Amy Goodman interviews Noam Chomsky

March 31, 2006 and April 3, 2006


Noam Chomsky on Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

March 31, 2006

AMY GOODMAN: In this first broadcast interview upon publication of his book, Professor Noam Chomsky joins us today from Boston for the hour. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Noam.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Failed States, what do you mean?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, over the years there have been a series of concepts developed to justify the use of force in international affairs for a long period. It was possible to justify it on the pretext, which usually turned out to have very little substance, that the U.S. was defending itself against the communist menace. By the 1980s, that was wearing pretty thin. The Reagan administration concocted a new category: terrorist states. They declared a war on terror as soon as they entered office in the early 1980s, 1981. 'We have to defend ourselves from the plague of the modern age, return to barbarism, the evil scourge of terrorism,' and so on, and particularly state-directed international terrorism.

A few years later -- this is Clinton -- Clinton devised the concept of rogue states. 'It's 1994, we have to defend ourselves from rogue states.' Then, later on came the failed states, which either threaten our security, like Iraq, or require our intervention in order to save them, like Haiti, often devastating them in the process. In each case, the terms have been pretty hard to sustain, because it's been difficult to overlook the fact that under any, even the most conservative characterization of these notions -- let's say U.S. law -- the United States fits fairly well into the category, as has often been recognized. By now, for example, the category -- even in the Clinton years, leading scholars, Samuel Huntington and others, observed that -- in the major journals, Foreign Affairs -- that in most of the world, much of the world, the United States is regarded as the leading rogue state and the greatest threat to their existence.

By now, a couple of years later, Bush years, same journals' leading specialists don't even report international opinion. They just describe it as a fact that the United States has become a leading rogue state. Surely, it's a terrorist state under its own definition of international terrorism, not only carrying out violent terrorist acts and supporting them, but even radically violating the so-called "Bush Doctrine," that a state that harbors terrorists is a terrorist state. Undoubtedly, the U.S. harbors leading international terrorists, people described by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department as leading terrorists, like Orlando Bosch, now Posada Carriles, not to speak of those who actually implement state terrorism.

And I think the same is true of the category "failed states." The U.S. increasingly has taken on the characteristics of what we describe as failed states. In the respects that one mentioned, and also, another critical respect, namely the -- what is sometimes called a democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion. So those suggestions that you just read off, Amy, those are actually not mine. Those are pretty conservative suggestions. They are the opinion of the majority of the American population, in fact, an overwhelming majority. And to propose those suggestions is to simply take democracy seriously. It's interesting that on these examples that you've read and many others, there is an enormous gap between public policy and public opinion. The proposals, the general attitudes of the public, which are pretty well studied, are -- both political parties are, on most of these issues, well to the right of the population.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Professor Chomsky, in the early parts of the book, especially on the issue of the one characteristic of a failed state, which is its increasing failure to protect its own citizens, you lay out a pretty comprehensive look at what the, especially in the Bush years, the war on terrorism has meant in terms of protecting the American people. And you lay out clearly, especially since the war, the invasion of Iraq, that terrorist, major terrorist action and activity around the world has increased substantially. And also, you talk about the dangers of a possible nuclear -- nuclear weapons being used against the United States. Could you expand on that a little bit?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there has been a very serious threat of nuclear war. It's not -- unfortunately, it's not much discussed among the public. But if you look at the literature of strategic analysts and so on, they're extremely concerned. And they describe particularly the Bush administration aggressive militarism as carrying an "appreciable risk of ultimate doom," to quote one, "apocalypse soon," to quote Robert McNamara and many others. And there's good reasons for it, I mean, which could explain, and they explain. That's been expanded by the Bush administration consciously, not because they want nuclear war, but it's just not a high priority. So the rapid expansion of offensive U.S. military capacity, including the militarization of space, which is the U.S.'s pursuit alone. The world has been trying very hard to block it. 95% of the expenditures now are from the U.S., and they're expanding.

All of these measures bring about a completely predictable reaction on the part of the likely targets. They don't say, you know, 'Thank you. Here are our throats. Please cut them.' They react in the ways that they can. For some, it will mean responding with the threat or maybe use of terror. For others, more powerful ones, it's going to mean sharply increasing their own offensive military capacity. So Russian military expenditures have sharply increased in response to Bush programs. Chinese expansion of offensive military capacity is also beginning to increase for the same reasons. All of that threatens -- raises the already severe threat of even -- of just accidental nuclear war. These systems are on computer-controlled alert. And we know that our own systems have many errors, which are stopped by human intervention. Their systems are far less secure; the Russian case, deteriorated. These moves all sharply enhance the threat of nuclear war. That's serious nuclear war that I'm talking about.

There's also the threat of dirty bombs, small nuclear explosions. Small means not so small, but in comparison with a major attack, which would pretty much exterminate civilized life. The U.S. intelligence community regards the threat of a dirty bomb, say in New York, in the next decade as being probably greater than 50%. And those threats increase as the threat of terror increases.

And Bush administration policies have, again, consciously been carried out in a way, which they know is likely to increase the threat of terror. The most obvious example is the Iraq invasion. That was undertaken with the anticipation that it would be very likely to increase the threat of terror and also nuclear proliferation. And, in fact, that's exactly what happened, according to the judgment of the C.I.A., National Intelligence Council, foreign intelligence agencies, independent specialists. They all point out that, yes, as anticipated, it increased the threat of terror. In fact, it did so in ways well beyond what was anticipated.

To mention just one, we commonly read that there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Well, it's not totally accurate. There were means to develop weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and known to be in Iraq. They were under guard by U.N. inspectors, who were dismantling them. When Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest sent in their troops, they neglected to instruct them to guard these sites. The U.N. inspectors were expelled, the sites were left unguarded. The inspectors continued their work by satellite and reported that over a hundred sites had been looted, in fact, systematically looted, not just somebody walking in, but careful looting. That included dangerous biotoxins, means to hide precision equipment to be used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, means to develop chemical weapons and so on. All of this has disappeared. One hates to imagine where it's disappeared to, but it could end up in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Noam Chomsky, and we're going to come back with him. His new book, just published, is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. We'll be back with Professor Chomsky in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Professor Noam Chomsky, upon the release of his new book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I'm Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Chomsky, in your book you also talk about how Iraq has become almost an incubator or a university now for advanced training for terrorists, who then are leaving the country there and going around the world, very much as what happened in the 1980s in Afghanistan. Could you talk about that somewhat?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, that's -- actually, these are just quotes from the C.I.A. and other U.S. intelligence agencies and analysts. Yes, they describe Iraq now as a training ground for highly professionalized terrorists skilled in urban contact. They do compare it to Afghanistan, but say that it's much more serious, because of the high level of training and skill. These are almost entirely Iraqis. There's a small number of foreign fighters drawn to Iraq. Estimates are maybe 5% to 10%. And they are, as in the case of Afghanistan, are expected to spread into throughout many parts of the world and to carry out the kinds of terrorism that they're trained in, as a reaction to -- clearly reaction to the invasion. Iraq was, whatever you thought about it, was free from connections to terror prior to the invasion. It's now a major terror center.

It's not as President Bush says, that terrorists are being concentrated in Iraq so that we can kill them. These are terrorists who had no previous record of involvement in terrorism. The foreign fighters who have come in, mostly from Saudi Arabia, have been investigated extensively by Saudi and Israeli and U.S. intelligence, and what they conclude is that they were mobilized by the Iraq war, no involvement in terrorist actions in the past. And undoubtedly, just as expected, the Iraq war has raised an enormous hostility throughout much of the world, and particularly the Muslim world.

It was the most -- probably the most unpopular war in history, and even before it was fought. Virtually no support for it anywhere, except the U.S. and Britain and a couple of other places. And since the war itself was perhaps one of the most incredible military catastrophes in history, has caused utter disaster in Iraq and has -- and all of that has since simply intensified the strong opposition to the war of the kind that you heard from that Indonesian student of a few moments ago. But that's why it spread, and that's a -- it increases the reservoir of potential support for the terrorists, who regard themselves as a vanguard, attempting to elicit support from others, bring others to join with them. And the Bush administration is their leading ally in this. Again, not my words, the words of the leading U.S. specialists on terror, Michael Scheuer in this case. And definitely, that's happened.

And it's not the only case. I mean, in case after case, the Bush administration has simply downgraded the threat of terror. One example is the report of the 9/11 Commission. Here in the United States, the Bush administration didn't want the commission to be formed, tried to block it, but it was finally formed. Bipartisan commission, gave many recommendations. The recommendations, to a large extent, were not carried out. The commission members, including the chair, were appalled by this, set up their own private commission after their own tenure was completed, and continued to report that the measures are simply not being carried out.

There are many other examples. One of the most striking is the Treasury Department has a branch, the Office of Financial Assets Control, which is supposed to monitor suspicious funding transfers around the world. Well, that's a core element of the so-called war on terror. They've given reports to Congress. It turns out that they have a few officials devoted to al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but about -- I think it was -- six times that many devoted to whether there are any evasions of the totally illegal U.S. embargo against Cuba.

There was an instance of that just a few months ago, when the U.S. infuriated even energy corporations by ordering a Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City to cancel a meeting between Cuban oil specialists and U.S. oil companies, including some big ones, seeking to explore the development of offshore Cuban oil resources. The government ordered -- this OFAC ordered the hotel, the U.S. hotel, to expel the Cubans and terminate the meeting. Mexico wasn't terribly happy about this. It's a extraordinary arrogance. But it also reveals the hysterical fanaticism of the goal of strangling Cuba.

And we know why. It's a free country. We have records going from way back, and a rich source of them go back to the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. They had to carry out a terrorist war against Cuba, as they did, and try to strangle Cuba economically, because of Cuba's -- what they called Cuba's successful defiance of U.S. policies, going back to the Monroe Doctrine. No Russians, but the Monroe Doctrine, 150 years back at that time. And the goal was, as was put very plainly by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, to make the people of Cuba suffer. They are responsible for the fact that the government is in place. We therefore have to make them suffer and starve, so that they'll throw out the government. It's a policy, which is pretty consistent. It's being applied right now in Palestine. It was applied under the Iraqi sanctions, plot in Chile, and so on. It's savage.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Noam Chomsky, his new book, after he wrote Hegemony or Survival, one of scores of books, if not a hundred books that Professor Chomsky has written, his new one is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

You mention Israel, Palestine, and I wanted to ask you about this new study that's come out. A dean at Harvard University and a professor at the University of Chicago are coming under intense criticism for publishing an academic critique of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. The paper charges that the United States has willingly set aside its own security and that of many of its allies, in order to advance the interests of Israel. In addition, the study accuses the pro-Israel lobby, particularly AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, of manipulating the U.S. media, policing academia and silencing critics of Israel by labeling them as anti-Semitic. The study also examines the role played by the pro-Israel neoconservatives in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The authors are the Stephen Walt, a dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. They, themselves, are now being accused of anti-Semitism. In Washington, a Democratic congressman, Eliot Engle of New York, described the professors as dishonest so-called intellectuals and anti-Semites. The Harvard professor, Ruth Wisse, called for the paper to be withdrawn. Harvard Law School professor, Alan Dershowitz, described the study as trash that could have been written by neo-Nazi David Duke. The New York Sun reported Harvard has received several calls from pro-Israel donors, expressing concern about the paper, and Harvard has already taken steps to distance itself from the report. Last week, it removed the logo of the Kennedy School of Government from the paper and added a new disclaimer to the study. The report is 81 pages. It was originally published on Harvard's website and an edited version appeared in the London Review of Books.

The controversy comes less than a year after Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz attempted to block the publication of Norman Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Now, this goes into a lot of issues: the content of the study, what you think of it, the response to it and also the whole critique. In this country, what happens to those who criticize the policies of the state of Israel? Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the answer to your last question is well described in Norman Finkelstein's quite outstanding book and also in the record of Dershowitz's attempts to prevent its publication. Some of the documents were just published in the Journal of Palestine Studies. Finkelstein's book gives an extensive detailed account, the best one we have, of a frightening record of Israeli crimes and abuses, where he relies on the most respectable sources, the major human rights organizations, Israeli human rights organizations and others, and demonstrates, just conclusively, that Alan Dershowitz's defense of these atrocities, based on no evidence at all, is outrageous and grotesque.

Nevertheless, Finkelstein comes under tremendous attack for being anti-Semitic, and so on. Now that's pretty normal. It goes back, I suppose, to the distinguished diplomat, Abba Eban -- it must be thirty years ago -- wrote in an American Jewish journal that "the task of Zionists," he said, "is to show that all political anti-Zionism" - that means criticism of the policies of the state of Israel - "is either anti-Semitism or Jewish self-hatred." Well, okay, that excludes all possible criticism, by definition. As examples of neurotic Jewish self-hatred, I should declare an interest. He mentioned two people. I was one; the other was Izzy Stone.

Once you release the torrent of abuse, you don't need arguments and evidence, you can just scream. And Professors Walt and Mearsheimer deserve credit for publishing a study, which they knew was going to elicit the usual streams of abuse and hysteria from supporters of Israeli crimes and violence. However, we should recognize that this is pretty uniform. Try to say a sane and uncontroversial word about any other issue dear to the hearts of the intellectual elite that they've turned into holy writ, you get the same reaction. So - and there's no lobby, which does raise one of a few minor points that raises questions about the validity of the critique.

It's a serious, careful piece of work. It deserves to be read. They deserve credit for writing it. But it still it leaves open the question of how valid the analysis is, and I notice that there's a pretty subtle question involved. Everyone agrees, on all sides, that there are a number of factors that enter into determining U.S. foreign policy. One is strategic and economic interests of the major power centers within the United States. In the case of the Middle East, that means the energy corporations, arms producers, high-tech industry, financial institutions and others. Now, these are not marginal institutions, particularly in the Bush administration. So one question is to what extent does policy reflect their interests. Another question is to what extent is it influenced by domestic lobbies. And there are other factors. But just these two alone, yes, they are - you find them in most cases, and to try to sort out their influence is not so simple. In particular, it's not simple when their interests tend to coincide, and by and large, there's a high degree of conformity. If you look over the record, what's called the national interest, meaning the special interests of those with -- in whose hands power is concentrated, the national interest, in that sense, tends to conform to the interests of the lobbies. So in those cases, it's pretty hard to disentangle them.

If the thesis of the book - the thesis of the book is that the lobbies have overwhelming influence, and the so-called "national interest" is harmed by what they do. If that were the case, it would be, I would think, a very hopeful conclusion. It would mean that U.S. policy could easily be reversed. It would simply be necessary to explain to the major centers of power, like the energy corporations, high-tech industry and arms producers and so on, just explain to them that they've - that their interests are being harmed by this small lobby that screams anti-Semitism and funds congressmen, and so on. Surely those institutions can utterly overwhelm the lobby in political influence, in finance, and so on, so that ought to reverse the policy.

Well, it doesn't happen, and there are a number of reasons for it. For one thing, there's an underlying assumption that the so-called national interest has been harmed by these policies. Well, you know, you really have to demonstrate that. So who's been harmed? Have the energy corporations been harmed by U.S. policy in the Middle East over the last 60 years? I mean, they're making profits beyond the dream of avarice, as the main government investigation of them reported. Even more today - that was a couple years ago. Has the U.S. - the main concern of the U.S. has been to control what the State Department 60 years ago called "a stupendous source of strategic power," Middle East oil. Yeah, they've controlled it. There have been - in fact, the invasion of Iraq was an attempt to intensify that control. It may not do it. It may have the opposite effect, but that's a separate question. It was the intent, clearly.

There have been plenty of barriers. The major barrier is the one that is the usual one throughout the world: independent nationalism. It's called "radical nationalism," which was serious. It was symbolized by Nasser, but also Kassem in Iraq, and others. Well, the U.S. did succeed in overcoming that barrier. How? Israel destroyed Nasser. That was a tremendous service to the United States, to U.S. power, that is, to the energy corporations, to Saudi Arabia, to the main centers of power here, and in fact, it's in - that was 1967, and it was after that victory that the U.S.-Israeli relations really solidified, became what's called a "strategic asset."

It's also then that the lobby gained its force. It's also then, incidentally, that the educated classes, the intellectual political class entered into an astonishing love affair with Israel, after its demonstration of tremendous power against a third-world enemy, and in fact, that's a very critical component of what's called the lobby. Walt and Mearsheimer mention it, but I think it should be emphasized. And they are very influential. They determine, certainly influence, the shaping of news and information in journals, media, scholarship, and so on. My own feeling is they're probably the most influential part of the lobby. Now, we sort of have to ask, what's the difference between the lobby and the power centers of the country?

But the barriers were overcome. Israel has performed many other services to the United States. You can run through the record. It's also performed secondary services. So in the 1980s, particularly, Congress was imposing barriers to the Reagan administration's support for and carrying out major terrorist atrocities in Central America. Israel helped evade congressional restrictions by carrying out training, and so on, itself. The Congress blocked U.S. trade with South Africa. Israel helped evade the embargo to all the - both the racist regimes of Southern Africa, and there have been many other cases. By now, Israel is virtually an offshore U.S. military base and high-tech center in the Middle East.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Chomsky, in your book you have a fascinating section, where you talk about the historical basis of the Bush doctrine of preemptive war, and also its relationship to empire or to the building of a U.S. empire. And you go back, you mention a historian, John Lewis Gaddis, who the Bush administration loves, because he's actually tried to find the historical rationalization for this use, going back to John Quincy Adams and as Secretary of State in the invasion by General Andrew Jackson of Florida in the Seminole Wars, and how this actually is a record of the use of this idea to continue the expansionist aims of the United States around the world.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, that's a very interesting case, actually. John Lewis Gaddis is not only the favorite historian of the Reagan administration, but he's regarded as the dean of Cold War scholarship, the leading figure in the American Cold War scholarship, a professor at Yale. And he wrote the one, so far, book-length investigation into the roots of the Bush Doctrine, which he generally approves, the usual qualifications about style and so on. He traces it is back, as you say, to his hero, the great grand strategist, John Quincy Adams, who wrote a series of famous state papers back in 1818, in which he gave post facto justification to Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida. And it's rather interesting.

Gaddis is a good historian. He knows the sources, cites all the right sources. But he doesn't tell you what they say. So what I did in the book is just add what they say, what he omitted. Well, what they describe is a shocking record of atrocities and crimes carried out against what were called runaways Negros and lawless Indians, devastated the Seminoles. There was another major Seminole war later, either exterminated them or drove them into the marshes, completely unprovoked. There were fabricated pretexts. Gaddis talks about the threat of England. There was no threat from England. England didn't do a thing. In fact, even Adams didn't claim that. But it was what Gaddis calls an -- it established what Gaddis calls the thesis that expansion is the best guarantee of security. So you want to be secure, just expand, conquer more. Then you'll be secure.

And he says, yes, that goes right through all American administrations -- he's correct about that -- and is the centerpiece of the Bush Doctrine. So he says the Bush Doctrine isn't all that new. Expansion is the key to security. So we just expand and expand, and then we become more secure. Well, you know, he doesn't mention the obvious precedents that come to mind, so I'll leave them out, but you can think of them. And there's some truth to that, except for what he ignores and, in fact, denies, namely the huge atrocities that are recorded in the various sources, scholarly sources that he cites, which also point out that Adams, by giving this justification for Jackson's war -- he was alone in the administration to do it, but he managed to convince the President -- he established the doctrine of executive wars without congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution. Adams later recognized that and was sorry for it, and very sorry, but that established it and, yes, that's been consistent ever since then: executive wars without congressional authorization. We know of case after case. It doesn't seem to bother the so-called originalists who talk about original intent.

But that aside, he also -- the scholarship that Gaddis cites but doesn't quote also points out that Adams established other principles that are consistent from then until now, namely massive lying to the public, distortion, evoking hysterical fears, all kinds of deceitful efforts to mobilize the population in support of atrocities. And yes, that continues right up to the present, as well. So there's very interesting historical record. What it shows is almost the opposite of what Gaddis claims and what the Reagan -- the Bush administration -- I think I said Reagan -- the Bush administration likes. And it's right out of the very sources that he refers to, the right sources, the right scholarship. He simply ignores them. But, yes, the record is interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you a question. As many people know, you're perhaps one of the most cited sources or analysis in the world. And I thought this was an interesting reference to these citations. This was earlier this month, program, Tim Russert, Meet the Press, questioning the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.

0. TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Jaafari said that one of his favorite American writers is Professor Noam Chomsky, someone who has written very, very strongly against the Iraq war and against most of the Bush administration foreign policy. Does that concern you?
0. GEN. PETER PACE: I hope he has more than one book on his nightstand.
0. TIM RUSSERT: So it troubles you?
0. GEN. PETER PACE: I would be concerned if the only access to foreign ideas that the Prime Minister had was that one author. If, in fact, that's one of many, and he's digesting many different opinions, that's probably healthy.
AMY GOODMAN: That's General Peter Pace, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, being questioned by Tim Russert, talking about Jaafari, who at this very moment is struggling to be -- again, to hold on to his position as prime minister of Iraq. Your response, Noam Chomsky?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I, frankly, rather doubt that General Pace recognized my name or knew what he was referring to, but maybe he did. The quote from Tim Russert, if I recall, was that this was a book that was highly critical of the Iraq war. Well, that shouldn't surprise a prime minister of Iraq. After all, according to U.S. polls, the latest ones I've seen reported, Brookings Institution, 87%, 87% of Iraqis want a timetable for withdrawal. That's an astonishing figure. If it really is all Iraqis, as was asserted. That means virtually everyone in Arab Iraq, the areas where the troops are deployed. I, frankly, doubt that you could have found figures like that in Vichy, France, or, you know, Poland under -- when it was a Russian satellite.

What it means essentially is that virtually everyone wants a timetable for withdrawal. So, would it be surprising that a prime minister would read a book that's critical of the war and says the same thing? It's interesting that Bush and Blair, who are constantly preaching about their love of democracy, announce, declare that there will be no timetable for withdrawal. Well, that part probably reflects the contempt for democracy that both of them have continually demonstrated, them and their colleagues, virtually without exception.

But there are deeper reasons, and we ought to think about them. If we're talking about exit strategies from Iraq, we should bear in mind that for the U.S. to leave Iraq without establishing a subordinate client state would be a nightmare for Washington. All you have to do is think of the policies that an independent Iraq would be likely to pursue, if it was mildly democratic. It would almost surely strengthen its already developed relations with Shiite Iran right next door. Any degree of Iraqi autonomy stimulates autonomy pressures across the border in Saudi Arabia, where there's a substantial Shiite population, who have been bitterly repressed by the U.S.-backed tyranny but is now calling for more autonomy. That happens to be where most of Saudi oil is. So, what you can imagine -- I'm sure Washington planners are having nightmares about this -- is a potential -- pardon?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I would like to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of democracy, in your book you talk about the democracy deficit. Obviously, the Bush administration is having all kinds of problems with their -- even their model of democracy around the world, given the election results in the Palestinian territories, the situation now in Iraq, where the President is trying to force out the Prime Minister of the winning coalition there, in Venezuela, even in Iran. Your concept of the democracy deficit, and why this administration is able to hold on in the United States itself?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there are two aspects of that. One is, the democracy deficit internal to the United States, that is, the enormous and growing gap between public opinion and public policy. Second is their so-called democracy-promotion mission elsewhere in the world. The latter is just pure fraud. The only evidence that they're interested in promoting democracy is that they say so. The evidence against it is just overwhelming, including the cases you mentioned and many others. I mean, the very fact that people are even willing to talk about this shows that we're kind of insisting on being North Koreans: if the Dear Leader has spoken, that establishes the truth; it doesn't matter what the facts are. I go into that in some detail in the book.

The democracy deficit at home is another matter. How have -- I mean, they have an extremely narrow hold on political power. Their policies are strongly opposed by most of the population. How do they carry this off? Well, that's been through an intriguing mixture of deceit, lying, fabrication, public relations. There's actually a pretty good study of it by two good political scientists, Hacker and Pearson, who just run through the tactics and how it works. And they have barely managed to hold on to political power and are attempting to use it to dismantle the institutional structure that has been built up over many years with enormous popular support -- the limited benefits system; they're trying to dismantle Social Security and are actually making progress on that; to the tax cuts, overwhelmingly for the rich, are creating -- are purposely creating a future situation, first of all, a kind of fiscal train wreck in the future, but also a situation in which it will be virtually impossible to carry out the kinds of social policies that the public overwhelmingly supports.

And to manage to carry this off has been an impressive feat of manipulation, deceit, lying, and so on. No time to talk about it here, but actually my book gives a pretty good account. I do discuss it in the book. That's a democratic deficit at home and an extremely serious one. The problems of nuclear war, environmental disaster, those are issues of survival, the top issues and the highest priority for anyone sensible. Third issue is that the U.S. government is enhancing those threats. And a fourth issue is that the U.S. population is opposed, but is excluded from the political system. That's a democratic deficit. It's one we can deal with, too.

April 3, 2006

Juan Gonzalez: With public opposition to the Bush administration's policies at record highs, I asked Professor Chomsky to talk about how it is that so much discontent with the government has not translated into larger political mobilization.

Noam Chomsky: First of all, on the fact that advertising is designed to undermine free markets, that everybody knows, anyone who's ever looked at a television ad. According to what you're taught in economics courses, our system is based on free markets with entrepreneurial initiative and rational choices by informed consumers. Well, the reality is radically different.

A tremendous amount of the entrepreneurial initiative, if you want to call it that, comes from the dynamic state sector on which most of the economy relies to socialize costs and risks and privatize eventual profit. And that's achieved by, if you like, advertising. So, it's presented under the rubric of defense or some other pretext, but it's essentially a way for the public to pay the costs of research and development, take the risks and eventually hand over the profit. There's some entrepreneurial initiative, but not all that much, mostly at the marketing end.

As far as consumers are concerned, I mean, when you look at a television ad, it is not trying to create an informed consumer who's going to make a rational choice. We all know that. If they were going to do that, General Motors would just list the characteristics of its models and, you know, you're over, you're done. The purpose is to delude and deceive by imagery -- it's transparent -- meaning to ensure that uninformed consumers will make irrational choices.

And that goes straight to the democratic deficit. The U.S. does not have elections in a serious sense. It has advertising campaigns, run by the same industries that sell toothpaste: public relations industry. When they're selling candidates, they don't tell you -- provide you with information about them, any more than they do about lifestyle drugs or cars. What they do is create imagery to delude and deceive. That's what's called an electoral campaign. The result is that people are just unaware of the stands of candidates on issues.

So to take one critical example, take, say, the Kyoto Protocols. I mean, they're not the be all and end all, but environmental catastrophe is a serious matter. The public is strongly in favor of the Kyoto Protocols, so strongly in favor that a majority of Bush voters -- Bush voters -- thought that he was in favor of it. They are simply unaware. And it's not because of mental incapacity or a lack of interest. It's because that's the way campaigns are presented. They're presented to keep issues off the agenda. Striking cases.

Take, say, healthcare, one of the worst domestic problem -- most serious domestic problems; for most people, a major problem. I mean, it's the most inefficient healthcare system in the world, double the per capita cost of other comparable countries, some of the worst health outcomes, mainly because it is privatized. The public is strongly against it. For a long period the public has been in favor of some kind of national healthcare system.

Well, you know, Kerry is supposed to be the candidate of, you know -- speaking for whose constituency calls for social spending, and so on and so forth. The last presidential debate, a couple days before the election, was on domestic issues. And the New York Times had an accurate account of it. It described it as -- it pointed out that Kerry made no mention of any government involvement in any healthcare system. And the reason, according to the Times reporter, is that the idea lacks political support, meaning it only has the support of the overwhelming majority of the population, but it's opposed by the pharmaceutical corporations, the insurance industry, and so on. That's what counts as political support. So Kerry didn't mention it, and the public didn't know his stand on these issues. And so it goes issue after issue. So, these are not real elections. We'd laugh at them, and they were some third world country.

Now, take the war in Iraq. When you talk about the government propaganda system we have to recognize that that includes the media. It includes the media, the journalists and so on. That's all part of the propaganda system, very closely linked. There is virtually no criticism of the war in Iraq. Now, that will surprise journalists, I suppose. They think they're being very critical, but they're not. I mean, the kinds of criticism of the war in Iraq that are allowed in the doctrinal system, media and so on, are the kind of criticisms you heard about, say, in the German general staff after Stalingrad: it's not working; it's costing too much; we made a mistake, we should get a different general; something like that. In fact, it's about at the level of a high school newspaper cheering the local football team. You don't ask, "Should they win?" You ask, "How are we doing?" You know, "Did the coaches make a mistake? Should we try something else?" That's called criticism.

But there's a critical question: What right does the U.S. have to invade another country, in gross violation of international law, understanding that it's probably going to increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation? But just, you know, it's a supreme international crime, in the words of the Nuremburg Tribunal, for which German leaders were hanged. You know, the issue isn't how they are going to win, it's "What are they doing there in the first place?

AG: Do you believe, Noam Chomsky, in immediate withdrawal, that the troops should withdraw immediately?

NC: I think there is a certain principle that we should adhere to. The principle is that invading armies have no rights whatsoever. They have responsibilities. The prime responsibility is to heed the will of the victims and to pay massive reparations to the victims for the crimes they've committed. In this case, the crimes go back through the sanctions which were a monstrous crime, through the support for Saddam Hussein, right through his worst atrocities, but particularly, those of the invasion. Those are the two responsibilities of an occupying army.

Well, you know, the population has made it pretty clear. Even U.S. and British polls make that clear. Overwhelming majorities want the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw and adhere to it. Britain and the United States refuse. Reparations, we can't even talk about; that's so far from consciousness in the doctrinal system. Well, I think that answers the question. Doesn't really matter what I think.

What matters is what Iraqis think, and I think we know that pretty well. The reason the U.S. and Britain aren't withdrawing are those I mentioned. You know, the consequences of independence for Iraq would be an ultimate nightmare for them. And they're going to try to do anything they can to prevent Iraqi democracy, as they've been trying in the past.

AG: And the argument that they will just descend into civil war and that the sectarian violence will increase, and the U.S. went in and now has a responsibility not the leave a mess?

NC: Yeah, I mean, the Germans could have given the same argument and occupied Europe, the Russians in the satellites, the Japanese in Asia, and so on. Yeah, they could have all given the same argue: well, we went in, and now we have a responsibility to ensure that terrible things don't happen, and so on. And the argument had some validity. So, when the Germans were driven out of France, let's say, there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people killed by -- as collaborators, and in Asia, even more so. But is that an argument for them? No. It's none of their business.

We don't know what will happen, and it's not our decision to make. It's the decision of the victims to make, not our decision. Occupying armies have no right to make the decision. We could have an academic seminar about it, in which we could discuss the likely consequences. But the point is it's not for us to say. Well, until that enters into the discussion, and the critical issues of the war, like what right do we have to invade in the first place, enter into the discussion, the media and the journalism and so on are simply part of the government propaganda system, as I say, like a high school newspaper or like Pravda during the Afghanistan war.

JG: And what of the role of the American people in this process? Clearly, it seems to me that so much of the antiwar sentiments quickly gets channeled into one or another political candidates, rather than into continuing to build a mass movement that, regardless of the political folks in office, will move to extricate the United States from this invasion.

NC: Yeah, you're absolutely right. But that's our problem. I mean, you cannot expect power centers, whether in the government or in the economic system or in the media, which are all closely linked. I mean, they aren't going to try to stimulate popular movements that will be critical of power and try to erode power. In fact, their task is the opposite. So, yes, this has to be done by a popular movement. I mean, that's the way every constructive change has taken place in the past. I mean, how did we get civil rights to the extent that they exist, minority rights, women's rights, the benefits system that does exist, and so on? I mean, these things are not gifts from above; they are won from below. And it's going to be the same on this.

AG: Noam Chomsky, I was going to say, as you talk about popular movements, right now we are in the midst of a kind of groundswell that the -- certainly the U.S. English-speaking media has not dealt with before. And that is this massive level of grassroots protest against immigration policy in this country, some of them not just the largest protests on immigration, but some of the largest protests in the history of this country are taking place, with upwards of a million people protesting in the streets of Los Angeles, tens of thousands in Atlanta and Arizona, the biggest protest perhaps in the history of Chicago. What about this? The walkout of 40,000 high school students?

NC: Well, these protests did have an effect. The bill that went through the Senate Judiciary Committee, to some extent, reflected them. Power centers cannot ignore public protests and, even worse from their point of view, continuing organization. You know, a demonstration now and then, okay, you can live with it. If it continues and becomes real grassroots organization, developing a functioning political system, in which people actually participate in forming and shaping policy and electing their own candidates, if it gets to that stage, they're in trouble. And we're far from that.

In fact, it's terrible irony. We ought to be ashamed of it. But if you want to look for democratic elections in the Western hemisphere these days, you have to look at countries like Bolivia, not the United States. I mean, in Bolivia, they had a real election. It's the poorest country in South America. Last December, they had an election in which well-organized masses of the population -- poor people, indigenous people and others -- managed to elect a candidate from their own ranks. There were real serious issues, and people knew the issues. And they voted on the issues. That's dramatically different from here. That's real democracy.

You want to talk about democracy promotion, we need it here, and we can learn lessons from them. Actually, the same is true in Venezuela. Venezuela is bitterly denounced here by the government media propaganda system as totalitarian dictatorship, and so on and so forth. Well, you know, you can think what you like about Chavez -- not our business -- but the question is, what do Venezuelans think about him? That's the question, if you believe in democracy. Well, we know the answer.

During the Chavez years, support for the elected government has risen very sharply. It is now the highest in Latin America by a considerable margin. He's managed to win poll after -- election and referendum after election, one after another, about half a dozen, despite intense media opposition of a kind that you can't imagine here, and subversion by the superpower. After all, the U.S. supported a military coup to try to overthrow him, had to back down, partly because it was quickly reversed by popular action, but partly because of a swell of protest throughout Latin America, where they just don't have the same contempt for democracy as the leadership and the media do here and don't like the idea of democratically elected governments being overthrown by the military.

Since then, the U.S. has been dedicated to subversion. The last poll that I saw, a North American poll a couple of weeks ago, asked people who are they going to vote for in the next election. And I think it was about two-thirds said they'd vote for Chavez, and I think 4 percent for the next highest candidate. Well, in those circumstances, the U.S. is almost certain to turn to the standard operating procedure when you know you're going to lose an election: try to discredit it, by getting the opposition to boycott it.

JG: Well, you'll be glad to know that when -- you mentioned Hugo Chavez -- when Amy and I interviewed him several months ago, he mentioned that his favorite American writer was Noam Chomsky, and he cited actually some of your books. So, I guess that we -- there ought to be a poll taken of how many leaders in the third world are reading Noam Chomsky, because you're obviously having an effect on many of these leaders.

NC: I don't want to be self-serving, but I actually know quite a few examples.

AG: What are the other ones, Noam?

NC: Well, it's unfair to mention them.

AG: Well, let me ask you --

NC: They've got their own problems with the U.S. government.

AG: Let me ask you about Haiti. How does this fit he the picture that you're talking about?

NC: Well, I won't run through the whole story, but Haiti actually also had a democratic election, of a kind that should put us to shame. They had a real democratic election in 1990, again, like Bolivia. You know, massive grassroots organizations, poor people that nobody was paying any attention to, succeeded in electing their own candidate, to everyone's astonishment. Everyone assumed the U.S.-backed candidate representing the elites and the power centers would easily win. Well, he didn't. He got 14 percent of the vote. Very quickly, instantly, the U.S. moved to subvert the election -- instantly -- by what are called democracy promotion measures, meaning supporting the opposition. That's what U.S. Aid did, and so on, try to support anyone opposed to the government.

Other measures were taken. Pretty soon there's a military coup, led to years of vicious terror. Contrary to what people believe, the U.S. supported the coup. It continued to trade with the junta and rich elite increasingly under Clinton. Clinton actually authorized the Texaco Oil Company to provide oil to the junta and the elite, overriding formal presidential directives blocking it. Finally, the Clinton administration decided that the public had been tortured enough, sent in the Marines. That was called democracy promotion.

However, as Allan Nairn right away pointed out, and others, Aristide was restored on the condition that he accept the policies of the defeated U.S. candidate in the 1990 election, harsh neo-liberal policies, which were bound to destroy the economy, as they did, led to turmoil, disaster, continuing U.S. subversion. Finally, the Bush administration blocked aid. More turmoil and confusion then came the -- by now, the country is kind of falling apart. You can go into the details.

But, finally, the U.S. and France simply intervened and removed the President. France was particularly infuriated, because Aristide had politely called upon France to do something about the crushing debt that had been imposed on Haiti back in 1825 as punishment for liberating themselves from France. They had been bearing this ever since, and naturally that infuriated France. How can the Haitians dare to say this?

So, the U.S. and France basically kicked him out. Horrible atrocity since. Now, they're trying to reconstruct somehow. Again, we owe them enormous reparations, as does France, for the atrocities we have been carrying out there actually for over a century, after we took over the project of torturing Haitians from France. Is there any -- it's hard to know what the possibilities are. I mean, it's just -- I mean, the society has been really devastated. It's one of the poorest in the world.

AG: And the latest of Aristide being taken out of Haiti, after he was re-elected -- this, of course, February 29, 2004, on a U.S. plane with U.S. military and security and sent to the Central African Republic?

NC: Yeah, not only that, but the U.S. won't even allow him back into the region. I mean, it's essentially insisted that he be imprisoned in South Africa. There was tremendous protest by the Caribbean countries over this. The candidate who won the election is the one who was closest to him; probably if he had been running, he would have won, but the U.S. would never allow that, and, as I say, won't even allow him into the region. Well, that's just another illustration of the near passionate hatred of democracy, which is consistent and is indeed recognized.

It's even recognized by the scholarship, of the most prestigious scholarship, by advocates of democracy promotion. They advocated, like Thomas Carothers, head of the Carnegie Endowment Project, he advocates it and says it's wonderful. But he also points out that the U.S. consistently had been opposed to it. There is what he calls a strong line of continuity in all administrations, namely, democracy is promoted if and only if it supports U.S. strategic and economic objectives.

In Central America, for example, where he was particularly -- he was involved in the Reagan State Department. He says, yeah, the U.S. opposed democracy and the reason he says is the U.S. would tolerate only top-down forms of democratic structures, in which traditional elites allied to the United States would remain in power in highly undemocratic societies. Yeah, that's a kind of democracy promotion that we promote, that the administration preaches and that the press and journalists hail as magnificent. Again, this is kind of North Korea.

AG: And another region, of course, back to Israel, the election of Kadima, the media characterizing Kadima as the centrist party that is going to do away with many of the settlements in the West Bank, and then the election of Hamas in the Occupied Territories. Your response?

NC: Well, I would just urge anyone who wants to look into this to compare the lead editorial in the New York Times yesterday with the lead editorial yesterday in the world's leading business journal, the London Financial Times. They're diametrically opposed. The New York Times says it's wonderful Israelis agreed to withdraw from the West Bank. Of course, there is the little matter of borders, but they say that's of no importance. You know, minor issue, where the borders are. Yeah, no issue, except for the people who live there. That's the New York Times.

They do -- the Times reported the anguish of the settlers that'll have to leave. I mean, it's kind of as if the reporting has been -- as if, say, you know, I broke into your house, took over the whole house, finally agreed -- tortured you, you know, stole everything from you and so on, and then agreed to leave you the attic and the cellar, but keep the rest of the house. And it's -- I do that with great anguish, because I don't want to leave the attic. I kind of liked it. I mean, that's the way it's being reported. It's scandalous.

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