In Middle East
By Noam Chomsky
06 March 2005
promotion has become the leading theme of declared US policy in
the Middle East. The project has a background. There is a 'strong line
of continuity' in the post-Cold War period, writes Thomas Carothers,
director of the Carnegie Endowment Program on Law and Democracy, in
his new book Critical Mission: Essays on Democracy Promotion.
appears to fit in well with US security and economic interests, the
United States promotes democracy,' Carothers concludes. 'Where democracy
clashes with other significant interests, it is downplayed or even ignored.'
the Reagan State Department on 'democracy enhancement' projects in Latin
America during the 1980s and wrote a history of them, drawing essentially
the same conclusions. Similar actions and pretensions hold for earlier
periods as well, and are characteristic of other dominant powers.
The strong line
of continuity, and the power interests that sustain it, affect recent
events in the Middle East, pointing up the real substance of the posture
of 'promoting democracy.'
The continuity is
illustrated by the nomination of John Negroponte as the first director
of national intelligence. The arc of Negropontes career ranges
from Honduras, where as Reagans ambassador he oversaw the Contra
terrorist forces war against Nicaragua, to Iraq, where as Bushs
ambassador he briefly presided over another exercise in alleged democracy
development experience that can inform his new duties to help
combat terror and promote liberty. Orwell would not have known whether
to laugh or to weep.
In Iraq, the January
elections were successful and praiseworthy. However, the main success
is being reported only marginally: The United States was compelled to
allow them to take place. That is a real triumph, not of the bomb-throwers,
but of nonviolent resistance by the people, secular as well as Islamist,
for whom Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani is a symbol.
Despite US-UK foot-dragging,
Sistani demanded speedy elections, reflecting popular determination
to achieve freedom and independence, and some form of democratic rights.
The nonviolent resistance
continued until the United States (and the United Kingdom, trailing
obediently behind) had no recourse but to allow the elections. The doctrinal
machinery then went into high gear to present the elections as a US
initiative. In line with the great-power continuity and its roots, we
can anticipate that Washington will not readily tolerate political outcomes
that it opposes, particularly in such a crucial region of the world.
Iraqis voted with
the hope of ending the occupation. In January, a pre-election poll in
Iraq, reported by Brookings Institution analysts on The New York Times
op-ed page, found that 69 per cent of Shias, and 82 per cent of Sunnis,
favoured 'near-term US withdrawal.'
But Blair, Rice
and others have been explicit in rejecting any timetable for withdrawal
that is, putting it off into the indefinite future until
the occupying armies complete their 'mission,' namely to bring
democracy by forcing the elected government to conform to US demands.
Hastening a US-UK
withdrawal depends not only on Iraqis but also on the willingness of
the American and British electorates to compel their governments to
accept Iraqi sovereignty.
As events unfold
in Iraq, the United States continues to maintain a militant posture
toward Iran. The recent leaks about US special forces on the ground
in Iran, whether true or false, inflame the situation.
A genuine threat
is that in recent years the US has dispatched more than 100 advanced
jet bombers to Israel, with loud announcements that they are capable
of bombing Iran updated versions of the planes that Israel used
to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
Its a matter
of conjecture, but the sabre rattling may serve two purposes: to provoke
the Iranian leadership to become more repressive, thus encouraging popular
resistance; and to intimidate US rivals in Europe and Asia from pursuing
diplomatic and economic initiatives toward Iran. The hard line has already
scared off some European investments in Iran, for fear of US retaliation,
reports Matthew Karnitschnig in The Wall Street Journal.
being hailed as a triumph of democracy promotion is the Sharon-Abbas
ceasefire. The news of the agreement is welcome: better no killing than
Take a close look
at the ceasefire terms, however. The only substantive element is that
Palestinian resistance, even against the occupying army, must cease.
Nothing could delight
US-Israeli hawks more than complete peace, which would enable them to
pursue, unhindered, the policies of takeover of the valuable land and
resources of the West Bank, and huge infrastructure projects to break
up the remaining Palestinian territories into unviable cantons.
depredations in the occupied territories have been the core issue of
the conflict for years, but the ceasefire agreement contains not a word
about them. The Abbas government accepted the agreement perhaps,
one might argue, because its the best they can do as long as Israel
and the United States reject a political settlement. It might be added
that the US intransigence can continue only as long as the American
Id like to
be optimistic about the agreement, and leap at any straw in the wind,
but so far I see nothing real.
For Washington a
consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable
if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives.
But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel-Palestine run counter
to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents
itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within
the United States.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of Hegemony or
Survival: Americas Quest for Global Dominance.
©2005 by Noam