Monday, November 2, 2009

Noam Chomsky on Obama's Middle East Policy

Last week, the Imperial College Political Philosophy Society, in association with Palestine societies at UCL, SOAS, Goldsmiths, LSE, Imperial and Kings, organized a lecture by MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky: Iran, Palestine and the region in the Obama era: the emerging framework. from ICU Political Philosophy Society on Vimeo.

A few points here and there may require further probing but overall this was a very insightful analysis.

Professor Chomsky's point about studying various civil/human rights movements closely is crucial. For example, the political dynamics and dedication level of the US support for Israel are quite different from that for the apartheid South Africa. Would the same tactics that were successful in South Africa work in the case of Palestine-US-Israel? Would the 'advocacy process' follow a similar course in this case, as Chomsky seems to suggest?

A further challenge for our movements (of people of conscience) is to come up with action plans - not just "proposals" as Chomsky rightly points out - involving practical strategies and tactics that are in line with our principles and sound political analysis.


So far the Obama administration has shown no meaningful signs of any major change to the old grand plan of a "new middle east" (as Condy Rice famously stated), other than slight modifications in the tactics. Suspending the expansion of settlements and recognizing the two-state solution that the current administration is asking of Israel were already part of Bush’s “Road Map for Peace”. Neither of them actually enforced these demands on Israel.

Against the Bush administration’s “hard power” however the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has put forward the idea of “smart power”, combining diplomacy and “iron fist”. What that probably means for Muslim countries is the ‘Good Muslim vs. Bad Muslim’ game. The good Muslims are those compliant to the US-Israeli imperial ambitions. The Bad Muslims are those who resist that and therefore must be disciplined.

The status quo regimes of the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan - are presented as the “moderate” Muslims. While those - within the status quo states and from outside - opposing their corruption and the hegemonic ambitions of US-Israel are labeled as the Bad Muslims. And it is demanded from the latter (those resisting) to ‘reform’ and become ‘good Muslims’. After the inauguration, Obama went to the West Bank, not Gaza, and then to Egypt, where he delivered his now popular Cairo speech. Both are telling indicators.

Consider the following two sentences from the end of that speech: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” What?! During the inquisition?! Muslims were slaughtered, forced to convert or exile under the Inquisitorial Regime. Is that what Mr. Obama is suggesting that Muslims do today against the oppression of their own dictatorial regimes and from outside? Perhaps it was a blunder on the part of Obama’s speech writer.

But in practical terms, this is exactly what the current administration is asking of the Palestinian people: Keep suffering. Rhetorical gestures of conciliation-s by the new administration aside, the US and Israel are more or less continuing the same policy of turning Gaza into a virtual prison and dividing the West Bank into small quarantines through the Security Wall, with Israel having effective control over water, communication, and security matters of both areas.

What lies ahead? A further military and political marginalization of legitimate resistance movements in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. Israel will haggle on the price for ‘peace’ by creating stalemates of one kind or another and thereby finding more time for its expansionist ambitions. Further military actions against those who do not comply, within the occupied territories and outside, are also probable.

On problems with the two-state solution see

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