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Noam Chomsky on Foreign Policy

Political Activist


Gap between rich North & poor South created by conquest

Today's gap between North and South--the rich developed societies and the rest of the world--was largely created by the global conquest. Scholarship and science are beginning to recognize a record that had been concealed by imperial arrogance. They are discovering that at the time of the arrival of the Europeans, and long before, the Western hemisphere was home to some of the world's most advanced civilizations. In the poorest country of South America, archaeologists are coming to believe that eastern Bolivia was the site of a wealthy, sophisticated, and complex society of perhaps a million people.

In the Peruvian Andes, by 1941 the Inca had created the greatest empire in the world, greater in scale than the Chinese, Russian, Ottoman, or other empires, far greater than any European state, and with remarkable artistic, agricultural, and other achievements.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 4-5 , Jun 1, 2010

Hamas has called for a two-state settlement

Obama says, "Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements." Unmentioned is the inconvenient fact that the US and Israel firmly reject all three conditions for themselves. In international isolation, they bar a two-state settlement, thus rejecting Palestinian national rights. They of course do not renounce violence. And they reject the Quartet's central proposal, the "Road Map." Israel formally accepted it, but with fourteen reservations that effectively eliminate its contents.

Also near-universal are the standard references to Hamas: a terrorist organization, dedicated to the destruction of Israel (or maybe all Jews). Hamas has called for a 2-state settlement in the terms of international consensus: publicly and repeatedly. Israel and the US object that the Hamas proposals do not go far enough. Perhaps so, but they go much farther toward the international consensus than the unwavering US-Israeli rejectionist stance.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.254-255 , Jun 1, 2010

American "exceptionalism" is common attitude of empires

The reigning doctrine is something called "American exceptionalism." It is nothing of the sort. It is probably close to universal among imperial powers. France was hailing its "civilizing mission" while "exterminating the indigenous population" of Algeria. Britain's nobility was a "novelty in the world," John Stuart Mill declared, while urging that this angelic power delay no longer in completing its liberation of India.

Similarly, there are is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Japanese militarists who were bringing an "earthly paradise" to China under benign Japanese tutelage, as they carried out the rape of Nanking. History is replete with similar glorious episodes.

The occasional revelations of the "abuse of reality" can backfire, serving to efface terrible crimes. The My Lai massacre is an example. Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral & intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.267-268 , Jun 1, 2010

China gets oil from Iran in exchange for weapons

Unlike Europe, China refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the growing fear of China on the part of US planners. Much of Iran's oil already goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons, presumably considered a deterrent to US threats.

Still more uncomfortable for Washington is the fact that "the Sino-Saudi relationship has developed dramatically," including Chinese military aid to Saudi Arabia and gas exploration rights for China. By 2005, Saudi Arabia provided about 17% of China's oil imports. Chinese and Saudi companies have signed deals for drilling and construction of a huge refinery (with Exxon Mobil as a partner).

Iran could "emerge, over the next decade or so, as the linchpin of what China and Russia regard as an indispensable Asian Energy Security Grid, for breaking Western control of the world's energy supplies and securing the great industrial revolution of Asia." South Korea and Southeast Asian countries are likely to join, possibly Japan as well.

Source: Failed States, by Noam Chomsky, p.253-254 , Apr 3, 2007

US considers World Court hostile, and therefore ignores it

The attack against Nicaragua [in favor of the contra rebels] was one of the highest priorities as the Reagan administration in 1981. Nicaragua approached the World Court for relief. Expecting the US would abide by a court decision, the team prepared a very narrow case regarding the mining of Nicaraguan harbors.

In 1986, the court found in Nicaragua’s favor, condemning Washington for “unlawful use of force.” The court also defined “humanitarian aid” explicitly, ruling all aid to the Nicaraguan contras strictly military, and hence illegal.

The decision had little detectable effect. The World Court was condemned as a “hostile forum”, and therefore irrelevant, like the UN. Others claimed the court had “close ties to the Soviet Union,” a claim not worthy of refutation. Congress responded with an additional $100 million in “humanitarian” aid.

Perhaps such memories help account for the low level of international support, especially from Latin America, for the US bombing of Afghanistan.

Source: Hegemony or Survival, by Noam Chomsky, p. 96-100 & 108 , Nov 1, 2003

Mideasterners call US-Israel-Turkey the Axis of Evil

Like its patron the US, Israel has military forces that are larger & technologically more advanced than those of any NATO power apart from the US. Its conventional military forces are used to attack its neighbors & to control & subjugate the population in the territories it occupies, in ways not easily overlooked in the region or by people elsewhere who are concerned with human rights.

Israel also has a close military alliance with the other major regional military power, Turkey. The US-Israel-Turkey alliance is sometimes called “the Axis of Evil” in the Middle East. The term is understandable. There is always plenty of evil to go around, and this axis at least has the merit of existing, unlike the one concocted by George Bush’s speechwriters, which consists of two states that had been at war for 20 years and a third thrown in because it is non-Muslim and universally reviled. The US-Turkey alliance might undergo some changes if the US is able to shift military bases from eastern Turkey to Iraq.

Source: Hegemony or Survival, by Noam Chomsky, p.159-60 , Oct 1, 2003

We should not invent enemies like “rogue states”

The basic conception is that although the Cold War is over, the US still has the responsibility to protect the world--but from what? Plainly it cannot be from the threat of “radical nationalism’--that is, unwillingness to submit to the will of the powerful. Such ideas are only fit for internal planning documents, not the general public. From the early 1980s, the conventional technique for mass mobilization was losing its effectiveness: [Hence] Reagan’s ”evil empire.“ New enemies were needed.
Source: Acts of Aggression, by Noam Chomsky, p. 28 , Jul 2, 2002

US regularly in contempt of international law

Contempt for the rule of law is deeply rooted in U.S. practice and intellectual culture. Recall, for example, the judgment of the World Court in 1986 condemning the United States for “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua, demanding that it desist and pay extensive reparations, and declaring all U.S. aid to the contras, whatever its character, to be “military aid,” not “humanitarian aid.”

The Court was denounced on all sides for having discredited itself. The terms of the judgment were not considered fit to print, and were ignored. The Democrat-controlled Congress immediately authorized new funds to step up the unlawful use f force. Washington vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to respect international law--not mentioning anyone, though the intent was clear.

Source: Acts of Aggression, by Noam Chomsky, p. 23-24 , Jul 2, 2002

Indonesia is a real “rogue state”, but we like their oil

Since 1991, Iraq has displaced Iran and Libya as the leading “rogue state.” Others have never entered the ranks. Perhaps the relevant case is Indonesia, which shifted from enemy to friend when General Suharto took power in 1965, presiding over an enormou slaughter. Suharto killed 10,000 Indonesians just in the 1980s, according to Suharto, who wrote that “the corpses were left lying around as a form of shock therapy.”

In Dec. 1975, the UN Security Council unanimously ordered Indonesia to withdraw its invading forces from East Timor “without delay” and called upon “all States to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor as well as the inalienable rights of its people to self-determination.” The US responded by (secretly) increasing shipments of arms to the aggressors.

The US also happily accepts the robbery of East Timor’s oil (with participation of a US company), in violation of any reasonable interpretation of international agreements.

Source: Acts of Aggression, by Noam Chomsky, p. 34-35 , Jul 2, 2002

US foreign aid is most miserly of all major countries

US foreign aid is the most miserly by far of any of the major industrial countries. And it we take away the component that goes to 1 rich country and another middle-range country [because of its associations with the rich country], namely Israel and Egypt, there's almost nothing left. However, if you count everything, it's still grotesquely marginal, and it is declining. But there is, nevertheless, some aid, and quite a lot of military aid, in fact.
Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 46 , May 25, 2002

Cuban embargo is almost a humanitarian catastrophe

The fear of Communism was always a total fraud. We know that and have known it for years from the declassified internal record. It's from the Kennedy administration.

The effect of the Cuban embargo, the standard line here, which was repeated by former President Carter a couple of weeks ago, is that the embargo helps Castro and, of course, doesn't harm the Cubans. The only people who are harmed by it are the North Americans like farmers and agro-business who want to export there, but it has no effect on Cuba except to help Castro.

A detailed study in March 1997 concluded that the embargo had dramatically harmed health and nutrition in Cuba, and caused a significant rise in suffering and death. It would have been a humanitarian catastrophe, they said, which is quite astonishing, though it did direct resources in the health system away from other needs, with the obvious consequences.

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 73 , May 25, 2002

Haitian embargo has stopped all rebuilding efforts

By 1995, after the junta was finally thrown out, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and other agencies began projects to try to rebuild what was left of the battered public health system, but that has been stopped. They wanted to try to reverse the decline of life expectancy, the only case of that in this hemisphere.

That effort was stopped by the embargo. It blocked half a billion dollars' worth of aid that was coming from the IADB and other sources, and it terminated the projects and, of course, exacerbated the already horrendous conditions. The only help they're getting is from Cuba.

Haiti, incidentally, is paying interest on the loans that are blocked and that it isn't receiving, just to add to the catastrophe. So that's the 2nd embargo. This is also being imposed because of our love of democracy, as Powell and others have explained

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 75 , May 25, 2002

Nicaragua sued US for violence in 1980s, and won

Nicaragua in the 1980s was subjected to violent assault by the US. Tens of thousands of people died. The country was substantially destroyed; it may never recover. The international terrorist attack was accompanied by a devastating economic war, which a small country isolated by a vengeful and cruel superpower could scarcely sustain, as the leading historians of Nicaragua, Thomas Walker for one, have reviewed in detail. The effects on the country are much more severe even that the tragedies in NY the other day. They didn't respond by setting off bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court, which ruled in their favor, ordering the US to desist and pay substantial reparations.
Source: 9-11, by Noam Chomsky, p. 24-25 , Nov 1, 2001

Terrorists don't care about our "values", despite media

Q: Does globalization and cultural hegemony help create hatred towards America?

A: To quote the lead analysis in the "New York Times" (September 16): "the perpetrators acted out of hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage." US actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not even be mentioned. This is a comforting picture; it happens to be completely at variance with everything we know, but has all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power. And it has the flaw that adopting it contributes significantly to the likelihood of further atrocities, including atrocities directed against us, perhaps even more horrendous ones than those of 9-11.

As for the bin Laden network, they tell us what their concerns are loud and clear: they are fighting a Holy War against the corrupt, repressive, and "un-Islamist" regimes of the region.

Source: 9-11, by Noam Chomsky, p. 30-32 , Nov 1, 2001

Law plus history dictate that UN must approve War on Terror

Q: Many people say that all through history when a nation is attacked, it attacks in kind. How do you react?

A: When countries are attacked they try to defend themselves if they can. According to the doctrine proposed, Nicaragua, South Vietnam, Cuba, and numerous others should have been setting off bombs in Washington and other US cities. It is because such doctrines had brought Europe to virtual self-annihilation after hundreds of years of savagery that the nations of the world forged a different compact after WWII, establishing--at least formally--the principle that the resort to force is barred except in the case of self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts to protect international peace and security. Specifically, retaliation is barred. Since the US is not under armed attack, in the sense of Article 51 of the UN Charter--if we agree that the fundamental principles of international law should apply to ourselves, not only to those we dislike.

Source: 9-11, by Noam Chomsky, p. 65-66 , Nov 1, 2001

US condemned as terrorist state for actions in Nicaragua

Q: You said that the main practitioners of terrorism are countries like the US that use violence for political motives. When and where?

A: I find the question baffling. As I've said elsewhere, the US is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism--for "the unlawful use of force" for political ends, as the Court put it--ordering the US to terminate these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The US of course dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law. The terrorist war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking "soft targets"-- undefended civilian targets, like agricultural collections, thanks to the complete control of Nicaraguan air space by the US and the advanced communications equipment provided to them by their supervisors.

Source: 9-11, by Noam Chomsky, p. 84-85 , Nov 1, 2001

US fought Haitian democracy in favor of US investors

[After the US invasion of Haiti in 1994], democracy has been restored. The new government has been forced to abandon the democratic and reformist programs that scandalized Washington, and to follow the policies of Washington’s candidate in the 1990 election, in which he received 14% of the vote.

Haiti has been largely under US control and tutelage since the Marines first invaded 80 years ago. By now the country is such a catastrophe that it may be scarcely habitable in the not-too-distant future. In 1981, a USAID-World Bank development strategy was initiated, based on assembly plants and agroexport, shifting land from food for local consumption. The consequences were the usual ones: profits for US manufacturers and the Haitian super-rich, and a decline of 56% in Haitian wages through the 1980s. It was the efforts of Haiti’s first democratic government to alleviate the growing disaster that called forth Washington’s hostility and the military coup and terror that followed.

Source: Profit Over People, by Noam Chomsky, p.107-9 , May 2, 1997

Cuban embargo hides Castro’s social successes

Polite people are not supposed to remember the reaction when Kennedy tried to organize collective action against Cuba in 1961: Mexico could not go along, a diplomat explained, because “if we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, 40 million Mexicans will die laughing.” In the US, we take a more sober view, on the assumption that the US has every right to overthrow another government, in this case, by aggression, large-scale terror, and economic strangulation.

While the Clinton administration promises to “liberate” the suffering Cuban people, a more plausible conclusion is more the reverse: the “American economic strangulation of Cuba” has been designed and maintained [to hide] the successes of Castro’s programs to improve health & living standards [which would] spread “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands.” To evaluate the claim that US policies flow from concern for human rights & democracy, the briefest look at the record is more than sufficient.

Source: Profit Over People, by Noam Chomsky, p. 77 & 83 , Mar 1, 1997

Our Latin America policy benefits investors, not people

In secret postwar planning [in the 1940s], each part of the world was assigned its specific role. In Latin America, Washington expected to be able to implement the Monroe Doctrine [which forbids European intervention in the Americas], but in a special sense. The interests of Latin Americans are merely “incidental,” not our concern. The US sought to displace its traditional rivals, England and France, and establish a regional alliance under its control.

The “functions” of Latin America were clarified at a hemispheric conference in February 1945, where the State Department warned that Latin Americans prefer “policies designed to bring about the broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses.” These ideas are unacceptable: the first beneficiaries of a country’s resources are IUS investors, while Latin America fulfills its service function without unreasonable concerns about general welfare that might infringe on US interests.

Source: Profit Over People, by Noam Chomsky, p. 22-23 , Jul 2, 1996

Countries develop by avoiding colonization & ignoring market

    In the 18th century, the differences between the first and third worlds were far less sharp than they are today. Two obvious questions arise:
  1. Which countries developed, and which not?
  2. Can we identify some operative factors?
The answer to the first question is fairly clear: Outside of Western Europe, two major regions developed: the US and Japan-that is, the two regions that escaped European colonization. Japan’s colonies [in East Asia] are another case; though Japan was a brutal colonial power, it did not rob its colonies but developed them, at about the same rate as Japan itself.

On the second question: How did Europe and those who escaped its control succeed in developing? By radically violating approved free market doctrine. That conclusion holds from England to the East Asian growth area today, surely including the US, the leader in protectionism from its origins.

Source: Profit Over People, by Noam Chomsky, p. 28-30 , Jul 2, 1996

US aid to Americas correlates with torture by governments

US aid has tended to flow to Latin American governments which torture their citizens. It has nothing to do with need, only with willingness to serve the interests of privilege. Broader studies reveal a correlation between torture and US aid and provide the explanation: both correlate with improving the climate for business.

The agro-export model produces an “economic miracle” where GNP goes up while the population starves. Popular opposition develops, which you then suppress with torture.

Source: What Uncle Sam Really Wants, by Noam Chomsky, p. 29-30 , Jan 13, 1991

US historically opposes Third World nationalism and rights

US planners stated their view that the threat to the new US-led world order was “nationalistic regimes” that are responsive to “popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses.”

The planners’ basic goals, repeated over and over again, were to prevent such “ultranationalist” regimes from taking power-or if they did take power, to remove them and install governments that favor private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export and the right to bring profits out of the country.

The US has been willing to tolerate social reform only when the rights of labor are suppressed and the climate for foreign investment is preserved. We’ve consistently opposed democracy if its results cannot be controlled. The problem with real democracies is that they’re likely to fall prey to the heresy that governments should respond to the needs of the people instead of those of US investers.

Source: What Uncle Sam Really Wants, by Noam Chomsky, p. 19-20 , Jan 13, 1991

West plans to exploit Eastern Europe

I think the prospects are pretty dim for Eastern Europe. The West has a plan for it-they want to turn large parts of it into a new, easily exploitable part of the Third World.

There used to be a colonial relationship between Western and Eastern Europe. Now, there’s a serious conflict over who’s going to win the race for robbery and exploitation. Is it going to be German-led Western Europe or Japan? There are a lot of resources to be taken and lots of cheap labor. But first we have to impose the capitalist model on them. We don’t accept it for ourselves-but for the Third World, we insist on it. If we can get them to accept that, they’ll be easily exploitable and will move toward a new role as a Brazil or Mexico.

Source: What Uncle Sam Really Wants, by Noam Chomsky, p. 71-72 , Jan 13, 1991

US prefers force to diplomacy in Third World

Because the USSR used to support governments the US was trying to destroy, there was a danger that US intervention in the Third World might explode into a nuclear war. Now, the US is much more free to use violence around the world.

Diplomacy is a particularly unwelcome option. The US has very little popular support for its goals in the Third World. This isn’t surprising, since it’s trying to impose structure of domination and exploitation. A diplomatic settlement is bound to respond to the interests of the other participants, and that’s a problem when your positions aren’t popular.

Negotiations are something the US commonly tries to avoid. That has been true in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Central America.

Source: What Uncle Sam Really Wants, by Noam Chomsky, p. 74-76 , Jan 13, 1991

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