Full transcript of the interview (courtesy, Znet) conducted by Evan Solomon of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the programme HotType on December 9, 2003
Nobody we ever talked to on HotType provoked such controversy - both lavish praise and harsh criticism as Noam Chomsky. Since the Vietnam War the controversial public intellectual, professor and activist has been at the centre of the debate about the US use and misuse of its power. As the violence continues in Iraq, Noam Chomsky has a new book out called Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. We thought it was a good time to come here to Boston to this non-descript building where Noam Chomsky teaches, and we sat down to have a conversation about everything from his new book to his treatment in the American press-especially the New York Times to what may happen in the future…
Evan Solomon: You argue in the book that the fundamental principle that this administration and past administrations have functioned under is that hegemony is more important than survival. Can these two things function together?
Noam Chomsky: Those who sought domination, hegemony, often did so at their own severe risk. Look at the history of warfare. You'll find that those who started wars often were defeated and sometimes devastatingly defeated. The differences now are scale. Survival of the species was not an issue before. It is now. It has been ever since nuclear weapons were around and it's getting worse.
Evan Solomon: The Bush administration has been criticized for refusing to sign the Kyoto protocols or to take any steps towards reducing -- significant steps towards reducing what could be an environmental catastrophe.
Noam Chomsky: I mean we're taught…what we have drilled into our heads…your driving force in life is to maximize your own wealth. Therefore it's perfectly rational to maximize your own wealth and destroy a world in which your grandchildren can live. Of course, it's also pathological. The same is true of a lot of other things.
Take the militarization of space. Right after the national security strategy was announced in September of 2002, the space command -- which is in control of futuristic military program -- says we have to move from control of space, which we now have, to ownership of space. Ownership of space means no challenge will be tolerated. It's ours, you get out.
Others are going to react to this - in fact they already are…and they're all moving to automated response systems, launch-on-warning-type systems. This is a recipe for disaster.
We have come very close, as I discuss in the book, what was just discovered last October at the Havana
retrospective on the Cuban missile crisis -- [it] turns out that we were literally one word away from a nuclear war.
If one Russian submarine captain had not cancelled an order ...
Evan Solomon: He was actually ordered to fire nuclear weapons?
Noam Chomsky: It was his decision whether to fire nuclear weapons. The others said yeah. He said no. They needed agreement in order to do it. These were torpedoes, nuclear-tipped torpedoes. It's almost certain there would have been nuclear response and then you're off and running.
Evan Solomon: President Bush said that democracy is - this is a quote - "democracy is the only path to national success and dignity in the Middle East".
Noam Chomsky: If we were reasonable our reaction to this would be to completely discount it because any leader you pick, anyone you like, is going to produce this rhetoric. That comes with the job. What you do is look at the practices that lie behind it.
Evan Solomon: You cite the case of Turkey, for example, and Turkey's reaction to the war against Iraq. And you explain how this war illustrated what the Bush administration means when it says democracy.
Noam Chomsky: Yeah, and Turkey is a striking case. But what went on with regard to democracy this year? It was pretty interesting. In the case of Turkey, to everyone's surprise, including mine, the government took the position of 95% of the population and they were bitterly attacked by the Bush administration...
Evan Solomon: 95% of the population said you should not allow Turkey to be used as a staging ground for U.S. Troops…?
Noam Chomsky: ... to everyone's surprise. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, went so far as to condemn the Turkish military bitterly for failing to prevent the government from carrying out this terrible act of accepting the position of 95% of the population.
In fact, he called on them, basically ordered them, to apologize to the United States for their bad behaviour and to recognize that they must help the United States. That's democracy.
Evan Solomon: So when Bush says that democracy is the only path to national success and dignity, he means democracy if it follows the American version...?
Noam Chomsky: Democracy if you follow our orders.
If some miraculous conversion took place and the people around Bush decided: OK, we really are interested in democracy, in human rights, there are actions they can take instantly. I mean, why support murderous, brutal dictators like Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan, who is sort of comparable to Saddam Hussein?
And this is not just United States. I mean, Britain just withdrew its ambassador from Uzbekistan because he had the honesty to point out that the dictator, who Britain is supporting, is a murderous, brutal tyrant who, in fact, I think it was his example, boils his opponents to death, you know, in boiling water. Yeah, that's our conception of democracy and human rights.
Evan Solomon: I sat down about a year ago with Henry Kissinger and he said to me: We've moved to a new era - post 9/11…. That the old world, where you could not pre-emptively strike, is over, because the security threats now are totally new to national sovereignty. And therefore we're in the age of the preventive or pre-emptive war and it's rational.
Now you talk about it in here saying this is what you call the grand imperial strategy. Is Kissinger right to say that this is a post 9/11 development?
Noam Chomsky: He knows perfectly well that that's nonsense. The U.S. has always had that strategy. Go back to the early stages of World War II before the U.S. entered the war. We always have what we'll call preventive war, meaning aggression, in our pocket and we use it anytime we feel like.
Henry Kissinger knows this perfectly well. He knows, he's not a fool. He knows the United States carries out attacks against other countries all the time. It's just you attack people who are in your way.
There was something different about the national security strategy announced in September of 2002. It's kind of a crucial event… The national security strategy is a declaration saying that the U.S. must dominate the world by force if necessary -- a dimension in which the U.S. reigns supreme -- will do it permanently and that it reserves the right to prevent any potential challenge to its domination by the use of military force if necessary. That's the essential content. That's what the next issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs have called the new Imperial Grand Strategy.
And this did cause enormous reaction around the world, including here - including the foreign policy elite right here…not that it was a new doctrine. But that it was extremely brazen. It was in your face. You're telling the world: this is what we're going to do. We're going to attack anyone we want without any pretext, without any international authority and we're going to do it because we're stronger than you.
So that's stupid. You don't make a speech about it. You don't put up a flag in front of everybody saying: here I am, I'm coming to attack you. In fact, Arthur Schlesinger, you know, big radical, pointed out right away -
Evan Solomon: Who worked in the Kennedy government and the great historian -
Noam Chomsky: Yeah, a major historian. As soon as the U.S. Bombed Iraq, he said: look, we're following the policy of Imperial Japan, and they also talked about anticipatory self-defense. He said, quoted Roosevelt: Pearl Harbor is a date that will live in infamy. And he was right, and today it's Americans who live in infamy because we've adopted the policy of Imperial Japan and other aggressors.
I mean if you can announce to people: I'm going to come and attack you whenever I feel like it, they don't say: gee thank you, here I am, please bomb me. So they turn to the weapons that are available to the weak. Weapons of mass destruction, which you can probably make in a high school chemistry lab or biology lab somewhere. And terror. Those are the weapons of the weak. And apparently that's exactly what happened.
It led to a sharp spike in recruitment for al-Qaeda style organizations. Experts on North Korea and Iran pointed out right away it's probably a factor in simulating their search for weapons of mass destruction.
For short-term reasons of gain, there are interesting reasons to attack Iraq to announce the national security strategy. They're conscious of the fact that this is going to lead to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and increase in terror, not outcomes that Rumsfeld and Cheney want, but just kind of low priority. There are higher priorities. And sooner or later, it may lead to self-destruction.
Evan Solomon: So this idea that manifest destiny, America as the vanguard of history, this means that no matter what it does as the imperial force in the world, its actions are benign and justifiable or defensive or preventive or pre-emptive and everyone else, you're suggesting…is a "terrorist."
Noam Chomsky: No. I'm suggesting, it's just those are the terms that are used.
Evan Solomon: So when we read today in the paper that the terrorists seek to kill coalition forces, in your book you say: wait a second. Let's re-understand the term and you say it's fair to call the United States a terrorist state.
Noam Chomsky: That's actually interesting. And under the official definition, what the Iraqi forces are doing in shooting down a helicopter is not terrorism, not under the official U.S. definition. However, what the U.S. does is terrorism under the official definition.
Evan Solomon: Is that right?
Noam Chomsky: Yeah.
Evan Solomon: So is every country terrorist?
Noam Chomsky: Terrorist? I wouldn't say every country. Maybe Luxembourg isn't or Andorra. But countries that act, throw their weight around in the international scene very commonly are involved in terror.
I mean, in the case of say, Nicaragua, the U.S.-run terrorist war virtually destroyed the country. The number of casualties caused by the U.S. terrorist war in Nicaragua is - relative to population - it's higher than the total number of U.S. casualties in all U.S. wars in U.S. history, including the Civil War. That's fairly serious.
Take, if you go south of the U.S. border, there's something called the other 9/11, not in the United States, but south of the border. The other 9/11 is September 11, 1973, when operations supported and backed by Henry Kissinger among others, led to the bombing of the presidential palace in Chile, the overthrow of the parliamentary government and the killing, by conservative estimates, of about 3,000 people. It's probably, maybe, twice that. Three thousand people in Chile is the equivalent of, counterpart of 60,000 in the United States. If 60,000 people were killed on September 11th, our September 11th, do you think that people would notice that? Yeah, they would. But when we do it to them, it's like you know, a mistake…
Evan Solomon: Would you say that the mission in Iraq is an act of terror?
Noam Chomsky: The mission, I agree with Arthur Schlesinger, who says it's just outright aggression, it's like Pearl Harbor, he's correct.
They announced very clearly: we're going to invade Iraq and we're going to do it without any pretext and without international authorization. I mean various pretexts were given but they're pretty hard to take seriously.
Evan Solomon: So the weapons of mass destruction and the rebuilding of Iraq, these are just pretexts, you're saying?
Noam Chomsky: There's no question about it. You see the way they follow one another. I go through some of this in the book.
Evan Solomon: So this idea that it's going to be a domino effect of democracy, he's going to bring democracy -
Noam Chomsky: Notice that this is after the fact. Since all the other pretexts have collapsed and you still need a pretext, you fall back on what's the universal declaration of every leader, whether it's Hitler or Stalin, Tony Blair, or anyone else: we're going to ram democracy and freedom.
I mean you really have to admire the discipline of educated people who are able to watch all of this and not burst out in laughter, [but] pretend to take it seriously.
Evan Solomon: People sometimes read your stuff and we've talked over the years and they say Chomsky's an Anti-American.
Noam Chomsky: That's an interesting concept. Now suppose somebody in Italy criticizes Berlusconi's policies, would anybody call him anti-Italian? Try that in the streets of Milan, people will collapse in laughter.
Evan Solomon: A year from today there's another presidential election and again I quote the New York Times. "The political challenge posed to President Bush after the deadly helicopter attack in Iraq, is how to keep public opinion from swinging against him over Iraq while not abandoning his quest to bring a stable democracy to that country."
Noam Chomsky: You know, they ought to be writhing in embarrassment for saying that. On what grounds do they believe that George Bush is trying to bring a stable democracy to Iraq? The only grounds are our leaders told us that and we are so subordinate to power that we worship them and revere them and if they say something we repeat it, not asking whether it's true.
Like is it true that's he's trying to bring a stable democracy to Iraq? You're not allowed to ask that. As in the quote you mentioned. That wouldn't appear in a self-respecting newspaper.
Evan Solomon: How will he keep public opinion from swinging against him?
Noam Chomsky: Carl Rove, the campaign manager, has already pointed out that the party activists are going have to do the same thing they did in 2002 and in fact same thing they did into the 1980s and that is push the panic button. Their policies, domestic policies are quite unpopular, they're very harmful to the general population, they're devastating to future generations. They're going have to pay the cost of this reactionary stateism where you have a huge state and you cut taxes for the wealthy. And there's a cost to that. And the population doesn't like it, so you've got to get their mind off it, have to frighten them, you have to make them think that some demon's coming after them, so you have to huddle underneath the powerful leader who will protect you.
And if they have to manufacture a crisis they'll do that. I mean take say what happened on May first of
this year. Interesting.
May first is the date when George Bush landed in combat gear.
Evan Solomon: On the Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier.
Noam Chomsky: Again any self-respecting newspaper would've collapsed into ridicule. Front page of the New York Times reported that they gave a victory speech with a powerful Reaganesque finale to the war. What were they referring to? They're referring to Reagan's speech, explaining proudly how the U.S. is again standing tall. After what?
After having conquered the nutmeg capital of the world, Grenada, where 6000 U.S. special forces succeeded in overcoming the resistance of a couple of dozen middle aged construction workers, we won 8000 medals and we were standing tall. And that was a powerful Reaganesque finale. The United States was saved from destruction because an airport they were building might have been used by the Russians, if they could find it on a map.
The more astute press on May 1st was quite aware of it. The Wall Street Journal report didn't talk about a splendid Reaganesque finale, it said this doesn't have anything to do with the war in Iraq, it's the opening of the Presidential campaign.
Evan Solomon: So we live in a democracy of futility?
Noam Chomsky: That's the point. Bush succeeded in getting a majority of the working class vote even though he's harming them and the two issues on which people voted - the main issues - were religiosity and gun control. When I think of top issues of concern…
Evan Solomon: Not even electoral issues...
Noam Chomsky: Not even issues of working people. They care about their jobs, their pensions, their health care and things like that, but those things are not on the agenda. For good reason. Because on those things public opinion and elite opinion differ sharply so they are not on the political agenda, they're barely discussed in the media and people are left with voting about whether the guy is religious or not.