Interview With Chomsky
9-11 / dissent / democracy
Schnews December 28, 2002
Mark Thomas: If we can start with US foreign
policy in relation to Iraq and the War on Terror, what do you
think is going on at the moment?
Noam Chomsky: First of all I think we
ought to be very cautious about using the phrase 'War on Terror'.
There can't be a War on Terror. It's a logical impossibility.
The US is one of the leading terrorist states in the world. The
guys who are in charge right now were all condemned for terrorism
by the World Court. They would have been condemned by the U.N.
Security Council except they vetoed the resolution, with Britain
abstaining of course. These guys can't be conducting a war on
terror. It's just out of the question. They declared a war on
terror 20 years ago and we know what they did. They destroyed
Central America. They killed a million and a half people in southern
Africa. We can go on through the list. So there's no 'War on Terror'.
There was a terrorist act, September 11th,
very unusual, a real historic event, the first time in history
that the west received the kind of attack that it carries out
routinely in the rest of the world. September 11th did change
policy undoubtedly, not just for the US, but across the board.
Every government in the world saw it as an opportunity to intensify
their own repression and atrocities, from Russia and Chechnya,
to the West imposing more discipline on their populations.
This had big effects - for example take
Iraq. Prior to September 11th, there was a longstanding concern
of the US toward Iraq - that is it has the second largest oil
reserves in the world. So one way or another the US was going
to do something to get it, that's clear. September 11th gave the
pretext. There's a change in the rhetoric concerning Iraq after
September 11th - 'We now have an excuse to go ahead with what
It kinda stayed like that up to September
of this year when Iraq suddenly shifted... to 'An imminent threat
to our existence.' Condoleeza Rice [US National Security Advisor]
came out with her warning that the next evidence of a nuclear
weapon would be a mushroom cloud over New York. There was a big
media campaign with political figures - we needed to destroy Saddam
this winter or we'd all be dead. You've got to kind of admire
the intellectual classes not to notice that the only people in
the world who are afraid of Saddam Hussien are Americans. Everybody
hates him and Iraqis are undoubtedly afraid of him, but outside
of Iraq and the United States, no one's afraid of him. Not Kuwait,
not Iran, not Israel, not Europe. They hate him, but they're not
afraid of him.
In the United States people are very much
afraid, there's no question about it. The support you see in US
polls for the war is very thin, but it's based on fear. It's an
old story in the United States. When my kids were in elementary
school 40 years ago they were taught to hide under desks in case
of an atom bomb attack. I'm not kidding. The country is always
in fear of everything. Crime for example: Crime in the United
States is roughly comparable with other industrial societies,
towards the high end of the spectrum. On the other hand, fear
of crime is way beyond other industrial societies...
It's very consciously engendered. These
guys now in office, remember they're almost entirely from the
1980s. They've been through it already and they know exactly how
to play the game. Right through the 1980s they periodically had
campaigns to terrify the population.
To create fear is not that hard, but this
time the timing was so obviously for the Congressional campaign
that even political commentators got the message. The presidential
campaign is going to be starting in the middle of next year. They've
got to have a victory under their belt. And on to the next adventure.
Otherwise, the population's going to pay attention to what's happening
to them, which is a big assault, a major assault on the population,
just as in the 1980s. They're replaying the record almost exactly.
First thing they did in the 1980s, in 1981, was drive the country
into a big deficit. This time they did it with a tax cut for the
rich and the biggest increase in federal spending in 20 years.
This happens to be an unusually corrupt
administration, kind of like an Enron administration, so there's
a tremendous amount of profit going into the hands of an unusually
corrupt group of gangsters. You can't really have all this stuff
on the front pages, so you have to push it off the front pages.
You have to keep people from thinking about it. And there's only
one way that anybody ever figured out to frighten people and they're
good at it.
So there's domestic political factors
that have to do with timing. September 11th gave the pretext and
there's a long term, serious interest [in Iraq]. So they've gotta
go to war... my speculation would be that they would like to have
it over with before the presidential campaign.
The problem is that when you're in a war,
you don't know what's going to happen. The chances are it'll be
a pushover, it ought to be, there's no Iraqi army, the country
will probably collapse in two minutes, but you can't be sure of
that. If you take the CIA warnings seriously, they're pretty straight
about it. They're saying that if there's a war, Iraq may respond
with terrorist acts.
US adventurism is just driving countries
into developing weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent - they
don't have any other deterrent. Conventional forces don't work
obviously, there's no external deterrent. The only way anyone
can defend themselves is with terror and weapons of mass destruction.
So it's plausible to assume that they're doing it. I suppose that's
the basis for the CIA analysis and I suppose the British intelligence
are saying the same thing.
But you don't want to have that happen
in the middle of a presidential campaign... There is the problem
about what to do with the effects of the war, but that's easy.
You count on journalists and intellectuals not to talk about it.
How many people are talking about Afghanistan? Afghanistan's back
where it was, run by warlords and gangsters and who's writing
about it? Almost nobody. If it goes back to what it was no one
cares, everyone's forgotten about it.
If Iraq turns into people slaughtering
each other, I could write the articles right now. 'Backward people,
we tried to save them but they want to murder each other because
they're dirty Arabs.' By then, I presume, I'm just guessing, they
[the US] will be onto the next war, which will probably be either
Syria or Iran.
The fact is that war with Iran is probably
underway. It's known that about 12% of the Israeli airforce is
in south eastern Turkey. They're there because they're preparing
for the war against Iran. They don't care about Iraq. Iraq they
figure's a pushover, but Iran has always been a problem for Israel.
It's the one country in the region that they can't handle and
they've been after the US to take it on for years. According to
one report, the Israeli airforce is now flying at the Iranian
border for intelligence, provocation and so on. And it's not a
small airforce. It's bigger than the British airforce, bigger
than any NATO power other than the US. So it's probably underway.
There are claims that there are efforts to stir up Azeri separatism,
which makes some sense. It's what the Russians tried to do in
1946, and that would separate Iran, or what's left of Iran, from
the Caspian oil producing centres. Then you could partition it.
That will probably be underway at the time and then there'll be
a story about how Iran's going to kill us tomorrow, so we need
to get rid of them today. At least that's been the pattern.
Campaign Against Arms Trade: How far do
you see the vast military production machine that is America requiring
war as an advertisement for their equipment?
Chomsky: You have to remember that what's
called military industry is just hi-tech industry. The military
is a kind of cover for the state sector in the economy. At MIT
[Massachusetts Institute of Technology] where I am, everybody
knows this except maybe for some economists. Everybody else knows
it because it pays their salaries. The money comes into places
like MIT under military contract to produce the next generation
of the hi-tech economy. If you take a look at what's called the
new economy - computers, internet - it comes straight out of places
like MIT under federal contracts for research and development
under the cover of military production. Then it gets handed to
IBM when you can sell something.
At MIT the surrounding area used to have
small electronics firms. Now it has small biotech firms. The reason
is that the next cutting edge of the economy is going to be biology
based. So funding from the government for biology based research
is vastly increasing. If you want to have a small start-up company
that will make you a huge amount of money when somebody buys it
someday, you do it in genetic engineering, biotechnology and so
on. This goes right through history. It's usually a dynamic state
sector that gets economies going.
One of the reasons the US wants to control
the oil is because profits flow back, and they flow in a lot of
ways. Its not just oil profits, it's also military sales. The
biggest purchaser of US arms and probably British arms is either
Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates, one of the rich oil producers.
They take most of the arms and that's profits for hi- tech industry
in the Unites States. The money goes right back to the US treasury
and treasury securities. In various ways, this helps prop up primarily
the US and British economies.
I don't know if you've looked at the records,
but in 1958 when Iraq broke the Anglo-American condominium on
oil production, Britain went totally crazy. The British at that
time were still very reliant on Kuwaiti profits. Britain needed
the petrodollars for supporting the British economy and it looked
as if what happened in Iraq might spread to Kuwait. So at that
point Britain and the US decided to grant Kuwait nominal autonomy,
up to then it was just a colony. They said you can run your own
post office, pretend you have a flag, that sort of thing. The
British said that if anything goes wrong with this we will ruthlessly
intervene to ensure maintaining control and the US agreed to the
same thing in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
CAAT: There's also the suggestion that
it's a way of America controlling Europe and the Pacific rim.
Chomsky: Absolutely. The smarter guys
like George Kennen were pointing out that control over the energy
resources of the middle east gives the US what he called 'veto
power' over other countries. He was thinking particularly of Japan.
Now the Japanese know this perfectly well so they've been working
very hard to try to gain independent access to oil, that's one
of the reasons they've tried hard, and succeeded to an extent,
to establish relations with Indonesia and Iran and others, to
get out of the West-controlled system.
Actually one of the purposes of the [post
World War II] Marshall Plan, this great benevolent plan, was to
shift Europe and Japan from coal to oil. Europe and Japan both
had indigenous coal resources but they switched to oil in order
to give the US control. About $2bn out of the $13bn Marshall Plan
dollars went straight to the oil companies to help convert Europe
and Japan to oil based economies. For power, it's enormously significant
to control the resources and oil's expected to be the main resource
for the next couple of generations.
The National Intelligence Council, which
is a collection of various intelligence agencies, published a
projection in 2000 called 'Global Trends 2015.' They make the
interesting prediction that terrorism is going to increase as
a result of globalisation. They really say it straight. They say
that what they call globalisation is going to lead to a widening
economic divide, just the opposite of what economic theory predicts,
but they're realists, and so they say that it's going to lead
to increased disorder, tension and hostility and violence, a lot
of it directed against the United States.
They also predict that Persian Gulf oil
will be increasingly important for world energy and industrial
systems but that the US won't rely on it. But it's got to control
it. Controlling the oil resources is more of an issue than access.
Because control equals power.
MT: How do you think the current anti-war
movement that's building up compares with Vietnam? What do you
think we can achieve as people involved in direct action and protest?
Do you think there's a possibility of preventing a war from occurring?
NC: I think that's really hard because
the timing is really short. You can make it costly, which is important.
Even if it doesn't stop, it's important for the war to be costly
to try to stop the next one.
Compared with the Vietnam War movement,
this movement is just incomparably ahead now. People talk about
the Vietnam War movement, but they forget or don't know what it
was actually like. The war in Vietnam started in 1962, publicly,
with a public attack on South Vietnam - air force, chemical warfare,
concentration camps, the whole business. No protest... the protest
that did build up four or five years later was mostly about the
bombing of the North, which was terrible but was a sideshow. The
main attack was against South Vietnam and there was never any
serious protest against that.
This time there's protest before the war
has even got started. I can't think of an example in the entire
history of Europe, including the United States, when there was
ever protest of any substantial level before a war. Here you've
got massive protest before war's even started. It's a tremendous
tribute to changes in popular culture that have taken place in
Western countries in the last 30 or 40 years. It's just phenomenal.
SchNEWS: It sometimes seems that as soon
as protest breaks out of quite narrow confines, a march every
six months maybe, you get attacked. People protesting against
the war recently in Brighton were pepper sprayed and batoned for
just sitting down in a street.
Chomsky: The more protest there is the
more tightening there's going to be, that's routine. When the
Vietnam War protests really began to build up, so did the repression.
I was very close to a long jail sentence myself and it was stopped
by the Tet Offensive. After the Tet Offensive, the establishment
turned against the war and they called off the trials. Right now
a lot of people could end up in Guantanamo Bay and people are
aware of it.
If there's protest in a country then there's
going to be repression. Can they get away with it? - it depends
a lot on the reaction. In the early 50s in the US, there was what
was called Macarthyism and the only reason it succeeded was that
there was no resistance to it. When they tried the same thing
in the 60s it instantly collapsed because people simply laughed
at it so they couldn't do it. Even a dictatorship can't do everything
it wants. It's got to have some degree of popular support. And
in a more democratic country, there's a very fragile power system.
There's nothing secret about this, it's history. The question
in all of these things is how much popular resistance there's
going to be.
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