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‘War on Iraq is about US strategic power, control of oil and profit’

This article is over 21 years, 6 months old
Noam Chomsky, one of the leading opponents of US foreign policy, visited Britain last week. He spoke at two meetings in London, with a total audience of over 4,500 people. We print extracts of his speech on 10 December.
Issue 1831

SINCE WORLD War Two the US has been the dominant world power. In some ways that power has declined substantially, like in its share of wealth and production. In other measures it has increased-military force. America’s predecessor in world control understood very well what was happening as World War Two drew to a close.

There was a mini-war going on between the US and Britain over the Middle East, particularly over oil. Britain recognised that the ‘economic imperialism of US business interests is proactive under a cloak of nebulent and avuncular nationalism that is trying to elbow us out’.

British leaders chose to join the US enterprise, including their own expertise acquired through centuries. That includes the method of enforcement, elegantly formulated by Lloyd George 70 years ago in his succinct phrase, ‘We must reserve the right to bomb niggers.’

The ‘niggers’ he had in mind were Iraqis, Kurds and Afghans, just to show you how much things have changed. Others would qualify if necessary. Lloyd George was complimenting the government for undermining the disarmament treaty which would have banned the aerial bombardment of civilians. This was Britain’s primary technique for controlling the ‘uncivilised tribes’, as Churchill called them. He personally preferred poison gas. He said it caused ‘lively terror amongst the recalcitrant Arabs’.

US-British power now is globally dominant on the surface. Many people across the world agree with Nelson Mandela that there’s a major threat to world peace and it comes from the dangerous policies of trying to bully others that come from Washington. Even the US national press recognises this. A story in the national press a couple of weeks ago pointed out that ‘the world is now more concerned about the unbridled use of American power than about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’.

New mechanisms of domination

A RECENT lead story in the New York Times said, ‘Whatever the diplomatic niceties the US regards the UN resolution as all the authority it needs to act against Iraq.’

The ‘diplomatic niceties’ are a fig leaf for diplomats and commentators to convince themselves that they are getting the US to pay attention to world opinion.

The operative doctrine couldn’t be put more clearly, from the president on downwards, than by the administration official who said, ‘The UN is relevant when it grants Washington’s authority to do what it wants to.’ Otherwise it’s irrelevant. There’s nothing entirely new about that but the brazenness is unusual.

There’s no need for surprise in this. The people who are running the show now are recycled Reaganites from the Reagan and the first Bush administration. Now they have a lot more power. They have new mechanisms for domination through international economic arrangements. What’s going on in Brazil is a very dramatic example of that.

There was a populist president in Brazil 40 years ago, but the US didn’t like him. So they organised a military coup that installed the first neo-Nazi security state in Latin America which put an end to that problem. This was begun by the Kennedy administration.

Brazil is such an important country it had a domino effect and spread throughout the region, creating a huge plague of repression. Now there is a new populist president in Brazil elected in a very democratic election. But there is no military coup. For one reason they probably couldn’t carry it off. Society and cultures have changed – it wouldn’t be supported in the US and couldn’t be in Brazil. It is a good sign.

But also they don’t need to. As soon as the international investors recognised that Lula was going to be elected they then started turning the screws on the Brazilian economy in ways which are now possible, which weren’t possible then – one of the effects of neo-liberalism.

This makes it possible to strangle the country if it goes the wrong way – if it carries out improper policies like those that put the population before foreign investors. For instance attacking the currency, capital flight. That’s the main contribution of neo-liberalism to democracy.

The Reaganites ride again

THOSE AT the helm in Washington are not conservatives. They are radical statist reactionaries. Domestically they are ready to create a huge federal deficit through a tax cut for the rich and the biggest surge in federal spending in 20 years. With the deficit they explain the need for ‘fiscal responsibility’. That means cutting services for the general population. It is very similar to the Reagan years – slow growth and stagnation amongst the majority of the population and a greater concentration of wealth. The international programmes of the Reagan years are also being reinstituted. The first thing the Reagan administration did was declare a ‘war on terror’.

This war on terrorism constructed an impressive trail of destruction in Central America, the Middle East, southern Africa and elsewhere. In 1983 they started to terrify people that an airbase was being built on Grenada and the Russians were going to use it to bomb the US. Grenada was invaded.

Shortly after that they found that the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were two days marching distance from Texas, so they fought a major terrorist war against them. ‘They come straight from Mein Kampf,’ the Secretary of State explained – the Colin Powell of the day, the official ‘moderate’. They saw Nicaragua as ‘a dagger pointed at the heart of Texas’.

There was a national emergency called because of the threat to the security and existence of the US by the government of Nicaragua. It was an attempt to frighten the population so they accept the general assault against them. You can see this happening right now. It’s working very well.

At the recent mid-term congressional elections the Republicans retained votes. On social and economic issues people preferred the Democrats, but this was eclipsed by security concerns, particularly the threat of Iraq. As the campaign for the election began in the summer that’s when Iraq became not just a rotten place but an imminent threat to our survival.

A perfectly mainstream political analyst writes, ‘The administration can only sustain power through international adventurism, radical pre-emptive military strategies and a hunger for a politically convenient and perfectly timed confrontation with Iraq.’

Echoes of Cuban crisis

THERE’S MORE to US policy. There are longstanding and important interests, such as regaining control of the second largest oil reserves in the world. September 11 provided a pretext, as it did for repressive governments all over the world, such as Russia in Chechnya.

When the presidential campaign opens next year campaign managers are presumably planning to have an easy victory chalked up regardless of the destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. The narrow escape from world destruction during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is highly relevant today.

So much so that it ought to be the prime topic of discussion everywhere. The reasons for it are still headlines today – regime change and international terrorism.

The missile crisis was the consequence of a massive campaign of international terrorism against Cuba launched by the Kennedy administration and the Eisenhower administration.

Kennedy writes, ‘The very existence of the Castro regime constitutes a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half.’ The Russians were barely mentioned. The US was concerned that the success of Cuba might inspire others with similar problems to follow what was called the Castro ideal. This led to a major terrorist campaign, escalated in 1962 with the missile crisis.

Cuba is an official centre of ‘international terrorism’, but the actual terror is from the US. Notions like regime change and international terrorism are not new, and those who are now running the show in Washington did break some records in international terrorism the last time.

Response to growing divide

THE US National Governance Council, which is a collection of intelligence agencies, published an important document called ‘Global Trans 2015’. In it they make a number of predictions for the coming 15 years. Their main one is that what is called globalisation will continue on course: ‘Its evolution will be rocky, with increasing financial volatility and a widening economic divide.’

Globalisation is supposed to lead to convergence in a single model. They’re saying the opposite. There is going to be less globalisation in the technical sense, but more globalisation in the doctrinal sense. They go on to say that as globalisation proceeds ‘deepening economic stagnation will foster political, ethnic, ideological, religious extremism along with violence, very much of it directed against the US’.

So globalisation will spawn terror directed against those who are responsible for the daily oppression of the masses of people. The same assumptions are made by military planners. Five years ago a document called ‘Visions for 2020’ was published. They predicted that with the ‘growing gap between the haves and the have-nots’ the have-nots will become disruptive and need to be controlled.

That’s part of the motive behind the vast expansion of US military power to keep the rest of the world in line which is needed to protect US investments against the threats caused by the growing economic divide. The national intelligence council has predicted that ‘the Persian Gulf region will see a large increase in oil production capacity and will rise in importance in world energy markets’.

Therefore the US must control it. The issue is not access – it is control. In 1958, a major year in world affairs and the Middle East, the Eisenhower administration identified three major crises – in the Middle East, in North Africa and in Egypt. All oil producers, all secular then.

Eisenhower reiterated that ‘the Persian Gulf area is the most strategically important area in the world. To lose control of this strategic position and resources in the Middle East would be worse than the loss of China.’ In this context the war on Iraq can be expected to place the US in a commanding position on the world energy markets, controlling the flow and profits – and probably provide the US with an important military base in the centre of this source of strategic power.

There are very strong challenges to this whole system. The scale and character of opposition to the Iraq war are completely without precedent in Europe and the US, and far beyond any comparative stage in the Vietnam War.

The emerging global justice movement has placed a severe challenge to economic imperialism. We have the means to determine whether policy is shifted dramatically to a different and more constructive work.

This speech was filmed and will be put on the Internet. To download it go to
It is also available on cassette or CD. To order a copy send a cheque for £6 made out to ‘Red Pepper’ to Red Pepper Recordings, 1b Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ.


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