take care of them when they’re old? This sense of immoralism is really driven into people.
"In fact, a lot of young people think they’ll never get social security because they’re drowned in propaganda about how the system’s collapsing but it’s as healthy as it ever is… There’s a constant effort to privatize it, get rid of it, and I think part of the reason is that social security is residue of that sense of community that was alive in the 30s. You really should take care of each other. Form the CIO, that’s for everybody, not just me. Labor slogans are: Solidarity, not: I Gotta Get What I Want. Social security fortifies it. It relies on it, and also fortifies it. From the point of view of the class warriors in the business world, that’s dangerous. You really want people to be atomized. If they’re atomized, they’re controlled. You can’t control people by force anymore, but you can get them to focus on nothing but maxing out five credit cards, okay you got them under control. They don’t talk to anybody. They have no ideas. They don’t think you can do anything. If you want to talk about American exceptionalism, that’s what it is."
“I don’t understand how people can talk about “free trade” with a straight face. Apart from the transparent violations of free trade built into the World Trade Organization rules-monopolistic pricing guarantees that go far beyond anything in economic history, for example-what does it mean for political entities that rely crucially on the dynamic state sector for economic development (like the US) to enter into “free trade agreements”?”—Noam Chomsky
“The IMF, which is sort of an off-shoot of the US Treasury Department, has had a shattering effect in Latin America. Its programs have been followed more rigorously in Latin America than any other part of the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, and they’ve been a disaster. So take say Bolivia. They’ve been following IMF policies for 25 years, and at the end per-capita income is lower than it was in the beginning. Argentina was the poster-child of the IMF. It was marvelous, it was doing all the things right, they were urging everyone else to follow the same policies, same for the World Bank and the US Treasury Department. Well what happened is it led to a total economic catastrophe.”—Noam Chomsky
“Major industries are devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally, all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic Product. They are dedicated to what the great political economist Thorstein Veblen called “fabricating wants.” In the words of business leaders themselves, the task is to direct people to “the superficial things” of life, like “fashionable consumption.” That way people can be atomized, separated from one another, seeking personal gain alone, diverted from dangerous efforts to think for themselves and challenge authority.”—Noam Chomsky
“There are major institutions that are specifically dedicated to undermining authentic democracy. One of them is called the public relations industry. A huge industry, it was in fact developed on the principle that it’s necessary to regiment the minds of men, much as an army regiments its soldiers - I was actually quoting from one of its leading figures before.”—Noam Chomsky
“As a broader question, however, why do we have copyright laws? Is that the moral way or even the economically efficient way to support the creative arts? I don’t think so; there are better ways. For example, it should be, in a free democratic society, a sort of responsibility arrived at by democratic decision to maintain adequate support for creative arts as we do for science. If that were done, the artists wouldn’t need copyrights to survive. That’s economically more efficient, I believe, and morally more justified.”—Noam Chomsky
“You can’t control people by force anymore, but you can get them to focus on nothing but maxing out five credit cards, okay you got them under control. They don’t talk to anybody. They have no ideas. They don’t think you can do anything.”—Noam Chomsky
An Hour With: Noam Chomsky [podcast 59 minutes] Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of many books including, with Andre Vltchek, On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare, talks about his new book, his body of work and his take on recent events, plus listener calls. Download the file http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio.wnyc.org/bl/bl091813cpod.mp3
In an exclusive interview for Ceasefire, renowned scholar Noam Chomsky talks to Frank Barat about the current situation in the Middle East, notably the crisis in Syria, the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the role of US power in the region.
“Globalization is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world’s people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the peoples of those nations.”—
“So if you decide not to make use of the opportunities that you have; not to try to live your life in a way which is constructive and helpful, you end up looking back and say: ‘Why did I bother living?’”—― Noam Chomsky (via slolane)
“Corporatization can have considerable influence in other ways. Corporate managers have a duty. They have to focus on profit making and seeking to convert as much of life as possible into commodities. It’s not because they’re bad people; it’s their task. Under Anglo-American law, it’s their legal obligation as well. There’s a lot to say about this topic, but one element of it concerns the universities and much else. One particular consequence is the focus on what’s called efficiency. It’s an interesting concept. It’s not strictly an economic concept. It has crucial ideological dimensions. If a business reduces personnel, it might become more efficient by standard measures with lower costs. Typically, that shifts the burden to the public, a very familiar phenomenon we see all the time. Costs to the public are not counted, and they’re colossal. That’s a choice that’s not based on economic theory. That’s based on an ideological decision, which applies directly to the “business models,” as they’re called, of the universities. Increasing class-size or employing cheap temporary labor, say graduate students instead of full-time faculty, may look good on a university budget, but there are significant costs. They’re transferred and not measured. They’re transferred to students and to the society generally as the quality of education, the quality of instruction is lowered.”—Noam Chomsky (via sombrefan)
“Returning to the “victory of democracy” under US guidance, neither Lakoff nor Carothers asks how Washington maintained the traditional power structure of highly undemocratic societies. Their topic is not the terrorist wars that left tens of thousands of tortured and mutilated corpses, millions of refugees, and devastation perhaps beyond recovery- in large measure wars against the Church, which became an enemy when it adopted “the preferential option for the poor,” trying to help suffering people to attain some measure of justice and democratic rights. It is more than symbolic that the terrible decade of the 1980s opened with the murder of an archbishop who had become “a voice for the voiceless,” and closed with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals who had chosen the same path, in each case by terrorist forces armed and trained by the victors of the “crusade for democracy.” One should take careful note that the leading Central American dissident intellectuals were double assassinated: both murdered and silenced. Their words, indeed their very existence, are scarcely known in the United States, unlike dissidents in enemy states, who are greatly honored and admired.”—Noam Chomsky, Profit over People (via gemutlich-geigenspieler)
The first question that comes to mind about “humanitarian intervention” is whether the category exists. Are states moral agents? Or were Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and a host of others correct in concluding that they commonly act in the interests of domestic power - in Smith’s day, the “merchants and manufacturers” who were “by far the principal architects” of policy and whose interests were “most peculiarly attended to,” whatever the effects on others; in ours, corporate and financial power centers, increasingly transnational in scale? A second obvious question has to do with those who are to be in charge: what do their institutions and record lead us to expect?
There is ample documentary material supporting the belief that states are moral agents, in fact uniformly so. Without having read the texts, I presume that when the invasion of Afghanistan began to go sour, pre-Gorbachev Pravda portrayed it as having begun with “blundering efforts to do good” though most people now recognize it to have been a “disastrous mistake” because Russia “could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself;” it was an “error” based on misunderstanding and naiveté, yet another example of “our excess of righteousness and disinterested benevolence.” The quoted phrases are those used to describe Kennedy’s invasion of South Vietnam, later expanded to all of Indochina, at the dissident extreme, well after the Tet offensive convinced US business leaders that the enterprise should be liquidated (Anthony Lewis, John King Fairbank). There is no need to sample the harsher parts of the spectrum.
Furthermore, these examples generalize, though it is true that only in cultures with a deeply totalitarian strain do we find such notions as “anti-Soviet” or “anti-American,” applied to the miscreants who see something other than righteousness and benevolence in the actions of their noble leaders; imagine the reaction to a book on “anti-Italianism” in Milan or Rome, or any society with a functioning democratic culture.
The pattern is familiar since biblical days. But the conventional pronouncements plainly do not suffice to refute skepticism about the morality of states. It is necessary to review the record, which reveals, unequivocally, that the category of “humanitarian intervention” is vanishingly small.
One might take the heroic stand that in the special case of the United States, facts are irrelevant. Thus the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard instructs us that the United States must maintain its “international primacy” for the benefit of the world, because its “national identity is defined by a set of universal political and economic values,” namely “liberty, democracy, equality, private property, and markets” (Samuel Huntington). Since this is a matter of definition, so the Science of Government teaches, it would be an error of logic to bring up the factual record. What may have happened in history is merely “the abuse of reality,” an elder statesman of the “realist” school explained 30 years ago; “reality itself” is the unachieved “national purpose” revealed by “the evidence of history as our minds reflect it,” and that shows that the “transcendent purpose” of the United States is “the establishment of equality in freedom in America,” and indeed throughout the world, since “the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide” (Hans Morgenthau).
Assuming these doctrines, it would be an elementary error, in evaluating Washington’s promotion of human rights, to consider the close correlation between US aid and torture, running right through the Carter years, including military aid and independent of need, an inquiry that would be pointless to undertake as Shultz, Abrams, et al. took the reins. And our love of democracy is also immune to empirical evaluation. We may put aside the conclusions of years of scholarship, recently updated for the 1980s by Reagan State Department official Thomas Carothers: democratization in Latin America was uncorrelated (in fact, negatively correlated) with US influence, and the United States continued “to adopt prodemocracy policies as a means of relieving pressure for more radical change, but inevitably sought only limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied.” We need not waste words on the nature of these “traditional structures.” In practice, “democracy” has been defined in terms of outcome, not conditions and process. But that cannot affect what is true by definition of our “national identity.”
Those who are still not satisfied can be offered the doctrine of “change of course,” soberly invoked whenever the stance of noble intent becomes impossible to sustain. True, bad things have been done in the past for understandable reasons, but now all will be different. So our terrorist wars against the church and other deviants in Central America in the 1980s, leaving the region littered with hundreds of thousands of tortured and mutilated victims and ruining its countries perhaps beyond recovery, was really a war with the Russians. Now we will “change course” and lead the way to a bright future. The same line of argument had been used to dismiss as irrelevant the enthusiastic support for “that admirable Italian gentleman” Mussolini (FDR, 1933) and for the moderate Hitler, both barring the Bolshevik threat; the resurrection of fascist collaborators and destruction of the anti-fascist resistance worldwide after the World War; the overthrow of democracies and support for neo-Nazi monsters throughout the world in subsequent years; and on, and on. Similarly, the second superpower invoked the threat of the Evil Empire as it carried out its atrocities at home and in the region.
To evaluate these useful doctrines, we must again investigate cases, impossible here. What such inquiry reveals is that for both superpowers, the threat of the other served primarily as a device of population control, providing pretexts for actions taken on quite different grounds. Furthermore, we discover that policies were hardly different before and after the Cold War. True, Woodrow Wilson needed different pretexts. He was protecting the country from the Huns, not the Russians, when he invaded Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where his warriors - as viciously racist as the Administration in Washington - murdered and destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery, dismantled the constitutional system because the backward Haitians could not see the merits of turning their country into a US plantation, and established the National Guards that ran the countries by violence and terror after the Marines finally left.
The story has been the same since the origins of the Republic. The first great massacre, of the Pequots, was imposed upon us by “base Canadian fiends,” the President of Yale University explained. Thomas Jefferson attributed the failure of “the benevolent plan we were pursuing here for the happiness of the aboriginal inhabitants of our vicinities” to the English enemy, who forced upon us “the confirmed brutalization, if not the extermination of this race in our America… .” And on through the conquest of the national territory, the Philippines, the marauding in our “backyard,” and the rest of the disgraceful history, continuing through the Cold War without essential change - though as a global power, the United States by then placed Third World intervention in a much broader context of domination and control.
As the Cold War ended, new pretexts had to be devised. George Bush celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall by invading Panama, installing the regime of a tiny minority of bankers and narcotraffickers who, as predicted, have turned Panama into the second most active center for cocaine money laundering in the Western Hemisphere, the State Department concedes, the United States still holding first place. The Red Menace having disappeared, he was protecting us from Hispanic narcotraffickers led by the arch-demon Noriega, transmuted from valued friend to reincarnation of Attila the Hun, in standard fashion, when he began to disobey orders. And we were soon to learn that in the Middle East, long the major target of our intervention forces, the “threats to our interests … could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door” (Bush National Security Strategy Report, March 1990); after decades of deception, the Soviet pretext can no longer be dredged up to justify traditional Pentagon-based industrial policy and intervention forces, so it is “the growing technological sophistication” of the Third World that requires us to strengthen the “defense industrial base” (AKA high tech industry) and maintain the world’s only massive intervention forces - a shift of rhetoric that at least has the merit of edging closer to the reality: that independent nationalism has been the prime target throughout.
The end of the Cold War has broader effects on intervention policy than change of pretext. As US forces bombarded slums in Panama, Elliott Abrams noted that for the first time, the United States could intervene without concern for a Soviet reaction anywhere. Many have observed that the disappearance of the Soviet deterrent “makes military power more useful as a United States foreign policy instrument … against those who contemplate challenging important American interests” (Dimitri Simes, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dec. 1988). Such considerations aside, a rational person will recognize that policy flows from institutions, institutions remain stable, and thus intervention is likely to be undertaken, when deemed necessary, for much the same reasons as before.
It is in this light that a reasonable person will evaluate policy pronouncements. Suppose that Brezhnev had announced that the USSR would no longer be content with containing the Evil Empire; rather, it would move to a policy of “enlargement” of the community of free and democratic societies. If they did not merely collapse in ridicule, rational people would ask just how the USSR had been defending freedom and democracy before. And they would react exactly the same way when Clinton’s National Security Adviser explains that we can now go beyond containment to “enlargement - enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies,” adding that we are “of course” unlike others in that “we do not seek to expand the reach of our institutions by force, subversion or repression.” A reasonable person will ask just how we have been protecting democracy and markets, and will quickly discover our antagonism to democracy (unless “top-down” rule by the traditional gentle hands can be assured) and to markets (for us, that is; they are fine, indeed obligatory, for the weak, who are not entitled to the massive state intervention and protection that has always been a leading feature of policy, as in every successful developed society). As for our distaste for “force, subversion or repression” - again, no words need be wasted.
It is a useful exercise to compare the actual reaction to Anthony Lake’s announcement of the new Clinton foreign policy with the reaction that minimal rationality would dictate. We can learn a good deal about our political and intellectual culture by carrying it out.
It is not that the reaction lacked honesty. Thus The New York Times's chief diplomatic correspondent, Thomas Friedman, outlined “the Administration's foreign policy vision” quite accurately: its “essence” is “that in a world in which the United States no longer has to worry daily about a Soviet nuclear threat, where and how it intervenes abroad is increasingly a matter of choice”; the insight of Simes and others, when we understand the “nuclear threat” appropriately. The “essence” of policy was clarified further the following day in a report on the conclusions of the White House panel on intervention, announcing the end of the era of altruism. No more “nice guy,” as in the days when we turned much of the world into graveyards and deserts. Henceforth intervention will be where and how US power chooses, the guiding consideration being: “What is in it for us?” - the words highlighted in the Times report. To be sure, the “vision” is cloaked in appropriate rhetoric about “democracy” and all good things, the standard accompaniment whatever is being implemented, and by whom, hence meaningless - carrying no information, in the technical sense.
The declared intent, the record of planning, and the actual policies implemented, with their persistent leading themes, will not be overlooked by someone seriously considering “humanitarian intervention,” which, in this world, means intervention authorized or directed by the United States.
Consider, for example, the torture of Cubans, intensified with Cold War pretexts removed. It has two major elements: first, to ensure that the island is returned to its status as a US economic dependency and haven for rich tourists, drug traffickers, and the like, perhaps under a facade of democracy (with outcome controlled). Second, to punish Cubans for the crime of disobedience. Servants elsewhere must be taught the heavy cost of standing up to the Enforcer.
Since these are natural policy imperatives, we find them quite generally. It was not enough to slaughter millions of people in Indochina and destroy three countries; two decades later, its people must still be ground to dust by economic warfare to teach the proper lessons, while in our peculiarly American way we whimper piteously about the tragic fate we have suffered at the hands of our Vietnamese tormentors, setting “guidelines” that they must follow for entry into our “civilized world” - and relaxing our grip only when the business community comes to fear that substantial profits are being sacrificed.
Or consider Nicaragua, now reduced by US violence and economic warfare to virtually the level of Haiti, with thousands of children starving to death on the streets of Managua and far worse conditions in the countryside. Its people must suffer much more; the United States is nowhere near satisfied. In October 1993, the US-run international economic institutions (IMF, World Bank) presented new demands to the government of Nicaragua. It must reduce its debt to zero; eliminate credits from the national bank; privatize everything to ensure that poor people really feel the pain - losing water, for example, if they cannot pay. Nicaragua must cut public expenditures by $60 million, virtually eliminating much of what remains of health and welfare services, while infant mortality rises along with disease, malnutrition, and starvation, offering new opportunities to condemn the “economic mismanagement” of the despised enemy.
The $60 million figure was perhaps selected for its symbolic value. Last year the already privatized banks shipped $60 million abroad, following sound economic principles: playing the New York stock market is a far more efficient use of resources than giving credits to poor bean farmers. The bean harvest was lost, a catastrophe for the population, though the sophisticated understand that such considerations are irrelevant to economic rationality. Nicaragua has now been ordered to fully privatize banks, to ensure that what capital there is will be efficiently used, with consequences that are evident.
On Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast, 100,000 people are now starving to death, with aid only from Europe and Canada. Most are Miskito Indians. Nothing was more inspiring than the laments about the Miskitos after a few dozen were killed and many forcibly moved by the sandinistas in the course of the US terrorist war, a “campaign of virtual genocide” (Reagan), the most “massive” human rights violation in Central America (Jeane Kirkpatrick), far outweighing the slaughter, torture, and mutilation of tens of thousands of people by the neo-Nazi gangsters they were directing and arming, and lauding as stellar democrats, at the very same time. What has happened to the laments, now that 100,000 are starving to death? The answer is simplicity itself. Human rights have purely instrumental value in the political culture; they provide a useful tool for propaganda, nothing more. Ten years ago the Miskitos were “worthy victims,” their suffering attributable to official enemies; now they have joined the vast category of “unworthy victims” whose far worse suffering can be added to our considerable account. The pattern is remarkably uniform in time and place, along with the impressive inability to perceive it.
Not surprisingly, terrorism has the same status. When the State Department confirmed that its Honduran-based terrorist forces were authorized to attack agricultural cooperatives, Michael Kinsley, again at the liberal dovish extreme, cautioned against thoughtless condemnation of this official policy. Such international terrorist operations cause “vast civilian suffering,” he agreed, but they may nevertheless be “sensible,” even “perfectly legitimate,” if they “undermine morale and confidence in the government” that Washington seeks to overthrow. Terror is to be evaluated by “cost-benefit analysis,” which we are authorized to conduct to determine whether “the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in” yields “democracy,” in the special sense of US political culture. Our wholesale terrorism need satisfy only the pragmatic criterion; retail terrorism by others, who lack our innate perfection, is the “plague of the modern age” to be punished with arbitrary harshness by the same judge and executioner, amidst a chorus of praise for his unparalleled virtue.
As in the case of Vietnam and Cuba, so we now stand in judgment over Nicaragua for its crimes against us. In September, the Senate voted 94p;4 to ban any aid if Nicaragua fails to return or give adequate compensation (as determined by Washington) for properties of US citizens seized when Somoza fell - assets of US participants in the crushing of the beasts of burden by the tyrant who had long been a US favorite, and whose murderous National Guard was supported by the Carter Administration right through its massacre of tens of thousands of people in July 1979 - and beyond. Shortly before, the Senate had cut off aid until Nicaragua proves that it is not engaged in international terrorism, the stern judges being those who were condemned by the World Court for the “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua, and ordered to pay compensation, which would have amounted to billions of dollars; naturally Washington, with the applause of intellectual opinion, dismissed the Court with contempt as a “hostile forum” (New York Times). US threats finally compelled Nicaragua to withdraw the claims for reparations after a US-Nicaragua agreement “aimed at enhancing economic, commercial and technical development to the maximum extent possible,” Nicaragua’s agent informed the Court. The withdrawal of just claims having been achieved by force, Washington has now abrogated the agreement, suspending its trickle of aid with demands of increasing depravity and gall. The press maintains its familiar deafening silence.
Torture of Vietnamese, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Iraqi children, and others, is a policy priority for the reasons already mentioned, which are understood in the Third World, though excluded from our well-insulated political culture. The prevailing mood was captured by a leading Brazilian theologian, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of São Paulo: throughout the South “there is hatred and fear: When will they decide to invade us,” and on what pretext?
The Nicaraguan case raises another issue that will not be overlooked by serious people considering the prospects for “humanitarian intervention.” The leader of such intervention will be a state that is remarkable not only for its violence, impudence, and moral cowardice, but also for its lawlessness, not only in recent years. Washington’s dismissal of the World Court decision had its counterpart when Woodrow Wilson effectively disbanded the Central American Court of Justice after it had the audacity to uphold Costa Rican and Salvadoran claims that the United States was violating their sovereignty by imposing on Nicaragua, safely occupied by Wilson’s troops, a treaty granting the United States perpetual rights over any canal. The United States has sought to undermine the UN ever since it fell “out of control” in the 1960s. Washington is far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions in these years, followed by Britain, with France a distant third and the USSR fourth. The record in the General Assembly is similar on a wide range of issues concerning human rights, observance of international law, aggression, disarmament, and so on, though the facts are rarely reported, being useless for power interests. The United States record at the 1989p;90 Winter session of the UN, right after the Berlin Wall fell, is particularly informative in this respect; I have reviewed it elsewhere, and there is no space to do so here. Such facts, available in abundance, have yet to disrupt the chorus of self-praise.
The standard rendition of the unreported facts is that “the Soviet veto and the hostility of many Third World nations made the United Nations an object of scorn to many American politicians and citizens,” though with these disruptive elements gone and the UN safely under US rule, “it has proved to be an effective instrument of world leadership, and, potentially, an agency that can effect both peace and the rule of law in troubled regions” (David Broder, Washington Post). The same message has resounded through the doctrinal system with scarcely a discordant note - yet another achievement that any dictator would admire.
Nothing changes as we move to the new Administration. Clinton won great praise for his courage in launching missiles at a defenseless enemy without loss of American lives (only expendable Iraqi civilians). In a typical reaction, the Washington Post praised him for “confronting foreign aggression,” relieving the fear that he might not be willing to resort to violence as freely as his predecessors; the bombing refuted the dangerous belief that “American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era was destined to be forever hogtied by the constraints of multilateralism” - that is, by international law and the UN charter. At the Security Council, Clinton’s Ambassador defended the resort to force with an appeal to Article 51 of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force in self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council takes action, such self-defense being authorized when its necessity is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation,” according to standard interpretations. To invoke Article 51 in bombing Baghdad two months after an alleged attempt to assassinate a former president scarcely rises to the level of absurdity, a matter of little concern to commentators.
The prospective leader of “humanitarian intervention” is also notorious for its ability to maintain a self-image of benevolence whatever it does, a trait that impressed de Tocqueville 150 years ago. Observing one of the great atrocities, he was struck that Americans could deprive Indians of their rights and exterminate them “with singular felicity, tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating a single great principle of morality in the eyes of the world.” It was impossible to destroy people with “more respect for the laws of humanity,” he wrote. So it has always been, to this day.
Several qualifications must be added. The United States is not significantly different from others in its history of violence and lawlessness. Rather, it is more powerful, therefore more dangerous, a danger magnified by the capacity of the elite culture to deny and evade the obvious.
A second qualification is that intervention undertaken on the normal grounds of power interests might, by accident, be helpful to the targeted population. Such examples exist. The most obvious recent one is Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 after years of murderous Khmer Rouge attacks on Vietnamese border areas; under comparable conditions, the United States would probably have nuked Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese invasion removed Pol Pot, terminating major atrocities, though that was not the motivating factor. And we recall the response in the West to the prime example of “humanitarian intervention” in recent years. The United States and its allies at once reconstituted the defeated Khmer Rouge at the Thai border so that they could resume their depredations. There was furious denunciation of the “Prussians of Asia” who had dared to remove Pol Pot (New York Times). The doctrinal system shifted gears: instead of invoking the issue of MIAs, we would henceforth punish Vietnam for the crime of ridding Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge. When it became impossible to deny that Vietnamese troops had withdrawn, the system shifted smoothly back to the old pretext - which remains unsullied by any notice of the lack of interest about MIAs from earlier wars, the atrocious US treatment of POWs in Vietnam, Korea, and the Pacific War, or the obscenity of the entire enterprise of holding Vietnamese to account for what they have done to us.
Furthermore, unlike states, people are moral agents. Occasionally, the population has compelled the state to undertake humanitarian efforts. I need not discuss the Somalian intervention, transparently cynical from its first days. But consider a real example: the protection zone that the Bush Administration reluctantly extended to the Kurds in northern Iraq, after tacitly supporting Saddam Hussein as he crushed the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings. Here public opinion played a decisive role, overcoming the Administration’s commitment to the rule of a unified Iraq by an “iron fist,” whether wielded by Saddam or some clone, as Washington explained by way of the Times chief diplomatic correspondent.
The sincerity of the concern for the Kurds is demonstrated by what happened as public attention waned. They are subject to Iraqi embargo in addition to the sanctions against Iraq. The West refuses to provide the piddling sums required to satisfy their basic needs and keep them from Saddam’s hideous embrace. The UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs prepared a 1/2 billion dollar relief and rehabilitation program for Kurds, Shiites, and poverty-stricken Sunnis in central Iraq. The Clinton Administration - “haunted by the pictures of Kurdish women and children cut down by poison gas,” the President assured the UN - offered $15 million, “money left over from contributions to a previous UN program in northern Iraq,” the director of Middle East Watch reports.
Finally, the conclusions that a rational observer will draw about US-led “humanitarian intervention” do not answer the question whether such intervention should nevertheless be undertaken. That is a separate matter, to be faced without illusions about our unique nobility. We can, in short, ask whether the pursuit of self-interest might happen to benefit others in particular cases, or whether unremitting public pressure might overcome the demands of the “principal architects” of policy and the interests they serve.
There is also a more fundamental question: Can our political and intellectual culture, our society and institutions, undergo the radical transformations that would be required for an American citizen to use such phrases as “American humanitarian intervention” or “enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies” without shame? The fate of much of the world depends on the answer we give to that question.
"Conversely, propaganda campaigns will not be mobilized where victimization, even though massive, sustained, and dramatic, fails to meet the test of utility to elite interests. Thus, while the focus on Cambodia in the Pol Pot era (and thereafter) was exceedingly serviceable, as Cambodia had fallen to the Communists and useful lessons could be drawn by attention to their victims, the numerous victims of the U.S. bombing before the Communist takeover were scrupulously ignored by the U.S. elite press. After Pol Pot’s ouster by the Vietnamese, the United States quietly shifted support to this "worse than Hitler" villain, with little notice in the press, which adjusted once again to the national political agenda. Attention to the Indonesian massacres of 1965-66, or the victims of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor from 1975 onward, would also be distinctly unhelpful as bases of media campaigns, because Indonesia is a U.S. ally and client that maintains an open door to Western investment, and because, in the case of East Timor, the United States bears major responsibility for the slaughter. The same is true of the victims of state terror in Chile and Guatemala, U.S. clients whose basic institutional structures, including the state terror system, were put in place and maintained by, or with crucial assistance from U.S. power, and who remain U.S. client states. Propaganda campaigns on behalf of these victims would conflict with government, business, and military interest and, in our model, would not be able to pass through the filtering system." -from Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman
“…if you have more traffic accidents, the GDP goes up. If you put more people in jail, the GDP goes up. It’s a funny measure of growth. There are kinds of actual growth which would be beneficial, such as developing mass transportation… Or take something as simple as weatherization of houses. That’s growth, but it’s very beneficial.”—
“Slavery for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous but the individuals participating in them could be the nicest guys you can imagine – benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… but in their institutional role they are monsters because the institution is monstrous.”—
The same easily applies to cops, soldiers, politicians, and CEOs.
“If something is right (or wrong) for us, it’s right (or wrong) for others. It follows that if it’s wrong for Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and a long list of others to bomb Washington and New York, then it’s wrong for Rumsfeld to bomb Afghanistan (on much flimsier pretexts), and he should be brought before war crimes trials.”—Noam Chomsky
“Throughout history, there have been a few principles of international affairs that apply quite generally. One is the maxim of Thucydides that the strong do as they wish while the weak suffer as they must.”—Noam Chomsky