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(en) US, Alt. Media: What's Happening? Terror War is Happening!(Chomsky Interview)

From Dan Clore <clore@columbia-center.org>
Date Mon, 16 Jun 2003 08:31:48 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

> ZNet - Atilio Boron interviews Noam Chomsky June 14, 2003
Atilio A. Boron: Looking at the recent US policies in Iraq,
What do you think was the real goal behind this war?
Noam Chomsky: Well, we can be quite confident on one thing.
The reasons we are given can't possibly be the reasons. And
we know that, because they are internally contradictory. So
one day, Bush and Powell would claim that "the single
question," as they put it, is whether Iraq would disarm and
the next day they would say it doesn't matter whether Iraq
disarms because they will go on and invade anyway. And the
next day would be that if Saddam and his group get out then
the problem will be solved; and then, the next day for
example, at the Azores, at the summit when they made an
ultimatum to the United Nations, they said that even if
Saddam and his group get out they would go on and invade
anyway. And they went on like that. When people give you
contradictory reasons every time they speak, all they are
saying is: "don't believe a word I say". So we can dismiss
the official reasons.

And the actual reasons I think are not very obscure. First
of all, there's a long standing interest. That does not
account for the timing but it does account for the interest.
And that is that Iraq has the second large oil reserves in
the world and controlling Iraqi oil and even ending up
probably with military bases in Iraq will place the United
States in an extremely strong position to dominate the
global energy system even more than it does today. That's a
very powerful lever of world control, quite apart from the
profits that comes from it. And the US probably doesn't
intend to access the oil of Iraq; it intends to use
primarily safer Atlantic basin resources for itself (Western
Hemisphere, West Africa). But to control the oil has been a
leading principle of US foreign policies since the Second
World War, and Iraq is particularly significant in this
respect. So that's a long standing interest. On the other
hand it doesn't explain the timing.

If you want to look at the timing, I think that it became
quite clear that the massive propaganda for the war began in
September of last year, September 2002. Before that there
was a condemnation of Iraq but no effort to whip people into
war fever. So we asked what else happened then, September
2002. Well, two important things happened. One was the
opening of the mid term congressional campaign, and the
Bush's campaign manager, Karl Rove, was very clearly
explaining what should be obvious to anybody anyway: that
they could not possible enter the campaign with a focus on
social and economic issues. The reason is that they are
carrying out policies which are quite harmful to the general
population and favorable to an extremely narrow sector of
corporate power and the corrupt sectors as well, and they
can't face the electorate on that. As he pointed out, if we
can make the primary issue national security then we will be
able win because people will--you know--flock to power if
they feel frightened. And that is second nature to these
people; that's the way they have run the country--right
through the 1980s--with very unpopular domestic programs but
accustomed to press into the panic button--Nicaragua,
Grenada, crime, one thing after another. And Rove also
pointed out that something similar would be needed for the
presidential election.

And that's true and what they want do is not just to stay in
office but they would like to institutionalize the very
regressive program put forward domestically, a program which
will basically unravel whatever is left of New Deal social
democratic systems and turn the country almost completely
into a passive undemocratic society, controlled totally by
high concentration of capitals. This means slashing public
medical assistance, social security; probably schools; and
increasing state power. These people are not conservatives,
they brought the country into a federal deficit with the
largest increase in federal spending in 20 years, that is
since their last term in office--and huge tax cuts for the
rich, and they want to institutionalize these programs. They
are seeking a "fiscal train wreck" that will make it
impossible to fund the programs. They know they cannot face
an election declaring that they want to destroy very popular
programs, but they can throw up their hands in despair and
say, "What can we do, there's no money," after they have
made sure there would be no money by huge tax cuts for the
rich and sharp increase in spending for military (including
high tech industry) and other programs beneficial to
corporate power and the wealthy. So that's the second,
that's the domestic factor and in fact, there was a
spectacular propaganda achievement on that. After the
government-media propaganda campaign began in September they
succeeded in convincing a majority of the population very
quickly that Iraq was an imminent threat to the security of
the United States, and even that Iraq was responsible for
September 11th. I mean, there is not a grain of truth in all
that, but by now a majority of the population believes those
things and those attitudes are correlated strongly with the
commitment to war, which is understandable. If people think
they are threatened with destruction by an enemy who's
already attacked them it is likely that they'll go to war.
In effect, if you look at the press today they describe
soldiers as saying: "we are here for revenge--you
know--because they blew up the World Trade Center, they will
attack us", or something. Well, these beliefs are completely
unique to the United States.

I mean: no one in the world believes anything like this. In
Kuwait and Iran people hate Saddam Hussein, but they are not
afraid of him, they know they're the weakest country in the
region. In any event the government-media propaganda
campaign worked brilliantly as the population was frightened
and to a large extent it was willing to support the war
despite the fact that there was a lot of opposition. And
that's the second factor.

And there was a third factor which was even more important.
In September the government announced the national security
strategy. That is not completely without precedent, but it
is quite new as a formulation of state policy. What is
stated is that we are tearing the entire system of the
international law to shreds, the end of UN charter, and that
we are going to carry out an aggressive war--which we will
call "preventive"--and at any time we choose and that we
will rule the world by force. In addition, we will assure
that there is never any challenge to our domination because
we are so overwhelmingly powerful in military force that we
will simply crush any potential challenge.

Well, you know, that caused shudders around the world,
including the foreign policy elite at home which was
appalled by this. I mean it is not that things like that
haven't been heard in the past. Of course they had, but it
had never been formulated as an official national policy. I
suspect you will have to go back to Hitler to find an
analogy to that. Now, when you propose new norms in the
international behavior and new policies you have to
illustrate it, you have to get people to understand that you
mean it. Also you have to have what a Harvard historian
called an "exemplary war", a war of example, which shows
that we really mean what we say.

And we have to choose the right target. The target has to
have several properties. First it has to be completely
defenseless. No one would attack anybody who might be able
to defend themselves, that would be not prudent. Iraq meets
that perfectly: it is the weakest country in the region,
it's been devastated by sanctions and almost completely
disarmed and the US knows every inch of the Iraq territory
by satellite surveillance and overflights, and more recently
U-2 flights. So, yes, Iraq, it is extremely weak and
satisfied the first condition.

And secondly, it has to be important. So there will be no
point invading Burundi, you know, for example, it has to be
a country worthwhile controlling, owning, and Iraq has that
property too. It's, as mentioned, the second largest oil
producer in the world. So it's a perfect example and a
perfect case for this exemplary war, intending to put the
world on notice saying that this is what we´re going do, any
time we choose. We have the power. We have declared that our
goal is domination by force and that no challenge will be
accepted. We've showed you what we are intending to do and
be ready for the next. We will proceed on to the next
operation. Those various conditions fold together and they
make a war a very reasonable choice in taking to a test some

Atilio A. Boron: According to your analysis then the
question is: who is next? Because you don't believe that
they are going to stop in Iraq, wouldn't you?

Noam Chomsky: No, they already made this clear. For one
thing they need something for the next presidential
election. And that will continue. Through their first twelve
years in office this continued year after year; and it will
continue until they manage to institutionalize the domestic
policies to which they are committed and to ensure the
global system they want. So what's the next choice? Well the
next choice has to meet similar conditions. It has to be
valuable enough to attack, and it has to be weak enough to
be defenseless. And there are choices, Syria is a possible
choice. There Israel will be delighted to participate.
Israel alone is a small country, but it's an offshore US
military base, so it has an enormous military force, apart
from having hundreds of nuclear weapons (and probably a kind
of chemical and biological weapons), its air and armed
forces are larger and more advanced that those in any NATO
power, and the US is behind it overwhelmingly.

So Syria is a possibility. Iran is a more difficult
possibility because it's a harder country to dominate and
control. Yet there is a reason to believe that for a year or
two now, efforts have been under way to try to dismantle
Iran, to break it into internally warring groups. These US
dismantling efforts have been based partly in Eastern
Turkey, the US bases in Eastern Turkey apparently flying
surveillance over Iranian borders. That's another
possibility. There is a third possibility that can not be
considered lightly, and is the Andean region. The Andean
region has a lot of resources and it´s out of control. There
are US military bases surrounding the region, and US forces
are there already. And the control of Latin-America is of
course extremely important. With the developments in
Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia it's clear
that US domination is challenged and that can't be accepted,
in particular in a region so close and so crucial because of
its resource base. So that is another possibility.

Atilio A. Boron: This is really frightening. Now the
question is, do you think that all this situation in Iraq,
the invasion and the aftermath would affect in a
non-reparable manner the political stability of the region?
What are likely to be the side effects of this invasion in
countries with a very fragile political constitution like
the South Arabia or even Syria, Iran or even the Kurds? What
may be the future of the Palestine question, which still is
of paramount importance in the area?

Noam Chomsky: Well, what's going to happen in the Arab world
is extremely hard to predict. I mean: it's a disorganized
and chaotic world dominated by highly authoritarian and
brutal regimes. We know what the attitudes are. I mean, the
US is very concerned with attitudes in the region so they
have pretty good studies made by US Middle East scholars on
the attitudes in the region, and the results are pretty
dramatic. One of the more recent ones, a University of
Maryland study covering from Morocco to the Gulf to Lebanon,
the entire area, shows that a very large majority of the
population wants religious leaders to have a greater role in
government. It also shows that approximately another 95%
believe that the sole US interest in the region is taking
its oil, strengthening Israel and humiliating the Arabs.
That means near unanimity. If there is any popular voice
allowed in the region, any moves toward democracy, it could
become sort of like Algeria ten years ago, not necessarily
radical Islamists but a government with some stronger
Islamist currents. This is the last thing the US wants, so
chances of any kind of democratic opening very likely will
be immediately opposed.

The voices of secular democracy will also be opposed. If
they speak up freely, about violation of UN resolutions for
example, they will bring up the case of Israel, which has a
much worse record than Iraq in this respect but is protected
by the United States. And they will have concerns for
independence that the US will not favor, so it will continue
to support oppressive and undemocratic regimes, as in the
past, and as in Latin America for many years, unless it can
be assured that they will keep closely to Washington's

On the other hand these chaotic popular movements are so
difficult to predict. I mean, even the participants can't or
don't know what they want. What we know is this tremendous
hatred, antagonisms and fear--probably more than ever
before--on the Israel-Palestine issue that is, of course,
the core issue in the Arab world, the Bush administration
has been very careful not to take any position, though there
are actions, which undermine the prospects for peaceful
resolution: funding more Israeli settlement programs, for

They don't say anything significant. The most they say is
that we have a "vision," or something equally meaningless.
Meanwhile the actions have been taken, and the US had
continued to support the more extremist positions within
Israel. So what the press describes as George Bush's most
significant recent statements, then later reiterated by
Colin Powell, was the statement that said that settlement in
the occupied territories can continue until the United State
determines that the conditions for peace have been
established, and you can move forward on this mythical "Road

The statement that was hailed as "significant" in fact
amounts to a shift in policy, to a more extremist form. Up
until now the official position has been that there should
be no more settlements. Of course, that's hypocritical of
the United States because meanwhile it continues to provide
the military, and economic, and diplomatic support for more
settlements, but the official position has been opposed to
it. Now the official position is in favor of it, until such
time as the US determines unilaterally that the "peace
process" has made enough progress, which means, basically
indefinitely. Also it wasn't very well noticed that last
December, at the UN General Assembly, the Bush
administration shifted the US policy crucially on an
important issue. Up until that time, until last December,
the US has always officially endorsed the Security Council
resolutions of 1968 opposing Israel's annexation of
Jerusalem, and ordering Israel to withdraw the moves to take
over East Jerusalem and to expand Jerusalem, which is now a
huge area.

The US had always officially opposed that, although, again
hypocritically. As of last December the Bush administration
came out in support of it. This was a pretty sharp change in
policy, and it is also significant that it was not reported
in the United States. But it took place. So this is the only
concrete act, and continues like that. The US has in the
past vetoed the European efforts to place international
monitors in the territories, which would be a way of
reducing political, violent confrontations. The US
undermined the December 2001 meetings in Geneva to implement
the Geneva conventions and as almost all the other
contracting parties appeared the US refused and that,
essentially, blocked it. Bush then declared Sharon to be "a
man of peace" and supported his repressive activities, as
was pretty obvious. So the indications are that the US will
move towards a very harsh policy in the territories,
granting the Palestinians at most some kind of meaningless
formal status as a "state". Of course, this would dress up
as democracy, and peace, and freedom, and so on. They have a
huge public relations operation and it would be presented in
that way, but I don't think the reality looks very

Atilio A. Boron: I have two more question to go. One is
about the future of the United Nations system. An article by
Henry Kissinger recently reproduced in Argentina argued that
multilateralism is over and that the world has to come to
terms with the absolute superiority of the American armed
forces and that we'd better go along with that because the
old system is dead. What is your reflection on the
international arena?

Noam Chomsky: Well you know, it's a little bit like
financial and industrial strategy. It is a more brazen
formulation of policies which have always been carried out.
The unilateralism with regard to the United Nations, as
Henry Kissinger knows perfectly well, goes far back. Was
there any UN authorization for the US invasion of South
Vietnam 40 years ago? In fact, the issue could not even come
up at the United Nations. The UN and all the countries were
in overwhelming opposition to the US operations in Vietnam,
but the issue could literally never arise and it was never
discussed because everyone understood that if the issues
were discussed the UN would simply be dismantled.

When the World Court condemned the United States for its
attack on Nicaragua, the official response of the Reagan
administration, which is the same people now in office, the
official response when they rejected World Court
jurisdiction was that other nations do not agree with us and
therefore we will reserve to ourselves the right to
determine what falls within the domestic jurisdiction of the
United States. I am quoting it. In this case, that was an
attack on Nicaragua. You can hardly have a more extreme
unilateralism than that. And American elites accepted that,
and so it was applauded and, in fact, quickly forgotten. In
your next trip to the US take a poll in the Political
Science Department where you are visiting and you will find
people who never heard of it. It's as wiped out as this. As
is the fact that the US had to veto the Security Council's
resolutions supporting the Court's decision and calling on
all states to observe international law. Well, you know that
is unilateralism in its extreme, and it goes back before

Right after the missile crisis, which practically brought
the world to a terminal nuclear war, a major crisis, the
Kennedy administration resumed its terrorist activities
against Cuba and its economic warfare which was the
background for the crisis and Dean Acheson, a respected
statesman and Kennedy advisor at the liberal end of the
spectrum, gave an important address to the American Society
of International Law in which he essentially stated the Bush
Doctrine of September 2002. What he said is that no "legal
issue" arises in the case of a US response to a challenge to
its "power, position, and prestige." Can't be more extreme
than that. The differences with September 2002 is that
instead of being operative policy now it became official
policy. That is the difference. The UN has been irrelevant
to the extent that the US refused to allow it to function.
So, since the mid 1960s when the UN had become somewhat more
independent, because of decolonization and the recovery of
other countries of the world from the ravages of the war,
since 1965 the US is far in the lead in vetoing Security
Council resolutions on a wide range of issues--Britain is
second--and no one else is even close. All that renders the
UN ineffective. It means, you do as we say or else we will
kick you in the pants. Now it is more brazen.

The only correct statement that Kissinger is making is that
now we will not conceal the policies that we are carrying

Atilio A. Boron: OK. Here is my last question: What has been
the impact of the Iraqi War on the freedoms and public
liberties of the American public? We have heard horrific
stories about librarians being forced to indicate the names
of people checking out books regarded as suspicious or
subversive. What has been the real impact of the war in the
domestic politics of the US?

Noam Chomsky: Well, those things are taking place but I
don't think they are specifically connected with the Iraq
War. The Bush administration, let me repeat it again, they
are not conservatives; they are statist reactionaries. They
want a very powerful state, a huge state in fact, a violent
state and one that enforces obedience on the population.
There is a kind of quasi-fascist spirit there, in the
background, and they have been attempting to undermine civil
rights in many ways. That's one of their long term
objectives, and they have to do it quickly because in the US
there is a strong tradition of protection of civil rights.
But the kind of surveillance you are talking about of
libraries and so on is a step towards it. They have also
claimed the right to place a person--even an American
citizen--in detention without charge, without access to
lawyers and family, and to hold them there indefinitely, and
that in fact has been upheld by the Courts, which is pretty
shocking. But they have a new proposal, sometimes called
Patriot Two, a 80 page document inside the Justice
department. Someone leaked it and it reached the press.
There have been some outraged articles by law professors
about it. This is only planned so far, but they would like
to implement it as secretly as they can. These plans would
permit the Attorney General to remove citizenship from any
individual whom the attorney general believes is acting in a
way harmful to the US interests. I mean, this is going
beyond anything contemplated in any democratic society. One
law professor at New York University has written that this
administration evidently will attempt to take away any civil
rights that it can from citizens and I think it's basically
correct. That fits in with their reactionary statist
policies which have a domestic aspect in the economy and
social life but also in political life.

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