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Chomsky Fills Lobero
updated: Mar 04, 2014, 2:38 PM

By Robert Bernstein

"Security and State Power" was the title of Noam Chomsky's talk to a sold-out Lobero Theater crowd on February 28. Professor Chomsky was receiving the Distinguished Peace Leadership Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The talk was the 13th annual Frank Kelly Lecture on Humanity's Future.

Here are my photos.

Chomsky is known as the father of modern linguistics and was one of my teachers at MIT in the late 1970s. Not just in the classroom, but also for his support of us student activists. In those days, war was brewing over oil and Islam in the Middle East. Russia, Afghanistan and Iran were the major nations in play. Good thing that is all in the past…

At that time, President Carter was arming Islamic radicals in Afghanistan. In a 1998 interview his former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was proud of creating the war that destroyed Afghanistan and that led to the creation of the Taliban. He said that the downfall of the Soviet Union was more important than "some stirred-up Muslims".

At that time, we activists, with the support of Chomsky, were protesting what Carter was doing.

Chomsky's talk last Friday had one clear message: Military and covert intervention is justified on the basis of "security" yet that "security" is for powerful interests, not for the security of ordinary people.

Cold War strategist George Kennan claimed that security is the primary role of government. But, security for who?

Chomsky explained that we owe a lot to courageous individuals like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Daniel Ellsberg. These people released secret government information that showed that state security was being used to justify actions that directly undermined the security of the American people.

The Obama administration claimed that NSA spying on the American people thwarted 54 terrorist plots. But Chomsky cited current NSA Chief Keith Alexander as giving only one example. And that example was a small group of Somalis in San Diego giving $8,500 to a Somali extremist group. Not exactly a major conspiracy.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is just the latest example of so-called trade agreements that are being negotiated in secret. Secret from us and secret even from our elected representatives in Congress. But not secret from hundreds of corporate lobbyists who are writing the terms.

And the terms have little to do with trade. Most of these "trade agreements" are about undermining environmental and labor regulations in order to maximize corporate profits. They reduce our security and reduce the power of our elected government to control transnational corporate power.

And what about the "war on terror" and security? Retired General Stanley McChrystal said that for every innocent killed in this "war" we create ten new enemies.

We are coming up on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta next year, Chomsky pointed out. It is the foundation of Anglo- American law and it presumes innocence until proved guilty. Not so in the current war on terror. "Guilty" means "targeted for assassination by President Obama." "Innocent" simply means "not yet targeted."

An international Gallup poll was taken in December asking citizens around the world which country is seen as the greatest threat to world peace. The answer: The United States. No other country came close. Pakistan was a distant second, but that included the votes of a billion Indian citizens.

Iran is disliked in polls, but it is not seen as an actual threat. But the US is seen as an actual threat by the majority of the world's population. A threat to their peace and security.

Chomsky explains that this is not new and recalls the Cold War era. The US and the Soviet Union alone were in a position to cause global nuclear catastrophe. A true security issue for the people of the US and of the world.

When Nikita Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1953 he proposed sharp mutual reductions in nuclear weapons. The US refused. Even when Khrushchev unilaterally reduced their weapons.

The Soviets then reacted by placing missiles in Cuba. Kennedy ordered a blockade around Cuba. Historian and former JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger called it the most dangerous moment in history. Again, the security of the people was being risked for the benefit of the appearance of state security. Khrushchev offered to remove those missiles if the US removed its missiles from Turkey and disaster was averted.

More recently, Russia had a mistaken warning of a US nuclear attack. The military commander was required to pass the warning to higher levels for immediate action. With only minutes to decide, the commander disobeyed orders and did not pass the warning on. He was reprimanded and "thanks to his dereliction of duty we are here today" Chomsky noted.

Chomsky urged us to read NSC-68, which set US policy after World War II. He characterized it as "the raving of lunatics".

US Strategic Command StratCom has always maintained a right of first strike with nuclear weapons, even against states without nuclear weapons. We effectively use nuclear weapons all the time, Chomsky pointed out. In the same way an armed robber does not have to shoot anyone to effectively use his gun.

Chomsky claims it is part of policy not to appear to be too rational. In fact, being vindictive should be part of our projected persona. Where is the security or common defense that Kennan talked of?

The Congressional Budget Office projects $350 billion will be spent on nuclear weapons over the next decade. The issue is still very much current.

Chomsky contrasted this with a very real security issue: Climate change. This is about the opportunity for decent existence of life for our grandchildren, he said. The government is doing little to help and much to hurt our security.

Obama was proud to say that America is producing more oil today than at any time in the previous eight years. His "all of the above" policy on energy is "marching us toward the precipice like proverbial lemmings" Chomsky warned.

There was limited time for questions. Chomsky as an academic offered long historical answers to short questions. These were enlightening, yet also frustrating for those who did not get to ask their questions.

He was asked about campaign finance reform. Chomsky quoted powerful businessman and Senator Mark Hanna, "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember the second." And that was over 100 years ago!

Corporate personhood goes back to that time. That was opposed by conservatives. Chomsky said we don't have conservatives today in that sense.

He was asked why those in power are willing to risk group suicide of humanity. Chomsky answered that the system favors "pathological" people holding power.

One question that provoked a very long reply had to do with securing the rights of Palestinians with regard to Israel. Many in the audience applauded and Chomsky noted this was a big change in the last 20 years. In the 1980s Chomsky was assigned security just to talk about the issue on the UCLA campus.

Chomsky, who is Jewish, noted that Israeli oppression is not only harmful to Palestinians, but also is harmful to Israeli interests. He offered a perspective that is more complex than the usual analysis.

He dismissed the power of the Israel lobby AIPAC compared with much more powerful business, oil and military lobbies. After the 1967 Arab-Israel war, Israel became a tool for actions the US considered too dirty to do itself. It started with a Saudi-US alliance to destroy the "secular Arab nationalism" that Egyptian President Nasser represented at that time. The Saudis, of course, are Islamists.

Later, Reagan used Israel to support the brutal government of Guatemala against its own people. And he also used Israel as a conduit to support the apartheid South African government against its black majority population. Evangelical Christians in the US see Israel as a key to the Second Coming of Jesus. Not for the benefit of Jewish Israelis who will be destroyed, but for their goal of Armageddon.

In his view Israel would be better off providing mutual security for the Palestinians and for themselves rather than to be a pawn in these other power games.

I asked if Occupy showed a lack of understanding of political power by the younger generation.

Chomsky explained that there is no shortcut to change: All change happens because people work together collectively through organizing. And change does happen, so there is no excuse to give up.



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