On The Verge Of War
Noam Chomsky debates with Tariq Ali, Gilbert Achcar and Isin Elicin
NTV, December 19, 2002
Isin ELICIN: I would like to begin with a current issue topic for Turkey. EU rebuffed US's pressure for early entry talks for Turkey. Starting from this example, can you elaborate on the rift or maybe rather the rivalry between the EU and the US?

Tariq ALI: Well, the rift between the US and the EU at the moment doesn't... It's not the EU as a whole; it's some of the major countries in the EU, which are extremely nervous about the war. They think it is a big risk and they know that the bulk of their populations are opposed to the war. That's you know, in Germany you have 70 percent of the population is against the war in Iraq, in Italy it's over 50 percent, in Britain it's over 50 percent. This has never happened before in anti war history. The people are so hostile to a war before. Then comes the United States and wants to reward Turkey for agreeing to participate in the war, by saying we'll get you EU membership on the cheap and the Europeans used this, partially -they don't want Turkey anyway- but they then used this also as ...{inaudible} to say hang on a bit, we'll discuss it later, the United States isn't going to tell us who we let in at what stage. Later we can think about it. So the fact that Turkish elite was convinced that if they back the war in Iraq they would get fast-track to EU membership, that's not the case, they will have to do a lot more than that.

I. ELICIN: If we can talk about the rift between the two in a much broader sense, what is Europe trying to do? That is, on the one hand it has the values based on the concepts like democracy, peace etc. But on the other hand we see that EU is beginning to choose a different track then it used to follow. What is it?

Gilbert ACHCAR: Well, frankly speaking, I don't think that there is some, that kind of a basic rift between the United States and the European Union. Basically the EU is accepting a position of vesselity towards the US, which has been consistently the case since the 2nd World War and is continuing actually. We see it through for instance, the fact that the Nato alliance was not only kept after the end of Cold War but also even enhanced. And it is becoming now, a kind of a direct tool, which United States plans to use as an auxiliary force in its interventions. As for the recent, let's say, disagreements expressed by the German and the French governments; well the German disagreement was equal to what Tarik Ali has just described as the overwhelming opposition by German population which is one of the most pacifist population in the world from that angle. It was for what for purely opportunistic electoral reasons. And there are a lot of arguments to think that way since first of all we haven't much heard of Schroeder's opposition to war after he is re-elected. Secondly, Germany is going to be a part of this coming war to Iraq, at least through being part of the Nato infrastructure, which will be used by the United States for the war. As for France, here again it's not a matter of a philosophical disagreement between Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush. It's a matter of interest. It's just that the French government has concluded very important contracts with the present Iraqi government and doesn't want a regime change in Iraq. They want the embargo to be lifted through the UN process but want to keep the same regime because they have their very interesting contracts with this regime. This explains France's reservations about the war. We are seeing now that, like in 1990-91, they started shifting positions under the pressure because US is saying that "we are going to that war and if you want any piece of the cake you'd better join us."

Noam CHOMSKY: I think I tend to agree with this if we take a short-term view but in the longer term, and in fact going back some distance, there has been a potential rift between United States and Europe. There's always been a question as to whether Europe will move towards a more independent course in world affairs. United States has always been concerned about this, it goes back to late 1940's, and Europe has had conflicting tendencies. The tendency "let's be a vessel of United States" has indeed won, but it's not necessarily permanent. Europe has different interests. Potentially Europe is a force in the world affairs on a par with the United States, the economy is on a par, the society is more developed in many ways, and it's an educated society. I mean, except that in armaments it is force like the United States and armaments are not the only things by any means. It could move in an independent direction, just as Asia could, just as Japan centered Asia could. US doesn't want that in neither case. And it regularly intervenes to prevent it. Part of the reason why the US has been supporting Turkey for the EU -part of it is exactly what you said, they want it pay off for the war- but there is a deep further reason. They are expecting Turkey to be a Trojan horse for the United States to support US interests within the European Union. In fact the US strongly supported the accession of the Eastern European States for essentially the same reason. They want to somehow balance the Franco-German interest in potentially moving in an independent direction. I think that's a problem. That's going to play itself at heart over a long period. And for Turkey, for Turkey to enter the European Union on those terms, I think would be a disaster for Turkey. I mean if they enter the European Union, it should be to pursue their own interest, a broader interest, not to act as an agent of the United States.

I. ELICIN Mr. Achcar, in an essay adopted from your book "The Clash of Barbarisms", you pinpointed that European Union decreed a Europe-wide day of mourning for the victims of the attacks of September 11, yet they did not observe a single minute of silence for the people massacred, for example in Serebrenitza. Could you elaborate on this point a little bit?

G. ACHCAR: Well, I mentioned this example as being an example on European soil. It's an illustration of the vesselity. This is what I call "narcissistic compassion", the fact that there is much more, you know, emotion around when the victims are people that Western Europeans can identify with easily. Just think of the fact that we have every day more than two September 11's in black Africa alone as a result of AIDS. Just to mention that issue among many other kind of problems and diseases, the western world doesn't care. There is something which is deeply I would say, scandalous in this way of reacting to September 11 and we have seen that again on the first anniversary of the attacks. I am coming from France and in France There was a real competition between every kind of media about who will do more about September 11. 24 hours, the whole day was booked.

I.ELICIN: You said that we haven't seen so much opposition to war in the history before. So how come then, that is, do the people begin to feel much more closer to Iraqi people or what? Why we see this opposition now?

N. CHOMSKY: I'll talk about the United States. In the United States, for the last 40 years there has been a strong increase in opposition to aggression and atrocities. And the administration knows it. The first Bush administration when they came into office in 1989 -any new government has an intelligent analysis of the world situation-, which usually one learns about 40 years later when it's declassified. This time it is leaked. Pieces of it releaked and they were interesting, somebody in Pentagon didn't like it. They leaked a section which said roughly the following: It said in the case of confrontation with more weaker enemies, meaning anybody they're going to fight, we must defeat them decisively and rapidly or else political support will erode. The reason is that there isn't any support any longer for aggression and massacre. When Kennedy started to bomb South Vietnam 40 years ago and drove millions of people into concentration camps and started a chemical warfare there weren't any protest. None in the United States, none in Europe. Yeah, that's the way the West behaves towards the niggers. That's ...{inaudible} who cares. But there has been a change over the years. The countries have become a lot more civilized; people do not accept aggression and atrocities. And every single case of intervention has had to follow this model. You have to first create the image of this monstrous enemy that about to destroy you to frighten people, then you have to quickly slay the dragon, don't let it drag on too long. And then people forget it. So they will forget what just happened in Afghanistan and they won't look at what it looks like. And then you won the next battle. That's the only way they can fight a war now and they know it.

I. ELICIN: How would you characterize the so called "war on terrorism"? A brief description may be... What is it?

T. ALI It's now become a joke. The war against terror was devised by the Bush administration to enable them to wage war wherever they want, and to enable their allies to crush people who are resisting them. So Ariel Sharon became part of the war against terror and crushing the Palestinians. Colonel Putin in Moscow became a valued ally of the west killing more Chechens than anyone can believe. 20 thousand people have died in Chechnya and the city of Grozni has been erased to the ground; hospitals, schools destroyed much more than anything Milosevic managed to do to Kosovo. So these double standards possessed in the war against terror are now one reason as Noam was saying, people are fed up with these lies. They don't believe them any longer. That's why you have opposition even before a war has broken out, because people challenge the basic premise of the war. They know that the reasons the west is giving for this war are complete and utter lies. People are beginning to see through that. They don't believe it. They know it. They know it is oil, they know they want to resettle the Middle Eastern region. So they don't believe it is about weapons of mass destruction. Cause, you know, they imagine the citizens of Europe and North America are like children that they can carry on spoon-feeding them lies and they'll accept it. But people are beginning to resist, cause you know, we had three wars now since the Cold War came to an end. And I think this war in Iraq, whatever it does in the Middle East is a bit unforeseen, you know it can create a mess, but one thing it will do is create an opposition in Europe and when you have politicians who do not reflect public opinion in European countries, then anything is possible.

N. CHOMSKY: The only thing I'd like to add that these people did not declare a war on terror on September 11. They declared it 20 years earlier. The same people who are now running the Washington came in with the Reagan administration. Their first act was to declare a war on terror. They said a war on terror would be the focus of US foreign policy primarily in Central America and in Middle East. Every one of them is now back in the office. Same rhetoric, a plague spread by depraved opponents of civilization, a return to barbarism, and they proceeded the fight the war on terrorism in the 1980's. They left a couple of hundred thousand corpses in Central America, they left a trail of devastation and disaster in the Middle East. In Southern Africa, just supporting their ally South Africa and its wars around the edge they killed another million and half people. That was the war on terror. It was a cover for murderous interventions all over the world. And the same people calling the same war on terror, of course going to do the same thing.

I. ELICIN: Where will it stop, I mean this kind of attitude of the United States? Mr. Ali, you said once for example, it is imperialism but America doesn't like this name, but now it openly says, "I want to do this and I'll do it". What is the end?

T. ALI: Well the end is not the United States is the only empire in the world. This is the first time, I think in world history, we have a situation where there is only one empire. No other empire exists. And they now feel that they can assert this need and people around Bush compare themselves to Rome. But in fact their position is much more stronger Rome's position ever was. They now say "we are an empire why shouldn't we behave like it. If a country doesn't accept what we're doing, we're gonna kick ass". I mean the bumper stickers in California, Republican Party's bumper stickers are saying, "Kick his ass and get the gas". Which is actually very straightforward and very honest of them to show that this was what the war is about. It is about energy and about oil. But the United States now feels unchallengeable.

I.ELICIN: Immanuel Wallerstein, for example says the American empire is declining, that it is the end of even, or rather that this is the first and real crisis of capitalism. Do you agree with this view?

T.ALI Wishful thinking.

N. CHOMSKY There is a constant crisis of capitalism. It's always in crisis, I mean right now there are very serious crisis, there is absolutely no way to predict whether they will be overcome or compensated. In fact the main factor will be what the population does and that's not predictable. 40 years ago you could have never predicted that an anti-war movement would develop. It was inconceivable. You certainly couldn't predict that a feminist movement would develop, that an environmental movement develop; I mean none of this were predictable. The contemporary global justice movement, what's called anti-globalization, who could have predicted that? There wasn't anything like it in the world history. That's a big, powerful, international movement, which may have a major effect. And the people in power know that their grip to power is fragile. So the World Economic Forum, for example, is very concerned about the World Social Forum. They know its there, they know it's a threat. They are trying to figure out the ways to, sort of, co-opt ...{inaudible} I think it's got to the point that I'm getting invitations to give keynote speeches for World Bank in international conferences. You know they are trying to co-opt the movements, which are substantial and could erode the whole system.

G. ACHCAR: This declinism, the decline theory, has been recurrent in the history of the United States over the last decades and it was very strong in the 70's and 80's. Under Reagan for instance, I mean, Reagan came to power as having a key program designed to reverse the decline of the United States, which was a real decline at that time. But precisely the issue that declinists, those who deal with that kind of theory, tend to forget the way the US uses its military, political dominance in the world to restore its position every time it has been threatened. That was very clear under Reagan and he achieved this come back of the United States as a first rank world power. Well, we can see in the behavior of the Bush administration today a continuation of that basic option of the United States after the Cold War, which was to maintain and enhance this supremacy, as a priority for US politics. And a key tool to maintain this dominance of the United States in all other fields, you know, related to that military and political dominance.

T. ALI: The point that I'd like to add to that is this; what the current situation of the strength of the American Empire essentially produces, is a total contempt for democracy. Not just in the United States itself, but all over the world. Because if you have populations which are opposed to their governments becoming dependencies of the United States, then you have to prevent the populations from exercising their right to self determination electroally. And increasingly, I think that, I mean people are doing that at the moment by not bothering to vote. The voting patterns, even in Western Europe by and large show declining vote. Because they feel there is no alternative for them. And Turkey in this case, which is trying to become more democratic than it has ever been -'cause this is the country which is, we know is run by the army, it has been for a long time- has a real choice facing it now. At the time when it wants to become democratic, the Americans are going to involve this country in a big war, which will probably be opposed, by sections of the population. Then what? What if the population carries on electing a regime which is opposed to war? The army will then take over. So the infinite war, which the empire seeks to wage now, is linked to totally ignoring democracy. One thing we know, you'll get democracy in Afghan style basically in countries they occupy. I think Turkey and Turkish elite, you know, has to think very carefully of its own future. It has been a US ally or let's say dependency since the Cold War days. Is this going to carry on forever?

I. ELICIN: Yes, but they argue that, for example "our hands are tied, wee need the money..."

N. CHOMSKY: You need the money because you've been following the policies dictated by the US Treasury Department, which have led Turkey, Brazil and a whole series of other countries in the world in to a position where they have a stranglehold from the US Treasury Department. You don't have to follow these policies.

T. ALI And you know, even prostitutes sometimes say, "we have to do it, because we need the money." But I mean, that is on an individual level and one can even sympathize. But when states start behaving in that way, then you have to ask what's going on and what's wrong?

I. ELICIN I felt a little bit pessimistic about the near future, at least, listening to you. As my final question, could I ask briefly from each of you, how do you see the future? I mean, on the one hand this imperialistic thing is covering the whole world and at the same time you say that there's a huge anti movement gathering up. How do you see the way out?

T. ALI Well, I think there is a resistance to the empire. It's not strong ant it's not on the level of states resisting to it; like the Vietnamese resistance to the US. It was carried out on the level of state. No such states exist at the moment essentially that will resist to empire. May be some will develop over the next 15-20 years, we don't know. But they will do it for their own interests. What we have and that's very new, are mass movements developing in different parts of the world, which want to resist this empire. That can only be something very positive. I'm not saying that they'll win or sweep to victory but the fact that they exist, poses some restraints especially in the North America and Western Europe. It's a sign of hope. So it's not, we're sort of saying everything is wonderful and we're going to score a big victories, but nor do we say that they can carry on doing what they are doing without any resistance from below. And if resistance continues, sooner or later it'll have some effect.

N. CHOMSKY: I quite agree. In fact the tendency in this direction over the recent years is very positive. All the popular movements there is now in US and elsewhere have no precedent. They are far beyond anything there were before. In the United States, it's not on this issue alone, on all sorts of issues there's very substantial opposition to state policy. That's one of the reasons why there has to be such intensive efforts to terrify people constantly. The only way they can control anyone anymore is to terrify him. Because there's just enormous opposition. What you say about declining voting, in the United States, it became an absurdity. Before the last election 2000, about 75 percent of the population regarded the whole thing as a complete farce. These reflect a strong antagonism to policies. On international economic policies like say NAFTA free trade agreement, populations very strongly oppose, has been all along opposing. That's why the issues are never discussed and don't come up in elections. And there's just a question whether these substantial popular forces can become, can interact and organize enough, so that they introduce major changes. They already have introduced plenty of changes. How far it'll go, I can't predict.

G. ACHCAR: The dominance of the United States in military field is overwhelming to such a point that any attempt at, you know, opposing to it through violent means is doomed to fail. Even if there are asymmetric means like terrorism. We've seen that September 11 was actually a gift from heaven for George W. Bush. It was the best thing he could dream of because he made a quite huge use of it. So the only asymmetry that can fight against this empire is the asymmetry of mass mobilization, of popular, democratic mobilization. And in that sense, I think there are reasons to be much more optimistic today than five years ago. For instance when we look at the tremendous development of radicalization and mobilization against neo-liberal globalization or against the war, especially in the younger generation, well, that's very promising for the future.

I. ELICIN Thank you very much.