Bush's Bankrupt Vision
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Bush's bankrupt vision
BY NOAM CHOMSKY
1 June 2008
IN MID-May, President Bush travelled to the Middle East to establish his
legacy more firmly in the part of the world that has been the prime
focus of his presidency.
The trip had two principal destinations, each chosen to celebrate a
major anniversary: Israel, the 60th anniversary of its founding and
recognition by the United States, and Saudi Arabia, the 75th anniversary
of US recognition of the newly founded kingdom. The choices made good
sense in the light of history and the enduring character of US Middle
East policy: control of oil, and support of the proxies who help
An omission, however, was not lost on the people of the region. Though
Bush celebrated the founding of Israel, he did not recognise (let alone
commemorate) the paired event from 60 years ago: the destruction of
Palestine, the Nakba, as Palestinians refer to the events that expelled
them from their lands.
During his three days in Jerusalem, the president was an enthusiastic
participant in lavish events and made sure to go to Masada, a
near-sacred site of Jewish nationalism.
But he did not visit the seat of the Palestinian authority in Ramallah,
or Gaza City, or a refugee camp, or the town of Qalqilya — strangled by
the Separation Wall, now becoming an Annexation Wall under the illegal
Israeli settlement and development programmes that Bush has endorsed
officially, the first president to do so.
And it was out of the question that he would have any contact with Hamas
leaders and parliamentarians, chosen in the only free election in the
Arab world, many of them in Israeli jails with no pretense of judicial
The pretexts for this stance scarcely withstand a moment's analysis.
Also of no moment is the fact that Hamas has repeatedly called for a
two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that the
United States and Israel have rejected, virtually alone, for more than
30 years, and still do.
Bush did allow the US favourite, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, to
participate in meetings in Egypt with many regional leaders. Bush's last
visit to Saudi Arabia was in January. On both trips, he sought, without
success, to draw the kingdom into the anti-Iranian alliance he has been
seeking to forge. That is no small task, despite the concern of the
Sunni rulers over the "Shia crescent" and growing Iranian influence,
regularly termed "aggressiveness."
For the Saudi rulers, accommodation with Iran may be preferable to
confrontation. And though public opinion is marginalised, it cannot be
completely dismissed. In a recent poll of Saudis, Bush ranked far above
Osama bin Laden in the "very unfavourable" category, and more than twice
as high as Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of
Hezbollah, Iran's Shia ally in Lebanon.
US-Saudi relations date to the recognition of the Kingdom in 1933 -- not
coincidentally, the year when Standard of California obtained a
petroleum concession and American geologists began to explore what
turned out to be the world's largest reserves of oil.
The United States quickly moved to ensure its own control, important
steps in a process by which the United States took over world dominance
from Britain, which was slowly reduced to a "junior partner," as the
British Foreign Office lamented, unable to counter "the economic
imperialism of American business interests, which is quite active under
the cloak of a benevolent and avuncular internationalism" and is
"attempting to elbow us out."
The strong US-Israel alliance took its present form in 1967, when Israel
performed a major service to the United States by destroying the main
center of secular Arab nationalism, Nasser's Egypt, also safeguarding
the Saudi rulers from the secular nationalist threat. US planners had
recognised a decade earlier that a "logical corollary" of US opposition
to "radical" (that is, independent) Arab nationalism would be "to
support Israel as the only strong pro-Western power left in the Middle
Investment by US corporations in Israeli high-tech industry has sharply
increased, including Intel, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Warren Buffett
and others, joined by major investors from Japan and India -- in the
latter case, one facet of a growing US-Israel-India strategic alliance.
To be sure, other factors underlie the US-Israeli relationship. In
Jerusalem, Bush invoked "the bonds of the book," the faith "shared by
Christians like himself and Jews," the Australian Press reported, but
apparently not shared by Muslims or even Christian Arabs, like those in
Bethlehem, now barred from occupied Jerusalem, a few kilometres away, by
illegal Israeli construction projects.
The Saudi Gazette bitterly condemned Bush's "audacity to call Israel the
'homeland for the chosen people' -- the terminology of ultrareligious
Israeli hardliners. The Gazette added that Bush's "particular brand of
moral bankruptcy was on full display when he made only passing mention
of a Palestinian state in his vision of the region 60 years hence."
It is not difficult to discern why Bush's chosen legacy should stress
relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia, with a side glance at Egypt,
along with disdain for the Palestinians and their miserable plight,
apart from a few ritual phrases.
We need not tarry on the thought that the president's choices have
anything to do with justice, human rights or the vision of "democracy
promotion" that gripped his soul as soon as the pretexts for the
invasion of Iraq had collapsed.
But the choices do accord with a general principle, observed with
considerable consistency: Rights are assigned in accord with service to
Palestinians are poor, weak, dispersed and friendless. It is elementary,
then, that they should have no rights. In sharp contrast, Saudi Arabia
has incomparable resources of energy, Egypt is the major Arab state, and
Israel is a rich Western country and the regional powerhouse, with air
and armoured forces that are larger and technologically more advanced
than any NATO power (apart from its patron) along with hundreds of
nuclear weapons, and with an advanced and largely militarised economy
closely linked to the United States.
The contours of the intended legacy are therefore quite predictable.
Noam Chomsky's writings on linguistics and politics have just been
collected in The Essential Noam Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove, from
the New Press. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and
philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"