In a talk to MIT students on 14 December 2000 titled "THE CURRENT CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST. WHAT CAN WE DO?" Noam Chomsky gave his views on why the US continues to call the shots in the Middle East. He argued that the ongoing Intefada that followed Sharon’s visit to Jerusalem on Sept 29 was the latest in a long history of opposition to US/Israel domination of the Middle East. For 50 years the US has backed Israel as its ‘proxy’ in the Middle East in order to retain control of the regions resources. In this process the US has willfully ignored UN resolutions, and continually refused to allow Palestinian national rights will militarily backing Israel’s right to use force to defend it’s right to exist.
"The U.S. role is highly significant. That's always true throughout the world just because of U.S. power, but it's particularly true in the Middle East, which has been recognized in high level planning for 50 years (and goes back beyond that, but explicitly for 50 years) as a core element in U.S. global planning. Just to quote documents from 50 years ago, declassified documents, the Middle East was described as the "strategically most important region of the world", "a stupendous source of strategic power", "the richest economic prize in the world", and, you know, on and on in the same vein. The U.S. is not going to give that up. And the reason is very simple. That's the world's major energy reserves, and not only are they valuable to have because of the enormous profit that comes from them, but control over them gives a kind of veto power over the actions of others for obvious reasons, which were recognized right away at the time. So, that's a core issue. It's been the prime concern of U.S. military and strategic planning for half a century. The gulf region, the region of major energy reserves, has always been the target of the major U.S. intervention forces, with a base system that extends over a good part of the world, from the Pacific to the Azores, with consequences for all of those regions because they are backup bases for the intervention forces targeting the gulf region, also including the Indian Ocean."
Sometimes the US and Israel miscalculate in their actions:
"There have been mistakes in the past and the United States and Israel have certainly learned from them. So in 1996 for example, when Shimon Peres launched yet another attack on Lebanon, killing large numbers of people and driving hundreds/thousands out of their home, it was fine and the U.S. was able to support it and Clinton did support it, up until one mistake, when they bombed a UN Camp in Qana, killing over a hundred people who were refugees in the camp. Clinton at first justified it, but as the international reaction came in, he had to back off, and Israel was forced, under U.S. orders in effect, to call off the operation and withdraw. That's the kind of mistake you want to avoid. So, for those of you going into the diplomatic service, you can't allow that kind of mistake to happen. You want low level atrocities, fine-tuned, so that an international response is unnecessary."
Danger of Over-reaction
This creates the danger of an overreaction on the part of the nations the US is trying to dominate. The key involves trying to maintain peace between Israel and the Arabs:
"Back in 1994, Clinton's National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, described what he called a paradigm for the post cold war era, and for the Middle East. The paradigm was what's called "dual containment", so it contains Iraq and Iran, but as he pointed out, dual containment relies crucially on the Oslo process, the process that brings about relative peace between Israel and the Arabs. Unless that can be sustained, the dual containment can't be sustained, and the whole U.S. current policy for controlling the region will be in serious danger."
"The governance in the Arab world is extremely fragile, especially in the crucial oil producing region. Any popular unrest might threaten the very fragile rule of the U.S. clients, which the U.S. would be unwilling to accept. And it might, equally unacceptably, induce the rulers of the oil monarchies to move to improve relations (particularly with Iran, which, in fact, they've already been doing), which would undermine the whole framework for U.S. domination of the world's major energy reserves."
"Well, how dangerous is that? Turn to another expert, General Lee Butler, recently retired. He was head of the Strategic Command at the highest nuclear agency under Clinton, STRATCOM. He wrote a couple of years ago that it's dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly with stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do so as well, and also to develop other weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent, which is highly combustible and can lead to very dangerous outcomes.
All of this is still more dangerous when the sponsor of that one nation is regarded generally in the world as a rogue state, which is unpredictable and out of control, irrational and vindictive, and insists on portraying itself in that fashion. In fact, the Strategic Command under Clinton has, in its highest level pronouncement, advised that the United States should maintain a national persona, as they call it, of being irrational and vindictive and out of control so that the rest of the world will be frightened. And they are.
And the U.S. should also rely on nuclear weapons as the core of its strategy, including the right of first use against non-nuclear states, including those that have signed the Non-Proliferation treaty. Those proposals have been built into presidential directives, Clinton-era presidential directives, that don't make much noise around here, but it is understood in the world, which is naturally impelled to respond by developing weapons of mass destruction of its own in self-defense. But these are prospects that are indeed recognized by U.S. intelligence and high-level U.S. analysts.
About two years ago, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington wrote an article in a very prestigious journal, Foreign Affairs, in which he pointed out that for much of the world, he indicated most of the world, the United States is considered a dangerous rogue state, and the main threat to their national existence. And it's not surprising, if you look at what happens in the world from outside the framework of the U.S. indoctrination system. That's very plausible even from documents, and certainly from actions, and much of the world does see it that way, and that adds to the severe dangers of the situation."
"Actually U.S. relations with Israel developed in that context. The 1967 war was a major step forward, when Israel showed its power and ability to deal with Third World radical nationalists, who were, at that time, threatening, particularly Nasser. Nasser was engaged in a kind of proxy war with Saudi Arabia, which is the most important country, that's where all the oil is, and the Yemen. And Israel put an end to that by smashing Nasser's armies and won a lot of points for that, and U.S. relations with Israel really became solidified at that point. But it had been recognized 10 years earlier and the U.S. intelligence had noted that what they called the logical corollary to opposition to radical Arab nationalism is support for Israel as a reliable base for U.S. power in the region. And Israel is reliable because it's under threat, and therefore it needs U.S. support, which has another logical corollary, that for the U.S. interests', it's a good idea for Israel to be under threat."
UN Resolution 242
Such an attempt to establish ‘peace’ and settle down the region was UN Resolution 242 of November 1967 which required Israel to pull back from the territories overrun in the 1967 war, but in the process it did not recognise the national right of Palestine:
"UN 242 called for - the basic idea was full peace in return for a full withdrawal. So, Israel would withdraw from the territories that it just conquered, and in return, the Arab states would agree to a full peace with it. There was kind of a minor footnote, that the withdrawal could involve minor and mutual adjustments. So, for example, regarding some line or curve, they could straighten it out, that sort of thing. But that was the policy, and that was U.S. policy - it was under U.S. initiative. So, full peace in return for full withdrawal…But UN 242 was completely rejectionist. It offered nothing to the Palestinians. There was no reference to them, except the phrase that there was a refugee problem that somehow had to be dealt with. That's it. Apart from that, it was to be an agreement among the states. The states were to reach full peace treaties in the context of complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. That's UN 242."
"What can we do"?
Chomsky then goes on to ask, "what can we do"? To do anything the public must be informed of the real interests that like behind the US Middle East policies.
"Well, if we decide on the latter choice, which is always open here and elsewhere, there's a prerequisite. The prerequisite is that we know what's going on. So you can't make that choice, say to stop providing military helicopters (and you know the helicopters are just an illustration of a much bigger picture) unless you know about it. Again, the grave responsibility of the intellectual world, the media, journals, universities, and others, is to prevent people from knowing. That takes effort. It's not easy. As in this case, it takes some dedication to suppress the facts and make sure that the population doesn't know what's being done in their name, because if they do, they aren't going to like it, and they'll respond. Then you get into trouble."
The most important facts are first, that the US has repudiated UN 242 in practice and backs Israel’s occupation of the territory gained in 1967; second the US and Israel do not recognise the national rights of the Palestinians; third, this means that there is no right of Palestinian resistance which becomes defined as ‘terrorism’; fourth, this allows Israel the right to attack its Arab neighbours on the pretext of responding to ‘terrorism’.
"But, contrary to propaganda, almost the entire series of U.S./Israeli attacks, certainly in the occupied territories, but in Lebanon as well, were not for any defensive purpose. They were initiated. That includes the 1982 invasion, and that's no small matter. I mean, it's not considered a big deal here, but during the 22 years that Israel illegally occupied Southern Lebanon in violation of Security Council orders (but with U.S. authorization), they killed about maybe 45,000 or 50,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, not a trivial number. This included many very brutal attacks going on after the Oslo accords as well, in 1983, 1986, and so on."
More than this, the right to attack can be turned into permanent occupation by proxy troops:
"Israel and the United States had made a rather serious error in the occupied territories. It's not a good idea to try to control a subject population with your own troops. The way it is usually done is, you farm it out to the natives. That's the way the British ran India for a couple of hundred years. India was mostly controlled by Indian troops, often taken from other regions, you know like the Gurkhas and so on. That's the way the United States runs Central America, with mercenary forces, which are called armies, if you can keep them under control. That's the way South Africa ran the Black areas. Most of the atrocities are carried out by Black mercenaries, and in the Bantustans, it was entirely Blacks. That's the standard colonial pattern and it makes a lot of sense. If you have your own troops out there, it causes all kinds of problems. You know, first of all they suffer injuries, and these are people who don't like to feel good about killing people, and their parents get upset and so on and so forth, but if you have mercenaries or paramilitaries, you don't have those problems. So, Israel and the United States were going to turn to the standard colonial pattern and have the Palestinian forces, who in fact mostly came from Tunis, control the local population - control them economically and politically, as well as militarily."
So the US has managed to maintain a front of ‘peace’ by redefining UN 242:
"UN 242 now means what the United States says it means, as do other things, that's the meaning of power. It means withdrawal, insofar as the U.S. and Israel determine, and that's what it's meant ever since. So when Palestinians or Arab states now complain that Israel isn't living up to 242, they are just choosing to ignore the historical record and blindness
is not a helpful position if you are in world affairs.
You might as well have your eyes open. UN 242 since February 1971 does not exist. It exists only in the Kissingerian sense. Now, here you have to be a little nuanced, because officially the U.S. continues to endorse UN 242 in its original sense. So you can find statements by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, or you know speechwriters, and George Bush, saying yeah, we insist on 242 in its original sense. You can't find statements by Clinton. Clinton, I think, is the first president not even having given lip service to it. But the fact is that the lip service is pure hypocrisy, because while they are adhering to it for public purposes, they are also providing Israel with the wherewithal, the funds, the military support, the diplomatic support, to violate it, namely to act to integrate the occupied territories within Israel, so the endorsement of it is hypocritical and you should compliment Clinton on having the honesty simply to withdraw it, in effect."
Meanwhile the fate of the Palestinians has been to be an oppressed semi-colonised people:
"Right through the occupation from 1967 to 1993, Israel was making sure, and again, when I say Israel, I mean the United States, was making sure that there would be no development in the occupied territories. So, right after 1993, when Israeli journalists who had covered the territories were finally able to go to Jordan, they were shocked by what they saw and they wrote about it in the Hebrew press. Jordan is a poor country, and Israel is a rich country. Before the 1967 war, the populations in Jordan and the Palestinian populations were pretty comparable, in fact, there was more development in the West Bank.
By 1993, it was totally different. In the poorer country Jordan, there were agricultural development, universities, schools, roads, health services, all sorts of things. In the West Bank there was essentially nothing. The people could survive by remittances from abroad, or by doing dirty work in Israel, but no development was allowed, and that was very shocking to Israeli reporters, and it is also backed up in the statistics.
The most important work on this topic, if you want to learn about, is by Sara Roy, a researcher at Harvard who has spent an awful lot of time in the Gaza Strip. Just to give you a couple of her figures, current ones, in 1993 electric power usage in the West Bank and Gaza was two thirds that of Egypt, half that of Jordan – and those are poorer countries, remember. Israel is a rich country. Sanitation and housing in the West Bank and Gaza was about 25 percent for Palestinians, 50 percent in Egypt, and 100 percent in Jordan, and the figures run through that way. GDP, per capita, and consumption per capita declined and then it got worse. After 1993, it's been the worst. So GDP, per capita, and consumption per capita have dropped, according to her, about 15 percent in the West Bank and Gaza since 1993 - that's even with large foreign assistance pouring in, from Europe, mostly."
"It's gotten worse in other respects. Up until 1993, the U.S. and Israel permitted humanitarian aid to come into the territories. UN humanitarian aid was permitted into the West Bank and Gaza. In 1993, that was restricted. This is part of the peace process. After Oslo, heavy customs duties were imposed, lots of other restrictions were imposed, you know various kinds of harassment. Now, it's blocked. Right now, humanitarian aid is blocked. The UN is protesting, but it doesn't matter. If the UN protests the blocking of humanitarian aid, and it doesn't register here, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't register here because it's not reported.
So, they can say, yeah the Israelis are stopping humanitarian aid from coming in, and people are starving, and so on, but what does it matter as long as people in the United States don't know about it. They can know in the Middle East, they can know in Europe, but it makes no difference. These are our choices again. For the Palestinians themselves, they are under a dual repression, very much like the Bantustans again, the repression of Israel and the United States, and then the repression of the local mercenaries who do the work for the foreigner, and enrich themselves. It's again a standard, colonial pattern. Anyone who has ever taken a look at the Third World sees it."
"As for the population, it's kind of hard to improve on a description by Moshe Dayan about 30 years ago. He was in the Labor Party, and among the Labor Party leaders, he was one of those most noted for his sympathetic attitude towards Palestinians, and also his realism. And he described what Israeli policy ought to be, U.S. policy as well. He said the Palestinians should live like dogs and whoever wishes may leave, and we'll see where this leads. Reasonable policy, and that's U.S. policy as well, and it will continue that way as long as we agree to permit it."
[Transcription of full text by Angie D'Urso http://www.media.mit.edu/~nitin/mideast/chomsky.html]
Chomsky’s solution is to inform world opinion to act against the US as a ‘rogue’ state. Once people realise how bad the US treats other states, they will mobilise to stop it. So far so good. But is a campaign to recognise Palestine’s right to exist enough? No! This has already been granted to ‘dogs’ to live in poverty in occupied ’bantustans’. Will the US and Israel ever allow Palestine to exist on equal terms? No! Chomsky has illusions in the democratic processes in the US if he thinks that the US will ever voluntarily give up its dominant role in the Middle East and meekly accept UN resolutions.
Chomsky does not understand what drives the US to world domination. He thinks that it is the result of bad capitalists who flout human rights out of greed. For him capitalism does not need to adopt such inhuman behaviour to survive. Therefore it can be reformed to allow its ‘human face’ to prevail. In reality, the US and its Israeli puppet occupy the Middle East to prevent the Arab masses from rising to take control of their own economic resources because if they do not US economic wealth will suffer a serious decline and Israel’s very survival is at stake.
The only way that this will change is when the Arab masses reject US/Israeli domination and fight for national self-determination. To succeed in this they must be backed by workers in the US/Irael and NATO countries whose task is to overthrow their ‘own’ capitalist/imperialist states. In this way resistance to national oppression can become the catalyst for permanent revolution on a global scale.
From Class Struggle No 38 April-May 2001