June 25, 2021
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'It Is A New Type Of War'

Composite Interview by Noam Chomsky -- questions from various phone and periodical interviews...and answers.

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'It Is A New Type Of War'
'It Is A New Type Of War'

The fall of the Berlin Wall didn't claim any victims, but it did profoundly change the geo-political scene. Do you think that last week's attacks could have a similar effect?

The fall of the Berlin Wall was an event of great importance, and did change the geopolitical scene, but not in the ways usually assumed, in my opinion. I've tried to explain my reasons elsewhere, and won't go into it now.

The events of September 11 are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been under attack, even threat. Many commentators have brought up a Pearl Harbor analogy, but that is quite misleading. On Dec. 7 1941, military bases in two COLONIES were attacked. Not the national territory, which was never threatened. During these years the US annihilated the indigenous population (millions of people), conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. That is a dramatic change.

The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars. Meanwhile European powers conquered much of the world with extreme brutality. With the rarest of exceptions, they were not under attack by their victims outside. England was not attacked by India, or Belgium by the Congo, or Italy by Ethiopia . It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe should be utterly shocked by the terrorist crimes of Sept. 11. Again, not because of the scale, regrettably.

Exactly what this portends, no one can guess. But that it is something strikingly new is quite clear.

My impression is that these attacks won't offer us new political scenery, but that they rather confirm the existence of a problem inside the "Empire". The problem concerns political authority and power. What do you think?

The likely perpetrators are a category of their own, but uncontroversially, they draw support from a reservoir of bitterness and anger over US policies in the region, extending those of earlier European masters. There certainly is an issue of "political authority and power." In the wake of the attacks, the _Wall Street Journal_ surveyed opinions of "moneyed Muslims" in the region: bankers, professionals, businessmen with ties to the US. They expressed dismay and anger about US support for harsh authoritarian states and the barriers that Washington places against independent development and political democracy by its policies of "propping up oppressive regimes." Their primary concern, however, was different: Washington's policies towards Iraq and towards Israel's military occupation. Among the great mass of poor and suffering people, similar sentiments are much more bitter, and they are also hardly pleased to see the wealth of the region flow to the West and to small Western-oriented elites and corrupt and brutal rulers backed by Western power. So there definitely are problems of authority and power. The immediate US reaction is to deal with these problems by intensifying them. That is, of course, not inevitable. A good deal depends on the outcome of such considerations.

Is America having trouble governing the process of globalization - and I don't mean just in terms of national security or intelligence systems?

The US doesn't govern the corporate globalization project, though it of course has a primary role. These programs have been arousing enormous opposition, primarily in the South, where mass protests could be suppressed or ignored. In the past few years, the protests reached the rich countries as well, and hence became the focus of great concern to the powerful, who now feel themselves on the defensive, not without reason. There are very substantial reasons for the worldwide opposition to the particular form of investor-rights "globalization" that is being imposed, but this is not the place to go into that.

"Intelligent Bombs" in Iraq, "humanitarian intervention" in Kosovo. The USA never used the word "war" to describe that. Now they talking about war against a nameless enemy. Why?

At first the US used the word "crusade," but it was quickly pointed out that if they hope to enlist their allies in the Islamic world, that is a serious mistake, for obvious reasons. The rhetoric therefore shifted to "war." The Gulf war of 1991 was called a war. The bombing of Serbia was called a "humanitarian intervention," by no means a novel usage. That was a standard description of European imperialist ventures in the 19th century. To cite some more recent examples, the major recent scholarly work on "humanitarian intervention" cites three examples of "humanitarian intervention" in the immediate pre-World War II period: Japan's invasion of Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's takeover of the Sudetenland. The author of course is not suggesting that the term is apt; rather, that the crimes were masked as "humanitarian." But the pretext of "humanitarian intervention" cannot be used in the normal way in the present case. So we are left with "war."

To call it a "war against terrorism," however, is simply more propaganda, unless the "war" really does target terrorism. But that is plainly not contemplated. Perhaps I may quote political scientist Michael Stohl: "We must recognize that by convention -- and it must be emphasized _only_ by convention -- great power use and the threat of the use of force is normally described as coercive diplomacy and not as a form of terrorism," though it commonly involves "the threat and often the use of violence for what would be described as terroristic purposes were it not great powers who were pursuing the very same tactic," in accord with the literal meaning of the term. Under the (admittedly, unimaginable) circumstances that Western intellectual culture were willing to adopt the literal meaning, the war against terrorism would take quite a different form, along lines spelled out in extensive detail in literature that does not enter the respectable canon.

Nato is keeping quiet until they find out whether the attack was internal or external. How do you interpret this?

I do not think that that is the reason for Nato's hesitation. There is no serious doubt that the attack was "external." I think the reasons are those that European leaders are giving. They recognize, as does everyone with close knowledge of the region, that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of Bin Laden and his associates, and would lead the US and its allies into a "diabolical trap," as the French foreign minister put it.

Could you say something about connivance and the role of American secret service?

I don't quite understand the question. This attack was surely an enormous shock and surprise to the intelligence services of the West, including those of the US. The CIA did have a role, a major one in fact, but that was in the 1980s, when it joined Pakistani intelligence and others (Saudi Arabia, Britain, etc.) in recruiting, training, and arming the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists it could find to fight a "holy war" against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan. After that war was over, the "Afghanis" (many not Afghans, like Bin Laden) turned their attention elsewhere: to Chechnya and Bosnia for example, where they may have received at least tacit US support. And to their prime enemy, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, which Bin Laden regards as having invaded Saudi Arabia much as Russia invaded Afghanistan. A long story.

What consequences do you foresee for the Seattle movement? Do you think it will be brought up short, or is it possible that it will gain momentum?

It is certainly a setback for the worldwide protests against corporate globalization, which -- again -- did not begin in Seattle. Such terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and are sure to be exploited -- already have been in fact -- to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form. But that will not happen without resistance, and I doubt that it will succeed, except in the short term.

What are the consequences for the Middle East? in particular for the Israeli-palestinian conflict?

The atrocities of September 11 were a devastating blow for the Palestinians, as they instantly recognized. Israel is openly exulting in the "window of opportunity" it now has to crush Palestinians with impunity. In the first few days after the Tuesday attack, Israeli tanks entered Palestinian cities (Jenin, Jericho for the first time), several dozen Palestinians were killed, and Israel's iron grip on the population tightened, exactly as would be expected. Again, these are the common dynamics of a cycle of escalating violence, familiar throughout the world: Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, the Balkans, and elsewhere.

How do you judge the reaction of Americans? From over here they seemed pretty cool-headed, but Saskia Sassen said in an interviw "We already feel as though we are at war".

The immediate reaction was shock, horror, anger, fear, a desire for revenge. But public opinion is mixed, and countercurrents did not take long to develop. They are now even being recognized in mainstream commentary. Today's newspapers, for example.

In an interview you gave to "La Jornada", you said that we are faced with a new type of war. What exactly did you mean?

It is a new type of war for the reasons mentioned in response to question (1): the guns are directed in a different direction, something quite new in the history of Europe and its offshoots.

Are Arabs, now defined as necessarily fundamentalist, the west's new enemy?

Certainly not. First of all, no one with even a shred of rationality defines Arabs as "fundamentalist." Secondly, the US and the West generally have no objection to religious fundamentalism as such. The US, in fact, is one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist cultures in the world; not the state, but the popular culture. In the Islamic world, the most extreme fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client state since its origins. As we know, Islamic fundamentalist extremists were US favorites in the 1980s, because they were the best killers who could be found. In those years, a prime enemy of the US was the Catholic Church, which had sinned grievously in Latin America by adopting "the preferential option for the poor," and suffered bitterly for that crime. The West is quite ecumenical in its choice of enemies. The criteria are subordination and service to power, not religion.

Is the nation's so-called war on terrorism winnable? If yes, how? If no, then what should the Bush administration do to prevent attacks like the ones that struck New York and Washington?

I will not elaborate here, but if we want to consider this question seriously, we should recognize that in much of the world the US is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and with good reason. We might bear in mind, for example, that the US was condemned by the World Court for "unlawful use of force" (international terrorism) and then vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states (meaning the US) to adhere to international law. Only one of countless examples. But to keep to the narrow question -- the terrorism of others directed against us -- we know quite well how the problem should be addressed, if we want to reduce the threat rather than escalate it.

When IRA bombs were set off in London, there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source turned out to be there. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.

That is the course one follows if the intention is to reduce the probability of further atrocities. There is another course: react with extreme violence, and expect to escalate the cycle of violence, leading to still further atrocities such as the one that is inciting the call for revenge. The dynamic is very familiar.

What aspect or aspects of the story have been under-reported by the mainstream press, and why is it important that they be paid more attention?

There are several fundamental questions:

First, what courses of action are open to us, and what are their likely consequences. There has been virtually no discussion of the option of adhering to the rule of law, as others do, for example Nicaragua, when it responded to the US terrorist assault by going to the World Court and the UN Security Council (failing, of course, but no one will bar such moves by the US); or as England did in the case of the IRA, or as the US did when it was found that the Oklahoma City bombing was domestic in origin. And innumerable other cases. Rather, there has been a fairly solid drumbeat of calls for violent reaction, with only scarce mention of the fact that this will not only visit a terrible cost on wholly innocent victims, many of them Afghan victims of the Taliban, but also that it will answer the most fervent prayers of bin Laden and his network, as the US falls into the "diabolical trap" they are laying, as the French Foreign Minister warned a few days ago, and as every knowledgeable observer has been trying to make clear.

The second question is: "why?" The veteran British correspondent Robert Fisk, one of the most respected experts on the region, has had innumerable interviews, and he observes that almost no one is asking him that question. To refuse to face this question is choose to increase significantly the probability of further crimes of this kind. There have been some exceptions. The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, has reviewed the opinions of "moneyed Muslims": bankers, professionals, businessmen, people who are pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region, for reasons that are familiar to anyone who has paid any attention. The feelings in the streets are similar, though far more bitter and angry. The bin Laden network itself falls into a different category, and in fact its actions for 20 years have caused great harm to the poor and oppressed people of the region, who are not the concern of the terrorist networks. But they do draw from a reservoir of anger, fear, and desperation, which is why they are praying for a violent US reaction, which will mobilize others to their horrendous cause.

Such topics as these should occupy the front pages -- at least, if we hope to reduce the cycle of violence rather than to escalate it.

How do you see the media coverage of this event? Is there a parallel to the Gulf War in "manufacturing consent?"

Media coverage is not quite as uniform as Europeans seem to believe, perhaps because they are keeping to the NYT, NPR, TV, and so on. Even the NYT conceded, this morning, that attitudes in New York are quite unlike those they have been conveying. It's a good story, also hinting at the fact that the mainstream media have not been reporting this, which is not entirely true, though it has been true, pretty much, of the NYT. But it is entirely typical for the major media, and the intellectual classes generally, to line up in support of power at a time of crisis and to try to mobilize the population for the same cause. That was true, with almost hysterical intensity, at the time of the bombing of Serbia. The Gulf war was not at all unusual. To take an example that is remote enough so that we should be able to look at it dispassionately, how did the intellectuals of Europe and North America react to World War I -- across the political spectrum? Exceptions are so few that we can virtually list them, and most of the most prominent ended up in jail: Rosa Luxemburg, Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs,...

Assuming that the terrorists chose the World Trade Center as a symbolic target, how does globalization and cultural hegemony help create hatred towards America.

This is an extremely convenient belief for Western intellectuals. It absolves them of responsibility for the actions that actually do lie behind the choice of the WTC.

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