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BTL Q&A: Noam Chomsky On Middle East Conflict

BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines"

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media For release April 29, 2002
Noam Chomsky on Middle East Conflict and U.S. War Plan Against Iraq Interview by Scott Harris

Israel's continued military occupation and assault on West Bank cities has enraged Palestinians, inflamed tensions in many Arab states and turned public opinion in much of the world against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Although investigations into the assault on the Jenin refugee camp has just recently gotten underway, it is clear that Israeli troops destroyed much of the city during more than a week of intense fighting. The number of Palestinian civilians killed during the battle is a matter of bitter dispute, but with aid workers, human rights officials and journalists barred by the Israel military from Jenin for many days after the conflict ended, the truth may never be known.

The Bush administration has been criticized by observers on both the left and right, for what many characterize as an incoherent foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because of the regional tensions produced by the Israeli Palestinian conflict the White House was forced to temporarily put on hold its very public plan to launch a new war against Iraq. But administration officials continue to make the case that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein remains necessary because the Iraqi leader is said to possess biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of linguistics, author and political analyst, who examines the continuing violence in the Middle East and the reasons why the U.S. is planning to launch a new war against Iraq.

Noam Chomsky: Right in the middle of these new invasions of Palestinian cities the president hails Sharon as a "man of peace," never suggests that he should renounce terror and violence, but insists that his adversary be imprisoned effectively in a dungeon where he can't flush the toilet and must once again renounce terror -- although everyone knows that that statement is totally meaningless, its just a way of again humiliating the Palestinians. Meanwhile the U.S. continues to provide arms for the attack and to give diplomatic support for it and to block moves towards a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.

Bush's support for Sharon is not very different from Clinton's support for Barak. Their policies are not all that different, and in fact the current actions have been fully supported by the political opposition, the Labor party in Israel which is represented in the Cabinet by Shimon Peres. There are differences of course, personalities differ, the policies differ but they're within the same framework.

It's worth mentioning that U.S. policy is not only opposed by the people of the region, it's also opposed by the majority of the population of the United States. They may not be aware of it, but in fact, the policy advocated by most of the population, according to polls, is the one that the United States has been blocking for 25 years and continues to block. People can't know that because the facts aren't presented to them, but it's easy to discover if you do a little bit of research and avoid the picture presented in the main doctrinal institutions.

So right now, according to the latest poll, the majority of the population supports the Saudi peace initiative which was accepted by the Arab League last month. But that's exactly the policy that the U.S. has been blocking in international isolation since 1976 when it was proposed at the U.N. Security Council and vetoed by the United States. And it continues consistently right in between. As long as the population isn't made aware of that, they can't know that they're opposing Washington's policies, but they are.

Between The Lines: Professor Chomsky, what is the role of oil in the U.S. plan to attack Iraq? It seems to be a central theme throughout U.S. policy in the Middle East, but specifically what are the priorities for the U.S. in its plan to attack Iraq and the oil reserves which Saddam Hussein's nation possesses?

Noam Chomsky: Yeah, I think that's exactly it. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. It's been pretty clear all along that one way or another the United States will try to act in such a way as to regain control over those immense reserves and to deny them -- at least privileged access -- to adversaries. At the moment that's mainly France and Russia.

The pretexts that are offered for the attack cannot possibly be taken seriously. It's remarkable that people can present them with a straight face. So what's claimed by the Bush administration, by Tony Blair, or by Madeline Albright and others is that we have to overthrow Saddam because he is such a complete monster that he even descended to the ultimate depths and used chemical weapons to massacre his own people. All of which is entirely true, but what's missing are three crucial words, namely, "with our support." You know he did that (massacred his own people), and we knew all about it and the U.S. and Britain continued to support him. In fact, continued to provide him not only with badly needed agricultural and other assistance but also with the means to develop weapons of mass destruction consciously. And this was at a time when he was far more dangerous than he is today. So the charges are completely correct, but they can't be the reason for the planned attack. The reason is, I think just what you suggested, and the reason is, that Iraq does have the world's second largest oil reserves and naturally the U.S. wants to maintain control over them.

There are problems. One problem is the one that's on the front pages, the difficulty of gaining regional support for any such attack and that's not that serious. Even Kuwait at least officially, refuses to support it. But I think a much more serious problem, and more difficult to resolve is what the successor regime might be. So it's hard to imagine that the United States could agree to any successor regime replacing Saddam that even has a semblance of democratic participation and the reasons for that are pretty well known. The majority of the population is Shi'ite and if they have any voice, if there's any functioning democracy they're very likely to press Iraqi policy towards closer accommodation with Iran, also Shi'ite, which is the last thing that the United States would tolerate.

**This transcript is an excerpt of a longer interview conducted on April 22, 2002 where professor Chomsky comments on how the world views U.S. policy in the post-Cold War era, the growing international movements for social justice and the continuing trend of giant media mergers and concentration of ownership. Between The Lines will post a complete transcript of the interview on our Web Site during May 2002.

Read professor Chomsky's papers and articles by visiting the Z Magazine Web site at

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: for the week ending 5/3/02.

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending May 3, 2002.

©2002 Between The Lines, All Rights Reserved

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