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 – 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 – as a force for stability in the region – 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 – the US in particular – 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 – 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.”