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Military intervention in Libya is a serious mistake, says Noam Chomsky

The US, the UK, and France – the three countries who have done more historical damage to the Arab world than any others – have formed a de facto tripartite military coalition to intervene in the ongoing Libyan civil war.  In an interview with the Irish Times Professor Noam Chomsky outlines the dangers of supporting such a strategy.

Strikes will ‘antagonise’ many in Arab world, says Chomsky

Noam Chomsky wrote about the Spanish Civil War at the age of 10 for his school newspaper, was briefly jailed with Norman Mailer in 1967 for an anti-Vietnam protest at the Pentagon, and last May was detained by the Israelis when he tried to enter the West Bank via Jordan.

A world-renowned scholar and retired professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he remains, at age 82, a robust political activist and a stinging critic of US foreign policy.

Chomsky warns that direct military intervention in Libya will turn out to be a serious mistake.

“When the United States, Britain and France opt for military intervention, we have to bear in mind that these countries are hated in the region for very good reasons. The rich and powerful can say history is bunk but victims don’t have that luxury,” he says.

“Threatening moves, I’m sure, evoke all sorts of terrible thoughts and memories in the region Ð and many people across Africa and the Arab world will be seriously antagonised by military intervention.”

Chomsky adds that in Egypt public opinion polls have shown about 90 per cent of the population thinks the US is the worst threat they face.

He stresses that Libya is a humanitarian problem. “It is also a civil war and intervening in a civil war is a complicated business,” he says. “We may not like it, but there is support for Gadafy.”

On the subject of Palestine, recent events in North Africa do not bode well if a reported request by the Israeli government for $20 billion from the US Ð as a force for stability in the region Ð is anything to go by.

“This would, predictably, be used to establish more firmly Israel’s control over what is left of Palestine and maintain Israel’s capacity to carry out aggressive actions. It doesn’t mean that Israel will succeed in obtaining these funds from the US but the intent is clear,” says Chomsky.

He envisages a repositioning of US power across North Africa, especially in Egypt.

He believes the Wall Street Journal accurately observed that the West Ð the US in particular Ð now has a problem.

“It hasn’t yet figured out how to control the new rising elements; the assumption is of course that we have to control them,” he says.

On shifts in western alliances with authoritarian regimes, Chomsky says that in a long series of cases it became impossible for the West to support its favourite dictators.

“At that point there’s a game plan that goes into operation. It’s being followed in the Arab world, basically to send dictators out to pasture when you can’t support them any longer and produce ringing declarations of your love of democracy,” he says.

Saudi Arabia provides an example of the contradiction in western policy, he says.

“Saudi Arabia is the centre of radical Islamism. It has also been the major ally of the United States and Britain, which have tended over the years to support radical Islam in opposition to secular nationalism. Saudi Arabia is a pretty harsh dictatorship. Prior to the recent Day of Rage the government made it clear that it would not be tolerated Ð and it wasn’t.”

Further to this, we have seen Saudi troops dispatched into Bahrain with grim consequences.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and British foreign secretary William Hague met in Geneva on February 28th to promote the case for the prosecution of Gadafy by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“One question is whether that would interfere with a preferable option, namely getting Gadafy out of the country.

“Furthermore, as far as the ICC is concerned, we cannot overlook the fact that for most of the world it is regarded as a symbol of western hypocrisy,” he says.

He wonders why George Bush and Tony Blair were not taken to the ICC for invading Iraq.

“This is the rich and powerful exempting themselves. And that doesn’t mean that the ICC is worthless, but it certainly undermines its claim of integrity,” he says.

On the subject of oil and current events across North Africa and the Middle East, Chomsky says: “The overriding concern for control over oil has dominated British policy for a century and US policy for almost that long. Of course that will remain.”

(Source:  Irish Times, March 21, 2011)


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  1. bellacaledonia says:

    Jon Stewart on Libya: “You can’t simultaneously fire teachers and Tomahawk missiles” http://salon.com/a/sWi4fAA

  2. James Hunter says:

    It would be foolish of me to say I hold a definitive opinion, being that I am not possessed with a large depth of knowledge on all the relevant facts and history of the subject.

    All I can say is that my senses tell me that Britain’s [ ostensibly Cameron and Hague’s ] role carries more than the vaguest whiff of “opportunism” and “hypocrisy” about it. Enough for me to doubt the sagacity or even the honesty of the campaign.

    Time will tell.

  3. Tocasaid says:

    Its good to see this in print. So many ‘progressive’ Scots seem to be for this or silent on it- the SNP support this ConDem war, the Scottish Greens are silent and even Newsnet Scotland which has an opinion on many things neglects to mention this.

    Oppose this war – its hypocritical and a gross waste of money at a time the public services are facing cuts.

  4. David MacGille-Mhuire says:

    They have been after him for a while – just as they were with Saddam. So any “excuse” will do especially if they can give themselves the cover of “liberal, progressive, humanitarian” rhetoric in place of “neo”-imperialistic blood feud.

    Why no intervention in Saudi Arabia if they are so concerned about “democracy”, human rights and oppression?

    Why not Israel given its track record towards the Palestinians and its indigenous Arab population?

    Iran was (and still is ?) a likely candidate post Iraq 2 but they have cannily done a North Korea and tweaked the neo-con, crusader beard for the moment.

    Why not Myanmar/Burma if Aung Syu Ki’s democratic people’s struggle is so worthy of their hagiography and baubles?

    Why not South Africa pre-ANC liberation? Interesting how Mandela is now canonized but Joe Slovo’s contribution to that long, bloody and arduous struggle is now painted out of the historical picture.

    All three paragons of Western “progressive” and “inclusive” “enlightened” “democracies” continue to have domestic as well as overseas blood on their hands conveniently air-brushed out of their on-going constructs and propagandist resumes.

    Like it or not this is a civil war and the Anglo-Franco-American triumvirs are exploiting a UN mandate to further their own geo-political and atavistic ends.

    If they catch Gadhaffi, will they kangaroo court him and botch his hanging to the point of beheading him as they did with Saddam? And will they go onto inflict their template of Afghan-Iraqi “will of the people” – non- native and that of their ethnocentric constituents (Marx’s “aristocracy of [the now gutted] working class) in collusion withe their chauvinistic middling elements and elites – on the Libyan populace also (spearheaded their respective special forces, “diplomats” and spooks)?

    What another bloody shambles.

    1. JH says:

      None of your rambling, pseudointellectual “fight the power” rubbish provides a coherent argument against intervention.In fact, you are very clearly arguing FOR intervention. Saying “why not X,Y,Z” is saying we SHOULD intervene/have intervened in X,Y,Z – unless of course you support the misery that the Saudi/Israeli/Burmese regimes inflict on their people.

      Inaction is not a position that absolves us of moral responsibility, even if you’d like to think otherwise. Of course, if the West ignored Libya, your lot would be screaming “why not Libya?”. Basically, it is a no win situation. However, if in your eyes it is acceptable to stand by and watch a senile dictator bomb his people into oblivion, lest we “destabilise” his sick regime, then it will be hard to reason with you.

      Furthermore, your “botched hanging” slur is hilariously off base. The West didn’t hang Saddam; the Iraqi government did. If you knew even the first thing about it (outside of your in-depth knowledge of RATM’s song lyrics), you’d remember that Western leaders were against the execution.

      Get a grip.

      1. Steven says:

        It’s not a case of ‘if we intervene in Libya, we should have intervened in Saudia Arabia and Israel too’. David is highlighting how ridiculous moral justifications for the intervention such as ‘democracy’ or ‘human rights’ are. Not only do we not intervene but we actively support (and sell arms to) repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, so concern for the Libyan people is shown to be an example of gross hypocrisy. Historically, Britain has supported regimes commiting atrocities far worse than those in Libya (Indonesia, Rwanda, Iraq before we turned against Saddam etc. ). We may forget, but people in countries such as Libya are well aware of the West’s past and present interference in the Middle East and North Africa. The intervention simply bolsters Gaddafi’s support, allowing him to present the war as a familiar struggle against imperialist Western attacks on Libya’s sovereignity. Of course Gaddafi is a brutal dictator, but history shows that we should keep well away from civil wars that the West repeatedly make worse.

  5. Robina says:

    The people who talk about intervention have not even the faintest idea who the libyans are as people, their country their lifestyle, let alone who gadafy is, his history, his life.

    The countries who actually orchestrated the intervention were the Non Democratic League of Arabs: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. Countries made by the West, controlled by them and were activity is strictly curtailed to ensure no gathering let alone a demonstration can take place. For the real footage of pre invasion Libya you need to watch the news sources who have no sides to take: Misrata was a town getting ready for intervention. Aljazeerah started the rhetoric and made the narrative. They were not reporting from the site they were making the news, just like the western media later.
    The propaganda was present throughout the conflict. I mean a child can see the hyperbole. The media and arab mercenary town of Misrata about to be attacked, and the actual town of Sirte being attacked, bomb after bomb. The ‘trying to hard’ to de-humanise and re write the gaddafy narrative with absurd charges. The enforcing democracy by extinguishing all descent.

    Here is a list of actual reasons Gaddafy was attacked:

    His stock piling of gold – forcng gold prices to go up for his grand idea of a new African currency free of the debt dollar – (Tripoli bank had the biggest heist in history – a huge boost to the economy of France, UK, USA and Italy, as gold prices have risen)
    Causing offence at the Arab league conference by calling the arabs lackeys of the West
    His the ‘quran’ only movement, to free people from the desert Islamists. He had to apologise for that but the damage was done.
    Disarming himself to reconcile with the West. He followed the Wests demands to get rid of WMDs, and allowed inspectors to check his installations. They were then able to draw detailed plans to disable the whole of Libya’s infrastructure. (Like disarming a man on trust then shooting him)
    Allowing democratic change which allowed Western media and aljazeera (based in Qatar) to embed themselves, dessiminate and subsequentely set the war narrative.
    Saudia Arabia and others keen to spread the kind of Islamism they have to Libya (this is a trade off as a huge amount of their oil revenue is set aside for Islamism mission – which makes them stronger)
    These were the reasons why intervention was able to take place. This is all evidence based and verifiable. All the rest is war [email protected]@

    The war on terror was and is a complete lie. This intervention was only possible because of the partnership with Islamists.

    Chomsky like a lot of other people of his bearing likes to look at verifiable facts and evidence this is when propaganda fails.

  6. davidbrown says:

    get a grip, there is no evidence that gaddafi massacred anyone. in fact russian satellite photos prove there was no military action taking place when gaddafi was supposed to be bombing his people. it is you who is naive. this entire affair is a set up by the cia to grab libyan oil. it is going to fail like all their other ventures. nato bombing is no better morally than the london blitz. it is disgusting and shows the world the true face of evil. the fact that you endorse it means your morals are in the toilet

  7. davidbrown says:

    get a grip. libya has the highest living standards in africa. free health and education. free water and electricity. women have equal rights. do you seriously think most libyans would swap that for an islamic state, controlled by the colonial scum of france, the uk and america? gaddafi will be back. and the sooner the better. you speak on behalf of people [ the libyans ] who would think you a dope. how about bombing saudi arabia and bahrain next. is that the sound of silence i hear?

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