Chomsky: Why the Mideast Turmoil Is a Direct Threat to the American Empire
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In recent weeks, popular uprisings in the Arab world have led to the ouster of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the imminent end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, a new Jordanian government, and a pledge by Yemen’s longtime dictator to leave office at the end of his term. We speak to MIT Professor Noam Chomsky about what this means for the future of the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy in the region. When asked about President Obama’s remarks last night on Mubarak, Chomsky said: "Obama very carefully didn’t say anything... 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." We continued the interview with Chomsky for 50 minutes after the live show.
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 Tahrir Square, 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 quo is 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.