Saturday, March 29, 2008


Deterring Democracy Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
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C H A P T E R   F O U R

Problems of Population Control

From Z Magazine, November 1989.

The last two chapters were concerned with the political, economic, and cultural effects of the so-called Reagan revolution, and the global system taking shape with the decline of the two superpowers and the erosion of the Cold War confrontation that had proven so useful for mobilizing the domestic population in support of intervention abroad and privilege at home. Since these remain core policy objectives, some new thinking is required.

For U.S. elites the easing of Cold War tensions was a mixed blessing. True, the decline of the Soviet deterrent facilitates U.S. resort to violence and coercion in the Third World, and the collapse of the Soviet system paves the way to integration of much of East and Central Europe into the domains that are to "complement the industrial economies of the West." But problems arise in controlling the ever-threatening public at home and maintaining influence over the allies, now credible rivals in terms of economic power and ahead in the project of adapting the new Third World to their needs. Here lie many problems, of a potentially serious nature. It was therefore hardly surprising that Gorbachev's initiatives should have elicited such ambivalent reactions, tinged with visible annoyance and thoughts as to how they could be exploited to Washington's advantage; or that his unilateral concessions and offers were so commonly interpreted as moves in a game of PR one-upmanship, in which our side unfortunately lacked the talent to compete.

1. "The Unsettling Specter of Peace"

The "Unsettling Specter of Peace" raises "knotty `peace' questions," the Wall Street Journal observes.1 Crucially, it threatens the regular resort to the military Keynesian programs that have served as the major device of state economic management through the postwar years. The Journal quotes former Army chief of staff General Edward Meyer, who thinks that a more capital-intensive and high tech military will ensure "a big business out there for industry": robot tanks, unmanned aircraft, sophisticated electronics, all of dubious use for any defensive (or probably any) military purpose, but that is not the point. It is, however, a rather lame hope; how will the public be bludgeoned into paying the costs, without a plausible Red Menace on the horizon?

Concerns deepened as the shadow of the specter lengthened. "Doom and gloom pervaded one of the first congressional forums for the Economic Stabilization, Adjustment and Defense Industry Conversion Act of 1990," the press reported from Washington, under the headline "House mulls ways to soften the blow as peace breaks out." Appearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee a few days earlier, Matthew Coffey, president of the National Tooling and Machining Association, testified that "We've got a serious, wrenching experience that we're going to go through" if the military budget declines. There is broad agreement that the state will have to provide export credits and other benefits to industry: "Unless there's a fall-back position, it will be impossible to cut weapons systems," New York liberal Democrat Ted Weiss commented. Ohio Republican John Kasich agreed, while grumbling about "corporate welfare," an unusual concession to the real world.2

The problem is not new, though it is arising in a more severe form than heretofore. "Peace scares" have given rise to uneasiness and anxiety from the early days of the Cold War. Business circles have long taken for granted that the state must play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit. They may welcome talk about free enterprise and laissez-faire, but only as a weapon to prevent diversion of public resources to the population at large, or to facilitate the exploitation of the dependencies. The assumption has been that a likely alternative to the Pentagon system is investment for social needs. While perhaps technically feasible by the abstract standards of the economist, this option interferes with the prerogatives of owners and managers and is therefore ruled out as a policy option. But unless driven by fear, the public will neither choose the path that best serves corporate interests nor support foreign adventures undertaken to subordinate the Third World to the same demands.

Problems of social control mount insofar as the state is limited in its capacity to coerce. It is, after all, hardly a law of nature that a few should command while the multitude obey, that the economy should be geared to ensuring luxuries for some instead of necessities for all, or that the fate -- even the survival -- of future generations be dismissed as irrelevant to planning. If ordinary folk are free to reflect on the causes of human misery (in Barrington Moore's phrase), they may well draw all the wrong conclusions. Therefore, they must be indoctrinated or diverted, a task that requires unremitting efforts. The means are many; engendering fear of a threatening enemy has always been a powerful tool in the kit.

The Vietnam years awakened many minds. To counter the threat, it was necessary to restore the image of American benevolence and to rebuild the structure of fear. Both challenges were addressed with the dedication they demand.

The congressional human rights campaign, itself a reflection of the improvement in the moral and intellectual climate, was skillfully exploited for the former end. In the featured article of the Foreign Affairs annual review of the world, Robert Tucker comments, cynically but accurately, that since the mid-1970s "human rights have served to legitimize a part of the nation's post-Vietnam foreign policy and to give policy a sense of purpose that apparently has been needed to elicit public support." He adds "the simple truth that human rights is little more than a refurbished version of America's historic purpose of advancing the cause of freedom in the world," as in Vietnam, a noble effort "undertaken in defense of a free people resisting communist aggression" (Tucker).3 Such State Department handouts are all that one can expect about Vietnam in respectable circles; the plain truth is far too threatening to be thinkable. But the comments on "America's historic purpose" -- also conventional -- do merit some notice. Such rhetoric would only elicit ridicule outside of remnants of pre-Enlightenment fanaticism, perhaps among the mullahs in Qom, or in disciplined Western intellectual circles.4

In the Reagan years, a "yearning for democracy" was added to the battery of population control measures. As Tucker puts it, under the Reagan doctrine "the legitimacy of governments will no longer rest simply on their effectiveness, but on conformity with the democratic process," and "there is a right of intervention" against illegitimate governments, a goal too ambitious he feels, but otherwise unproblematic. The naive might ask why we failed to exercise this right of intervention in South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, or El Salvador, among other candidates. There is no inconsistency, however. These countries are committed to "democracy" in the operative meaning of the term: unchallenged rule by elite elements (business, oligarchy, military) that generally respect the interests of U.S. investors, with appropriate forms for occasional ratification by segments of the public. When these conditions are not satisfied, intervention is legitimate to "restore democracy."

To take the fashionable case of the 1980s, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was a "totalitarian society" (Secretary of State James Baker) and a "Communist dictatorship" (the media generally), where we must intervene massively to assure that elites responsive to U.S. interests prevail as elsewhere in the region.5 Colombia, in contrast, is a democracy with a "level playing field," in current jargon, since these elements rule with no political challenge.

Go to the next segment.

1 John Fialka, WSJ, August 31, 1989.

2 Nancy Walser, Boston Globe. July 22, 1990.

3 Tucker, "Reagan's Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, America and the World, 1988/89.

4 See chapter 1, section 1.

5 Baker, Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1989; Richard C. Hottelet, long-time CBS correspondent, an example selected virtually at random. He adds that the "communist dictatorship...built military supremacy in the region," which is nonsense, apart from the fact that there were some (unmentioned) reasons for the military buildup. Such mindless parroting of government propaganda is so standard that citation of an individual case is misleading and unfair.

6 As of mid-1990, the most recent case is the assassination of presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo at the Bogotá airport in March. Ten months earlier, the party president was assassinated at the same airport. The previous president was murdered in October 1987. The party had "lost some ground," Douglas Farah reports, "in part because so many of its local and regional leaders were killed" -- about 1000 since its founding in 1985, including at least 80 in the first three months of 1990. There were reports implicating the drug cartel, but that seems questionable, since Jaramillo was an outspoken advocate of dialogue and opponent of extradition. The party has blamed military-backed death squads throughout, and human rights groups generally concur. Reuters, NYT, March 23; Douglas Farah, BG, March 23, 1990. KEYWORDS terrorist democracy elections cia mossad bnd nsa covert operation 911 mi6 inside job what really happened wtc pentagon joint chiefs of staff jcs centcom laser hologram usa mi5 undercover agent female sex exploitation perception deception power anarchy green social democratic participation japanese spy black-op false flag gladio terror.

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