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Excerpt: "Well, the future is uncertain, but the threat of democracy so far is contained. And it's a real threat."

Author, historian and political commentator Noam Chomsky. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)
Author, historian and political commentator Noam Chomsky. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)

America Acts Like It Owns the World

By Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now!

28 October 12



n the week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign: China, the Arab Spring, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the military threat posed by Israel and the U.S. versus Iran. He reflects on the Cuban missile crisis, which took place 50 years ago this week and is still referred to as "the most dangerous moment in human history." He delivered this talk last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at an event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. Chomsky's talk was entitled "Who Owns the World?" [includes rush transcript]


AMY GOODMAN: We're on the road in Portland, Oregon. We are here as part of our 100-city Silenced Majority tour. On this week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Professor Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign, from China to the Arab Spring, to global warming and the nuclear threat posed by Israel versus Iran. He spoke last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at any event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. His talk was entitled "Who Owns the World?"

NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two topics in mind, couldn't decide between them—actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is, what are the most important issues that we face? The second topic is, what issues are not being treated seriously—or at all—in the quadrennial frenzy now underway called an election? But I realized that there's no problem; it's not a hard choice: they're the same topic. And there are reasons for it, which are very significant in themselves. I'd like to return to that in a moment. But first a few words on the background, beginning with the announced title, "Who Owns the World?"

Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we're supposed to worship but not read. He was—a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.

But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the—what he called the "savage injustice of the Europeans," particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, "All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." It was true then; it's true now.

Britain kept its position as the dominant world power well into the 20th century despite steady decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart across the sea, the United States, by far the most powerful and wealthy society in world history. Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that point, 1945, the United States had literally half the world's wealth, incredible security, controlled the entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the opposite sides of both oceans. There's nothing—there hasn't ever been anything like that in history.

And planners understood it. Roosevelt's planners were meeting right through the Second World War, designing the post-war world. They were quite sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty much implemented. They wanted to make sure that the United States would control what they called a "grand area," which would include, routinely, the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would be taking over, and as much of Eurasia as possible—crucially, its commercial and industrial centers in Western Europe. And within this region, they said, the United States should hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with these global designs.

And those were pretty realistic plans at the time, given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had been by far the richest country in the world even before the Second World War, although it wasn't—was not yet the major global actor. During the Second World War, the United States gained enormously. Industrial production almost quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile, industrial rivals were devastated or seriously weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of power.

Actually, the policies that were outlined then still hold. You can read them in government pronouncements. But the capacity to implement them has significantly declined. Actually there's a major theme now in foreign policy discussion—you know, journals and so on. The theme is called "American decline." So, for example, in the most prestigious establishment international relations journal, Foreign Affairs, a couple of months ago, there was an issue which had on the front cover in big bold letters, "Is America Over?" question mark. That's announcing the theme of the issue. And there is a standard corollary to this: power is shifting to the west, to China and India, the rising world powers, which are going to be the hegemonic states of the future.

Actually, I think the decline—the decline is quite real, but some serious qualifications are in order. First of all, the corollary is highly unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future. China and India are very poor countries. Just take a look at, say, the human development index of the United Nations: they're way down there. China is around 90th. I think India is around 120th or so, last time I looked. And they have tremendous internal problems—demographic problems, extreme poverty, hopeless inequality, ecological problems. China is a great manufacturing center, but it's actually mostly an assembly plant. So it assembles parts and components, high technology that comes from the surrounding industrial—more advanced industrial centers—Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, the United States, Europe—and it basically assembles them. So, if, say, you buy one of these i-things—you know, an iPad from China—that's called an export from China, but the parts and components and technology come from outside. And the value added in China is minuscule. It's been calculated. They'll move up the technology ladder, but it's a hard climb, India even harder. Well, so I think one should be skeptical about the corollary.

But there's another qualification that's more serious. The decline is real, but it's not new. It's been going on since 1945. In fact, it happened very quickly. In the late 1940s, there's an event that's known here as "the loss of China." China became independent. That's a loss of a huge piece of the grand area of Asia. And it became a major issue in American domestic policy. Who's responsible for the loss of China? A lot of recriminations and so on. Actually, the phrase is kind of interesting. Like, I can't lose your computer, right? Because I don't own it. I can lose my computer. Well, the phrase "loss of China" kind of presupposes a deeply held principle of kind of American elite consciousness: we own the world, and if some piece of it becomes independent, we've lost it. And that's a terrible loss; we've got to do something about it. It's never questioned, which is interesting in itself.

Well, right about the same time, around 1950, concerns developed about the loss of Southeast Asia. That's what led the United States into the Indochina wars, the worst atrocities of the post-war period—partly lost, partly not. A very significant event in modern history was in 1965, when in Indonesia, which was the main concern—that's the country of Southeast Asia with most of the wealth and resources—there was a military coup in Indonesia, Suharto coup. It led to an extraordinary massacre, what the New York Times called a "staggering mass slaughter." It killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants; destroyed the only mass political party; and opened the country up to Western exploitation. Euphoria in the West was so enormous that it couldn't be contained. So, in the New York Times, describing the "staggering mass slaughter," it called it a "gleam of light in Asia." That was the column written by James Reston, the leading liberal thinker in the Times. And the same elsewhere—Europe, Australia. It was a fantastic event.

Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in retrospect, he pointed out that it probably would have been a good idea to end the Vietnam War at that point, to pull out. Contrary to a lot of illusions, the Vietnam War was fought primarily to ensure that an independent Vietnam would not develop successfully and become a model for other countries in the region. It would not—to borrow Henry Kissinger's terminology speaking about Chile, we have to prevent what they called the—what he called the "virus" of independent development from spreading contagion elsewhere. That's a critical part of American foreign policy since the Second World War—Britain, France, others to a lesser degree. And by 1965, that was over. Vietnam was—South Vietnam was virtually destroyed. Word spread to the rest of Indochina it wasn't going to be a model for anyone, and the contagion was contained. There were—the Suharto regime made sure that Indonesia wouldn't be infected. And pretty soon the U.S. had dictatorships in every country of the region—Marcos on the Philippines, a dictatorship in Thailand, Chun in South—Park in South Korea. It was no problem about the infection. So that would have been a good time to end the Vietnam War, he felt. Well, that's Southeast Asia.

But the decline continues. In the last 10 years, there's been a very important event: the loss of South America. For the first time in 500 years, the South—since the conquistadors, the South American countries have begun to move towards independence and a degree of integration. The typical structure of one of the South American countries was a tiny, very rich, Westernized elite, often white, or mostly white, and a huge mass of horrible poverty, countries separated from one another, oriented to—each oriented towards its—you know, either Europe or, more recently, the United States. Last 10 years, that's been overcome, significantly—beginning to integrate, the prerequisite for independence, even beginning to face some of their horrendous internal problems. Now that's the loss of South America. One sign is that the United States has been driven out of every single military base in South America. We're trying to restore a few, but right now there are none.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. Coming up, he discusses global warming, nuclear war and the Arab Spring, in a minute. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: We're on the road in Portland, Oregon, part of our 100-city tour. Today, though, we're spending the hour with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. As Election Day comes closer, Chomsky examines topics largely ignored or glossed over during the presidential campaign, including the threat posed to U.S. power by the Arab Spring.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, moving on to just last year, the Arab Spring is another such threat. It threatens to take that big region out of the grand area. That's a lot more significant than Southeast Asia or South America. You go back to the 1940s, the State Department recognized that the energy resources of the Middle East are what they called "one of the greatest material prizes in world history," a spectacular source of strategic power; if we can control Middle East energy, we can control the world.

Take a look at the U.S-British coup in Iran in 1953. Very important event. Its shadows cast over the world until today. Now that was—it was a pretense that it was a part of the Cold War; it had nothing to do with the Cold War. What it had to do with was the usual fear: independent nationalism. And it wasn't even concerned with access to oil or profits. It was concerned with control, control of the oil resources of Iran and, in fact, of the region. And that's a theme that runs right through policy decisions. It's not discussed much, but it's very important to have control, exactly as State Department pointed out—advisers pointed out in the '40s. If you can control the oil, you can control most of the world. And that goes on.

So far, the threat of the Arab Spring has been pretty well contained. In the oil dictatorships, which are the most important ones for the West, every effort to join the Arab Spring has just been crushed by force. Saudi Arabia was so extreme that when there was an effort to go out into the streets, the security presence was so enormous that people were even afraid to go out. There's a little discussion of what goes on in Bahrain, where it's been crushed, but eastern Saudi Arabia was much worse. The emirates totally control. So that's OK. We managed to ensure that the threat of democracy would be smashed in the most important places.

Egypt is an interesting case. It's an important country, not an oil producer—it is a small one. But in Egypt, the United States followed a standard operating procedure. If any of you are going into the diplomatic service, you might as well learn it. There's a standard procedure when one of your favorite dictators gets into trouble. First, you support him as long as possible. But if it becomes really impossible—say, the army turns against him—then you send him out to pasture and get the intellectual class to issue ringing declarations about your love of democracy, and then try to restore the old system as much as possible. There's case after case of that—Somoza in Nicaragua, Duvalier in Haiti, Marcos in the Philippines, Chun in South Korea, Mobutu in the Congo, over and over. I mean, it takes genius not to see it. And it's exactly what was done in Egypt and what France tried to do, not quite with as much success, in Tunisia.

Well, the future is uncertain, but the threat of democracy so far is contained. And it's a real threat. I'll return to that. It's also to—important to recognize that the decline over the past 50 years is, to a significant extent, self-inflicted, particularly since the '70s. I'll go back to that, too. But first let me say a couple of things about the issues that are most important today and that are being ignored or not dealt seriously—dealt with seriously in the electoral campaigns, for good reasons. So let me start with the most important issues. Now there are two of these. They're of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species depends on them. One is environmental disaster, and the other is nuclear war.

I'm not going to take much time reviewing the threats of environmental disaster. Actually, they're on the front pages almost daily. So, for example, last week the New York Times had a front-page story with the headline, "Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings." The melting this summer was far faster than was predicted by the sophisticated computer models and the most recent United Nations report. It's now predicted that the summer ice might be gone by 2020. It was assumed before that it may be 2050. They quoted scientists who said this is "a prime example of the built-in conservatism of [our] climate forecasts. As dire [the warnings are] about the long-term consequences of heat-trapping emissions ... many of [us] fear [that] they may still be underestimating the speed and severity of the impending changes." Actually, there's a climate change study program at MIT, where I am. They've been warning about this for years, and repeatedly have been proven right.

The Times report discusses, briefly, the severe attack—the severe impact of all of this on the global climate, and it adds, "But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions. To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil." That is, to accelerate the catastrophe. It's quite interesting. It demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain, or perhaps an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see impending peril—these things you sometimes find with young infants: something looks dangerous, close my eyes and won't look at it.

Well, there is another possibility. I mean, maybe humans are somehow trying to fulfill a prediction of great American biologist who died recently, Ernst Mayr. He argued years ago that intelligence seems to be a lethal mutation. He—and he had some pretty good evidence. There's a notion of biological success, which is how many of you are there around. You know, that's biological success. And he pointed out that if you look at the tens of billions of species in human—in world history, the ones that are very successful are the ones that mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or the ones that have a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. They seem to make out fine. But as you move up the scale of what we call intelligence, success declines steadily. When you get up to mammals, it's very low. There are very few of them around. I mean, there's a lot of cows; it's only because we domesticate them. When you get to humans, it's the same. 'Til very recently, much too recent a time to show up in any evolutionary accounting, humans were very scattered. There were plenty of other hominids, but they disappeared, probably because humans exterminated them, but nobody knows for sure. Anyhow, maybe we're trying to show that humans just fit into the general pattern. We can exterminate ourselves, too, the rest of the world with us, and we're hell bent on it right now.

Well, let's turn to the elections. Both political parties demand that we make the problem worse. In 2008, both party platforms devoted some space to how the government should address climate change. Today, the—in the Republican platform, the issue has essentially disappeared. But the platform does demand that Congress take quick action to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. So let's make sure to make it worse. And it also demands that we open the Alaska's Arctic Refuge to drilling—I'm quoting now—in order to take "advantage of all of our American God-given resources." You can't disobey God, after all. On environmental policy, the program says, "We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research." All that's a code word for climate science: stop funding climate science. Romney himself says there's no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation within the scientific community, but no action, except to act to make the problems worse.

Well, what about the Democrats? They concede that there's a problem and advocate that we should work toward an agreement to set emissions limits in unison with other emerging powers. But that's it. No action. And, in fact, as Obama has emphasized, we have to work hard to gain what he calls a hundred years of energy independence by exploiting domestic or Canadian resources by fracking or other elaborate technologies. Doesn't ask what the world would look like in a hundred years. So, there are differences. The differences are basically about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march towards the cliff.

Let's turn to the second major issue: nuclear war. That's also on the front pages daily, but in a way that would seem outlandish to some independent observer viewing what's going on on earth, and in fact does seem outlandish to a considerable majority of the countries of the world. Now, the current threat, not for the first time, is in the Middle East, focusing on Iran. The general picture in the West is very clear: it's far too dangerous to allow Iran to reach what's called "nuclear capability." That is, the capability enjoyed by many powers, dozens of them, to produce nuclear weapons if they decide to do so. As to whether they've decided, U.S. intelligence says it doesn't know. The International Atomic Energy Agency just produced its most recent report a couple weeks ago, and it concludes—I'll quote it: it cannot demonstrate "the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." Now, that is, it can't demonstrate something which cannot—a condition that can't be satisfied. There's no way to demonstrate the absence of the work—that's convenient—therefore Iran must be denied the right to enrich uranium, that's guaranteed to every power that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Well, that's the picture in the West. That's not the picture in the rest of the world. As you know, I'm sure, there was just a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement—that's large majority of the countries in the world and representing most of the world's population—a meeting in Tehran. And once again, not for the first time, they issued a ringing declaration of support for Iran's right to enrich uranium, right that every country has that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pretty much the same is true in the Arab world. It's interesting. I'll return to that in a moment.

There is a basic reason for the concern. It was expressed succinctly by General Lee Butler. He's the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. He wrote that "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East," one nation should arm itself with nuclear weapons, which may inspire other nations to do so. General Butler, however, was not referring to Iran; he was referring to Israel, the country that ranks highest in European polls as the most dangerous country in the world—right above Iran—and, not incidentally, in the Arab world, where the public regard the United States as the second most dangerous country, right after Israel. In the Arab world, Iran, though disliked, ranks far lower as a threat—among the populations, that is, not the dictatorships.

With regard to Iranian nuclear weapons, nobody wants them to have them, but in many polls, majorities, sometimes considerable majorities, have said that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons, to balance those of their major threats. Now, there's a lot of commentary in the Western media, in journals, about Arab attitudes towards Iran. And what you read, commonly, is that the Arabs want decisive action against Iran, which is true of the dictators. It's not true of the populations. But who cares about the populations, what are called, disparagingly, the Arab street? We don't care about them. Now that's a reflection of the extremely deep contempt for democracy among Western elites—I mean, so deep that it can't be perceived. You know, it's just kind of like reflexive. The study of popular attitudes in the Arab world—and there is very extensive study by Western polling agencies—it reveals very quickly why the U.S. and its allies are so concerned about the threat of democracy and are doing what they can to prevent it. Just take—they certainly don't want attitudes like those I just indicated to become policy, while of course issuing rousing statements about our passionate dedication to democracy. Those are relayed obediently by reporters and commentators.

Well, unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections at all, refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has hundreds of nuclear weapons, has advanced delivery systems. Also, it has a long record of violence and repression. It has annexed and settled conquered territories illegally, in violation of Security Council orders, and many acts of aggression—five times against Lebanon alone, no credible pretext. In the New York Times yesterday, you can read that the Golan Heights are disputed territory, the Syrian Golan Heights. There is a U.N. Security Council resolution, 497, which is unanimous, declaring Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights illegal and demanding that it be rescinded. And in fact, it's disputed only in Israel and in the New York Times, which in fact is reflecting actual U.S. policy, not formal U.S. policy.

Iran has a record of aggression. too. In the last several hundred years, it has invaded and conquered a couple of Arab islands. Now that was under the Shah, U.S.-imposed dictator with U.S. support. That's actually the only case in several hundred years.

Meanwhile, the severe threats of attack continue—you've just been hearing them at the U.N.—from the United States, but particularly Israel. Now there is a reaction to this at the highest level in the United States. Leon Panetta, secretary of defense, he said that we don't want to attack Iran, we hope that Israel won't attack Iran, but Israel is a sovereign country, and they have to make their own decisions about what they'll do. You might ask what the reaction would be if you reverse the cast of characters. And those of you who have antiquarian interests might remember that there's a document called the United Nations Charter, the foundation of modern international law, which bars the threat or use of force in international affairs. Now, there are two rogue states—United States and Israel—for whom—which regard the Charter and international law as just a boring irrelevance, so, do what they like. And that's accepted.

Well, these are not just words; there is an ongoing war, includes terrorism, assassination of nuclear scientists, includes economic war. U.S. threats—not international ones—U.S. threats have cut Iran out of the international financial system. Western military analysts identify what they call "weapons of finance" as acts of war that justify violent response—when they're directed against us, that is. Cutting Iran out of global financial markets is different.

The United States is openly carrying out extensive cyber war against Iran. That's praised. The Pentagon regards cyber war as an equivalent to an armed attack, which justifies military response, but that's of course when it's directed against us. The leading liberal figure in the State Department, Harold Koh—he's the top State Department legal adviser—he says that cyber war is an act of war if it results in significant destruction—like the attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities. And such acts, he says, justify force in self-defense. But, of course, he means only attacks against the United States or its clients.

Well, Israel's lethal armory, which is enormous, includes advanced submarines, recently provided by Germany. These are capable of carrying Israel's nuclear-tipped missiles, and these are sure to be deployed in the Persian Gulf or nearby if Israel proceeds with its plans to bomb Iran or, more likely, I suspect, to try to set up conditions in which the United States will do so. And the United States, of course, has a vast array of nuclear weapons all over the world, but surrounding the region, from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, including enough firepower in the Persian Gulf to destroy most of the world.

Another story that's in the news right now is the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in Osirak, which is suggested as a model for Israeli bombing of Iran. It's rarely mentioned, however, that the bombing of the Osirak reactor didn't end Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. It initiated it. There was no program before it. And the Osirak reactor was not capable of producing uranium for nuclear weapons. But, of course, after the bombings, Saddam immediately turned to developing a nuclear weapons program. And if Iran is bombed, it's almost certain to proceed just as Saddam Hussein did after the Osirak bombing.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor and author, Noam Chomsky, continues in a moment. If you'd like a copy of today's show, you can go to our website at Professor Chomsky will next look at nuclear weapons race, as this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, often referred to as "the most dangerous moment in human history." Back in a moment. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We're on a 100-city tour, today in Portland, Oregon. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our hour today with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky. His recent talk entitled "Who Owns the World?"

NOAM CHOMSKY: In a few weeks, we'll be commemorating the 50th anniversary of "the most dangerous moment in human history." Now, those are the words of historian, Kennedy adviser, Arthur Schlesinger. He was referring, of course, to the October 1962 missile crisis, "the most dangerous moment in human history." Others agree. Now, at that time, Kennedy raised the nuclear alert to the second-highest level, just short of launching weapons. He authorized NATO aircraft, with Turkish or other pilots, to take off, fly to Moscow and drop bombs, setting off a likely nuclear conflagration.

At the peak of the missile crisis, Kennedy estimated the probability of nuclear war at perhaps 50 percent. It's a war that would destroy the Northern Hemisphere, President Eisenhower had warned. And facing that risk, Kennedy refused to agree publicly to an offer by Kruschev to end the crisis by simultaneous withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. These were obsolete missiles. They were already being replaced by invulnerable Polaris submarines. But it was felt necessary to firmly establish the principle that Russia has no right to have any offensive weapons anywhere beyond the borders of the U.S.S.R., even to defend an ally against U.S. attack. That's now recognized to be the prime reason for deploying missiles there, and actually a plausible one. Meanwhile, the United States must retain the right to have them all over the world, targeting Russia or China or any other enemy. In fact, in 1962, the United—we just recently learned, the United States had just secretly deployed nuclear missiles to Okinawa aimed at China. That was a moment of elevated regional tensions. All of that is very consistent with grand area conceptions, the ones I mentioned that were developed by Roosevelt's planners.

Well, fortunately, in 1962, Kruschev backed down. But the world can't be assured of such sanity forever. And particularly threatening, in my view, is that intellectual opinion, and even scholarship, hail Kennedy's behavior as his finest hour. My own view is it's one of the worst moments in history. Inability to face the truth about ourselves is all too common a feature of the intellectual culture, also personal life, has ominous implications.

Well, 10 years later, in 1973, during the Israel-Arab War, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. The purpose was to warn the Russians to keep hands off while he was—so we've recently learned—he was secretly informing Israel that they were authorized to violate the ceasefire that had been imposed jointly by the U.S. and Russia. When Reagan came into office a couple of years later, the United States launched operations probing Russian defenses, flying in to Russia to probe defenses, and simulating air and naval attacks, meanwhile placing Pershing missiles in Germany that had a five-minute flight time to Russian targets. They were providing what the CIA called a "super-sudden first strike" capability. The Russians, not surprisingly, were deeply concerned. Actually, that led to a major war scare in 1983. There have been hundreds of cases when human intervention aborted a first-strike launch just minutes before launch. Now, that's after automated systems gave false alarms. We don't have Russian records, but there's no doubt that their systems are far more accident-prone. Actually, it's a near miracle that nuclear war has been avoided so far.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war several times, and the crises that led to that, especially Kashmir, remain. Both India and Pakistan have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, along with Israel, and both of them have received U.S. support for development of their nuclear weapons programs, actually, until today, in the case of India, which is now a U.S. ally.

War threats in the Middle East, which could become reality very soon, once again escalate the dangers. Well, fortunately, there's a way out of this, a simple way. There's a way to mitigate, maybe end, whatever threat Iran is alleged to pose. Very simple: move towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Now, the opportunity is coming again this December. There's an international conference scheduled to deal with this proposal. It has overwhelming international support, including, incidentally, a majority of the population in Israel. That's fortunately. Unfortunately, it's blocked by the United States and Israel. A couple of days ago, Israel announced that it's not going to participate, and it won't consider the matter until there's a general regional peace. Obama takes the same stand. He also insists that any agreement must exclude Israel and even must exclude calls for other nations—meaning the U.S.—to provide information about Israeli nuclear activities.

The United States and Israel can delay regional peace indefinitely. They've been doing that for 35 years on Israel-Palestine, virtual international isolation. It's a long, important story that I don't have time to go into here. So, therefore, there's no hope for an easy way to end what the West regards as the most severe current crisis—no way unless there's large-scale public pressure. But there can't be large-scale public pressure unless people at least know about it. And the media have done a stellar job in averting that danger: nothing reported about the conference or about any of the background, no discussion, apart from specialist arms control journals where you can read about it. So, that blocks the easy way to end the worst existing crisis, unless people somehow find a way to break through this.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky spoke on September 27th of this year at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His talk was entitled "Who Owns the World?" If you'd like to get a copy of today's broadcast, you can go to our website at And I'll be speaking along with Professor Chomsky and Juan Cole of the University of Michigan in Princeton, New Jersey, on November 11th at 1:30. You can go to our website at for details. your social media marketing partner


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+36 # cordleycoit 2012-10-28 16:14
The boot is already on our throat. Our rights have been compromised our freedom of press limited and our free movement is challenged at every airport. Chomsky is now viewing the past as present. We have little access to the MSM which has a Byzantine labyrinth to gain access to audience.Occupy was diverted a little too easily from solving the problem around the banker take over of our wealth. Homelessness was not on the Democratic Parties issue list and the theft of trillions was simply ignored with the help of the Main Stream Media. It was the same in Northern Ireland where only the violence was played against the people.
As the government pushes the opposition by silencing protest they make violent measures attractive and violence only makes solutions impossible.
+19 # Erdajean 2012-10-28 20:57
So much truth, Cordley. The greatness of America lay in the hearts and goodness of individual Americans -- who once upon a time kept close tabs on what our leadership was doing through media with powerful ethics -- and profound respect for the people's right to know.

But once Money became the ONLY value, all that was worth working or living for, once greed began robbing our education system and our children learned no history, or geography, and not even English -- much less other languages -- our sense of "superiority" fed on ignorance like hogs glory in a corn crib. The less we knew about the world across the mountain, or the sea, the bigger our heads grew and the more we began to lord it over everybody else.
Just like the Romans did, I bet, while Nero played his fiddle - or whatever. One suspects by the dawn of the NEXT millennium, not even archaeologists will care a whole lot about the moldy ruins of
our great soulless capitalist adventure.
+3 # natalierosen 2012-10-28 18:41
The omnipresent question I have assuming Prof. Chomsky is correct and I think he is what does he think the world would look like IF those powers the US says are a threat were the ones who in fact ultimately gained hegemony. Would they usher in peace and security or try to conquer the world or gain as much of the goodies in it they could.

Where would you rather live?
+9 # reiverpacific 2012-10-29 09:35
Quoting natalierosen:
The omnipresent question I have assuming Prof. Chomsky is correct and I think he is what does he think the world would look like IF those powers the US says are a threat were the ones who in fact ultimately gained hegemony. Would they usher in peace and security or try to conquer the world or gain as much of the goodies in it they could.
Where would you rather live?

Your point is moot as the US has pushed "Free Trade" in it's various manifestations in an attempt to avoid just this eventuality. But fortunately there are many nations who have pulled away from this devious tool of the global-dominati ng, power-seeking imperialists who run the US and I look forward to (especially) the more progressive South and Central American nations forming a bloc to resist it and the Southern Pacific and others countries that never bought into it in the first place.
Where would I rather live? -And I'm only addressing countries I've actually lived in or visited (or that I'm from). The reasons why should be manifestly apparent, starting with the US's medievalist and evil for-profit medical non-system and march to totalitarian corporatism.
Most of Europe (I'm goin' back within five years, sooner if twit is selected), New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Venezuela, some parts of Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and a few others.
Where would you rather spend you elder and more physically vulnerable years?
+2 # natalierosen 2012-10-29 17:16
You have a point!
+15 # RMDC 2012-10-28 18:41
The ruling elites in America behave just like the ruling elites in every empire. They really do think they own everything and that the lives of the poor and middle class count for nothing. Usually Chomsky tries to "keep hope alive" by suggesting that organizing among the proletariat can challene the elites. But there is no hope here. He correctly sees that the struggle is lost and the ruling elites have won.

They can't really control or own all that much. What they can do is kill a huge number of people and make billions of people suffer and die prematurely. They can starve a whole continent like Africa. They can release diseases in any continent they wish. They can send mercenaries to commit genocide in places like Libya. The American ruling elites are sociopath. They are an inbred and vicious class. They love only one thing and that is making others suffer. This is what Orwell wrote about in 1984. Most people forget that the headquarters of the society he wrote about is the United States.
0 # natalierosen 2012-10-29 17:18
Not sure if the US wants people to suffer they simply want MONEY and from money power whether it's with suffering or without it matters not!
+13 # 4yourinformation 2012-10-28 18:45
I notice how liberal Democrats ignore Chomsky and even show contempt for him. They have no interest in these matters of imperial domination. They are just as guilty for the crimes of this imperial nation. What hypocrites they are. Might as well be GOP loyalists.
+8 # Billsy 2012-10-29 12:38
Can you provide some supporting evidence that liberal Democrats ignore Chomsky? I believe it's the conservative Dems who more closely resemble that description. Certainly not Barbara Lee or Dennis Kucinich. Admittedly there are few progressive liberals left in the party, but let's not encourage demonization of the word "liberal" please. The republicans have a copyright on that.
+12 # TomThumb 2012-10-28 18:52
It would appear that developing alternate, green, evergy sources would be counter to America's design to maintain world domination. If the US has designed it domination to be partially dependent on the control of oil, the development of alternative energy sources thwarts that. Tommy Rimes
+6 # Vardoz 2012-10-28 19:12
Perhaps thousands standing quietly to display our protest might be very effect toget the message across.
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-10-28 19:51
No we do not,,,Asian world owns with that Nittens
0 # motamanx 2012-10-31 13:00
If Asia owns us it's because Mitt Romney and his ilk sent all the jobs there. His claim that he will provide 12 million new jobs is
+23 # MidwestTom 2012-10-28 20:22
Professor Chomsky is right on. Please note the following two quotes:

“Once we squeeze all we can out of the United States, it can dry up and blow away.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2002.

"Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that... I want to tell you something very clear: Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it." Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001, to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio.

Until we insist that our top government officials be ONLY citizens of the United States, we can expect our military to continue to try to rule the world, no matter how many souldiers lives are lost.
+11 # Vardoz 2012-10-28 20:39
Those who have power over us have demonstrated agaub and again that they do not support true Democracy or value the citizens of the world in general. They want to make sure they have total control like prey that has their victim by it's throat, they will not let go until we are crushed. In their anarchistic fenzy for money and power, they have planted the seeds of their and our destruction. The fate of the world is in the hands of the polluters and robber barons. It is a sad place for humanity to end up when we are a species that has so many gifts.
+13 # futhark 2012-10-28 20:43
Literary side notes: H.G. Wells' science fiction classic "The War of the Worlds" was inspired by a discussion between H.G. and his older brother Frank about how the British colonization of Tasmania must have looked to the now extinct Tasmanian natives. The story has a strong, but not frequently appreciated, sub-text as a commentary on the inequities of colonialism.

Just re-reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Bluebeard", a fictional reminiscence of a World War Two veteran in 1987 about his youth in the 1930s:

"It's hard to believe how sick of war we used to be. We used to boast how small our Army and Navy were, and how little influence our generals and admirals had in Washington. We used to call armaments manufacturers "Merchants of Death"."
+7 # cbb 2012-10-28 21:45
ok. hardball huh? this reader will support this level of news analysis; contribution forthcoming. mit linguist chomsky "just the facts maam" approach attracted me during the '60s vietnam misadventure. he speaks volumes.
+12 # readerz 2012-10-28 21:54
This is a very good article. I felt like I was watching the movie "The Good Shepherd" which is also about policy: to keep a small group in power nationally and globally.

There has been some interesting commentary on some of the major media lately: such as a newspaper bought by a certain Republican's company Bain capital, and then suddenly for the first time a Republican is "endorsed." But I see many issues that have not been addressed by either Party: mostly the less conservative Party is scared to really put out the agenda it wants to. I think it is because we do not have democratic elections of one-adult-human -equals-one-vot e; some low-population conservative states have a far greater impact than the other states, and that automatically skews the political will. Also, there is a "good cop, bad cop" game being played by the "two Party system" that won't be broken until we throw away the Electoral College.

Internationally, nobody is the "good cop;" there is far too much population for the resources, and when water dries up, the traditional reaction is war. You don't need nukes, just march several million people over the mountains, or put them in row boats.

As one commenter pointed out, when Republicans come into office, crime and violence goes up, because the Republicans take away both jobs and the safety net. There is always a rise in abortions too under Republicans because of the same reasons.

My favorite slogan this year:
Obama 2012; Romney 1040.
0 # ThePigman 2012-10-28 23:14
You know why America acts like it owns the world? Because for most intents and purposes America does own the world.
+7 # daswolf 2012-10-29 06:19
Once the major press was bought, we "the people" were sold "down the river". That will be near impossible to overcome once they edit the internet. Perfect fascist system.
+6 # handmjones 2012-10-29 06:37
Throughout much of modern history, any rise by the people against whatever group ruled was damned by being called 'Communist'. That will be more difficult because the 'occupy' movement has successfully named us the 99%. It's rather more difficult to damn the 99% and it all started with an obscure anti-consumeris m campaigner in Vancouver which see at:
+5 # handmjones 2012-10-29 07:28
Chomsky's summary of the U.S. actions against Iran are reminiscent of actions against Japan in the four years leading up to Pearl Harbor.
-7 # BostonPundit 2012-10-29 09:19
While there are little grains of truth in what Prof. Chomsky says, most of this is simplistic pablum, even verging on nonsense.
One would have to accept a certain consistency of mindset from President to President, Administration to Administration, and indeed a long-running Anglo-American conspiracy to subscribe to this rubbish.
Heck, we can't even get people to agree on how to deal with our own domestic problems, never mind on some world hegemony.
The fact of the matter is that nation after nation has exercised its power over world affairs to the extent it could. What's the big surprise? Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, French, English, all tried over the centuries. The English were the most effective in the 1600-1960s time frame with the singular exception of "losing" the US. Of course, there was Hitler and then the Soviets and now the Chinese who tried and try to dominate parts of the world.
What's so unusual about what America did?

There's a certain smug elitism about people like Chomsky sitting in a comfortable office in Cambridge, Massachusetts babbling away like this. It's no different from people like Chambers of Cisco, the Apple guys, the GE rambo CEO, Halliburton, Bechtel, and the rest, sitting in their comfy offices and yakking away about free trade and so forth.
India and Pakistan never came close to nuclear war as Chomsky says. All talk. Pakistan would be destroyed as would Iran if they tried it.
+4 # Billsy 2012-10-29 12:43
Can you provide some examples to support your angry rant? At least some from the last two centuries? I see a rather puerile argument that our foreign policy of domineering manifest destiny is ok because others have done it too. Your final comment re: India & Pakistan is a real doozy.
-5 # BostonPundit 2012-10-29 14:10

There is nothing angry about my comment. Hardly a "rant" which more accurately describes Chomsky's diatribe directed at American foreign and economic policy.
Only a careless reader would have viewed my comment as an "argument" much less a puerile one. Hmmm... who's the ANGRY one?
My comment did not judge what others had done, merely mentioned that it happened - history is not an opinion - and 'twas so because they had the power to do it.
Two centuries? Okay, that takes us to 1812.
Seems we had a war then, eh?
Was Hitler an example from within your stated time period?
How about China's grabbing of Tibet? Or Hong Kong and Macau? Argentina - Maggie Thatcher: Malvinas or Falklands?
As for India and Pakistan, your comment bespeaks ignorance of the subcontinent and the conflict. It is true that India and Pakistan have had a fractious and fractured relationship since 1947 when the subcontinent was torn into three segments (one is now Bangladesh). India and Pakistan have had armed conflict.
But to say that they have come close to nuclear war is worse than wrong, it is ignorant.
India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 and Pakistan did not demonstrate nuclear capability (in the sense of an actual test) until 1998. Yes, 1998.
In the 14 years since, there is NO EVIDENCE to support Chomsky's statement.
And yet, people believe anything without checking. He panders to preconceived notions about the flexing of American power.
+2 # motamanx 2012-10-31 13:08
Are you actually DEFENDING American foreign and economic policy? It may not be a rant, but it is quite misguided.
+8 # reiverpacific 2012-10-29 20:45
First off, Chomsky has forgotten more about world affairs than you obviously ever knew, has put his body on the line many times, been jailed, starting with anti war tax-revolts in the 60's and most recently being denied access to LIKUD-Yahoo's Israel where he was due to talk.
Re' India/ Pakistan, you are utterly full of shit: check out (or have you forgotten Mumbai already?). Also the 2001-2002 India-Pakistani standoff over an attack on the Indian Parliament, 13 December 2001, which India attributed to Pakistan-based Muslim terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohamme d (forget the other), prompting 2001–2002 India-Pakistan tensions, bringing war to the "almost imminent" phase.
Y'see, Ghengis Kahn and all the others, even Hitler did not have the means to destroy the Planet, although the latter was seeking it. And your irrelevant example of the Falklands pea-shooter "war" was a desperate political attempt to save Thatcher's sorry booty from her hated domestic policies.
I was in the Punjab on both sides of the border after partition as a youngster and still remember the cauldron-like tensions pre-nuclear age. It could all escalate so easily given the inherent tensions and corruption in both governments.
Your excuses for US arrogance are just that -Punditry!
Incidentally when were YOU last out on the streets?
-5 # BostonPundit 2012-10-30 15:21
Mr. reiverpacific

Your vitriolic tone aside, the point Professor Chomsky made is that India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war several times.
That statement is flat out not true. The examples you cite are press speculation and sensationalizin g about nuclear attacks being imminent.
I remember a very senior Indian military person (or perhaps a Minister) making a comment on this subject during one of these periods of speculation: he essentially said that if Pakistan attacked India with nukes they had limited capability and would be left in ashes.
I did not say that India and Pakistan were not close to war. In fact, I said they had actually fought. I was in India during one of those.
The fact that you were in Punjab doesn't prove that the two countries came close to nuclear war. In 1947 when those events occurred neither India nor Pakistan had nukes. Or have you forgotten what you knew as a kid? Oh, wait, you did say it was pre-nuclear age. So why bring it up? It has nothing to do with the point I made or Chomsky made.
Saying that "it could escalate" is not the subject under discussion.
And, once again, I suggest that you read and comprehend what is being said before blowing off steam. I did not justify US arrogance. I didn't call it that. I merely pointed out that there was nothing special about what America has done in the grand context of history.
Maybe I understand more history than Chomsky ever did. He tends to make up whatever fits.
-5 # BostonPundit 2012-10-30 15:41
Mr. reiverpacific

Out of curiosity, I went and checked that Daily Mail article.
I almost laughed out aloud at how ridiculous your position is if this is your best evidence of how close India and Pakistan came to NUCLEAR WAR. Oh my gosh, the horror and how really, really close it was.
Here's what happened. On Nov 28, 2008, some clown called Pakistani President Zardari and pretending to be the Indian Defense Minister Mukherjee, threatened MILITARY ACTION against Pakistan in retaliation for the Mumbai attacks.
MILITARY ACTION, not nukes were mentioned. Capiche?
Zardari apparently took the call without the usual security checks to verify authenticity. Amazing.
But if Mr. Zardari thought there was an imminent nuclear attack, he sure didn't act like it.
First, he ordered the Pakistani forces to high alert. Seems prudent if one is expecting a military attack and foolish if one is expecting a nuclear attack - the proper response to the latter would be to put the nukes on standby for deployment authorization sequencing.
He then called Condi Rice. Yep, Condi Rice. And said "Waaa... the Injuns are threatening us Aunty. Please help."
So Condi called Mukherjee who must have wet his pants laughing.
End of that tune.
But little reiverpacific thinks that we got o so close.
Grow up, will ya?
+1 # reiverpacific 2012-10-30 19:08
Quoting BostonPundit:
Mr. reiverpacific

End of that tune.
But little reiverpacific thinks that we got o so close.
Grow up, will ya?

How nice of you to respond and show how you miss the overall point.
That "Little" phone call demonstrates how little it would take to instigate a conflict between two of the most corrupt governments in the world and illustrates the shallowness of your perceptive abilities and shows a certain arrogance in summing up from a faux worldly summit of your own fabrication.
I love India and have -and still do- study and have been part of it's many vibrant foods, cultures and multi-level, spiritual and almost ingenious diversities of worldly corruption existing in the same cauldron of teeming humanity (I'm missing it already) but have no illusions about it's place on the destructive peckin' order on the planet.
You certainly seem to have a high opinion of your own punditry but I know an empty can when I rattle it.
I'll just put you down as a humorless, clueless, egotistical pain in the neck and armchair critic of that which you have never known or experienced and move on.
B.T.W. you never answered my question, "When were YOU last out on the streets"?
-4 # BostonPundit 2012-10-30 20:40
Quoting reiverpacific:
[quote name="BostonPundit"]Mr. reiverpacific

B.T.W. you never answered my question, "When were YOU last out on the streets"?

Never with you. I don't go out with the riff raff.
0 # reiverpacific 2012-10-31 09:45
Quoting BostonPundit:
Quoting reiverpacific:
[quote name="BostonPundit"]Mr. reiverpacific

B.T.W. you never answered my question, "When were YOU last out on the streets"?

Never with you. I don't go out with the riff raff.

Still no answer; I suspect it would be "Never", as opposed to Chomsky, Amy Goodman and myself which is many-many times.
And I'm proud to be a member of the "Riff-raff".
As quo my national bard Robert Burns
"The honest man tho' ere sae poor,
is King o' men for a' that".
But I suppose you'd disregard and disrespect him too.
I'm done with this except to say that in any team sent out to the Olympics to Bore for America, you'd have to be a strong candidate for captain.
-2 # brux 2012-10-30 08:50
Hey Amy, I saw your talk in Palo Alto the other night. It was very inspiring. Thanks!

Having read and watched so many Noam Chomsky lectures or documentaries this is his stereotypical lecture. I find his lectures to be smart, fact-filled, informative, but hardly anything that can lead to solutions or actions or how we in America in contemporary times can do anything to make the arc of history or social/politica l reality any different from what it is or always has been.
-1 # brux 2012-10-30 08:59
Chomsky is just plain wrong about China ... the designs for new iPads and devices like this ARE being done in China, and the rest of the East.

For God's sake, this is a brilliant man and I don't want to attack him, but he may well be not be capable of seeing just how fast things are changing.

For 30 or so year education has been de-emphasized in the US, most starkly in California where education through college used to be practically free, and is not expensive, sold at a profit to foreigners, and at an all time decline - except to the very rich of the very smart who have been noticed and vetted within our country.

Meanwhile, in Asia, our textbooks, maybe some of Chomsky's are stolen, copied and given away from free, because they know the power of education.

in South Korea in the last 20 year they have gone from a military dictatorship to a democracy, the average income has gone up something like 8 times, and they have things we do not have here in America - ie. universal health care.

Americans are just stupid, and they do not want to work or learn.

If we were smart we would do what we need to do to turn thes things around, but Liberty and Freedom are used as the reasons not to. We think it is freedom to be Free To Choose to kill ourselves smoking and eating junk food.

Why do we not ever hear passion and call for action from Mr, Noam Chomsky?

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