i know, I know. Another Chomsky interview...
Hegemony or Survival New!
The GNN interview in full
In the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Occupation, the American news networks rolled out a small army of ex-generals, pro-Israel "Middle East experts," ex-CIA directors, and powerful right-wing politicians to back the President's case for war. On the other side, you had such eminent American intellectuals as former Saturday Night Live writer Al Franken, XXL satirist Michael Moore and slacker comedienne Janeane Garofalo, arguing the anti-invasion line. The voice of the American Left was reduced to a handful of jokers, literally.
None of them had the humility to say, "Hey, why don't you call Noam Chomsky?"
Despite the lack of media exposure, Chomsky is at the top of his game. His slim book entitled "9/11" has sold more than half a million copies. He blew away a 15,000 person stadium full of cheering anti-corporate globalization activists at last year's World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Millions of college students still revere him as their hero. Bono calls him the "Elvis of Academia." His new book, "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Domination" has just been released, and the response has been heady. A Business Week reviewer wrote, "With relentless logic he bids us to listen closely to what our leaders tell us - and to discern what they are leaving out...Agree with him or not, we lose out by not listening." He must be doing something right.
Having recently returned from Iraq, GNN headed up to Cambridge to interview the graying anarcho-syndicalist about Bush's New World Disorder, democracy in Iraq and the state of the flag-happy American news media.
Chomsky HQ is a small alcove of offices on a non-descript street in the middle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's non-descript campus a couple of miles down Mass Ave. from the ivy-covered Harvard. The HQ sits above a charmless café, across the street from MIT's charmless business management school - about as deep-cover a location as you can get for America's most subversive intellectual.
In the office's main area, one wall is filled with the various translations of his numerous books. On another is a large blow-up of a photo of Bertrand Russell. On another, a poster-sized letter addressed to "Palestine" stamped "Return to Sender. No such address."
"That's his favorite one," said an assistant, smiling slyly.
Chomsky's universe is as tightly managed as his thoughts. We booked our interview months in advance, and were promised one hour, no more, so we got right into it. It wasn't two minutes before he was comparing the Bush Administration to Japanese fascists.
The following is the interview in its entirety (note, it's long):
GNN: Currently we are in Iraq. We have a standing army there and we are fighting a worldwide battle that is called the "war on terror." The idea that has been created over and over again is that we are there for democracy. Is this a myth?
Chomsky: The conception that the U.S. entered Iraq to bring democracy had two roles. It was never presented as an official reason. If that was the point then what's the point of having weapons inspections, and UN resolutions and so on? In fact, the U.S. government and British government kept on insisting that the only question is whether Iraq has lived up to its commitment to terminate its weapons of mass destruction program. Meanwhile, for intellectuals who have their job to do, which is to put a pleasant gloss on whatever atrocity is being carried out (the traditional function of the intellectual world) - for them it was a kind of throw-away line, 'Oh, we're doing this wonderful thing bringing democracy, etc.'
Bush: 'We did some bad things in the past, but now we're going to be marvelous.'
Now this shifted after the invasion. After the invasion, it became embarrassingly clear that they were not going to find weapons of mass destruction, so the rhetoric began to shift and bringing democracy became the great achievement. In early November Bush made a speech that got wonderful applause in the west (in the U.S. and England), and was mostly ridiculed elsewhere, saying now we're engaged in a new mission in the world, we made some mistakes in the past, but now we're going to be struggling to bring democracy everywhere. In the U.S. and, for the most part in Great Britain, this announcement was greeted with rapacious awe. The Washington Post had an article in which one of its leading commentators said that this must be the noblest war in history... the first war ever fought for purely altruistic reasons, of bringing democracy. Paul Wolfowitz was brought forward as the grand visionary with his dream of democracy.
There were also reactions in Iraq. There was a poll shortly after asking people why they thought United States came to Iraq, and some people did agree with this - actually one percent in the poll. But throughout most of the region, and in places like Latin America, the reaction was mostly ridicule and for several reasons: for one thing this sort of change of course - we did some bad things in the past and now we're going to be wonderful - this doctrine comes into vogue every two or three years. If you look over the past years, yes, we did some bad things in the past, but now we're going to be marvelous.
Furthermore, it's uniform in the history of aggression and imperialism. If you look at Hitler or Stalin, the Japanese fascists, they all used that kind of terminology, and certainly the British Empire used that kind of language, and others. So it basically carries no information. It is kind of the routine reflexive terminology - freedom and democracy as a justification. Stalin even introduced what he called People's Democracies. No one takes it seriously, you look at the practice.
There is a record of practice. The practice shows that yes, democratic forms of government are fine as long as they do exactly as we say, otherwise they are not fine. For example, in the Middle East to where this message is directed, you have to be pretty dumb not to notice that the countries that were praised in the speech for their progress towards democracy are those that are following orders, and the ones that are condemned are the ones that aren't following orders. This is completely independent of any steps towards democracy, human rights and so on.
Some of the worst and monstrous regimes were praised.
Chomsky: Algeria, for example. Morocco was praised because they are doing what we want them to do. But their records are grotesque. On the other hand there happens to be one elected leader in the Middle East. One genuinely elected leader, in a relatively free election, namely Yasser Arafat. But the administration determined that they don't like him any more. He wasn't doing the job that they wanted him to do, which was to control and manage the population and the interests of the occupiers, and he was losing control or wasn't performing, so therefore he had to go.
Wolfowitz, the grand visionary of democracy, berated the Turkish military because they did not intervene to compel the government to overrule 95 percent of the population.
And he had to be replaced by someone who the U.S. government picked; who they conceded had virtually no popular support. Abu Abas, whether you like him or dislike him, is a separate point. But they recognized that they are forcing out the one elected leader in the region and forcing one in with no popular support, but that's part of our crusade for democracy. Now maybe that passed among western intellectuals, but people who can look at the world and see what it is, draw different conclusions. Furthermore, these very same people (like Paul Wolfowitz) had in recent months demonstrated such hatred and contempt for democracy that it took a real effort not to perceive it.
Wolfowitz, for example, berated the Turkish military because they did not intervene to compel the government to overrule 95 percent of the population. About 95 percent of the population was opposed to getting involved in the war in Iraq and the government, to everyone's surprise, went along with them, which caused huge outrage in the U.S.
Colin Powell immediately announced they were going to be punished. Wolfowitz called on them to apologize to the U.S. and to recognize that they must help the U.S. advance its love for democracy.
There was all this flurry of commentary about what was called Old Europe and New Europe. Now there is a very interesting experience.
What was the distinction? Old Europe were the bad guys, the ones that we needed to revile and condemn and figure out what their psychic disabilities are, and so on and so forth, like Germany and France. New Europe is the wonderful hope of the future. Berlusconi in Italy and Asnar in Spain, some of the Eastern European satellites where the governments overruled an even larger majority of the population than in Old Europe and followed orders from Crawford, Texas and were therefore the forward looking leaders and the hope for democracy.
The criterion was absolutely sharp. I cannot think of an example of a more brazen and open contempt for democracy. This is right in the background of the crusade for democracy.
If we move a little farther back we find exactly the same thing.
The same people running the so-called War on Terror, in the 1980s were carrying out what they called a "democracy campaign" in Central America. Look at how they brought "democracy" to Central America. It was with massacres, torture, violence and destruction.
A couple of years ago, the grand visionary, Paul Wolfowitz was praising Suharto [President of Indonesia 1967-1998], who ranks right with Saddam Hussein as a murderer, torturer and aggressor responsible for a huge number of deaths and atrocities. But he was praising him in 1997, actually just a couple of months before he was overthrown by an internal revolution. That goes all the way back. Of course, no one takes this seriously outside of western intellectual circles where you are supposed to worship your leaders, and if they say we are brining democracy, then we are bringing democracy. The fact that this suddenly became the leading theme after the official reasons collapsed... well, they sort of forget about that.
It's familiar. It happens all the time. During the 1980s, these same people in Washington, basically the same people who were running the country in the 1980s, were carrying out what they called a "democracy campaign" to bring what they called democracy to Central America. Well, take a look at how they brought "democracy" to Central America and it was with massacres, torture, violence and destruction of the countries. And finally they succeeded by force in imposing what they themselves called "top-down democracies" - with the traditional elites in power that have been connected to the U.S. - that's democracy.
GNN: We had a very interesting experience actually following a former guerrilla back to Iraq who had fought against Saddam in the 1991 uprising. How does that uprising fit into what you're talking about?
Chomsky: Very well. Up until the day of the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was a fine guy. It wasn't secret. The U.S. and Britain were providing him with aid, they explained the reasons, it wasn't a secret. This was well after his worst atrocities, the Halabjah gassing and so on. It was long after the war with Iran and had nothing to do with Iran. The reasons were officially explained: We were providing Saddam with aid including technology for development of weapons of mass destruction out of responsibility to U.S. exporters, and supporting Saddam will improve the condition of human rights and stability in the region.
The New York Times Middle East correspondent explained Saddam offers more hope for stability in the region than those who are trying to overthrow him. Stability is a code word that means obedience.
And that went on virtually up until the invasion of Kuwait, and then he became a bad guy all of a sudden, once he disobeyed orders. Then after the invasion, the U.S. is in total control and there is an uprising led by rebelling Iraqi generals, who didn't ask the U.S. for help. They asked for access to captured Iraqi equipment and wanted the U.S. to prevent helicopters and so on from destroying them. The U.S. just backed off and effectively authorized Saddam to destroy the rebellion.
The rebellion may have overthrown him, in which case Iraq would have been run by Iraqis and that's not tolerable. It's to be run by either a client or by us. And there were explanations which were public but people are very careful not to report them. Take for example, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. He now explains in his columns that he was in favor of this invasion because it was a moral obligation, and what drew him to it was discovering the mass graves from the repression after the uprising. He is careful not to tell and others are polite enough not to report what he said at the time when he knew all about the mass graves. The atrocities were perfectly clear to everyone. The rebellion was crushed with U.S. authorization for reasons which he said were good reasons... 'The best of all worlds for the United States would be an iron-fisted military junta ruling Iraq the same way Saddam did' [NYT, July 7, 1991] and much to satisfaction of the U.S. allies in the region, and of course, the bosses in Washington. But we couldn't find another iron-fisted military junta so we had to settle for this one.
The New York Times Middle East correspondent explained at the time that as much as it pains us to see all killings and the bloodshed, there is nevertheless an overwhelming consensus that Saddam offers more hope for the stability in the region than those who are trying to overthrow him. Stability is a code word that means obedience.
Allende in Chile was running a perfectly stable country but he had to be de-stabilized and overthrown because he was not obedient.
This was the reaction in 1991 when the atrocities were carried out with the authorization of Washington, which could have stopped them in no time, but they didn't want the rebellion to succeed. Has any sort of miraculous conversation taken place between now and then? It's conceivable, but then you'd expect the people who were applauding the repression then to say sorry we made a mistake, and they're not saying that. They're just keeping quiet about it. Which means there's been no miraculous conversion, and everything else in their reaction to other events demonstrates that.
For the rich and the privileged it's easy to pretend that history doesn't exist. On the other hand, for the people at the wrong end of the guns, they have a way of paying attention to what actually happens in the world and they remember and draw conclusions from it. I presume that's why we are getting 1% of Iraqis taking the declaration seriously while it's been reverentially praised in the leading media.
Incidentally, these polls on Iraq have been fairly consistent. Another poll around the same time asked Iraqis which foreign leader they most preferred and the highest foreign leader rating was Jacques Chirac of France who was the very symbol of opposition to the invasion. He was far and above Bush and Blair. The New York Times actually reported that on an inside column, and the reporter, Patrick Tyler, was puzzled by it. Evidentially, he didn't say anything at the time, but a few weeks later he returned to it and mentioned it in another column, and his comment on it was, "go figure." I assume that means, 'what's the matter with these crazy A-rabs? We come and liberate them and their favorite foreign figure is the one who was opposed to the invasion.'
In recent polls in Iraq about five to one regard the U.S. army as an occupation force not a liberating force. Maybe the most amazing thing I've seen in the polls which are pretty consistent is that about five to three say they want U.S. forces out right away, despite the chaos and destruction that could result from invasion if those forces leave, they still want them out. And this is fairly consistent. I have not spoken to the people on the streets of Baghdad. I am not there, but the polls, which are western polls, and I have no reason to think they are falsified, are giving fairly consistent results which are meaningful and not terribly surprising.
People don't like to live under military occupation.
GNN: Talking about empire, we've recently seen Paul Bremer go in and dissemble the Iraqi constitution and institute a flat tax. Would you characterize what is happening as the expansion of capitalism? We met this American tank commander in the "Sunni Triangle" who said to us we can't really tell parents back home that we are fighting for a way of life, but in fact this is what we're doing. Do you think this is about the expansion of capitalism or is that too simplistic?
Chomsky: The occupation authorities imposed on Iraq an economic program that no sovereign country would ever accept. They effectively opened the country up to complete purchase by foreign corporations, meaning mostly U.S. corporations. For the moment they left the oil industry out because that would have been too blatant. But that will come along. But everything else is completely open to foreign investment and foreign control. There's a flat tax, in other words no taxation. No sovereign country would accept this. These are the kinds of conditions countries accept by force. Take a look at the British Empire; this is essentially what they did to India. They insisted that India, which in many ways was more advanced than England as a commercial and industrial center back in the 18th century... They split radically and became a very poor impoverished peasant society where they had once been one of the world's commercial centers, and England prospered.
The state sector is subsidized, which is a radical interference with any market system. And countries that are under control, like Iraq, are not permitted to do it.
How? India was compelled to accept what was called Liberalization. India was compelled to accept what was called "free trade," which meant no subsidies, no protection. England on to the other hand, didn't pay any attention to those rules. It imposed very high tariffs, it blocked Indian imports, and that's the way it developed its textile industry, its shipping industry and so on - it had subsidies. It did exactly all the things that every country did, including the United States, and every other developed country in the world did to develop. What we now call the Third World became the Third World largely as a result of these structures. Later in the 19th century, by the time England was far and away the most advanced industrial country in the world, then it was willing to play around with free trade for a while, figuring it would win in the competition. But as soon as it became clear it wasn't winning in the competition, that game was called off, and the U.S. did the same thing.
The Reagan administration and the current Bush administration, which are about the same, love to preach free trade for others, but not for us. So the Reagan administration virtually doubled barriers to imports in order for U.S. industry which was lagging behind to reconstruct itself. Now the Bush administration imposes tariffs whenever it feels like it - all for the benefit of U.S. industry. All of this overlooks the fact that the U.S. has a dynamic state sector that is highly subsidized, a lot of it under Pentagon cover, and that is the source of most of what we call the new economy: computers, telecommunications, the internet, anything you think about that is coming out of the state sector is either from direct work within, or is subsidized by it, which is a radical interference with any market system. And countries that are under control, like Iraq, are not permitted to do it.
So it's quite typical. And it's not particular to Bush. Clinton sent the Marines to invade Haiti to restore democracy, as it was called, after he decided that the military junta which he in fact had been supporting (just as Bush I had been supporting), had tortured the population enough so that now we were going to free them from torture. Now we'll return the elected president who's overthrow we supported, but - a big but - but they have to accept an ultra-Liberal economic program which the population had voted against in the only free election that had taken place - that's why the U.S. backed the military junta and overthrew the government - now we're going to liberate them but they've got to accept the economic program that's going to destroy the country and open it up to western and U.S. exploitation. Well, we call that restoring democracy.
Well, great applause here. Elsewhere, slightly different view of the matter. And that's what's happening in Iraq. It has a long history, it goes back centuries.
Obviously, they want to open these countries up to western exploitation, western power, in this case U.S., British and some others will be brought in - that's traditional imperialism. It takes one or another form, but there are remarkable consistencies.
GNN: You used the word "imperial" when you were talking about India and of course, England. We've read a lot of books lately in which it's become fashionable to talk about the U.S. as an empire, or an empire in denial. Gore Vidal would disagree, he would say that we are an empire in decline. I have a two-part question: First of all do you believe in this word "empire," that America is an empire. Secondly, do you think it's somewhat antithetical for the public to think of itself as an empire, we think of ourselves as a free republic, is there a myth about ourselves that rubs against the empire notion?
Chomsky: Personally, I don't particularly use the word empire. It doesn't really matter. It has all kinds of connotations like having administrators running the country, and so on. Whether one uses it doesn't really matter. There are all sorts of forms of imperial domination.
Sometimes it's grotesque. George Washington was known by the Indians as the "town destroyer." In the middle of the Revolutionary War, he decided to destroy the Iroquois civilization.
The U.S., from its origins, has had imperial ambitions and has implemented them. Why are you and I sitting here? There were people here, after all. Well, when the English colonists came, they wiped them out, or drove them out, and then expanded over the continent over millions of people. Sometimes we made treaties with them, but we violated the treaties and kicked them out anyway.
Sometimes it's grotesque. In the Revolutionary War in 1779, George Washington was known by the Indians as the "town destroyer," a slightly different vision of him than we learn. In the middle of the war, the "town destroyer," George Washington, decided to destroy the Iroquois civilization - an advanced civilization roughly on par with the colonists, except for military force and the use of violence - and right in the middle of the revolutionary war he announced to Lafayette on July 4th (he picked a nice day) that he was going to send the troops to destroy the Iroquois civilization, and they did. They managed to basically wipe them out and drive the people out and so on. And then another Clinton, DeWitt Clinton, the governor of New York, informed the defeated Iroquois that they'd have to pay an indemnity to the U.S. for the crime they committed. Well, it wasn't the U.S. then, it was the colonies, but they had to a pay an indemnity for a crime they committed by resisting the aggression that destroyed them.
They had to pay an indemnity for what they did to us.
It's kind of like Wolfowitz and Turkey. They have to apologize for the crime of trying to defend themselves when we were wiping them out and exterminating them. And from then on it goes on. That's the way the continent was conquered. Half of Mexico was conquered. Cuba was "liberated" from Spain - in fact the U.S. intervened in 1898 to prevent Cuba from liberating itself from Spain to ensure that it would be a colony, in effect, as it was until 1959. Since then the U.S. has been carrying out a large-scale war of terrorism and economic strangulation, very serious, since Cuba liberated itself - that's not allowed.
The reasons are stated quite explicitly in the public documentary record. It's primarily because of what the U.S. government called 'the very existence of the Castro regime is successful defiance of our policies going back 150 years,' namely to the Monroe Doctrine in which we announced that we own the hemisphere. And the successful defiance of those polices cannot be tolerated, particularly because it's a model that others might want to follow. Therefore terror and economic warfare and so on are justified, and continue right up to the moment. And it extends - Hawaii was stolen from its population by violence and guile. The U.S. invaded the Philippines because president McKinley told us he got a message from God saying we have do this, and that makes it OK. A couple of hundred thousand people were slaughtered, and to this day the country remains basically subjugated.
After all, the government now in Washington is the only government in the world that was condemned by the World Court for international terrorism and just laughed it off and escalated the attacks.
Other mechanisms are used in the backyard, as its called, in Central America and the Caribbean where you just have to follow orders or else, or you get repression, invasion, strangulation, destruction, including by the people now in Washington, who are some of the worst gangsters.
After all, the government now in Washington is the only government in the world that has been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism and just laughed it off and escalated the attacks. It's kind of interesting. The heads of the war on terror, which in fact, the administration now in Washington declared in 1981, are pretty much the same people. Now it's turned into a massive terrorist war, of course. The people running the re-declared war on terror - the diplomatic side is now run at the UN by John Negroponte who was, at that time, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras and was overseeing torture and violence in Honduras. But more importantly this is where the bases were for the U.S.-run mercenary forces that were attacking Nicaragua. And that's what the U.S. was condemned for by the World Court, to stop and to pay reparations, but of course the U.S. disregarded it. Now without any flicker of an eyelash, he is running the diplomatic side of the war on terror.
The military side of the war against terror we have Donald Rumsfeld, who was Reagan's emissary to the Middle East and was sent to restore relations with our friend Saddam Hussein knowing perfectly well he was a complete monster and he was using chemical weapons. Iraq was taken off the list of terrorist states in 1982 so the U.S. could provide him with arms, aid, establish relations and so on, and since there was an empty spot on the list of terrorist states, they introduced Cuba as a terrorist state at the time.
It goes right down the list. Elliot Abrams, who was responsible for Latin America [under Reagan], a major sponsor of state terrorism and atrocities, in fact was convicted of misdemeanors for lying to Congress, but got a presidential pardon, and he's now back in charge of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council.
You don't know whether to laugh or cry.
It goes right down the list. And educated opinion is so disciplined, so astonishingly disciplined, that all of this passes without comment, that that's wrong. You can go on and on.
Look at Colin Powell - he's the "moderate." What's his record as a moderate? I mean he was national security advisor in the last couple of years of the Reagan administration when the administration was successfully evading a congressional ban against supporting South Africa, they were finding ways around it because they didn't want to accept it. They declared Nelson Mandela's African national congress to be one of the more notorious terrorist organizations in the world - that's on Colin Powell's watch.
One of the beautiful things about this doctrine of change of course is that you can wipe out the past. It's sometimes called "American Exceptionalism," and it goes right back to the pilgrims.
They were also supporting massive South African atrocities in Angola and Mozambique which were killing hundreds of thousands of people - that's moderation? Paul Wolfowitz at the time was ambassador to Indonesia, praising the monstrous Suharto. Before that, he was high up in the state department office of Asian affairs where he was overseeing support for Marcos, a vicious, brutal, corrupt dictator who the U.S. supported almost up to the very last minute until he was overthrown by the army. He was supporting Chung in South Korea, another murderous dictator who was overthrown by the Korean people. The U.S. supported him all the way through.
Now there's a kind of revisionist history being constructed that the U.S. was really working behind the scenes to achieve these results but try to find some record of it and it's exactly the opposite. And it's completely consistent. It doesn't matter. One of the beautiful things about this doctrine of change which is evoked every two or three years, is that you can wipe out the past. Well it all sort of happened by inadvertent innocence or something like that, but we didn't really intend anything, it was all-benevolent on our part and now we intend to do good, and that goes way back. It's sometimes called "American Exceptionalism," so you can carry out all sorts of violence and destruction but you're doing it for a good purpose. And that goes right back to the pilgrims who were slaughtering the Indians because they were the children of Israel following biblical orders wiping out the Amalekites.
To call this exceptionalism is ridiculous because every imperial system has seen itself the same way. The French were carrying out a "civilizing" mission while the French minister of war was explaining that we have to exterminate the natives in Algeria, and Britain was bringing "peace and justice" to India while carrying out some of the biggest atrocities and running the biggest narco-trafficking operation in history. It was very crucial for the British Empire because that was the only way it could break into China and force them to accept. They didn't want to accept British imports, they didn't need them.
They were producing better stuff themselves but they were forced to accept opium. A large part of the reason the British conquered India was to control a monopoly of opium. And it was a huge narco-trafficking enterprise. But it was being lauded by the most distinguished intellectuals of the day, who described England as a unique power in the world and nobody understands how magnificent we are, they think we're doing things for base motives because they can't understand them. And so it continues... The Japanese fascists when they invaded China and Manchuria the rhetoric was so uplifting it brings tears to your eyes. They were going to create an earthly paradise for the people of the region, in cooperation with Japan, to protect them from the Chinese bandits who were terrorists and were trying to overthrow the legitimate governments that Japan was supporting. They were going to have a prosperity sphere, in which we would all contribute and live wonderful happy lives in the earthly paradise.
And when Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, he did it in order to stop ethnic cleansing and atrocities, and let all the people there live happily together with German supervision. Furthermore, that was pretty much accepted in the U.S. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's leading advisor Sumner Wells was a close associate after the Munich agreement and Germany essentially took over Czechoslovakia, saying this is leading the way to a new world order of peace and justice.
There is nothing exceptional about this. This is the way power systems behave. They like to think of themselves as mythologies.