Noam Chomsky On the Middle East
and the US War on Terrorism
Noam Chomsky is an internationally renowned Professor of Linguistics at MIT, and is America’s leading dissident intellectual. He is the author of many books, including most recently 9-11 (Seven Stories Press, 2001), A New Generation Draws the Line (Verso, 2000), The New Military Humanism (Common Courage, 1999), and The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians (South End Press, new edition 1999).
Evan Solomon: I want to start off by reading a quotation from your most recent compendium of interviews, 9-11. You wrote: "If the U.S. chooses to respond to the attacks of September 11th by escalating the cycle of violence, which is most likely what Bin Laden and his associates hope for, the consequences could be awesome." Now, the U.S. did.
Noam Chomsky: They didn't.
ES: You don't think they did?
Chomsky: You have to remember when that was. That was late September. At that point, the Bush administration was talking as though they were going to carry out a massive bombing campaign against the civilian population with no thought about the consequences. They were being told at the time, from every source, European leaders, intelligence agencies, I'm sure their own as well, that if they did that it would be a gift to Bin Laden. That's exactly what he wanted. The French Foreign minister called it an Afghan trap.
ES: But they did go into Afghanistan.
Chomsky: No, they didn't. They did it in a way that would keep the attack on the population silent. They focused the bombing on military forces, Taliban military forces primarily, not on a massive attack. They didn't carry out a massive attack against a civilian population. Actually, they did, but it was indirect. It was through increasing the threat of starvation and death from disease. Their own estimates were that they were putting a couple of million people at risk of starvation, and that's probably correct. But that's silent, you don't see people die of starvation.
ES: But did they pursue? I mean, you said that originally, after the Sept. 11th attacks, that the United States ought to treat this as a crime, not as a war. George Bush then called it a "War on Terrorism." Now first, what's the distinction between treating it as a crime and war and how have those approaches affected what's happening?
Chomsky: Well that's what I said then, but that has since become a very public position, not by me, but by conservative mainstream opinion. So for example, let's take the January issue of Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal. There's an article by the leading Anglo-American military historian, Michael Howard -- very conservative, very respected -- all the right credentials. He thinks British imperialism was wonderful and the American version was even better, but he points out the same thing. He says, if there's a crime, a major crime, crime against humanity, the way to deal with it is by careful police work, to identify the perpetrators and then, since this is an international crime, request international authorization, which was never received or asked for, to bring them to justice. And then trial in an independent court.
ES: And that's the right way?
Chomsky: An independent court will give a fair trial. Now that's a position from the right wing in the main establishment journal in the United States.
ES: And you support that?
Chomsky: That's what I said last September. Yes, I think that's the right way to deal with crimes.
ES: Now what if I say to you Bush has pursued a somewhat similar policy?
Chomsky: On October 12th, a couple of days after the bombing started, Bush publicly announced to the Afghan people that we will continue to bomb you, unless your leadership turns over to us the people whom we suspect of carrying out crimes, although we refuse to give you any evidence. That's probably because they don't have any. And we dismiss without comment the offers of your leadership for negotiations about extradition.
Notice that is a textbook illustration of international terrorism, by the US official definition. That is the use of the threat of force or violence, in this case extreme violence, to obtain political ends through intimidation, fear and so on. That's the official definition, a textbook illustration of it. Three weeks later, by the end of October, the war aims had changed. They were first announced as far as I can find out, by the British Defense Minister, Sir Admiral Boyce. Admiral Boyce informed the Afghan population that we will continue to bomb you until you change your leadership. Well, that's an even more dramatic illustration of international terrorism, if not aggression. And that was the goal that was followed. This had nothing to do with finding the criminals and bringing them to justice .
Is the U.S. a Terrorist State?
ES: You say one of the great hypocrisies here is that the United States, as you say, is a leading terrorist state…
Chomsky: Well, these two examples illustrate it. And these are minor ones. You know there are much more serious ones than this.
ES: The question that arises is if the United States is a leading terrorist state, if as you say, Britain is another example of a terrorist state, how do you distinguish between what you describe as terrorism and what they are saying -- Osama Bin Laden who's a terrorist? Make the distinction.
Chomsky: It's very simple. If they do it, it's terrorism. If we do it, it's counter-terrorism. That's a historical universal. Go back to Nazi propaganda. The most extreme mass murderers ever. If you look at Nazi propaganda, that's exactly what they said. They said they're defending the populations and the legitimate governments of Europe like Vichy from the terrorist partisans who are directed from London. That's the basic propaganda line. And like all propaganda, no matter how vulgar, it has an element of truth. The partisans did carry out terror, they were directed from London. The Vichy government is about as legitimate as half the governments the US has installed around the world and supports, so yes, there was a minor element of truth to it, and that's the way it works. If somebody else carries it out, it's terror. If we carry it out, it's counter-terror. I think perhaps one of the most dramatic examples right at this moment is a place where I just was a couple of weeks ago, southeastern Turkey. Southeastern Turkey is the site of some of the worst terrorist atrocities of the 1990s.
ES: This is the attacks on the Kurds.
Chomsky: The attacks on the Kurds created a couple of million refugees. It left much of the countryside devastated. Tens of thousands of people killed. It was every imaginable barbaric form of torture you can dream of. It's all well documented in Human Rights Watch reports and so on. How did they do it? Well, they did it with a huge flow of U.S. arms, which peaked in 1997. In that one year, the arms transfers to Turkey from the United States were higher than the entire Cold War period. You know up until the counter-insurgency started. But look at the way it's treated. This massive international terrorism run and supported by the United States is considered a great triumph of counter-terrorism.
If you read the State Department reports on terror they praise Turkey for its success in showing how to counter terror. You read a front page article in the New York Times and it praises Turkey for showing how to deal with terror. Turkey was selected as the country to provide the forces for what they call the international force for Afghanistan. Actually it's for Kabul alone. It's Turkey that's being paid by the United States extensively to carry out the repression of terror, thanks to their achievements in countering terror - namely by carrying out some of the worst terror of the 1990s. Massive ethnic cleansing and atrocities with U.S. support. Now you know this is a real achievement of the intellectual culture to be able to do this. But it illustrates very well the answer to your question. Terror and counter-terror. If some enemy state did this, we'd be not just outraged, we'd be bombing them.
ES: Is Bush justified in calling Bin Laden a terrorist when, as you say, he's running a terrorist state himself?
Chomsky: Yeah, I agree that he should call him a terrorist.
ES: But you say even Jonathan Swift would be baffled at the irony of that?
Chomsky: To say that Bin Laden is a terrorist, a murderous terrorist is certainly correct, but what about Clinton? I just described one of his minor escapades in Turkey. This example is particularly striking, not only because of the massive atrocities, but because of the way it's treated, and because remember this was at the same time when there was an orgy of self-congratulation among Western intellectuals because of their magnificence in opposing terrorism by bombing Serbia because of what Milosevic had done in Kosovo.
ES: Let's talk about the Middle East, where Sharon says we are experiencing terrorist bombings and therefore we have to have a big operation in the West Bank and root out terrorism and people say, hey you're violating human rights. The Israelis say there's no equivalency between suicide bombings and protecting our security and Palestinians say there's no equivalence between suicide bombings and the Occupation.
Chomsky: This is the 35th year of a harsh, brutal and vicious occupation supported unilaterally by the United States, constant terror and atrocities. Suppose Palestinians say, well we're under terrorist attack for 35 years, therefore we have a right to carry out suicide bombings.
ES: Which is what they say.
Chomsky: Do you accept this? Does anybody accept this?
ES: Nobody accepts this.
Chomsky: All right, then how come everyone accepts the Israeli claim to be doing it, which is a much weaker claim, because after all there is no symmetry in the situation. They are the military occupiers. Palestine isn't occupying Israel, and this hasn't just started now, it's gone on for years.
ES: So does that in your mind justify…?
Chomsky: No, it does not, of course not, it doesn't in anybody's mind…
ES: It invalidates both sides?
Chomsky: Those who defend suicide bombing, and there are very few, don't have a leg to stand on. Those who defend the Israeli atrocities, including the U.S. government, most intellectual opinion, a good bit of the West generally, they don't have a leg to stand on either and they have a much weaker position.
Let's go back to Turkey again. Take the Powell mission. Powell is praised because he's such a wonderful diplomat. He went to Yasser Arafat, who's imprisoned in a dungeon where he can't even flush the toilet and he extracted from him a statement condemning terror. Did anybody request that Powell should have asked Sharon to condemn Israeli atrocities? Did anyone suggest that Powell ask George Bush to condemn the fact that he's been sending Israel the Apache attack helicopters which have been devastating Jenin?
Can you find a word in the press anywhere that suggested Powell should have requested a condemnation of Israeli terror from Sharon? And of U.S. backing of that terror from Bush?
I mean that's a thought that couldn't enter anyone's mind. And the reason is because our profound commitment to terror and violence when it's committed by our clients and by ourselves is so deep that we can't even think of the question.
ES: You suggested after September 11th, that we ought to look in the mirror, we being America or the West. We ought to look in the mirror at ourselves. Was that a way of saying -- "Look, people like Bin Laden are angry at us for good reason?"
Chomsky: That's not what I was saying. The statement of mine that you just quoted is a very conservative statement, in fact it was articulated by George Bush's favorite philosopher, Jesus Christ, who famously defined the notion of a hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person who focuses on the other fellow's crimes and refuses to look at his own. That's the definition of hypocrite by George Bush's favorite philosopher. When I repeat that I'm not taking a radical position. I'm taking a position that is just elementary morality.
ES: But even if he is a hypocrite…
Chomsky: Not he, everybody. Let me ask you another question. Here's an experiment. Try to find a phrase in the massive commentary on September 11th, that is not hypocritical in the sense of George Bush's favorite philosopher. Find one phrase. I don't think you can do it.
ES: OK but before, I don't want to get gnostic here and religious…
Chomsky: This is not religion, this is elementary morality. If people cannot rise to the level of applying to ourselves the same standards we apply to others we have no right to talk about right and wrong or good and evil.
ES: But look, if there's nobody pure, an argument has been made, sure the US has committed atrocities, however they did oust a more brutal regime, the Taliban …
Chomsky: That wasn't even a war aim.
ES: But is that a moral thing to do? They did get rid of a brutal regime (fine) There was celebration…
Chomsky: Good. Fine. Then let them bomb Israel and get rid of the brutal regime there. Let them bomb Uzbekistan and get rid of the brutal regime there.
ES: Are you saying the Taliban and the Israeli government are the same?
Chomsky: No they're not the same. They're brutal regimes, but let's go back a stage. The goal was not to oust the Taliban. That was not a war aim. That was a war aim that was picked up several weeks after the bombing started. OK? There is a long list of brutal regimes around the world which ought to be overthrown, but not by somebody bombing them. However let's go back to late October, after three weeks of bombing when the US and its British client decided to shift the war aims by overthrowing the Taliban regime.
Well, how do you proceed to do that? There are differences of opinion. For example there was an Afghan position on this right at that time, late October. There was a meeting sponsored by the United States in Peshawar, Pakistan of a thousand Afghan leaders, tribal leaders, some of them came in from Afghanistan, others were in Pakistan. These are political leaders, tribal leaders, others supported and backed by the United States. Now they disagreed on all sorts of things, but they did agree on one thing, namely they unanimously condemned the bombing and said it would undermine their efforts, which they thought could succeed to overthrow the Taliban regime from within.
Two weeks before that the US favorite Abdul Hak went into Afghanistan, turned out he was killed because he didn't get any Western support, but he want in to Afghanistan to try to organize opposition to the Taliban. Right before he went in he had a long interview with a publication distributed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in which he bitterly condemned the US bombing. He said the same thing as the 1000 tribal leaders. He said it's undermining them. He said the US is doing it just to show off their muscle, they don't care what happens to Afghanistan. They're undermining attempts which will succeed, he thought (and he's probably right), to undermine the Taliban regime from within and overthrow it. The leading women's group in Pakistan, RAWA, which has been fighting courageously for years for women's rights, took exactly the same position. So there are ideas about how to overthrow the Taliban, did anybody pay attention? No, because exactly as Abdul Hak said, the US and Britain wanted to show their muscle.
So the question of how to overthrow a regime, yeah that arises and I think the Afghans are right. Regimes should be overthrown from within, and in this case it was probably very likely that that would succeed. The Taliban was a small brutal group, highly unpopular, plenty of opposition to it, which could have been overthrown from within, and that's the way to overthrow a regime. If we want to overthrow the regime of Uzbekistan, now a great favorite, which happens to not be any different from the Taliban, the way to do it would not be to bomb Uzbekistan, but to support internal democratic forces and let them do it. And that generalizes around the world.
ES: Robert Kaplan writes about foreign policy. I spoke to him recently about his book Warrior Politics, and I put some of your points to him and he said, about the distinction between the terrorist states that you call Israel, America, and the terrorist states that America calls the Taliban, "I wish Noam Chomsky had been with me in Romania in the 70s or the 80s, just one of the seven or eight Warsaw States, with just one of the 7 or 8 prison systems with 700,000 political prisoners. Adult choice of foreign policy is made on distinctions. The argument that Chomsky makes has no distinctions because there's a difference between the quantity and the kind of dictators that America supported and the quantity and the kind of things that went on in the Communist world for 44 years."
Chomsky: OK, so let's take his example, Romania under Ceausescu. Hideous regime, which he forgot to tell you the United States supported. Supported right until the end, as did Britain. When Ceausescu came to London he was feted by Margaret Thatcher. When George Bush the First came into office, I think the first person he invited to Washington was Ceausescu. Yes, Romania was a miserable, brutal regime supported by the United States right to the end, as Robert Kaplan knows very well, so the example he gave is a perfect example.
ES: It wasn't supported by the States in the 70s though?
Chomsky: In the 70s, in the 80s, right to the end of Ceausescu's rule. It was supported by the United States. The reasons had to do with great power politics. They were sort of breaking Warsaw Pact policies and so on, but the very example he picks illustrates it and we can proceed onward.
So the very example he gives shows the absurdity of his position and it's a small example because we support much more brutal regimes. It has nothing to do with Cold War issues.
I gave an example in South Eastern Turkey, several million refugees, tens of thousands of people killed, a country devastated, that's rather serious.
Nobody accused Milosevic of that in Kosovo.
Suharto was one of the worst killers and torturers of the late twentieth century. The United States and Britain supported him throughout. He's “our kind of guy,” as the Clinton administration said in 1995. Horrible atrocities, in fact, when he came into office in 1965 with a coup the CIA compared it to Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
It led to total euphoria in the United States and Britain, and massive support when he carried out even worse atrocities, comparable atrocities in East Timor -- over 200,000 people killed -- full support continued right through the end of his rule, in fact, continued past his rule. In late 1999 when they were rampaging and destroying what was left of East Timor, the US and Britain continued to support him and I can continue through the world like this…
ES: Well, what Kaplan says is -- there is a distinction …that everyone's got some blood on their hands, but he says -- we have significantly less blood because we are soft imperialists, not state terrorists.
Chomsky: So when we supported his example, Ceausescu in Romania, right to the end, that's good? How about killing several million people in Vietnam. How about killing hundreds of thousands of people in Central America in the 80s, leaving four countries devastated beyond, maybe beyond recovery?
ES: Does that disqualify the US from intervening in any other way?
Chomsky: No it doesn't, nor does it disqualify the Taliban, which is a terrorist state. That fact doesn't disqualify them from bombing Washington. What disqualifies them from doing that is even if they were Mahatma Gandhi, they shouldn't do it.
Kaplan can't understand trivialities. The triviality here is that nobody except the ultra right wing jingoists like Kaplan are comparing atrocities by various countries. What honest people are saying seems to be incomprehensible: that we should keep to the elementary moral level of the gospels. We should pay attention to our own crimes and stop committing them. This would be true even if we were killing one person, OK?
And it's even more true when we're killing millions of people.
ES: Let's try to look at the bigger picture because the question, he says, we all agree with the gospels…
Chomsky: Kaplan doesn't, he certainly doesn't.
ES: Kaplan says the world is nasty. If you leave people alone, they'll kill each other and that's why what you need is what he calls an organizing hegemon…
Chomsky: Which is always us. Right and why is it us? Because we have the power and we have a massively subservient intellectual class, of which he's an illustration, which will support U.S. atrocities no matter how awful they are.
ES: So if he says this is real politics, that Chomsky's off in another land with his gospel, and he says look…
Chomsky: Forget gospel. I'm talking about the most elementary morality. If a person doesn't understand that, they have no right to talk. OK? If you don't understand that you pay attention to your own crimes, you have no right to talk.
ES: He talks about Machiavellian virtue. He says that sometimes the end justifies the means, sometimes we do a bad thing to protect our democracy and our good institutions in a just society.
Chomsky: And how are we protecting our democratic institutions by supporting mass slaughter in southeastern Turkey in the last few years? Was that supporting our democratic institutions? Our democratic institutions? Anybody's?
ES: Would Kaplan argue that the nation state has a right to use any means necessary to protect its sovereignty?
Chomsky: Oh then he's justifying Milosevic. He's saying Milosevic had the right to do anything he wanted to repress the Kosovars in Albania. Is that what he's saying?
ES: I think he would not say that.
Chomsky: Why not?
ES: He would say that violates virtue…
Chomsky: Oh so when they do it, it violates virtue, but when we do it it's virtuous?
ES: Should there be an organizing hegemon, do we need a constabulary, a force, a central force? In this case it's America because it's a superpower. Sometimes it use unjust means in the service of just causes.
Chomsky: What are the just causes? What was the just cause in, for example, slaughtering Kurds in southeastern Turkey? What was the just cause in supporting Suharto? When he killed a couple hundred thousand landless peasants in Indonesia, went on to become one of the biggest torturers in the world and slaughtered one-third of the population in East Timor, what was the just cause?
What was the just cause when we invaded South Vietnam 40 years ago? This is the 40th anniversary of the public announcement of the U.S. attack on South Vietnam, ending up killing millions of people, leaving the country devastated. They're still dying from chemical warfare. What was the just cause?
What was the just cause when we fought a war to a large extent against the Catholic Church in Central America in the 1980s, killing hundreds of thousands of people, every imaginable kind of torture and devastation, what was the just cause? The just cause for people like Kaplan was yes, we did it, therefore it's a just cause. You can read that in the Nazi archives too.
ES: It's no great secret that we function by self-interest. Self-interest is part of foreign policy. We're here to protect our policy, protect the interests of our policy, in this case of the Americans.
Chomsky: Was the self-interest of the American people served by slaughters in southeastern Turkey, or by destroying Vietnam, or by turning El Salvador and Guatemala into cemeteries?
Was the self-interest of the American people served by that? No. The self-interest served by that is foreign policy elites and the power-centers they represent, which are not protecting the American people, they're protecting their own power, profit, dominance and hegemony, like others around the world.
And they count on intellectuals of the Robert Kaplan type to applaud any atrocity they carry out.
ES: How do you respond to the following attitude: We don't want to live with them, we don't want to negotiate with them, we must destroy them, make war against the Taliban, justify the war against the Al Aqsa brigades, we see the faces of our enemies and we should do anything to root them out…. How do you respond to that?
Chomsky: I respond to that by saying that there are many evil forces in the world. If we want to stop atrocities, I think it's a great idea to reduce the level of atrocities and violence around the world. The easiest way to do it, simple, is to stop participating in it. If we stop participating in it, we will already reduce the levels of atrocities and violence enormously.
And if we can ever reach the moral level, minimum moral level, of terminating our own massive participation in atrocities, then we can move to another question of what we do about the atrocities of others. And I think it's right to deal with them. So, for example, in the case of…I don't want to go off in hysterical rhetoric about we've seen the enemy and this and that, that's childish games that you see in fairy tales.
If we're talking about the real world again, we're back to what Michael Howard was talking about. Yes, there is an enemy. There are people who carry out crimes against humanity. And there are ways to deal with crimes. Not by bombing another country and putting millions of people at the risk of starvation, that's not the way to deal with crimes.
When the U.S. was condemned for international terrorism in Nicaragua, then dismissed the condemnation of the court, and then escalated the crimes and vetoed a security counsel resolution calling on the US to observe international law, the right reaction for Nicaragua was not to say, "we have seen the enemy and have to destroy them, so therefore, let's set off bombs in Washington." The right response was not to reproduce this ridiculous, childish rhetoric. And nobody believes that it was. But if it's wrong for them, it's wrong for us. Again, by elementary moral standards. So, we should ask what's right for them, and what should be right for us. And I think, they couldn't do what was right for them because we blocked it, we're too powerful. But we could do what was right for them and we never even considered it. We're too powerful. Because we don't rise to that minimal moral level. And unless we do, we have no right to talk about good policy, bad policy, right or wrong.
ES: We don't have the right to even talk about it?
Chomsky: Of course not. If you can't rise to the most elementary moral level, you shouldn't even talk about it.
ES: So there's no real policy -
Chomsky: Yes, there is. See, I admire right-wing fanatics who come out straight and say, "Look, I have the power, and nobody's going to stop me, I'll do what I want." That's admirable. They're honest. OK. And in fact, we have two choices, really. We really have two simple choices. Either we can say, look I'm going to be willing to enter the moral agreement. I'm going to be willing to rise to the most minimal moral level, that of the gospels, in fact. I'm going to be willing to do that and in that case, I'm going to apply to myself the same standards I apply to others. That's one choice. The other choice is simple. I'm a Nazi. I've got the force. I've got the power. I'll do whatever I want. If you get in my way, I'll smash you.
ES: But isn't it a little more complicated? I mean, look -
Chomsky: That's the choice.
ES: Can't it be two rights?
Chomsky: Can be, yeah, there can. Let's take a look at the Middle East, let's take a look at facts. The facts are, for 35 years, there has been a harsh, brutal, military operation. There has not been a political settlement. The reason that there has not been a political settlement is because the United States, unilaterally, has blocked it for 25 years. Just recently, Saudi Arabia produced a highly praised plan for political settlement. The majority of the American population supports it. The majority of the population also thinks the United States ought to be more active in the Middle East. They don't know that that's a contradiction in terms. The reason that's a contradiction in terms is the following: In the Saudi Arabia plan is a repetition of a series of proposals, which go back to 1976 when the UN Security Council debated a resolution calling for a settlement, in accord with the Saudi plan, to state settlement on the internationally recognized borders. With arrangements to guarantee the rights of every state in the nation to exist in peace and security within secure and recognized borders.
That was January 1976. OK, that was actually in accord with official U.S. policy. Except for one thing. It called for a Palestinian State in the territories; Israel wouldn't leave the occupied territories. That was vetoed by the US. Tt was supported by the Arab states, it was supported by the PLO, supported by Europe.
ES: Before they even recognized Israel as a state, though.
Chomsky: This was to exist as a state within secure and recognized borders. Nobody talked about recognizing the new Palestinian state, nobody talked about recognizing Israel. Look, is there a possible political settlement today? Has there been one for the last 25 years? Is it supported by the entire world, including the majority of the American people? The answer to that question is yes. There is a political settlement that has been supported by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states, the PLO, Europe, Eastern Europe, Canada…
ES: Didn't Barak put that on the table?
Chomsky: No, he did not.
ES: He did not?
Chomsky: What was also supported by the majority of the American people, has just been reiterated by Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has unilaterally blocked it for 25 years. What Barak put on the table, the population doesn't know this, because people like the Western media in Canada in the United States don't tell them. Like, you can check and see how often, you for example, and others, have reported what I just said. Don't bother checking. The answer is zero.
The Barak proposal in Camp David, the Barak-Clinton proposal, in the United States, I didn't check the Canadian media, in the United States you cannot find a map, which is the most important thing of course, check in Canada, see if you can find a map. You go to Israel, you can find a map, you go to scholarly sources, you can find a map. Here's what you find when you look at a map: You find that this generous, magnanimous proposal provided Israel with a salient east of Jerusalem, which was established primarily by the Labor government, in order to bisect the West Bank. That salient goes almost to Jericho, breaks the West Bank into two cantons, then there's a second salient to the North, going to the Israeli settlement of Ariel, which bisects the Northern part into two cantons.
So, we've got three cantons in the West Bank, virtually separated. All three of them are separated from a small area of East Jerusalem which is the center of Palestinian commercial and cultural life and of communications. So you have four cantons, all separated from the West, from Gaza, so that's five cantons, all surrounded by Israeli settlements, infrastructure, development and so on, which also incidentally guarantee Israel control of the water resources.
This does not rise to the level of South Africa 40 years ago when South Africa established the Bantustans. That's the generous, magnanimous offer. And there's a good reason why maps weren't shown. Because as soon as you look at a map, you see it.
ES: All right, but let me just say, Arafat didn't even bother putting a counter-proposal on the table.
Chomsky: Oh, that's not true.
ES: They negotiated that afterwards.
Chomsky: That's not true.
ES: I guess my question is, if they don't continue to negotiate -
Chomsky: They did. That's false.
ES: That's false?
Chomsky: Not only is it false, but not a single participant in the meetings says it. That's a media fabrication . . .
ES: That Arafat didn't put a counter-proposal . . .
Chomsky: Yeah, they had a proposal. They proposed the international consensus, which has been accepted by the entire world, the Arab states, the PLO. They proposed a settlement which is in accordance with an overwhelming international consensus, and is blocked by the United States.
ES: If you don't talk -
Chomsky: Yeah, they did talk. They talked. They proposed that.
ES: Once they walked out of Camp David,
Chomsky: They didn't walk out of Camp David . . .
ES: Both camps . . .
Chomsky: No, no, both sides walked out of Camp David.
ES: All right, once Camp David disbands, the radicals take over the process, my question is, how do . . .
Chomsky: No, no, the radicals didn't take over the process.
ES: You don't think that the Sharon, the right-wing Israeli . . .
Chomsky: No, Barak stayed in power for months. Barak cancelled it. That's how it ended.
ES: OK. The problem that people look at now in the Middle East is they say it's spun out of control because the radicals are on both sides now.
Chomsky: No, there's three sides. You're forgetting the United States. The radicals in the United States who have blocked this proposal for 25 years, continue to block it.
ES: How do we get back, now, there's so much distrust?
Chomsky: The first way we get back is by trying the experiment of minimal honesty. If we try that experiment of minimal honesty, we look at our own position and we discover what I just described. That for 25 years, the United States has blocked the political settlement, which is supported by the majority of the American population and by the entire world, except for Israel.
The first thing we do is accept the honesty and look at it. We take a look at Camp David and we see how it's the same. The United States was still demanding a Bantustans style settlement and rejecting the overwhelming international consensus and the position of the American people.
We then discovered the United States immediately moved to enhance terror in the region. So, let's continue. On September 29th, Ehud Barak put a massive military presence outside the Al Aqsa Mosque, very provocative, when people came out of the Mosque, young people started throwing stones, the Israeli army started shooting, half a dozen people were killed, and it escalated.
The next couple of days -- there was no Palestinian fire at this time -- Israel used U.S. helicopters (Israel produces no helicopters) to attack civilian complexes, killing about a dozen people and wounding several dozen.
Clinton reacted to that on October 3, 2000 by making the biggest deal in a decade -- to send Israel new military helicopters which had just been used for the purpose I described and of course would continue to be.
The U.S. press co-operated with that by refusing to publish the story. To this day, they have not published the fact.
It continued when Bush came in. One of his first acts was to send Israel a new shipment of one of the most advanced military helicopters in the arsenal. That continues right up to a couple of weeks ago with new shipments. You take a look at the reports, from say Jenin, by British correspondents like Peter Beaumont for the London Observer. He says the worst atrocity was the Apache helicopters buzzing around, destroying and demolishing everything.
Now, this is enhancing terror, and we may easily continue. On December 14th, the Security Council tried to pass a resolution calling for what everyone recognized to be the obvious means for reducing terror, namely sending international monitors. That's a way of reducing terror.
This happened to be in the middle of a quiet period, which lasted for about three weeks. The U.S. vetoed it. 10 days before that, there was a meeting at Geneva of the high-contracting parties of the 4th-Geneva convention, which has unanimously held for 35 years that it applies to Israel. The meeting condemned the Israeli settlements as illegal, condemned the list of atrocities -- willful destruction of property, murder, trials, torture.
What happened in that meeting? I'll tell you what happened in that meeting. The U.S. boycotted it. Therefore, the media refused to publish it.
Therefore, no one here knows that the United States once again enhanced terror by refusing to recognize the applicability of conventions which make virtually everything the United States and Israel are doing there a grave breech of the Geneva convention, which is a war crime.
These conventions were established in 1949 in order to criminalize the atrocities of the Nazis in occupied territory. They are customary international law. The United States is obligated, as a high-contracting party, to prosecute violations of those conventions. That means to prosecute its own leadership for the last 25 years. They won't do it unless the population forces them to. And the population won't force them to as long as they don't know it's a fact. And they won't know it's a fact as long as the media and loyal intellectuals keep it secret.
ES: All right, so if we were functioning around the Geneva Convention, who would we then prosecute as the war criminal? Would George Bush be the war criminal? Sharon would be a war criminal?
Chomsky: They're all acting in -
ES: Would Yassar Arafat be a war criminal?
Chomsky: He's a criminal, but not a war criminal.
ES: What's the difference?
Chomsky: The difference is war crime has a technical definition. It's a crime carried out by state.
ES: Would he be guilty of crimes against humanity?
Chomsky: Probably. Minor crimes, as compared with us.
ES: Tony Blair?
ES: Obviously. Most leaders in the Arab states?
Chomsky: They're criminals, but they're not war criminals. They're horrible criminals, including the ones we support. Like, all the states, every state we support is practically a brutal terrorist state which carries out crimes against their own society, internal to their own society. But, technically, those are not war crimes, they're just crimes.
We're the ones who support the military. It's us alone. I mean, others, marginally. But primarily the United States is supporting the military and therefore is in grave breech of the Geneva Conventions because of the activities it's carrying out there. Grave breech of the Geneva Convention is a war crime. Now, I'm not suggesting we have a Nuremberg trial in which we hang American leaders. I'm suggesting something much simpler.
That the American, that Western intellectuals rise to the minimal level of honesty in which they tell people this, OK? In which they let the population of the United States know that their leadership is engaged in grave breeches of the Geneva Convention which are war crimes. The majority of the population opposes it, they just don't know the government is doing it.
And they don't know the government is doing it because there are intellectuals like Robert Kaplan who tell them, Oh, well, we're really nice guys, it doesn't matter if we don't. Let's try to let the population know the facts. I'm convinced, myself, that the decent instincts of the American people will be such that they will terminate these crimes.
ES: Let's talk about enforcing international law. There is an argument that says, all right, let's try to enforce international law in which case, all sorts of major power figures -- Bush, Blair, Sharon -- whoever, might be held accountable. Now, someone says, that's wonderful. Instead of invading and doing unilateral invasions and using military force, let's try to function according to law. Someone says, that's wonderful, dictators love to hear that. Because, they say, unless you force international law with the barrel of a gun, right, history may decide to convict us, but the slaughters like Rwanda will go on, Milosevic will go on, because no one will back it up, and therefore a guy like Kaplan says, luckily, America's barrel of the gun is the only thing that can enforce international law.
Chomsky: Except that everything you just said is a total falsehood and certainly Robert Kaplan knows that. So, in the case of, say, Rwanda, and incidentally, this goes back 20 years. I mean, 20 years ago, I was writing about atrocities in Burundi, in Rwanda, which were going on because the West refused to do anything about them, because they basically didn't care or supported them. But in that case, there was, under international law, a response. Namely, a resolution of the UN Security Council justifying the use, which already existed incidentally, of force to prevent the atrocities. That was in accord with international law. The U.S. and the West refused to enforce international law. In the case of Kosovo, yes there was international law, but let's take a look at facts.
The most hawkish member of the coalition was Britain. The British have since released their internal parliamentary records. We now know that even in late January, even after the Racak Massacre, the British government, including Robin Cook, regarded the guerillas as the main source of atrocities. Main source. We have extensive evidence from the US State Department, NATO, OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitors about what happened in the next period. The answer is, nothing changed.
What happened is Britain and the United States decided, for their own reasons, to bomb Serbia, knowing that that was going to lead to an escalation of atrocities, obviously. And yes, they bombed Serbia, starting on March 24th, and that's when the atrocities escalated and massive ethnic cleansing began. And now the super hypocrites in the West are indicting Milosevic for crimes which he committed -- he's undoubtedly a war criminal -- for crimes that he committed in reaction to the bombing which they knew was going to precipitate.
ES: But if everybody . . .
Chomsky: Is that humanitarian intervention? No, it's not. It's great-power politics, undertaken incidentally for exactly the reason they publicly gave. Clinton and Blair explained very clearly, this is to maintain NATO credibility. That's gangersterism, not humanitarianism.
ES: All right. There's a popular phrase now, Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. And writers like Bernard Lewis ask, "What Went Wrong?" He claims there's a historical clash of civilizations between Islamic culture and Western Judeo-Christian culture. They resent us, there's enormous amounts of hatred. It goes back in history, because of resentment.
Chomsky: Yes, there's hatred against us. Why? It's easy to find out. The U.S. is a very free country. We have enormous internal classified records, so let's look at them.
In 1958, the U.S. government faced three major crises in the world. North Africa, Middle East and Indonesia, all with oil producing states, all Islamic states.
President Eisenhower, in an internal discussion, observed to his staff, and I'm quoting now, "There's a campaign of hatred against us in the Middle East, not by governments, but by the people." The National Security Council discussed that question and said, yes, and the reason is, there's a perception in that region that the United States supports status quo governments, which prevent democracy and development and that we do it because of our interests in Middle East oil. Furthermore, it's difficult to counter that perception because it's correct. It ought to be correct. We ought to be supporting brutal and corrupt governments which prevent democracy and development because we want to control Middle East oil, and it's true that leads to a campaign of hatred against us.
Now, until Bernard Lewis tells us that, and that's only one piece of a long story, we know that he's just a vulgar propagandist and not a scholar.
So yes, as long as we are supporting harsh, brutal governments, blocking democracy and development because of our interests in controlling the oil resources of the region, there will be a campaign of hatred against the United States.
ES: Did he say there's no democracy there anyway because it's not their culture?
Chomsky: Fine -- but notice, first of all, the total irrelevance of that claim to the campaign of hatred against us, which is exactly what the National Security Council described. If we did permit democracy and development, which we're blocking, that might overcome that, OK, but we're not permitting democracy, and we have a Bernard Lewis telling us, well it's because of their bad culture, it's not because of our input, it's not because of what the U.S. government says. I mean, we are supporting undemocratic regimes because we want their oil. Don't pay attention to the facts.
Pay attention to a self-serving theology that I'll present to you. And Bernard Lewis knows the earlier history. If you want to go through that, we can go through that. So, we ask, what happens in the 1820s when the United States and Egypt both began their internal economic development programs in rather similar ways. Both based on textiles, both had cotton, both had cultural producers
The United States had kicked out the British so it was able to continue. The Egyptians had not kicked out the British, therefore the British intervened forcefully, and quite consciously and openly (you can read it in public documents), to block internal economic development in Egypt, because as they said, we're not going to permit a competitor in this region which we run, and they did, too, by force.
ES: So the clash of civilizations is a created . . .
Chomsky: No, it's a fabrication.
ES: Countries in that area have an overwhelming hatred for what they perceive is the West. In fact, you say there's history justifying these things . . .
Chomsky: I didn't say history justifies it, history gives many of the reasons for it. If you want to look at lots of other reasons, there are plenty of them. So, part of what Bernard Lewis said is correct. So, when he talks about things internal to the region, yeah, that's true. What he's ignoring, however, and what he knows perfectly well, is that there's an overwhelming outside force which has exacerbated those problems and has created new problems of its own. And he won't tell you that because that would be looking back at ourselves, and you're not allowed to do that.
You're only allowed to look at the crimes of others. You must be very careful never to look in the mirror. To say, instead, it's all there for you, bad genes, bad culture and so on. It's not the fact that we didn't do anything, it's just irrelevant that the British crushed Egyptian efforts at economic development. And that this went on for another century, that the U.S. took it over, that's just kind of an irrelevance. They would have been bad anyway.
ES: What state does function according to what you call the minimal levels of honesty. Is there a state?
Chomsky: States are power centers. The only thing that imposes constraints on them is either outside force or their own populations. That's exactly why the intellectuals who we're talking about are so adamant at preventing people in the United States and Britain from learning the most elementary facts about themselves.
ES: But is it even possible?
Chomsky: It's not impossible, it happens. The United States, for example, is far more civilized than it was 40 years ago. Let's just take that. March 9th happened to be the 40th anniversary of the public announcement by the Kennedy administration that the U.S. air force is bombing South Vietnam. It also initiated chemical warfare to destroy crops, it initiated napalm, started driving millions of people into concentration camps to separate them from the guerillas we knew they were supporting. This was all public.
Did we commemorate the 40th anniversary? No. Why? Because 40 years ago, nobody cared. If the government announced, OK, we're going to start bombing another country and use chemical warfare to wipe out their crops and drive them to concentration camps, fine. Not a problem. So there was no protest, no discussion.
ES: And now there's more protest and discussion.
Chomsky: Yes, because the country has gotten more civilized. No U.S. president today or for the last 20 years, could conceivably do what Kennedy could do with total impunity 40 years ago. And the reason is because there was massive popular protest, opposed by the intellectual classes, of course, who hated it, but it did, it lead to all sorts of things including opposition to aggression and violence. It also spawned the contemporary civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and all sorts of other things. And it imposed important constraints on straight violence. In fact, that's how we got rid of slavery. That's how we got rid of feudalism.
ES: So are we moving towards emancipation from these states? You're optimistic about it?
Over time, there has been agonizingly slow progress, but very real, always opposed by the States, by the intellectuals who support violence and atrocities and try to justify them and try to prevent the population from knowing about them, but fortunately, their control is limited.
ES: What will the state look like at the end?
Chomsky: At the end, I think states ought to dissolve because I think they're illegitimate structures, but that's a long time.
ES: Is it the end of the nation-state that you foresee?
Chomsky: I don't foresee anything. What I'm saying is that as long as people, ordinary people, are able to free themselves from the doctrinal controls imposed on them by their self-appointed betters and mentors, as long as they're able to do this, they'll continue to be able to struggle for peace and justice and freedom and limitations on violence, and constraints on power, as they've been doing for hundreds of years. And I don't see any end to that. Where it'll end up in the long run, I'd tell you where I'd like it to, but I wouldn't even dream about that.
The immediate problem is to free ourselves from the shackles imposed, very consciously, by the kind of people you're talking about. Who don't want the facts to be known. And for very good reasons. Because if people know the facts, they aren't going to tolerate them. So therefore you have to prevent them from knowing. You have to indoctrinate them, you have to tell them stories about how we're really good guys, and if we use violence, it must be for the general good because we represent the course of history.
That's the job of propagandists, for power and violence, and it's the task of populations to free themselves from those kinds of controls and domination.
ES: Good to see you.
Chomsky: Good to be here.
(C) Copyright 2002 Canadian Broadcast Company. Thanks to Alice Hopton, Hot Type Producer. This transcript has been edited by Sunil Sharma for Dissident Voice. Permission granted for non-profit organizations to reprint, repost, or distribute this version on condition that Dissident Voice is cited and the editor’s preface remains intact: http://www.dissidentvoice.org