Review: Power and Terror by Noam Chomsky

NOAM CHOMSKY’S Power and Terror is an attack on the hypocrisy and double standards of US foreign policy. It explains why US imperialism is loathed by so many people; because it interferes in international politics not to assist human rights but simply to help itself.

Power and Terror by Noam Chomsky.

Power and Terror by Noam Chomsky

The world’s most powerful state

Chomsky wrote this book shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks to try to calm some of the hysteria. Chomsky makes his attitude towards terrorism against America clear early on: "Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way – stop participating in it."

Chomsky uses the current situation in the Middle East to support his claim and disregards any idea that a war with Iraq is not about oil.

He criticises Bush, Blair and Clinton for arming Iraq with weapons of mass destruction in the first place and also for supporting Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds.

"[Saddam] carried out the Anfal operation, killing 100,000 Kurds with our support. He was developing weapons of mass destruction at a time when he was really dangerous and we provided him the aid and support to do it. He was a friend and ally and he remained so."

Chomsky describes the real reason for America’s sudden fascination with Saddam’s crimes against humanity as: "Pretty obvious. Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia."

Chomsky says any rebuilding of Iraq has to be democratic if it is to work. "But the majority of the population is Shiite, which means that to the extent that the majority of the population has any voice, it is going to move towards relations with Iran, which is the last thing the US government wants.

"They need something like Saddam, a Sunni-based, military regime that will be able to control the population."

’War on terror’

CHOMSKY’S ARGUMENT is repeated throughout the book. If you’re with the American regime, then you can do what you want. If you are considered to be part of the "war on terror" then no organisation can help you.

The best example that Chomsky gives is the Israel-Palestine crisis. Reagan’s government let Israel invade Lebanon in 1982, killing about 20,000 people.

The US supported the attack and provided the arms, as well as vetoing UN Security Council resolutions trying to stop the invasion. The Israeli state succeeded in its attempts at ethnic cleansing, driving the PLO out of the region.

Chomsky argues that America could be prosecuted under its own terrorist laws. The US government definition of terrorism is: "The threat or use of violence to achieve political, religious, or other ends through intimidation, inducing fear, and so on, directed against civilian populations."

The US has ignored the verdicts of world organisations on several occasions. It attacked Nicaragua in the 1980s using the Contras guerrillas. Chomsky describes this attack as: "every conceivable form of barbarism." It killed approximately 200,000 people.

Nicaragua went to the World Court which condemned the US for "unlawful use of force and violation of treaties." The World Court ordered the US government to stop the killing and to pay reparations.

But the US rejected the World Court judgement so Nicaragua went to the Security Council. The US vetoed it. "The reason is very simple," says Chomsky. "The most powerful state in the world is not going to accept international authority."

He explains that US interventions in other countries are not about democracy and human rights but an attempt to create more profit for US imperialism, even if this means supporting brutal regimes.

Chomsky uses the examples of Columbia and Turkey. He says that the US has given arms to both states to help them crush their own people.

The US supports Turkey because it is and has been: "strategically located to the Soviet Union, the Middle East and so on." The US "will also benefit from Colombian coal fields, dams and hydroelectric power."

Chomsky quotes German philosopher Hegel to explain the US state’s attitude towards human rights: "Mere things – whose lives are of no value." This short book is a good introduction to US imperialism.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales.

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May 2003