June 25, 2021
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Amsterdam Forum Interview

'A Terrible Threat To The World'

The world's 'most important intellectual' answered questions from listeners from around the world on Amsterdam Forum - Radio Netherlands' interactive discussion programme.

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'A Terrible Threat To The World'
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'A Terrible Threat To The World'
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Andy Clark: Hello and welcome to Amsterdam Forum - Radio Netherlands' interactive discussion programme. Today a special edition featuring the world-famous author and political activist Noam Chomsky .

Professor Chomsky, once described by the New York Times as arguably the most important intellectual alive, is an outspoken critic of US foreign policy. He says, following the war in Iraq, the US is seeking to dominate the world by force, a dimension in which it rules supreme. And he warns this policy will lead to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terror attacks based on a loathing of the US administration. He says the very survival of the species may be at stake. Well, Professor Chomsky joins us to take questions from our listeners around the world. Welcome professor Chomsky.

The first e-mail is from Norberto Silva , from the Cape Verde islands, and he says: "Could the USA and president Bush lead the world into a nuclear war with their policy of pre-emptive attacks?"

Noam Chomsky: They very definitely could. First of all we should be clear - it is not a policy of pre-emptive attacks. Pre-emption means something in international law. A pre-emptive attack is one that is taken in the case of an imminent, on-going threat. For example, if planes were flying across the Atlantic to bomb New York, it would be legitimate for the US Air Force to shoot them down. That's a pre-emptive attack. This is what is sometimes called preventive war. 

There's a new doctrine that was announced last September in the National Security Strategy. It declares the right to attack any potential challenge to the global dominance of the United States. The potential is in the eye of the observer, so that, in effect, gives the authorisation to attack essentially anyone. 

Could that lead to a nuclear war? Very definitely. We've come very close in the past. Just last October, for example, it was discovered, to the shock and horror of those who paid attention, that, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the world was literally one word away from probably terminal nuclear war. Russian submarines with nuclear weapons were under attack by US destroyers. Several commanders thought a nuclear war was on, and gave the order to shoot nuclear missiles. It was countermanded by one officer. That's why we're around to talk. There have been plenty of such cases since.

Andy Clark: Are we in a more dangerous situation now, with this preventive doctrine in place?

Noam Chomsky: Sure. The preventive war doctrine is virtually an invitation to potential targets to develop some kind of deterrent, and there are only two kinds of deterrent. One is weapons of mass destruction, the other is large-scale terror. That's been pointed out over and over again by strategic analysts, the intelligence agencies and so on, so sure, it raises the danger that something will get out of control.

Andy Clark: This email is from Don Rhodes , from Melbourne, in Australia, and he says: "I do not believe that the US wants to dominate the world. The Americans have been attacked on several fronts, 9/11 being only one of them. Someone has to bring into line rogue states and it is the USA alone that has the capability to do this. Without such a 'world policeman' the world would just disintegrate into warring factions. Look at history for examples of this." What do you make of that sort of statement?

Noam Chomsky: The first sentence is simply factually incorrect. The National Security Strategy states fairly explicitly that the US intends to dominate the world by force, which is the dimension in which it rules supreme, and to ensure that there is never any potential challenge to this domination. That was not only stated explicitly, it has also been commented on repeatedly, right away in the main establishment - the Foreign Affairs journal in its next issue is pointing out that the United States is declaring the right to be what it calls a "revisionist state", which will use force to control the world in its own interests. 

The person who sent the email may believe that the US has some unique right to run the world by force. I don't believe that, and contrary to what was stated I don't think history supports that at all. In fact the US record, incidentally with the support of Australia, since the period of its global dominance in the 1940s, is one of instigating war and violence and terror on a very substantial scale. 

The Indochina War, just to take one example in which Australia participated, was basically a war of aggression. The United States attacked South Vietnam in 1962. The war then spread to the rest of Indochina. The end result was several million people killed, the countries devastated, and that's only one example. 

So history does not support the conclusion and the principle that one state should have a unique right to rule the world by force. That's an extremely hazardous principle, no matter who the country is.

Andy Clark: This is from Noel Collamer , from Bellingham, in Washington, in the USA, and he writes: "Noam says: 'The Bush administration intends to dominate the world by force, the one dimension in which it rules supreme, and to do so permanently.' To this I ask, if we, who can, do not act with force against tyrants, then what does he suggest be done? That the brutalized populace should use non-violent resistance against their tyrant even though this will result in their own genocide?"

Noam Chomsky: First of all - I don't say that, the Bush administration says it. I'm simply repeating what is stated quite explicitly, and that's not particularly controversial. As I mentioned, it was commented on, essentially in those words, in the first issue of Foreign Affairs immediately afterwards. 

As for countries suffering under tyranny - yes, it would be very good if somebody would help and support them. Take for example the current administration in Washington. They themselves - remember, these are mostly re-cycled Reaganites - they supported a series of monstrous dictators, who subjected their populations to vicious tyranny, including Saddam Hussein, Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier. It's quite a long list. The best way to deal with that would have been to stop supporting them. 

Incidentally, support for terror and violence continues. The best way to stop it is to stop supporting them. Often, in fact in every one of those cases, they were overthrown by their own populations, even though the US was supporting the dictator. Ceausescu, for example, was a tyrant perfectly comparable to Saddam Hussein. He was overthrown in 1989 by his own population, while he was being supported by the current incumbents in Washington, and that continues. 

If there are people resisting oppression and violence, we should find ways to support them, and the easiest way is to stop supporting the tyrants. After that, complicated issues arise. There is no record, that I know of, of the US, or any other state - [there are] very rare examples - intervening to try to prevent oppression and violence. That's extremely rare.

Andy Clark: OK, another email. This is from H.P. Velten , who is from New Jersey, in the USA, and he says: "Why isn't there more controversy about Bush's motives in the US media?"

Noam Chomsky: Well, actually there is plenty of controversy. One thing that was quite striking about the war in Iraq and the National Security Strategy, which is the framework for it, was that is was very strongly criticised, right at the core of the foreign policy elite - it was sharply criticised in the two major foreign affairs journals, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which rarely takes a position on current controversial issues, had a monograph condemning it. There's a whole series of other articles. It's partly reflected in the media, but not very much, because remember, the media tend to be quite supportive of power, for all sorts of reasons.

Andy Clark: OK, another email. This is from Rijswijk, in The Netherlands, from M.J. "Bob" Groothand . This message says: "Throughout history some nations have always tried to rule the world. Most recently Germany, Japan and Russia come to mind. If the US is now the latest 'would-be conqueror' then we can thank our lucky stars. It would be done with decency and honour for all mankind. The fact is that nothing like this is being considered by Bush or the American government. You forget that the US has a constitution and, unlike Stalin, Hitler, Hussein and other despots, Bush is up for re-election in two years and American voters are not dumb nor are they oppressed or intimidated. It's a secret ballot." Will electoral accountability rein in the US government, do you think, as this listener suggests?

Noam Chomsky: First of all, the account of history is mostly fanciful, but let's put that aside. The fact that a country has a constitution and is internally democratic does not mean that it does not carry out violence and aggression. There is a long history of this. England, for example, was perhaps the most free country in the world in the 19th century and was carrying out horrifying atrocities throughout much of the world, and the case of the United States is similar. 

The record goes back very far. The United States was a democratic country, for example, when it invaded the Philippines a century ago, killing several hundred thousand people and leaving it devastated. It was a democratic country in the 1980s, when the current incumbents in Washington carried out a devastating war of terror in Nicaragua, leaving tens of thousands dead and the country practically ruined, an attack for which they incidentally were condemned by the World Court and the Security Council in a veto-ed resolution, but then escalated the attack, and so it continues. 

As to the democratic election, yes, true, there is an election, and the Republicans have explained very clearly how they intend to overcome the fact that their policies are pretty strongly opposed by the majority of the population. They intend to overcome it by driving the country into fear and panic, so that they will huddle under the umbrella of a powerful figure who will protect them.  

In fact, we've just seen that last September when the Security Strategy was announced and the drumbeat of propaganda for war began. There was a government media propaganda campaign, which was quite spectacular. It succeeded in convincing the majority of the population that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the security of the United States. No-one else believed that. Even Kuwait and Iran, where they despise him, didn't regard him as a threat. They knew he was the weakest country in the region. It also succeeded in convincing probably the majority of the population that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, in fact instigated it and carried it out, and was planning further attacks. 

Again, there isn't a particle of evidence for this, and there is no intelligence agency or security analyst in the world who believes it.

Andy Clark: Where is the political opposition in the US then - the Democrats? Why don't they seek to make inroads into the Republican camp? Obviously, there is a substantial peace movement - we saw hundreds of thousands of people on the streets in the US who were opposed to the military action. Where is the political opposition in the US now?

Noam Chomsky: The Democratic political opposition is very tepid. There has been very little debate, traditionally, over foreign policy issues. That's recognised right in the mainstream. Political figures are reluctant to put themselves in a position where they can be condemned as calling for the destruction of the United States and supporting its enemies and presenting fantasies, and be subjected to fantasies of the kind that in fact were included in that email. 

Politicians are unwilling to subject themselves to that, and the result is that the voice of a large portion of the population simply is barely represented, and the Republicans recognise it. Karl Rove, the Republican campaign manager, made it clear before the last election in 2002 that the Republicans would have to try to run the election on a security issue, because if they faced it on issues of domestic policy they would lose. So they frightened the population into obedience, and he has already announced that they are going to have to do the same thing next time in the 2004 election. 

They are going to have to present it as voting for a war president who will defend you from destruction. Incidentally, they are simply rehearsing a script that runs right through the 1980s, the first time they were in office - the same people, approximately. If you look, the policies they implemented were unpopular. The population was opposed, but they kept pressing the panic button, and it worked. 

In 1981 Libya was going to attack us. In 1983 Grenada was going to set up an airbase from which the Russians would bomb us. In 1985 Reagan declared a national emergency because the security of the United States was threatened by the government of Nicaragua. Somebody watching from Mars would have collapsed in laughter. And so it went on through the 1980s. 

They managed to keep the population intimidated and frightened enough so that they could maintain a thin grasp on political power, and that's the effort since. They didn't invent that tactic, incidentally, but it unfortunately has its effects, and political figures and others are reluctant to stand up and face the torrent of abuse and hysteria that will immediately come from trying to bring matters back to the level of fact.

Andy Clark: OK, another email. This is from Boris Karaman, from Wyoming in the USA, and he says: "Peace can only come from strength and often comes after a just war. The Pax Romana resulted from the strength of the Roman Empire, not from any pacifist ideology.  There is more to criticize in U.S. history when we failed to act soon enough. As examples, Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot rose to power because of a lack of aggression against them. Your criticisms of a power-based approach to foreign policy are either naive or disingenuous. Those who act against threats make possible a world where arrogant leftists enjoy the freedom of speech to exhibit their errors in reasoning. Long may it be so. Peace to you, but peace through strength." What do you make of that email?

Noam Chomsky: Well, we can begin by looking at the facts. Take, say, Hitler. Hitler did rise to power with the support of the United States and Britain. As late as 1937, the State Department was describing Hitler as a moderate standing between the extremes of right and left, who we must support, or else the masses of the population might take power and move in a leftist direction. In fact, the United States did not enter the war until it was attacked by Japan, and Germany declared war on the United States. 

In the case of Stalin, the United States didn't bring him to power, and they also didn't particularly oppose him. As late as 1948, Harry Truman, the president, was stating that he thought Stalin was a decent man, who was honest, [but] being misled by his advisers, and so on and so forth. 

In the case of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge developed in the early 1970s - they were virtually unknown in 1970 - and they developed in the context of a massive US bombing campaign in Cambodia. About 600,000 people died, according to the CIA, but it helped energise a fierce, vicious resistance, which took over in 1975. After it took over, the United States did nothing to try to stop it, but when Vietnam did eliminate Pol Pot, in 1978-1979, by invading and driving him out, Vietnam was bitterly attacked by the United States for the crime of getting rid of Pol Pot. The US supported a Chinese invasion to punish Vietnam, and imposed harsh sanctions on them, and in fact turned to direct support of the remnants of the Pol Pot armies in Thailand. 

So, if you want to talk about history, get it straight. Then we can start with the tirades.

Andy Clark: Do you think there is a point where force can be justified? We heard a lot of arguments about the Iraq war - that this was the lesser of two evils. The recent history of Iraq was well-known, but now it was a stage whereby something had to be done to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Lots of Iraqi people themselves - within the country - seemed to support that argument.

Noam Chomsky: First of all, we don't know that Iraqis were calling out to be invaded, but if that was the goal, what was the point of all the lying? What you are saying is that Tony Blair, George Bush, Colin Powell and the rest are fanatic liars - they were pretending until the last minute that the goal was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. If the goal was to liberate the Iraqi people, why not say so? Why the lies?

Andy Clark: President Bush did say that in the very last weeks [before the war]. He started talking about a war of liberation.

Noam Chomsky: At the last minute, at the Azores summit, he said that, even if Saddam Hussein and his associates leave the country, the United States is going to invade anyway - meaning the US wants to control it. Now, in fact, there is a serious issue behind this. It has nothing to do with liberating the Iraqi people. 


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