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Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Middle East and
the New World Order

By April Howley
What did Noam Chomsky really say in his 1995 Macquarie University lecture on "The Middle East and the New World Order"?

In his 1995 Macquarie University lecture, Noam Chomsky discusses the nature of United States foreign policy, and its consequences for the people and the regimes of the Middle East. He claims that the true nature of such US intervention in Middle Eastern affairs, is disguised by both the American media and the American intellectual community1. However, Chomsky's arguments in this one lecture, cannot be fully understood outside of the wider fabric of Chomsky's past (both political and otherwise), and hence his ideological orientation. As Christopher Coker reminds us, "at heart Chomsky is an advocate, more than a philosopher, a writer whose political philosophy is much more elusive than his political journalism"2.

As an American Jew, who vehemently criticises US and Israeli policy, Chomsky is certainly an anomaly. He grew up in New York, where he took an active interest in politics from an early age, and was influence by the radical Jewish community there3. This may explain his socialist/anarchist sentiment, if not his anti-Israel stance (which can perhaps be correlated to his experience and disappointment in an Israeli kibbutz)4. Chomsky established himself academically in the field of linguistics, and later made contributions to the disciplines of: psychology, philosophy, and political science5. In the 1960s he became renowned as one of the "most outspoken and articulate critics of Vietnam"6, who risked imprisonment by refusing to pay half of his taxes, and openly supported American young men who resisted military conscription to vietnam7. Although Chomsky is most famous for his political scholarship and activity, branded a "hero of the New Left"8, his work in the field of linguistics and psychology provide an important insight into his political philosophy9.

Through his study of language, Chomsky established the theory that the structure of language is determined by the structure of the human mind and since certain characteristics of language are universal, at least one part of human nature is common to us all10. As such, he opposes "radical behaviourist" psychology, which (in short) portrays all human thought and behaviour as habit attributable to a process of conditioning11. Hence, it is his linguistic research which established (or perhaps reinforced), Chomsky's belief that human beings are different from animals and machines12. This concept of human nature is reminiscent of 17th and 18th century Natural Law theories, in that it recognises all human beings as sharing certain characteristics, in a state of nature13. In conjunction with Natural Law theorists, Chomsky believes that this shared humanity entitles individuals to certain rights, which should be both respected and protected by society. Chomsky believes that power elites (as reinforced by "big government") and capitalism, destroy individual rights, and this elucidates his promotion of anarchist/socialist ideals14.

As a political theory, "anarchism" supports the abolition of all forms of governmental institutions, to be replaced by voluntary organisations arising spontaneously between individuals to solve pressing issues15. This type of decision-making is argued to "fulfil all the individual and group needs...without the apparatus of constraint and repression required by the state"16. Chomsky himself argues that such a society would allow one "to live one's life simply as an individual"17. A criticism of Chomsky's political works is that he doesn't elaborate on the details of how an anarchist society would operate, on such a society's plausibility, or on the process of establishing one18. Instead, Chomsky concentrates on demonstrating the evils of the political systems which presently exist in most of the world, focusing especially on the US government.

Chomsky believes that American pluralist democracy is a fiction, and that contemporary state capitalism means that government promotes the interests of the Bourgeoisie, while maintaining the facade of popular democracy19. Capitalist interests are furthered by the exploitation of other nations, as a source of new markets and resources20. According to Chomsky, US foreign policy has no room for justice and human rights, which get in the way of these economic interests21. The real agenda of the US government (and hence many of its actions) are disguised by the intellectual community and the media who, in Chomsky's words, conduct the "engineering of consent", a technique that substitutes for the use of force in societies with democratic forms22.

Chomsky has discussed what he perceives to be the US government's attempts to control foreign nations purely for its own capitalist gain, and the ways in which the "US ideologists" have engineered consent for such foreign policy, in relation to many nations (Indonesia and Indochina are but two)23. However, in his 1995 Macquarie University lecture, Chomsky discussed US foreign policy as it related to the Middle East in particular24.

In this lecture, Chomsky demonstrates why and how the US has attempted to dominate the Middle East. He claims that the region is one of the greatest material prizes in terms of investment25. Chomsky explains that Middle Eastern oil is both an economic resource in itself, and also a lever for world domination. The region is also a means for world domination as a result of its strategic importance, with President Eisenhower once describing the Middle East as "the most strategically important area in the world"26. It is for these reasons, according to Chomsky, that nations such as Britain and France have also had their fingers in the Middle Eastern pie, in the past. However, in the 1940s, the US demanded most of the pie for itself27. Hence, France was "kicked out" under a legal technicality (relating to its position as an occupied country during World War Two). The US was worried that Britain was moving in on Saudi Arabia (and hence massive oil resources), but managed to relegate Britain to a secondary role, as the "Lieutenant"28. This was partially achieved, according to the Chomskian version of the tale, via President Roosevelt's declaration of Saudi Arabia as "our democratic ally" (despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled entirely by its Royal Family, the House of Sau'd), and by the sending of US equipment to Saudi29.

Chomsky claims that after the US had established control in the Middle East, it maintained power through the originally British colonial technique of the "Arab facade"30. This is the technique of leaving the everyday governance of the region in the hands of "local managers", who are preferably weak and dependent family dictatorships31. In addition, other US-manipulated nations (typically non-Arab, such as Iran, Pakistan, Israel and Turkey) are used as "local cops on the beat" to maintain Middle Eastern "stability". Chomsky defines "stability"32 in this context as a euphemism for US control (his examination of the language used to describe certain aspects of US foreign policy, is no doubt facilitated by his experience in the field of linguistics)33. Chomsky claims that this US control technique is well documented on the public record, but the US media/intelligentsia chooses not to expose it34. For example, in 1973, the US Senate's leading expert on oil and the Middle East admitted that "US dominance is guarded by Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia who will inhibit and contain those irresponsible and radical elements Arab society"35. This accords with Chomsky's revelation that immediately after the fall of the Shah, Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperated to sell arms to the Iranian army in the aim of creating a coup to restore the old order36. When the US media publicised this (as the "Iran Contra Affair"), it was portrayed as an "arms for hostages deal". However, Chomsky reminds us that there were no western hostages in Iran when the arms deal began37.

The US's "local Managers"38 are portrayed by Chomsky as being allowed to rule, and to have certain rights, as long as they carry out the US's bidding (ie. channelling wealth to the West)39. However, he describes the "people in the slums of Cairo and the villages of Lebanon"40 as having no rights whatsoever in US eyes. The Palestinians have "negative rights"41 because they not only lack wealth and power, but they are a "nuisance" to the US, as a result of their effect on public opinion towards Israel. Hence, the Chomskyan conception is that justice, human rights and self-governance are blatantly missing from US foreign policy.

In After the Cataclysm Chomsky claims that "human rights are set aside, except in rhetorical flourishes useful for ideological reconstruction"42, and he demonstrated this in his Macquarie Lecture when he discussed the so-called Middle East "Peace Process" of late. This "Peace Process" has been portrayed by the Western media and American scholars as an important step towards achieving a better life for Israelis/Palestinians/Jordanians/Lebanese and as representing "a New World Order", whereby the end of the Cold War allows nations to work together to ensure peace. As such, its orchestrators have received their Noble Peace Prizes. However, Chomsky believes that all the rhetoric about peace and justice for the average person in the region, is really just a device to disguise the fact that the "Declaration of Principles" is merely an agreement which the US government has instigated at this particular time because it currently serves US interests (and to which the PLO agreed because they had no choice)43. Similarly, he sees the "New World Order" as a euphemistic term disguising a system of US dominance, where "what we say goes"44.

Chomsky argues that the "Peace Process" was only allowed by the US because it was finally in a position to dominate such a plan and the region itself, and because this plan did not require very much at all to be apportioned to the Palestinians45. Firstly, Chomsky argues that the US has been guaranteed dominance in the Middle East, because Europe has abdicated and the Cold War power of the USSR has been dissipated46. Therefore, the 1990s are the first time that no other major power has demanded a role in attempts to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict. Also, US power in the region was consolidated in the Gulf War (or in Chomsky's words the "Gulf Slaughter", because a War involves two sides shooting at one another, not a Western country "demonstrating its capacity to devastate a third world country"). Only this decade has the US finally been able to realise the long sought goals of the "Monroe Doctrine" in the Middle East47. With the US guaranteed dominance, the benefits of a resolution of the Arab/Israeli conflict could be enjoyed. According to Chomsky, the benefit to the US of the "peace process" is that it will sweep the Palestinian issue under the rug, so that the tacit relations among the major powers can be brought to the surface48. That is, Israel can become a technological/financial centre, maintaining its military predominance of the region (backed by US power) and "continuing to survive on a US dole incomparable in world Affairs"49.

That the US motivation for the "Declaration of Principles" was not peace and justice for the residents of the Palestine/Israel region, is demonstrated by the fact that from 1967 to the 1990s, the US has opposed every single initiative for peace, which called for Palestinian rights and international participation (other than from the US)50. Many of these US-crushed plans, have been ignored by the US media and academia. For example, the 1976 resolution put to the UN Security Council by Syria Egypt and Jordan (the "confrontation states") which was the same as the US-supported UN resolution 242, except that it added the issue of Palestinian rights, was vetoed by the US. This resolution received no coverage in the US; as Chomsky describes it, the resolution and the US veto of it, was "gone from history and scholarship"51. Chomsky provides evidence which demonstrates that the "Declaration of Principles" accords the Palestinian people less than they have been offered in the past, but Arafat's present political situation has forced him into accepting whatever he can get, as his "last chance at hanging onto power"52. As part of a power elite himself, Arafat is perceived by Chomsky as "opposed to democracy in any of the occupied territories"53. An example is given of how Arafat cancelled elections when they didn't come out his way54.

There are many who have been moved by the "figure of a successful scholar who would put his mind and to some extent his body on the line for causes that matter"55. However, as with all "heroes of the left"56, Chomsky is not short of critics. Criticisms of Chomsky include disapproval in relation to his placing of the blame for the majority of the world's suffering and misery at the door of the Western capitalist democracies57, and the legitimisation of internal human rights abuses that seem to accrue from Chomsky's execration of human rights abuses carried out by a foreign power. Chomsky has been accused of relying on "special pleading...and selective use of evidence"58, and has even been criticised for being too "chic"59! However, as John Lyons reminds us, Chomsky's work has been of such a polemical character that he cannot be "written off as a woolly minded liberal...his arguments may be accepted or rejected: they cannot be ignored"60.

In conclusion, in his 1995 Macquarie University lecture, Noam Chomsky was really saying that US imperialist and inhumane foreign policy towards the Middle East, is but one example of the evils of large and established, capitalist governments. According to Chomsky, such governments will by their nature, abuse certain human rights, which every individual (as a result of their very humanness) deserves to have protection. Chomsky is saying that the media and the intellectual community will buttress the government, through their "murder of history"61, and that in order to have a free society such intellectuals and journalists must be truly free (unfettered by the government and their own careerism). Towards the end of the Macquarie lecture he claims that the Middle Eastern pattern "is shameful and degrading, but no more so than what's happening across the world"62. In his eyes such human rights abuses will continue internationally so long as "the masters are permitted to design a world order in which what they say goes"63. As is characteristic of much of his political commentary, Chomsky does not discuss the process by which the "master" could be overthrown, in his Macquarie lecture. However, his other works display his preference for anarchist socialism, along with his pessimism about its realisation in the foreseeable future.


1 Noam Chomsky, The Middle East and the New World Order, video (Sydney, 1995).

2 Christopher Coker, The Mandarin and the Commissar: The Political Thought of Noam Chomsky in Chomsky: Consensus and Controversy (UK, 1987), p.269.

3 Dell Hymes, "Review of Chomsky" in On Chomsky: Critical Essays (New York, 1974), p.330.

4 Ibid.

5 John Lyons, Chomsky (Sussex, 1970), p.12.

6 Ibid., p.13.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Hymes, Op.Cit., p.328.

10 Lyons, Op.Cit., p.12.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p.14.

13 Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity (MIT University, 1988), pp. 1-3.

14 Lyons, Op.Cit., p.14.

15 Dean Jaensch & Max Teichman, Macmillan Dictionary of Australian Politics (Melbourne, 1979), p.7.

16 Ibid.

17 Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, (New York, 1982), p.263.

18 Coker, Op.Cit., pp.273-274.

19 lbid, pp.270-271.

20 Ibid., p.270.

21 Noam Chomsky & ES Herman, After the Cataclysm (Sydney, 1980), p.299.

22 Ibid.

23 Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War (New York, 1982), pp.250-255.

24 Chomsky, The Middle East and The New World Order.

25-54 Ibid.

55 Hymes, Op.Cit., p.329.

56 Ibid., p.331.

57 Coker, Op.Cit., pp.272-273.

58 Ibid., p.269.

59 Ibid., p.277.

60 Lyons, Op.Cit., p.14.

61 Chomsky, The Middle East and The New World Order.

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.


Bloch, Ernst, Natural Law and Human Dignity (MIT Press, 1958), pp. 1-3.

Chomsky, Noam, The Middle East and The New World Order, Video (Sydney, 1995).

Chomsky, Noam, The Fateful Triangle (UK, 1983), pp.17-19.

Chomsky, Noam, Towards a New Cold War (New York, 1982), pp.250-263.

Chomsky, Noam & Herman, Edward, After the Cataclysm (Sydney, 1988), p.299.

Coker, Christopher, "The Mandarin and the Commissar: the Political Thought of Noam Chomsky", Noam Chomsky: Consensus and Controversy (UK, 1987), pp.269-274.

Hymes, Dell, "Review of Noam Chomsky", On Chomsky: Critical Essays, Harman ed., (New York, 1974), pp.328-330.

Jaensch, Dean & Teichman, Max, The Macmillan Dictionary of Australian Politics (Melbourne, 1983), p.7.

Lyons, J, Chomsky (Sussex 1977), pp.12-14.


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