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Noam Chomsky interviewed by John Campbell

Noam Chomsky
interviewed by John Campbell

Transcript from...

Radio New Zealand National Radio.

Saturday Sept. 29, 2001.
Recorded on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001

A fortnight after I began by asking Prof. Chomsky about the fact that it’s now more than a fortnight SINCE THE attacks ON THE world trade center, AND THE widespread U. S. Punitive military strike Many had feared would inevitably follow, hasn’t occurred.

JC: So will it happen?

NC: Well, I believe it has happened, but it’s happening silently.

I’m of course speculating. I’m not sitting in the command post and listening to what they’re saying, so basically I don’t know any more about it than anyone else. But if we put ourselves in the mindset of someone planning the next move, I think we can make some plausible surmises, and in fact we can see some of them being implemented.

The reasonable thing to do, from their point of view (I’m not justifying it)…

They don’t want a massive assault that’s going to very visibly kill lots of innocent Afghans, most of whom incidentally are victims of the Taliban. And the reason they don’t want that is because they know perfectly well, in fact every foreign leader and specialist in the region, and their own intelligence specialists, I’m sure, are telling them, that that would be an answer to bin Laden’s prayers. In fact, if he gets killed, so much the better, then he’s a martyr.

I’m assuming it’s those networks that are involved if not he personally. That’s the one hope they have for recruiting others to their horrendous cause. So that would be falling into what the French foreign minister called a ‘diabolical trap.’ So they don’t do that. So then what do you do? Well, the next best thing is a kind of silent genocide.

The population of Afghanistan is already virtually facing starvation. Millions of people are practically just on the border of starvation. Again, victims of the Taliban, and our victims, too. I mean, all of us.

After the United States and its allies were finished exploiting Afghanistan for their own strategic purposes in the 1980s, they just left the country to be destroyed by the warring militias that grew out of the terrorist forces that they had organized. And they did. They ruined what was left of the country, which wasn’t much.

Out of it came this horrifying regime. And there’s been very little assistance, no attempt to help them reconstruct. Nothing. So it’s a wreck.

The borders have been sealed. That’s pretty clear. That cuts off food aid, of which there wasn’t much, but there was some. The few relief agencies like the UN have had to leave. They were doing something, not much.

The chances are that thousands of people have already died. And it’ll be a vast humanitarian crisis. Everyone who knows anything about it has been warning of that. But that’s a silent genocide. Nobody sees it. I mean, they may know it in the region. But it won’t be like a massive bombing attack

Well, if that goes far enough (and that doesn’t have to go very far, I don’t think, given the poverty of the country), the next rational move would be, first of all, to beef up the so-called Northern Alliance, which holds a little sliver of territory in the north. But if they have a superpower behind them, with advanced weaponry and U. S. Control of the skies, and so on and so forth, they can probably become a significant fighting force. So we support them. Meanwhile send in British commandos, Special Forces, maybe U. S. Rangers, for special missions. And try to carry out as much destruction as possible, but without being too visible. And it’s underway already, even though the scale is unknown, because there are no outsiders there to see it.

But judging by what’s happening in the refugee camps on the borders, where you can see it, it’s already pretty horrendous, and it’s much worse inside.

So that’s what I would expect the strategy to be.

JC: In a perverse kind of way, even if the silent genocide is taking place, And as you say, that is a terribly punitive action against people, the majority of whom are themselves the victims of the Taliban, Even if that is taking place, And we can’t see it, And we don’t really know about it, will that be enough to satisfy American public opinion? Particularly if they’re not being told it’s taking place, Where you have a situation in which there must be growing pressure on George W. Bush to do something visible.

NC: Well, first of all, I would be a little cautious about the pressure. The polls are extremely misleading. If you ask people, “Should we get revenge?” Sure, people say yes.

If you bother with the next question, “Should we carry out violent acts which are going to kill lot of innocent people?” The answers change very quickly. So I don’t think that calling for…, that an act of violence, is really being pressed by the population. It’s being stimulated by the usual type of wartime propaganda.

But following what would seem to me a rational path (and again, by ‘rational’ I don’t mean ‘justified’), then at some point, if this strategy continues, they’ll say, “Okay, we won, we killed the terrorist networks. We had a success, now we’ll go after them in other parts of the world.” That’s not going to end terrorism. In fact, it may very well stimulate it.

JC: I want to look at the extent to which we are now getting an insight, in terms of the quid pro quo deals that ARE being done with nations like Russia, and Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, for their support. And I want to go back to something that you wrote in Year 501: the conquest continues, (in the early ‘90s, I think that book was published), when you obtained a copy of the 1992 Pentagon draft of the defense planning guide which describes itself, and i quote, “as the definitive guide,” and it’s from the secretary of defense for budgetary policy to the year 2000. (Dick Cheney incidentally was the defense secretary at the time). Now this is extraordinary, what that reveals about the expediency and the entirely premeditated self-interested attitude America had towards its foreign policy. I wish i could quote extensively from it, but i won’t. I’ll just read a short bit.

“The US must hold global power and a monopoly of force. It will then protect the new order while allowing others to pursue their legitimate interests as Washington defines them. The US must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership, or seeking to overturn The established political order, or even aspiring to a larger regional or Global role.”

It goes on. They talk about how important NATO is, because it gives them big influence in Europe. I quote: “we will retain the preeminent responsibility For addressing selectively those wrongs Which threaten not only our interests But also those of our allies or friends. The United States alone will determine what are wrongs, And when they are to be selectively righted.”

Now, to what extent is the world now learning about that foreign policy? People like me, Who didn’t know about it, and THE people who are listening to this interview, who didn’t know about it. Before?

NC: Well, if they didn’t know about it, they haven’t taken a history course. That’s the way states behave. Some of them are powerful enough to do it on a grand scale. Others do it on a smaller scale. But that’s pretty normal state behavior.

The United States has been by far the dominant force in the international scene since 1945. And we have a rich record, a trove of records, of declassified documents beginning (actually beginning even earlier; they start during the war when they were doing post-war planning), which read very much like that.

And furthermore if you go back to the British Foreign Office records in earlier years, you find pretty much the same thing.

And though I haven’t looked in any depth at the records of other countries, I’m sure you find the same thing there. I have looked a little bit at Australian records, and they’re about the same.

There are, of course, differences of scale, so if you look at U. S. Records pre-World War II, they’re far less grandiose in their plans. They’re similar, but it’s restricted to a region that they thought they could dominate. Like the Western hemisphere. The northern half of the Western hemisphere, at least. But later it just expands, and what you read is perfectly typical and to be expected. That’s what you expect great powers to do.

If you want to look a little bit into the future, I would urge looking at public documents now (they’re not secret), of the U.S. Space Command. The U. S. Space Command is in charge of the militarization of space. And it has published some very striking documents in the last few years, outlining in some detail exactly what they intend. It’s under the guise of missile defense. But remember, all offensive actions are always called ‘defensive’ by everybody, Hitler, too. So when you hear the word defense, the first thing you should think of is what kind of offense is being planned.

And in fact that’s true. Nobody really takes seriously the idea that North Korea is going to send a missile. If they want to carry out a huge atrocity, they have easier ways, as we just saw.

But what they say is that it’s necessary to move forward to militarize space to extend the arms race into space. Except its not a race, because the United States is the only country in it.

There is an Outer Space Treaty, from 1967, which everyone signed, including the United States, banning placement of weapons in space. And it’s come up at the United Nations the last couple of years, and has been supported unanimously, except for the United States, which abstains. The UN Disarmament Commission this entire year has been stymied because the U.S. will not permit measures banning militarization of space, and the Space Command says why. They say we have to think of space as the way, say, the British, and later the Germans, thought of the seas a hundred years ago.

Navies were developed, as armies had been before them, to control, to ensure global domination, to protect commercial and investment interests around the world. And space is the same today. It’s the next frontier. We’re the only ones there, and we should control it. It’s not just missile defense, but with offensive weaponry.

And the purpose, as they say, is to ensure the protection of U. S. Commercial and investment interests throughout the world, much as in the case of navies. Well, we know where the development of navies has led. It certainly did allow Britain to dominate the seas until Germany got into the act, at which point we had one World War, and then another World War. And if there were another one, it would be the last one, given the level of technology.

Well, that’s what’s being openly planned, and for exactly the kinds of reasons that you read in British and German Foreign Office records a century ago, or U. S. Records in the nearby region, and in the globe for the last 50 years.

And this is history. There’s nothing to be surprised about. It’s something you have to do something about, at least if you hope to have a world for your grandchildren to live in.

And in fact New Zealand has had a stellar role in trying to bar these things. But it’s got to spread, otherwise we’re in deep trouble.

They also explained quite frankly that this is a consequence of what’s called globalization, in part. They predict, and the U. S. Intelligence agencies also predict, in the projections for the next 20 years or so, that if globalization continues on course (what they call globalization, in its particular corporate form of economic integration), if that proceeds on course, they say, it will lead to a greater divide, greater inequality, a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. And there will be more and more people over the world who are have-nots, who don’t like it and will react, and have to be controlled. And one way to control them is militarization of space. This is what is being planned. Read the documents, you learn a lot.

JC: can i talk about something that i’ve found curious IN the last week or so, And IN fact fascinates me. And it is that when people like you, and we had John Pilger on this program in this time slot last week, and Alexander Cockburn, and Robert Fisk, and Edward Said, Making points That point at the complexity of America’s role in the world, and how difficult it is to be black and white now about anything. You get this odd kind of backlash from unexpected quarters.

And I’m sure you’re aware Christopher Hitchens in the Nation seems to have gone in search of sort of a reductio ad Absurdum of this position, in an article which is a bit of a go at you, And reduces much of what people like you and Robert Fisk and John Pilger are saying, to The level of a caricature, sort of liberal wimpiness. I quote: “Meet people who complain that this enemy is us, really.“

In other words, Christopher Hitchens appears to be claiming that you and John Pilger and Robert Fisk, I don’t know if he names Robert Fisk, but you know what i mean, exonerate the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, or whoever the perpetrator is ultimately revealed to be, and lay the blame at the feet of the U. S.

NC: I read his articles, and they’re a little surprising to me. The choice of targets is kind of odd. I mean, why didn’t he pick the Wall Street Journal? The Wall Street Journal since the attack has been the only newspaper, in fact, who has run several quite serious articles on attitudes towards the U. S. In the Middle East region. In fact, i’ve quoted them a lot in interviews and articles. They of course keep to what they call ‘moneyed muslims’: bankers, professionals, business men with ties to the U. S., and they run through their objections to the U. S., which, as the Journal points out, are well known. And they’re pretty much the same ones that Fisk or Pilger or I point out as well. They are well known, and they’re important, as the Journal points out.

USA Today has run articles on this.

Anyone who is even semi-sane will try to look into the reasons for a terrorist attack.

Unless your goal is to ensure that violence escalates and there are more such attacks, unless that’s your goal, what you will do is try to think through what lies behind this.

The same is true if a robbery takes place in the streets. If my house is robbed, I don’t respond by killing everyone in the neighborhood where I think the thief came from. You try to pursue criminal procedures. But you also ask yourself why. And is there some reason?

And that’s true when IRA bombs go off in London. The British reaction isn’t, “Okay, let’s bomb Boston, where most of the funding comes from.” If it’s sensible, and it was to an extent, you try to find out where this is coming from.

Now almost every crime, whether it’s a robbery or a colossal atrocity like Tuesday September 11, there’s something behind it. And often what’s behind it has legitimate elements, and if you’re serious, like the ones I mentioned, there’s some legitimate element. That’s what the Wall Street Journal, for example, is exploring. Then you have to ask yourself well, how are we going to deal with these legitimate elements?

What Hitchens is saying in those articles, to the extent that I understand them (I frankly don’t understand them, they’re unintelligible), but what he appears to be saying, is that you shouldn’t look for the reason, because that’s a justification. It’s not a justification. If Britain asks what lies behind the IRA bombings and says, “Well, let’s do something about Northern Ireland,” that’s not justifying them. That’s being sane, and trying to reduce the level of violence. To object to that is to say, “Okay, fine, let’s commit ourselves to tribal warfare. Let’s become like the hard men in Northern Ireland,

Who just want to kill everyone on the other side and not ask why.”

You can do that if you want, and you know where that goes to.

JC: can we look at some of the u. S. Actions which have so incurred the wroth, or anger, or grief or bewilderment of the Islamic world. John Pilger talked last week about the sanctions against iraq. We’ve talked previously on this program about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Something i know that you know a great deal about, and have felt very angry about, was Bill Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan, for example, which the un was actually going to hold an inquiry into, and the us blocked it. What happened in the Sudan, Professor Chomsky, and why? And in what way has that influenced opinion against America?

NC: Oh, it certainly has influenced opinion against America. In the region, that’s commonly brought up. And when bin Laden produces one of his tirades (another one, a long one, was rebroadcast on BBC the other day), that’s one of the things he brings up, because he knows it resonates in the region.

What happened? What happened is the U. S. Attacked a plant, a factory in Sudan, with cruise missiles. Destroyed it. They had no pretext, no credible pretext whatsoever, as they later conceded. It turned out that that was the plant that produced about half the pharmaceutical supplies, about 90% of the anti-malarial drugs, a lot of the vaccines, and virtually all of the veterinary medicines, in the Sudan. Just think what the consequences of that are. This is a country that couldn’t replenish them, had no resources, under sanctions anyway. The only estimate i’ve seen in the mainstream press, on the anniversary (it’s just a guess), was that tens of thousands of people probably suffered and died as a result of that. And it’s not an unreasonable estimate. That’s about like, in proportion to the population, it’s as if one terrorist act in the United States led to the suffering and death of from easily curable diseases of hundreds of thousands of people. That would be considered pretty serious. Very serious, in fact. This was just ignored. As you say, Sudan did approach the United Nations, with the support of the Arab League. The U. S. Blocked any action there, and virtually no one else was interested enough even to look.

Which tells you quite a lot about the mentality of the West, about the the moral and intellectual level of the West.

JC: well, can we visit that now, because if we compare our indifference to that episode, the fact that it wasn’t

Even widely reported, And the fact that it seems that Clinton was wag-the-dog style, desperately seeking to change the subject from the lewinsky affair, and was trying to vilify some foreigners who he could then get the to ________

And if all that stuff was at work, and if he bombed innocent people in the Sudan, and directly and indirectly has led to the deaths of many thousands of people, if we’re not appalled by that, and it is not even being widely reported, and we’re not upset by it, and we are rightly terribly upset about what happened at the world trade center, we’re confronted in stark terms with the fact that we’re very, very much more appalled by attacks on us, than attacks by us, and that’s a troubling thing to recognize in ourselves, isn’t it?

NC: It is troubling, and it’s quite true, and that’s the whole of history.

This attack was an appalling atrocity, what happened on Sept 11. Everyone agrees with that. It’s been called a kind of turning point in world history, and so on. And there’s some truth to that. Not for the reasons that have been said, but for other reasons that are pretty obvious, that have to do with that book of mine from ten years ago that you mentioned, Year 501.

What have the last 500 years been? Well, it’s been hundreds of years of Europe, and its offshoots like North America and like the Pacific, conquering the rest of the world, and not in a very pleasant fashion. During this entire period, the Congo didn’t kill ten million people in a decade in Belgium. It was the other way around. India didn’t attack England. Algeria didn’t attack France. When the U. S. Conquered the Philippines, it killed a couple hundred thousand people. But the Philippines didn’t attack the United States.

In fact, the national territory of the United States (I stress national territory, not colonies; Japan bombed two colonies), the national territory of the United States hasn’t even been threatened since the War of 1812, when the British burned down Washington. And Europe has had murderous wars, but it’s Europeans slaughtering one another at an astonishing rate. One 17th century war killed about a third of the population of Germany. I needn’t talk about the 20th century.

But the guns are always pointing outwards. This is the first time, on any significant scale, that the guns pointed in the other direction.

So it is a shocking event, and it ought to make us think about just who we are and what we’ve done.

JC: Prof Chomsky, last week, John Pilger surprised me with optimism from the situation, and he said, and it was a wonderful point to make, that conversations about these things are now taking place.

You had the Wall Street Journal, As you mentioned, reporting in a thoughtful and considered way about u. S. Foreign policy, and how problematic it can and has been.

You said in an interview with Belgrade radio, very good of you, terror attacks, and the escalating cycle of violence they often engender, tend to reinforce the authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of the society. But there is noting inevitable about submission to this course. Now i like that point. Is there any possibility, do you think,

That something better than that may happen, and indeed that we may even pause to examine and reject the most harsh and repressive elements of society, all societies, as a result of what took place on sept. 11?

NC: I share very strongly the sentiments of John Pilger (who incidentally I very much admire), that you reported. I think he’s correct. There is an opportunity and you can see it all over.

When a journal like USA Today, which is a popular national journal, when it runs a serious article, as it just did, on what the U. S. Is backing in the territories under military occupation in Palestine, that’s a change, a radical change. As are the reports in the Wall Street Journal that I mentioned. And it’s a lot of discussion. We’re talking about national press, all over the country. And I presume in much of the world, similar things are happening.

I spent the last two weeks doing almost nothing but radio intervieiws around the world.

And these are the questions that are coming up. They did not come up before. So yes, there is a chance to turn things around.

And topics like, say, the militarization of space, maybe they’ll even get on the agenda, in time for us to prevent a massive disaster, maybe a terminal destruction. It’s not out of the question.

JC: Prof chomsky, I’m very, very grateful for your time.

NC: Thank you!

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