'Stability, a cold code word with US'
Feb 24, 2011
US President Barack Obama has condemned the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Muammar Gaddafi's regime, calling it "outrageous and unacceptable."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also censured the Libyan government's severe suppression of Libyans and called for an end to the "bloodshed" in the North African country.
To learn more on the latest developments in the Arab world, Press TV has conducted an interview with renowned academician Professor Noam Chomsky who says the US and its allies have vested interests in stable dictatorships in energy rich countries rather than real democracies.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Professor Chomsky, I would like to ask your reaction to today's statements not only by Obama's administration officials but also by [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon as well considering the loss of life in Libya has been so high. Do you believe that they have done enough and said enough to meet the needs of the Libyan people?
I think that more can be done, what is happening is already pretty awful and that could lead to a really major bloodbath. Information is pretty sparse but at least the eastern province appears to be substantially under control by the popular uprising. Tripoli looks very dangerous. I think efforts could be made to provide assistance and protection to the parts of the population that have succeeded in liberating parts of Libya. However, nobody wants a western intervention. That would probably be not only wrong but also disastrous. But actions could be taken through the UN presumably.
When the Egyptian revolution occurred, you along with several other American academics had actually written an open letter to President Obama urging him essentially to heed the will of the people. Is there any such movement currently underway within the US about Libya?
There have been pretty strong statements actually
coming from pretty much the same sources, like the Campaign for Peace
and Democracy in New York, which I think may have been the one that
initiated the Egyptian statement, have also come out with the strong
statement on this. Egypt is somewhat different. Remember in the case of
Egypt, the US was in fact continuing to back the Mubarak dictatorship so
the call was to drop that stand and provide at least verbal support for
the popular uprising. Libya is a different story.
Libya is important especially when it comes to the
factor of oil and oil is obviously extremely important to the US and to
the EU as well, which gets a lot of its oil from Libya. How will oil
play out in this, considering the price of oil has been steadily
increasing and there are a lot of fears about if this unrest continues,
what will happen in that arena?
There is a reason why there is so much concern
about the democracy uprising in the Arab world than in, say, the
sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the major energy resources of the
world are. There is quite a good reason why the US and its allies will
pull out the stops to prevent any really functioning democracy from
developing in the Arab world. To see why, that is enough to look at the
studies of the Arab public opinion, which are well-known, they come from
highly reputable sources, they are not published but they are certainly
known to the decision makers and so on. So for example, the US will
call for democracy in Iran just as it called for democracy in Eastern
Europe states that are taken to be enemies but they know that the public
doesn't agree with that, the Arab public. For the Arab public, the
major threat by overwhelming majority is the US and Israel and Iran is
considered a threat only a by small minority. Actually the figures are
even sharper in Egypt than in other countries.
When you mention about the fact that democracy in
the region and the US's issues with that, certainly somebody within the
administration, certainly somebody within all these officials of the EU
as well, must understand that the people of the Arab world do understand
what is going on and that will at some point in time backfire?
The leaders of the EU and of the US happen to agree
with the ruling clerics in Iran that democracy is dangerous and
intolerable. They know what the public thinks, they have always known so
you can go back to, say, 50 years ago to the Dwight D. Eisenhower's
administration. Eisenhower was concerned about what he called the
campaign of hatred against us in the Arab world not among the
governments that were mostly compiled but with the people and there was
an analysis at the same time by the National Security administration,
the highest planning body, which said yes, there is a campaign of hatred
and the reason is that there is a perception that the US support
dictatorships and blocks democracy and development. But the basic point
in connection with this whole quite spectacular and remarkable uprising,
the basic point was stated simply by a high Jordanian official who is
now chief of the Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. He
said the principle is that as long as people are quiet everything is
fine, if the stop being quite, something has to be done to reassert
control; but it they are quite, we do what we like. That is the basic
principle of governance.
There is a lot of talk about what actually sparked
this movement of revolutions within the Middle East and North Africa. A
lot of people are asking why right now, because all these populace have
been suffering under these dictators for many years?
First of all, it is not just now. Take Egypt for
example. There have been significant labor struggles going on for years.
The immediate sparks for the January 25th movement was the April 6th
group of young media-savvy activists but they picked their name from a
major strike action in 2008 which was supposed to be on April 6th but
was crushed by the government and it is only one of the series of labor
struggles that have been going on for years and in fact the January 25th
movement really got a major shot in the arm when the rising Egyptian
labor movement joined in a few days later. So there is a background. It
is not just Egypt, the same was in other places; things have been
simmering for a long time. It takes a spark that lights a fire that
carries it forward.
Others, like Henry Kissinger, have said the US
essentially would need to choose between democracy and stability in the
region. When the Egyptian revolution had begun, Israel had essentially
shown its displeasure at the fact that there would be democracy at its
door step in the Persian Gulf states and in North Africa as well. Why is
so hard for the US to accept that is possible that there may be both
democracy and stability together in the region?
You have to remember that stability is a cold code
word. Stability doesn't mean stability; it means obedience to US
domination. So let's go back to Kissinger again. He was the primary
agent in, among other things, undermining the democratic regime in
Chile. He later commented that "The US had to destabilize Chile in
order to establish stability." If you understand the terminology, that
is not a contradiction. It means the US had to undermine, through
Kissinger initiative, the parliamentary government in order to institute
an obedient dictatorship and that is what he manes by stability. He
doesn't mean that things are calm and straightforward, he means they are
under control. That of course it is inconsistent with democracy for the
reasons I mentioned before. Just look at the studies of the public
Many times, especially even during the Egyptian revolution, many US
officials had consistently said that whatever happens in that country
was up to the people of that country. We know of course, and that was
very obvious, that the US administration officials were very involved in
what was going on behind the scenes in that country. In Libya there has
been less of an obvious connection between the administration and
Gaddafi. Do you believe that there are backdoor channels there that are
being used, or is the US really not getting involved is what is
happening in Libya right now?
I am sure the US is involved to the extent that it
can be but remember that it doesn't support the Gaddafi regime. Right
through the 1980s for example, the Ronald Reagan administration took
Libya more or less as a punching bag; all the bombings and provocations,
almost never without any pretext. They don't like the Gaddafi regime.
It is not what's called "stable" or "obedient." So whatever little they
are doing, I presume, is to support the uprising. I don't think they
have the great many assets in Libya. I should say, however, that reports
from ground in Libya that we get is that people are under attack by
Apache and Chinook helicopters and jet fighters that come from the US.
Going back to Egypt, considering that it was one of
the larger revolutions that occurred in recent times. In Egypt, till
now, a lot of people have been celebrating the stepping down of Mubarak
essentially. However, there was a lot left to be done considering Omar
Suleiman is technically still part-ruler, I guess one can call him, and
this is the man who was known as Dr. Torture in the Arab world: he
supported the Rendition programs; there are people in Guantanamo who say
that he personally tortured them himself. Pushing forward such people
by the US, though they are quiet on this front, they haven't yet spoken
against him, do they not realize that , given the fact the Obama said he
wanted to improve the US image, certainly this is not helping him
toward that cause?
At first they did speak out in support of Omar
Suleiman, but this was very quiet as you say. In fact his status is not
clear; he seems to have pretty much disappeared. However, Obama also
spoke in support of Mubarak on his famous trip to Cairo. In 2009, in a
press conference on the way, he was asked whether he would say anything
in Cairo about the authoritarian, autocrat character of Mubarak regime,
he said: No, Mubarak is a good man, he is doing good things, he is
maintaining stability and I am not going to criticized him. Actually,
Tony Blaire, right though the current uprising, came out with a very
strong statement of support for Mubarak and how wonderful he was. Of
course they are realizing, just as Eisenhower realized 50 years ago that
there is a campaign of hatred and you don't win people by supporting
dictators but as Kissinger rightly pointed out the dominant goal is what
they call stability and maintaining control.
The US and EU have been releasing human rights
reports for many years and of course Libya has been part of those
reports for many years, as was Egypt and they [the US and EU] very well
know the issues surrounding these regimes and dictatorships. Yet they
never acted or spoken out and now that this is occurring, something that
they obviously expected to occur at some pint of time in history. Why
has been their response has been so disorganized in a sense, considering
[the US] administration was saying one thing one day and another thing
the other day?
I don't see it as particularly disorganized,
remember that this is something that takes place very often and very
often it becomes impossible to support your favorite dictator. There is a
whole series of such cases all over the world: in the Philippines,
Haiti, South Korea, Indonesia. And there is a standard playbook:
Support them as long as possible. When it is no longer feasible, maybe
it is the army's turn to turn against them or send them out to pasture,
forget about them, issue a ringing declaration about how we are on the
side of the people and how we have always loved democracy and then try
to restore as much of the traditional regime as possible. But policies
are pretty straightforward not only on the side of the US but also the
EU. Take Tunisia for example and western Africa all together. That is
France's primary domain.
Actually there are a series of uprisings, as I mentioned, there has
been plenty going on for many years and it has been repressed but the
current series actually started in Western Sahara in November, that
territory conquered very brutally by Morocco 30 years ago and ruled very
harshly. Theoretically, it is under the UN. The UN is committed to
carry forward de-colonization; it was a Spanish colony and in November
there was another significant protest and Moroccan troops came in and
smashed it all. It was bad enough that the UN did consider at least
carrying out an inquiry but that was crushed by France. France wants to
protect its Moroccan ally and does not want an inquiry into its crimes.
The United States happens to be in those powerful states but that is the
way states behave. Actually the same in Iran; that is the way state
Right, so what is your opinion then, professor, on
the fact that the US director of National Intelligence, James Clapper,
was criticized that the US intelligence services missed the warning
signs of turmoil in Egypt? Was that, do you think, just a public facade
in a sense, that behind the scenes the administration knew what was
going on or was that some in genuine?
I think it was genuine. They had some sense of what
was going on surely but they obviously didn't expect any uprising of
this nature and they certainly knew about the labor protests, the
oppression and so on. In the case of Tunisia, which is kind of an
interesting case, Tunisia was held as (the) very beacon of democracy and
progress in the region. Some of the articles that appear kind of
embarrassing to read now. But they knew. In fact one of the interesting
WikiLeaks disclosures was series of cables by the American ambassador in
Tunisia who said, very straight out, look this is a police state, there
is no freedom of speech or association, the public is extremely angry
at the corruption of the ruling family. So they knew but the doctrine
prevailed. It was quiet so everything was fine.
Let me go back to the Egypt, if I may, just for a
moment. Considering as I mentioned that revolution has not yet, in a
sense, succeeded to fulfill the complete demands of the people who
brought it about, do you believe that if that revolution were to
succeeded in a way if the people have envisioned it, how much of an
impact, do you believe, that would have on not only North Africa but
obviously the Middle East region?
Well, Egypt is an important country. I mean, there
is a long interesting history but if we have time to go it, in the early
19th century, Egypt was poised for an industrial revolution. It might
have actually carried it out. It was a situation not very much unlike
the US at the same time but the US had been liberated to do what it
wanted. Egypt was under control of primarily England which would not
permit it and the story continues up to the present.
I think that the United States and its European allies will do
everything they can to prevent full flourishing democracy in Egypt for
exactly the reason I mentioned. In Egypt even more than the rest of the
Arab world, the United States is considered the main enemy. They do not
go along with the US policy on Iran; in fact they are strongly opposed
to it in most other issues. Furthermore, this is one tradition during
the period of secular nationalism in Egypt which was very much opposed
by the Unites States and Britain, as you know, there was a threat that
Egypt might spearhead an effort to use the energy recourses of the
region for the benefit of its own population not for Western investors,
Western powers and our ruling elite. That is a real threat. I mean that
is why Britain and the United States have traditionally supported the
radical Islamic fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia primarily, in opposition to
secular nationalism. That provides them with, I think, stability.
Omar Suleiman said during the unrest, uprising and
the revolution in Egypt, that essentially the Arab world and its people
were not yet ready for democracy. Do you agree with that sentiment or
is he just essentially, just as you said, reflecting US concerns in the
Well, I think a more accurate statement would be
that elite elements are in the West, in Egypt, the old regime, and Iran
and elsewhere are not ready for democracy. People are ready for
democracy everywhere. That is the problem elite face.
I would like to ask you a yes or no question,
professor. Do you believe that there is a chance of success within the
current uprisings in the Middle East and North African regions?
You know, success is not a yes or no affair. There
can be partial successes and partial failures. But partial failure can
leave a legacy which is a basis for the next success. I think that there
will be a major effect. These are really spectacular uprisings but how
far they would go in shaking the traditional world of domination; we
cannot really say.