The American empire is of the present, and its activities as well as its ideas are essentialised to such a degree as to require no prior knowledge or experience.
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That other empires came and went, that other schemes of control were devised and failed, that other peoples rose up, rid themselves of foreign rulers, and brought in regimes that were sometimes worse but often a good deal better than their predecessors — all this seems scarcely to have mattered in the calculations of Reagan and his Administration. The projection of American power around the world is considered a fact of nature, as inevitable in its manifestations as in its ontological essence. Add to these the organised lobbies, the PACs or Political Action Committees , the enormously profitable public-relations firms and their foreign-agent satellites Jordan, it is reported, has four such groups in its pay, with — at best — highly dubious results , and one has a sense of a Congress and Executive Branch hamstrung between special interests and ignorance.
Hence, on the one hand, the adventures of people like North, John Poindexter, Dennis Ross, Howard Teicher and Michael Ledeen, and, on the other hand, the amazing pudeur of the Secretary of State, whose position on Irangate matters, according to the Tower Report, was one of complete detachment. Representative Tom Lantos of California a Hungarian by birth could announce to North, when the Marine officer was hauled up by and refused to testify before a Congressional Committee, that such a man was a national hero, and go on to promise a contribution to his defence fund.
Of such Swiftian ironies are US imperial policies constructed. In relation to Central America and Southern Africa — to name two regions where American policy is prominent and controversial — there is an oppositional constituency in the United States. There has been no one, in the press or on television talk-shows, to represent an Islamic or Arab viewpoint, no one to testify to a reality out there that was independent of American policy.
The tone of public discussion has been untempered by any awareness that other worlds and other concerns exist, which it might be prudent to regard as not in fact falling within the US security orbit. This patriotism defines policy — what is good for America now — and it regulates knowledge. After the failure of the May agreement between Israel and Lebanon American Middle East policy and its rhetoric have reiterated the imperative of combating terrorism, and the overwhelming need to support Israel. The all-encompassing generality of the one and the absolutely forgiving specificity of the other have not obliterated the quotidian duties entailed by being a great power: embassies are run, cables go back and forth, visits, bilateral treaties, aid agreements are negotiated, and pronouncements are made.
It turned out later that Jonathan Pollard, given a life sentence in America in March of this year, had handed over the requisite information about PLO offices to Israel, as part of a spying operation. Here was a weird concatentation whereby anti-terrorism, condoned and encouraged by the US, was linked both to emulating what Israel does and to being spied on by Israel.
Throughout the Arab world, striking changes have been taking place. The economies are in a slump; the human rights situation has worsened dramatically; the failure of the Arab states, except perhaps for Syria, to produce a credible military deterrent is obvious; a sense of aimless holding on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria , of tightening and restriction Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait or of unimaginably senseless violence Lebanon pervades the political atmosphere.
Turning the tide
The emergence of a heterogeneous Islamic traditionalism is symptomatic of the malaise, as well as of the deep alienation between ruler and ruled. The one secular nationalism still potent and still visibly in evidence is located within the Palestinian orbit, a trans-Arab phenomenon, embattled in Jordan and Lebanon, harassed or barely tolerated everywhere else, profoundly popular and symbolically threatening.
Thus the Arab Middle East today is coherent neither as a state system nor as the site of an easily categorised ideological contest. The new forces are the motors driving Iran and Israel — states whose religious inspiration is barely assimilable to statehood. The other, Iran, proclaims itself responsible for exporting a purified and resurgent Islam throughout the region.
With the second of these states, America has yet to come to terms. Islam has somehow managed to retain, even in its relatively benign contemporary forms, the threat of its milennial power, when its armies poured out of the Arabian Peninsula into the rest of Asia, much of Africa and southern Europe. Its adherents in the West are lopsidedly weak, and it has acquired a remarkably unified set of enemies, religious and secular. Not that the closed quality, the provocative, bloody-minded relentlessness of recent Iranian Islam has been pleasant.
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But in almost every instance these manifestations have been interpreted ontologically and ahistorically. All of this helps us to understand the combination of animus and ignorance from which American policy is now constructed. In the process — and here we should extend the analysis to include policy towards Eastern Europe and Central America — certain types of formal policy-maker have come to the fore. There are the passive functionaries — men like Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East; he travels here and there but because he is a career Arabist his influence is nil.
More ominous are the ideological over-achievers, typified by Richard Perle in Defence, Elliot Abrams in State, whose affiliation with neo-conservatism and fanatical anti-Communism their allies include Edward Luttwak, Michael Ledeen, Jeane Kirkpatrick, media legitimisers from George Will, William Safire, Patrick Buchanan and William Buckley to reporters like Shirley Christian and James Le Moyne, the editorial staff of the New Republic and Commentary , and many more has moved American policy into a ruthless and uncomprehending adversarialism towards terrorism and Communism.
Israel, like Iran, is not just a state, but also a cause and an idea whose role in the political economy of imperial America far transcends that of a small Levantine state belonging to a once-dominated part of the world. As of last year, none of this aid is in the form of repayable loans, but in outright, direct, unitemised budgetary support. No country has ever benefited from such unqualified munificence, and the mechanisms that ensure it are for the time being impressively strong. Congress is, almost to a man and woman, pro-Israel. The failure of American policy in Lebanon during the period brought the degree of American reliance on Israel to a climax.
The Israeli model of tough-minded realism was followed by American planners to the letter, thereby producing what has been called the Israelisation of American foreign policy. Most important is to imbue yourself with a siege mentality. In all cases of this sort you must portray yourself as the persecuted bearer of a sanctified vision steadfastly standing firm against the hordes of undifferentiated and unilluminated masses outside your gates.
Rather than negotiate, you must not only fight defensively but — to borrow a little from the social philosopher Michael Walzer — take your just war from a defensive to a pre-emptive mode. In American terms, this pattern was easily accommodated. There is a difference, however, between American attitudes towards Central America and the Middle East. Debate has occurred in the one case, but hardly at all in the other.
Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Steven Solarz, to mention two Contra opponents, are supporters of everything Israel does, and when the connection between the Contras and the Israelis was made public there was a noticeable avoidance of blame for Israel. The American obsession with Iran and Israel is shaped by an increasing tendency to drive politics back to anti-secular, sectarian and atavistic roots.
The revival of Christian fundamentalism in the US has been part of this tendency, as has the alliance between the new Right, the conservative Christian movement and Israel. In the Middle East the Iranian model has vindicated, not the nationalist politics of the previous generation, but the notion that sects based on a narrow and intolerant view of the world ought to prevail, thus unravelling the texture of civil society as well as undermining the collective basis of multi-communal societies.
Iran and Israel are instances of a second-generation, post-independence and post-colonial syndrome in the Middle East, in which extreme dependence on the world economic system dominated by the West is accompanied by an almost complete disdain for Western opinion. The long-run stake for the United States is the discovery of some mode of co-existence with the outside world, a mode whose properties do not automatically require either a blind adversarial attitude or an unhesitating enthusiasm. These attitudes have produced different varieties of imperialist intervention, and with regard to Central America, they have also produced an exaggerated sense of territorial insecurity.
To listen to the rhetoric about the dangers of Sandinista government is to have visions of Spanish-speaking terrorists parachuting into Seattle or Atlanta. Public opinion is rapidly marshalled to a pitch, it often seems, of mass hysteria. Missing are the effects of educational and informational institutions whose slower processes might provide alternatives to instant imperialism: these institutions are either dormant or ineffective, so obscuring of other peoples is the fog of self-confirming cultural power. The most curious fact about the deluge of media disclosures on Iran and the Contras is that most of the information, except for the actual financial connection between the two operations, was previously known, and to a great extent published or broadcast by the media themselves.
Sick also mentions that, during intricate US-Iranian negotiations in November , Menachem Begin announced that Israel had given the Iranians military equipment and spare parts. Throughout the early Reagan years, whenever domestic constraints made it difficult for the Administration to supply arms and money to the Contras, or the Salvadoreans, or the Chileans, or anyone else with the correct political position, Israel would be used to do it instead.
This was announced by the Government and dutifully reported in the press.
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Sales of aircraft and arms to Guatemala and Honduras are well-known, as are the use by governments in the region friendly to the US of Israeli counter-insurgency advisers, SWAT teams and pacification and interdiction procedures. Why then the outrage, to say nothing of the amnesia, since November , when the mainstream media began to turn against the President? There are three or four answers to this.
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In the first place, print journalism is a tendentious medium, while television is nothing short of a mendacious one, whose public effect can be very powerful in its suppression of history and of all but a tiny fraction of reality. In addition, the three networks, and the independent stations with a foreign news capability, rely on a small handful of reporters based mostly in Western Europe and Japan, and rotated from there to crisis spots, as the need arises, in the Third World. Because few Western reporters have been there in the past five years, Iran is now little more than 15 seconds of marching mobs and clenched fists.
The coverage of foreign news is almost entirely limited to places and stories considered to be of significance to the United States.
Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace | Noam Chomsky
Ethiopia, Sudan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Angola, once thought to be important, have virtually disappeared from view. The influential newspapers of record do cover such places, but there, too, they are examined with an eye to what is significant for the US policy-maker and with many of the same internal biases. Communism or insurgency are dangerous and bad. Friends of the US — such as Chancellor Kohl, with Mrs Thatcher in a class by herself — are always friends of the US, unless they are sacked or forced to leave the Shah, Marcos, Sadat : then a volte-face occurs, and the favourite either becomes a non-person or a figure of fun Imelda Marcos and her shoes confirm the unremarked misogyny of the media — Ferdinand is rarely laughed at, although he is, one would have to say, the more grotesque.
With the exception of the Soviet Union and Cuba, the internalised consensus is strongest when the Middle East is being reported.
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Palestinians are only shown as refugees or as terrorists. The only stories about the Arab world that seem to be worth printing or portraying concern violence, inordinate wealth, and intransigent opposition to Israel. To compare the Israeli with the American press in the matter of coverage of the Israeli-Occupied Territories is to compare night with day. The reporting by Israeli journalists is detailed, wide-ranging, tough, often angry, American reporting is none of these things. Instead of doing journalism on the Middle East, the American media fill little containers with items that relate to some six master topics: 1.
The pervasive presence of Arab or Islamic terrorism, as well as a terrorist network comprising Arab and Islamic groups and states backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua. Terrorism here is most often characterised as congenital, not as having any foundation in grievances, prior violence or continuing conflicts. The rise of Islamic and Muslim fundamentalism, usually but not always Shia. Sometimes Turkey is included, often not.