Noam Chomsky on Hegemony
or Survival: America’s Quest For Global Dominance
“If you repeat it loudly enough it will become the
truth” - MIT institute professor of linguistics and author
Noam Chomsky speaks out on U.S. hegemony, controlling the
domestic population through fear and the historical parallels
of current U.S. foreign policy.
Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking at Illinois State
University on October 7th, 2003..
Posted October 08, 2003
Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United
NOAM CHOMSKY: Let's start with a year ago, September,
2002, in the normal course of political life, academic life,
September is usually an incipient month, a thing when important
things begin to happen. September, 2002 was unusual in this
respect. There were three very significant events closely
related. One was the declaration of the National Securities
Strategy, September 17. It announced very clearly and explicitly
that the United States, at least this administration, intends to
dominate the world permanently, if necessary, through the use of
force. It's the one dimension in which the United States reigns
completely supreme, probably now outspends the rest of the world
combined or close to it in military expenditure, is far ahead in
developing advanced and extremely dangerous technology. And it
also announced that it will eliminate any potential challenge to
that rule. So, it's to be permanent hegemony. That's the first
event. That‚s not without precedent. There are interesting
precedents. We don't have time to go into them unless you want
to later, but this was unusual. It was correct for the reaction
to be as extreme as it was, including the foreign policy elite
The second associated event was that in September, the war
drums began to beat loudly about the planned invasion of Iraq.
Early September, the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice
warned that the next evidence we were likely to have about
Saddam Hussein will be a mushroom cloud, presumably over New
York, no matter how much everyone else may have hated him
outside the United States, no one feared him, including his
neighbors who had been trying to reintegrate Iraq back into the
region, who despised him, including the country he invaded but
didn't fear him. That was unique to the United States, beginning
last September. So, first there's going to be a mushroom cloud
and then the propaganda campaign began very loud. The invasion
of Iraq that was planned was understood to be what sometimes is
called an exemplary action, that is, it's an action intended to
demonstrate dramatically that the doctrine that had been
announced is intended seriously. It's not enough to just
promulgate a doctrine. If you want people to take you seriously,
you have to do something to show that you mean it.
The invasion of Iraq was understood correctly to be a test
case, a demonstration case of the doctrine that the U.S.
government arrogates to itself the right to attack any country
it wants without credible pretext or without any international
authorization. In fact, the National Security Strategy is, as
commentators quickly pointed out, doesn't even mention
international law and the United Nations charter. In fact, the
Bush administration proceeded to make it very clear to the
Security Council of the United Nations that they had two
choices. They could be irrelevant, that was the term that was
used, by authorizing the United States to use force as it
wished, or they could be a debating society, as Colin Powell,
the administration moderate, pointed out.
He -- Powell was also delegated to address the World Economic
Forum in Davos Switzerland the following January. This was --
you know what that is. that's the group that -- the business
press only semi-ironically calls the masters of the universe.
The people who own the world, the corporate executives who are
spending $30,000 for the privilege of attending and other great
and important figures. The mood in Davos was completely
different than any of the earlier meets. It was very angry. The
top issue was Iraq. They were strongly opposed to it, just like
the rest of the world. Powell faced a very hostile audience, and
he -- they were not eager to accept his message, which was, as
he put it, that the United States has the sovereign right to use
military force when we feel strongly about something. We will
lead, even if nobody else is following. We will do it because we
have the power to do it, and if you don't like it, too bad. The
further comments for the -- from the administration to the
Security Council and others were we're not going to ask for any
authorization from you. You can catch up, is the term that was
used, and authorize us to do what we are going to do anyway, or
That was reiterated very brazenly at the Azores summit, the
Bush-Blair summit a couple of days before the actual invasion.
They met at a military base on the Azores so they wouldn't have
to face mass popular opposition, which would have happened
anywhere else. They declared -- they issued an ultimatum not to
Iraq, but to the United Nations. The ultimatum was, give us your
stamp of approval for what we're going to do anyway, or else
just go off and be a debating society. They also made it clear
that it didn't matter whether Saddam Hussein and his cohorts
stayed in Iraq or not, as Bush announced, even if Saddam and his
family and associates leave, we're going to invade anyway.
because the goal is to -- for us to control Iraq. That's my
words, not his. The rest is his words. It's all very clear and
explicit. You cannot miss it. It wasn't missed. I'll come back
The third event, before I come back to it, in September
closely related is that the congressional election campaign
opened, the mid-term election campaign. The main sort of
campaign adviser for the Republican Party, Karl Rove, one of the
most important people in Washington, he had already the
preceding summer, the summer of 2002, he had instructed party
activists that in going into the electoral campaign, they're
going to have to emphasize national security issues. They cannot
expect to enter a political confrontation with -- if economic
and social policies are prominent on the agenda because their
policies are extremely unpopular, which is not surprising since
they are designed to be extremely harmful to the general
population, and people know that, and also to future
generations. and you cannot go into a political campaign with
that kind of a platform.
So, therefore, it had to be national security issues. on the
assumption that people would shift their priorities and vote for
the -- those who were going to protect them from imminent
destruction. Well, for the elections it barely worked. By a few
tens of thousands of votes, in fact, but enough to allow them a
bare hold on political power. The voters preferences at the
polls remained, as exit pole polls revealed, remained the same,
but priorities shifted, and enough people huddled under the
umbrella of power and fear of the demonic enemy so that they
could maintain control, barely.
Well, that illustrates one of the dilemmas of dominance that
I had in mind. one problem is how do you control the domestic
population. The great beast, as Alexander Hamilton called the
people. They're always a problem. The beast is always getting
out of control. One of the main problems of governance, I'm sure
you study this in all of your political science courses, is how
do you keep the great beast in a cage?
That's particularly difficult when you're dedicated
passionately to carrying out policies that are in fact going to
be very harmful to the mass of the population, and to future
generations. Then it's difficult, and only one effective way has
ever been discovered by the people in office now, or anyone else
under those conditions, and that is inspire fear. If you can do
that, maybe you can get away with it. And for the people in
office now, it's second nature. It's important to remember this.
It's kind of striking that it hasn't been discussed
extensively, but if you think for a minute, the people -- the
present incumbents in Washington are almost entirely recycled
from the Reagan and first Bush administration. In fact, from
their more reactionary sectors, or else their immediate teams,
especially that administration. They're following pretty much
the same script as the first 12 years they had in political
power. In both domestically and internationally. You can learn a
lot about what they're doing by just paying attention to what
happened in those 12 years. They were in fact pursuing policies
that were highly unpopular. Reagan's policies were strongly
opposed by the population, but they did keep voting for him.
Mainly out of fear. They continually pressed the panic button
every year or two. I'll come back to that. Reagan in fact ended
up in 1992 being the most unpopular living U.S. president next
to Nixon. Ranked slightly above Nixon, well below Carter and
even below the almost forgotten Ford. But they did manage to
hang on for 12 years, and they're following essentially the same
script. Well, except with much more arrogance and commitment and
optimism, feeling they can do things that they couldn't get away
with then for various reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: You're listening to Professor Noam
Chomsky, speaking at Illinois state university. Back with
Professor Chomsky in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Democracy Now!,
the war and peace report, as we return to the speech of Noam
Chomsky. He gave it October 7th at Illinois State University.
Author of "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global
Dominance." Noam Chomsky.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, let's go back to the other two
major events of September, the national security strategy and
the invasion of Iraq. It was understood that this is to be -- as
The New York Times put it, after the war, though it was obvious
it was before, that this was to be the first test of the
national security strategy, not the last. The invasion of Iraq,
they pointed out, is the petri dish for an experiment in
preemptive attack. The term -- and that was understood around
the world. There was huge protest around the world, in the
United States, too, completely without any historical precedent,
and it wasn't just over the invasion of Iraq.
That was the same in Davos, it's the same in the foreign
Policy elite here. It was partly that, but more because of the
general strategy of which Iraq is to be an exemplary action.
It's supposed to create a new norm in international relations,
which only those with the guns can implement, of course. And it
struck plenty of fear in the world. That's mainly what the
protest was about. Well, the phrase that the Times used --
preemptive strike, preemptive attack -- is conventional, but
Preemptive war has a meaning in international law. It's kind
of on the border of legality. If you think about the UN charter,
it authorizes the use of force under one condition -- two
conditions, either the Security Council calls for it, or in
self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council has
a chance to act. And that has a sort of fringe of judgment. So,
for example, if, say, Russian bombers were flying across the
Atlantic with the obvious intent of bombing the United States it
would be legitimate under -- it would be interpreted as
legitimate under Article 51 to shoot them down before they bomb.
Maybe even to attack the base they were coming from. That's a
preemptive strike. It's a military action taken against an
imminent attack when no other possibility is open, and there's
enough time to notify the Security Council. That's preemptive
war. But that's not what's being proposed.
Sometimes it's called more accurately, preventive war, or
anticipatory self-defense. Well, that's at least not completely
wrong, but it's also mostly wrong. There's nothing that has to
be prevented. And there's no self-defense involved. The
prevention is against an imagined or invented threat. There was
no threat of attack from Iraq. That was farcical. What's called
for is not even preventive war, as the more cautious
commentators point out, or anticipatory self-defense. In fact,
it's just straight, outright aggression. What was called the
supreme crime at Nuremberg, the most serious of all crimes.
That's what the doctrine announces. We have the right to carry
out the supreme crime of Nuremberg and we'll count on
international lawyers and respectable intellectuals to pretty it
up and make it look like something else. But, essentially,
that's what it comes down to and that's the way it was
understood. It was understood here, too, by people who care
about the country. The most extreme condemnation of the war that
I came across was right from the middle of the mainstream when
the U.S. bombed -- when the bombing began, Arthur Schlesinger, a
very respectable senior American historian, highly respected,
one of Kennedy's advisers, had an article in which he said that
the bombing of Iraq resembles the actions of imperial Japan at
Pearl Harbor on a date, which the President at the time said,
the date that will live in infamy. And he said President
Roosevelt was correct. It's a date that will live in infamy,
except that now it's Americans who live in infamy, and the world
knows it. That's the reason why the sympathy and solidarity with
the United States that was evident after 9-11 has turned into a
wave of revulsion and fear, and often hatred, which is horrible
in itself and also an extreme danger.
Well, he was not alone. The national security strategy
aroused many shudders worldwide. That included the foreign
policy elite at home. Right away, within weeks, the main
establishment journal, Foreign Affairs -- the Council on Foreign
Relations, ran an article by a well-known international
relations scholar, in which he warned that the imperial grand
strategy, as he called it, posed great dangers to the world, and
to the population of the United States. The United States was
declaring itself, he said, to be a revisionist state that is
tearing to shreds the framework of international law and
institutions. And the effect of that is -- and hoping, expecting
to be able to permanently dominate the world by force, but he
said, it's not going to work. Aside from being wrong, it's going
to lead to efforts on the part of potential victims to counter
it. They're not going to sit there and wait to be destroyed.
They can't compete with the United States in military force --
nobody can -- but there are weapons of the weak. Two primarily.
One is weapons of mass destruction, which by now are becoming
weapons of the weak, and the other is terror.
So, he and many other foreign policy analysts and
intelligence agencies pointed out that the strategy is
essentially calling for proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, and increase in terror. And hence, a great danger
to the world altogether, but to the United States in particular.
The war in Iraq was understood exactly the same way. The U.S.
and British intelligence agencies -- the British ones have just
been exposed in the Hutton inquiry in London, but there were
enough leaks before. Both the British and the U.S. intelligence
agencies, and other intelligence agencies, and plenty of
independent analysts, and any one you pick, predicted that one
likely consequence of the Iraq invasion would be proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, and terror.
Many commentators have pointed out that it's pretty likely
that the Iranian and North Korean actions, since our response to
the threat of the national security strategy and its
implementation, are turning to the weapons that are available to
them -- weapons of mass destruction. The U.S., indeed, made that
very clear. There was a very clear and ugly lesson taught to the
world last winter. North Korea is a far more vicious and ugly
and dangerous state then Iraq, bad as Saddam Hussein was. But
the U.S. wasn't going to attack North Korea. It was going to
attack Iraq as the exemplary action. In part, that's because
Iraq's just a lot more important. It's right in the center of
the oil-producing region, but in part it's because Iraq was
understood to be completely defenseless. If you have any brains,
you don't attack anybody who can defend themselves. That's
stupid. You want to attack somebody that's completely
defenseless, and Iraq was known to be completely defenseless.
That's why nobody was afraid of it, much as they might have
North Korea, on the other hand, had a deterrent. The
deterrent was not nuclear weapons. It was conventional weapons
-- massed artillery on the DMZ, the border with South Korea.
Extensive massed artillery aimed at the capital, Seoul, South
Korea, and at the U.S. troops in the south. Unless the Pentagon
can figure out a way to get rid of that with precision weapons,
or something or other, that is a deterrent to a U.S. attack. In
fact, U.S. troops have since been withdrawn from the DMZ. And
that's caused plenty of concern in both South and North Korea
and the region, suggesting a very cynical strategy. You can
figure it out. But what the U.S. was telling the world is if you
don't want us to attack you and destroy you, you better have
some kind of deterrent. And for most of the world, that's going
to mean weapons of mass destruction. And terror.
The result of the war, as far as we know, verified that
near-universal prediction of intelligence agencies and analysts.
It's been pointed out since, that, to quote a few, that the Iraq
war was a huge setback for the war on terror, led to a sharp
spike in recruitment for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups,
and in fact Iraq itself was turned into a haven for terrorists
for the first time. It wasn't before, but now it is.
That was expected and that's another dilemma of dominance.
You have to control the great beast at home, and while violence
is an effective device and may intimidate many people and
countries, it's likely to incite others -- to incite them to
revenge or simply to find means of deterrence. And since no one
can think of competing with the United States in military power,
well, that leaves the weapons of the weak, weapons of mass
destruction, and terror, and those may sooner or later be
united. That's been predicted for years with contemporary
technology. It's not that hard for terrorist groups with a low
level of financing and sophistication to gain access to even
nuclear weapons, small nuclear weapons. The chances of -- the
possibilities of smuggling them into the United States are
overwhelming. If you are interested in having a sleepless night,
you can read some of the high-level studies that have been
coming out for the past six or seven years, well before 9-11,
but increasingly, which are virtually cookbooks for terrorists.
I mean, they're the kind of things that I suspect we could do if
we wanted to.
And maybe impossible to stop for all kind of reasons. The
Hart-Rudman report, which came out about a year ago, Gary Hart
and Warren Rudman, two former senators, a high-level study of
threats -- on threats of terror that gives one of many such
examples. So, yeah, sooner or later, weapons of mass destruction
and terror will be united. And the consequences could be quite
horrific. Well, all of that is the likely consequence predicted,
and, so far, happening of the security strategy in the test
case, the dramatic test case to illustrate it.
Well, administration planners know all of this as well as
everyone else. I mean, they're intelligent, literate. They read
the same intelligence reports everyone else does. So, they know,
yes, the policies they're carrying out are increasing the threat
to the security of the American people, and the world and, of
course, future generations. And they don't want that. They don't
want that outcome. It just doesn't matter very much. If you look
at the ranking of priorities, it just doesn't rank very high.
Likely that it could happen, but other things are just more
important. The things that are more important are establishing
global hegemony and carrying out the highly regressive domestic
policies of trying to roll back the New Deal and the progressive
legislation of the past century, in fact. And creating a very
different kind of domestic society, one that most of the public
passionately opposes, but may accept under the threat of
destruction, manufactured and some increasingly real.
Well, this, again, gets back to the first dilemma, how do you
control the domestic public, the great beast? In particular, the
problem now is winning the 2004 election. Remember that they
have a very narrow hold on political power. You all know that
the 2000 election was disputed. The 2002 election was barely --
barely managed to sneak through, and now we're up to 2004, and
what do we do with that? Well, go back to last May. On the first
of May, you remember, there was a carefully staged extravaganza
which elicited ridicule and fear throughout the world, but was
played pretty seriously here when the President landed on the
Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier wearing combat gear and posing
and so on and so forth. It was pretty frightening for the world.
Here it played pretty straight. He gave a victory speech. We won
a victory over in Iraq. Now, the front page story in The New
York Times used a phrase that I'll come back to, and it's
important. They said, "it was a powerful Reaganesque finale to
the war in Iraq." We'll come back to that.
More astute observers pointed out that the extravaganza was
the opening of the 2004 election campaign, which must be built
on national security themes. That's The Wall Street Journal.
Karl Rove, same guy, announced right away that the 2004 Election
is -- the main theme is going to have to be what he called the
battle of Iraq, and he emphasized battle. The battle of Iraq,
not the war. It's an episode in the war on terror, which must
continue. And, in fact, if you look at the President's
declaration on the Abraham Lincoln, he said that we have won a
victory in the war on terror by removing an ally of Al Qaeda.
Notice that it's immaterial that there is not the slightest
evidence of any connection between Saddam Hussein and his bitter
enemy, Osama bin Laden, and the idea of a connection is
dismissed by every competent authority, including the
intelligence agencies, but it doesn't matter. It's a higher
truth. All you have to do is repeat it loudly enough and often
enough. Facts are irrelevant. In particular, the specific facts
-- again, they didn't invent this formula. It's not pleasant to
think about the antecedents, but they're there. It's also
irrelevant, specifically, that there is actually a Connection
between the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq, and namely,
the invasion increased threat of terror, exactly as predicted.
But it just doesn't make any difference and it continues.
AMY GOODMAN: You're listening to Noam Chomsky speaking
at Illinois State University on October 7th. Noam Chomsky's
latest book is, "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for
Global Dominance." You can get more information on
democracynow.org. We'll return to the speech in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: You're listening to Democracy Now! I'm
Amy Goodman. We return to the speech of Noam Chomsky; author of
many books. Noam Chomsky speaking at Illinois State University.
NOAM CHOMSKY: A week or so ago, in his weekly
presidential radio address, President Bush, September 28 said,
"the world is safer today because our coalition ended a regime
that cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass
Well, his speechwriters and his minders and trainers know
very well that every word there was an outrageous lie. But why
should it matter? If you repeat it loudly enough, it will become
Well, how can Karl Rove hope to get away with it? Just have a
look back at what just happened in September 2002: the last
That, as I said, was the beginning of an onslaught of
government media propaganda, which had a very substantial
effect. By the end of the month, by the end of September, about
60% of the population regarded Iraq as a serious threat to the
security of the United States.
Remember, the United States is alone in this respect. In
Kuwait and Iran, which Saddam invaded, they're not afraid of
him. They're not afraid of him because they know exactly what
U.S. intelligence and everyone else knows - Iraq was the weakest
country in the region. It had been devastated by the U.S.
sanctions, which are called U.N. sanctions, but if it wasn't for
U.S. pressure, they wouldn't exist. They wiped out the
population. They happened to strengthen the tyrant, but
devastated the economy. The country was virtually disarmed. It
was under total surveillance. Its military budget was about a
third that of Kuwait, which has 10% of its population, and far
below the other states in the region, including, of course, the
regional superpower, which we're not allowed to talk about,
because there's an offshore U.S. military base, but outside the
United States everyone knows there is one country in the region
that has extensive weapons of mass destruction, and has military
forces which according to its own analysts are more technically
advanced and more powerful than those of any NATO country
outside the United States, unmentionable here, but known
That's the -- and Iraq isn't even in the league of Kuwaits,
let alone anything like that.
So it, wasn't -- certainly not a threat, but by the end of
September, as a result of a propaganda campaign of quite
impressive character, government campaign transmitted
uncritically by the media, about 60% of the population believed
there was a threat. Then -- pretty soon after that, the
proportion of the population that believed that Iraq was
involved in 9-11, maybe responsible for it, went up to 50% or
higher, depended how you asked the question.
Also the belief that Iraq was -- had interrelations with al
Qaeda and other gross misperceptions which are rejected by every
intelligence agency, including the U.S.. But it did become -- it
did work domestically, not anywhere else.
That's the media -- the media behavior was kind of -- let me
quote a non-controversial source, the very respectable "Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists". The editor wrote recently, "the
charges dangled in front of the media failed the laugh test, but
the more ridiculous they were, the more the media strove to make
whole-hearted swallowing of them a test of patriotism."
It's pretty accurate and it sort of worked, only domestically
and -- and only in part, because it was because of part of the
population. The rest of the population was overwhelmingly
opposed to the war at a level that literally has no precedent,
but it worked enough to sneak by the election and to build up a
base of support for the war. Not surprisingly, a belief in these
fantasies was highly correlated with support for the war, as you
would expect. If you believe those things, they're right. Well,
Congress, in October, right after the propaganda campaign
began, passed a resolution authorizing the government to resort
to force to defend the United States against the continuing
threat of Iraq.
Again, remember, the United States is the only country that
was under that threat, but congress passed it. The media and
commentators and in the intellectual world were silent about the
fact, I presume they were aware of, that the congressional
resolution was a copy. They're still following the script.
In 1985, president Reagan declared a national emergency in
the United States because of -- I'm quoting, “the usual and
extraordinary threat to the security of the United States posed
by the government of Nicaragua.” Which was two days' driving
time from Arlington, Texas.
We had the quake and fear before that. Notice, that's much
more severe than Iraq. That was an unusual and extraordinary
In fact, Reagan went on to a press conference where he said
that I know the enormous odds against me, but I remember a man
named Churchill and he stood up against terrific odds, fought
Hitler, and I'm not going to give up, never, never, never,
despite the hoards of Nicaraguans invading us and about to
That passed the laugh test in the United States. If you check
back, just report it. People were afraid. The rest of the world
could not believe it, but it happened, and it's another reason
why they expect that they can do it again. That helps explain
It and wasn't the only case. Through the 1980's, year after
year there was one or another threat of that nature. Libyan
hit-men were wandering the streets of Washington about to
assassinate our leader, who was holed up in the White House,
surrounded by tanks. The Russians were going to build an airbase
in the nutmeg capital of the world, Grenada, if they could find
it on a map, and they were going to bomb us.
That brings us back to the New York Times phrase,
"powerful Reagan-esque finale."
What are they referring to? Well, they know what they're
referring to. They're referring to Reagan's speech after the
United States - after the brave cowboy barely saved us from
destruction from the Grenadians by sending thousands of forces
who were able to overcome a couple of middle aged construction
workers and one -- but then there was a speech saying, "we're
That's the powerful Reagan-esque finale that The New York
Times is referring to. Maybe the reporter is being ironic, I
don't know, but what gets to the public is the message, not
what's in the person's mind. The message is, “we're in constant
After Grenada, it was Libya again, and after that, it was
George Bush Sr. won his election by straight pulling the race
card. Willie Horton, the black rapist is going to come after
you, notice you put me in. Crime in the United States is like
other industrial countries, but fear of crime is off the
Same with drugs. Drugs - yeah - problem. In other countries
it is about the same as here, but fear of drugs is far higher
here and it's constantly manipulated by unscrupulous politicians
and obedient media, and you get continual hysteria about drugs
and Nicaraguans on the march, and Grenadians and the rest.
There's confidence. They were able to hold power for years,
over and over, despite the fact that the population was harmed
by the domestic policies and opposed them, but they stayed in
Now, they are much more confident. Well, there's quite a lot
at stake for them. It's not just a matter of narrow political
gain. What's at stake is world domination by force, and also
control of the majo
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