12 January 2009 **** Go to Front Page

The Great Soul of Power

By Tapani Lausti

Assaf Kfoury (ed.), Inside Lebanon: Journey to a Shattered Land with Noam and Carol Chomsky. Monthly Review Press 2007.

Having been humiliated for a long time by the necessity to kowtow towards the Soviet Union, the Finnish pro-Washington elite has been in overdrive with their enthusiasm to embrace an American view of the world. The young foreign minister Alexander Stubb declares that he is "pro-American".

Yes, the members of this elite have been complaining about George W. Bush's extremism. But for them the tragedy of Iraq has only been a "mistake". In no way has Bush's disastrous policies dented their admiration of the US elite world view. They are yearning to be an integral part of the "free world". They seem to believe sincerely that the US aims to bring democracy to all corners of the world.

And now, with Barack Obama's approaching presidency, they think that the US has a chance to return to its admirable world leadership role. They are almost completely blind to the destabilising role which the US plays in world politics, not to speak of the crimes against humanity during the supposed golden era of US "moral leadership".

All this makes one ask from where do these people get their confidence about the positive US role in world politics. Noam Chomsky's analyses may give a clue. The Edward Said Memorial Lecture which Chomsky delivered at the American University of Beirut in May 2006 was titled "The Great Soul of Power" and is included in this book edited by Assaf Kfoury.

In this lecture Chomsky observes how leading Western intellectuals believed that the US foreign policy at the end of the 20th century had entered a "noble phase" with a "saintly glow". At last the "enlightened states" would undertake their "responsibility to protect" the suffering everywhere, led by the "idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity".

Chomsky comments: "That is a small sample from the left-liberal end of the deluge, and a deluge it was. The illustrations offered collapse under the slightest examination, and while the chorus of self-adulation was resounding, the idealistic New World and its European allies were conducting some of the most horrendous atrocities of those ugly years. But none of that matters in a well-disciplined intellectual culture, and those who dare sully the record with boring facts can quickly be dismissed as 'anti-Americans,' if not worse, as Edward Said knew well." (p. 40-41)

In those years, the "noble politics" were implemented in the Balkans. The record has been totally falsified and then trustingly copied to the pages and channels of the media in most Western countries, Finland included. Most journalists seem to be unaware that the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo "was the consequence of NATO bombing, not its cause, and furthermore its anticipated consequence." Chomsky also quotes a high official of the Bill Clinton administration, according to whom "it was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform — not the plight of Kosovar Albanians — that best explains NATO's war." (p. 41)

In Finland any possibility to discuss the real recent history of the Balkans collapsed when the ex-president Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The country went into a frenzy of naive self-congratulation with hardly anyone daring to suggest that Ahtisaari in fact acted as an American stooge in promoting Kosovo's independence. Only the independent-minded ex-foreign minister Keijo Korhonen labelled Ahtisaari's award as a War Prize.

The Middle East is another area where analysis is hampered by allegiance to the "Great Soul of Power", as recent events in Gaza have once again revealed. Israel being a close ally of the US, by definition it has to be given the benefit of the doubt, no matter how serious its crimes. "Israel has the right to defend itself", goes the mantra. If only the Palestinians were lucky enough to have similar right.

In a televised interview in the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation in May 2006 Chomsky commented on many aspects of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Kfoury's book includes a transcript of the interview.

This is what Chomsky said about Hamas: "Personally, I am opposed to Hamas's policies in almost every respect. However, we should recognize that the policies of Hamas are more forthcoming and more conducive to a peaceful settlement than those of the United States and Israel." Later Chomsky added: "Hamas is willing to accept the pre-1967 border 'with minor and mutual modifications' — that is the official phrase — as a basis for long-term truce, while the United States and Israel are unwilling to even consider it." (pp. 60-61)

So, in the topsy-turvy world of the imperial states, the United States and Europe, it is impossible to acknowledge that the Hamas position is closer to international consensus on a peaceful settlement than the more extreme position of the US and Israel. Chomsky concludes: "Framing the issue in the way it has been done is a reflection of the power of the Western nations. They are able to impose their framework of discussion, and this is not something we should accept." (p. 61)

In Finland the pro-US elite and their media fellow-travellers are unable to understand the true nature of the war in Afghanistan. (Finland has a hundred soldiers in Afghanistan, supposedly in a "peace-keeping" role. More soldiers might be sent soon.) It is hardly known in Finland that the invasion of Afghanistan was undertaken against enormous public opposition throughout the world.

Chomsky said in the television interview: "... the cause of the war was the refusal of the Afghan government to turn over to the United States persons whom the United States suspected of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Three weeks later, the purpose of the war was changed to bombing the people of Afghanistan until they overthrow their government. This is a textbook example of international terrorism on a vast scale. I should also mention that the bombing was strongly opposed by the leading Afghan rivals of the Taliban, including the groups favored by the United States." (p. 64)

Kfoury's book includes many interesting articles by Chomsky and other writers. A good summary of Chomsky's attitudes can be found in an article which was first published in Arabic in a Beirut-based journal al-Adab. The title was "On the U.S.-Israeli Invasion of Lebanon". The article concludes with these remarks: "We should not overlook the progress that has been made in undermining the imperial mentality that is so deeply rooted in Western moral and intellectual culture as to be beyond awareness. Nor should we forget the scale of what remains to be achieved, tasks that must be undertaken in solidarity and cooperation by people in the global North and South who hope to see a more decent and civilized world." (p. 107)

Visit the archive: Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Middle East, The Gulf, Robert Fisk, Moshe Machover


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