Chomsky: "Iraq is a trial run" (fwd)
eugen at leitl.org
Fri Apr 4 12:19:58 PST 2003
From: Tyler Durden <camera_lumina at hotmail.com>
To: cypherpunks at minder.net
Subject: Chomsky: "Iraq is a trial run"
What Chomsky says below is no suprise to most of those on this list,
left/right/other. What IS of interest is that fact that a universal
consensus seems to be emerging about the US's role in the world, and Chomsky
articulates this sentiment.
Noam Chomsky , University Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, founder of the modern science of linguistics and political
activist, is a powerhouse of anti-imperialist activism in the United States
today. On March 21, a crowded and typical - and uniquely Chomskyan -
day of political protest and scientific academic research, he spoke from his
office for half an hour to V. K. Ramachandran on the current attack on Iraq.
V. K. 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 new nevertheless.
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
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
Strategy Report 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 National Strategy Report 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
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 challenges to its position, prestige or
authority", 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 the future.
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 it?
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.
Ramachandran :So does it represent a "failure of diplomacy" or a
redefinition of diplomacy itself?
Chomsky : I wouldn't call it diplomacy at all - it's a failure of
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
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 recognised.
Ramachandran :The idea that Iraq represents any kind of clear and present
danger is, of course, without any substance at all.
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 Centre. 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 favour 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 about to conquer the United States, and the airbase in Granada 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
Ramachandran :You have written that this war of aggression has dangerous
consequences with respect to international terrorism and the threat of
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
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 ugly lesson.
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 war".
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?
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 is criminal.
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.
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?
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 Centre 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
Chomsky : You never know. The United Nations is in a very hazardous
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 mobilisations all
over the world.
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 years 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
In many ways, the activism of the 1960s and subsequent years has simply made
a lot of the world, including this country, much more civilised in many
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