BOOK REVIEW / Iron fists: how the west was one: The West should not assume moral superiority, argues Noam Chomsky. Robert Fisk agrees: World Orders, old and new - Noam Chomsky: Pluto, pounds 12.95

Click to follow
Kuwait at the height of this month's latest fraudulent crisis was a good place to read Noam Chomsky's new book. America's legions were pouring into that tiny, rich, pliant country as Saddam Hussein's 'elite' Republican Guard -some of them wearing mismatching boots, their uniforms frayed - were camped out in the desert around Basra.

No one dared display what Norman Podhoretz once called 'sickly inhibitions against the use of military force'. No form of journalistic challenge, no critical faculty could be employed to halt the television clamour for war.

Saddam was threatening Kuwait again and America was here to protect its ally. Suggest that things were not as they seemed - that this might have something to do with sanctions against Iraq and the fall in oil prices in the Arab Gulf states if sanctions were lifted - and you were met, as I was, with a question from an American television reporter: 'You think Saddam's a nice guy?'

No, it was George Bush who thought the odious Saddam was a nice guy before the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and it was the American press which failed to uncover (until it was too late) the White House's intervention for another dollars 1 billion loan guarantee for Iraq because Saddam's regime was 'very important to US interests in the Middle East', 'influential in the peace process' and 'a key to maintaining stability in the region.' And so, of course, it still is. If we can't get rid of Saddam, we'll keep him around until we need him to oppose Iran once more; which is why we ignore the Iraqi democratic opposition.

As Chomsky puts it: 'They were saying quite the wrong things: pleading for democracy before the invasion of Kuwait when Washington and its allies were tending to the needs of Saddam Hussein and their own pocketbooks; for pursuit of peaceful means while the United States and Britain moved to restrict the conflict to the area of violence after Saddam broke the rules in August 1990; and for support for the anti-Saddam resistance in March 1991, while Washington returned to its preference for Saddam's 'iron fist' in the interests of 'stability'.'

Watching CNN and Sky and hearing the same old BBC voices emphasising the cheerful preparedness of Allied troops this month - a sad, tired re-run of the 1991 war - Chomsky became a kind of antidote, the ultimate injection against propaganda attack. For every two hours of satellite television news, read 20 pages of Chomsky and you were almost immune from the harmful effects of what he calls the 'doctrinal managers', the respectable intellectual elite who can justify the unjustifiable by constant reference to the moral superiority of the West.

Chomsky takes as his motif for the 20th-century New World Order Churchill's contention that 'the government of the world must be entrusted to satisfied nations'. Dissatisfied nations, of course, were led by the Soviet Union, whose Bolshevik progenitors dissolved the Constituent Assembly, the act which George Kennan regarded as the real start of the Cold War. The British and French set up their mandates in the Middle East, which were perhaps the kernel of this century's self-interested humanitarian concern wherein lay the origins of Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Restore Hope and the rest. And US marines dissolved the Haitian National Assembly which had refused a constitution giving US corporations the right to purchase Haitian land. Woodrow Wilson (he of the Fourteen Points and the demand for national self-determination for all peoples) imposed a treaty on Nicaragua that granted perpetual rights to construct a canal, thus preventing any competitors to the Panama Canal. From here on - barring the brief alliance with the repulsive 'Uncle Joe' Stalin in 1941 - America's foreign policy hinged upon the mythology of the Cold War, projecting the power of the strong over the weak, propping up warlords, narco-traffikers and terrorists under the guise of fighting Communism and, most recently, Islamic fundamentalism.

This is pretty much the Chomsky thesis, argued with his usual frighteningly convincing references, supported by the scorn of a man who has grown weary of the establishment press and, in the United States, the intellectual orthodoxy of the academic community. World Orders is thus an angry history book; but it is not a chronicle of events, rather a record of the continuity of guilt. The hypocrisy against which Chomsky so convincingly rages is that of the West, though there are times when - if only to find a benchmark for the scale of our own outrages - it would be comforting to hear more about the atrocities of our political opponents. And can all those journalists really deserve Chomsky's scorn when he fills 24 pages with references to their articles?

Yet his analysis of the history 'hole' - down which all inconvenient facts are consigned when US policy changes - is devastating. How come, after years blocking Arab initiatives on the Middle East, the United States suddenly discovered a 'peace process' once the Arabs had lost their Soviet backer?

How come, after Sadat's original offer of peace in 1971, journalists were able to claim that only at Camp David had Egypt sought peace? How come recognition could only be vouchsafed to the PLO once it was bankrupt and broken? How come Arafat had to 'renounce' rather than condemn 'terrorism' while Israel did not have to renounce its treatment of the Palestinians?

But these double standards are now so familiar that they are accepted - in the same way that anyone who questions the unfairness of the PLO-Israeli accord is now automatically condemned as 'against peace' and 'on the side of terrorism'. Again, we saw the journalistic conformity when King Hussein was preparing to sign a peace with Israel this week. We were told about the 'hand of friendship', and not reminded that Jordan has given up its struggle while Israel still occupies east Jerusalem and almost all the West Bank (or the 'disputed territories' as the State Department now wishes us to call them).

The most we can hope for, I suppose, is that every reporter might one day carry World Orders around in his back pocket, along with the notebook in which he writes the word 'terrorist' so many times every week.

(Photograph omitted)