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by Noam Chomsky
Pluto Press (London), 2000. 252pp.
reviewed by David Cromwell

In Rogue States, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and social commentator, casts a critical eye over the politics of power, as he has done for around 40 years. Based upon Chomsky’s recent speeches and previously published articles, Rogue States demolishes the US rhetoric of ‘humanitarian’ or ‘justified’ intervention around the globe. And there is a rich seam of examples to mine: the Balkans, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
 
 The seminal ‘gonzo’ journalist Hunter S. Thompson recalls once hearing Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s declare that ‘the United States, as always, will do primarily whatever is in its interests.’ Nothing has changed. Indeed, self-interest has marked out US foreign and domestic policy from the earliest days. In the federal constitution debates in 1787, James Madison observed that ‘our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation’, establishing checks and balances so ‘as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority’. The rule of the common herd must never be allowed to prevail against the will of the rich.
 
 Chomsky examines, for example, the US role in the Middle East. Here, concedes Thomas Friedman, chief diplomatic correspondent of The New York Times and a faithful supporter of US military adventurism, ‘it has always been American policy that the iron-fisted Mr. Hussein plays a useful role in holding Iraq together,’ thus maintaining ‘stability’. The ‘stability’ of having a murderous tyrant in place has promoted sales of US military hardware to Saddam Hussein’s neighbours in the region, netting arms manufacturers over $100 billion in recent years.
 
 In 1998, Denis Halliday, former head of the UN humanitarian programme in Baghdad, resigned in protest at the economic sanctions against Iraq—which are maintained with greatest fervour by Washington and London—citing ‘genocide’ of the Iraqi people. Over half a million children under the age of five, and over one million Iraqis in all, have died for want of adequate medication, food or safe water supplies. Apart from a few courageous exceptions, notably journalist John Pilger, this barely raises a murmur in the western media.
 
 The media silence stretches back to the desert holocaust of the Gulf War in 1990-1991 that left in excess of 200,000 civilian deaths. Add to that number at least 100,000 Iraqi soldiers who were killed, many of them buried alive in trenches, or bombed to oblivion while retreating in the infamous ‘turkey shoot’ on the road to Basra.
 
 Western media complicity was also a defining characteristic of Nato’s 50th anniversary crusade in the Balkans in 1999. After 78 days and nights of intense—and illegal—Nato bombing, ‘peace’ was declared in Kosovo. But Nato’s bombing had killed hundreds, led to dramatic increases in Serbian ethnic killing and refugee flows, destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Yugoslav infrastructure, and left a deadly legacy of depleted uranium.
 
 Chomsky is piercingly clear in his analysis of the US-led bombing. Clinton declared on Kosovo that ‘there are times when looking away simply is not an option’; ‘we can’t respond to every tragedy in every corner of the world,’ but that doesn’t mean that ‘we should do nothing for no one.’ Instead, the US precipitated a human rights disaster in the region, with the bombing preceding the massive flows of refugees and leading to a worsening of Serb atrocities—facts which strangely escaped the attentions of a compliant western media.
 
 When, instead of ‘humanitarian intervention’, the US government and military planners, choose to ‘do nothing’, it normally serves as a pretext for condoning, or actively supporting, human rights abuses. Chomsky highlights Turkey as a major military ally of the US and strategic outpost: ‘By 1999, Turkey had largely suppressed Kurdish resistance by extreme terror and ethnic cleansing, leaving some 2 to 3 million refugees, 3,500 villages destroyed (seven times as high as in Kosovo under NATO bombs), and tens of thousands killed, primarily during the Clinton years.’
 
 Noam Chomsky marshals an astonishing array of evidence, revealing illegal and murderous US interventionism around the globe, to show that ‘the rule of law has been reduced to a mere nuisance’ to the United States and that it fully deserves the title of number one ‘rogue state’. To mainstream commentators, this is an unthinkable thought. But then, as George Orwell wrote in his originally unpublished preface to Animal Farm: ‘The sinister fact about literary censorship ... is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban.’
 
 Chomsky cites Amnesty International on global human rights abuses: ‘...throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman, or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or “disappeared,” at the hands of governments or armed political groups.’ Who recalls any news reports in The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN or even the BBC, when AI concluded that ‘More often than not, the U.S. shares the blame.’?
 
 Indonesia, regarded during the Cold War as a bulwark against Communism in Southeast Asia, was—and is—another important ally of the United States. This, despite the brutal Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Chomsky quotes two Asia specialists writing in The New York Times who note dispassionately that the Clinton administration ‘has made the calculation that the United States must put its relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of more than 200 million people, ahead of its concern over the political fate of East Timor, a tiny impoverished territory of 800,000 people that is seeking independence’. Or, as a senior diplomat in Jakarta put it more succinctly, ‘Indonesia matters, and East Timor doesn’t.’
 
 ‘We need not quietly accept the suffering and injustice that are all around us,’ counsels Chomsky, ‘and the prospects which are not slight, of severe consequences if human society continues on its present course.’ Armed with Chomsky’s rational analysis of the recent historical record, we are in a stronger position to challenge, oppose and supplant the elite interests that are taking us down such a destructive course.

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