[Speech delivered at Columbia University, NYC, November 20, 2003, at an event commemorating Edward Said. Transcript courtesy of Democracy Now. A shorter adaptation from this appeared as The Doctrine Of Change Of Course]
The first remark has to do with the title. The title that was announced was "after the war", which is a good topic. We should be concerned with what is coming ahead, but any title like that, especially in the United States requires a kind of a word of caution. There is a trap which is deeply rooted in the intellectual culture, and we have to avoid it. The trap is the doctrine that I sometimes call the doctrine of change of course.
It's a doctrine that's invoked every two or three years in the United States. The content of the doctrine is yes, in the past, we did some wrong things because of our innocence or out of inadvertence, but now that's all over, so we can't not waste any more time on this boring, stale stuff, which incidentally we suppressed and denied while it was happening, but must now be effaced from history as we march forward to a glorious future.
And if you look, it is literally every two or three years that the doctrine is invoked. There is a qualification. We are permitted, in fact, required to recall with great horror the misdeeds of official enemies, and we're also required to admire with awe, our own magnificent achievements in the past in both categories, relying in no small measure on self-serving reconstructions, which quickly collapse if you follow the path of paying attention to the facts, but fortunately, that dangerous course is excluded by the convenient doctrine of change of course, which blocks any such heresies.
The doctrine is entirely understandable on the part of those who are engaged in criminal enterprises, which means just about any power system, any system of concentrated power past and present, and of course, it includes its acolytes, one of the major commitments of respected intellectuals right throughout history is to be the acolytes of the systems of power.
Since intellectuals write history (but it doesn't look like that), you have to be cautious about what people write about themselves. If you look carefully, you will find that the course, the doctrine, is dishonest, cowardly, but has advantages. It does protect us from the danger of understanding what's happening before our eyes, and, therefore, inducing the kind of conformism that is useful to systems of power and domination. So, it has its advantages.
In any event, the word "after" in the title is appropriate but with some qualifications that should be kept in mind. And what has happened before -- if we escape the domination of the doctrine, what has happened before can be expected to persist for elementary reasons. Policies and actions are rooted in institutions. There's some variation, but limited. The institutions are stable. Therefore, it's only reasonable to expect the policies and actions to persist, adopt adapted to circumstances. If you want to understand anything about the world that is to come, and have any influence on the way it evolves, it is more than useful to keep this in mind. Well, let's go to after the war. We might as well, adopting the doctrine of change of course, we might as well start with today.
So, today our leader is in London. The mayor of London greeted him by declaring that George Bush is the greatest threat to life on the planet that we have most probably ever seen. As I walked in, I was told by someone that they just heard over the radio that someone else I forget who, announced that he is the most unwelcome visitor to England since William the Conqueror.
These sentiments are described here as rather -- met with some surprise, but that reflects again the useful category of the useful quality of forgetting the recent past. Similar sentiments have been very widely expressed since September, 2002, to some extent before, but particularly since then.
Within weeks after September, 2002, a crucial moment in world affairs, within weeks, even the mainstream U.S. press was compelled to report that the world now regards George Bush as a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein. That fact is an understatement because much as Saddam Hussein was hated and reviled, he was not regarded as a threat. Even by the countries that he had attacked, Iran and Kuwait, both of which understood perfectly well that after a decade of sanctions that had devastated the society, and after having been effectively disarmed, however awful Saddam Hussein was, he wasn't going to threaten anybody.
In fact, it was the weakest country in the region. One of the reasons why it was attacked, it met the primary conditions for target of attack, it was defenseless and known to be. In fact, they had joined the other states in the region in trying to integrate Iraq back into the region for several years over strong U.S. objections. So, the statement, while correct is understated. These kinds of reactions that you hear today and you have been hearing for the past year if you pay attention, are as far as I'm aware, are entirely without precedent. I can't remember anything like them. And how one decides to evaluate the sentiments that are expressed, one thing is clear, no sane person should ignore them.
Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a European Union poll which aroused some interest here. The poll was asking Europeans what they thought was the greatest threat to world peace, and it turned out that the United States was ranked right next to North Korea and Iraq, same percentage.
Well, that was felt to be a surprise, but it shouldn't have been a surprise, because that's what polls have been showing for a year, over a year, growing concern and fear that the United States is out of control under the present leadership, and is a tremendous threat to peace.
Actually, the poll -- the commentary on the poll focused on something else, namely, the U.S., North Korea, and Iran were ranked right below Israel, which was ranked as the greatest threat to peace. But my strong suspicion is that that's because the questions in the poll were wrongly asked. You have to be really careful reading polls. Israel in itself is not a threat - much of a threat at all, but U.S. support for Israel is an enormous threat to world peace. And I presume that that's what people were answering.
However, the question was phrased, and if that's correct, then the major threat perceived to world peace in Europe are U.S. support for Israel, which is the regional superpower and the U.S. actions elsewhere in the world. Well, if that's the right interpretation, then the polls are reflecting an understanding of phenomena that are real and important and widely understood.
They were just pointed out in a important book that is about to appear by Dilip Hero, one of the most astute and knowledgeable commentator, historians dealing with the contemporary Middle East and the international framework in which its problems arise. What he says is about after the war, the book's about the Iraq war, and its consequences. He says, what has actually happened in Iraq is something deadlier than the worst scenarios sketched by the so-called liberal pessimists. The invasion of Iraq has led to an alliance of Arab nationalism with Islamic militancy steering both of them towards an amalgam, which is very ominous for the region and in fact for the world. Again, today's newspapers give you or examples of that.
That's another contributing factor to this extremely dangerous amalgam is U.S. support for Israel's continued rejection of a long-standing international consensus on a political settlement for the Israel-Palestine issue, and its ongoing actions to undermine any possibility that a political settlement can be reached. Always crucially with decisive U.S. support - otherwise those actions are impossible .
For 30 years now, the U.S. has been unilaterally, and that's worth stressing, unilaterally blocking the possibility of a political settlement and providing the decisive diplomatic, economic and military means that permit the actions that step by step make any such settlement impossible. That's dramatically true right now. It's all consistently suppressed in the doctrinal system, and now of course, it's to be, if even mentioned, eliminated from history by the usual means, the convenient doctrine of change of course. Well, this has been decisive for 30 years, and it's going on, and we should pay attention to it if we care about the future. Today's news again gives further reasons.
With regard to Iraq, the predictions before the war by intelligence agencies and independent analysts were pretty uniform. It was predicted that the invasion of Iraq would increase the threat of terror, and would yield the amalgam that Dilip Hero is talking about. It would increase the terror and of proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction.
The logic of that is straight-forward. If you announce to people I'm going to come and attack you, at will without any pretext, they don't say thank you, here's my neck, cut it. What they do is respond in some fashion. No one can respond to the United States in military force. The U.S. spends about as much by now as the rest of world combined, and it is far more technologically advanced, so people turn to the weapons available to them, and the weak do have weapons available to them.
Two, in fact, terror and weapons of mass destruction, which are now not that hard to construct. Sooner or later it, will be united. For example, they might be united in a small nuclear weapon sneaked into a New York Hotel room. Not at all out of the question. And by inciting terror and inciting proliferation, as a deterrent or for revenge, those probabilities are being increased.
Well, those were the predictions before the Iraq war, and there have been -- they have been verified, not surprisingly, since the war. It has apparently, according to specialists in the various countries involved, stimulated proliferation, not surprisingly, and it has certainly stimulated terror. The same intelligence agencies and independent analysts are reporting a sharp spike in recruitment for Al Qeada-style organizations, and if you pay attention and you observe an increase of horrendous terrorist acts all over the world.
Exactly as predicted, the administration was certainly aware of this. I mean they can figure it out themselves even without reading the reports of their own intelligence agencies, and they don't desire that outcome, but they don't care that much. It just has a low priority, ranked alongside of other concerns. And those other concerns are not insignificant. Some of them are domestic. These are not conservatives. They are radical reactionary statists, who are dedicated to unraveling the progressive achievements, legislation and actions of the past century, and to do that, they have a very narrow hold on political power. They must maintain it in order to carry out that program.
You see it day by day in the legislations produced and the actions undertaken and they have an international program, which has been announced, dominating the world by force, permanently, preventing any challenge, and in particular, controlling the very crucial energy resources of the world. Mostly in the Middle East, secondarily in Central Asia and a few other places. Those are serious goals and they are worth undertaking from the perspective of the policy managers, even if it does increase the threat of destruction, in fact maybe the destruction of the species, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the stimulation of terror to which the population of the United States will also be subject as before.
How do Iraqis feel about all of this? That's critically important and much harder to determine. It's harder to determine the attitudes of people under military occupation, but it's not impossible. There's a series of U.S.-run polls taking place. They're informative, so one recent poll actually had a front page story in the New York Times, with a headline saying that Iraqis are pleased to be rid of Saddam Hussein. Well, we didn't need a poll to tell us that.
And presumably, although the question wasn't asked, are they happy to be relieved of the murderous U.S. sanctions, which had killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated the society, and reduced it to total ruin? That question wasn't asked because you're not allowed to mention it. You're not allowed to mention that this took place. We don't consider our own massive crimes there. The doctrine of change, of course, is so extreme that you don't even mention it while it's going on, let alone in the past. So, that question wasn't asked. And that almost predictable answer wasn't mentioned.
Also unmentioned is the fact that the murderous sanctions are a large part of the reason why Iraqis were unable to send Saddam Hussein to the same fate that greeted other comparable monsters and tyrants and torturers who were also supported by the people who are now in office in Washington, just as they supported Saddam Hussein right through his worst atrocities and long after the war with Iran.
There's quite a rogue's gallery of Ceausescu of Romania, the Saddam supported by the Reagan and Bush administrations right through the last minute overthrown from within and the same is true of a long list. The Marcos, Duvalier, Mubutu, Suharto, a long list, all strongly supported, as long as they could maintain power, overthrown from within, ranking easily many of them, with Saddam Hussein in brutality and terror. But if you destroy a society, and you compel the society to rely on the tyrant just for survival, and things like that are not going to happen. This has been understood for a long time, and again, those are some of the things that you just don't mention just like you don't mention the effects of the sanctions. Well, there was more interesting aspect of the poll in the headline. If you read down further in the column, there were other results given.
One of the questions asked in the same poll was - people were asked - how they evaluated foreign leaders' favorability ranking. Do you have a favorable opinion of X, Y and Z? The one who ranked highest was by far was French president Jacques Chirac. He was the international symbol of opposition to the invasion. Well below him, you found Bush, and even below him, the rather pathetic Blair, trailing behind. That was reported without comment, although evidently, The New York Times reporter had some ... it bothered him a little and he came back to it a couple of weeks later and mentioned it in another context and had a comment on it. He gave the figures. His comment was "go figure".
Well, I'm not sure how exactly to interpret that, but I presume what he meant is crazy Arabs, Go figure. Here we liberate them, and they are not thanking us for liberating them. What can it possibly mean, if they regard Jacques Chirac as the most favorable and give him the most highest favorable ranking of any foreign leader? Well, you know, figure. Columbia students might be able to figure out a different interpretation, but anyway for the Times it was, "go figure".
Turning to another poll where this question was asked recently: How do you regard the coalition forces? Are they an occupying force or a liberating force? By five to one, they were called an occupying force. Should the coalition forces leave? By five to three, Iraqis wanted them to leave. That's a remarkable figure, because about 95% of the population also reports that the security situation is much worse than it was before the invasion. And the only thing that's keeping any kind of a lid on it is the occupying forces. But nevertheless, by a very substantial majority, they want them to leave.
Well, what does that mean? Again, you can figure it out. Other polls ask people why did the United States invade Iraq? Well, here it's worth - in the United States, there's some straight answers. So the official reason that widely repeated as long as you can hang on to, is that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and their links to terror, which was such a threat to us that we had to invade it.
And then there was a massive government propaganda campaign in September of 2002 when the invasion was effectively announced and it did drive a large part of the U.S. population completely off the international spectrum. The United States was the only country where a large part of the population was genuinely afraid of Saddam Hussein, because of his weapons of mass destruction, and his links to terror.
It turns out that the people who had those attitudes, those attitudes are strongly correlated with support for the war. Which is not in the least surprising. If I believed those things, I would support the war, too. I mean, if you believe that here is a murderous tyrant accumulating weapons of mass destruction, responsible for 9-11, linked to Al Qaeda, planning new terror, we have to stop him in time, there's a rational decision to invade Iraq. Of course, there never was any reason to believe there was a particle of truth to that.
As I say, the U.S. was alone in having any detectable part of the population even have those opinions. Even in places like Iran and Kuwait. The lying about that continues until the present. It doesn't matter that it was all debunked. So George Bush in his radio addresses a couple of weeks ago, he continues to repeat that the U.S., I'm quoting him, "saved the world from a tyrant, who was developing weapons of mass destruction, and cultivating ties to terror."
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