Thursday, March 20, 2008


Deterring Democracy Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter 12: Force and Opinion Segment 11/20
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4. The Pragmatic Criterion

It is important to be aware of the profound commitment of Western opinion to the repression of freedom and democracy, by violence if necessary. To understand our own cultural world, we must recognize that advocacy of terror is clear, explicit, and principled, across the political spectrum. It is superfluous to invoke the thoughts of Jeane Kirkpatrick, George Will, and the like. But little changes as we move to "the establishment left," to borrow the term used by Foreign Policy editor Charles William Maynes in an ode to the American crusade "to spread the cause of democracy."42

Consider political commentator Michael Kinsley, who represents "the left" in mainstream commentary and television debate. When the State Department publicly confirmed U.S. support for terrorist attacks on agricultural cooperatives in Nicaragua, Kinsley wrote that we should not be too quick to condemn this official policy. Such international terrorist operations doubtless cause "vast civilian suffering," he conceded. But if they succeed "to undermine morale and confidence in the government," then they may be "perfectly legitimate." The policy is "sensible" if "cost-benefit analysis" shows that "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in" yields "democracy," in the conventional sense already discussed.43

As a spokesman for the establishment left, Kinsley insists that terror must meet the pragmatic criterion; violence should not be employed for its own sake, merely because we find it amusing. This more humane conception would readily be accepted by Saddam Hussein, Abu Nidal, and the Hizbollah kidnappers, who, presumably, also consider terror pointless unless it is of value for their ends. These facts help us situate enlightened Western opinion on the international spectrum.

Such reasoned discussion of the justification for terror is not at all unusual, which is why it elicits no reaction in respectable circles just as there is no word of comment among its left-liberal contributors and readers when the New Republic, long considered the beacon of American liberalism, advocates military aid to "Latin-style fascists...regardless of how many are murdered" because "there are higher American priorities than Salvadoran human rights" (see chapter 10, p. 308).

Appreciation of the "salutary efficacy" of terror, to borrow John Quincy Adams's phrase, has been a standard feature of enlightened Western thought. It provides the basic framework for the propaganda campaign concerning international terrorism in the 1980s. Naturally, terrorism directed against us and our friends is bitterly denounced as a reversion to barbarism. But far more extreme terrorism that we and our agents conduct is considered constructive, or at worst insignificant, if it meets the pragmatic criterion. Even the vast campaign of international terrorism launched against Cuba by the Kennedy administration, far exceeding anything attributed to official enemies, does not exist in respected academic discourse or the mainstream media. In his standard and much respected scholarly study of international terrorism, Walter Laqueur depicts Cuba as a sponsor of the crime with innuendos but scarcely a pretense of evidence, while the campaign of international terrorism against Cuba merits literally not a word; in fact, Cuba is classed among those societies "free from terror." Latin Americanist Robert Wesson of the Hoover Institute writes that after the Bay of Pigs, when the terror mounted to its peak, "only nonviolent...measures were taken against Cuban communism," namely diplomatic and commercial isolation.44

The guiding principle is clear and straightforward: their terror is terror, and the flimsiest evidence suffices to denounce it and to exact retribution upon civilian bystanders who happen to be in the way; our terror, even if far more extreme, is merely statecraft, and therefore does not enter into the discussion of the plague of the modern age. The practice is understandable on the principles already discussed.45

Sometimes, the adaptability of the system might surprise even the most hardened observer. Nothing outraged U.S. opinion more than the shooting down of KAL 007 in September 1983 by the Soviet airforce; the densely printed New York Times index devoted seven full pages to the atrocity in that month alone. It did not go entirely unnoticed that the reaction was rather different when the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in a commercial corridor off the coast of Iran -- out of "a need to prove the viability of Aegis," its high tech missile system, in the judgment of U.S. Navy commander David Carlson, who "wondered aloud in disbelief" as he monitored the events from a nearby naval vessel. This was dismissed as an unfortunate error in difficult circumstances, for which the Iranians were ultimately at fault. The latest act in this instructive drama took place in April 1990, when the commander of the Vincennes, along with the officer in charge of anti-air warfare, was given the Legion of Merit award for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service" and for the "calm and professional atmosphere" under his command during the period of the destruction of the Iranian Airbus, with 290 people killed. "The tragedy isn't mentioned in the texts of the citations," AP reported. The media apparently found nothing worthy of comment in any of this -- though Iranian condemnations of the destruction of the airliner are occasionally noted and dismissed with derision as "boilerplate attacks on the United States."46

One may imagine the reaction were Iran to go on from "boilerplate attacks on the United States" to threats to retaliate with military strikes against U.S. targets -- perhaps taking its cue from a lead story in the Boston Globe by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv on how to deal with Saddam Hussein: "A strategic strike at their oil fields or an air base might be in order -- especially after US intelligence picked up signs that the Iraqi president rewarded the air force pilot who `mistakenly' attacked the USS Stark during the Gulf War."47

Go to the next segment.

42 Maynes, Foreign Policy, Spring 1990. See chapter 9, p. 309.

43 For further details, see Culture of Terrorism, 77-8; and on the concept of democracy held by Kinsley and his colleagues, chapter 10.

44 For details on Laqueur's remarkable apologetics for terror in what is regarded as serious scholarship, see Necessary Illusions, 113, 277f. Wesson, "Historical Overview and Analysis," in Jan Triska, ed., Dominant Powers and Subordinate States, 58-9. On U.S. terrorist operations against Cuba, see Necessary Illusions, 274f., and sources cited. On these and other measures, including global economic blockade, and the background, see Morris Morley, Imperial State: The United States and Revolution and Cuba, 1952-1986 (Cambridge, 1987).

45 For some recent discussion, see Pirates and Emperors; Necessary Illusions, 269f.; Edward Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan, The "Terrorism" Industry (Pantheon, 1990); Alexander George, ed., Western State Terrorism (Polity press, 1991).

46 Carlson, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, September 1989; Los Angeles Times, Sept. 3, 1989; AP, April 23, 1990; Philip Shenon, NYT, July 6, 1990.

47 Melman and Raviv, BG, Aug. 5, 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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