Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 5/10
Previous segment | Next segment | Contents | Overview | Archive

The first version, which would have the merit of truth, is not to be found in the U.S. media. The second alternative not only prevailed, but was close to exceptionless. In the New York Times, the editors quoted the statement on terrorism, describing it as "the old Arafat hedge" and failing to note that it reiterates the U.N. resolutions that the United States and Israel alone reject. Anthony Lewis, who is virtually alone in the mainstream in his efforts to escape the bounds of dogma on these issues, deplored the failure to reward the PLO for its progress towards the U.S. stand, adding that it still must become more "clear" in its political pronouncements and that "the United States says correctly that the PLO must unambiguously renounce all terrorism before it can take part in negotiations." He raises no question about the "clarity" of the rejectionist U.S. stance, and holds that the United States is right not to be fooled by "the old Arafat hedge," that is, the position accepted by the entire world community apart from the United States and Israel (and, of course, South Africa). If Arafat does not join us off the spectrum of world opinion, plainly he cannot be taken seriously. Elsewhere, the same bounds were observed, often even more narrowly.31

In short, the world does not agree with us, so it follows, by simple logic, that the world is wrong; that is all there is to the matter. No alternative possibility can be discussed, even conceived. Still more strikingly, even the fact that the world does not agree with us cannot be acknowledged. Since it fails to see the light, the world outside our borders does not exist (Israel aside). We see here the grip of doctrine in a form that would have deeply impressed the medieval Church, or the mullahs in Qum today.

Once again, the consequences should not be disregarded. Media self-censorship over many years has enabled the United States and Israel to block what has long been a possible political settlement of one of the world's most explosive and threatening issues. That continued to be the case as the United States changed its increasingly untenable position on discussions with the PLO under a fraudulent pretext while maintaining its commitment to obstruct the peace process.32 Senator Fulbright's observation is both pertinent and of much significance.

Returning to coverage of the United Nations, a March 1988 story, headlined "U.N. to Study Rights in Cuba: U.S. Sees Diplomatic Victory," reported Cuba's invitation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission for an on-the-scene investigation, undercutting a U.S. campaign for a resolution condemning Cuba. The first thirteen paragraphs present Washington's point of view, turning the failure into a great triumph of U.S. diplomacy; the last paragraph quotes a Cuban official stating that "the outcome shows our continent's growing political unity" in rejecting the U.S. effort. Another Times article reports a visit of American human rights specialists to Cuban prisons, with a line in the final paragraph noting, with no comment, that the State Department has denied visas to Cuban officials for a reciprocal visit to U.S. prisons, just as Reagan launched his human rights drive in Moscow.33

Unreported is a resolution on the Middle East passed by the Human Rights Commission on the same day as its rejection of the U.S. initiative on Cuba. The resolution, passed 26 to 1 with the United States alone in opposition, expressed grave concern at "the continuation of acts of aggression and the arbitrary practices of the Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon which constitute a flagrant violation" of international law, and called upon Israel's allies to pressure it to end "its aggressive and expansionist policy in southern Lebanon."34

World opinion must pass through the same filters that set the bounds of respectability at home. Failing to meet these standards, it is ignored, or subjected to puzzled inquiry as to just why the world is out of step. The pattern, again, is pervasive.35

The government-media campaign to "demonize the Sandinistas" faced a new challenge when the Central American presidents reached a peace agreement in August 1987. The Reagan administration had long sought to undercut diplomatic initiatives. After bitterly condemning the Sandinistas for refusing to sign the Contadora draft of 1984, the administration quickly changed its tune when Nicaragua unexpectedly announced that it would sign, at which point the draft became a deception and a fraud and the United States proceeded to undermine it with further denunciations of the treacherous Sandinistas. "Washington tried by all means available to block the signing of the Contadora Peace Act," Costa Rican vice-foreign affairs minister Gerardo Trejos Salas observed in an unreported interview, reviewing how the United States "strongly pressured" Costa Rica and its client states during 1985-86 when he was "a first-hand witness."36 Events followed the same course in June 1986, as we have seen.

The Arias initiatives of 1987 were also most unwelcome to the Reagan administration. In June its "peace emissary," Philip Habib, informed "high ranking Senators" that "if the administration felt its views and interests were not reflected in the regional arrangements it would continue to fund the Nicaraguan contra rebels despite agreements reached by the [Central American] leaders," an advance notice that elicited little attention. In the same month, the administration pressured President Duarte to block a scheduled meeting of Central American presidents in Guatemala. A Guatemalan official reported that Duarte "personally told Guatemala's president the reason he asked for the postponement was because of US pressure," applied by Habib.37 The Guatemalan and Honduran press published the dialogue between Habib and Duarte, as reported by Salvadoran officials to the Guatemalan government (then to the Guatemalan Congress). In the talks, Habib pressed Duarte to reject the Arias peace plan, informing him that the requirement that El Salvador negotiate with the unarmed opposition would destroy "democracy in El Salvador." Duarte acceded and insisted upon postponement of the June meeting.38

The U.S. media were uninterested. Habib is regularly depicted as a forthright advocate of diplomacy and peace.

Go to the next segment.

31 Editorial, NYT, Nov. 16; Lewis, NYT, Dec. 1, 1988. In the liberal Boston Globe, for example, when the U.S. government agreed to talk to the PLO on the pretense that they had accepted U.S. demands, two columns appeared to reveal the diversity of opinion on the topic, under the heading "Taking Arafat's `yes' for an answer" (BG, Dec. 24, 1988). The hawks were represented by a leader of the Boston Jewish community, Philip Perlmutter, warning of Arafat's deception and duplicity; the doves, by former Israeli ambassador Benno Weiser Varon, who declared "I am no peacenik, and disliked viscerally `Breira,' `The New Agenda' and `Peace Now'" -- but Israel's interests require recognition of reality (Breira and the New Jewish Agenda are dovish Zionist groups, the former driven out of existence by effective defamation; Peace Now has ambiguous credentials as an Israeli peace group). See next chapter and appendix V, section 4, for further detail.

32 See appendix V, section 4, for further comment.

33 Paul Lewis, NYT, March 11; Joseph Treaster, NYT, May 31, 1988. See Karen Wald, Z Magazine, July-August 1988, for a different view on the U.N. Cuba debate.

34 AP, March 11, 1988.

35 For further comment, see appendix IV, section 4.

36 See Culture of Terrorism, chapter 7, for a longer excerpt, and further details on the diplomatic maneuverings and the peace plan, through October 1987. See my articles in Z Magazine, January and March 1988, for discussion of the events and the services of the media through February 1988. See these sources for references, where not cited below.

37 Dennis Volman, Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 1987.

38 El Tiempo, July 3, 1987, citing the journal of the Guatemalan Latinamerican Agency of Special Information Services (ALASEI).