An interview with Noam Chomsky about what the struggle means for the future of imperialist, U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Editor’s Note: Following is an exchange between two extraordinary American activists, Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky, who have chosen to use their intellect in support of equality and liberty—pursuits that carry with them risks and indeed guarantee of marginalization in America when directed at the people of Palestine and the region, particularly so when terror is identified as Zionist terror and bigotry, Islamophobia, is challenged.
Many readers of this publication have expressed objection to Chomsky because of his Jewish background! This hate stands as an absurd illustration of the paranoia and foolishness engendered by oppression. I challenge you to resist militarism and Zionist hate with evidence and logic, letting prejudice fall by the way-side. Your failure to do so will define who you have become. The above reference to marginalization ought to be qualified by stating the truism that those who stand with liberty and equality are never truly marginalized, but elevated by their action. Those objecting to the veracity of the last statement need not proceed in reading and ought by justice take the first flight to Tel Aviv with the U.S.-supported dictator.
“I Either Leave Here Free or Dead”
Egyptian Protester Refuses to Leave Tahrir Square Despite Violent Attacks by Mubarak Supporters, via Amy Goodman’s interview with Nazly Hussein.
From Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky
AMY GOODMAN: For analysis of the Egyptian uprising and its implications for the Middle East and beyond, we’re joined now by the world-renowned political dissident and linguist Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of over a hundred books, including his latest, Hopes and Prospects.
Noam, welcome to Democracy Now! Your analysis of what’s happening now in Egypt and what it means for the Middle East?
NOAM CHOMSKY:Well, first of all, what’s happening is absolutely spectacular. The courage and determination and commitment of the demonstrators is remarkable. And whatever happens, these are moments that won’t be forgotten and are sure to have long-term consequences, as the fact that they overwhelmed the police, took TahrirSquare, are staying there in the face of organized pro-Mubarak mobs, organized by the government to try to either drive them out or to set up a situation in which the army will claim to have to move in to restore order and then to maybe install some kind of military rule, whatever. It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen. But the events have been truly spectacular. And, of course, it’s all over the Middle East. In Yemen, in Jordan, just about everywhere, there are the major consequences.
The United States, so far, is essentially following the usual playbook. I mean, there have been many times when some favored dictator has lost control or is in danger of losing control. There’s a kind of a standard routine—Marcos, Duvalier, Ceausescu, strongly supported by the United States and Britain, Suharto: keep supporting them as long as possible; then, when it becomes unsustainable—typically, say, if the army shifts sides—switch 180 degrees, claim to have been on the side of the people all along, erase the past, and then make whatever moves are possible to restore the old system under new names. That succeeds or fails depending on the circumstances.
And I presume that’s what’s happening now. They’re waiting to see whether Mubarak can hang on, as it appears he’s intending to do, and as long as he can, say, “Well, we have to support law and order, regular constitutional change,” and so on. If he cannot hang on, if the army, say, turns against him, then we’ll see the usual routine played out. Actually, the only leader who has been really forthright and is becoming the most—maybe already is—the most popular figure in the region is the Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, who’s been very straight and outspoken.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, I wanted to play for you what President Obama had to say yesterday.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:We have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quois not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments, this is one of those times. Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama speaking yesterday in the White House. Noam Chomsky, your response to what President Obama said, the disappointment of many that he didn’t demand that Mubarak leave immediately? More importantly, the role of the United States, why the U.S. would have any say here, when it comes to how much it has supported the regime?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Obama very carefully didn’t say anything. Mubarak would agree that there should be an orderly transition, but to what? A new cabinet, some minor rearrangement of the constitutional order—it’s empty. So he’s doing what U.S. leaders regularly do. As I said, there is a playbook: whenever a favored dictator is in trouble, try to sustain him, hold on; if at some point it becomes impossible, switch sides.
The U.S. has an overwhelmingly powerful role there. Egypt is the second-largest recipient over a long period of U.S. military and economic aid. Israel is first. Obama himself has been highly supportive of Mubarak. It’s worth remembering that on his way to that famous speech in Cairo, which was supposed to be a conciliatory speech towards the Arab world, he was asked by the press—I think it was the BBC—whether he was going to say anything about what they called Mubarak’s authoritarian government. And Obama said, no, he wouldn’t. He said, “I don’t like to use labels for folks. Mubarak is a good man. He has done good things. He has maintained stability. We will continue to support him. He is a friend.” And so on. This is one of the most brutal dictators of the region, and how anyone could havetaken Obama’s comments about human rights seriously after that is a bit of a mystery. But the support has been very powerful in diplomatic dimensions. Military—the planes flying over Tahrir Square are, of course, U.S. planes. The U.S. is the—has been the strongest, most solid, most important supporter of the regime. It’s not like Tunisia, where the main supporter was France. They’re the primary guilty party there. But in Egypt, it’s clearly the United States, and of course Israel. Israel is—of all the countries in the region, Israel, and I suppose Saudi Arabia, havebeen the most outspoken and supportive of the Mubarak regime. In fact, Israeli leaders were angry, at least expressed anger, that Obama hadn’t taken a stronger stand in support of their friend Mubarak.
AMY GOODMAN:Talk about what this means for the Middle East, Noam Chomsky. I mean, we’re talking about the massive protests that have taken place in Jordan, to the point where King Abdullah has now dismissed his cabinet, appointed a new prime minister. In Yemen there are major protests. There is a major protest called for Syria. What are the implications of this, the uprising from Tunisia to Egypt now?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this is the most remarkable regional uprising that I can remember. I mean, it’s sometimes compared with Eastern Europe, but that’s not much of a comparison. For one thing, in this case, there’s no counterpart to Gorbachev among the—in the United States or other great powers supporting the dictatorships. That’s a huge difference. Another is that in the case of Eastern Europe, the United States and its allies followed the timeworn principle that democracy is fine, at least up to a point, if it accords with strategic and economic objectives, so therefore acceptable in enemy domains, but not in our own. That’s a well-established principle, and of course that sharply differentiates these two cases. In fact, about the only moderately reasonable comparison would be to Romania, where Ceausescu, the most vicious of the dictators of the region, was very strongly supported by the United States right up ’til the end. And then, when he—the last days, when he was overthrown and killed, the first Bush administration followed the usual rules: postured about being on the side of the people, opposed to dictatorship, tried to arrange for a continuation of close relations.
But this is completely different. Where it’s going to lead, nobody knows. I mean, the problems that the protesters are trying to address are extremely deep-seated, and they’re not going to be solved easily. There is a tremendous poverty, repression, a lack of not just democracy, but serious development. Egypt and other countries of the region have just been through a neoliberal period, which has led to growth on paper, but with the usual consequences: high concentration of extreme wealth and privilege, tremendous impoverishment and dismay for most of the population. And that’s not easily changed. We should also remember that, as far as the United States is concerned, what’s happening is a very old story. As far back as the 1950s, President Eisenhower was—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds in the segment, Noam.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Pardon?
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds left in the segment.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh.
AMY GOODMAN: Make your point on Eisenhower.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, shall I go on?
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds. If you could—we’ll save that for our web exclusive right afterwards.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, you were just talking about the significance of what’s happening in the Middle East, and you were bringing it back to President Dwight Eisenhower.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, in 1958, Eisenhower—this is in internal discussions, since declassified—Eisenhower expressed his concern for what he called the “campaign of hatred against us” in the Arab world, not by the governments, but by the people. Remember, 1958, this was a rather striking moment. Just two years before, Eisenhower had intervened forcefully to compel Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from their invasion of Egyptian territory. And you would have expected enormous enthusiasm and support for the United States at that moment, and there was, briefly, but it didn’t last, because policies returned to the norm. So when he was speaking two years later, there was, as he said, a “campaign of hatred against us.” And he was naturally concerned why. Well, the National Security Council, the highest planning body, had in fact just come out with a report on exactly this issue. They concluded that, yes, indeed, there’s a campaign of hatred. They said there’s a perception in the Arab world that the United States supports harsh and brutal dictators and blocks democracy and development, and does so because we’re interested in—we’re concerned to control their energy resources.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, I wanted to go for a minute to that famous address of the general, of the Republican president, of the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: My fellow Americans, this evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Three-and-a-half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. The total—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development, yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.