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Manufacturing Stability: An Interview with Noam Chomsky


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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>—The New York Times today ran a front-page story titled, “Obama May Ban Spying on Heads of Allied States.”{C}{C}[1] Talk about the impact WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden have had on U.S. policy.

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"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>—The WikiLeaks exposures didn’t reveal anything at all, certainly nothing much, about genuine security concerns, except in one respect: the security of the government from its own population. If you look over the historical record, very commonly the government regards its own population as an enemy that has to be controlled and manipulated. And if you look at declassified documents—the U.S. is a very free society, so we have quite a rich record—very little in these declassified documents has to do with real security—protection of the population from attack, let’s say. Most of it has to do with protecting the government from exposure to its own population about what it’s doing. I think what they’ve released fits that pattern. It’s embarrassing for the government, but there’s no genuine security interest involved.

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color:black;background:white”>—And for states spying on their own population, spying on allies is obviously not that much of a stretch.

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color:black;background:white”>—No. In fact, spying on allies goes back a long way. So, for example, when the United Nations was being established—it was established at a conference in San Francisco in 1945—there were of course delegations from countries all over. And it turned out that the FBI was bugging the hotel rooms of the foreign delegations, so that the U.S government would know how better to manipulate the proceedings. Well, of course technology has improved a lot since then, so we do it in more extensive ways.

mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>K.M. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
color:black;background:white”>N.C.
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{C}{C}[2] Can you elaborate based on what’s going on in the Middle East today?

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color:black;background:white”>—Well, take the Arab Spring. It was threatening to the United States and its allies, the traditional imperial powers, France, England. And they reacted with a completely standard procedure, case after case. When you have a favorite dictator—[President of Tunisia Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali, for France; [President of Egypt Hosni] Mubarak, for the U.S.; and so on—[you] support him as long as possible. If it becomes impossible to support him—perhaps the army turns against him, or the business classes turn against him—then [you] send him off somewhere—to Saudi Arabia, Sharm el Sheikh, wherever it is—and issue declarations about your love of democracy, and then try to restore the old system. Standard! Over and over! Support [President of the Philippines Ferdinand] Marcos, [President of Haiti Jean-Claude] Duvalier, [President of Indonesia] Suharto, [President of the Republic of the Congo] Mobutu. Case after case. Why should we expect anything else? And that’s exactly what happened [in the Middle East].

mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>And in the case of Egypt, the United States supported Mubarak until the point when the military basically said, We can’t keep you any longer. And then [he was sent] off to Sharm el Sheikh. Then [the U.S.] tried to support any organization that pretty much maintained the old order. They gave mild support to the Muslim Brotherhood; now they’re pretty much supporting the military, as long as they keep to the guidelines of U.S. policy.

mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>The states that are most significant for the West are the oil dictatorships, obviously. There, they have harshly repressed any manifestation of the Arab Spring. In Saudi Arabia, which is the most reactionary and religious extremist of any of the states in the region and the favored ally of the U.S. and Britain, even a minor effort to take part in some kind of reform is harshly crushed. Right now, a few Saudi women are trying to drive. They get death threats and attacks and the clerics are condemning this as a move that will destroy the society. That’s to drive! In Tehran, you can take a taxi driven by women. But Iran is condemned, Saudi Arabia is praised, because they do pretty much what we want.

mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>Libya was an interesting case. The African Union, which is the regional authority that should deal with it, had proposals for the Libyan uprising. They were calling for diplomacy, negotiations, a transitional regime. They were hoping to avoid the humanitarian catastrophe that did follow from Western intervention, and also the breakup of Libya into what is now chaos. They wanted to avoid that. They had proposals which maybe would have worked, maybe not, but were clearly sensible. They were never considered. Britain and France primarily (the U.S. went along) just wanted to bomb: We’ll bomb, we’ll be the air force of the rebels, and we’ll get control over Libyan resources. They also wanted to drive out the Chinese. China had maybe 30,000 technicians there. They all had to flee. The idea was, this will go back under Western control. It hasn’t really worked out well. In fact, Libyan oil production has been reduced very sharply and the country is just in chaos. There was a cover of a UN resolution…

mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>K.M. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
color:black;background:white”>N.C.
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black;background:white”>The crucial fact is that the United States and its allies cannot tolerate democracy in the region. The official line is: We’re promoting democracy. But it can’t be true. It’s never been true in the past, for a very simple reason: Take a look at the polls. There are extensive Western-run polls of public opinion in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] countries. For example, on the eve of Tahrir Square, a major poll was conducted by major polling agencies. Take a look at the results among Egyptians. About 10 percent regarded Iran as a threat. They don’t like Iran, there are ancient hostilities, but they don’t consider it a threat. Like most of the world. That’s a Western obsession. The world doesn’t like Iran, but it doesn’t see it as a threat. They do see threats: the United States and Israel. Maybe 80 percent think the U.S. and Israel are serious threats. In fact, opposition to U.S. policy was so strong that in that poll, the majority favored Iran getting nuclear weapons to balance U.S. power. And there are other polls with somewhat similar results, varying a bit. If you have anything like a functioning democracy, public opinion is going to influence policy. So, of course the U.S. is going to oppose democracy. They—the media, scholarship, intellectual commentary—can’t say this. [They say] the U.S. is dedicated to democracy, sometimes it fails, so on. Are we too dedicated to democracy? [They have] debates like that.

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color:black;background:white”>—During our interview in 2006, you said, “One of the most interesting things about U.S. politics in the past years is that while support for the Bush Administration, which was always very thin, has declined very sharply because of one catastrophe after the other, support for the Democrats hasn’t increased.” Talk about where we are now.

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color:black;background:white”>—By now both of them are way down in the depths. Take a look at the current polls. Support for the Republicans is 28 percent. That’s the lowest it has been in history. On the other hand, when you ask, Would you prefer to have the Republicans or the Democrats in power, the answer is: the Republicans. And if you ask a further question, Who do you prefer on taxes, the answer is the Republicans. Then when the question is the policy that the Republicans pursue, there’s overwhelming objection [to it].

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color:black;background:white”>—But Americans are angry with Washington for so many different—at times conflicting—reasons that anger often seems to be the only common denominator, leaving the impression that there is no possibility for real change…

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color:black;background:white”>—There is possibility. But it will require education and organization. That’s happened in the past. Could happen again. But it’s a long, hard process, and the prospects are not bright.

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