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Looking beyond war and globalisation

Excerpts of the address by world-renowned scholar-activist Noam Chomsky, Professor of Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, made on February 1st to the massive gathering of tens of thousands of global justice activists meeting in Porto Allegre, Brazil, for the World Social Forum 2003 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

The desperate urgency about moving rapidly against Iraq that Bush expressed in October was not evident from anything he said two months before.

We are meeting at a moment of world history that is in many ways unique - a moment that is ominous, but also full of hope.

The most powerful state in history has proclaimed, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force, the dimension in which it reigns supreme. Apart from the conventional bow to noble intentions that is the standard (hence meaningless) accompaniment of coercion, its leaders are committed to pursuit of their imperial ambition, as it is frankly described in the leading journal of the foreign policy establishment critically, an important matter. They have also declared that they will tolerate no competitors, now or in the future.

The doctrine is not entirely new, nor unique to the US, but it has never before been proclaimed with such brazen arrogance - at least not by anyone we would care to remember.

At the WSF, the range of issues and problems under intense discussion is very broad, remarkably so, but I think we can identify two main themes. One is global justice and Life after Capitalism or to put it more simply, Life, because it is not so clear that the human species can survive very long under existing state capitalist institutions. The second theme is related: war and peace, and more specifically, the war in Iraq that Washington and London are desperately seeking to carry out, virtually alone.

good news

Let's start with some good news about these basic themes. As you know, there is also a conference of the World Economic Forum going on right now, in Davos. Here in Porto Alegre, the mood is hopeful, vigorous, exciting. In Davos, the New York Times tells us, "the mood has darkened." For the "movers and shakers," it is not "global party time" any more. In fact, the founder of the Forum has conceded defeat: "The power of corporations has completely disappeared," the NYT writer said.

So we have won! There is nothing left for us to do but pick up the pieces - not only to talk about a vision of the future that is just and humane, but to move on to create it. Of course, we should not let the praise go to our heads. There are still a few difficulties ahead.

The main theme of the WEF is " Building Trust." There is a reason for that. The "masters of the universe", as they liked to call themselves in more exuberant days, know that they are in serious trouble.

It gets worse. A few days ago a poll in Canada found that over 1/3 of the population regard the US as the greatest threat to world peace. The US ranks more than twice as high as Iraq or North Korea, and far higher than al-Qaeda as well. A poll without careful controls, by Time magazine, found that over 80% of respondents in Europe regarded the US as the greatest threat to world peace, compared with less than 10% for Iraq or North Korea.

Even if these numbers are wrong by some substantial factor, they are dramatic. Without going on, the corporate leaders who paid $30,000 to attend the sombre meetings in Davos have good reasons to take as their theme: "Building Trust."

The coming war with Iraq is undoubtedly contributing to these interesting and important developments. Opposition to the war is completely without historical precedent. In Europe it is so high that Secretary of " Defense" Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Germany and France as just the " old Europe", plainly of no concern because of their disobedience. The "vast numbers of other countries in Europe [are] with the United States," he assured foreign journalists.

These vast numbers are the " new Europe", symbolized by Italy's Berlusconi, soon to visit the White House, praying that he will be invited to be the third of the " three B's: Bush-Blair-Berlusconi " assuming that he can stay out of jail. Italy is on board, the White House tells us.

New Europe soon identified itself in an open letter in the Wall Street Journal: along with Italy, Spain, Poland and Czechoslovakia. It includes Denmark (with popular opinion on the war about the same as Germany, therefore "Old Europe"), Portugal (53% opposed to war under any circumstances, 96% opposed to war by the US and its allies unilaterally), Britain (40% opposed to war under any circumstances, 90% opposed to war by the US and its allies unilaterally), and Hungary (no figures available). In brief, the exciting "New Europe" consists of some leaders who are willing to defy their populations.


Polls reveal more support for the planned war in the US than elsewhere, but the numbers are misleading. It is important to bear in mind that the US is the only country outside Iraq where Saddam Hussein is not only reviled but also feared. There is a flood of lurid propaganda warning that if we do not stop him today he will destroy us tomorrow.

It is also rather striking that strong opposition to the coming war extends right through the Establishment. The current issues of the two major foreign policy journals feature articles opposing the war by leading figures of the foreign policy elite.

The very respectable American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a long monograph on the war, trying to give the most sympathetic possible account of the Bush administration position, then dismantling it point by point. One respected analyst they quote is a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who warns that the US is becoming "a menace to itself and to mankind" under its current leadership.

We should recognize that these criticisms tend to be narrow. They are concerned with threats to the US and its allies. They do not take into account the likely effects on Iraqis: the warnings of the UN and aid agencies that millions may be at very serious risk in a country that is already at the edge of survival after a previous terrible war.

attack on Iraq

Nevertheless, the threats that do concern Establishment critics are very real. They were surely not surprised when the CIA informed Congress last October that they know of no link between Iraq and al Qaeda-style terrorism, but that an attack on Iraq would probably increase the terrorist threat to the West, in many ways. It is likely to inspire a new generation of terrorists bent on revenge, and it might induce Iraq to carry out terrorist actions that are already in place, a possibility taken very seriously by US analysts. A high-level task force of the Council on Foreign Relations just released a report warning of likely terrorist attacks that could be far worse than 9-11, including possible use of WMD.

It is also understood that an attack on Iraq may lead not just to more terror, but also to proliferation of WMD, for a simple reason: potential targets of the US recognize that there is no other way to deter the most powerful state in history, which is pursuing "America's Imperial Ambition", posing serious dangers to the US and the world, the author warns in the main establishment journal, Foreign Affairs.

proliferation of WMD

Even before the Bush administration began beating the war drums about Iraq, there were plenty of warnings that its adventurism was going to lead to proliferation of WMD, as well as terror, simply as a deterrent.

Evidently, the likely increase of terror and proliferation of WMD is of limited concern to planners in Washington, in the context of their real priorities. Without too much difficulty, one can think of reasons why this might be the case.

The timing of the Washington-London propaganda campaign was so transparent that it too has been a topic of discussion, and sometimes ridicule, right in the mainstream. The campaign began in September of last year. Before that, Saddam was a terrible guy, but not an imminent threat to the survival of the US. The "mushroom cloud" was announced in early September.

Since then, fear that Saddam will attack the US has been running at about 60-70% of the US population. "The desperate urgency about moving rapidly against Iraq that Bush expressed in October was not evident from anything he said two months before," the chief political analyst of United Press International observed, drawing the obvious conclusion: September marked the opening of the political campaign for the mid-term congressional elections.

The same observations have been made by many others. That's convenient for people like us: we can just quote the mainstream instead of giving controversial analyses. The Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate I quoted before writes that Bush and Co. are following "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism," inspired by fear of enemies about to destroy us.

When the presidential campaign begins, Republican strategists surely do not want people to be asking questions about their pensions, jobs, health care, and other such matters. Rather, they should be praising their heroic leader for rescuing them from imminent destruction by a foe of colossal power, and marching on to confront the next powerful force.

realistic look

Of course, there is much more to it than domestic considerations which are of no slight importance in themselves. The September 11 terrorist atrocities provided an opportunity and pretext to implement long-standing plans to take control of Iraq's immense oil wealth, a central component of the Persian Gulf resources that the State Department, in 1945, described as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". US intelligence predicts that these will be of even greater significance in the years ahead. The issue has never been access.

I think a realistic look at the world gives a mixed picture. There are many reasons to be encouraged, but there will be a long hard road ahead.

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