Anda di halaman 1dari 20

CRISES AND THE UNIPOLAR MOMENT

Lecture delivered by Professor Noam Chomsky


27th October 2009 in the Logan Hall, University of London

Organised by the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy and the Development Studies Department,
School of Oriental and African Studies

Well, I’ll start by saying a few words about the title. “A serious discussion of crises” is far beyond
the range of a talk, too many, too severe. What I’ll try to do is mention a few of them and some
of what seem to me to be their salient characteristics and then try to relate them to the famous
unipolar moment which has been the topic of a great deal of scholarly and popular discussion
since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, leaving the United States as the sole global
superpower, instead of merely the primary superpower as before. And is now of course the
centre of attention, with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall coming up in a few
days.

A sensible way to approach these topics, I think, is maybe to focus on the guiding principles of
policy formation since World War II. When these are understood, it’s often fairly straightforward
to apply them to ongoing developments, and that’s particularly true in countries with stable
institutions, like the US, so that the guidelines for policy remain pretty stable as well. I’m going
to focus on the United States for two reasons. First is I know more about it. The second is that
it’s as close to a global sovereign as the world has ever known and has been so since World War
II. It’s a fact that was well understood by US planners during World War II as they developed
quite explicit doctrines that still pretty much prevail. That background I think provides the
context for understanding both the unipolar moment and current policies which keep pretty
much to the norm. And the institutional changes which have taken place, particularly since the
1970s, I think provide the right context for understanding many of the current crises.

From the outbreak of war in 1939, high level US planners, state and private, met to deal with the
outcome of the war. They recognised that whatever the outcome, the US would emerge as the
dominant global power, displacing Britain. Accordingly they developed plans for the United
States to exercise control over a substantial portion of the global- what they called the ‘grand
area’. This grand area was to comprise at the very least the Western hemisphere, the former
British Empire, the Far East and western Asia’s energy resources. And in this grand area,
quoting, the ‘US would hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy and
would act to ensure the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that interfere with its
global designs’. Notice that this is the Franklin D Roosevelt Administration, the most
progressive in American history and if you detect a certain similarity to the Bush doctrine, it’s
not accidental.

A review of the intervening period reveals that the same conceptions prevailed throughout and
still do. Just taking one illustration: Bush’s immediate predecessor Bill Clinton, who is regarded
as a centrist moderate, pretty much, Obama’s model... under Clinton, the US officially reserved
the right to ‘act unilaterally when necessary, including use of unilateral military power, to defend
such vital interests as insuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic
resources’. Now this is without even the pretext of self-defence on which the Bush neo-cons
insisted. The Clinton doctrine elicited no condemnation, barely any comment, unlike the
arrogant and contemptuous proclamations of the neo-cons. And rightly, because it just reiterated
long standing positions and it was presented with polite restraint.

In the early days of World War II, planners thought that Germany might prevail in Europe, but
as Russia began to grind down, the vision of the grand area became more expansive. It was to
incorporate as much as Eurasia as possible, at least Western Europe, the economic heartland.
That required a dedicated effort in which Britain participated to undermine the anti-fascist
resistance and restore the traditional order. Detailed plans were developed for world order. Each
were assigned, what George Cannon’s policy planning staff in the State Department called its
function. So Southeast Asia was, for example, to fulfil its major function as a source of raw
materials for Japan and Western Europe. The South in general was assigned a service role to
provide resources, cheap labour markets, investment opportunities and later on other services
such as export of pollution and waste.

At that time the United States was not much interested in Africa. So it was handed over to
Europe to exploit for its reconstruction from wartime destruction. One might imagine different
relations between Europe and Africa in the light of history, but there’s no evidence that these
were ever considered. In recent years the United States has become much more committed to
including Africa in the expanding and depending grand area, and reflecting these commitments
two years ago, President Bush and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who as you know holds the
same position under Obama, established the Africa command which is integrated with other
regional commands that were established during Reagan’s militarisation of global policy.

That system is just very recently been extended to the Southern command, which covers Latin
America. That’s clearly a reaction to very significant moves in Latin America towards integration
and independence for the first time really since the European conquests. These developments
threaten traditional US power interests. Controlling Latin America is the oldest US foreign policy
issue apart from conquest of the national territory and virtual extermination of the indigenous
population. In 1971, as Washington was planning the overthrow of Chilean democracy, Nixon’s
national security council observed that if the United States cannot control Latin America, it
cannot expect to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world. Today, with Latin America’s
moves towards independence, the problem arises sharply again. One effect of these moves is
that the United States has been expelled from all of its South American military bases, a few
week ago the last one, in Ecuador. The US, in reaction, is now establishing seven new bases in
Colombia, its one ally, and just recently two more in Panama which tends to be more obedient.

These recent moves have aroused concern in South America, intensified by the plans for the
Colombian bases. Last April the US Air Mobility Command, a branch of the Air Force,
proposed that a base in Colombia could become what’s called a co-operative security location
that would allow coverage of nearly half the continent by US military aircraft. US Fourth Fleet
which had been disbanded in 1950 was reactivated last year, that covers Caribbean, Central and
South American waters, and there’s a much more general policy of militarization of South
America that’s underway.

Returning to World War II planning, unlike Africa, Middle East oil reserves were understood to
be ‘a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the great material prizes in world history’.
The most strategically important area in the world and Eisenhower’s words. ‘Control of Middle
East oil would provide the United States with substantial control of the world’ in the words of
influential planner A.A. Burley, a prominent figure in Roosevelt and later liberal administrations.
So accordingly Eisenhower’s National Security Council explained that there’s a perception in the
Arab world that the United States supports harsh and brutal regimes, and blocks democracy and
2
www.soas.ac.uk
development to ensure control over Middle East oil. They recognised that the perception is
essentially accurate and urged that that’s what we should essentially be doing. ‘This policies elicit
a campaign of hatred against us among the population’, Eisenhower observed, in 1958. That’s 50
years before George W. Bush asked ‘why do they hate us?’ deciding that it must be because they
hate our freedom.

The US itself did not lie then on Middle East oil, rather Eisenhower and Democrats’ policies in
the 60s were aimed at domestic reserves. The reason was short-term profit for Texas producers.
But nevertheless, control of Middle East oil was seen to be necessary for world control. In
particular, to fend off the frightening possibility that Europe, the only potential competitor,
might one day adopt an independent path, and that remains a very live policy concern.

The underlying principles of policy for American nation remain pretty stable with their global
reach, so we find the same policies enacted in different parts of the world. For example in the
early 1950s, the National Security Council considered the problems that Washington faced in
Latin America and Southeast Asia, which were quite similar and called for similar remedies. In
Latin America, I’m mostly quoting internal documents now, in Latin America ‘US interests were
threatened by nationalistic and radical regimes that are responsive to popular pressures for
immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses and development for domestic
needs. And these tendencies conflict with the need for a political and economic climate
conducive to private investment and the need for protection of our raw materials’.

Latin Americans believed that the first beneficiaries of the development of a country’s resources
should be the people of that country. Which is obviously irrational, since the first beneficiaries
must be US investors. Latin America is supposed to keep to its service function; it’s supposed to
refrain from what the Eisenhower and Truman administrations called ‘excessive industrial
development’ which infringes on US interests. The US therefore imposed an economic charter
for the Americas which was designed to eliminate economic nationalism in all its forms. There
was, however, an unstated exception. Economic nationalism remained a crucial feature of the US
economy, which relied far more, even than in the past, on a dynamic state sector. That’s the root
of the contemporary high tech economy, often operating under the cover of defence.

In the early 50s the immediate concern in Latin America was Guatemalan democracy. That had
to go, turning the country into a horror chamber from which it has yet to escape. A fundamental
problem illustrated by Guatemala, has always been that successful independent development,
even in the tiniest corner of the world, might be a model that others would try to follow. It
might be a virus that could spread, to borrow Kissinger’s phrasing of the standard doctrine. The
same conception applied in Southeast Asia at the same time, in the 1950s, when the US turned
toward direct support for France’s effort to re-conquer its former Vietnamese colony.

The concern then was primarily Japan. Japan was not Guatemala; it was a really important
dependency and top civil and military planners recognised that Japan could be controlled only if
it were assured access to her historic markets and the sources of food and raw materials in
Southeast Asia. The loss of Southeast Asia to the Western world would almost inevitably force
Japan into an accommodation with the communist controlled areas in Asia that would in effect
establish the new order that Japan had attempted to create by conquest. In 1950, the United
States was not prepared to lose the Pacific phase of World War II which was substantially fought
to prevent this outcome. Planners feared that Japanese accommodation with communist
controlled areas of Asia would have dangerous repercussions as far as the Middle East and
Europe.

3
www.soas.ac.uk
A lot was at stake and the loss to even a single Southeast Asia country was therefore intolerable
because of the virus effect of successful independent development. To prevent contagion by a
virus, it’s necessary to destroy the virus and inoculate potential victims. That’s exactly what the
US did in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Time after time, viruses have been destroyed and
the region around them inoculated by installation of vicious dictators. In Indochina, the
destruction of the virus was so extreme that by 1967 the respected and quite hawkish military
and Vietnam expert Bernard Fall warned that ‘Vietnam as a cultural and history entity is
threatened with extinction, as the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military
machine ever unleashed on an area of this size’.

The attack became even more savage later, extended to Laos and Cambodia. One of the cruellest
crimes of modern history was the destruction of the peasant society of northern Laos which was
soon surpassed by the bombing of rural Cambodia. It was known that the bombing was pretty
bad, but documents that were released a decade ago were studied by two leading Cambodia
scholars, Owen Taylor and Ben Kiernan, and they found that the bombing was five times as high
as the horrendous level that had been reported, substantially higher than all Allied bombing
during World War II, and that the civilian causalities ‘drove an enraged populous into the arms
of an insurgency’ that had enjoyed relatively little support before the bombing began, setting in
motion all the horrors that followed, including the monstrous Khmer rouge crimes. As with
usual practice, their study was ignored.

It’s commonly claimed that the United States lost the war in Indochina. It’s virtually a cliché, but
it’s not accurate. It’s not easy for a super power to lose a war against a minor adversary. In
reality, the major US war aims were achieved. The virus was destroyed, and the region was
inoculated from contagion as murderous dictators were installed throughout the region. The
most important of course was Indonesia, that was protected from contagion in 1965 when the
Suharta coup slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, and
destroyed the only mass-based political organisation.

In retrospect, George Bundy, National Security Adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, reflected that
the US should have ended the war in 1965, since its major goals had been achieved, virus was
virtually destroyed, region inoculated. The coup and the massacres were quite frankly and openly
described and applauded with unrestrained euphoria. In the New York Times, for example, the
editors discussed what they described as the ‘staggering mass slaughter’ while their prominent
liberal columnist, James Reston, greeted it as a ‘gleam of light in Asia’. The editors praised the
Indonesian moderates who took over, slaughtered the population, and opened the country to
Western plunder. Where the matter has been studied (only a few countries), all the Western
powers reacted the same way. I don’t think it’s been studied in England but I wouldn’t be
surprised if the same would be true.

Soeharto continued to be our kind of guy as the Clinton Administration described him, while
compiling one of the world’s most hideous human rights records, and also carrying out near
genocide and conquered East Timor, always with decisive US-UK support. That continued right
through 1999 to the accompaniment of a chorus of self-congratulation, Western intellectuals
who were quite dazzled by their own nobility in denouncing the crime of others. The prevailing
principles could, I think, be accurately called the Mafia Doctrine. The godfather does not tolerate
disobedience. It’s too dangerous. If some small storekeeper refuses to pay protection money, the
godfather, who may not care about the money, doesn’t just send the goons to get the money. He
sends them to beat him to a pulp so everybody else understands that it’s not a model you can
follow. That’s a leading principle of international affairs, not sufficiently remarked.

4
www.soas.ac.uk
The Mafia Principle is so powerful that it even overrides fundamental principles of policy-
formation. Typically, policy formation responds to the interests of the business world, but not in
this case. An instructive example of this is Cuba. Cuba was the target of major terrorist war,
reached its peak under Kennedy but continued, and truly savaged economic strangulation, which
goes on today, the details really have to be read to appreciate it. The reason was quite explicit in
the internal record back in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Cuba was carrying out
what they called ‘successful defiance’ of US policies going back to the Monroe doctrine. Arthur
Schlesinger, Kennedy’s Latin American specialist, wrote a summarised study of the Kennedy
team on Latin America by saying that ‘the problem was Cuba is the Castro idea of taking matters
into your own hands. That’s dangerous, it’s a model that others facing similar repression might
want to follow’. Those are good reasons for massive terror and economic strangulation at a
savage level.

Polls have been taken for the last several decades on normalisation of relations with Cuba. The
public substantially agrees; considerable majorities which is interesting because it’s never an
option discussed, but they’re dismissed. But that’s normal, the population is routinely dismissed.
More interesting is that powerful business interests are in favour of normalisation. Agro-
business, pharmaceuticals, energy, institutions... they’re usually attended to, but not in this case.
The Mafia Principle prevails.

Iran today is somewhat similar. In 1979 there was successful defiance in Iran, that was
intolerable. The US continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians. Going back to 1953,
when as you know the US and Britain overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a
harsh tyranny. The goal in 1953 was to maintain control of Iran’s resources. But the concerns
were more general as usual. They were well described by editors of the New York Times who
wrote that as a result of the coup, underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an
object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number, which goes berserk
with fanatical nationalism. This lesson may strengthen the hands of more reasonable and more
farseeing leaders who will have a clear-eyed understanding of the principles of decent behaviour
and will not be seduced by the berserk concept that the first beneficiaries of a country’s
resources should be the people of that country. So the Iranian virus of the early 50s couldn’t
spread contagion.

However, in 1979, the virus emerged again. The US at first sought to sponsor a military coup,
and that failed, it turned to support for Saddam Hussain’s merciless invasion. The Reaganites
denied his most monstrous crimes. They finally entered the war directly, leading Iran to
capitulate, which I presume, it’s very likely that lies behind the scandal about Pan Am 103 which
was in the news recently.

I might add that the Cold War itself has been perceived in these terms, reflecting the Mafia
Doctrine. Perhaps the most prominent Cold War scholar is John Lewis Gaddis of Yale. He dates
the onset of the Cold War to 1917 and explains that the Western intervention in 1918 was
defensive because it was in response to ‘a profound and potentially far-reaching intervention by
the new Soviet government, in the affairs not only of the West, but virtually every country in the
world’. The revolution’s challenge to the very survival of the capitalist system. So everything else
has been defensive. This often reaches near-psychotic dimensions. No time to discuss, but
they’re interesting.

Going back to Iran, the Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the war. In 1989,
Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, it was then George Bush I, to receive
advanced weapons training in nuclear weapons. Bush also sent a high level Senatorial delegation
5
www.soas.ac.uk
headed by Robert Dole, a couple years later the Republican Presidential candidate. His mission
was to convey the President’s good wishes to his friend Saddam, and to assure him that he could
disregard the critical comments he hears now and then from American journalists. We have this
freedom of the press thing in the United States and you can’t really shut them up. A couple
months later, in August 1990, Saddam defied or more likely misunderstood orders, and he
quickly shifted from favoured friend to reincarnation of Hitler.

Meanwhile, the torture of Iran continued without a break, and still does. As in the case of Cuba,
powerful business interests apparently agree with the American public that the US should move
towards normalisation of relations with Iran. I presume that the energy corporations would be
delighted to gain access to Iran’s rich resources, but the Mafia Principle prevails. Well, there’s
actually quite a lot to say on this but I’ll put it off until Thursday when I’ll be talking here about
the Middle East.

On Iran’s border in Afghanistan, and of course Pakistan, Obama has escalated Bush’s war and is
likely to proceed on that course, perhaps sharply. He’s also made it clear that the US intends to
retain a long-term presence in the region. That much is signalled by the huge city within a city
that is called the Baghdad Embassy. It’s unlike any embassy in the world. It’s to be expanded
under Obama. Currently it’s budgeted at 1.5 billion a year. It was recently announced that that’s
to increase in the coming two year to 1.8 billion. Obama has also announced the construction of
similar mega-embassies in Islamabad and Kabul and also huge consulates in Peshawar and
elsewhere. There’s basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional perception that
if we can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world. The obstacles are
great but the project is by no means abandoned.

Well, let me turn finally to the immediate topic: the crisis in the unipolar moment. I think they
fall into place fairly readily if the planning context is understood. The crises are numerous. Two
of them are special, they literally involve species survival- the environmental crisis and nuclear
weapons. In both cases tendencies are in the wrong direction, with perhaps lethal consequences.
On the environmental crisis, I’ll mention just one example, which could turn out to be the most
important story of the year. As you know, in six weeks there will be a conference in Copenhagen,
which may determine the fate of the world and which almost surely will fail.

Last week, a poll was released by the Pew Research Foundation on attitudes of Americans about
global warming. What it revealed is a very sharp decline in concern in the past year. The numbers
who believe that human activity is a factor declined to just over a third. That could be a virtual
death sentence for the species because of the obvious significance of the US role. This sharp
decline can be traced very readily to a huge corporate-run propaganda campaign downplaying or
denying global warming. Apart from the potentially grim consequences, that raises interesting
questions about policy.

Why do business leaders want the public to reject what they know perfectly well to be true and
ominous? The standard answer to this is namely that short-term profits outweigh long term
outcomes. Which is not false, but incomplete. Why the choice? The choice results from a
fundamental and well known inherent in efficiency of markets, namely ignoring externalities, in
this case the externality is the fate of the species. The roots of the financial crisis are more or less
the same. The general conclusion is that markets may more or less work for awhile, but unless
they’re sharply constrained, they almost necessarily lead to disaster and constraints are not likely
when major media are basically adjuncts of business. The government is largely in its pocket, and
the general public is marginalised in one way or another, hence susceptible to manipulation.

6
www.soas.ac.uk
The nuclear threat is also severe. Obama’s rhetoric was singled out for praise when he was
awarded the Nobel Prize. There are immediate actions that could be taken to reduce the threat
of nuclear weapons. One is establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones. There are now six of
these. The most recent covers Africa and the associated islands. But it faces challenges from the
United States and Britain because of a dispute with Africa because of dispute over the island of
Diego Garcia. The population was brutally expelled by Britain so that the island could be used by
the US and UK as a base for their military operations in Western and Central Asia and
presumably it’s a storage site for nuclear weapons. The African Union objects strongly but
Britain and the US insist that it’s to be excluded from the jurisdiction of the nuclear weapons-
free zone.

There are similar challenges facing the South Pacific nuclear weapons-free zone. That went into
effect formally in 1986 but it was delayed by France’s insistence on nuclear weapons testing. By
now, only the United States has not ratified it. Reasons are clear, it would inhibit passage of US
naval vessels carrying nuclear weapons and storage of nuclear weapons on island dependencies
which are also bases for US nuclear submarines.

Despite US and British obstructionism, establishment of these zones can be a valuable step,
nowhere more than in the Middle East. In April 1991, the Security Council affirmed the goal of
establishing a zone in the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for
their delivery, Resolution 687. Now that’s a particularly firm commitment for the United States
and Britain, and in fact has very wide support including the majority of Americans. It’s a firm
commitment for the US and Britain because they appeal to it to provide a thin cover for their
invasion of Iraq, claiming that Iraq hadn’t lived up to the terms of the 1991 agreement. So yes,
they’re very committed to this in principle. It would cover Iran, Israel and US forces there. With
adequate verification, which doesn’t seem impossible, it would mitigate and perhaps eliminate
the current tensions over Iran which threaten to explode into a major war.

Turning to other crises, a few weeks ago there were attempts, which failed, to bring two other
crises to public attention. One was on October 15th, World Food Day, when UN agencies
announced that the number of people facing hunger passed a billion and food aid had to be cut
because rich countries were cutting back substantially on their meagre promises. Two days later
was World Poverty Day. Amnesty International tried to call attention to it; it declared that
poverty is the world’s worst human rights crisis for good reasons. But for the centres of power,
these are not priorities. It’s far more important to bail out bankers.

All of this illustrates two other crises: one is a deep moral crisis and the crisis of the culture of
the privileged. And no less deep flaws in the functioning of Western democracies. I think these
are also illustrated by what is called The Crisis in the West, it refers to the financial crisis. That
crisis has deep roots and goes back to the financialisation of the economy in the 1970s. To
illustrate, in the United States around 1970, the financial institutions constituted maybe three per
cent of gross domestic product; it’s pushing a third right now with the corresponding decline of
productive economy shipped abroad.

The financialisation of the economy, part of what’s called neoliberalism also corresponded to
dedication to certain religious doctrines of efficient markets and rational expectations, all of
which magnified the well-known inefficiency of markets that I mentioned. The lack of attention
to externalities, in this case, systemic risk. Risk is under-priced and that’s understood, and to
make it worse, policy-makers designed adverse incentives to magnify it still further. Primary
among them is the government insurance policy called ‘too big to fail’, now getting worse.

7
www.soas.ac.uk
After the bursting of the tech bubble of the late 90s, then the housing bubble a couple of years
later, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was criticised because he didn’t follow through on any of
his very brief warnings about rational exuberance. But I think that’s the wrong criticism. It was
perfectly rational exuberance, when the government is there to bail you out. It’s a doctrine with
precision by Obama and his advisers, who are selected from the leading figures who are largely
responsible for creating the current crisis. And it’s working very well. The big financial
institutions that were the immediate culprits are making it up like bandits. You can read it in the
business press every day. They’re bigger than ever, reporting great profits, enjoying even bigger
government insurance policy.

And therefore they’re being encouraged to set the stage for the next and worst crisis, and that’s
recognised, but these are institutional decisions. Managers either play the game or somebody else
replaces them. Who will? What about those who are too small to matter? They suffer. That
includes the general population. In the United States, real wages have pretty much stagnated for
the majority for about 30 years while benefits decline and those who are too small to matter now
face a huge unemployment and loss of their homes. Also suffering are the banks that serve the
public. They’re going under while those that engage in risky investments and reap enormous
profits are doing just fine, thanks to the nanny state that they nourish.

Well there’s a great deal more to say about today’s crisis but let me end with a comment on the
unipolar moment. It can be brief because if you keep the context of planning in mind, everything
pretty much follows. We learned quite a lot about the nature of the Cold War and about events
following until the present by looking at how Washington reacted to the disappearance of the
global enemy. The monolithic conspiracy to take over the world as John F Kennedy described it.

Within months after the fall of the Wall, the Bush I administration outlined Washington’s new
course: national security strategy and upcoming budget. In brief, it said everything will remain
the same, but with new pretexts. So we still need a huge military system, but for a new reason,
‘the technological sophistication of Third World powers’, said without self-ridicule or ridicule
from outside. They also stated that we must maintain intervention forces directed at the Middle
East energy-rich regions, adding that in these regions the significant threats to our interests could
not be laid at the Kremlin’s door. Contrary to decades of deceit, all of this was passed over
quietly, barely even reported, along with more like it.

But for those that hope to understand the world, it’s quite instructive. It was clear right away that
some pretext was going to be needed for intervention. The alleged communist menace having
lost its efficacy and intellectual elites quickly turned to the task and they soon declared a
‘normative revolution’ that granted the United States the right of humanitarian intervention as it
chose for the noblest of reasons. The traditional victims were unimpressed, to put it mildly.
High-level conferences of the global South bitterly condemned what they called the ‘right’ of
humanitarian intervention. Well, clearly a refinement was necessary, so the concept of
responsibility to protect was put in its place.

Those who pay a little attention to history will not be surprised to discover that the Western
powers exercise their responsibility to protect in a highly selective manner, in strict adherence to
the stable guidelines of policy. These facts are disturbingly obvious and they require considerable
agility on the part of the intellectual classes. Another question that came to the fore as the
unipolar moment dawned was the fate of NATO. Well the traditional justification of NATO was
of course defence against Russian aggression and with the Soviet Union gone, that pretext
evaporated with it. Naïve souls that have faith in public doctrine would have expected NATO to
disappear as well. Quite the contrary. NATO has quickly expanded.
8
www.soas.ac.uk
The details are interesting, both in the Cold War and what’s followed, and more generally about
how state policy is formed and implemented. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Mikael Gorbachev
made an astonishing concession. He agreed to allow a uniformed Germany to join a hostile
military alliance run by the global superpower, even though Germany alone had almost
destroyed Russia twice in the century. There was, however, a quid pro quo. The Bush
administration promised Gorbachev that NATO would not extend to East Germany, let alone
further east. They also assured Gorbachev that NATO would be transforming itself into a more
political organisation. Gorbachev also proposed a nuclear-free zone from the Arctic to the Baltic
to the Black Sea, that would be a set towards what’s called a Zone of Peace, to remove any threat
to Europe, east or west. As far as I can tell, that proposal was dismissed without consideration.

Very soon after that, Clinton came into office and Washington’s commitments quickly vanished.
There’s no need to comment on the promise that NATO would become a more political
organisation. Clinton expanded NATO to the east, Bush went beyond, and Obama apparently
intends to carry the expansion forward. His national security adviser, former Marine, James
Jones, has urged that NATO should move to the south as well as the east, so as to reinforce US
control over Middle East energy supplies. Jones also advocates a NATO response force which
will give the US-run military alliance much more flexible capability to do things rapidly at very
long distances, as today in Afghanistan.

The NATO Secretary General informed the NATO conference that ‘NATO troops have to
guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that’s directed to the West, and more generally they
have to protect sea routes used by tankers and other crucial infrastructure of the energy system.
Well, that decision spells out more explicitly the post-Cold War policies of reshaping NATO into
a US-run global intervention force with special concern over control of energy. It’s all quite
familiar.

As I mentioned from the earliest post-World War II days, it was understood that Western
Europe might choose to follow and independent course, perhaps something like the Gaullist
vision of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Now, if this happened, the problem would not
be a virus that would spread contagion, but a pandemic that would bring down the whole system
of global control. NATO was partly intended to counter this serious threat. Current NATO
expansion and the ambitious goals of the new NATO carry these objectives further. A lot to say
about all these things; I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the topics that were announced. But we
have a chance to pursue this more deeply in discussion. Thanks.

Questions

- Thank you very much, Noam, for this hugely impressive talk, and I’m sure that many people in
the room will all like to put some questions to you. We will have 30 minutes for questions and
then 20 minutes to sum up. Please make brief interventions in order to have the most questions
possible.

- Thank you for the very inspiring talk. My question is regarding Afghanistan. Last week,
President Karzai was forced to accept a run-off to the elections and I wanted to know what your
analysis was in terms of why did that happen and what does it say about where things are
heading in Afghanistan with Karzai being forced to accept a run-off, what’s your analysis?

- My question is, do you think that the rise of China and an increasingly assertive Russia,
especially after the Putin years, poses a threat to the American unipolar moment?
9
www.soas.ac.uk
- My question is regarding Pakistan. You know with the ongoing crisis in the north western
frontier, what radical mode of action do you expect from the Obama administration in the times
to come?

- My question is regarding Afghanistan again. The reasons for not supporting the Afghan
national army, do you think that the reason for that is to extend the NATO presence there, then
if yes, for what reasons other than the border with Iran?

- My question has to do with Sri Lanka and the recently concluded war there. In light of all the
humanitarian and human rights abuses by the government of Sri Lanka and the inability of the
West, namely the EU and the US, to influence that either at the UN Human Rights Council or in
calls for better humanitarian access. How do you see that playing with the role of China, India,
Iran and Pakistan’s influence in that area as 80 per cent of China’s oil comes from the Middle
East, through Sri Lanka?

- There have been several questions about population crises, like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. In
other parts of the world, of course, there are crises which carry on without headlines, without
much publicity. I’m thinking of western Papua, Irian Jaya. I wonder what you think the future
prospects are there and the prospects both by citizens here and at a more governmental level.

- Two weeks ago, Turkey refused Israel to take part in a military exercise. There was from Israel,
Turkey received harsh criticism and threatening that they would lobby US for a new open union
in order to put more obstacles for Turkey not to join the EU. I wonder how you see Turkey’s
response. Turkey also said that it was because of the massacre that had taken place in Gaza, that
was the reason why they refused Israel to take part in military exercises.

- I understand the premise that all these historic policies are about maintaining America’s
domination, but I wondered... this is run by individuals and I would be interested on your views
on how the psychology works to be able to justify such objectively spoken heinous actions. I was
more interested in how the system in terms of individuals in power works.

- You mentioned in passing something about the role of media in supporting the current
hegemony and the US rise of power and so on. I participate in an organisation called Indie
Media that organise throughout the world. I wonder what you thought about the role of citizen
journalism and the rise of the internet and how that may influence future events in the political
state.

- I have two questions for you. The first is, I’m disturbed by the US Africa command that you
touched on, which states that its role is to deliver humanitarian aid, diplomacy and development
by way of military intervention on the ground, and does the current lawlessness in Somalia serve
the US interest? My next question is, could the global strategy and policy of the US which we see
in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world be in preparation in the base of the ruling
power from the US to another part of the world since empires never last forever?

- I think it would be fair to describe your conclusions as less than wholly optimistic, and in light
of that, and this is a serious question, what’s to be done?

- I need to enquire about the role of Iran in the Middle East and how much it is supported by
the US? Or against it? And how much danger that should be spread over? And what should be
done about it?
10
www.soas.ac.uk
- First I just want to say thank you for mentioning what happened in my country a few years
back. Because you mentioned that incident in your book our government finally acknowledged
that event as official. It’s South Korea. And in the time of the Korean War there was a... civilians
were dead by American troops, which was hidden by the government then. Because of his work,
he mentions... I think he’s the only major scholar that mentions the series... of work. Because of
his contribution, finally the people who suffered from that incident were finally... the event was
accepted as official. I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not.

- Traditionally speaking, periods of multipolarity... there’s an argument to be made that they


brought instability and violence. You talked about the effects of unipolarity, but do you think
that the fall of unipolarity and American hegemony and the dispersion of power will bring more
violence in the future?

- In light of the recent peer-reviewed paper published in the Open Chemical Physics Journal
which proves the existence of the military grade incindrine nano-fermite (?) from samples taken
from Ground 0 as well as the growing number of architects and engineers supporting the
controlled demolition hypothesis, what are your views on the possibility of US establishment
involvement in the attacks of September 11th?

- How different do you think is US foreign policy will be now that Obama is in power?

- Given last week Hilary Clinton announced America’s renewed policy towards Darfur, I was
wondering what your response to that was?

- I just want to keep it short and simple, thank you very very much for coming.

Apologies for my hearing disorder and thanks. I’ll try to get through them and try not to forget
any.

First, why did the United States press Karzai to go through a second round. Well, the first round
was so obviously faked that they really had only two choices. Either accept it and concede that
there’s no possible legitimacy to the US intervention, or try to create a cloak of legitimacy by
having an election that will somehow be accepted, and that’s pretty standard. There are
numerous examples... one of the most interesting is Nicaragua in 1990. The US had practically
pounded the country into dust, and it was the usual reason, the virus effect. In fact, there were
some cases when the mafia principle reached literal psychosis. This was a case in point. In 1985,
Ronald Reagan put on his cowboy boots and declared a national emergency in the United States
because the threat to the security and existence posed by Nicaragua was so severe. He went on
to say that the Sandinista army was only two days away from Texas, so we were practically
surviving.

But interestingly, nobody laughed. There was a public reason, which is a classic illustration of the
mafia principle. The State Department with the co-operation of the media, concocted a tale
about revolution without borders. Not only were they going to overthrow decent order in
Nicaragua, but they were going to extend it all over the world. Well, that’s the virus theory. In
this case, particularly lunatic although not much more than many other cases. And of course
there’s a source for revolution without borders, a Sandinistan leader said he hopes that the
Nicaraguan revolution will be a model that others might follow. That’s exactly the problem. So
we therefore had to destroy the country.
11
www.soas.ac.uk
Finally, after the place... it was a very hopeful place in the early 80s. It seemed maybe it could
emerge from a long history of horrors, but that was pretty much over by the late 80s. By 1990
there was very little hope left. George Bush announced that Nicaraguans better vote our way or
else the terrorist war would go on. And they listened. Then you have to look at the headlines in
the newspapers, like the New York Times, “Americans united in joy over victory for US fair
play”. That’s the New York Times. That’s why you need legitimating elections, so that the press
can that applaud our nobility; we’re united in joy like North Koreans at the American victory for
fair play, and namely violently coercing a country into voting our way. So that’s what they’re
hoping for in Afghanistan. If you can get a cover that looks legitimate, then you can proceed.
But this is obviously routine, case after case.

What’s the effect of the rise of China going to be? That’s a topic. China’s obviously a significant
economic power. But you have to be careful about how significant. There’s a friend of mine who
teaches history did a poll among her students asking what they thought the richest countries in
the world are. Two countries that were way at the top were China and India. If you read the
press and commentary, you might think that. On the other hand if you take a look at the human
development index, China was around 90th and India was around 130th.

Yeah, they’re kind of in the way if China follows independent policies. They’re using to
disregarding the barbarians. They’ve been doing it for 3000 years (with a brief interlude, thanks
to British violence) and they’re not going to pay any attention now, and that’s very threatening.
Not a military threat, but yes, they pursue their own interests.

India plays a more complicated role; it’s kind of playing both sides. It has a close relationship
with the United States. Its nuclear weapons programme, in violation of the non-proliferation
treaty, was given a big boost by the United States last year with the Anglo-Indian Treaty which
effectively permitted the US to assist Indian expansion of their nuclear weapons programme by
pretending it’s for nuclear power. Of course that inspires Pakistan to do the same. There was a
UN Security Council resolution a couple of weeks ago which was interpreted in the West as
being a victory for Obama’s policy exposing Iran’s maybe concealing something. India didn’t
conceal a thing. After the Security Council resolution, India announced that it can now produce
nuclear weapons with the same yield as the US and Russia.

At the same time, India’s improving relations with China. It’s an observer in the Shanghai Co-
operation Organisation, which the US is looking at with kind of a wary eye. It’s not clear what it
will become. But it includes China, Russia, the central Asian states... there are observers- India,
Pakistan, Iran, which the US doesn’t like, Mongolia, which I suppose the US doesn’t care about.
It’s taken positions which the US doesn’t like at all. It did take a stand demanding that US bases
be removed from central Asia. How far that will go, nobody knows. It’s an area with internal
resources pursuing an independent path, which obviously does not appeal to a global
superpower. And of course, along with Japan and some of the Middle Eastern countries, it owns
a lot of the United States, technically, a lot of the debt. They have to sustain the US market or
they go under, and they know that the US can inflate its way out of debt payment, and in fact,
the US could just refuse to pay the debt. Who’s going to do anything about it? In military force,
the US is totally supreme. US military expenditures are now greater than the rest of the world
combined and incomparably advanced technologically.

So what kind of a threat is China? It’s a big virus. It won’t be pushed around easily. That’s
important and it will play a big role in world affairs and US affairs with China are ambivalent.
The US needs it as a financier, and also a lot of investment in China is overseas, but mostly from
12
www.soas.ac.uk
overseas Chinese. Dell computers, for example. Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world... needs
China, because that’s how they keep prices low. Bitter, vicious exploitation of Chinese workers
keep prices low for Walmart. So it’s a complicated interrelation.

China, I think, has huge internal problems, quite apart from being way down in the Human
Development Index. There are costs that China’s ignoring. They’re ignoring ecological costs
which are just handed down to future generations. It doesn’t make sense to measure economic
growth and not consider the huge debt. What happens when the place is internally destroyed? It
has huge inequality; you can’t tell the exact numbers because it’s a closed society but it’s
undoubtedly very high. Yes, it will play a role in the world, but it’s interesting to see how the
conception of China and India as richest countries in the world and a big threat has been
developed and exaggerated. Not an adequate answer, but I don’t know an adequate answer.

What about Pakistan and pipelines? There is an issue there, just how important it is isn’t entirely
clear. It involves Afghanistan. There’s an old plan for TAPI pipeline- Turkmenistan, Afghaistan,
India. The idea behind that is twofold. Turkmenistan has a huge amount of natural gas,
apparently. One is to struggle with Russia, who’s going to control central Asian resources? And if
there’s a pipeline to the south, Russia’s cut out. So it’s kind of like it would wind around to avoid
Russia. Also it has to do with Iran. The natural energy partner for India is Iran and India as part
of its complex game, has not abandoned its relations with Iran over a potential pipeline from
Iran to India which would supply its energy needs. And the US, of course, trying to strangle Iran,
wants to avoid that, presumably that’s part of the reason for the Anglo-Indian nuclear pact last
year. And the TAPI pipeline would be an alternative to be developed. I think it’s estimated to
run around 7 or 8 billion dollars right now, which could be a lot more, but it goes through
Khandahar province, a highly contested province in southern Afghanistan, and I presume this is
some part of the motive for US war in Afghanistan, but how much I don’t see how we can tell,
no one is telling the truth.

Why support the Afghan army? I don’t think it has to do with Iranian border issues. Iran is
basically an ally of the United States in Afghanistan. The US doesn’t want it as an ally, as part of
its strangulation of Iran. Iran was very hostile to the Taliban. It has intimate relations with the
regions of Afghanistan nearby Iran. And Iran did co-operate with the United States in invading
Afghanistan and undermining the Taliban, and presumably would again. Apparently the Iranians
were pretty surprised and upset when their support for the US in Afghanistan was greeted with
the Axis of Evil speech, saying okay, forget what you did, we’re going to go after you.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for supporting the Afghan army. They go back to the
origins of colonialism. Take the British in India. The soldiers were mostly Indian, certainly up to
the rebellion against the British. In fact, Indian soldiers were being sent all over the world to
fight British wars. That’s where the Ghurkhas come from. The trick was to take soldiers from
one part of India and send them somewhere else. The same is true of any other colonial power.
France used Foreign Legion, Britain back in the days of the American Revolution used
Haitians... typically, sane imperial powers try to use either mercenary armies or indigenous
armies, which can be co-opted along with indigenous elites.

That’s part of the lesson that the US learned in Vietnam. I think it’s true to say, as I said, that the
US effectively won the war, but there were tactical errors, and the worst tactical error was to try
to use a civilian army to fight a colonial war. That just doesn’t work. You can’t take people off
the streets and expect them to fight a colonial war which is vicious, brutal and sadistic in the very
nature of it. So the US army recognised that and by the late 60s wanted to get rid of the civilian
army and turned to what are called volunteers, meaning a mercenary army of the disadvantaged.
13
www.soas.ac.uk
You don’t have recruiting centres in Harvard Square, but you do have them in the Boston slums,
and promises which are not kept about what will happen and so on.

The best thing in Afghanistan would be to have a mercenary army. The US model of imperialism
was a little different than the European models, discounting the fact that the conquest of the
national territory itself should be called imperialism. But the overseas expansion, after 1898, did
develop a somewhat new model of imperialism. There’s a magisterial study of this that just came
out by Alfred McCoy, a historian at University of Wisconsin, it’s about the Philippines. The US
invaded the Philippines with, of course, the noblest of objectives and so on... massacred a couple
hundred thousand people, but then they had to somehow control it. Up until today it’s still not
controlled.

What they did was novel. The US occupiers developed a high tech surveillance state, using
advanced technology of the time for surveillance, control, and so on. And also for subversion.
They managed to break up the nationalist movement in part just by a careful understanding of
what was going on among the elites, starting rumours, turning people against one another and so
forth, which was pretty successful. Also co-opting elites, the same people who run the
Philippines now, but in the background, the fist, the Philippine constabulary, a mercenary army
of Philippinos which still pretty much dominates society.

One of the reasons why the Philippines haven’t taken part in the so-called Asian economic
miracle. The model that was established was firm, it was then applied elsewhere. Woodrow
Wilson invaded Haiti and the Dominican Republic, it was applied a couple of years later, left in
the hands of national guards and so it goes on. This model also bounced back, to England for
example. England is the surveillance par excellence. If you look at the history, it’s adopted a lot
of these methods. The US too- the Red Scare during and after World War I was following
models back to the US from the people who implemented the high tech surveillance state in the
Philippines.

But you need the Philippine constabulary, or the counterpart and that’s why you need an Afghan
army. It will be a mercenary army of Afghans on the model of other imperial powers and the
United States itself, like the National Guard, the use of Native American tribes during the
colonisation of the country itself to attack other tribes. These are the ways imperial systems
work. Whether they can do it or not is another question.

Sri Lanka. It’s been a horror story. It illustrates a number of things. For example, just what is
meant by responsibility to protect. A lot of noble rhetoric on this, but there was no Western
advantage in protecting people that were being slaughtered, driven into concentration camps...
somehow that didn’t make it in the noble rhetoric. I happened to be giving a talk about this at
the General Assembly last summer and the hypocrisy was so profound it was suffocating. No
protection for people it doesn’t do us any good to protect, basically. Sri Lankans have that
unfortunate position. What about China? They don’t gain anything by supporting Tamil refugees
in concentration camps, so why would they do it? In fact, most of the south supported the Sri
Lankan government. That’s who they are. They are the elites of their country, they support the
elites of other countries. Happens all the time.

There’s another talk that I was thinking of giving but didn’t, but I would like to some day, which
has to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which can be looked at quite a different way. The
Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, a huge celebration in the West, all kinds of self-congratulation
about how marvellous it was. Yeah, it was good that the Russian dictatorship collapsed and that
Eastern Europeans had a breath of freedom. But other things were happening at the same time.
14
www.soas.ac.uk
A couple days later, on November 16th, there was a real termination of the drive to break out of
the neo-colonial order that began in the 50s and looked sort of promising in the 60s, but was
viciously beaten back by the Western powers and it had many aspects, one of them being
liberation theology, which was totally smashed by US violence, with the help of the Western
powers.

The last sort of whisper of it was on November 16th, 1989, so also 20 years ago. Namely the
brutal assassination of six leading Latin American intellectuals, priests in El Salvador, which sort
of framed the decade of the 80s... began with the assassination of an archbishop, the voiceless
reading mass, ended with the murder of the six Jesuit intellectuals by elite forces armed and
trained by the US, which has already killed thousands of the usual victims (peasants and so on).
This all passed without a whisper in the West. If it had happened in Czechoslovakia, we probably
would have had nuclear war, but it happened in El Salvador, these insignificant people... and it
was even worse in Guatemala. Probably a million or more were killed in the neighbourhood of
South Africa, Mozambique and Angola. Thanks in no small measure to Reagan’s support of his
friends in South Africa. Of course, defence in South Africa of one of the more notorious
terrorist groups in the world, as Washington declared it in 1988, the African National Congress.
You may be relieved to know that Mondello is finally removed from the terrorist list a couple of
months ago.

All of this was going on and it was kind of the terminus of a major attack against the south
which did destroy the hopes in the early 60s for a new world that would pay attention to things
like racism, justice, inequality... that was beaten back in many dimensions. November 16th was a
symbolic end to it and that won’t be commemorated. I have in my office in MIT a painting that
was given to me by a Jesuit priest, an artistic depiction of the assassination of the six Jesuit
intellectuals- a picture of the Angel of Death and standing below a caricature of the archbishop
and the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and their daughter. I put it there to remind myself of
the real world, but it also serves another purpose. It’s kind of a Rorschach. From the United
States, nobody has a clue what it is. From Europe, maybe 10 per cent. From Latin America, up
until recently everybody knew what it is. Now that’s declining as the brainwashing and
indoctrination begins to set in among the young.

Just suppose that had happened in Czechoslovakia, let’s say. As I said everybody would have
known, we probably would have had nuclear war. But not here. These are the culmination of
massive atrocities going way back. Well that’s maybe a little bit off mark of the question, but
that’s an alternative talk that somebody ought to give, or book that they ought to write, or a
couple of dissertations for you. It’s a major topic. That’s what we ought to be talking about this
November. You can guess how much discussion there will be about it, or about how the Bush
Administration reacted to the fall of the Wall.

It’s barely been discussed, despite the fact that it’s very illuminating. This goes to one of those
questions about what do you do about unpublicised crises. He said small unpublicised crises, and
they’re not that small. What you do is try to break through the silence; the silence is almost an
institutional requirement of the educated sectors of the population. That’s what intellectuals are
for, historically. Mainstream of intellectuals very typically have been flatterers to court. Some
distance around the fringe, usually treated pretty badly, if they’re in Czechoslovakia, maybe go to
prison for awhile. If they’re in El Salvador, they get their brains blown out. That’s pretty much
their role and you have to break through that.

It takes work but it can be done. Take the Vietnam War, which I mentioned. This relates to
another question about what can citizens do. There’s a lot of comparison of the opposition to
15
www.soas.ac.uk
the Vietnam War to the opposition to the Iraq War, but I think it’s forgetting what happened.
There was almost no opposition to the Vietnam War. In fact, very few people are aware of when
it started, as an actual war and not just killing a lot of people and imposing a terrorist state. That
actual war began in 1962. That’s when Kennedy, who was a super-hawk, incidentally, quite
distinct from the image that’s been concocted... in 1962 he sent planes to bomb South Vietnam.
He authorised chemical warfare to destroy crops and ground cover, initiated some operations
against North Vietnam. And began programmes to drive peasants to what amounted to
concentration camps, called strategic hamlets or just urban slums, officially to try to protect them
from the guerrillas, who they knew perfectly well they were willingly supporting, that’s why they
had to be separated from the population.

That’s 1962, now that’s a war. If some enemy did that, we’d call it aggression and go crazy with
hysteria. There was no reaction. Almost nothing. You couldn’t get three people in a room to talk
about it. The reaction came years later, around the time of the Bernard Fall quote that I cited,
just at about the time when serious observers started wondering if the country would even
survive. By then you had large-scale opposition, and it had an effect. If you read the Pentagon
papers... most of it is pretty routine, but there are some interesting passages, namely those which
are never cited.

The Pentagon papers ends in 1968, right after the Tet Offensive. After the Tet Offensive, the
joint chiefs... President Johnson wanted to send a couple hundred thousand more troops to
South Vietnam. The joint chiefs of staff didn’t want to do it, and they explained why. They said
they would need them for civil disturbance control in the US. There would be an uprising about
women, young people, minorities and so on, and they’d need the troops to control it. So that’s
one of the reasons why the business world pressured Johnson to start negotiations and
beginning of withdrawal of US troops to turn to more cost-effective bombing instead of troop
presence.

That’s something that the public did. Some people like Dan Ellsberg, who in that time was part
of the administration, as a specialist on nuclear weapons, he argues that Nixon probably would
have used nuclear weapons when he came in if it hadn’t been for the public uproar. It put a kind
of limit on it much too late, long past the period of whether they would even survive, totally
inadequately in regards to Laos and Cambodia.

Take Iraq. There was massive protest before it actually started, officially because your candidate
for presidency of the EU and his colleague George Bush knew they had already started the war
when they were putting on a show about wanting diplomacy and so on. But before it was
officially start, March 2003, there was a massive international protest. I think that’s the first time
in history that an imperial war was massively protested before it was officially begun. It had an
effect. The United States couldn’t use the tactics they used in South Vietnam. There was no
saturation bombing by B52s, there was no chemical warfare. It could have been a lot worse.

Furthermore, the Bush Administration had to back down on its war aims. Step by step. It had to
allow elections, which they didn’t want to do. Mainly a victory of non-violent Iraqi protest. They
could kill insurgents, they could deal with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, and
their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They eventually had to abandon, officially at
least, virtually all the war aims. As late as November 2007, the US was still insisting that the
Status of Forces Agreement allowed for an indefinite US military presence and privileged access
to Iran’s resources to US investors. Well they didn’t get that, on paper at least, and had to back
down. Iraq’s a horror story, but could have been a lot worse. Protests can do something and we

16
www.soas.ac.uk
know that from these and many other examples. When there’s no protest and no attention,
power just goes wild, like in Cambodia and Laos.

I’m sort of running through the questions, not exactly in order. What about the future of Turkey
as an independent actor? Turkey could become a significant independent actor. Turkey has to
make some internal decision, is it going to face West and try to get accepted by the European
Union, or is it going to face reality and recognise that Europeans are so racist that they’re never
going to allow it in? They keep raising the barriers for entry into the EU... they’ve plenty to be
concerned about in Turkey, and some horrible things, but every time it improves the barrier goes
up with it. If you look at polls, the reason is pretty obvious. Europeans just don’t want Turks
walking around their streets.

Some day they’ll have to face that and realise that a future for Turkey will lie in part in its
strategic relationship with the West, US primarily, but also it’s opening to the East. A very
natural trading partner for Turkey is Iran. Turkey can provide manufactured goods and get
energy it needs. It also has an opening to other Middle Eastern countries, so that’s a possible
future for Turkey. But the question was, could it become an independent actor. Yes, it could,
and in fact it did so quite interestingly in March 2003. If you remember what happened then.

I read an editorial in The Guardian this morning which is usually pretty accurate about these
things, but they made a distinction between ‘old Europe’ and ‘new Europe’, but they didn’t draw
the lines correctly. They drew them in line with contemporary propaganda, which says ‘new
Europe’ is Eastern Europe, people who want NATO around, and ‘old Europe’ is the West.
That’s not the way the lines were drawn. They were drawn very sharply and clearly when
Rumsfeld introduced the concept and everyone applauded it. Old Europe were the countries
were the governments followed the will of the majority of the population and refused to
participate in the Iraq War. Those were the bad guys. New Europe was led by Berlusconi and
Aznar, Italy and Spain. Those were countries were the government rejected a far greater majority
of the population, so they were the good guys. Aznar was so great that he was invited to the
summit with Blair and Bush when they announced the war. At that time he had two per cent
support. So he was the flaming symbol of democracy.

But the most extreme example of Old Europe was Turkey. In Turkey about 95 per cent of the
population opposed participation in the war, and to everyone’s surprise, the Turkish government
went along with 95 per cent of the population. Kind of like Old Europe. The United States was
infuriated. Colin Powell threatened sanctions and so on. Ed Wolfowitz, the idealist and
champion of democracy promotion denounced the Turkish military for not rejected 95 per cent
of the will of the population. He asked the Turkish military to apologize to the United States and
to recognise that their job is to serve American interests. That’s called democracy promotion. All
this passed very quietly and has now been put in the part of history where unpleasant facts are.
But Turkey was acting independently and is acting independently now, like refusing to take part
in the current US-Israeli exercises, which are clearly aimed at threatening Iran. Those are choices
they have to make.

What about the psychology behind American policy especially when policies become atrocious?
There’s an answer to this- the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer as they must. It’s one
of the other few principles of international relations. There aren’t many principles of
international relations. What about the population? Sometimes they support the atrocities,
usually with a sense that they’re defending themselves. It requires a history of imposing an
imperial mentality, but party just fear. There’s another time when it really gets psychotic. If you
go through the history of the American Indian wars, the British Empire, it’s horrific, all kinds of
17
www.soas.ac.uk
horrible atrocities. They were supported, by some of the most remarkable figures, like say John
Stuart Mill. If you haven’t read ‘An essay on humanitarian intervention’, which is considered a
classic, right after the atrocities in India in 1857, it’s hair-raising.

Let’s take a case from Vietnam, which didn’t raise a murmur, but does reflect a reason why
people accept horrendous atrocities. It’s obvious why the powerful carry them out, if they can
get away with them, why not. But why do people accept them? In 1967, Lyndon Johnson, who
was a person who spoke from the people, gave a speech in which he explained why we have to
keep fighting in Vietnam. What he said was almost verbatim, look there are 150 million of us,
and 3 million of them, and if might makes right then they’ll sweep over us and take what we
have. So we have to stop them in Vietnam. That’s internalised and it reflects deeply rooted
imperial mentality, and it shows up all the time.

That’s what among educated elites there’s virtually no criticism of the Vietnam War or for that
matter the Iraq War. The strongest criticism you can find is a mistake. Like, for example, Obama
is praised because he took a principled stand against the Iraq. What was his principled stand?
That it was a strategic blunder. You could have read that in Pravda in 1983 about the invasion of
Afghanistan; it’s probably what the German general staff were telling Hitler after Stalingrad.
There’s nothing principled about it. It wasn’t a strategic blunder, it was a major crime. But those
notions are almost inexpressible.

So what’s the psychology behind it? If you get to the point where you have power, and there are
interests you want to follow, you use that power or else you’re out and somebody else comes in
and uses it. It’s institutional facts. As for the population, it depends how manipulated they are, or
how much they actually believe that we’re about to be overrun by those massive hoards.
Actually, that comment that I quoted before about the Russian Revolution... maybe it sounds
less vulgar, but it’s similar. The Russian Revolution was a challenge that we had to defend
against, because they were going to try to reform their society and they were calling for others to
do the same. Obviously we have to protect ourselves. That’s Yale University, the Dean of Cold
War studies, and so on. These are very deeply rooted attitudes and they do reach the public.

The next question was about the role of journalism... that’s what journalism ought to be about.
And there are some journalists that do it, but the margin that try to do it share the fate typically
of dissidents in other societies, marginalised in one way or another. If journalism really
committed itself to this role, it would have to be an independent, popularly supported force
outside of sectors of power, and that requires popular organisation, education... things like that
happen, that’s where dissident journalism comes from. Like, say, I was in Mexico a couple of
weeks ago. They have a newspaper which is a real independent newspaper, I think it’s maybe the
only one in the hemisphere. It’s not an offshoot of the corporate system, it’s not a state journal.
It doesn’t get any ads because business won’t advertise in it. And it’s very honest and accurate. I
was there for a couple of days, I learned things I couldn’t learn in the international press. A lot of
dedicated, serious journalists.

What about the internet? It can contribute to this, but the internet is an ambiguous instrument.
You can use it for liberation; you can use it for control. It’s being used both ways. It depends on
people like you which way it’s going to work.

What about the role of Africom, the African command? In particular with regard to Somalia.
Actually, here some journalists have done a good job in exposing a large part of what actually
happened in Somalia and as you know we’re supposed to be worried about pirates there. But
where did it come from? Without going into the earlier history, one of the immediate reasons for
18
www.soas.ac.uk
piracy is that the European Union and Saudi Arabia and a couple of others are simply destroying
Somalia’s territorial waters by dumping waste and overfishing. What happens to the fishermen in
Somalia? Become pirates, and then we’re all upset about the piracy, not about having created a
situation where there aren’t a lot of options.

If you go back a year or two further there are even more. One of the great achievements of
Bush’s War on Terror was closing down an Islamic charity which was identified as supporting
terrorists. Turned out a couple of months later that they were wrong and the press may have had
a couple of lines about it, but meanwhile it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn’t
have much of an economy, but a lot of it was supported by this charity, not just giving money
but running banks and businesses and so on. It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia;
closing it down pulled the props out from under that and is another contributory factor to the
breakdown of a very weak society. There’s a lot to say about Somalia, which occasionally is said,
there are a couple of journalists that report parts of it.

Africom is an expansion of the global system of surveillance and control. It’s not 1948 when the
US wasn’t interested in Africa and was happy to hand it over to the Europeans to exploit. That
has changed over the years and Africom is part of that system. It’s supposedly linked up to the
other commands, and the newly expanded Southcoms in Latin America, according to a
document I mentioned earlier. It mentions how the African command could be linked to others
by getting bases in Brazil and closing to Africa than other bases and link them up, it would
expand the US system of global surveillance and control.

What about shift of the centre of empire to other centres of the world? I don’t really see that
happening in the short-term future, for the reasons I mentioned. It’s a much more diverse world
economically than it was 50 years ago, but militarily it’s just completely unipolar. The US just
dominates the whole world militarily and is helped out by others; there is no competitor.

One of the questions, if you’ll be here Thursday I’ll talk about it then; Iran and the Middle East.
What about US and 9/11? That’s a very popular idea and it’s interesting that it developed. In the
United States maybe a third of the population thinks that maybe Bush was responsible for 9/11
and there’s technical literature about it. People dedicate themselves to becoming specialists in
this topic. But if you think about it for about 30 seconds, for Bush or the US to have carried out
9/11, they would have to be literally insane. If they had carried out 9/11, they would have
blamed it on Iraqis, not on Saudis. They were desperately trying to find an excuse to invade Iraq,
if they had done that they wouldn’t have had to worry about popular opinion, the Security
Council would go along.

Instead by blaming Saudis and harming relations with a valuable ally, they had to jump through
hoops to come up with an excuse for invading Iraq. We knew what that led to; it had to get
diverted into Afghanistan which didn’t mean that much. They would have to be insane. If it was
an inside job, the finger of guilt points to people who wanted to divert the United States away
from attacking Iraq and towards Saudi Arabia. I can think of only two. Saddam Hussain and
Osama Bin Laden. It follows almost immediately. I just don’t think it’s a serious thesis. I think
the reason it sounds plausible to so many people is the tremendous cynicism that’s been aroused
by what governments do. So you’re willing to believe that can do anything.

Obama, any changes... yeah, some. There were changes between the first and second Bush term.
The first Bush term went way off the spectrum, so much that it was condemned right in the
mainstream. And US prestige in the world sank to historic lows. So it’s obvious that whoever has
authentic power is going to bring him back. And the second term was quite different. It was
19
www.soas.ac.uk
more moderate; they got rid of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and a couple of other extreme
characters. They moved back more toward the moderate centre, and Obama is doing the same.
Maybe there will be a little bit of a switch beyond, but so far there is very little to point to. And
no reason to expect much. It doesn’t make much sense to be disillusioned. Obama, if you look at
the promises during the campaign, they were carefully constructed to be vacuous. Hope and
change don’t tell you anything. Any party manager who read polls would of course have picked
those slogans. In fact, McCain did too. You can read the polls and see that 80 per cent of the
population thinks the country is going in the wrong direction, okay, hope and change. It’s like a
blank slate.

Hilary Clinton’s engagement in Darfur. There are horrible things going on in Darfur. But in
comparison to the region, they don’t amount to a lot unfortunately. Like what’s going on in
eastern Congo is incomparably worse than Darfur. But Darfur is a very popular topic for
Western humanists. You can blame it on an enemy. You have to distort it a lot, but you can
blame it on Arabs, the bad guys. So there’s a huge movement to save Darfur. What about saving
eastern Congo where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? That gets kind of tricky
for people who, say, like their cell phones, which are using minerals from eastern Congo that are
obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals. Or
simply by the fact that Rwanda is perhaps the worst of the many agents and that’s a US ally.
That’s kind of not a convenient topic. So there’s no save eastern Congo campaigns. And for
Hilary Clinton to join the popular save Darfur campaign and not actually do anything about it,
that makes sense in the context of ordinary politics. Sorry if that sounds cynical but it’s hard to
think of anything else.

In the light of pessimism, what is to be done? First of all, if I sound pessimistic it’s my fault, and
there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. In fact, I gave some. Like the difference between the
reaction to Vietnam and the reaction to Iraq. What happened isn’t nice, but it could have been a
lot worse, and there were constraints imposed domestically. The Western imperial powers
couldn’t go as far as they did in Vietnam because there was more opposition. And a lot of other
things changed since the 60s, I don’t have to tell you that. The US and Britain and Europe and
Third World countries are a lot more civilised in a lot of ways. Rights of minorities, rights of
women, concerns over the rights of future generations which is what the environmental
movement is about. Plenty of other things. The solidarity movements which have developed in
the 80s. Complete innovation in the history of Western imperialism. It came out of mainstream
America; a lot of it came out of churches, including Evangelical churches- nothing like that had
ever happened in the history of imperialism. Now it’s spread over the world. Global justice
movements are completely new.

All these things happen. Not in a day, but they happen over time. If you look over a range of
decades, it’s a pretty dramatic change. So that’s not a reason for pessimism, it’s a reason for
understanding that there’s a lot we can do. In fact it’s easier now than it was in the past, because
you can exploit the legacy that’s handed down by people who have struggled to win rights and
freedom. There are plenty of opportunities, and the more privileged you are the more your
opportunities. There’s no particular reason to be pessimistic, just to be realistic. Gramsci’s
famous statement of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. That’s a good slogan.

20
www.soas.ac.uk