19 December 2007

Afghanistan: "A major war crime"

By Tapani Lausti

Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World. Interviews with David Barsamian. Penguin Books 2007.

The pro-Washington elite in Finland is trying hard to resist the sinking of the US's reputation in the eyes of the Finns. They warn against "anti-American fundamentalism", the media is accused of "populist negativeness about the US", the US is being "demonised", people succumb to "political clowning" in their attitudes towards the US, people oppose Finnish NATO membership "only because they are critical of the US", etc.

At the same time, pro-Washington sentiments are played down and pro-NATO opinions emphasised, the supposition being that NATO has become more European and is no longer in the US's pocket. The idea is to distance Finnish elite opinion from the disaster in Iraq and blame George W. Bush for "mistakes". It is also emphasised that NATO consists of countries which are like-minded with Finland. The country's security is seen as closely connected with the Western camp. Non-alignment is a thing of the past.

The fact that the US and NATO are occupying or harassing Muslim countries and provoking anti-West hatred in large parts of the world hardly enters the debate. Finland has about one hundred soldiers in Afghanistan in a non-combat role. The conservative foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva has used colonial language about not allowing people to misbehave in Afghanistan. "We have to take on our international responsibility like other civilised nations in Europe", he said. Other conservative politicians, who are not known to worry about the plight of women in developing countries, have also found a sudden interest in Afghan women's rights.

Yet, the uncomfortable fact for the pro-Washington elite is that people in the real world believe that the US is the greatest risk to world peace, far ahead of Iran or anyone else, as Noam Chomsky points out in this new collection of interviews.

And as for Afghanistan, where Finnish politicians now want to show to which camp they belong, Chomsky says that the war "itself was a major war crime". It was widely assumed that the September 11 terrorists came from Afghanistan. However, eight months after the bombing of Afghanistan began, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, said that the idea may have been hatched in Afghanistan, but it was probably implemented in the Gulf Emirates and in Germany.

Chomsky concludes: "The bombing was not undertaken to get rid of the Taliban. This was an after-thought added three weeks later. The bombing was undertaken with very explicit threat: you turn over to us Osama bin Laden or else we'll bomb you. No evidence, no request for extradition. In fact, the Taliban made some gestures — we don't know whether they were serious or not because they were rejected — to hand bin Laden over in an appropriate way, if evidence was given, maybe to a third country. That was just blocked. We're going to bomb." (p. 87)

And as is the norm, the US government was not interested in what the Afghans thought about being bombed. Chomsky says that many anti-Taliban Afghans bitterly opposed the bombing. The US favourite Abdul Haq said that the Americans were undermining the efforts to overthrow the Taliban from within. (pp. 87-88)

And what did the bombing and occupation achieve? Chomsky says (in December 2006): "What's happening in the country now is extremely ugly. It's back in the hands of warlords, the kind of people who terrorized the country so badly that the Taliban were welcomed. It's a major horror. The country is back to living off opium production. However rotten the Taliban were, they stopped that. Nobody wants the Taliban back, but what's happening there is awful." (p. 88)

Chomsky does agree that George W. Bush has taken US foreign policy to new extremes. He points out that even a large part of the American press, which most often has a docile attitude to the powers that be, is not sycophantic towards Bush: "They're pretty bitter, to an extent that's very unusual with regard to a president. That's been true, incidentally, right through the Bush years. He has been under unprecedented attack from the midst of the establishment because the positions of the Bush administration are so far to the extreme of the very narrow spectrum that they are considered harmful to mainstream interests." (p. 117)

David Barsamian interjects that "most of the media are echo chambers for the war in Iraq".

Chomsky admits that that is true on Iraq, "but the point is that there was unprecedented establishment critique. You didn't find that in the past. Those are changes. I don't say it's wonderful. When the media had to go along, they went along. So if you watched BBC or CNN when the war started, it was like cheerleading and continued that way. But not like it was in the past. Change comes slowly, but it's there." (p. 118)

The powerful propaganda system, however, is still there. Chomsky says: "The proper way for a propaganda system to work is to insinuate the party line as a presupposition — so you don't even discuss it, you just accept it — and then to allow, in fact encourage, vigorous debate on the basis of that presupposition. That's just what's happening."

Chomsky goes on to say that the presupposition is that the United States owns the world. This has led to the bizarre debate whether Iran is interfering in Iraq: "Only if you accept the assumption that the United States rules the world by right can you then ask whether someone else is interfering in a country that we invaded and occupied." (pp. 168-169)

I suspect that for the pro-Washington elite in Finland this type of analysis is incomprehensible.


Visit the archive: Noam Chomsky, Afghanistan, US policies, The Gulf


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