Noam Chomsky Interview
"BBC" If George Bush were to be judged by the standards of the Nuremberg Tribunals, he'd be hanged. So too, mind you, would every single American President since the end of the second world war, including Jimmy Carter.
The suggestion comes from perhaps the most feted liberal intellectual in the world - the American linguist Noam Chomsky. His latest attack on the way his country behaves in the world is called Hegemony or Survival, America's Quest for Global Dominance.
Jeremy Paxman met him at the British Museum, where they talked in the Assyrian Galleries. He asked him whether he was suggesting there was nothing new in the so-called Bush Doctrine.
Well, it depends. It is recognised to be revolutionary. Henry
Kissinger for example described it as a revolutionary new doctrine
which tears to shreds the Westphalian System, the 17th century
system of International Order and of course the UN Charter. But
nevertheless, and has been very widely criticised within the
foreign policy elite. But on narrow ground the doctrine is not
really new, it's extreme.
What was the United States supposed to do after 9/11? It had been
the victim of a grotesque, intentional attack, what was it
supposed to do but try...?
Why pick 9/11? Why not pick 1993. Actually the fact that the
terrorist act succeeded in September 11th did not alter the risk
analysis. In 1993, similar groups, US trained Jihadi's came very
close to blowing up the World Trade Center, with better planning,
they probably would have killed tens of thousands of people. Since
then it was known that this is very likely. In fact right through
the 90's there was technical literature predicting it, and we know
what to do. What you do is police work. Police work is the way to
stop terrorist acts and it succeeded.
But you are suggesting the United States in that sense is the
author of Its own Nemesis.
Well, first of all this is not my opinion. It's the opinion of
just about every specialist on terrorism. Take a look, say at
Jason Burke's recent book on Al-Qaeda which is just the best book
there is. What he points out is, he runs through the record of how
each act of violence has increased recruitment financing
mobilisation, what he says is, I'm quoting him, that each act of
violence is a small victory for Bin Laden.
But why do you imagine George Bush behaves like this?
Because I don't think they care that much about terror, in fact we
know that. Take say the invasion of Iraq, it was predicted by just
about every specialist by intelligence agencies that the invasion
of Iraq would increase the threat of Al-Qaeda style terror which
is exactly what happened. The point is that...
Then why would he do it?
Because invading Iraq has value in Itself, I mean establishing...
Well what value?
What value? Establishing the first secure military base in a
dependant client state at the heart of the energy producing region
of the world.
Don't you even think that the people of Iraq are better off having
got rid of a dictator?
That, they got rid of two brutal regimes, one that we are supposed
to talk about, the other one we are not suppose to talk about. The
two brutal regimes were Saddam Hussein's and the US-British
sanctions, which were devastating society, had killed hundreds of
thousands of people, were forcing people to be reliant on Saddam
Hussein. Now the sanctions could obviously have been turned to
weapons rather than destroying society without an invasion. If
that had happened it is not at all impossible that the people of
Iraq would have sent Saddam Hussein the same way to the same fate
as other monsters supported by the US and Britain. Ceausescu,
Suharto, Duvalier, Marcos, there's a long list of them. In fact
the people, the westerners who know Iraq best were predicting this
You seem to be suggesting or implying, perhaps I'm being unfair to
you, but you seem to be implying there is some equivalence between
democratically elected heads of state like George Bush or Prime
Ministers like Tony Blair and regimes in places like Iraq.
The term moral equivalence is an interesting one, it was invented
I think by Jeane Kirkpatrick as a method of trying to prevent
criticism of foreign policy and state decisions. It has a meaning
less notion, there is no moral equivalence what so ever.
Is it a good thing if it is preferable for an individual to live
in a liberal democracy, is there benefit to be gained by spreading
the values of that democracy however you can?
That reminds me of the question that Ghandi was once asked about
western civilisation, what did he think of it. He said yeah, it
would be a good idea. In fact it would be a good idea to spread
the values of liberal democracy, but that I would be a good idea
to spread the values of liberal democracy. But that's not what the
US and Britain are trying to do, it's not what they've done in the
past, I mean take a look at the regions under their domination.
They don't spread liberal democracy. What they spread is
dependence and subordination. Furthermore its well- known there is
a large part of the reason for the reason the great opposition to
the US policy within the Middle East. In fact this was known in
But there is a whole slur of countries in eastern Europe right now
that would say we are better off now than we were when we were
living under the Soviet Empire. As a consequence of how the west
Well, and there is a lot of countries in US domains, like Central
America, the Caribbean who wish that they could be free of
American domination. We don't pay much attention to what happens
there but they do. In the 1980s when the current incumbents were
in their Reganite phase. Hundreds of thousands of people were
slaughtered in Central America. The US carried out a massive
terrorist attack against Nicaragua, mainly as a war on the church.
They assassinated an Archbishop and murdered six leading Jesuit
intellectuals. This is in El Salvador. It was a monstrous period.
What did they impose? Was it liberal democracies? No.
You've mentioned on two or three occasions this relationship
between the United States and Britain. Do you understand why Tony
Blair behaved as he did over Afghanistan and Iraq?
Well, if you look at the British diplomatic history, back in the
1940s, Britain had to make a decision. Britain had been the major
world power, the United States though by far the richest country
in the world was not a major actor in the global scene, except
regionally. By the Second World War it was obvious the US was
going to be the dominant power, everyone knew that. Britain had to
make a choice. Was it going to be part of what would ultimately be
a Europe that might move towards independence, or would it be what
the Foreign Office called a junior partner to the United States?
Well it essentially made that choice to be a junior partner to the
United States. US, the leaders have no illusions about this. So
during the Cuban missile crisis for example, you look at the
declassified record, they treated Britain with total contempt.
Harold McMillan wasn't even informed of what was going on and
Britain's existence was at stake. It was dangerous. One high
official, probably Dean Atchers and he's not identified, described
Britain as in his words "Our lieutenant, the fashionable word
is partner". Well the British would like to hear the
fashionable word, but the masters use the actual word. Those are
choices Britain has to make. I mean why Blair decided, I couldn't
Noam Chomsky, thank you.
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