Just what is real, and what isn't? What is the truth, and what isn't,
and who's telling it? And who's lying to you?
THINK FOR YOURSELF
Virus of the Mind:
The New Science of the Meme
by Richard Brodie
If you've ever wondered how and why people become robotically enslaved by advertising, religion, sexual fantasy, and cults, wonder no more. It's all because of "mind viruses," or "memes," and those who understand how to plant them into other's minds. This is the first truly accessible book about memes and how they make the world go 'round. Of course, like all good memes, the ideas in Brodie's book are double-edged swords. They can vaccinate against the effects of cognitive viruses, but could also be used by those seeking power to gain it even more effectively. If you don't want to be left behind in the coevolutionary arms race between infection and protection, read about memes. Such knowledge is as essential today as Machiavelli's The Prince was to Medieval politicians.
How Real Is Real?:
by Paul Watzlawick
Our everyday traditional ideas of reality are delusions which we spend substantial parts of our daily life shoring up, even if we have to force-fit facts into our definition of reality instead of viceversa. There is no one reality, but many versions of it, some contradictory, but all of which are the result of the interaction of three principles or actions: confusion, disinformation and communication.
Secret and Suppressed:
Banned Ideas and Hidden History
by Jim Keith (Ed.)
Historical truths are commodities written to reinforce the convictions of those in power. As such, opposing points of view are often driven underground to the nether regions of 'conspiracy theory'. Secret and Suppressed presents disquieting revelations on mind control, secret societies, media disinformation, cults and cabals. The object is to force the reader into a thinking stance, instead of parroting received opinion as fact.
Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American
History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen
When textbook gaffes make news, as with the tome that explained that the Korean War ended when Truman dropped the atom bomb, the expeditious remedy would be to fire the editor. Loewen would rather hire a new team of authors bent on the pursuit of context instead of factoids. In Loewen's ideal text, events and people illuminating the multicultural holy trinity of race, gender, and social class would predominate over the fixation on heroes and acts of government. Such is the mood adopted throughout this critique of 12 American history texts in current use. Vetting 10 topics they commonly address--from the Pilgrims to the Vietnam War--Loewen bewails a long train of alleged omissions and distortions. To account for the deplorable situation, he offers this quasi-Marxist explanation: "Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us." Certainly students' appalling ignorance of history is troublesome, and broken families and excessive TV viewing are at least the equals of white male conspirators as the cause. However, libraries located where dissatisfaction with textbooks exists should be interested in Loewen's critique.
Thought Control in Democratic Societies
by Noam Chomsky
The role of the media in a capitalist society is, far from being that of a 'watchdog' for the interests of the people, that of serving the needs of those already in power. This work applies the propaganda model developed by Chomsky and Edward Herman, revealing the crucial function of the media and the educated elite in limiting democracy in the US.
Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture
by Douglas Rushkoff
Have you ever noticed that the word "media" refers both to the tool for disseminating information in human societies as well as the substrate upon which geneticists grow bacteria and viruses? Rushkoff has written one of the more provocative and insightful analyses of the paths of conceptual infection in human media, and about the techniques and goals of those who spread media viruses. This fun, hip, yet insightful book is well worth buying.
The Political Economy of the Mass Media
by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (Contributor)
An brilliant analysis of the ways in which individuals and organizations of the media are influenced to shape the social agendas of knowledge and, therefore, belief. Contrary to the popular conception of members of the press as hard-bitten realists doggedly pursuing unpopular truths, Herman and Chomsky prove conclusively that the free-market economics model of media leads inevitably to normative and narrow reporting. Whether or not you've seen the eye-opening movie, buy this book, and you will be a far more knowledgeable person and much less prone to having your beliefs manipulated as easily as the press.
The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda
(The Open Media Pamphlet Series, No 1)
by Noam Chomsky
"Propaganda," says Noam Chomsky, "is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state"--in other words, the means by which leaders keep the masses in line. In this slim pamphlet, he looks at American propaganda efforts, from the warmongering of Woodrow Wilson to the creation of popular support for the 1991 military intervention in Kuwait, and reveals how falsification of history, suppression of information, and the promotion of vapid, empty concepts have become standard operating procedure for the leaders of the United States--both Democrats and Republicans--in their efforts to prevent citizens from raising awkward questions about U.S. policy.
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Is Big Brother in your Grocery Cart?
Saying goodbye to patriotism
by Robert Jensen
Iraq As Trial
By Noam Chomsky and V.K.Ramachandran
On March 21, a he spoke
from his office for half an hour to V. K. Ramachandran on the current
attack on Iraq.
V. K. Ramachandran: Does
the present aggression on Iraq represent a continuation of United States'
international policy in recent years or a qualitatively new stage in
Noam Chomsky: It represents a significantly new phase. It is not without
precedent, but significantly new nevertheless.
This should be seen as a
trial run. Iraq is seen as an extremely easy and totally defenceless
target. It is assumed, probably correctly, that the society will collapse,
that the soldiers will go in and that the U.S. will be in control, and
will establish the regime of its choice and military bases. They will
then go on to the harder cases that will follow. The next case could
be the Andean region, it could be Iran, it could be others.
The trial run is to try and
establish what the U.S. calls a "new norm" in international
relations. The new norm is "preventive war" (notice that new
norms are established only by the United States). So, for example, when
India invaded East Pakistan to terminate horrendous massacres, it did
not establish a new norm of humanitarian intervention, because India
is the wrong country, and besides, the U.S. was strenuously opposed
to that action.
This is not pre-emptive war;
there is a crucial difference. Pre-emptive war has a meaning, it means
that, for example, if planes are flying across the Atlantic to bomb
the United States, the United States is permitted to shoot them down
even before they bomb and may be permitted to attack the air bases from
which they came. Pre-emptive war is a response to ongoing or imminent
The doctrine of preventive
war is totally different; it holds that the United States - alone, since
nobody else has this right - has the right to attack any country that
it claims to be a potential challenge to it. So if the United States
claims, on whatever grounds, that someone may sometime threaten it,
then it can attack them.
The doctrine of preventive
war was announced explicitly in the National Strategy Report last September.
It sent shudders around the world, including through the U.S. establishment,
where, I might say, opposition to the war is unusually high. The National
Strategy Report said, in effect, that the U.S. will rule the world by
force, which is the dimension - the only dimension - in which it is
supreme. Furthermore, it will do so for the indefinite future, because
if any potential challenge arises to U.S. domination, the U.S. will
destroy it before it becomes a challenge.
This is the first exercise
of that doctrine. If it succeeds on these terms, as it presumably will,
because the target is so defenceless, then international lawyers and
Western intellectuals and others will begin to talk about a new norm
in international affairs. It is important to establish such a norm if
you expect to rule the world by force for the foreseeable future.
This is not without precedent,
but it is extremely unusual. I shall mention one precedent, just to
show how narrow the spectrum is. In 1963, Dean Acheson, who was a much
respected elder statesman and senior Adviser of the Kennedy Administration,
gave an important talk to the American Society of International Law,
in which he justified the U. S. attacks against Cuba. The attack by
the Kennedy Administration on Cuba was large-scale international terrorism
and economic warfare. The timing was interesting - it was right after
the Missile Crisis, when the world was very close to a terminal nuclear
war. In his speech, Acheson said that "no legal issue arises when
the United States responds to challenges to its position, prestige or
authority", or words approximating that.
That is also a statement
of the Bush doctrine. Although Acheson was an important figure, what
he said had not been official government policy in the post-War period.
It now stands as official policy and this is the first illustration
of it. It is intended to provide a precedent for the future.
Such "norms" are
established only when a Western power does something, not when others
do. That is part of the deep racism of Western culture, going back through
centuries of imperialism and so deep that it is unconscious.
So I think this war is an
important new step, and is intended to be.
Ramachandran: Is it also
a new phase in that the U. S. has not been able to carry others with
Chomsky: That is not new.
In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, the United States did not
even try to get international support. Nevertheless, you are right in
that this is unusual. This is a case in which the United States was
compelled for political reasons to try to force the world to accept
its position and was not able to, which is quite unusual. Usually, the
Ramachandran: So does it
represent a "failure of diplomacy" or a redefinition of diplomacy
Chomsky: I wouldn't call
it diplomacy at all - it's a failure of coercion.
Compare it with the first
Gulf War. In the first Gulf War, the U.S. coerced the Security Council
into accepting its position, although much of the world opposed it.
NATO went along, and the one country in the Security Council that did
not - Yemen - was immediately and severely punished.
In any legal system that
you take seriously, coerced judgments are considered invalid, but in
the international affairs conducted by the powerful, coerced judgments
are fine - they are called diplomacy.
What is interesting about
this case is that the coercion did not work. There were countries -
in fact, most of them - who stubbornly maintained the position of the
vast majority of their populations.
The most dramatic case is
Turkey. Turkey is a vulnerable country, vulnerable to U.S. punishment
and inducements. Nevertheless, the new government, I think to everyone's
surprise, did maintain the position of about 90 per cent of its population.
Turkey is bitterly condemned for that here, just as France and Germany
are bitterly condemned because they took the position of the overwhelming
majority of their populations. The countries that are praised are countries
like Italy and Spain, whose leaders agreed to follow orders from Washington
over the opposition of maybe 90 per cent of their populations.
That is another new step.
I cannot think of another case where hatred and contempt for democracy
have so openly been proclaimed, not just by the government, but also
by liberal commentators and others. There is now a whole literature
trying to explain why France, Germany, the so-called "old Europe",
and Turkey and others are trying to undermine the United States. It
is inconceivable to the pundits that they are doing so because they
take democracy seriously and they think that when the overwhelming majority
of a population has an opinion, a government ought to follow it.
That is real contempt for
democracy, just as what has happened at the United Nations is total
contempt for the international system. In fact there are now calls -
from The Wall Street Journal, people in Government and others - to disband
the United Nations.
Fear of the United States
around the world is extraordinary. It is so extreme that it is even
being discussed in the mainstream media. The cover story of the upcoming
issue of Newsweek is about why the world is so afraid of the United
States. The Post had a cover story about this a few weeks ago.
Of course this is considered
to be the world's fault, that there is something wrong with the world
with which we have to deal somehow, but also something that has to be
Ramachandran: The idea that
Iraq represents any kind of clear and present danger is, of course,
without any substance at all.
Chomsky: Nobody pays any
attention to that accusation, except, interestingly, the population
of the United States.
In the last few months, there
has been a spectacular achievement of government-media propaganda, very
visible in the polls. The international polls show that support for
the war is higher in the United States than in other countries. That
is, however, quite misleading, because if you look a little closer,
you find that the United States is also different in another respect
from the rest of the world. Since September 2002, the United States
is the only country in the world where 60 per cent of the population
believes that Iraq is an imminent threat - something that people do
not believe even in Kuwait or Iran.
Furthermore, about 50 per
cent of the population now believes that Iraq was responsible for the
attack on the World Trade Centre. This has happened since September
2002. In fact, after the September 11 attack, the figure was about 3
per cent. Government-media propaganda has managed to raise that to about
50 per cent. Now if people genuinely believe that Iraq has carried out
major terrorist attacks against the United States and is planning to
do so again, well, in that case people will support the war.
This has happened, as I said,
after September 2002. September 2002 is when the government-media campaign
began and also when the mid-term election campaign began. The Bush Administration
would have been smashed in the election if social and economic issues
had been in the forefront, but it managed to suppress those issues in
favour of security issues - and people huddle under the umbrella of
This is exactly the way the
country was run in the 1980s. Remember that these are almost the same
people as in the Reagan and the senior Bush Administrations. Right through
the 1980s they carried out domestic policies that were harmful to the
population and which, as we know from extensive polls, the people opposed.
But they managed to maintain control by frightening the people. So the
Nicaraguan Army was two days' march from Texas and about to conquer
the United States, and the airbase in Granada was one from which the
Russians would bomb us. It was one thing after another, every year,
every one of them ludicrous. The Reagan Administration actually declared
a national Emergency in 1985 because of the threat to the security of
the United States posed by the Government of Nicaragua.
If somebody were watching
this from Mars, they would not know whether to laugh or to cry.
They are doing exactly the
same thing now, and will probably do something similar for the presidential
campaign. There will have to be a new dragon to slay, because if the
Administration lets domestic issues prevail, it is in deep trouble.
Ramachandran: You have written
that this war of aggression has dangerous consequences with respect
to international terrorism and the threat of nuclear war.
Chomsky: I cannot claim any
originality for that opinion. I am just quoting the CIA and other intelligence
agencies and virtually every specialist in international affairs and
terrorism. Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the study by the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the high-level Hart-Rudman Commission
on terrorist threats to the United States all agree that it is likely
to increase terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The reason is simple: partly
for revenge, but partly just for self-defence.
There is no other way to
protect oneself from U.S. attack. In fact, the United States is making
the point very clearly, and is teaching the world an extremely ugly
Compare North Korea and Iraq.
Iraq is defenceless and weak; in fact, the weakest regime in the region.
While there is a horrible monster running it, it does not pose a threat
to anyone else. North Korea, on the other hand, does pose a threat.
North Korea, however, is not attacked for a very simple reason: it has
a deterrent. It has a massed artillery aimed at Seoul, and if the United
States attacks it, it can wipe out a large part of South Korea.
So the United States is telling
the countries of the world: if you are defenceless, we are going to
attack you when we want, but if you have a deterrent, we will back off,
because we only attack defenceless targets. In other words, it is telling
countries that they had better develop a terrorist network and weapons
of mass destruction or some other credible deterrent; if not, they are
vulnerable to "preventive war".
For that reason alone, this
war is likely to lead to the proliferation of both terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction.
Ramachandran: How do you
think the U.S. will manage the human - and humanitarian - consequences
of the war?
Chomsky: No one knows, of
course. That is why honest and decent people do not resort to violence
- because one simply does not know.
The aid agencies and medical
groups that work in Iraq have pointed out that the consequences can
be very severe. Everyone hopes not, but it could affect up to millions
of people. To undertake violence when there is even such a possibility
There is already - that is,
even before the war - a humanitarian catastrophe. By conservative estimates,
ten years of sanctions have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
If there were any honesty, the U.S. would pay reparations just for the
The situation is similar
to the bombing of Afghanistan, of which you and I spoke when the bombing
there was in its early stages. It was obvious the United States was
never going to investigate the consequences.
Ramachandran: Or invest the
kind of money that was needed.
Chomsky: Oh no. First, the
question is not asked, so no one has an idea of what the consequences
of the bombing were for most of the country. Then almost nothing comes
in. Finally, it is out of the news, and no one remembers it any more.
In Iraq, the United States
will make a show of humanitarian reconstruction and will put in a regime
that it will call democratic, which means that it follows Washington's
orders. Then it will forget about what happens later, and will go on
to the next one.
Ramachandran: How have the
media lived up to their propaganda-model reputation this time?
Chomsky: Right now it is
cheerleading for the home team. Look at CNN, which is disgusting - and
it is the same everywhere. That is to be expected in wartime; the media
are worshipful of power.
More interesting is what
happened in the build-up to war. The fact that government-media propaganda
was able to convince the people that Iraq is an imminent threat and
that Iraq was responsible for September 11 is a spectacular achievement
and, as I said, was accomplished in about four months. If you ask people
in the media about this, they will say, "Well, we never said that,"
and it is true, they did not. There was never a statement that Iraq
is going to invade the United States or that it carried out the World
Trade Centre attack. It was just insinuated, hint after hint, until
they finally got people to believe it.
Ramachandran: Look at the
resistance, though. Despite the propaganda, despite the denigration
of the United Nations, they haven't quite carried the day.
Chomsky: You never know.
The United Nations is in a very hazardous position.
The United States might move
to dismantle it. I don't really expect that, but at least to diminish
it, because when it isn't following orders, of what use is it?
Ramachandran: Noam, you have
seen movements of resistance to imperialism over a long period - Vietnam,
Central America, Gulf War I. What are your impressions of the character,
sweep and depth of the present resistance to U.S. aggression? We take
great heart in the extraordinary mobilisations all over the world.
Chomsky: Oh, that is correct;
there is just nothing like it. Opposition throughout the world is enormous
and unprecedented, and the same is true of the United States. Yesterday,
for example, I was in demonstrations in downtown Boston, right around
the Boston Common. It is not the first time I have been there. The first
time I participated in a demonstration there at which I was to speak
was in October 1965. That was four years after the United States had
started bombing South Vietnam. Half of South Vietnam had been destroyed
and the war had been extended to North Vietnam. We could not have a
demonstration because it was physically attacked, mostly by students,
with the support of the liberal press and radio, who denounced these
people who were daring to protest against an American war.
On this occasion, however,
there was a massive protest before the war was launched officially and
once again on the day it was launched - with no counter-demonstrators.
That is a radical difference. And if it were not for the fear factor
that I mentioned, there would be much more opposition.
The government knows that
it cannot carry out long-term aggression and destruction as in Vietnam
because the population will not tolerate it.
There is only one way to
fight a war now. First of all, pick a much weaker enemy, one that is
defenceless. Then build it up in the propaganda system as either about
to commit aggression or as an imminent threat. Next, you need a lightning
victory. An important leaked document of the first Bush Administration
in 1989 described how the U.S. would have to fight war. It said that
the U.S. had to fight much weaker enemies, and that victory must be
rapid and decisive, as public support will quickly erode. It is no longer
like the 1960s, when a war could be fought for years with no opposition
In many ways, the activism
of the 1960s and subsequent years has simply made a lot of the world,
including this country, much more civilised in many domains.
PREVENTIVE WAR 'THE SUPREME CRIME'
Iraq: invasion that will live in infamy
By NOAM CHOMSKY *
SEPTEMBER 2002 was marked by three events of considerable importance, closely related. The United States, the most powerful state in history, announced a new national security strategy asserting that it will
maintain global hegemony permanently. Any challenge will be blocked by
force, the dimension in which the US reigns supreme. At the same time,
the war drums began to beat to mobilise the population for an invasion
of Iraq. And the campaign opened for the mid-term congressional
elections, which would determine whether the administration would be
able to carry forward its radical international and domestic agenda.
The new "imperial grand strategy", as it was termed at once by John
Ikenberry writing in the leading establishment journal, presents the US
as "a revisionist state seeking to parlay its momentary advantages into
a world order in which it runs the show", a unipolar world in which "no
state or coalition could ever challenge it as global leader, protector,
and enforcer" (1). These policies are fraught with danger even for the
US itself, Ikenberry warned, joining many others in the foreign policy
What is to be protected is US power and the interests it represents, not
the world, which vigorously opposed the concept. Within a few months
studies revealed that fear of the US had reached remarkable heights,
along with distrust of the political leadership. An international Gallup
poll in December, which was barely noticed in the US, found almost no
support for Washington's announced plans for a war in Iraq carried out
unilaterally by America and its allies - in effect, the US-United
Washington told the United Nations that it could be relevant by
endorsing US plans, or it could be a debating society. The US had the
"sovereign right to take military action", the administration's moderate
Colin Powell told the World Economic Forum, which also vigorously
opposed the war plans: "When we feel strongly about something we will
lead, even if no one is following us" (2).
President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair underscored
their contempt for international law and institutions at their Azores
summit meeting on the eve of the invasion. They issued an ultimatum, not
to Iraq, but to the Security Council: capitulate, or we will invade
without your meaningless seal of approval. And we will do so whether or
not Saddam Hussein and his family leave the country (3). The crucial
principle is that the US must effectively rule Iraq.
President Bush declared that the US "has the sovereign authority to use
force in assuring its own national security", threatened by Iraq with or
without Saddam, according to the Bush doctrine. The US will be happy to
establish an Arab facade, to borrow the term of the British during their
days in the sun, while US power is firmly implanted at the heart of the
world's major energy-producing region. Formal democracy will be fine,
but only if it is of a submissive kind accepted in the US's backyard, at
least if history and current practice are any guide.
The grand strategy authorises the US to carry out preventive war:
preventive, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive
war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that
concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military
force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term
"preventive" is too charitable. Preventive war is, very simply, the
supreme crime that was condemned at Nuremberg.
That was understood by those with some concern for their country. As the
US invaded Iraq, the historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote that Bush's
grand strategy was "alarmingly similar to the policy that imperial Japan
employed at the time of Pearl Harbor, on a date which, as an earlier
American president [Franklin D Roosevelt] said it would, lives in
infamy". It was no surprise, added Schlesinger, that "the global wave of
sympathy that engulfed the US after 9/11 has given way to a global wave
of hatred of American arrogance and militarism" and the belief that Bush
was "a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein" (4).
For the political leadership, mostly recycled from the more reactionary
sectors of the Reagan-Bush Senior administrations, the global wave of
hatred is not a particular problem. They want to be feared, not loved.
It is natural for the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, to quote
the words of Chicago gangster Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind
word and a gun than with a kind word alone." They understand just as
well as their establishment critics that their actions increase the risk
of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terror. But
that too is not a major problem. Far higher in the scale of their
priorities are the goals of establishing global hegemony and
implementing their domestic agenda, which is to dismantle the
progressive achievements that have been won by popular struggle over the
past century, and to institutionalise their radical changes so that
recovering the achievements will be no easy task.
It is not enough for a hegemonic power to declare an official policy. It
must establish it as a new norm of international law by exemplary
action. Distinguished commentators may then explain that the law is a
flexible living instrument, so that the new norm is now available as a
guide to action. It is understood that only those with the guns can
establish norms and modify international law.
The selected target must meet several conditions. It must be
defenceless, important enough to be worth the trouble, an imminent
threat to our survival and an ultimate evil. Iraq qualified on all
counts. The first two conditions are obvious. For the third, it suffices
to repeat the orations of Bush, Blair, and their colleagues: the
dictator "is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons [in order to]
dominate, intimidate or attack"; and he "has already used them on whole
villages leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or
transfigured. If this is not evil then evil has no meaning." Bush's
eloquent denunciation surely rings true. And those who contributed to
enhancing evil should certainly not enjoy impunity: among them, the
speaker of these lofty words and his current associates, and all those
who joined them in the years when they were supporting that man of
ultimate evil, Saddam Hussein, long after he had committed these
terrible crimes, and after the first war with Iraq. Supported him
because of our duty to help US exporters, the Bush Senior administration
It is impressive to see how easy it is for political leaders, while
recounting Saddam the monster's worst crimes, to suppress the crucial
words "with our help, because we don't care about such matters". Support
shifted to denunciation as soon as their friend Saddam committed his
first authentic crime, which was disobeying (or perhaps
misunderstanding) orders, by invading Kuwait. Punishment was severe -
for his subjects. The tyrant escaped unscathed, and was further
strengthened by the sanctions regime then imposed by his former allies.
Also easy to suppress are the reasons why the US returned to support
Saddam immediately after the Gulf war, as he crushed rebellions that
might have overthrown him. The chief diplomatic correspondent of the New
York Times, Thomas Friedman, explained that the best of all worlds for
the US would be "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein", but
since that goal seemed unattainable, we would have to be satisfied with
second best (5). The rebels failed because the US and its allies held
the "strikingly unanimous view [that] whatever the sins of the Iraqi
leader, he offered the West and the region a better hope for his
country's stability than did those who have suffered his repression"
All of this was suppressed in the commentary on the mass graves of the
victims of the US- authorised paroxysm of terror of Saddam Hussein,
which commentary was offered as a justification for the war on "moral
grounds". It was all known in 1991, but ignored for reasons of state.
A reluctant US population had to be whipped to a proper mood of war
fever. From September grim warnings were issued about the dire threat
that Saddam posed to the US and his links to al-Qaida, with broad hints
that he had been involved in the 9/11 attacks. Many of the charges that
had been "dangled in front of [the media] failed the laugh test,"
commented the editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "but the more
ridiculous [they were,] the more the media strove to make whole-hearted
swallowing of them a test of patriotism" (7). The propaganda assault had
its effects. Within weeks, a majority of Americans came to regard Saddam
Hussein as an imminent threat to the US. Soon almost half believed that
Iraq was behind the 9/11 terror. Support for the war correlated with
these beliefs. The propaganda campaign was just enough to give the
administration a bare majority in the mid-term elections, as voters put
aside their immediate concerns and huddled under the umbrella of power
in fear of a demonic enemy.
The brilliant success of public diplomacy was revealed when Bush, in the
words of one commentator, "provided a powerful Reaganesque finale to a
six-week war on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on 1
May". This reference is presumably to President Ronald Reagan's proud
declaration that America was "standing tall" after conquering Grenada,
the nutmeg capital of the world, in 1983, preventing the Russians from
using it to bomb the US. Bush, as Reagan's mimic, was free to declare -
without concern for sceptical comment at home - that he had won a
"victory in a war on terror [by having] removed an ally of al-Qaida"
(8). It has been immaterial that no credible evidence was provided for
the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and his bitter enemy Osama bin
Laden and that the charge was dismissed by competent observers. Also
immaterial was the only known connection between the victory and terror:
the invasion appears to have been "a huge setback in the war on terror"
by sharply increasing al-Qaida recruitment, as US officials concede (9).
The Wall Street Journal recognised that Bush's carefully staged aircraft
carrier extravaganza "marks the beginning of his 2004 re-election
campaign" which the White House hopes "will be built as much as possible
around national-security themes". The electoral campaign will focus on
"the battle of Iraq, not the war", chief Republican political strategist
Karl Rove explained : the war must continue, if only to control the
population at home (10).
Before the 2002 elections Rove had instructed party activists to stress
security issues, diverting attention from unpopular Republican domestic
policies. All of this is second-nature to the re cycled Reaganites now
in office. That is how they held on to political power during their
first tenure in office. They regularly pushed the panic button to avoid
public opposition to the policies that had left Reagan as the most
disliked living president by 1992, by which time he may have ranked even
lower than Richard Nixon.
Despite its narrow successes, the intensive propaganda campaign left the
public unswayed in fundamental respects. Most continue to prefer UN
rather than US leadership in international crises, and by two to one
prefer that the UN, rather than the US, should direct reconstruction in
When the occupying coalition army failed to discover WMD, the US
administration's stance shifted from absolute certainty that Iraq
possessed WMD to the position that the accusations were "justified by
the discovery of equipment that potentially could be used to produce
weapons" (12). Senior officials then suggested a refinement in the
concept of preventive war, to entitle the US to attack a country that
has "deadly weapons in mass quantities". The revision "suggests that the
administration will act against a hostile regime that has nothing more
than the intent and ability to develop WMD" (13). Lowering the criteria
for a resort to force is the most significant consequence of the
collapse of the proclaimed argument for the invasion.
Perhaps the most spectacular propaganda achievement was the praising of
Bush's vision to bring democracy to the Middle East in the midst of an
extraordinary display of hatred and contempt for democracy. This was
illustrated by the distinction that was made by Washington between Old
and New Europe, the former being reviled and the latter hailed for its
courage. The criterion was sharp: Old Europe consists of governments
that took the same position over the war on Iraq as most of their
populations; while the heroes of New Europe followed orders from
Crawford, Texas, disregarding, in most cases, an even larger majority of
citizens who were against the war. Political commentators ranted about
disobedient Old Europe and its psychic maladies, while Congress
descended to low comedy.
At the liberal end of the spectrum, the former US ambassador to the UN,
Richard Holbrooke, stressed the "very important point" that the
population of the eight original members of New Europe is larger than
that of Old Europe, which proves that France and Germany are "isolated".
So it does, unless we succumb to the radical-left heresy that the public
might have some role in a democracy. Thomas Friedman then urged that
France be removed from the permanent members of the Security Council,
because it is "in kindergarten, and does not play well with others". It
follows that the population of New Europe must still be in nursery
school, at least judging by the polls (14).
Turkey was a particularly instructive case. Its government resisted the
heavy pressure from the US to prove its democratic credentials by
following US orders and overruling 95% of its population. Turkey did not
cooperate. US commentators were infuriated by this lesson in democracy,
so much so that some even reported Turkey's crimes against the Kurds in
the 1990s, previously a taboo topic because of the crucial US role in
what happened, although that was still carefully concealed in the
The crucial point was expressed by the deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul
Wolfowitz, who condemned the Turkish military because they "did not play
the strong leadership role that we would have expected" - that is they
did not intervene to prevent the Turkish government from honouring
near-unanimous public opinion. Turkey had therefore to step up and say,
"We made a mistake - let's figure out how we can be as helpful as
possible to the Americans" (15). Wolfowitz's stand was particularly
informative because he had been portrayed as the leading figure in the
administration's crusade to democratise the Middle East.
Anger at Old Europe has much deeper roots than just contempt for
democracy. The US has always regarded European unification with some
ambivalence. In his Year of Europe address 30 years ago, Henry Kissinger
advised Europeans to keep to their regional responsibilities within the
"overall framework of order managed by the US". Europe must not pursue
its own independent course, based on its Franco-German industrial and
The US administration's concerns now extend as well to Northeast Asia,
the world's most dynamic economic region, with ample resources and
advanced industrial economies, a potentially integrated region that
might also flirt with challenging the overall framework of world order,
which is to be maintained permanently, by force if necessary, Washington
* Noam Chomsky is professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(1) John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, Sept.-Oct. 2002.
(2) Wall Street Journal, 27 January 2003.
(3) Michael Gordon, The New York Times, 18 March 2003.
(4) Los Angeles Times, 23 March 2003.
(5) The New York Times, 7 June 1991. Alan Cowell, The New York Times, 11
(6) The New York Times, 4 June 2003.
(7) Linda Rothstein, editor, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 2003.
(8) Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times, 2 May 2003; transcript, 2
(9) Jason Burke, The Observer, London 18 May 2003.
(10) Jeanne Cummings and Greg Hite, Wall Street Journal, 2 May 2003.
Francis Clines, The New York Times, 10 May 2003.
(11) Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland,
(12) Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 1 June 2003.
(13) Guy Dinmore and James Harding, Financial Times, 3/4 May 2003.
(14) Lee Michael Katz, National Journal, 8 February 2003; Friedman, The
New York Times, 9 February 2003.
(15) Marc Lacey, The New York Times, 7/8 May 2003.