Chomsky: Why the Mideast Turmoil Is a Direct Threat to the American Empire
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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 have taken 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, have been 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.