Noam Chomsky on US Expansion of Afghan Occupation, the Uses of NATO, and What Obama Should Do in Israel-Palestine
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Amy Goodman
Democracy Now!, April 3, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: To talk about Afghanistan, NATO and the state of US economic and military power in the world today, we're joined by one of the world's most astute thinkers and most important intellectuals of our time: linguist, philosopher, social critic, political dissident, Noam Chomsky.

Noam Chomsky is a prolific author and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just down the road from here, where he taught for over half a century. Among his many dozens of books are Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs; The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo; Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians; Manufacturing Consent; Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies; and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. There's a great collection of his work, just out now, edited by Anthony Arnove, called The Essential Chomsky.

Noam Chomsky, welcome to Democracy Now!

NOAM CHOMSKY: Very glad to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to be with you here in Massachusetts in the studio, instead of talking to you on the phone at home.


AMY GOODMAN: So, let's start with what's happening with this NATO summit celebrating sixty years, France rejoining after more than four decades. Your analysis?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the obvious question is why bother celebrating NATO at all? In fact, why does it exist? It's twenty years now, almost, since the Berlin Wall fell. NATO was constructed on the -- with the reason, whether one believes it or not, that it was going to defend Western Europe from Russian assault. Once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, that reason was gone. So, first question: why does NATO exist?

Well, in fact, the answers are interesting. Mikhail Gorbachev made an -- agreed, made a remarkable concession at that time to the United States. NATO's essentially run by the United States. He offered to allow a reunited Germany to join NATO, a hostile military alliance --

AMY GOODMAN: I'm going to interrupt you for a minute, Noam, because there's a lot of static on your mike, and we want to fix that. So we're going to go to a music break, and then we're going to come back to you. We're talking to Noam Chomsky. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: But as, Noam, you were just saying, at MIT they have these technological problems, too, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Right, the leading technological institute in the world. At commencement, the PA system almost inevitably breaks down. So this is familiar.

AMY GOODMAN: Briefly summarize what you were just saying, if people were having trouble hearing you through the static.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Alright. Well, I think the first question to ask about NATO is why it exists. We're now approaching the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, unification of Germany, first steps in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, the alleged reason for NATO's existence was to protect the West against a Russian assault. You can believe what you like about the reason, but that was the reason. By 1989, that reason was gone. So, why is there NATO?

Well, that question did arise. Mikhail Gorbachev offered at that time to the United States, which runs NATO, that he would permit a unified Germany to join NATO, a hostile military alliance aimed at the Soviet Union. Now, that's a remarkable concession. If you look back at the history of the twentieth century, Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia several times. And now he was offering to let a reunited militarized Germany join a hostile military alliance, backed by the most awesome military power in history.

Well, there was a quid pro quo. George Bush, the first, was then president; James Baker, Secretary of State. And they agreed, in their words, that NATO would not expand one inch to the east, which would at least give Russia some breathing room. Now, Gorbachev also proposed a nuclear weapons-free zone from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, which would have again given some protection and, in fact, security for peace. Well, that was just rejected. I don't even think it was answered. Well, that's where things stood in 1989, '90.

Then Bill Clinton was elected. One of his first acts was to break the promise and expand NATO to the east, which, of course, is a threat to Russian security. Now, the pretext given, for example, by his -- Strobe Talbott, who was the Under Secretary of State for Eastern Europe, is that that was necessary to bring the former satellites into the European Union. But that can't be. There are states inside the European Union that are not part of NATO: Austria, you know, Finland, Sweden. So that's irrelevant. But it was a threat, and Russia, of course, reacted to the hostile threat. It increased tension.

Well, going up to the present, President Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, has been a strong advocate of the view that NATO should expand further to the east and to the south and that, in fact, it should -- to the east and to the south means to control the energy-producing regions. The head of NATO, Dutch, the Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer, has proposed, advocates that NATO should take the responsibility for protecting energy supplies to the West -- pipelines, sea lanes, and so on.

Well, now we're getting to Afghanistan, which is right in the -- has always been of great geostrategic importance because of its location, now more than ever because of its location relative to the energy-producing regions in the Gulf region and in Central Asia. So, yes, that's what we're seeing.

Actually, there's more to say about NATO, about why it exists. So we might look back, say, ten years to the fiftieth anniversary. Well, the fiftieth anniversary of NATO was a gloomy affair that was -- right at that time, NATO was bombing Serbia -- illegally, as everyone admitted -- claiming it was necessary for humanitarian reasons. At the NATO summit, there was much agonizing about how we cannot tolerate atrocities so near Europe.

Well, that was an interesting comment, since at that time NATO was supporting atrocities right inside NATO. Turkey, for example, was carrying out, with massive US aid, huge atrocities against its Kurdish population, far worse than anything reported in Kosovo. Right at that time, in East Timor -- you're not going to praise yourself, so if you don't mind, I will -- at the time of the Dili massacre, which you and Allan [Nairn] heroically exposed, atrocities continued. And in fact, in early 1999, they were picking up again, with strong US support -- again, far beyond anything reported in Kosovo. That's the US and Britain, you know, the core of NATO.

Right at the same time, in fact, Dennis Blair, President Obama -- inside President Obama's national security circle, he was sent to Indonesia, theoretically to try to get the Indonesian army to stop carrying out the mounting atrocities. But he supported them. He met with the top Indonesian General, General Wiranto, and essentially said, you know, "Go ahead." And they did.

And in fact, those atrocities could have been stopped at any moment. That was demonstrated in September 1999, when Bill Clinton, under very extensive domestic and international pressure, finally decided to call it off. He didn't have to bomb Jakarta. He didn't have to impose an embargo. He just told the Indonesian generals the game's over, and they immediately withdrew. That goes down in history as a great humanitarian intervention. It's not exactly the right story. Right up until then, the United States was continuing to support the atrocities. Britain, under its new ethical foreign policy, didn't quite get in on time, and they kept supporting them even after the Australian-led UN peacekeeping force entered. Well, that's NATO ten years ago.

That's even putting aside the claims about Serbia, which maybe a word about those are worthwhile. We know what happened in Serbia. There's a massive -- in Kosovo. There's massive documentation from the State Department from NATO, European Union observers on the ground. There was a level of atrocity sort of distributed between the guerrillas and the Serbs. But it was expected that the NATO bombing would radically increase the atrocities, which it did, if you look back at the Milosevic indictment in the middle of the bombing, almost entirely, that atrocity -- except for one exception, about atrocities, after the NATO bombing. That's what they anticipated. General Clark, commanding general, had informed Washington weeks early, yes, that would be the consequence. He informed the press of that as the bombing started. That was the humanitarian intervention, while NATO was supporting even worse atrocities right within NATO, in East Timor, and go on in other cases. Well, that's NATO ten years ago.

And it begins to tell us what NATO is for. Is it for defending Europe from attack? In fact, there is such a pretense now. So when President Bush put -- started installing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, the claim was, well, this is to defend Europe from attack against Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles. The fact that it doesn't have any doesn't matter. And the fact that if it had any, it would be total insanity for them to even arm one, because the country would be vaporized in thirty seconds. So, it's a threat to Russia again, just like Clinton's expansion of NATO to the east.

AMY GOODMAN: France joining?


AMY GOODMAN: France joining, now rejoining?

NOAM CHOMSKY: France joining is quite interesting. I mean, France had a policy, initiated by General de Gaulle, of trying to turn Europe into what was then called a "third force," independent of the two superpowers, so Europe should pursue an independent course. It was -- he spoke of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. That was a great fear of the United States since the Second World War, that Europe would strike out on its own after reconstructing, which it could. The economy is on the scale of the United States. There's no reason -- except in military force, it's comparable to the United States. So it could have been a move towards a peaceful Europe independent of the superpowers. In fact, a large part of the purpose of NATO was to prevent that from happening, to ensure that Europe would stay within the US umbrella under US control.

Well, France has now abandoned that position and has rejoined what is now just an intervention force, an international intervention force, exactly as James Jones and de Hoop Scheffer and others portray it. It's an international intervention force under US command. Why should it exist?

In fact, if you go back to 1989 and 1990, it's extremely interesting to see how the United States reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago, which signaled the end of the Soviet Union, clearly, the Bush administration, Bush I, immediately released a national security strategy, a military budget, and so on, which are very interesting reading. What they say, in effect, is everything is going to go on exactly as before, but with new pretexts. So now we have to have a huge military establishment and military budget, and not to protect ourselves from the Russians, who are collapsing, but because -- literally, because of the technological sophistication of third world powers. Now, that was promulgated without ridicule. You know, if someone was watching from Mars, they'd collapse in laughter. So, because of the technological sophistication of third world powers, we have to keep this huge military budget, and we have to keep intervention forces aimed at the Middle East, the main target of intervention. Why? Not because of the Russians, as had been claimed. What it said was we have to direct the intervention forces to the Middle East, where our problems could not be laid at the Kremlin's door. And so, in other words, we've been lying to you for fifty years, but now the clouds have lifted. So we just have to have intervention forces aimed at the Middle East, because we have to control it. We have to maintain what they called the Defense Industrial Base. That's a euphemism for high-technology industry. Now that's why you have things like computers and the internet and so on. So that's the massive state sector of the high-tech economy. We have to maintain that, again because of, you know, the threat of the third world and so on. In other words, everything remains the same; the pretexts change. Now, that passed without a whisper.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, I want to get to Afghanistan. It's the main topic of NATO. It's a debate around the issue of the expansion of war in Afghanistan. President Obama's initiative is not the main topic of debate in the United States, meaning whether or not we should be doing this. What do you think?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it's interesting. It is the topic of discussion in the United States right in the middle of the establishment. So, Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal, had an interesting article probably six months ago, or roughly, by two of the leading specialists on Afghanistan: Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid. And their basic point was that the United States should give up the idea that military victory is the answer to everything.

They said that the United States should reorient its policy so that there would be a regional solution in which the interested -- the concerned countries, that includes, crucially, Iran, but also India, Russia, China, would themselves work out a regional settlement and that the Afghans should work something out among themselves. He pointed -- they pointed out, correctly, that the regional countries are not happy about having a NATO military center based in Afghanistan. It's obviously a threat to them. Now, this past -- this is not what's being done. There's some gestures towards, you know, maybe some under secretary will say hello to an Iranian representative or something, but that's not the core of the policy that's being pursued.

Now that -- side-by-side with that is something else that's been happening. There is a significant peace movement in Afghanistan. Exactly its scale, we don't know. But it's enough so that Pamela Constable of the Washington Post, in a recent article in Afghanistan, argued that when the new American troops come, they're going to face two enemies: the Taliban and public opinion, meaning the peace movement, whose slogan is "Put down the weapons. And we don't mind if you're here, but for aid and development. We don't want any more fighting."

In fact, we know from Western-run polls that about 75 percent of Afghans are in favor of negotiations among Afghans. Now, that includes the Taliban, who are Afghans. In fact, it even includes the ones in Pakistan. There's the difference -- the really troubled areas, now, are Pashtun areas, which are split by a British-imposed line, artificial line, called the Durand Line, which was imposed by the British to protect British India, expand it, and they've never accepted it. It just cuts their territory in half. Afghanistan, when it was a functioning state, never accepted it, right through the 1970s. But certainly, the Afghan Taliban are Afghans. And President Karzai, formerly our man, no longer, because he's getting out of control --

AMY GOODMAN: How? How is he getting out of control?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, interesting ways. When President Obama was elected, Afghan President Karzai sent him a message, which, as far as I know, was unanswered, in which he pleaded with President Obama to stop killing Afghans. He also addressed a UN delegation and told them he wanted a timetable for the removal of foreign forces. Well, his popularity quickly plummeted. He used to be very much praised for his nice clothes and great demeanor and very much admired by the media and commentators. Now he's sunk very low. He's suddenly corrupt and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in the Western world, the Western press?

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the Western world, primarily in the United States, but in the West altogether. And it directly followed these expressions of opinion, which are very likely those of maybe a majority of Afghans, maybe even more.

In fact, he went even further. He said that he would invite Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, to Afghanistan to try to work out a solution. And he added, "The United States isn't going to like this, but they have two choices: they can either accept it, or they can throw me out," you know. In fact, that's what they're doing. There are now plans to replace President Karzai, to sort of push him upstairs and leave him in a -- it's assumed that he'll win the next election, so put him in a symbolic position and impose, basically, a US-appointed surrogate who will essentially run the country, because that can't be tolerated.

In any event, there are alternative proposals -- they're discussed here, they're widely discussed in Afghanistan at the highest level and apparently among the population -- to just move towards a peaceful settlement among Afghans and a regional settlement, which would take into consideration the concerns of the region's neighboring powers.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think Obama is expanding this war? And do you call it "Obama's war" now?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this goes way back. I mean, the United States has sort of a comparative advantage in world affairs, namely, military might, not economic power, you know, not Treasury reserves. I mean, it's a very powerful state, but, you know, it's one of several. It's comparable to Europe. It's comparable to rising East Asia in, say, economic power. But in military power, it is supreme. The United States spends approximately as much as the rest of the world in military force. It's far more technologically advanced. And when you have a comparative advantage, you tend to use it. So, policy decisions tend to drift towards where you're strong. And where you're strong is military force. It's, you know, the old joke: if you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail. You know. And I think that's very much of a driving force.

And there's also a longstanding imperial mentality, which says we have to control and dominate. And in particular, we have to dominate energy resources. That goes way back. You know, after the Second World War, it's been maybe the prime factor in US [inaudible] --

AMY GOODMAN: And the energy resources in Afghanistan?

NOAM CHOMSKY: No, they're not in Afghanistan. They're in -- mostly in the Gulf, secondarily in Central Asia. But Afghanistan is right in the middle of this system. I mean, there is a pipeline question. How powerful it is, you can speculate. But there have been longstanding plans for a pipeline from Turkmenistan in Central Asia to India, which would go -- TAPI, it's called: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India.

Now, that's of significance to the United States for a number of reasons. For one thing, if it -- it would run right through Afghanistan and through Kandahar province, one of the most conflicted areas. If it was established, it would, for one thing, reduce the reliance of the Central Asian states on Russia. So it would weaken their role. But more significant, it would bypass Iran. I mean, India needs energy, and the natural source is Iran. And, in fact, they're discussing an Iran-to-India pipeline. But if you could get natural gas flowing from Central Asia to India, avoiding Iran, that would support the US policy, which is now very clear -- in Obama's case, it's been made more concrete -- of forming an alliance of regional states to oppose Iran.

In fact, that's -- John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently made an important speech about that with regard to Israel-Palestine. He said we have to reconceptualize the issue so it's not an Israel-Palestine problem, but rather, we'll sort of put that to the side, and what we have to do is create an alliance of Israel and what are called the moderate Arab states. And "moderate" is a technical term, means they do what we say. And so, the moderate Arab states include the brutal Egyptian dictatorship, the radical fundamentalist dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, and so on. They are the moderates, and they have to join with Israel and us in an anti-Iranian alliance. And we have to, of course, break ongoing connections between Iran and India to the extent that we can and elsewhere. And that puts the Israel-Palestine problem -- issue to the side.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to get to Israel-Palestine, but we have to break. And before we do, just a quick question. Do you think Obama should pull the troops out of Afghanistan immediately?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, you know, I think the Afghans should make that decision.


NOAM CHOMSKY: They have ways. For example, what the peace movement calls for is their traditional way of making decisions: a loya jirga, major meeting of, you know, elders, other figures and so on, who will try to arrive at consensus on this with all the Afghans. And it should be their decision. I mean, we have no right to be there.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, author of more than a hundred books on US foreign and domestic policy. We'll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We're on the road in Boston with Professor Noam Chomsky. We're talking about, well, US global policy, from NATO to Afghanistan to the new government in Israel. Can you talk about Benjamin Netanyahu and what you see coming up?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Benjamin Netanyahu is on the -- you can't say on the far right anymore, because the country has moved so far to the right that he's almost centrist. To the far right is his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has made his first pronouncement yesterday. He said that Israel has no responsibilities for any previous commitments, not the Annapolis commitment to eventually form some sort of Palestinian state, unclear what, only to the road map. Now, that's what was reported yesterday in the press.

Now, what's Israel's commitment to the road map? He knows very well. The road map is the famous decision of the Quartet -- US, Europe, Russia and the United Nations. A couple years ago, it sort of laid out vague plans for what ought to be done. It's worth looking at them. But put that aside, because really it doesn't matter, because as soon as the road map came out, Israel formally accepted it and instantly added fourteen reservations, which completely eviscerated it. One of the contributions of Jimmy Carter's book on Israel-Palestine was that he was the first, I think, to give public attention to the Israeli reservations. They're in an appendix to his book, bitterly condemned book, but nobody ever mentioned the one major contribution.

In effect, Israel said, "We'll sign the road map, but we're not going to observe it, because here's the conditions." So, for example, the condition -- one condition is that nothing can happen until the Palestinians end, of course, all violence, but also all incitement, so anything critical of Israel. On the other hand, it added, nothing can stop Israel from carrying out violence and incitement. It was explicit, approximately those words. And so it continues. There can be no discussion of the existence of settlements, in fact, no discussion of anything that matters. That's the road map. Now, the US supported that. That means both the US and Israel reject the road map. And Lieberman's statement yesterday is, well, that's our only commitment. You know, if we had a functioning media, those would be the headlines.

And there's much more to this. You know, President Obama appointed a Middle East emissary, George Mitchell, who's a reasonable choice if he's allowed to do anything. So far, he's only allowed to listen to almost everyone, not everyone. For example, he's not allowed to listen to the elected government in Palestine, the Hamas-led government. Well, it would be hard to listen to them, because half of them are in Israeli prisons, but nevertheless, you know, they have voices. For example, they've supported the call for a two-state settlement that the United States and Israel have rejected. So they've joined the world on that.

But why are we not allowed to listen to Hamas? Well, because they don't meet three conditions that were established. One is, they have to accept the road map, which we and Israel reject, but they have to accept it, otherwise we can't allow them into the civilized world. The other is, they have to renounce violence. Well, we don't have to discuss the question whether the United States and Israel renounce violence, so we can put that aside. Third, they have to recognize Israel, but, of course, we don't have to recognize Palestine, nor does Israel. So they have to meet three conditions that we don't meet and that Israel doesn't meet. But again, that passes without comment.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think President Obama's role should be right now? What do you think would be the most effective action he could take?

NOAM CHOMSKY: He should join the world. There has been an overwhelming international consensus for over thirty years. It was made explicit in January 1976, when the Arab states brought a resolution to the Security Council calling for the establishment of two states on the international border, which indeed the international border, up until then, was recognized by the United States. It means the pre-June '67 border. And official US terminology, when it was still part of the world in the late '60s, was "with minor and mutual modifications," so maybe straighten out some curves. Almost the entire world agrees with this. It has been blocked by the United States. The United States vetoed that resolution. It vetoed a similar one in 1980. I won't run through the record, but it's essentially the same up 'til now.

So what President Obama should do is, in fact, what President Clinton did in the last few weeks of his administration. It's important to recognize what happened then. There were negotiations in Camp David in the summer of 2000, which collapsed. Clinton blamed Arafat, the head of the Palestinian delegation, for the breakdown, but he backed off of that pretty quickly. By December, he formerly recognized that the US-Israeli proposals at Camp David could not be accepted by any Palestinian, and he presented what he called his parameters, somewhat vague but more forthcoming. He then made a speech, an important speech, in which he said both sides have accepted the parameters, both sides have expressed reservations. Well, they met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, both sides, to iron out the reservations, and they came very close to an agreement, which was very close to the international consensus.

AMY GOODMAN: We're just wrapping up right now, but I want to ask if you support a one- or two-state solution there?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Nobody supports -- I mean, you can talk about a one-state solution, if you want. I think a better solution is a no-state solution. But this is pie in the sky. If you're really in favor of a one-state solution, which in fact I've been all my life -- accept a bi-national state, not one state -- you have to give a path to get from here to there. Otherwise, it's just talk. Now, the only path anyone has ever proposed --

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

NOAM CHOMSKY: -- is through two states as the first stage.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky, our guest. Part two of our conversation, which we'll play next week, will be on the global economic meltdown. Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We're broadcasting from Boston.