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Chomsky, Noam

Hegemony or Survival

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In 1999, Indonesia escalated the atrocities in the territory they had invaded in 1975, killing perhaps 200,000 people with the military and diplomatic support of the US and Britain, assisted by ‘international ignorance.’ In the early months of 1999, Indonesian forces and their paramilitary associates added several thousands more to the death toll, while the ruling generals announced that worse would come if the population voted the wrong way in an August 30 referendum on independence – as they did, with amazing courage. The Indonesian military made good on its promise, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes and destroying most of the country. For the first time, the atrocities were well publicized in the United States. On September 8, the Clinton administration reacted by reiterating its position that East Timor is ‘the responsibility of the Government of Indonesia, and we don’t want to take that responsibility away from them.’ A few days later, under strong international and domestic pressure, Clinton reversed the 25-year policy of support for Indonesia’s crimes in East Timor, and informed the Indonesian military that Washington would no longer directly support their crimes. They immediately withdrew from the territory, allowing an Australian-led UN peacekeeping force to enter unopposed.’

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In the case of Iraq, there was always good reason to take seriously the conclusions of the most knowledgeable observers that ‘a constructive solution’ to regime change in Iraq ‘would be to lift the economic sanctions that have impoverished society, decimated the Iraqi middle class and eliminated any possibility of the emergence of alternative leadership,’ while ‘twelve years of sanctions have only strengthened the current regime’ (Hans von Sponeck). Furthermore, the sanctions compelled the population to depend for survival on the reigning tyranny, reducing even more the likelihood of a constructive solution. ‘We have sustained [the regime and] denied the opportunities for change,’ Denis Haliday added: ‘I believe if the Iraqis had their economy, had their lives back, and had their way of life restored, they would take care of the form of governance that they want, that they believe is suitable to their country.’

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On the diplomatic front, by the mid-1970s US-Israeli isolation increased as the Palestinian issue entered the international agenda. In 1976 the US vetoed a resolution calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, incorporating the basic wording of UN Resolution 242 from 1967. From then to the present the US has blocked the possibility of a diplomatic settlement in the terms accepted by virtually the entire world: a two-state settlement on the international border, with ‘minor and mutual adjustments’; that was the principle of official, though not actual, US policy until the Clinton administration formally abandoned the framework of international diplomacy, declaring UN resolutions ‘obsolete and anachronistic.’ It is noteworthy that the US stand is also opposed by most of the US population: a large majority support the ‘Saudi Plan,’ proposed in early 2002 and accepted by the Arab League, which offered full recognition and integration of Israel into the region in exchange for withdrawal to the 1967 borders, yet another version of the long-standing international consensus that the US has blocked. Large majorities also believe that the US should equalize aid to Israel and the Palestinians under a negotiated settlement, and should cut aid to either party that refuses to negotiate: meaning, at the time of the poll, that it should cut aid to Israel . But few understand what any of this implies, and almost nothing is reported about it.

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To illustrate the impact of the sobering lessons of World War II, in Kenya in the 1950s some 150,000 people died in the course of Britain’s repression of a colonial revolt, a campaign conducted with hideous terror and atrocities but, as always, guided by the highest ideals. The British governor had explained to the people of Kenya in 1946 that Britain controls their land and resources ‘as of right, the product of historical events which reflect the greatest glory of our fathers and grandfathers.’ If ‘the greater part of the wealth of the country is at present in our hands,’ that is because ‘this land we have made is our land by right – by right of achievement,’ and Africans will simply have to learn to live in ‘a world which we have made, under the humanitarian impulses of the late nineteenth and the twentieth century. History is replete with precedents for what we see before our eyes, day after day, though the stakes grow more awesome along with the means of destruction available.

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Were there opponents of the [Afghanistan] bombing who were not either absolute pacifists? It turns out that there were, and the opponents formed an interesting collection. To begin with, they apparently included the great majority of the population of the world when the bombing was announced. So we discover from an international Gallup poll in late September 2001. The lead question was this: ‘Once the identity of the terrorists is known, should the American government launch a military attack on the country or countries where the terrorists are based or should the American government seek to extradite the terrorists to stand trial?’ Whether such diplomatic means would have succeeded is known only to ideological extremists on both sides; tentative explorations of extradition by the Taliban were instantly rebuffed by Washington, which also refused to provide evidence of its accusations. World opinion strongly favored diplomatic-judicial measures over military action. In Europe, support for military action ranged from 8 percent in Greece to 29 percent in France. Support was least in Latin America, the region that has the most experience with US intervention: it ranged from 2 percent in Mexico to 11 percent in Columbia and Venezuela. The sole exception was Panama, where only 80 percent preferred peaceful means, 16 percent military attack.

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There are broad tendencies in global affairs that are expected to enhance the threat of this category of terror. Some are discussed by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) in its projections for the coming years. The NIC expects the official version of globalization to continue on course: ‘Its evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide.’ Financial volatility very likely means slower growth, extending the pattern of neoliberal globalization (for those who follow the rules) and harming mostly the poor. The NIC goes on to predict that as this form of globalization proceeds, ‘deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation [will] foster ethnic, ideological and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it,’ much of it directed against the United States. ‘Unsurprisingly,’ Kenneth Waltz observes, the weak and disaffected ‘lash out at the United States as the agent or symbol of their suffering.’ The same assumptions were made by military planners, a matter to which we will return. Those concerned to reduce the threat or terror will attend carefully to such factors as these, and also to specific actions and long-term policies that exacerbate them.

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