Confronting the Empire


are meeting at a moment of world history that is in many ways unique—a
moment that is ominous, but also full of hope. The U.S., the most
powerful state in history, has proclaimed, loud and clear, that
it intends to rule the world by force, the dimension in which it
reigns supreme. Apart from the conventional bow to noble intentions
that is the standard (hence meaningless) accompaniment of coercion,
its leaders are committed to pursuit of their “imperial ambition,”
as it is frankly described in the leading journal of the foreign
policy establishment—critically, an important matter. They
have also declared that they will tolerate no competitors, now or
in the future. They evidently believe that the means of violence
in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss with contempt
anyone who stands in their way.  There is good reason to believe
that the war with Iraq is intended, in part, to teach the world
some lessons about what lies ahead when the empire decides to strike
a blow—though “war” is hardly the proper term, given
the array of forces.

doctrine is not entirely new or unique to the U.S., but it has never
before been proclaimed with such brazen arrogance—at least
not by anyone we would care to remember.

am not going to try to answer the question posed for this meeting:
How to confront the empire. The reason is that most of you know
the answers as well or better than I do, through your own lives
and work. The way to “confront the empire” is to create
a different world, one that is not based on violence and subjugation,
hate and fear. That is why we are here, and the World Social Forum
[WSF] offers hope that these are not idle dreams.

I had the rare privilege of seeing some very inspiring work to achieve
these goals at the international gathering of the Via Campesina
at a community of the MST, which I think is the most important and
exciting popular movement in the world. With constructive local
actions such as those of the MST, and international organization
of the kind illustrated by the Via Campesina and the WSF, with sympathy
and solidarity and mutual aid, there is real hope for a decent future.

have also had some other recent experiences that give a vivid picture
of what the world may be like if imperial violence is not limited
and dismantled. Last month I was in southeastern Turkey, the scene
of some of the worst atrocities of the grisly 1990s, still continuing:
just a few hours ago we were informed of renewed atrocities by the
army near Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of the Kurdish regions.
Through the 1990s, millions of people were driven out of the devastated
countryside, with tens of thousands killed and every imaginable
form of barbaric torture. They try to survive in caves outside the
walls of Diyarbakir, in condemned buildings in miserable slums in
Istanbul, or wherever they can find refuge, barred from returning
to their villages despite new legislation that theoretically permits
return. Eighty percent of the weapons came from the U.S. In 1997
alone, Clinton sent more arms to Turkey than in the entire Cold
War period combined up to the onset of the state terror campaign—called
“counterterror” by the perpetrators and their supporters,
another convention. Turkey became the leading recipient of U.S.
arms as atrocities peaked (apart from Israel-Egypt, a separate category).

In 1999, Turkey
relinquished this position to Colombia. The reason is that in Turkey,
U.S.-backed state terror had largely succeeded, while in Colombia
it had not. Colombia had the worst human rights record in the Western
hemisphere in the 1990s and was by far the leading recipient of
U.S. arms and military training, and now leads the world. It also
leads the world by other measures, for example, murder of labor
activists: more than half of those killed worldwide in the last
decade were in Colombia. Close to one-half million people were driven
from their land last year, a new record. The displaced population
is now estimated at 2.7 million. Political killings have risen to
20 a day; 5 years ago it was half that.

visited Cauca in southern Colombia, which had the worst human rights
record in the country in 2001. There I listened to hours of testimony
by peasants who were driven from their lands by chemical warfare
—called “fumigation” under the pretext of a U.S.-run
“drug war” that few take seriously and that would be obscene
if that were the intent. Their lives and lands are destroyed, children
are dying, they suffer from sickness and wounds. Peasant agriculture
is based on a rich tradition of knowledge and experience gained
over many centuries, in much of the world passed on from mother
to daughter. Though a remarkable human achievement, it is very fragile
and can be destroyed forever in a single generation. Also being
destroyed is some of the richest biodiversity in the world, similar
to neighboring regions of Brazil. Campesinos, indigenous people,
Afro-Colombians can join the millions in rotting slums and camps.
With the people gone, multinationals can come in to strip the mountains
for coal and to extract oil and other resources and to convert what
is left of the land to monocrop agroexport using laboratory-produced
seeds in an environment shorn of its treasures and variety.

scenes in Cauca and Southeastern Turkey are very different from
the celebrations of the Via Campesina gathering at the MST community.
But Turkey and Colombia are inspiring and hopeful in different ways,
because of the courage and dedication of people struggling for justice
and freedom, confronting the empire where it is killing and destroying.

are some of the signs of the future if “imperial ambition”
proceeds on its normal course, now to be accelerated by the grand
strategy of global rule by force. None of this is inevitable and
among the good models for ending these crimes are the ones I mentioned:
the MST, the Via Campesina, and the WSF.


the WSF, the range of issues and problems under intense discussion
is very broad, remarkably so, but I think we can identify two main
themes. One is global justice, the other is life after capitalism—or
to put it more simply, life, because it is not so clear that the
human species can survive very long under existing state capitalist
institutions. As you know, there is also a conference of the World
Economic Forum [WEF] going on right now in Davos. Here in Porto
Alegre, the mood is hopeful, vigorous, exciting. In Davos, the

York Times

tells us, “the mood has darkened.” For
the “movers and shakers,” it is not “global party
time” any more. In fact, the founder of the WEF has conceded
defeat: “The power of corporations has completely disappeared,”
he said. So we have won. There is nothing left for us to do but
pick up the pieces—not only to talk about a vision of the future
that is just and humane, but to move on to create it.

course, we should not let the praise go to our heads. There are
still a few difficulties ahead.

main theme of the WEF is Building Trust. There is a reason for that.
The “masters of the universe,” as they liked to call themselves
in more exuberant days, know that they are in serious trouble. They
recently released a poll showing that trust in leaders has severely
declined. Only the leaders of NGOs had the trust of a clear majority,
followed by UN and spiritual/religious leaders, then leaders of
Western Europe and economic managers, below them corporate executives,
and well below them, at the bottom, leaders of the U.S., with about
25 percent trust. That may well mean virtually no trust: when people
are asked whether they trust leaders with power, they usually say
“Yes,” out of habit.

gets worse. A few days ago a poll in Canada found that over one-third
of the population regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to world
peace. The U.S. ranks more than twice as high as Iraq or North Korea
and far higher than al-Qaeda as well. A poll without careful controls,


magazine, found that over 80 percent of respondents
in Europe regarded the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace,
compared with less than 10 percent for Iraq or North Korea. Even
if these numbers are wrong by some substantial factor, they are

coming war with Iraq is undoubtedly contributing to these interesting
and important developments. Opposition to the war is without historical
precedent. In Europe it is so high that Secretary of “Defense”
Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Germany and France as just the “old
Europe,” plainly of no concern because of their disobedience.
 The “vast numbers of other countries in Europe [are]
with the United States,” he assured foreign journalists. These
vast numbers are the “new Europe,” symbolized by Italy’s
Berlusconi, soon to visit the White House, praying that he will
be invited to be the third of the “three B’s”: Bush-Blair-Berlusconi—assuming
that he can stay out of jail. Italy is on board, the White House
tells us. It is apparently not a problem that over 80 percent of
the Italian public is opposed to the war, according to recent polls.
That just shows that the people of Italy also belong to the “old
Europe” and can be sent to the ashcan of history along with
France and Germany and others who do not know their place.

is hailed as another prominent member of the new Europe—with
75 percent totally opposed to the war, according to an international
Gallup poll. According to the leading foreign policy analyst of


, pretty much the same is true of the most hopeful
part of the new Europe, the former communist countries that are
counted on (quite openly) to serve U.S. interests and undermine
Europe’s despised social market and welfare states. He reports
that in Czechoslovakia, two-thirds of the population oppose participation
in a war, while in Poland only one-fourth would support a war even
if the UN inspectors “prove that Iraq possesses weapons of
mass destruction.” The Polish press reports 37 percent approval
in this case, still extremely low, at the heart of the “new

Europe soon identified itself in an open letter in the

Wall Street

: along with Italy, Spain, Poland, and Czechoslovakia—the
leaders, that is, not the people—it includes Denmark (with
popular opinion on the war about the same as Germany, therefore
“old Europe”), Portugal (53 percent opposed to war under
any circumstances, 96 percent opposed to war by the U.S. and its
allies unilaterally), Britain (40 percent opposed to war under any
circumstances, 90 percent opposed to war by the U.S. and its allies
unilaterally), and Hungary (no figures available).

exciting “new Europe” consists of some leaders who are
willing to defy their populations.

Europe reacted with some annoyance to Rumsfeld’s declaration
that they are “problem” countries, not modern states.
Their reaction was explained by thoughtful U.S. commentators. Keeping
just to the national press, we learn that “world-weary European
allies” do not appreciate the “moral rectitude” of
the president. The evidence for his “moral rectitude”
is that “his advisors say the evangelical zeal” comes
directly from the simple man who is dedicated to driving evil from
the world. Since that is surely the most reliable and objective
evidence that can be imagined, it would be improper to express slight
skepticism, let alone to react as we would to similar performances
by others. The cynical Europeans, we are told, misinterpret Bush’s
purity of soul as “moral naiveté”—without a
thought that the Administration’s PR specialists might have
a hand in creating imagery that will sell. We are informed further
that there is a great divide between world-weary Europe and the
“idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity.” That
this is the driving purpose of the idealistic New World we also
know for certain, because so our leaders proclaim. What more in
the way of proof could one seek?

rare mention of public opinion in the new Europe treats it as a
problem of marketing; the product being sold is necessarily right
and honorable, given its source. The willingness of the leaders
of the new Europe to prefer Washington to their own populations
“threatens to isolate the Germans and French,” who are
exhibiting retrograde democratic tendencies, and shows that Germany
and France cannot “say that they are speaking for Europe.”
They are merely speaking for the people of old and new Europe, who—the
same commentators acknowledge—express “strong opposition”
to the policies of the new Europe.

official pronouncements and the reaction to them are illuminating.
They demonstrate with some clarity the contempt for democracy that
is rather typical, historically, among those who feel that they
rule the world by right.

are many other illustrations. When German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
dared to take the position of the overwhelming majority of voters
in the last election that was described as a shocking failure of
leadership, a serious problem that Germany must overcome if it wants
to be accepted in the civilized world. The problem lies with Germany,
not elites of the Anglo-American democracies. Germany’s problem
is, “the government lives in fear of the voters, and that is
causing it to make mistake after mistake”(says the spokesperson
for the right-wing Christian Social Union party, who understands
the real nature of “democracy”).

case of Turkey is even more revealing. As throughout the region,
Turks are very strongly opposed to the war—about 90 percent
according to the most recent polls. So far the government has irresponsibly
paid some attention to the people who elected it. It has not bowed
completely to the intense pressure and threats that Washington is
exerting to compel it to heed the master’s voice. This reluctance
of the elected government to follow orders from on high proves that
its leaders are not true democrats. For those who may be too dull
to comprehend these subtleties, they are explained by former Ambassador
to Turkey Morton Abramowitz, now a distinguished senior statesperson
and commentator. Ten years ago, he explained, Turkey was governed
by a real democrat, Turgut Ozal, who “overrode his countrymen’s
[sic] pronounced preference to stay out of the Gulf war.” But
democracy has “declined” in Turkey. The current leadership
“is following the people,” revealing its lack of “democratic
credentials.” “Regrettably,” he says, “for the
U.S. there is no Ozal around.” So it will be necessary to bring
authentic democracy to Turkey by economic strangulation and other
coercive means—regrettably, but that is demanded by what the
elite press calls our “yearning for democracy.”

is witnessing another exercise of the real attitudes towards democracy
among the masters of the universe. In the most free election in
the hemisphere, a large majority voted for policies that are strongly
opposed by international finance and investors, by the IMF, and
the U.S. Treasury Department.  In earlier years, that would
have been the signal for a military coup installing a murderous
National Security State, as in Brazil 40 years ago. Now that will
not work; the populations of South and North have changed, and will
not easily tolerate it. Furthermore, there are now simpler ways
to undermine the will of the people, thanks to the neoliberal instruments
that have been put in place: economic controls, capital flight,
attacks on currency, privatization, and other devices that are well-designed
to reduce the arena of popular choice. These, it is hoped, may compel
the government to follow the dictates of what international economists
call the “virtual parliament” of investors and lenders,
who make the real decisions, coercing the population, an irrelevant
nuisance according to the reigning principles of democracy.

I was just about to leave for the airport I received another of
the many inquiries from the press about why there is so little anti-war
protest in the U.S. The impressions are instructive. In fact, protest
in the U.S., as elsewhere, is at levels that have no historical
precedent—not just demonstrations, teach-ins, and other public
events. To take an example of a different kind, last week the Chicago
City Council passed an anti-war resolution, 46-1, joining 50 other
cities and towns. The same is true in other sectors, including those
that are the most highly trusted, as the WEF learned to its dismay:
NGOs and religious organizations and figures, with few exceptions.
Several months ago the biggest university in the U.S. passed a strong
antiwar resolution—the University of Texas, right next door
to George W’s ranch. It’s easy to continue.

the widespread judgment among elites that the tradition of dissent
and protest has died? Invariably, comparisons are drawn to Vietnam,
a very revealing fact. We have just passed the 40th anniversary
of the public announcement that the Kennedy administration was sending
the U.S. Air Force to bomb South Vietnam, also initiating plans
to drive millions of people into concentration camps and chemical
warfare programs to destroy food crops. There was no pretext of
defense, except in the sense of official rhetoric: defense against
the “internal aggression” of South Vietnamese in South
Vietnam and their “assault from the inside” (President
Kennedy and his UN ambassador, Adlai Stevenson). Protest was non-existent.
It did not reach any meaningful level for several years. By that
time hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops had joined the occupying
army, densely populated areas were being demolished by saturation
bombing, and the aggression had spread to the rest of Indochina.
 Protest among elite intellectuals kept primarily to “pragmatic
grounds”: the war was a “mistake” that was becoming
too costly to the U.S. In sharp contrast, by the late 1960s the
great majority of the public had come to oppose the war as “fundamentally
wrong and immoral,” not “a mistake,” figures that
hold steady until the present.

in dramatic contrast to the 1960s, there is large-scale, committed,
and principled popular protest all over the U.S. before the war
has been officially launched. That reflects a steady increase over
these years in unwillingness to tolerate aggression and atrocities,
one of many such changes, worldwide in fact. That’s part of
the background for what is taking place in Porto Alegre and part
of the reason for the gloom in Davos.

political leadership is well aware of these developments. When a
new Administration comes into office, it receives a review of the
world situation compiled by the intelligence agencies. It is secret;
we learn about these things many years later. But when Bush #1 came
into office in 1989, a small part of the review was leaked, a passage
concerned with “cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker
enemies”—the only kind one would think of fighting. Intelligence
analysts advised that in conflicts with “much weaker enemies”
the U.S. must win “decisively and rapidly” or popular
support will collapse. It’s not like the 1960s, when the population
would tolerate a murderous and destructive war for years without
visible protest.  That’s no longer true. The activist
movements of the past 40 years have had a significant civilizing
effect. By now, the only way to attack a much weaker enemy is to
construct a huge propaganda offensive depicting it as about to commit
genocide, maybe even a threat to our very survival, then to celebrate
a miraculous victory over the awesome foe, while chanting praises
to the courageous leaders who came to the rescue just in time. That
is the current scenario in Iraq.


reveal more support for the planned war in the U.S. than elsewhere,
but the numbers are misleading. It is important to bear in mind
that the U.S. is the only country outside Iraq where Saddam Hussein
is not only reviled, but also feared. There is a flood of lurid
propaganda warning that if we do not stop him today he will destroy
us tomorrow. The next evidence of his weapons of mass destruction
may be a “mushroom cloud,” so National Security Adviser
Condo- leezza Rice announced in September—presumably over New
York. No one in Iraq’s neighborhood seems overly concerned,
much as they may hate the murderous tyrant. Perhaps that is because
they know that as a result of the sanctions “the vast majority
of the country’s population has been on a semi-starvation diet
for years,” as the World Health Organization reported and that
Iraq is one of the weakest states in the region: its economy and
military expenditures are a fraction of Kuwait’s, which has
10 percent of Iraq’s population, and much farther below others

the U.S. is different. When Congress granted the president authority
to go to war last October, it was “to defend the national security
of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
We must tremble in fear before this awesome threat, while countries
nearby seek to reintegrate Iraq into the region, including those
who were attacked by Saddam when he was a friend and ally of those
who now run the show in Washington—and who were happily providing
him with aid including the means to develop WMD, at a time when
he was far more dangerous than today and had already committed by
far his worst crimes.

serious measure of support for war in the U.S. would have to extricate
this “fear factor,” which is genuine and unique to the
U.S. The residue would give a more realistic measure of support
for the resort to violence, and would show, I think, that it is
about the same as elsewhere.

is also rather striking that strong opposition to the coming war
extends right through the establishment. The current issues of the
two major foreign policy journals feature articles opposing the
war by leading figures of foreign policy elites. The very respectable
American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a long monograph
on the war, trying to give the most sympathetic possible account
of the Bush administration position, then dismantling it point by
point. One respected analyst they quote is a Senior Associate of
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who warns that the
U.S. is becoming “a menace to itself and to mankind [sic]”
under its current leadership. There are no precedents for anything
like this.

should recognize that these criticisms tend to be narrow. They are
concerned with threats to the U.S. and its allies. They do not take
into account the likely effects on Iraqis: the warnings of the UN
and aid agencies that millions may be at very serious risk in a
country that is at the edge of survival after a terrible war that
targeted its basic infrastructure—which amounts to biological
warfare—and a decade of devastating sanctions that have killed
hundreds of thousands of people and blocked any reconstruction,
while strengthening the brutal tyrant who rules Iraq. It is also
interesting that the criticisms do not even take the trouble to
mention the lofty rhetoric about democratization and liberation.
Presumably, the critics take for granted that the rhetoric is intended
for intellectuals and editorial writers—who are not supposed
to notice that the drive to war is accompanied by a dramatic demonstration
of hatred of democracy, just as they are supposed to forget the
record of those who are leading the campaign. That is also why none
of this is ever brought up at the UN.

the threats that do concern establishment critics are very real.
They were surely not surprised when the CIA informed Congress last
October that they know of no link between Iraq and al Qaeda-style
terrorism, but that an attack on Iraq would probably increase the
terrorist threat to the West, in many ways. It is likely to inspire
a new generation of terrorists bent on revenge and it might induce
Iraq to carry out terrorist actions that are already in place, a
possibility taken very seriously by U.S. analysts. A high-level
task force of the Council on Foreign Relations just released a report
warning of likely terrorist attacks that could be far worse than
9-11, including possible use of WMD within the U.S., dangers that
become “more urgent by the prospect of the U.S. going to war
with Iraq.” They provide many illustrations, virtually a cookbook
for terrorists. It is not the first; similar ones were published
by prominent strategic analysts long before 9-11.

is also understood that an attack on Iraq may lead not just to more
terror, but also to proliferation of WMD, for a simple reason: potential
targets of the U.S. recognize that there is no other way to deter
the most powerful state in history, which is pursuing “America’s
Imperial Ambition,” posing serious dangers to the U.S. and
the world, the author warns in the main establishment journal,



.  Prominent hawks warn that a war in Iraq
might lead to the “greatest proliferation disaster in history.”
They know that if Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, the
dictatorship keeps them under tight control. They understand further
that except as a last resort if attacked, Iraq is highly unlikely
to use any WMD it has, thus inviting instant incineration. It is
also highly unlikely to leak them to the Osama bin Ladens of the
world, which would be a terrible threat to Saddam Hussein, quite
apart from the reaction if there is even a hint that this might
take place. But under attack, the society would collapse, including
the controls over WMD. These would be “privatized,” terrorism
experts point out, and offered to the huge “market for unconventional
weapons, where they will have no trouble finding buyers.” That
really is a “nightmare scenario,” just as the hawks warn.

before the Bush administration began beating the war drums about
Iraq, there were plenty of warnings that its adventurism was going
to lead to proliferation of WMD, as well as terror, simply as a
deterrent. Right now, Washington is teaching the world a very ugly
and dangerous lesson: if you want to defend yourself from us, you
had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible military threat,
including WMD. Otherwise we will demolish you in pursuit of the
new “grand strategy” that has caused shudders not only
among the usual victims and in “old Europe,” but right
at the heart of the U.S. foreign policy elite, who recognize that
“commitment of the U.S. to active military confrontation for
decisive national advantage will leave the world more dangerous
and the U.S. less secure”—again, quoting respected figures
in elite journals.

the likely increase of terror and proliferation of WMD is of limited
concern to planners in Washington in the context of their real priorities.
Without too much difficulty, one can think of reasons why this might
be the case, not very attractive ones.

nature of the threats was dramatically underscored last October
at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban
missile crisis, attended by key participants from Russia, the U.S.,
and Cuba.  Planners knew at the time that they had the fate
of the world in their hands, but new information released at the
Havana summit was truly startling. We learned that the world was
saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain,
Vasily Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear missiles when
Russian submarines were attacked by U.S. destroyers near Kennedy’s
“quarantine” line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch
would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could have
“destroyed the Northern hemisphere,” as Eisenhower had

dreadful revelation is particularly timely because of the circumstances:
the roots of the missile crisis lay in international terrorism aimed
at “regime change,” two concepts very much in the news
today. U.S. terrorist attacks against Cuba began shortly after Castro
took power and were sharply escalated by Kennedy, leading to a very
plausible fear of invasion, as Robert McNamara has acknowledged.
Kennedy resumed the terrorist war immediately after the crisis was
over; terrorist actions against Cuba, based in the U.S., peaked
in the late 1970s continued 20 years later. Putting aside any judgment
about the behavior of the participants in the missile crisis, the
new discoveries demonstrate with brilliant clarity the terrible
and unanticipated risks of attacks on a “much weaker enemy”
aimed at “regime change”—risks to survival, it is
no exaggeration to say.

for the fate of the people of Iraq, no one can predict with any
confidence: not the CIA, not Donald Rumsfeld, not those who claim
to be experts on Iraq, no one. Possibilities range from the frightening
prospects for which the aid agencies are preparing to the delightful
tales spun by administration PR specialists and their chorus. One
never knows. These are among the many reasons why decent human beings
do not contemplate the threat or use of violence, whether in personal
life or international affairs, unless reasons have been offered
that have overwhelming force. Surely nothing remotely like that
has been offered in the present case, which is why opposition to
the plans of Washington and London has reached such scale and intensity.

The timing
of the Washington-London propaganda campaign was so transparent
that it too has been a topic of discussion, and sometimes ridicule,
right in the mainstream. The campaign began in September of last
year. Before that, Saddam was a terrible guy, but not an imminent
threat to the survival of the U.S. The “mushroom cloud”
was announced in early September. Since then, fear that Saddam will
attack the U.S. has been running at about 60-70 percent of the population.
“The desperate urgency about moving rapidly against Iraq that
Bush expressed in October was not evident from anything he said
two months before,” the chief political analyst of United Press
International observed, drawing the obvious conclusion: September
marked the opening of the political campaign for the mid-term congressional
elections. The Administration, he continued, was “campaigning
to sustain and increase its power on a policy of international adventurism,
new radical preemptive military strategies, and a hunger for a politically
convenient and perfectly timed confrontation with Iraq.” As
long as domestic issues were in the forefront, Bush and his cohorts
were losing ground—naturally enough, because they are conducting
a serious assault against the general population. “But lo and
behold. Though there have been no new terrorist attacks or credible
indications of imminent threat, since the beginning of September,
national security issues have been in the driver’s seat,”
not just al Qaeda but an awesome and threatening military power,

others have made the same observations. The Carnegie Endowment Senior
Associate I quoted before writes that Bush and Co. are following
“the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy,
which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism,” inspired
by fear of enemies about to destroy us. That strategy is of critical
importance if the “radical nationalists” setting policy
in Washington hope to advance their announced plan for “unilateral
world domination through absolute military superiority,” while
conducting a major assault against the interests of the large majority
of the domestic population.

the elections, the strategy worked, barely. The Fall 2002 election
was won by a small number of votes, but enough to hand Congress
to the executive. Analyses of the election found that voters maintained
their opposition to the Administration on social and economic issues,
but suppressed these issues in favor of security concerns, which
typically lead to support for the figure in authority—the brave
cowboy who must ride to our rescue, just in time.

history shows, it is all too easy for unscrupulous leaders to terrify
the public, with consequences that have not been attractive. That
is the natural method to divert attention from the fact that tax
cuts for the rich and other devices are undermining prospects for
a decent life for a large majority of the population and for future
generations. When the presidential campaign begins, Republican strategists
surely do not want people to be asking questions about their pensions,
jobs, health care, and other such matters. Rather, they should be
praising their heroic leader for rescuing them from imminent destruction
by a foe of “colossal power” and marching on to confront
the next powerful force bent on our destruction. It could be Iran
or conflicts in the Andean countries: there are lots of choices,
as long as the targets are defenseless.

ideas are second nature to the current political leaders, most of
them recycled from the Reagan administration. They are replaying
a familiar script: drive the country into deficit so as to be able
to undermine social programs, declare a “war on terror”
(as they did in 1981), and conjure up one devil after another to
frighten the population into obedience. In the 1980s it was Libyan
hit-men prowling the streets of Washington to assassinate our leader,
then the Nicaraguan army only two-days march from Texas, a threat
to survival so severe that Reagan had to declare a national emergency.
Or an airfield in Grenada that the Russians were going to use to
bomb us (if they could find it on a map); Arab terrorists seeking
to kill Americans everywhere while Qaddafi plans to “expel
America from the world,” so Reagan wailed; or Hispanic narco-traffickers
seeking to destroy the youth; and on and on.

the political leadership was able to carry out domestic policies
that had generally poor economic outcomes, but did create wealth
for narrow sectors while harming a considerable majority of the
population—the script that is being followed once again. Since
the public knows it, they have to resort to “the classic modern
strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy” if they hope
to carry out the domestic and international programs to which they
are committed, perhaps even to institutionalize them so they will
be hard to dismantle when they lose control.

course, there is much more to it than domestic considerations, which
are of no slight importance. The September 11 terrorist atrocities
provided an opportunity and pretext to implement long-standing plans
to take control of Iraq’s immense oil wealth, a central component
of the Persian Gulf resources that the State Department, in 1945,
described as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one
of the greatest material prizes in world history.” U.S. intelligence
predicts that these will be of even greater significance in the
years ahead. The issue has never been access. The same intelligence
analyses anticipate that the U.S. will rely on more secure supplies
in the Western hemisphere and West Africa. The same was true after
World War II. What matters is control over the “material prize,”
which funnels enormous wealth to the U.S. and in many ways, Britain
as well, and the “stupendous source of strategic power,”
which translates into a lever of “unilateral world domination”—the
goal that is now openly proclaimed and is frightening much of the
world, including “old Europe” and the conservative establishment
in the U.S.

think a realistic look at the world gives a mixed picture. There
are many reasons to be encouraged, but there will be a long hard
road ahead.

Chomsky is a linguist and social critic. He is the author of numerous
books (available from South End Press). This talk was given at the
World Social Forum 2003 and was followed by a large anti-war march