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Chomsky: Why the Mideast Turmoil Is a Direct Threat to the American Empire

An interview with Noam Chomsky about what this means for the future of the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy in the region.

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Noam Chomsky, your response?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The comment of the Israeli official is standard boilerplate. Stalin could have said it. Yes, of course, the people want peace and freedom, democracy; we’re all in favor of that. But not now, please. Because we don’t like what the outcome will be. In fact, it’s worth bearing—in the case—it’s the same with Obama. It’s more or less the same comment. On the other hand, the Israeli officials have been vociferous and outspoken in support of Mubarak and denunciation of the popular movement and the demonstrations. Perhaps only Saudi Arabia has been so outspoken in this regard. And the reason is the same. They very much fear what democracy would bring in Egypt.

After all, they’ve just seen it in Palestine. There has been one free election in the Arab world, exactly one really free election—namely, in Palestine, January 2006, carefully monitored, recognized to be free, fair, open and so on. And right after the election, within days, the United States and Israel announced publicly and implemented policies of harsh attack against the Palestinian people to punish them for running a free election. Why? The wrong people won. Elections are just fine, if they come out the way we want them to.

So, if in, say, Poland under Russian rule, popular movements were calling for freedom, we cheer. On the other hand, if popular movements in Central America are trying to get rid of brutal dictatorships, we send—we arm the military and carry out massive terrorist wars to crush it. We will cheer Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia standing up against the enemy, and at the very same moment, elite forces, fresh from renewed training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, under command of the military, blow the brains out of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, in El Salvador. That passes in silence. But those are the—that’s exactly the pattern that we see replicated over and over again.

And it’s even recognized by conservative scholarship. The leading studies of—scholarly studies of what’s called "democracy promotion" happen to be by a good, careful scholar, Thomas Carruthers, who’s a neo-Reaganite. He was in Reagan’s State Department working on programs of democracy promotion, and he thinks it’s a wonderful thing. But he concludes from his studies, ruefully, that the U.S. supports democracy, if and only if it accords with strategic and economic objectives. Now, he regards this as a paradox. And it is a paradox if you believe the rhetoric of leaders. He even says that all American leaders are somehow schizophrenic. But there’s a much simpler analysis: people with power want to retain and maximize their power. So, democracy is fine if it accords with that, and it’s unacceptable if it doesn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, there’s a sign, a big banner that people are holding in the square, in Tahrir, that says, "Yes, we can, too."

NOAM CHOMSKY: Let’s what? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear.

AMY GOODMAN: The banner says, "Yes, we can, too."

NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, "Yes, we can, too." Yeah. You know where they got that from. Well, except that they mean it. Whether they can or not, no one knows. I mean, the situation has—we should recognize, has ominous aspects. The dispatch of pro-Mubarak thugs to the square is dangerous and frightening. Mubarak, presumably with U.S. backing, feels that—clearly feels that he can reestablish control. They’ve opened the internet again. The army is sitting by. We don’t know what they’ll do. But they might very well use the conflicts in the streets, caused by the pro-Mubarak gangs that have been sent in, to say, "Well, we have to establish military control," and they’ll be another form of the military dictatorships that have been, you know, the effective power in Egypt for a long time.

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