Wednesday, 5 November 2014


When I saw this particular article on Professor Chomsky labeling the US as the world’s biggest terrorist state, I felt the need to have a word or two. The article appears in

Professor Chomsky is someone for whom I have enormous respect for his monumental contributions both to linguistics and scholarship on US foreign policy, role of the media and social justice issues, I find myself agreeing with the substance of his article. However, I wish he had not used the generic and rather meaningless term "terrorist" to refer to the US which itself uses this term for purely propaganda purposes and to advance its new Cold War policy. What does "terrorist" mean other than what the user wants it to mean, and does it really apply to a country with the capacity for both conventional and unconventional warfare?

There is a long history of "unconventional warfare" in which the term terrorism fits in, and that includes the famous or infamous for many "Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution. There were anarchism and syndicalism in the 19th and early 20th century that the reactionary state called terrorists, simply because they attempted to organize labor unions, or women and minorities to vote. The term has changed meaning with each country and in each epoch, and today it simply makes a very strong emotional statement, but does not really add much more to the analysis. The US defines terrorism any way it wishes, and so does Russia and so does China, and Turkey, etc. to suit their policies. Using the term “terrorist state” simply adds emotional emphasis to the destabilizing role the US plays globally through covert and overt operations.

Many of the overt and covert military acts that the US has committed from the Spanish-American War until the present could probably go under the labels of war crimes rather than “terrorism”. The covert operations involving political assassinations and overthrow of governments where people were killed could possibly fall in the category of state-sponsored terrorism.

The US military operation in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War clearly qualifies as state terrorism. The war began in February 1899 and ended in July 1902. During the war, the US engaged in war crimes that included setting up areas where peasants were concentrated to isolate them from rebels fighting for the country’s independence.  Besides the Philippines that became the only colony of the US and where marines committed crimes against innocent civilians, there were numerous cases in WWII as well. In my view, the greatest crime was the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because nuclear weapons are made to be used on civilians and at the time of use the war was in fact over for all practical purposes.   

The My Lai Massacre of about 500 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam could be called an act of state terrorism, but in my view it was a war crime. Considering that the US is beyond the reach of the World Court, any war crime it has committed is always swept under the rug. Similarly, what has taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last ten year, including drone warfare is another strong case of war crimes, at least according to many human rights organizations and governments. Some may argue that these are case of state-sponsored terrorism, and that is a matter of definition, but war crimes are far worse in legal terms, though not in political, than terrorism.  

If what I described above falls in the category of war crimes, where is the domain of state terrorism? Here we have a pattern of behavior on the part of the US in the domain of counter-insurgency operations that begin with the creation of the CIA under Truman and tested during the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s, and continue until the present. After engaging in counter-insurgency operations in Greece where extreme right wing elements took power with US financial and military assistance in the 1940, the CIA move on to Iran where it overthrew the duly-elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq and installed the Shah of Iran who governed a US client state until the revolution of 1979.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the CIA was involved in various parts of Africa, Indonesia, and Latin America. The illegal acts in which the CIA was involved could be classified as acts of terrorism, or coverts acts of war. Terminology really makes no difference, but only the end results that meant illegal regimes that were dictatorial but the US projected as pro-Western, which means pro-democracy. Are all of these sufficient to call the US the biggest terrorist state in the world?

Chomsky is accurate in the substance of his criticism, but as a linguist he knows the emotional impact of language on the public, and depending on what segment of the public he is trying to convince/persuade, the term may or may not be appropriate to win support for the case he is making. I would actually prefer softer terms to convince those who never question US foreign policy that the US needs a serious re-examination of its activities and needs to compare their impact on the rest of the world.

When I see that children from Iraq and Syria drown in boats with their parents as they try to escape the horrors of war across the Eastern Mediterranean, I think of the forces that destabilized Iraq and Syria. When I see in the news continued low-level conflict in Libya, I think back to who created the destabilizing conditions. Not that the previous regimes were ideal by any measure. But to replace a bad regime with a much worse one is hardly a triumph for freedom and democracy.

When I see that Afghanistan went from bad to much worse as the world's top heroin producer under US-NATO watch, I have to wonder how much freedom and democracy the US delivered for all that heroin Afghan farmers have been producing. in short, the utterly absurdity of US foreign policy rests in its own contradictions, and there is hardly a need to call it terrorist when the results are more horrifying and speak for themselves. 

There are those who argue that Chomsky only “picks on the US”, perhaps justifiably so considering that he has been under the watchful eye of US intelligence agencies. Clearly, the US is not the focus of all evil on our planet. It is true that one runs into the double standard accusation if he/she criticizes one government's policy and remains silent about others just as detrimental. Because I am familiar with Chomsky's work, I can say that he is fair and balanced and has no qualms about analyzing with equal vigor the detrimental policies of any government. It is just a matter of context.

More inflammatory rhetoric for emotional responses is hardly a way to persuade. Do we need war of words, or realistic and accurate analysis with step by step solutions to crises? The people in positions of influence in the US must answer the question of what is really in it for the country's best interests pursuing the current destabilizing policies instead of pursuing political solutions. Chomsky knows all of this better than me, but for his own reasons he chose for the moment to do what he did. Perhaps it was because he wanted a political response. The question is what kind of political response and toward what end? 

Is the purpose of writing as we are engaging on such issues simply to analyze and inform, raise consciousness, persuade and to move people toward acting in their own way at the grassroots level, or is the purpose to engage in polemics? My view is that Chomsky is a very serious and experienced scholar who knows the difference and his desire for social justice drives him to speak out on issues with the former goal in mind and not the latter.

The role of governments is to propagate and to use as many outlets to do so as they are able to influence through various means. The US uses just about everything at its disposal from mainstream media to NGOs, think tanks, academics, and even religious institutions. Other governments engage in more direct methods of intervention to propagate than the US, and they are often less effective because the "sledge hammer" approach rarely works. The US is indeed a master at propaganda and Chomsky more than the rest of us know this because he has co-authored a book about the subject (Manufacturing Consent).

Mass killings in the form of state-sanctioned warfare have always carried a sense of glory, virtue, and honor, although the end result is mass destruction. By contrast, individual acts of political violence, including political acts the state labels "terrorism", imbue the general public with extreme fear, categorical condemnation, and demands for severe punishment of the 'criminals' behind the random acts of political violence. In the first three days of November 2010, a number of low-tech, low level mail-bombs targeting various embassies and political offices in Athens, as well as former French President Sarkozy, German Chancellor Merkel and former Prime Minister Berlusconi caused concern in EU and US about a wave of terrorism that comes after mass strikes and demonstrations in Athens, Paris, and various other European cities.

These developments took place about a week after the package bombs from Yemen to the US. Greek police are working with EU and US anti-terrorism experts to uncover the organization behind the wave of mail bombings designed more for maximum publicity and stirring authorities into a state of panic. The random pattern of postal bombs discovered so far are 14, included countries as diverse as Bulgaria, Mexico, Chile, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium does not provide clear clues about the political and ideological purpose of the group behind the operations.

Political violence (terrorism) as a form of protest against the establishment will be on the rise in many parts of the world for many years, and not just in the Middle East that the US has on its radar for its own geopolitical, ideological and political reasons. In the age of widespread apathy among the masses throughout the world, and against the background of a political economy serving a small percentage of the population concentrated in a few countries to the detriment of the vast majority of people and nations, in an age when the dynamics for social revolution are absent, terrorism - acts of political violence against the state, which represents a political, economic, and social system of injustice - is inevitable.

As futile as terrorism may be in accomplishing the stated goals of social, economic, and political justice, the political economy as it is today not just in Greece but throughout the world feeds and promotes terrorism that actually strengthens the political and economic elites and helps to preserve the social order. Terrorism helps to keep the public living in fear, asking for more authoritarian-like measures, and willing to sacrifice human rights in return of the 'safety and security' that the state promises. Terrorism helps to keep people in conformity mode, it keeps labors unions and other social activists more docile, it prevents social mobilization against the status quo, and it elevates the 'benevolent' image and status of the political and financial elites.
The question for me is to avoid doing what governments. Let me state categorically that no matter what the US says about Iraq and Afghanistan, the facts speak very loudly for themselves. These are the facts that I feel is my job to bring to the attention of the world, rather than labeling the US. As I stated above, the results of US foreign policy have been far worse than anything that may be included under the label "terrorism", so why even use the term?

Does this mean that the majority of the people will believe me instead of a propaganda-driven right wing radio talk show host arguing America needs more defense spending to defeat Muslim terrorists and to deter Russia and China? Of course the mainstream media always prevails because it is the peoples' living rooms 24/7. But in the age of mass information, alternative analysis must be available for those curious enough to pass it on to others.

Solutions-oriented analysis. It is true that there is no such thing as "objectivity" in the social sciences and journalism, because we are not dealing with the laws of physics here and mathematics, but a set of criteria on which policy analysis is based. If Chomsky is committed to social justice as he is throughout his life, he cannot possibly side with the state of Israel and the US, because he sees very clearly the injustice in their policies toward the Palestinians. Just as many of us see the propaganda and manipulation of the political arena in the Ukraine, so does Chomsky. Having said this, everyone loves a good analysis that is as balanced and coherent as possible and based on some modicum of empirical basis.

The question is to go beyond the analysis and propose solutions, or at least hint at solutions in a subtle manner. I really hate to use the term that the State Department uses because it is propagandistic and its meaning not at all what the words imply, but "conflict resolution analysis" with social justice as the criteria is where I would personally aim. While the first thing is to make people aware, to give them the point of view that is free of government propaganda, do we stop there?

Intellectuals are not above the world observing it like indifferent bird from the sky, as Soren Kierkegaard and other philosophers believed. On the contrary, an intellectual would not be human if she/he did not strongly condemn the African slave trade, the holocaust and all genocides in the 20th century, the Vietnam War and all regional wars that cost the lives of about 30 million between 1945 and 2000, and US foreign policy that has led to such catastrophic civil war, refugee and impoverished conditions in Islamic countries today.

The larger and more serious issue Chomsky raises is the re-examination of US foreign policy that honestly needs to be addressed. This is not so much because we are headed back to where we left off with Bush in 2008, but because the US will have serious problems longer term if it does not attend to this from a realistic rather than the current romantic messianic perspective many in the pro-defense build-up movement are advocating. Regional destabilization is no way to compete with China, and policymakers really need to come to their senses. I have outlined these issues in a recent article entitled:

AMERICAN MILITARISM: Last Hope for Greatness or Road to Decline?

The US created the current new Cold War against the new enemy Islamic jihadists to replace the old Cold War and the former enemy the USSR? History will show that at the very least the US went out of its way to feed Islamic militancy by conducting policy in such a way as to strengthen it, and in certain cases there was even indirect cooperation and collaboration. Does this make the US the world's leading terrorist? Even if it does, exactly what does this term mean and what should the world's response be?

Without deliberately going out of my way to belabor this issue on whether the “US is the biggest terrorist state in the world”, I merely wish to point out that that policy decisions are not made because intellectuals or policy advisors have sound ideas, unless those ideas coincide with the tangible and invariably narrow interests behind the policy. For example, it is simply pointless to try and convince either Republicans or Democrats that there is a real need to reevaluate US foreign policy and establish perimeters based on current realistic assumptions about US ability to finance defense and intelligence operations. 

 The White House and Congress will always make decisions on the basis of serving narrow interests behind the policy and never would they even consider the detrimental longer term consequences to the country.  In other words, it is not so much the Machiavellian theory of power that is pursued, but the even more dangerous short-term thinking about short term interests no matter the results longer term. Even if we bring down to earth Moses, Jesus, the prophet Mohammad, Confucius and the Buddha and they all agree on what course of action is best suited, the US would follow the exact same policy as it is today because it could care less about the merits of policy, and only the interests it serves. Now, is it any different for Russia, China, etc.? I think that Japan and China have a longer term horizon, and Russia is driven more by the insecurities that invariably ensued after the disintegration of the USSR.

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