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Noam Chomsky Offers Views Iraq War and Election

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 1, 2004

Noam Chomsky Offers Views on Motivation for Iraq War and the Choices Before Voters on Election Day

Interview with Noam Chomsky, MIT professor of linguistics, author and political activist, conducted by Scott Harris

The Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq remains one of the central issues in the U.S. presidential election campaign. Violence there continues to escalate, resulting in growing numbers of deaths and injuries among American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Although recent presidential debates focused on differences between President Bush and his opponent Sen. John Kerry on the rationale for the war, the two candidates agree on the need to prosecute the conflict until victory.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. forces continue an offensive against insurgents in the city of Falluja, where hostility to the American occupation has grown after weeks of constant air strikes. In mid-October, 18 U.S. soldiers of the U.S. Army's 343rd Quartermaster Company made headlines when they refused to deliver a shipment of fuel from the Tallil air base near Nasiriya to a base in Taji, in the north. The soldiers, who claimed their trucks were unsafe and did not have an adequate armed escort, are now under investigation for insubordination. The incident underscores long-standing charges that many American troops in Iraq are ill-equipped and have been placed in unnecessary danger by the Pentagon's poor war planning.

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In his latest book, "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," MIT professor of linguistics and philosophy Noam Chomsky examines U.S. foreign policy and concludes that our government's aggressive military posture and disdain for international treaties and conventions on arms control, the environment and human rights, threaten the very survival of human kind. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with professor Chomsky, America's most honored intellectual dissident, about his views on the primary motivation for the Iraq war and the choices before voters in the Nov. 2nd U.S. presidential election.

Noam Chomsky: After the collapse of the original pretexts of weapons of mass destruction, ties to terror and so on, a new claim surfaced, namely what the liberal press calls Bush's messianic vision to bring "democracy" to Iraq, the Middle East, the world, etc. It's interesting that here in the United States, that declaration was taken very seriously. In fact, you have to search hard to find any commentator who doesn't accept that that was the goal. And there are critics, but the critics typically say that that 's a noble and inspiring vision, but it's beyond our reach, it's not realistic, the Iraqi culture isn't ready for such dramatic improvements and so on.

Right at the time that the president announced his Messianic vision with enormous applause here, there was a poll published, actually in the Washington Post, taken in Baghdad by Western organizations and they had asked people "Why do you think the U.S. invaded Iraq?" About one percent said that, "Oh, it was to establish democracy." So one percent of Iraqis agree with roughly 100 percent of articulate opinion here, based solely on the president's declarations, no other evidence for it. The rest of the people polled, most of them said that the goal was to take control of Iraq's resources, to use control of Iraq in a dependent client state, to reorganize the region in U.S. interests, which makes perfect sense.

If the U.S. conquers Iraq and imposes a dependent client state which will be called a 'democracy' -- but imperial powers quite commonly do that. They allow some degree of formal participation as long as the decisions are under control. That's what the U.S. has done for a century, in its own domains locally; what the British did, and so on. So, the goal would be to establish a dependent client state, with democratic forums, but keeping strictly within constraints imposed by Washington and following economic policies that it imposes and so on, and with permanent U.S. military bases, stable bases right in the heart of the world's major oil producing regions.

Before the invasion, Russian and French companies had the inside track on developing them -- OK, that's over, now it's U.S. companies and so they get the profits. But crucially, the U.S. gets the control. It's not a matter of access to oil, but control over it. You go back to the (by now) declassified documents of the 1940s, and the State Department was pointing out that control over Middle East oil resources is what they call a "stupendous source of strategic power" and one of the great material prizes of world history. Sure, it's been understood, still is. And the invasion, as Iraqis seem to understand, but we don't allow ourselves to think about -- the invasion was intended to achieve that aim.

Between The Lines: Professor Chomsky, I wonder if you would talk about the differences, if any, you see between George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry on the imperial grand strategy you've written about. Just another question about the election, I'll just frame them together. As a former supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, you recently signed a letter urging progressive voters to support Kerry and Edwards in swing states. I guess, to sum it up, what do you believe is at stake in this presidential election?

Noam Chomsky: First of all, I should correct that common misimpression. I said exactly the same thing in the year 2000, precisely the same thing.

Between The Lines: Regarding Ralph Nader?

Noam Chomsky: Yeah. I said it's important to ensure that Bush doesn't get elected, which means in swing states, you have to vote for the only viable alternative, the Democratic candidate and what you do in safe states, is, as other factors enter. So I just repeated back what I'd said then, I also repeated something, which in my view is more important, which is that there is a huge propaganda campaign to try to restrict political action to pushing a lever once every four years in a highly personalized extravaganza that's constructed by the public relations industry. We shouldn't submit to that, we should understand that what's important is to create a real democratic culture in which those choices all mean something. And that's a matter of day-to-day activity.

With regard to the current choices, if you happen to be in a swing state and your vote happens to matter, you have to ask are there significant differences between the two parties? And the answer is that there are. In the say, imperial grand strategy as Foreign Affairs call it, they happen to be different. The Clinton proposals are by no means as extreme and dangerous as the Bush proposals, and the same goes right across the board. So, on domestic issues, the people around Bush are very openly committed to dismantling the achievements of popular struggle over the past century which have created a certain degree of popularly supported social welfare programs -- Social Security, Medicare and others -- a degree of progressive taxation and so on. They want to dismantle all of that to ensure that wealth and power are concentrated to an extent that hasn't been seen for a long time if ever, concentrated in the hands of completely unaccountable private tyrannies. The people around Kerry, I don't like their policies, but they are nowhere near so extremist in this respect, but within the choices that come up on Nov. 2nd, there happens to be a difference and in my view it should take about 10 minutes of our time to figure this out and then go on to the important issues.

Noam Chomsky's latest book "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," is published by Metropolitan. Read more about professor Chomsky's work online at or


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Oct. 29, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.



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