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31 July 2007

The New Znet Is A-Comin', Sing Woo-Hoo!

Below is an e-mail from Michael Albert to all free Znet subscribers. If you can join up as a sustainer ($5/month), do so. Check out the tour of the new-fangled site, and enjoy the Chomsky pieces from his most recent collection, Interventions. I've added some links in the pieces below. If there's no link to an article, that means it's not available free online.

Hello,

This is a ZNet Free Update. Below there is a ZNet interview with Noam Chomsky about his latest book "Interventions" and below that are two excerpts from the book. However, before you get to that we'd like to remind you that we have been trying to do an upgrade of the whole Z Communications web system. The project was supposed to be done in February or March. As of late July it isn't done and there is a ways to go. However, we anticipate much progress over the next month and expect to have a more certain date for project completion very soon. The delay in progress as had a very noticeable affect on our operations. But more, there have been losses. So we need to ask you to step up a bit, and help.

We have placed a tour of the new site's looks and much of its functionality online so you can see what we are up to.

Please take a look, and if you have comments or suggestions send them to me at sysop@zmag.org

But, more...

  1. If you are a sustainer and are overdue in your accounts, please get back up to date.

  2. If you are not a sustainer, please consider becoming one. I am asking you to trust me on this. In a few months, when the new system is up, if you have the slightest inclination to help us out as a sustainer now, you will be eager to do so with the new system in place. I am asking you to sign up now, rather than later, so the donations can help us deal with the losses we have suffered due to the upgrade delays.

Being a sustainer now, you get as a premium access to forums to the commentary zine on line, and a nightly commentary mailing. Thousands of ZNet users have signed up for that level of premium over recent years, and in doing so have financed our operations.

With the new system, beginning soon and in coming years, you will get the nightly commentary and access to a new and vastly improved forum system as before. Bui you will also get your own ZSpace page, like MySpace but on the left, and the option to partake of group pages, too, where you can put articles, photos, a bio, and even videos, etc. Plus you will be able to participate in what promises to be a very rich mutual aid system -- and a very diverse and extensive books online system with user preferences, reviews, discussion groups, etc. Plus you will get your own blog, and there will be group blogs as well, as part of an overall system-wide blog. You will get commenting throughout the site, You will get Z Magazine online and in a pdf, You will get discounts on ZVideos (and there will be much more video in the system as well), and discounts on subs, and on other items. There is more, but without seeing the site, it is hard to convey.

Let me put it this way. This makeover and upgrade is going to dramatically improve the experience of navigating and using our sites, dramatically increase the material available, but also and most innovatively add a huge and rich social participatory component, and in general move us from information provision alone, to community building plus information provision, discussion, debate, etc.

It was our intention to hold off seeking new Sustainers until we had the new site in place, with the new much easier sign up methods, more diverse payment methods, and the new features in place. But that was supposed to be February, and we can't wait without help, any longer. So, we are asking you to visit the current sign up forms...and become a sustainer. It will help us deal with the losses imposed by the upgrade project and it will bring the site to completion that much sooner, and, again, we ask you to trust us that you will be happy and proud not only to be assisting us, but to be enjoying all the new features and facilities.

To become a sustainer, now, use this link. If you have any trouble, by all means let us know.

And again, here's the tour link.

And now for the Chomsky interview and book excerpts...

City Lights Books / Open Media Series
Foreword by Peter Hart | Editor's note by Greg Ruggiero 234 pages | $15.95
ISBN - 13: 978-0-87286483-2
Pub date: July 2007

Z-NET INTERVIEW

As one of the foremost political intellectuals and dissidents in the U.S. it's not surprising that Noam Chomsky's political work is often relegated to the margins of mainstream media in this country. It is surprising though, to learn that for the past few years the New York Times Syndicate has been distributing concise, approx. 1,000 word op-eds by Chomsky that the New York Times, the most powerful and influential paper in the U.S., did not touch. Despite wide distribution internationally, these essays have barely, if at all, seen light of day in the U.S. press. Interventions, Chomsky's latest book, is a collection of these op-eds published by City Lights Books as part of their Open Media Series founded in opposition to the first Gulf War. Here Noam Chomsky answers Z-Net questions about the book.

Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, INTERVENTIONS is about? What is it trying to communicate?

The book is a collection of op-eds distributed worldwide by the New York Times syndicate. They were written over the past several years (more coming along since), dealing with topical events, trying to present an analysis and background that seems to me pertinent and informative, typically from a perspective different from that of mainstream commentary.

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

The idea for the op-eds came from John Stickney, editor of the syndicate. Op-ed style does not come very naturally to me. The format requires scant reference. That is not a problem when one stays within the framework of conventional assumptions, including many that are readily refutable, but is a serious problem when one does not accept them, so that readers can quite appropriately ask why they are rejected. Thus if someone writes that Iran is an aggressive state or that the positions of Hamas are objectionable or that the US bombed Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing, they do not need evidence, because these are doctrines of what we may fairly call the Party Line. They are reiterated over and over, rarely if ever questioned, so why shouldn't they be believed? Suppose however than one were to tell the truth. For example, it's the US, not Iran, that is an aggressive state; the positions of Hamas, however objectionable, are less radical and extreme than those of the US and Israel; the bombing of Serbia was the cause, not the consequence, of the ethnic cleansing, and the anticipated cause, and we learn from the highest level of the Clinton administration that the bombing was not undertaken out of concern for the plight of Kosovar Albanians but because Serbia was not carrying out the socio-economic reforms demanded by the Clinton administration. And so on, endlessly. Someone reading such statements would, reasonably, call for extensive evidence, which cannot really be provided in this limited format. For such reasons, I've always found it difficult to write op-eds.

Stickney solved this problem for me by taking material mostly from talks and interviews of mine, and putting them in an appropriate format. We then go through an up-and-back process of editing, modifying, providing sources, etc. The result is the op-eds that are collected in the book, on a wide range of topics.

What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success?

I hope that the pieces will encourage readers to look at the world in ways different from those of conventional doctrine, and to determine for themselves whether a serious corrective is needed. And that they will suggest ideas and information that readers find worth pursuing. To the extent that that works, it will be a success.

###

More on Z-Net about Chomsky's INTERVENTIONS:

  1. Chomsky Interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar.

  2. Chomsky: Columnist Without a Place by Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The following is the first excerpt from Noam Chomsky's new book INTERVENTIONS published by City Lights Books.

What is at Stake in Iraq

January 30, 2007

In the West, some of the most important information about Iraq remains either ignored or unspoken. Unless it is taken into account, proposals about U.S. policies in Iraq will be neither morally nor strategically sound.

For example, one of the least noticed recent news stories from the tortured land of Iraq was among the most illuminating: a poll in Baghdad, Anbar, and Najaf on the invasion and its consequences. "About 90 percent of Iraqis feel the situation in the country was better before the U.S.-led invasion than it is today," United Press International reported on the survey, which was conducted in November 2006 by the Baghdad-based Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. "Nearly half of the respondents favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S.-led troops," reported the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon. Another 20 percent favored a phased withdrawal starting right away. (A U.S. State Department poll, also ignored, found that two-thirds of Baghdadis want immediate withdrawal.)

Generally, however, public opinion -- in Iraq, the United States or elsewhere -- is not considered relevant to policy-makers, unless it may impede their preferred choices. These are just further indications of the deep contempt for democracy on the part of planners and their acolytes, standard accompaniments of a flood of lofty rhetoric about love of democracy and messianic missions to promote it.

U.S. polls show majority opposition to the war, but they receive limited attention and scarcely enter into policy planning, or even critique of planning. The most prominent recent critique was the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, widely acclaimed as a valuable critical corrective to the policies of the George W. Bush administration, which immediately dismissed the report to oblivion. One notable feature of the report is its lack of concern for the will of the Iraqi people. The report cites some of the polls of Iraqi sentiment, but only in regard to the safety of U.S. forces. The report's implicit assumption is that policy should be designed for U.S. government interests, not those of Iraqis; or of Americans, also ignored.

The report makes no inquiry into those guiding interests, or why the United States invaded, or why it fears a sovereign and more or less democratic Iraq, though the answers are not hard to find. The real reason for the invasion, surely, is that Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, very cheap to exploit, and is at the heart of the world's major hydrocarbon resources. The issue is not access to those resources but control of them (and for the energy corporations, profit). As Vice President Dick Cheney observed last May (2006), control over energy resources provides "tools of intimidation or blackmail" -- in the hands of others, that is.

Buried in the study is the expected recommendation to allow corporate (meaning mostly U.S.-U.K.) control over Iraq's energy resources. In the more delicate phrasing of the study, "The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability."

Because of its systematic unwillingness to discuss such crass matters, the Study Group is unable to face the reality of U.S. policy choices in the face of the catastrophe that the invasion has created, already discussed.

The Baker-Hamilton report's central focus is withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq: more specifically, their withdrawal from direct combat, though the proposals were hedged with many qualifications and evasions. The report has a few words urging the president to announce that the United States does not intend a permanent military presence in Iraq, but without a call to terminate construction of military bases, so such a declaration is not likely to be taken seriously by Iraqis.

The report appears to assume (by omission) that logistics, the backbone of a modern army, should remain under U.S. control, and that combat units must remain for "force protection" -- including protection of U.S. combat forces embedded in Iraqi units -- in a country where 60 percent of the population, and many more in Arab Iraq where forces are actually deployed, regard them as a legitimate target, the soldiers in their units for example.

There is also no discussion of the fact that the U.S. will, of course, retain total control of airspace and therefore might be tempted to resort to the tactics it used in the later stages of the Indochina wars as troops were being withdrawn, an ominous prospect discussed in a very important article by two leading Cambodia specialists, Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan (director of the Yale University Genocide project), "Bombs over Cambodia," Walrus (Canada), October 2006. It was well known that reduction of ground forces from South Vietnam was accompanied by acceleration of the merciless bombing, particularly of northern Laos and Cambodia. But they provide startling new information about its scale and consequences. The new data reveal that the bombing of Cambodia was five times as great as the incredible level that had been reported earlier, meaning that the bombing of rural Cambodia exceeded the total bombing by allied forces throughout World War II. The new material substantially reinforces earlier estimates of the impact of the bombing. In the authors' words, "Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion . . . the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide." Nixon's orders for the bombing attack were transmitted by Henry Kissinger, with the words "Anything that flies, on anything that moves" -- one of the most explicit calls for genocide in the archives of any state. Kissinger's orders had been mentioned in the New York Times (Elizabeth Becker, "Kissinger Tapes Describe Crises, War and Stark Photos of Abuse," May 27, 2004), eliciting no detectable reaction. Silence also greeted the horrendous new revelations. The null reactions provide additional evidence of the actual concern for Cambodians on the part of those in the West who were gleefully exploiting their plight for personal gain and in the service of power while the Khmer Rouge atrocities were underway, with no suggestion as to what to do about them -- in sharp contrast to their reaction to comparable massacres for which we had primary responsibility and could therefore terminate, if we chose. [1]

One can hardly dismiss lightly the Owen-Kiernan concerns about what might unfold in Iraq, in the light of such recent precedents as these.

Some observers fear that a U.S. pullout from Iraq would lead to a full-fledged civil war and the country's deterioration. As for the consequences of a withdrawal, we are entitled to our personal judgments, all of them as uninformed and dubious as those of U.S. intelligence. But these judgments do not matter. What matters is what Iraqis think. Or rather, that is what should matter.

If the consistent results of many polls are considered insufficient, the question of withdrawal could even be submitted to a referendum, conducted under international supervision to minimize coercion by the occupying forces and their Iraqi clients.

Now, contrary to the Baker-Hamilton report (and to Iraqi and U.S. public opinion), the Washington plan is to "surge" -- to introduce more troops into Iraq. Few military analysts or Middle East specialists expect such tactics to succeed, but that is plainly not the primary issue, unless we agree that the only question that can be raised is whether U.S. aggression can succeed in its goals. No one should underestimate the force of the long-standing goal of U.S. foreign policy to sustain its control over this region's crucial resources. Authentic Iraqi sovereignty will not easily be tolerated by the occupying power, nor can it or neighboring states tolerate Iraq's deterioration, or a potential regional war in the aftermath.

NOTES

1. For a review of this sordid episode of intellectual history, and many others like it, see Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (1988, updated 2002) and sources cited, particularly our Political Economy of Human Rights, two volumes (1979).

Here is the second excerpt...

The Cold War Between Washington and Tehran

March 5, 2007

In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important.

As was the norm during the Cold War, resort to violence is regularly justified as a reaction to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales surface of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq -- a country otherwise free from any foreign interference, on the tacit assumption that Washington rules the world.

In the Cold War-like mentality that prevails in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the pinnacle in the so-called Shiite Crescent that stretches from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, through Shiite southern Iraq and Syria. And again unsurprisingly, the "surge" in Iraq and escalation of threats and accusations against Iran is accompanied by grudging willingness to attend a conference of regional powers, with the agenda limited to Iraq -- more narrowly, to attaining U.S. goals in Iraq.

Presumably this minimal gesture toward diplomacy is intended to allay the growing fears and anger elicited by Washington's heightened aggressiveness, with forces deployed in position to attack Iran and regular provocations and threats.

For the United States, the primary issue in the Middle East has been and remains effective control of its unparalleled energy resources. Access is a secondary matter. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. Control is understood to be an instrument of global dominance.

Iranian influence in the "crescent" challenges U.S. control. By an accident of geography, the world's major oil resources are in largely Shiite areas of the Middle East: southern Iraq, adjacent regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major reserves of natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a loose Shiite alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of the United States.

Such a bloc, if it emerges, might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), based in China. Iran, which already had observer status, is to be admitted as a member of the SCO. The Hong Kong South China Morning Post reported in June 2006 that "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the limelight at the annual meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) by calling on the group to unite against other countries as his nation faces criticism over its nuclear programme." The non-aligned movement meanwhile affirmed Iran's "inalienable right" to pursue these programs, and the SCO (which includes the states of Central Asia) "called on the United States to set a deadline for the withdrawal of military installations from all member states." [1]

If the Bush planners bring that about, they will have seriously undermined the U.S. position of power in the world.

To Washington, Tehran's principal offense has been its defiance, going back to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy. The grim U.S. role in Iran in earlier years is excised from history. In retribution for Iranian defiance, Washington quickly turned to support for Saddam Hussein's aggression against Iran, which left hundreds of thousands dead and the country in ruins. Then came murderous sanctions, and under Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic efforts in favor of increasing threats of direct attack.

Last July (2006), Israel invaded Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before, U.S. support for the aggression was a critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on inspection, and the consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among the reasons for the U.S.-Israel invasion is that Hezbollah's rockets could be a deterrent to a potential U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran.

Despite the saber-rattling, it is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran. The world is strongly opposed. Seventy-five percent of Americans favor diplomacy over military threats against Iran, and as noted earlier, Americans and Iranians largely agree on nuclear issues. Polls by Terror Free Tomorrow reveal that "Despite a deep historical enmity between Iran's Persian Shiite population and the predominantly Sunni population of its ethnically diverse Arab, Turkish and Pakistani neighbors, the largest percentage of people in these countries favor accepting a nuclear-armed Iran over any American military action." It appears that the U.S. military and intelligence community is also opposed to an attack.

Iran cannot defend itself against U.S. attack, but it can respond in other ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings that are far more grave, among them by the respected British military historian Corelli Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch World War III."

The Bush administration has left disasters almost everywhere it has turned, from post-Katrina New Orleans to Iraq. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might undertake the risk of even greater disasters.

Meanwhile Washington may be seeking to destabilize Iran from within. [2] The ethnic mix in Iran is complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There are secessionist tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to stir them up-in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is concentrated, a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.

Threat escalation also serves to pressure others to join U.S. efforts to strangle Iran economically, with predictable success in Europe. Another predictable consequence, presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian leadership to be as harsh and repressive as possible, fomenting disorder and perhaps resistance while undermining efforts of courageous Iranian reformers, who are bitterly protesting Washington's tactics. It is also necessary to demonize the leadership. In the West, any wild statement of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, immediately gets circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But as is well known, Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The U.S. media tend to ignore Khamenei's statements, especially if they are conciliatory. For example, it's widely reported when Ahmadinejad says that Israel shouldn't exist -- but there is silence when Khamenei says that Iran "shares a common view with Arab countries on the most important Islamic-Arabic issue, namely the issue of Palestine," which would appear to mean that Iran accepts the Arab League position: full normalization of relations with Israel in terms of the international consensus on a two-state settlement that the U.S. and Israel continue to resist, almost alone. [3]

The U.S. invasion of Iraq virtually instructed Iran to develop a nuclear deterrent. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld writes that after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, "had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy." The message of the invasion, loud and clear, was that the U.S. will attack at will, as long as the target is defenseless. Now Iran is ringed by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Persian Gulf and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and particularly Israel, the regional superpower, thanks to U.S. support.

As already discussed, Iranian efforts to negotiate outstanding issues were rebuffed by Washington, and an EU-Iranian agreement was apparently undermined by Washington's refusal to withdraw threats of attack. A genuine interest in preventing the development of nuclear weapons in Iran -- and the escalating warlike tension in the region -- would lead Washington to implement the EU bargain, agree to meaningful negotiations and join with others to move toward integrating Iran into the international economic system, in accord with public opinion in the United States, Iran, neighboring states, and virtually the entire rest of the world.

NOTES

1. See M. K. Bhadrakumar, "China, Russia welcome Iran into the fold," Asia Times, April 18, 2006. Bill Savadove, "President of Iran calls for unity against west," South China Morning Post, June 16, 2006; "Non-aligned nations back Iran's nuclear program," Japan Economic Newswire, May 30, 2006; Edward Cody, "Iran Seeks Aid in Asia In Resisting the West," Washington Post, June 15, 2006.

2. See, among others, William Lowther and Colin Freeman, "US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran," Sunday Telegraph, February 25, 2007.

3. For Khamenei's statement, see "Leader Attends Memorial Ceremony Marking the 17th Departure Anniversary of Imam Khomeini," June 4, 2006.

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