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Chomsky Speaks About the Effect of Wealth on U.S. Foreign Policy

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Professor Noam Chomsky discussed the politics of wealth and its effect on world politics in a speech given in 10-250 Monday.
BySanjay Basu
Associate News Editor

Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam A. Chomsky addressed the influence of wealth over world politics in a speech entitled "Foundations of World Order:Fifty Years of the U.N., World Bank, IMF, and Declaration of Human Rights" Monday before a packed 10-250.

An author of several books on politics and world order, Chomsky has often been described as a public intellectual, having earned a reputation as a dissident against injustices by the U.S. government. In his most recent speech, Chomsky continued to fulfill that role through his acute criticism of the U.S. government's approach to foreign affairs.

The 70-year old speaker addressed the crowd with a personal reflection upon what he called the "three pillars of world order:" the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the UN, and the proposal of the Bretton Wood international economic system.

"These are the pillars of the human rights regime which was constituted on the wreckage of World War II," Chomsky said. "The main question is, What has been the fate of the three basic pillars of world order?' And, perhaps more importantly, What has been the role of U.S. in all of this?'"

Speaker discusses wealth disparity

Before addressing those central questions, Chomsky "took a detour"to discuss issues that he believed are relevant to the topic of world order.

"First, Isimply want to remind everyone of what we already know,"he said. "These questions are not abstract. We're dealing with questions of life and death, of pain and despair."

Chomsky proceeded to describe how world politics revolve around the lives of the rich, leaving behind poor individuals and impoverished countries.

He then discussed the recent G7 meetings,a series of international talks between representatives of the seven richest economic countries in the world.

"The rich and famous all come and flock there," Chomsky said. "You get people like Robert Rubin, who might be called co-President of the United States; after all, you have to give Alan Greenspan at least half the credit."

Though joking at times, Chomsky maintained a serious line of thought as he contrasted the vast press coverage of the G7 meetings to the poor coverage received by the G15 meetings, a similar series including powerful but less moneyed countries.

"These are not minor countries,"he said. "And you could read about them, if you subscribe to the leading journal in Egypt. Elsewhere, the media thinks it just isn't important enough to report on."

Chomsky then explained that what many have called an economic boom has really been a boom for the rich and an economic failure for everyone else.

"It's a globalization of the Third World Model,"Chomsky said. "You get societies with small groups of extremely wealthy people."

"Greenspan attributed this fairy-tale' economy to greater economic insecurity:a system in which workers are afraid to ask for benefits and the like for fear of losing their jobs. And that contributes to what they call economic growth',"he said. "Some of it is just straight corporate crime which is especially strong when it is supported by a crooked state."

Chomsky criticizes foreign policy

Chomsky then began a long criticism of the U.S. government's role in foreign affairs and the claim that the United States supports democratic movements in other countries.

"The norms and conventions of discussing U.S. politics suggest that the goals, intentions, and purpose of the U.S. government are good, high, and benign,"said Chomsky. "That is true, independent of fact."

Chomsky quoted an article written by a leading Middle East scholar. The scholar wrote, "The United States should more energetically promote its central policy themes such as democracy and human rights."

"Notice,"said Chomsky, "that this is established as truth. "It's like declaring, God is great.' It must be true."

He then described to the audience what he called the "classic path"of U.S. policy toward other countries:"you're our kind of guy' if you have control, but when you stop following orders and you lose control, you're out."

Chomsky described the United States' role in Indonesia toward President Suharto as a classic example of U.S. policy.

"Right as Suharto continued to massacre peasants and kill students, the U.S. declared that he was our kind of guy'," said Chomsky. "But then he apparently committed a crime in the mind of the United States. he apparently just lost control and allowed for democracy to come in. Then the U.S. advised that he give up his power."

Chomsky also discussed United States foreign policy toward Iraq, a mirror of U.S. policy toward Indonesia, and the refusal of the Pentagon to help clear mines in Laos.

"All of these facts are representative of the hideous atrocities committed by the United States,"he said.

Pillars of world order are falling

In his diatribe against U.S. foreign policy, Chomsky declared that the charter of the United Nations had virtually been destroyed.

He described the refusal of the United States to abide by United Nations rules, specifically in the latest bombing of Iraq, as a key turning point.

"The threat or use of force is banned unless under Security Council authorization,"said Chomsky. "In the U.S., there is virtually no discussion of this. If there is, it is portrayed as a technicality."

Chomsky declared that our nation's foreign policy officers are determined to prevent others from getting in the way of U.S. politics.

"We say that we are a violent, criminal, rogue state, and that is just," Chomsky said.

He quoted several U.S. officials who openly declared that the United States would act alone in military action without United Nations authorization and even without the approval of allies.

Chomsky quoted a U.S. officer who testified before the World Court saying, "We cannot accept World Court jurisdiction, because other countries do not agree with us."

"The flat rejection of the charter was blatant but secret in the 1940s," Chomsky said. "Now, under Clinton, it's lost all secrecy. Frankly, the first pillar of world order no longer remains."

Government and business converge

In addition to his talk on U.S. policy, Chomsky discussed the Bretton Woods international economic system, a system designed to deregulate capital flow.

Chomsky only briefly reflected on the purpose of the system and its eventual dismantling since 1970.

"This has a lot to do with rich people rich, powerful people," he said. "We thought we had an economic miracle. Then rich people started getting hurt like others, and it turned into an economic crisis. The real crisis is much more fundamental."

Chomsky then gave the audience with two quotes, one from the president of the New York Stock Exchange and the other from David Rockefeller.

He first quoted the stock exchange president, who, when at a reception to support President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, remarked, "Dr. [Martin Luther] King is surely smiling down on the President, recognizing how Clinton has showered many benefits on my little corner of Manhattan."

"His little corner of Manhattan,"said Chomsky, "had purchased their presidential candidate. The other parts of Manhattan did not fare so well."

Chomsky cited a recent study showing that 95 percent of candidates who win political office are those with the most money.

"Notice that it's 95 percent in the U.S.,"he said. "It's not like Russia, where you can predict the winner with 100 percent certainty."

Though he joked about the matter, Chomsky made it clear to the audience that current policy makers yield to the demands of businessmen.

He then quoted David Rockefeller, who, when commenting on the low number of Americans participating in government, said,"While the reduction of democratic participation is discouraging, someone has to fill the role of government, and business seems likely to do it."

"That's the opinion from the left side of the line," Chomsky said, "and the right is much harsher."

"The rich are not ordinary persons, they are immortal and powerful, and they demand national treatment a right that no flesh-and-blood person can demand," Chomsky said.

"General Electric can function in Mexico,"he said, "but no Mexican can function in New York."

The businesses "have a right and responsibility to take over the role of government,"Chomsky said sarcastically. "Otherwise, you'd have democracy."

"Internally, they are tyrannical. Quite apart from their continuing assault against all good things, these tendencies, if tolerated, could lead to catastrophe."

"That's speculation,"he said. "What isn't speculation is that these tendencies do not have to be tolerated. That's a choice."