the extermination of the Plans Indians, Horace Greely, in
These people must die out - there is no help for them. God
has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate
it, and it is vain to struggle against his righteous decree.
RAMACHANDRAN: Does the present aggression on
Iraq represent a continuation of United States' international
policy in recent years or a qualitatively new stage in that policy?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It represents a
significantly new phase. It is not without precedent, but significantly
This should be seen as a trial
run. Iraq is seen as an extremely easy and totally defenceless
target. It is assumed, probably correctly, that the society will
collapse, that the soldiers will go in and that the U.S. will
be in control, and will establish the regime of its choice and
military bases. They will then go on to the harder cases that
will follow. The next case could be the Andean region, it could
be Iran, it could be others.
The trial run is to try and establish
what the U.S. calls a "new norm" in international relations.
The new norm is "preventive war." Notice that new norms
are established only by the United States. So, for example, when
India invaded East Pakistan to terminate horrendous massacres,
it did not establish a new norm of humanitarian intervention,
because India is the wrong country, and besides, the U.S. was
strenuously opposed to that action.
This is not pre-emptive war; there
is a crucial difference. Pre-emptive war has a meaning, it means
that, for example, if planes are flying across the Atlantic to
bomb the United States, the United States is permitted to shoot
them down even before they bomb and may be permitted to attack
the air bases from which they came. Pre-emptive war is a response
to ongoing or imminent attack.
The doctrine of preventive war
is totally different; it holds that the United States - alone,
since nobody else has this right - has the right to attack any
country that it claims to be a potential challenge to it. So if
the United States claims, on whatever grounds, that someone may
sometime threaten it, then it can attack them.
The doctrine of preventive war
was announced explicitly in the National Security Strategy last
September. It sent shudders around the world, including through
the U.S. establishment, where, I might say, opposition to the
war is unusually high. The Security Strategy said, in effect,
that the U.S. will rule the world by force, which is the dimension
- the only dimension - in which it is supreme. Furthermore, it
will do so for the indefinite future, because if any potential
challenge arises to U.S. domination, the U.S. will destroy it
before it becomes a challenge.
This is the first exercise of
that doctrine. If it succeeds on these terms, as it presumably
will, because the target is so defenceless, then international
lawyers and Western intellectuals and others will begin to talk
about a new norm in international affairs. It is important to
establish such a norm if you expect to rule the world by force
for the foreseeable future.
This is not without precedent,
but it is extremely unusual. I shall mention one precedent, just
to show how narrow the spectrum is. In 1963, Dean Acheson, who
was a much respected elder statesman and senior Adviser of the
Kennedy Administration, gave an important talk to the American
Society of International Law, in which he justified the U. S.
attacks against Cuba. The attack by the Kennedy Administration
on Cuba was large-scale international terrorism and economic warfare.
The timing was interesting - it was right after the Missile Crisis,
when the world was very close to a terminal nuclear war. In his
speech, Acheson said that no "legal issue" arises when
the United States responds to a challenge to its "power,
position, or prestige", or words approximating that.
That is also a statement of the
Bush doctrine. Although Acheson was an important figure, what
he said had not been official government policy in the post-War
period. It now stands as official policy and this is the first
illustration of it. It is intended to provide a precedent for
Such "norms" are established
only when a Western power does something, not when others do.
That is part of the deep racism of Western culture, going back
through centuries of imperialism and so deep that it is unconscious.
So I think this war is an important
new step, and is intended to be.
RAMACHANDRAN: Is it also a new
phase in that the U. S. has not been able to carry others with
NOAM CHOMSKY: That is not new.
In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, the United States
did not even try to get international support. Nevertheless, you
are right in that this is unusual. This is a case in which the
United States was compelled for political reasons to try to force
the world to accept its position and was not able to, which is
quite unusual. Usually, the world succumbs.
RAMACHANDRAM: So does it represent
a "failure of diplomacy" or a redefinition of diplomacy
NOAM CHOMSKY: I wouldn't call
it diplomacy at all - it's a failure of coercion.
Compare it with the first Gulf
War. In the first Gulf War, the U.S. coerced the Security Council
into accepting its position, although much of the world opposed
it. NATO went along, and the one country in the Security Council
that did not - Yemen - was immediately and severely punished.
In any legal system that you take
seriously, coerced judgments are considered invalid, but in the
international affairs conducted by the powerful, coerced judgments
are fine - they are called diplomacy.
What is interesting about this
case is that the coercion did not work. There were countries -
in fact, most of them - who stubbornly maintained the position
of the vast majority of their populations.
The most dramatic case is Turkey.
Turkey is a vulnerable country, vulnerable to U.S. punishment
and inducements. Nevertheless, the new government, I think to
everyone's surprise, did maintain the position of about 90 per
cent of its population. Turkey is bitterly condemned for that
here, just as France and Germany are bitterly condemned because
they took the position of the overwhelming majority of their populations.
The countries that are praised are countries like Italy and Spain,
whose leaders agreed to follow orders from Washington over the
opposition of maybe 90 per cent of their populations.
That is another new step. I cannot
think of another case where hatred and contempt for democracy
have so openly been proclaimed, not just by the government, but
also by liberal commentators and others. There is now a whole
literature trying to explain why France, Germany, the so-called
"old Europe", and Turkey and others are trying to undermine
the United States. It is inconceivable to the pundits that they
are doing so because they take democracy seriously and they think
that when the overwhelming majority of a population has an opinion,
a government ought to follow it.
That is real contempt for democracy,
just as what has happened at the United Nations is total contempt
for the international system. In fact there are now calls - from
The Wall Street Journal ,people in Government and others - to
disband the United Nations.
Fear of the United States around
the world is extraordinary. It is so extreme that it is even being
discussed in the mainstream media. The cover story of the upcoming
issue of Newsweek is about why the world is so afraid of the United
States. The Post had a cover story about this a few weeks ago.
Of course this is considered to
be the world's fault, that there is something wrong with the world
with which we have to deal somehow, but also something that has
to be recognized.
RAMACHANDRAN: The idea that Iraq
represents any kind of clear and present danger is, of course,
without any substance at all.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Nobody pays any
attention to that accusation, except, interestingly, the population
of the United States.
In the last few months, there
has been a spectacular achievement of government-media propaganda,
very visible in the polls. The international polls show that support
for the war is higher in the United States than in other countries.
That is, however, quite misleading, because if you look a little
closer, you find that the United States is also different in another
respect from the rest of the world. Since September 2002, the
United States is the only country in the world where 60 per cent
of the population believes that Iraq is an imminent threat - something
that people do not believe even in Kuwait or Iran.
Furthermore, about 50 per cent
of the population now believes that Iraq was responsible for the
attack on the World Trade Center. This has happened since September
2002. In fact, after the September 11 attack, the figure was about
3 per cent. Government-media propaganda has managed to raise that
to about 50 per cent. Now if people genuinely believe that Iraq
has carried out major terrorist attacks against the United States
and is planning to do so again, well, in that case people will
support the war.
This has happened, as I said,
after September 2002. September 2002 is when the government-media
campaign began and also when the mid-term election campaign began.
The Bush Administration would have been smashed in the election
if social and economic issues had been in the forefront, but it
managed to suppress those issues in favor of security issues -
and people huddle under the umbrella of power.
This is exactly the way the country
was run in the 1980s. Remember that these are almost the same
people as in the Reagan and the senior Bush Administrations. Right
through the 1980s they carried out domestic policies that were
harmful to the population and which, as we know from extensive
polls, the people opposed. But they managed to maintain control
by frightening the people. So the Nicaraguan Army was two days'
march from Texas, and the airbase in Grenada was one from which
the Russians would bomb us. It was one thing after another, every
year, every one of them ludicrous. The Reagan Administration actually
declared a National Emergency in 1985 because of the threat to
the security of the United States posed by the Government of Nicaragua.
If somebody were watching this
from Mars, they would not know whether to laugh or to cry.
They are doing exactly the same
thing now, and will probably do something similar for the presidential
campaign. There will have to be a new dragon to slay, because
if the Administration lets domestic issues prevail, it is in deep
RAMACHANDRAN: You have written
that this war of aggression has dangerous consequences with respect
to international terrorism and the threat of nuclear war.
NOAM CHOMSKY: I cannot claim any
originality for that opinion. I am just quoting the CIA and other
intelligence agencies and virtually every specialist in international
affairs and terrorism. Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy , the study
by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the high-level
Hart-Rudman Commission on terrorist threats to the United States
all agree that it is likely to increase terrorism and the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction.
The reason is simple: partly for
revenge, but partly just for self-defence.
There is no other way to protect
oneself from U.S. attack. In fact, the United States is making
the point very clearly, and is teaching the world an extremely
Compare North Korea and Iraq.
Iraq is defenceless and weak; in fact, the weakest regime in the
region. While there is a horrible monster running it, it does
not pose a threat to anyone else. North Korea, on the other hand,
does pose a threat. North Korea, however, is not attacked for
a very simple reason: it has a deterrent. It has a massed artillery
aimed at Seoul, and if the United States attacks it, it can wipe
out a large part of South Korea.
So the United States is telling
the countries of the world: if you are defenceless, we are going
to attack you when we want, but if you have a deterrent, we will
back off, because we only attack defenceless targets. In other
words, it is telling countries that they had better develop a
terrorist network and weapons of mass destruction or some other
credible deterrent; if not, they are vulnerable to "preventive
For that reason alone, this war
is likely to lead to the proliferation of both terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction.
RAMACHANDRAN: How do you think
the U.S. will manage the human - and humanitarian - consequences
of the war?
NOAM CHOMSKY: No one knows, of
course. That is why honest and decent people do not resort to
violence - because one simply does not know.
The aid agencies and medical groups
that work in Iraq have pointed out that the consequences can be
very severe. Everyone hopes not, but it could affect up to millions
of people. To undertake violence when there is even such a possibility
There is already - that is, even
before the war - a humanitarian catastrophe. By conservative estimates,
ten years of sanctions have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
If there were any honesty, the U.S. would pay reparations just
for the sanctions.
The situation is similar to the
bombing of Afghanistan, of which you and I spoke when the bombing
there was in its early stages. It was obvious the United States
was never going to investigate the consequences.
RAMACHANDRAN: Or invest the kind
of money that was needed.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh no. First, the
question is not asked, so no one has an idea of what the consequences
of the bombing were for most of the country. Then almost nothing
comes in. Finally, it is out of the news, and no one remembers
it any more.
In Iraq, the United States will
make a show of humanitarian reconstruction and will put in a regime
that it will call democratic, which means that it follows Washington's
orders. Then it will forget about what happens later, and will
go on to the next one.
RAMACHANDRAN: How have the media
lived up to their propaganda-model reputation this time?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right now it is
cheerleading for the home team. Look at CNN, which is disgusting
- and it is the same everywhere. That is to be expected in wartime;
the media are worshipful of power.
More interesting is what happened
in the build-up to war. The fact that government-media propaganda
was able to convince the people that Iraq is an imminent threat
and that Iraq was responsible for September 11 is a spectacular
achievement and, as I said, was accomplished in about four months.
If you ask people in the media about this, they will say, "Well,
we never said that," and it is true, they did not. There
was never a statement that Iraq is going to invade the United
States or that it carried out the World Trade Center attack. It
was just insinuated, hint after hint, until they finally got people
to believe it.
RAMACHANDRAN: Look at the resistance,
though. Despite the propaganda, despite the denigration of the
United Nations, they haven't quite carried the day.
NOAM CHOMSKY: You never know.
The United Nations is in a very hazardous position.
The United States might move to
dismantle it. I don't really expect that, but at least to diminish
it, because when it isn't following orders, of what use is it?
RAMACHANDRAN: Noam, you have seen
movements of resistance to imperialism
over a long period - Vietnam, Central America, Gulf War I. What
are your impressions of the character, sweep and depth of the
present resistance to U.S. aggression? We take great heart in
the extraordinary mobilizations all over the world.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, that is correct;
there is just nothing like it. Opposition throughout the world
is enormous and unprecedented, and the same is true of the United
States. Yesterday, for example, I was in demonstrations in downtown
Boston, right around the Boston Common. It is not the first time
I have been there. The first time I participated in a demonstration
there at which I was to speak was in October 1965. That was four
after the United States had started bombing South Vietnam. Half
of South Vietnam had been destroyed and the war had been extended
to North Vietnam. We could not have a demonstration because it
was physically attacked, mostly by students, with the support
of the liberal press and radio, who denounced these people who
were daring to protest against an American war.
On this occasion, however, there
was a massive protest before the war was launched officially and
once again on the day it was launched - with no counter-demonstrators.
That is a radical difference. And if it were not for the fear
factor that I mentioned, there would be much more opposition.
The government knows that it cannot
carry out long-term aggression and destruction as in Vietnam because
the population will not tolerate it.
There is only one way to fight
a war now. First of all, pick a much weaker enemy, one that is
defenceless. Then build it up in the propaganda system as either
about to commit aggression or as an imminent threat. Next, you
need a lightning victory. An important leaked document
of the first Bush Administration in 1989 described how the U.S.
would have to fight war. It said that the U.S. had to fight much
weaker enemies, and that victory must be rapid and decisive, as
public support will quickly erode. It is no longer like the 1960s,
when a war could be fought for years with no opposition at all.
In many ways, the activism of
the 1960s and subsequent years has simply made a lot of the world,
including this country, much more civilized in many domains.