New Chomsky Interview:
"U.S. Is A Leading Terrorist State"
by Noam Chomsky Monday December 30, 2002 at
The US is one of the leading
terrorist states in the world.
Mark Thomas: If we can start with
US foreign policy in relation to Iraq and the
War on Terror, what do you think is going on at
Noam Chomsky: First of all I think
we ought to be very cautious about using the phrase
'War on Terror'. There can't be a War on Terror.
It's a logical impossibility. The US is one of
the leading terrorist states in the world. The
guys who are in charge right now were all condemned
for terrorism by the World Court. They would have
been condemned by the U.N. Security Council except
they vetoed the resolution, with Britain abstaining
of course. These guys can't be conducting a war
on terror. It's just out of the question. They
declared a war on terror 20 years ago and we know
what they did. They destroyed Central America.
They killed a million and a half people in southern
Africa. We can go on through the list. So there's
no 'War on Terror'.
There was a terrorist act, September
11th, very unusual, a real historic event, the
first time in history that the west received the
kind of attack that it carries out routinely in
the rest of the world. September 11th did change
policy undoubtedly, not just for the US, but across
the board. Every government in the world saw it
as an opportunity to intensify their own repression
and atrocities, from Russia and Chechnya, to the
West imposing more discipline on their populations.
This had big effects - for example
take Iraq. Prior to September 11th, there was
a longstanding concern of the US toward Iraq -
that is it has the second largest oil reserves
in the world. So one way or another the US was
going to do something to get it, that's clear.
September 11th gave the pretext. There's a change
in the rhetoric concerning Iraq after September
11th - 'We now have an excuse to go ahead with
what we're planning.'
It kinda stayed like that up to
September of this year when Iraq suddenly shifted...
to 'An imminent threat to our existence.' Condoleeza
Rice [US National Security Advisor] came out with
her warning that the next evidence of a nuclear
weapon would be a mushroom cloud over New York.
There was a big media campaign with political
figures - we needed to destroy Saddam this winter
or we'd all be dead. You've got to kind of admire
the intellectual classes not to notice that the
only people in the world who are afraid of Saddam
Hussien are Americans. Everybody hates him and
Iraqis are undoubtedly afraid of him, but outside
of Iraq and the United States, no one's afraid
of him. Not Kuwait, not Iran, not Israel, not
Europe. They hate him, but they're not afraid
In the United States people are
very much afraid, there's no question about it.
The support you see in US polls for the war is
very thin, but it's based on fear. It's an old
story in the United States. When my kids were
in elementary school 40 years ago they were taught
to hide under desks in case of an atom bomb attack.
I'm not kidding. The country is always in fear
of everything. Crime for example: Crime in the
United States is roughly comparable with other
industrial societies, towards the high end of
the spectrum. On the other hand, fear of crime
is way beyond other industrial societies...
It's very consciously engendered.
These guys now in office, remember they're almost
entirely from the 1980s. They've been through
it already and they know exactly how to play the
game. Right through the 1980s they periodically
had campaigns to terrify the population.
To create fear is not that hard,
but this time the timing was so obviously for
the Congressional campaign that even political
commentators got the message. The presidential
campaign is going to be starting in the middle
of next year. They've got to have a victory under
their belt. And on to the next adventure. Otherwise,
the population's going to pay attention to what's
happening to them, which is a big assault, a major
assault on the population, just as in the 1980s.
They're replaying the record almost exactly. First
thing they did in the 1980s, in 1981, was drive
the country into a big deficit. This time they
did it with a tax cut for the rich and the biggest
increase in federal spending in 20 years.
This happens to be an unusually
corrupt administration, kind of like an Enron
administration, so there's a tremendous amount
of profit going into the hands of an unusually
corrupt group of gangsters. You can't really have
all this stuff on the front pages, so you have
to push it off the front pages. You have to keep
people from thinking about it. And there's only
one way that anybody ever figured out to frighten
people and they're good at it.
So there's domestic political factors
that have to do with timing. September 11th gave
the pretext and there's a long term, serious interest
[in Iraq]. So they've gotta go to war... my speculation
would be that they would like to have it over
with before the presidential campaign.
The problem is that when you're
in a war, you don't know what's going to happen.
The chances are it'll be a pushover, it ought
to be, there's no Iraqi army, the country will
probably collapse in two minutes, but you can't
be sure of that. If you take the CIA warnings
seriously, they're pretty straight about it. They're
saying that if there's a war, Iraq may respond
with terrorist acts.
US adventurism is just driving
countries into developing weapons of mass destruction
as a deterrent - they don't have any other deterrent.
Conventional forces don't work obviously, there's
no external deterrent. The only way anyone can
defend themselves is with terror and weapons of
mass destruction. So it's plausible to assume
that they're doing it. I suppose that's the basis
for the CIA analysis and I suppose the British
intelligence are saying the same thing.
But you don't want to have that
happen in the middle of a presidential campaign...
There is the problem about what to do with the
effects of the war, but that's easy. You count
on journalists and intellectuals not to talk about
it. How many people are talking about Afghanistan?
Afghanistan's back where it was, run by warlords
and gangsters and who's writing about it? Almost
nobody. If it goes back to what it was no one
cares, everyone's forgotten about it.
If Iraq turns into people slaughtering
each other, I could write the articles right now.
'Backward people, we tried to save them but they
want to murder each other because they're dirty
Arabs.' By then, I presume, I'm just guessing,
they [the US] will be onto the next war, which
will probably be either Syria or Iran.
The fact is that war with Iran
is probably underway. It's known that about 12%
of the Israeli airforce is in south eastern Turkey.
They're there because they're preparing for the
war against Iran. They don't care about Iraq.
Iraq they figure's a pushover, but Iran has always
been a problem for Israel. It's the one country
in the region that they can't handle and they've
been after the US to take it on for years. According
to one report, the Israeli airforce is now flying
at the Iranian border for intelligence, provocation
and so on. And it's not a small airforce. It's
bigger than the British airforce, bigger than
any NATO power other than the US. So it's probably
underway. There are claims that there are efforts
to stir up Azeri separatism, which makes some
sense. It's what the Russians tried to do in 1946,
and that would separate Iran, or what's left of
Iran, from the Caspian oil producing centres.
Then you could partition it. That will probably
be underway at the time and then there'll be a
story about how Iran's going to kill us tomorrow,
so we need to get rid of them today. At least
that's been the pattern.
Campaign Against Arms Trade: How
far do you see the vast military production machine
that is America requiring war as an advertisement
for their equipment?
Chomsky: You have to remember that
what's called military industry is just hi-tech
industry. The military is a kind of cover for
the state sector in the economy. At MIT [Massachusetts
Institute of Technology] where I am, everybody
knows this except maybe for some economists. Everybody
else knows it because it pays their salaries.
The money comes into places like MIT under military
contract to produce the next generation of the
hi-tech economy. If you take a look at what's
called the new economy - computers, internet -
it comes straight out of places like MIT under
federal contracts for research and development
under the cover of military production. Then it
gets handed to IBM when you can sell something.
At MIT the surrounding area used
to have small electronics firms. Now it has small
biotech firms. The reason is that the next cutting
edge of the economy is going to be biology based.
So funding from the government for biology based
research is vastly increasing. If you want to
have a small start-up company that will make you
a huge amount of money when somebody buys it someday,
you do it in genetic engineering, biotechnology
and so on. This goes right through history. It's
usually a dynamic state sector that gets economies
One of the reasons the US wants
to control the oil is because profits flow back,
and they flow in a lot of ways. Its not just oil
profits, it's also military sales. The biggest
purchaser of US arms and probably British arms
is either Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates,
one of the rich oil producers. They take most
of the arms and that's profits for hi- tech industry
in the Unites States. The money goes right back
to the US treasury and treasury securities. In
various ways, this helps prop up primarily the
US and British economies.
I don't know if you've looked at
the records, but in 1958 when Iraq broke the Anglo-American
condominium on oil production, Britain went totally
crazy. The British at that time were still very
reliant on Kuwaiti profits. Britain needed the
petrodollars for supporting the British economy
and it looked as if what happened in Iraq might
spread to Kuwait. So at that point Britain and
the US decided to grant Kuwait nominal autonomy,
up to then it was just a colony. They said you
can run your own post office, pretend you have
a flag, that sort of thing. The British said that
if anything goes wrong with this we will ruthlessly
intervene to ensure maintaining control and the
US agreed to the same thing in Saudi Arabia and
CAAT: There's also the suggestion
that it's a way of America controlling Europe
and the Pacific rim.
Chomsky: Absolutely. The smarter
guys like George Kennen were pointing out that
control over the energy resources of the middle
east gives the US what he called 'veto power'
over other countries. He was thinking particularly
of Japan. Now the Japanese know this perfectly
well so they've been working very hard to try
to gain independent access to oil, that's one
of the reasons they've tried hard, and succeeded
to an extent, to establish relations with Indonesia
and Iran and others, to get out of the West-controlled
Actually one of the purposes of
the [post World War II] Marshall Plan, this great
benevolent plan, was to shift Europe and Japan
from coal to oil. Europe and Japan both had indigenous
coal resources but they switched to oil in order
to give the US control. About $2bn out of the
$13bn Marshall Plan dollars went straight to the
oil companies to help convert Europe and Japan
to oil based economies. For power, it's enormously
significant to control the resources and oil's
expected to be the main resource for the next
couple of generations.
The National Intelligence Council,
which is a collection of various intelligence
agencies, published a projection in 2000 called
'Global Trends 2015.' They make the interesting
prediction that terrorism is going to increase
as a result of globalisation. They really say
it straight. They say that what they call globalisation
is going to lead to a widening economic divide,
just the opposite of what economic theory predicts,
but they're realists, and so they say that it's
going to lead to increased disorder, tension and
hostility and violence, a lot of it directed against
the United States.
They also predict that Persian
Gulf oil will be increasingly important for world
energy and industrial systems but that the US
won't rely on it. But it's got to control it.
Controlling the oil resources is more of an issue
than access. Because control equals power.
MT: How do you think the current
anti-war movement that's building up compares
with Vietnam? What do you think we can achieve
as people involved in direct action and protest?
Do you think there's a possibility of preventing
a war from occurring?
NC: I think that's really hard
because the timing is really short. You can make
it costly, which is important. Even if it doesn't
stop, it's important for the war to be costly
to try to stop the next one.
Compared with the Vietnam War movement,
this movement is just incomparably ahead now.
People talk about the Vietnam War movement, but
they forget or don't know what it was actually
like. The war in Vietnam started in 1962, publicly,
with a public attack on South Vietnam - air force,
chemical warfare, concentration camps, the whole
business. No protest... the protest that did build
up four or five years later was mostly about the
bombing of the North, which was terrible but was
a sideshow. The main attack was against South
Vietnam and there was never any serious protest
This time there's protest before
the war has even got started. I can't think of
an example in the entire history of Europe, including
the United States, when there was ever protest
of any substantial level before a war. Here you've
got massive protest before war's even started.
It's a tremendous tribute to changes in popular
culture that have taken place in Western countries
in the last 30 or 40 years. It's just phenomenal.
SchNEWS: It sometimes seems that
as soon as protest breaks out of quite narrow
confines, a march every six months maybe, you
get attacked. People protesting against the war
recently in Brighton were pepper sprayed and batoned
for just sitting down in a street.
Chomsky: The more protest there
is the more tightening there's going to be, that's
routine. When the Vietnam War protests really
began to build up, so did the repression. I was
very close to a long jail sentence myself and
it was stopped by the Tet Offensive. After the
Tet Offensive, the establishment turned against
the war and they called off the trials. Right
now a lot of people could end up in Guantanamo
Bay and people are aware of it.
If there's protest in a country
then there's going to be repression. Can they
get away with it? - it depends a lot on the reaction.
In the early 50s in the US, there was what was
called Macarthyism and the only reason it succeeded
was that there was no resistance to it. When they
tried the same thing in the 60s it instantly collapsed
because people simply laughed at it so they couldn't
do it. Even a dictatorship can't do everything
it wants. It's got to have some degree of popular
support. And in a more democratic country, there's
a very fragile power system. There's nothing secret
about this, it's history. The question in all
of these things is how much popular resistance
there's going to be.
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