Edited excerpts of an interview with Noam Chomsky by Simon Mars of Dubai’s Business Channel. The interview will be aired again on the programme Perspectives on Tuesday (Business Channel) and Saturday (Channel 33). Noam Chomsky’s latest book Hegemony and Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance was published in November and covers some of the themes included in this interview.
Simon Mars: Do you think control over energy resources was the main reason for the invasion of Iraq?
Noam Chomsky: They didn’t decide to invade Eastern Congo where there’s much worse massacres going on. Of course it was Iraq’s energy resources. It’s not even a question. Iraq’s one of the major oil producers in the world. It has the second largest reserves and it’s right in the heart of the Gulf’s oil producing region, which US intelligence predicts is going to be two thirds of world resources in coming years.
The invasion of Iraq had a number of motives, and one was to illustrate the new National Security Strategy, which declares that the United States will control the world permanently by force if necessary and will eliminate any potential challenge to that domination. It is called pre-emptive war.
It is not a new policy, it’s just never been announced so brazenly, which is why it caused such uproar, including among the foreign policy elite in the United States. They’re appalled by it. But having announced the doctrine, it needed an exemplary action, to show that the United States really meant it.
But if the United States is going to attack somebody, the action has to meet several criteria. The first and crucial criterion is that they must be completely defenseless. It’s stupid to attack anyone who can shoot back. Anyone knows this.
Human Rights Watch
They understood perfectly well that Iraq was completely defenseless, the weakest country in the region. Its military expenditure was about a third of Kuwait, devastated by sanction, held together by Scotch tape. Mostly dis-armed, under complete surveillance, so Iraq met that condition.
Second criteria is that the place attacked has to be important enough to matter. There’s no point taking over Eastern Congo, which is also defenseless, but Iraq matters. That’s where the issue of oil comes up, since the United States will end up with military bases right in the heart of the oil producing region.
The third criteria is you have to somehow pretend it’s a threat to your existence. While the people of Kuwait and Iran might be delighted to tear Saddam Hussein limb from limb, they still did not regard him as a threat. No-one thought he was a threat.
But in the United States the propaganda did succeed in moving the American population, and Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to defend the US against the continuing threat posed by Iraq. No matter what you think, that’s just laughable.
How many people know that Donald Rumsfeld gave Saddam Hussein golden spurs back in 1983?
A little of that has begun to leak out, but how many people know that Colin Powell, the present administration moderate, was the National Security Advisor at the time of Halabja massacre, when the Reagan administration, responded by simply increasing aid to Saddam Hussein, as did the first Bush administration later.
They knew that this aid was used for chemical and biological warfare, and for developing missiles and nuclear weapons. But they did not care so the aid continued.
Nowadays, Powell moans about the graves in Halabja, but he didn’t care at the time. They now claim this was because of the war with Iran, but it had nothing to do with the war in Iran. The war in Iran was over. They provided aid to their friend Saddam Hussein because of their duty to support US exporters, as they said on public record.
When Saddam Hussein was massacring the Kurds, he was also wiping out agricultural areas. They needed agricultural aid and US agro-business was delighted to have the US taxpayer pay them to send agricultural aid to Iraq. Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney thought that was just fine. Then it gets worse.
Right now, since the weapons of mass destruction have not been found, there are other excuses being used for the invasion of Iraq. In article after article, Thomas Friedman of New York Times, as well as Colin Powell, both moan about the mass graves that have been discovered.
It is true they did not see them before, but of course they knew they were there. In 1991, after the Gulf War, the US had total control of the whole region, Saddam Hussein was effectively authorized to massacre the Shiites, and to put down the rebellion that could have overthrown him.
Today, Thomas Friedman is agonizing about the mass graves, but if you go back and read him in 1991, he knew about them. He was the New York Times’ Chief Diplomatic Correspondent, and he said that the best of all worlds for the United States would be an iron fisted military junta that would rule Iraq the same as Saddam Hussein, but since Saddam is an embarrassment, lets try to get someone else. And if we cannot find someone else, we will have to settle for second best, Saddam Hussein himself.
The British are an interesting case. In the US, we have pretty much the same government that was in office in 1991. But in Britain, today’s government was in opposition in 1991. There were parliamentary protests in England about the gassing of the Kurds and so on, but try to find the names of Tony Blair, Jeff Hoon, Jack Straw, I think even Robin Cook. They’re missing.
What do the American public think about the situation in Israel?
The study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, PIPA, has done very interesting in-depth studies of people’s attitudes towards Israel and Palestine, but they are never reported because the conclusions are unacceptable.
The PIPA study found that a considerable majority of the American population favour what is called the Saudi plan, which is the latest version of international consensus on a two state settlement that the United States has been unilaterally blocking since 1975. Yet about two thirds of the United States’ population supports it.
The Poll shows that a large majority of people in the United States think that they should cut off aid to either of the two parties, Israel or the Palestinians, if they refuse to enter into goodwill negotiations.
Next question. Suppose that both sides enter into negotiations, what should the United States do?
Give equal aid to Israel and the Palestinians.
Then comes the next question. Should the United States be more involved in this?
Yes. Same large majority. That’s a contradiction, a self contradiction. It’s the United States involvement since the mid 1970’s that’s prevented a political settlement. Step by step, vetoes at the Security Council since 1976 – votes alone, or with one or two client states of the General Assembly blocking the plan.
Supporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon with the express purpose of undermining the possible threat of negotiations and on and on…
So the US is involved in what it describes it “the peace process,” yet it is actually be trying to prevent peace … you just can’t make that connection.
By definition the United States is running the peace process, but does that mean they’re trying to bring peace? Of course not. You can go back to 1971 when Anwar Al Sadat, the new president of Egypt offered a full peace treaty to Israel with only one condition: That it withdraw from Egyptian territory. Nothing about the Palestinians. Nothing about the West Bank or Golan Heights. Just withdraw from Egyptian territory and you can have a full peace treaty.
Israel understood it, they considered it, they recognized it was a genuine peace offer that they could accept and end the state of war. They turned it down because they said it was more important to expand settlements.
At the point the settlements were in the North Eastern Sinai, and tens of thousands of Bedouins had been kicked out. It was a Labour government, not Sharon, and it decided that it was more important to expand into the northern Sinai, so they rejected Sadat’s offer.
Well what did the United States do?
That’s crucial, that determined what happened. There was an internal debate in the United States and the United States government. Henry Kissinger – his position won out. As he wrote, was that we should reject negotiations and he called for a stalemate. No negotiations just force. So the United States backed Israel’s rejection of Sadat’s peace offer. That led directly to the 1973 war.
The 1973 war was a close call for Israel, very dangerous. There was a nuclear alert; there was a close call for the world. I mean even Kissinger, who’s not very smart, understood that we can’t just assume Egypt’s a basket case. We have to do something. So he began the shuttle diplomacy that then ended up in Camp David with the Camp David agreements. That is hailed as a triumph in American diplomacy. Carter just won the Nobel Peace prize for it.
It was a catastrophe of American diplomacy.
What they accepted at Camp David was Sadat’s 1971 proposal but now in terms that were much more harsh for both the United States and Israel because by 1978 Sadat was calling for a consensus on the Palestinians and leaving the rest to the occupied territories. So actually the United States at Camp David was forced to accept a proposal, that was worse from their point of view and Israel’s point of view, than the one they turned down in 1971.
In the United States, Carter immediately raised US aid to Israel to over 50 percent of total aid. Israel understood what was happening. Egypt, the only Arab deterrent, was out of the conflict, and the United States had increased aid. Israel drew the conclusion that the US was telling us that we can expand into the occupied territories and attack our northern neighbour, which is exactly what they did.
Since 1976, the first veto at the Security Council and in fact back to 1971, the United States has been blocking, unilaterally blocking a Middle East peace settlement. A settlement whose terms are accepted by almost the entire world. I mean in 1976 the major Arab states accepted it, the Palestinian Liberation Army accepted it, Europe accepted it. In fact, everyone accepted it. The United States vetoed it.
The United States seems set to enter a very dark phase of its history with the domestic legislation such as Patriot and its foreign affairs policy.
Do you think things have a chance of getting better?
Remember that the people now in control are an extremely reactionary nationalist wing, even of the Republican Party. The major foreign policy journals like Foreign Affairs, wrote very critical articles about the National Security Strategy. The people in control are an extremist wing; and they barely hold political power.
The presidential elections in 2000 were disputed election, and they barely managed to sneak through, with a few tens of thousands of votes.
How did they do it?
By frightening people. The attack on Iraq was purposely timed, the announcement of it, to the start of the election campaign. The campaign manager made it clear when he said we’ve got to focus the election on national security issues because people don’t like our social and economic policy, naturally because they’re harming most of the population.
They’re trying essentially to reverse the progressive legislation of the past century and people don’t like it so we focus on national security issues. That way we frighten them.
You don’t know how long people can be controlled. It’s a free country you know. People are free to say what they want. Do what they want. There is very little coercion possible. Some, but very little, so sooner or later people are not going to accept what’s being done to them.
When that will happen? Hard to say.
What is your assessment of how the World Bank, the IMF and WTO have structured the global economy?
The IMF and World Bank have played various roles since they were founded but let’s take the last 30 years, the period of so called neo-liberalism. This new era began in the early 1970’s after Richard Nixon dismissed the Bretton Woods system, established by Keynes and White right after the Second World War.
Breton Woods was based on the principle that countries could control capital flow, so you could prevent capital flight. That’s what Britain did after the war to allow recovery. Also currencies were fixed within a pretty narrow band, so there was very little speculation against currency.
Those were the fundamental principles, which were eliminated in the early 1970’s, first by the Nixon’s US, then Britain, Switzerland and other major countries. It was perfectly well understood what this would mean.
Keynes pointed out 70 years ago that if you have financial liberalization and free flow of capital, it will undermine the possibility of democracy for a very simple reason: it creates what economists call a virtual senate.
A virtual parliament of investors and lenders who carry out a moment by moment referendum on government policies. If they don’t like them they destroy the economy by capital flight, by attacking the currency.
Again technical economics talk about governments facing what they call a dual constituency – the voters, if they’re democratic and the virtual parliament. Of course the virtual parliament always wins.
Since the new rules were established, there has been a very striking attack on democracy, exactly as you’d expect. There’s been a decline of social economic policies all over the industrial world because you just can’t carry them out against these pressures and in the third world’s it’s a disaster.
The international structure is designed to prevent democratic choices, as are the every other aspect of the neo-liberal programmes. Take, for example, the privatisation of services like water, education, health. There is no economic motivation for this privatization, despite the wave of privatization instigated by the World Bank.
There were technical studies by very famous economists, pointing out that there’s no economic motivation for privatization. If it is done in an efficient country like Sweden, public industries will be efficient. But if it is done in corrupt countries, they will be inefficient.
Privatization narrows the public arena by definition so that resources like health, education are controlled by the private sector, which in turn means corporations, which are unaccountable tyrannies themselves. You put decisions in to their hands, and they’re out of the hands of the public, and so the public arena shrinks. So the opportunities for democratic choice shrink.