The Perle-Chomsky Debate

Noam Chomsky debates with Richard Perle

Ohio State University, 1988

CHARLES HERMANN: Let me say a word about the procedure for tonight’s dialogue. We have asked each speaker to make an opening statement of approximately ten minutes. Following their opening statements, they will return to their tables, and have a brief exchange, asking each other questions about their opening comments. Following that, we will entertain written questions from the audience. If you would like to write a question, my suggestion is that you prepare it during the opening remarks, and then we will have ushers passing up and down the aisles to collect statements from you. This will be your first chance to introduce questions into tonight’s dialog. Backstage, we had a coin tossed to decide who would go first, and the result of that is that Dr. Noam Chomsky will be our first speaker. Dr. Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Mr. Hermann did not say that he got the wish of a lifetime by tossing a coin. He said he thought he was really out there on a football field…
When we investigate the foreign policy of any state, we find first of all an official doctrine that attributes to state policy honorable intents, though occasional failure, due primarily to the machinations of evil enemies. The Soviet propaganda proclaims the commitment of the Soviet Union to peace, democracy and human rights, describes the Soviet posture as defensive, and identifies US imperialism as the prime source of disorder and suffering throughout the world. Official US doctrine is the mirror image, and the pattern is far more pervasive, if not universal.
If we investigate further, we regularly discover that official doctrine is quite inconsistent with the historical and documentary record. In our case, we are fortunate to have access to a rich documentary record for earlier years. We discover, not surprisingly, that it conforms to the pattern of evolving events, and is entirely inconsistent with widely proclaimed doctrine. Now I cannot hope to establish these conclusions in a few minutes, rather, I will try to sketch the main outlines of what I believe you will discover if you explore the record on your own, as I very much hope you will. I will focus on Central America and the Middle East in the post World War II period, but the record for earlier years and other regions is much the same.
The United States emerged from World War II in a position of global power with few, if any historical precedents, and US elites were well aware of the fact. Through the 1940s, they carried out sophisticated geopolitical planning — which is on record, to fashion a global order that would be responsive to their interests. During the war, top State Department planners carried out extensive studies with the Council on Foreign Relations to develop the general outlines of global policy, later applied to particular regions. They developed the concept of what they called the Grand Area. The Grand Area was to be a region, subordinated to the needs of the American economy, in a framework of liberal internationalism, in which, it was plausibly assumed, US interests would dominate.
The Grand Area was outlined in detail: it was to include at the minimum the Far East, the western hemisphere and the former British Empire, including the energy reserves of the Middle East, which the State Department described as “a stupendous source of strategic power,” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” “the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment” (referring to Saudi Arabia). At a maximum, the Grand Area should become a world system under US control. Now the Grand Area had a structure. The industrial powers were to be reconstituted, but under US control and in a manner acceptable to the United States, a commitment with many significant consequences. It was understood that Europe and Japan required a hinterland. State Department studies, now declassified, explained that the Third World was to fulfill its function as a source of raw materials and markets for the industrial capitalist powers, and was to be “exploited,” as they put it, for their reconstruction.
The term “communist” has lost any substantive meaning in US political rhetoric, referring to anyone who stands in our way.
The declassified documents on US foreign policy in Latin America apply these ideas in detail. They explain that the primary threat we face in Latin America, I am continuing to quote, is “the trend toward nationalistic regimes that respond to popular demand for improvement in low living standards and production for domestic needs.” Now that is not acceptable, because the United States is committed to “encouraging a climate conducive to private investment, in particular, guarantees for opportunity to earn, and in the case of foreign capital, to repatriate a reasonable return.”
We must therefore oppose what is regularly called ultra-nationalism in secret documents, that means, efforts to pursue domestic needs. We must foster export-oriented production in the interest of US investors. Now it is recognized that such programs have very little appeal to the Latin American public, so the conclusion is the natural one: we must therefore gain control over the military, which can in turn control domestic opposition and overthrow civilian governments if necessary. We must also act to overcome the excessive liberalism of the Latin American countries. These ideas are outlined in the high-level documents, and were applied in practice in Latin America as elsewhere. If some group or country succumbs to ultra-nationalism, it must be disciplined by the local security forces, under US control if possible, or by direct US subversion or aggression. And the modern history of Latin America is to a significant extent an application of these doctrines.
So a brief experiment in capitalist democracy in Guatemala was terminated in 1954 by a CIA coup, installing a murderous terrorist state that has been maintained by regular US intervention to block elections and to conduct regular repression and massacre. These operations reached a peak in the past decade, with perhaps a hundred thousand people killed, and innumerable others tortured, maimed and starved, all of this enthusiastically supported by the Reagan administration. Meanwhile, Honduras was turned into a US military base, with increasing human right violations, reaching several assassinations a week last year, and hundreds of thousands of peasants starving to death, while the country exports snow peas and beef for US markets, that being a typical consequence of the US-imposed aid and development model.
In El Salvador, in the late 1970s, there was a proliferation of popular organizations, largely church-based, that threatened to lay the bases for a popular, for a meaningful democracy, and social reforms. The archbishop pleaded to the US government not to send aid to the junta because it would be used, he said, “to destroy the people’s organizations fighting to defend their fundamental human rights.”
The security forces backed by the United States overcame the threat of democracy and social reform by terror and slaughter, murdering the political opposition, assassinating the archbishop, physically destroying the independent media, invading and largely destroying the university, slaughtering tens of thousands of peasants, union leaders and others, killing priests and nuns and intellectuals, or driving them out of the country — to which they still cannot return for fear of torture and assassination. When the population was considered to be sufficiently traumatized, a so-called “election” was held, “in an atmosphere of terror and despair, macabre rumor and grizzly reality,” in the words of the British parliamentary human rights group that observed it.
I should add that it’s a staple of independent scholarship that I quote now: “While paying lip service to the encouragement of representative democracy in Latin America, the United States has a strong interest in just the reverse.” Apart from formal elections that are often farcical, and that the alleged US concern for democracy when proper conditions have been established by repression, violence, or simply control of resources, that that is only a tactical device to ensure the dominance of “private capitalistic enterprise linked to the US” — I am quoting from Gordon Connell-Smith, in the major study of the Inter-American System published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London1. As the leading US academic scholar on human rights in Latin America has put it, the goal of the military authoritarian regimes sponsored by the US has been “to destroy permanently a perceived threat to the existing structure of socio-economic privilege, by eliminating the political participation of the numerical majority, principally the working or popular classes,” that is what we call democracy.
In the case of Nicaragua, as George Shultz frankly explained, the concern was that Sandinista success might embolden others to seek radical solutions to their problems, unacceptable to the United States. Therefore, the United States followed what in fact is quite a traditional pattern, attempting to force Nicaragua into the Soviet orbit by military attack, pressures on allies and international lending institutions to refuse military and other aid, economic warfare that has had a lethal effect in a desperately poor country, ideological warfare here and abroad, including Nicaragua, where the US, in fact, dominate the media in much of the country. The purpose was to abort the success of the Sandinista revolution in health, welfare and development, and to ensure that the virus of independent development does not infect the region, to use the std terms of, in this case, Henry Kissinger and others. There have been numerous other examples over the years.
Now policy does vary. At the hawkish extreme, we have the Reaganites, who favor force over diplomacy and thunder that “negotiations are euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table,” and that the purpose of our aid is to permit people who are fighting on our side to use more violence — that’s George Shultz and Elliott Abrams, respectively.
[The US] wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely.
Turning briefly to the Middle East, the primary concern was the same. The fear that indigenous nationalism might threaten their effective control over one of the greatest material prizes in world history, that was understood since the 1940s to provide us with a leverage over Europe and Japan. The National Security Council recognized in 1958 that “a logical corollary of our opposition to radical nationalism would be support for Israel as our loyal ally.” This conception of Israel as a strategic asset became established in ways I can not review here, particularly under the Nixon doctrine, with Israel and Iran under the Shah assigned a role of “cops on the beat,” as the Defense Secretary Melvin Laird put it at the time. Israel also increasingly came to provide services for US power in Africa and Asia, but particularly in Latin America, as in Central America, over the past decade, where Israel has served, in effect, as a mercenary state within the impressive international terror network that was partially exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings.
These are the essential factors that have led the U S to block a political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1971, a settlement that is backed by a broad international consensus, that favors a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized borders, based on the principle that the indigenous population of the former Palestine and the Jewish settlers who largely displaced them, both have the right of national self-determination. Such a settlement, which has long been feasible, is opposed by Khomeini, by Qaddafi, by the United States and Israel. US-Israeli power has been decisive in blocking it. This policy, not too well understood here but easily documented from the record, and traceable back to Henry Kissinger, that guarantees further escalation of the cycle of harsh repression, resistance, more repression and more resistance in the Occupied Territories, with the likelihood of regional wars and possible superpower confrontation, as has repeatedly threatened since 1967.
These are, I think, the main outlines of what you will discover if you review the ample documentary and historical record, a record that is very remote from official pieties, as we regularly discover in investigating international affairs and their ideological cover.

HERMANN: Thank you. And now, a second opening statement from Mr. Richard Perle.

RICHARD PERLE: There is a story told, perhaps apocryphal, but perhaps true, about Machiavelli on his death bed. A priest was summoned, leaned over to the ailing philosopher and said: “Are you prepared to reject the Devil and embrace the Lord?” There was no response from Machiavelli, so the priest repeated his question, again no response. He asked a third time, and this time Machiavelli raised his head slightly from the pillow and he said: “Father, this is no time to be making new enemies.” And I do not want to make new enemies this evening, but I cannot allow what I have just heard to stand unquestioned.
So perhaps I might begin with the very beginning, with the notion implied by Professor Chomsky that there is a sense in which Soviet propaganda, which characterizes the United States and its allies as imperialist, is somehow “the mirror image” — I think it is his phrase — of what he calls American propaganda.
I would hope that Professor Chomsky would acknowledge that there is at least one fundamental difference between propaganda in this country and propaganda in the Soviet Union, and that is that in the Soviet Union, there is a monopoly disposed of by the state over what is said and written, what is presented over the air, for which there is no comparison in a society of multiple voices, one indeed that produces Professor Chomsky’s books in large numbers, publishes his articles and invites him to participate on the airwaves as C-SPAN is now doing.
I listened with interest to Professor Chomsky’s account of the “State Department planners.” I am not quite sure who they are, with the exception of George Kennan, and I presume the references to Kennan were meant to include him in the group of State Department planners, who in Mr. Chomsky’s view, planned for a Grand Area, an imperial American policy in the Far East, he said, in Europe, and in the Middle East. And yet if we look at American policy in the post-war period, what was its principal thrust? Its principal thrust was the establishment of the Marshall plan to help rebuild the economies of Europe, assistance to Japan to rebuild Japan along democratic lines, indeed the reconstruction of a Japanese constitution, and massive disarmament of American military forces. That is the foreign policy that Professor Chomsky would have you believe was designed to implement a vast imperial ambition. It would be among the most extraordinary miscalculations in the history of international politics to base an imperial policy on the reconstruction of other powers and the dismantlement of one’s own military establishment and yet that was the essence of American policy in the post-war period.
Our policies, Professor Chomsky would have you believe, were intended to produce American control. But where do you see signs of American control in relations, say, to our principal allies in the world? I had the privilege for more than 6 years, of representing the United States, among other places, in meetings of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an organization of 16 independent nations, and I can assure you that there was not a representative from any other nation around that table, who would for a moment accept the notion that the United States controlled the policy of his country. When we deliberated as we freq did, in order to produce the statements that from time to time we made on a consensus basis, we had to persuade others to accept language that they could sign, and frequently, indeed most of the time, we were only able to achieve consensus by making essential compromises, so that everyone was content with what became the policy of this collective organization — hardly a system of control.
I would caution you not to trust too much on every piece of paper that is produced in the Department of State.
Now I find curious indeed the underlying thesis, and I take this to be the underlying thesis of Mr. Chomsky’s presentation, that the United States somehow has an interest, that the United States and its citizens or its elite, if you would care to put it that way, would somehow benefit from the destruction of democracy. It is totally unproven. It has been my impression over the years that the United States benefits most, when it is able to exist in the world, of some reasonable stability and prosperity. And democracy, as far as we now, is by far the most productive system in the history of mankind for the production of both stability and prosperity, and we would be fools to promote any other political doctrine anywhere else in the world.
Now this is not to say that we have not found ourselves from time to time in situations where our immediate interests happened to lay with a government in power that did not meet our standards of democracy. We live unfortunately in a world in which there are other countries, including some quite powerful countries, who do not believe that their interests lie with the expansion of democracy, but believe rather that their interests, and perhaps indeed their future, lies with the expansion of communist rule, in particular the sort of communist rule that might be directed or substantially influenced from the Soviet Union. And I would not deny for a moment, I would be foolish to deny it, and you would be foolish to fail to understand it, that there have been and will be in the future, doubtlessly, occasions when the United States, for protecting its broad and long-term interest — promoting democracy around the world, will find it necessary to resist communist expansion by finding itself in opposition to governments that, if they were not contained, would contribute to that potential growth of communist power and influence.
And far from what Professor Chomsky has to say, the notion that the United States has a deliberate policy, to use his words, “attempted to force Nicaragua into the Soviet orbit,” when we had every interest in Nicaragua moving out of any orbit, and indeed, assisted in the transition from Somoza to what we thought, what we hoped, what many believed would be a democratic revolution, the notion that it was in our interest to force them into the arms of the Soviets is such an astounding one I hardly know how to respond to it, except to suggest that even the early history of the American relationship with the Sandinista regime makes it clear that we sought to assist that regime, we gave aid to it, and our disappointment is mirrored by leaders of the Contra movement, many of whom were part of the original revolution against Somoza, who fought to install the Sandinista revolution that they believed would be a democratic revolution and they have been bitterly disappointed, as it has become increasingly clear that far from being a democratic revolution it is a totalitarian one.
Professor Chomsky says, in passing almost, that the Reagan administration has been responsible for atrocities comparable to those of Pol Pot… if I understood him correctly. And he will have later in this program an opportunity to elaborate. But that strikes me as an extraordinary statement.
You see the result in the people who take to the sea … to escape the Vietnam whose independence Professor Chomsky thinks was a desirable outcome.
Now shifting for a moment to the Middle East. The United States, Professor Chomsky says, has blocked a political settlement in the Middle East since 1971. As we look at the recent history of the Middle East, perhaps the only progress toward stability and the settlement of the Middle East has been that diplomatic activity that was nurtured by the United States, and I have in mind in particular the Camp David accord, which at least ended the mortal hostility of Israel and Egypt, which threatened and indeed brought about wars, but threatened wars of even greater severity and destruction. It is only a step, and it does not go nearly far enough, but to accuse the United States of blocking movement toward a settlement when it is in fact the instrument of such movement toward a settlement as we have had, strikes me as bizarre indeed. Now the simple fact is that it is very difficult to persuade our friends in Israel that they should sit down at the negotiating table and conclude an agreement in which they would give up territory that now provides some measure of physical protection in negotiations with an organization that remains to this day pledged in its covenant, in its constitution, in its fundamental articles of existence, that remains dedicated to the destruction of a Jewish state in Palestine.
One cannot ask one’s friends to negotiate with an entity that is devoted to the destruction of one’s friends.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we continue the evening, ask yourself whether the adumbration of documents that you have not seen and I have not seen, and the weight and the consequence of which it is impossible to estimate, bears up with your impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period, and your sense of what the United States represents, both at home and around the world. Thank you.

HERMANN: In a moment, I am going to ask Professor Chomsky if he would like to put a couple of questions to Mr. Perle, but before I do that, let me say that now would be an opportunity for you to jot down a question and to pass it toward the aisle closest to you. We will have several people who will be collecting these questions. Let me point out that there are people, not in the auditorium, who are following this dialog on radio or television, and therefore they would not be able to hear, were you to ask a question from the audience. You will have another chance to do that a little later on, but this would be a good opportunity. Professor Chomsky, a couple of questions.

CHOMSKY: Let me make a comment first. When Mr. Perle said that he preferred to go second, and I said that I had no objection, I assumed that we would keep to the format of such discussions, that is that we would each make a statement expressing our opinion. That is not exactly what happened, the format has changed: I made a statement, and you heard a rebuttal. That is a different arrangement. That being the case, I will take this occasion, if I may, to respond to the rebuttal, which in my view was not a proper way to proceed. Let me just comment a little bit on some of those remarks.
First, Mr. Perle pointed out that the Soviet Union and the United States were internally very different societies. I absolutely agree, and anybody who can think their way out of a paper bag will notice that that has no relation ever to my comment that in every state you look at, whether it is the Soviet Union or the United States or anyone else, you will find official pieties, and you will find a historical and documentary record, and they will not have anything to do with each other.
With regard to the reconstruction of Europe, that was not my main topic. I would be very much interested in talking about this topic if someone would like to raise questions. Let me just stress again what I said: the United States planned, in the highest level planning documents, during the war and later, to reconstruct Europe in the context of liberal internationalism, in which it was assumed that US interests would prevail, given the relations of power. That is exactly what happened, for example US investment in Europe skyrocketed. The United States was deeply concerned that if the United States did not reconstruct Japan and Europe, they would associate themselves with out enemies. Japan, it was assumed, would associate itself with China, with the Soviet Union. We had to block this, therefore we had to reconstruct them under our own control. In particular, the control of the Middle East oil is always regarded explicitly as a lever to ensure, as George Kennan put it, a veto power. Notice that these policies of liberal internationalism, in fact, worked. Let me stress that the documents that I was citing — of course they are a small selection, were not random comments by this or that person. I was quoting the most comprehensive statements of the policy planning staff of the State Department and the National Security Council, the statements I quoted are reiterated over and over again, often, consistently in the documentary record, and they in fact, as you will discover if you look, represent the core of thinking in the 1940s and the early 1950s, when the framework of the current world order was established. Mr. Perle is correct when he says that the United States fosters stability and prosperity, of a very a special kind, the kind in which we can prosper. The kind of stability in which, for example, Honduras exports snow peas and beef, but does not feed its own population, and also foster democracy, namely, the kind that we like. So for example in the early 1940s the United States intervened in Japan and Europe, to conduct their “reverse course,” which destroyed the antifascist resistance, which repressed labor, which broke up unions, which broke up the independent media, which reconstructed business control, and in fact restored pretty much the old order, but now within the framework of US power, and in fact that explains the kind of democracy we want: democracy under business control, linked to us.
The blockade would have the intended consequence of forcing the reliance that we require as a retrospective justification for attacking them.
Now as to the atrocities that are comparable to Pol Pot, again I urge that you look at US government records. So for example the CIA has a demographic study of the Pol Pot regime, in which they conclude — they much underestimate, in my view, but they conclude that fifty to a hundred thousand people were killed. More serious estimates put it at several hundred thousand, and many hundred thousands more died from starvation, disease etc. That is roughly comparable to what happened in Central America in the last decade, in scale and in character. Read the reports of the human rights organizations, of the Church, and so on, and you will find that the torture, atrocities, mutilation and so on in Central America is exactly on the scale of Pol Pot. Check it and see. As to my calling for the United Sates to get out of Vietnam and Indochina, let me recall the facts. Through the 1960s, I did call for the United States to terminate its aggression on South Vietnam and its invasion of all of Indochina, exactly as I called on the Soviet Union to terminate its invasion of Afghanistan. By 1970, I pointed out that the effect of US policy was going to be the guarantee that North Vietnam would control all of Indochina, for the simple reason that at that time, we had destroyed the indigenous forces in the other countries. That is what happened, the United States physically destroyed three countries: they have undergone a disaster that there is nothing in our history to compare with, back to the Black Plague, and in fact you do see the effect of that. If the Russians continue in Afghanistan, you will see similar effects, for the same reasons.
As to the Middle East, Mr. Perle says that it is bizarre to say that the United States has blocked a diplomatic settlement since 1971. Let me repeat what I said: the United States has blocked a political settlement based on the principle that both national groups have the right to national self-determination. In fact, we event went beyond that. In February 1971, when President Sadat of Egypt offered a full peace treaty to Israel — which offered nothing to the Palestinians, on internationally recognized borders, a proposal which incidentally was virtually identical to official operative US government policy (the Rogers plan), Israel refused it, and the United States backed it in that refusal. That led directly to the 1973 war, as was obvious at the time, and constantly reported to Henry Kissinger by oil company executives, ambassadors and so on. After the 1973 war, the United States recognized that Egypt was not a basket case. It could not simply be dismissed, and they finally accepted Sadat’s long-standing offer to become a US client, and moved to exclude Egypt from the conflict. That is the shuttle diplomacy, and ultimately Camp David. The purpose and the obvious consequences was that with the Arab deterrent removed, Israel would be free (it has the biggest military force in the Arab world), to integrate the Occupied Territories and to attack its northern neighbor, with a huge increase in US aid, reaching about fifty percent of the total aid, predicted at the time exactly what happened, now acknowledged in retrospect as what happened. That is the one supposed contribution of the US to world peace. In January 1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution advanced by the Arab States and the PLO, for a two-state political settlement. I will not got through the whole record, that has continued up until today. What I said is perfectly accurate.
As for Israel’s needing security, here again I urge you to take a look at the documentary record, one learns a lot from it, and you learn a lot from the fact that certain people do not want you to look at it. There is a very extensive documentary record in Hebrew (if any of you have access to it) of Israeli government planning and thinking, cabinet meetings etc., from 1967 to 1973. I have gone through it in detail. That is the period in which the rejectionist policy was established, peace was rejected and so on. If you go through it, you’ll find virtually no reference to security. That was not a concern. The reason is explained, repeatedly, by Israeli military leaders: General Harkabi, many others. The issue is not security. What you see discussed there — for example you see much more discussion about access to water than about security. The point is that Israel did not want to abandon those territories. You may say they have a right to keep them or whatever, but it is not an issue of security. Israel was much more insecure trying to hold a hostile population inside it than it would be under a political settlement which would reduce tensions and leave a demilitarized Palestinian state on its borders, contained within a hostile Israeli-Jordanian military alliance. Whatever the issue may be, it is not security, nor is it the PLO covenant. The PLO, in my view, should withdraw the covenant, but in 1977, it had already announced that the covenant would have no consequences for interstate relations, any more than statements of the Zionist organization do. Israel stated that the PLO, in the covenant, is dedicated to the destruction of Israel: yes, but they have said that it does not affect interstate relations. However, Israel is dedicated to the destruction of the Palestinian nationalism, and it implements that dedication. Furthermore, quite apart the actions, the official documents of the Zionist movement up until today, they still call for that. For instance, the governing Likud Party has repeatedly, again a few weeks ago, announced that its claims to Jordan remain in place, it has not abandoned its claims to Jordan. David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, back at the time of the partition, repeatedly made it clear that, as David Ben Gurion put it, “The bounds of Zionist aspirations cannot be controlled by any foreign element. They will be determined by what we do.” As the 1949 war was continuing, he stated: “We will not establish borders because we will determine the borders by our own actions.”

HERMANN: Professor Chomsky, let me break in at that point. There are a couple of things I would like to pull out of Professor Chomsky’s remarks, and ask you, Mr. Perle. The first one, that he formed as a kind of question, is: what should we expect with regard to Nicaragua? When, as we did in 1985, engaging a blockade, and in effect engaging aggressive actions against Nicaragua, did we not push them into looking to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for assistance?

PERLE: Well, I believe that Nicaragua was already, not only looking to the Soviet Union for assistance, but receiving it, and receiving it on a sizable scale. using equipment received from the Soviet Union and from Cuba, in El Salvador, in order to try to produce a change of government in El Salvador. We started out, the Carter administration started out — some of us were a little bit be dubious about that policy, but nevertheless it started out well-disposed towards the new Sandinista administration, I think that is undeniable. Its attitude towards the Sandinistas began to change when it became evident that the Sandinistas were not putting into place the sort of democratic administration that one had expected, and indeed that a number of the Contra leaders, for that reason, left the Sandinista leadership and decided — and this must have been a bitter disappointment, that they would again have to take up arms in order to attempt to realize their ambitions for the democratization of Nicaragua, and what we have in Nicaragua today is a police state, I do not think there is any question about that, I do not see any likelihood that it is going to change. But what I find most peculiar about Professor Chomsky’s view — and perhaps he would care to say more about it, is why he believes it is in the interest of the United States to drive Nicaragua into the arms of the Soviet Union — since he believes that is what we did. As one listens to Professor Chomsky, I think one can only come to the conclusion that the United States is led and has been led for the last forty years by people who have not the slightest idea of how to promote their own intelligent interests. As he describes both our policies, which he derives from documents — and I can only repeat that, unless I am mistaken, you have never served in government, because anyone who would attempt to derive the conclusions you do from the kind of documents you have been reading simply does not understand what it means to formulate policy in a real government. If you accept the general thrust of Professor Chomsky, then I think you have to come to the conclusion that the leadership of the United States, for the last forty years, has acted contrary to the interests that he says they had established as their principal interests, that was, the prosperity of the United States, in a world of liberal internationalism. I happen to think that liberal internationalism is a pretty good thing, and Professor Chomsky obviously does not. I believe it is conducive to the prosperity of the United States and to the prosperity of the world broadly speaking. Professor Chomsky is troubled by the fact that Honduras exports snow peas: he has mentioned it twice. I presume they export snow peas because there is a market abroad for snow peas, and it seems to me, on the whole, a good thing, for countries that are able to produce and export and earn income thereby, to do so. The fact that there is poverty in Honduras is not an argument against building up Honduran export industries.
While it is true that the Palestinians have made a depart of their covenant that Israel has no legitimate right to exist as a Jewish state in Palestine, if it were up to him, he would have changed that, and they have sort of disavowed it so we should not take it too seriously, I do think that this is the point. There is a reason why the PLO has not revised their covenant to change that provision and the reason is that would tear the PLO apart if they attempted to do so, because a significant element within the Palestine Liberation Organization is dedicated to the destruction of a Jewish state in Palestine. I do not know where Professor Chomsky stands on the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine — I happen to believe that it is right and proper, that there should be a Jewish state in Palestine. I am not, as a consequence of that, unsympathetic to the situation of the Palestinians, but a solution, when one is found, has to be one that guarantees some reasonable security for the Israelis after what the Israelis have been through. And as you look at the turbulence in the Middle East, it seems to me understandable that any Israeli government will want to move with extreme caution in concluding agreements that entail a significant sacrifice in terms of physical security, that is by giving up territory that acts as a buffer in exchange for promises originating with an organization that remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

HERMANN: Professor Chomsky, do you wish to respond?

CHOMSKY: Several questions came up, let me do them one at a time.
Why is it in the interest of the United States to drive Nicaragua into the hands of the Soviet Union? That is transparent, actually. First, let us establish again that that was the policy of the United States. Simply to review the record, the Carter administration tried very hard — first of all, supported Somoza until virtually the end, long after the Nicaraguan business community, our natural allies, turned against him, and after other Central American allies turned against him. When it became impossible to support Somoza, because he was obviously gone, the Carter administration tried to maintain the National Guard in power. In fact, it called upon the Organization of American States to intervene to maintain the National Guard in power, in a policy that Latin Americans called “Somocismo without Somoza.” That failed, the Latin American countries refused to go along. After that, the Carter administration tried in every way, first, to rescue the National Guard, for example, they sent American planes under Red Cross markings — a violation of the laws of war, incidentally, into Managua to take National Guard officers out. The Contras were reconstituted on the border, they were quickly picked up by the Reagan administration, and turned into a terrorist force to attack Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the Carter administration offered aid, but not to the Sandinista government, let me repeat that: that aid went to the private sector. It was again a last-ditch effort to try and prevent the Sandinista from coming into power. Maybe the Carter administration would have made some arrangement, we can not tell, but the Reagan administration came in, that was finished. They launched an attack against Nicaragua almost immediately, both a military attack and an economic attack. They prevented our allies from sending aid to Nicaragua, so for example there was pressure put on France to stop them providing arms — the story about arms in El Salvador, I can go into it if you would like, but there is nothing to it. Both economic warfare and military warfare increased, international lending institutions were pressure to stop giving aid. An embargo was called at a time when Nicaraguan trade with the entire Soviet block was roughly comparable to ours. Again, I say it does not take a genius to realize that the result of this policy will be to force them to rely on the only group we allow them to rely on to defend themselves against our attack. So assuming something short of total stupidity, that was the purpose, since it was obviously the perfectly predictable consequence, and the consequence that, to a limited extent, took place. Now why did we want to do it? Well, that is obvious. In fact, it is a consistent pattern: we did it when we wanted to overthrow Guatemalan democracy, we did it when we wanted to overthrow Dominican democracy in 1965. If you want to attack and destroy a political system, there is a way to do it within our political culture: try to show that it is an agency of the Soviet Union. When you have succeeded in establishing that, then you can attack and destroy. This is a record that has been replayed so many times since 1947, when Dean Acheson pioneered it with a totally fabricated account, as he more or less conceded, of the Soviet intervention — which did not exist — in Greece. At the time of the Truman doctrine, as he knew and as we now know, the Soviet intervention was an attempt to get the Greek to stop interfering with an imperial settlement that they had made with Britain, which granted Britain control over Greece — that is not even debatable anymore. That record has been replayed over and over. The Soviet Union, incidentally, does exactly the same thing when they want to invade Hungary or Czechoslovakia or whatever: they argue that they are defending it from CIA machinations, and they try to show that they are working for the CIA, etc. Other powers do the same thing, so it is obvious why we should do it.
Now was US policy as inept as Mr. Perle suggest? On the contrary, it was extremely successful. The policy of liberal internationalism reconstituted Europe and Japan on the old, conservative order. Remember what that meant: that meant eliminating, destroying, often by violence, the antifascist resistance in much of the world. It meant destroying labor unity. It meant blocking efforts at radical democracy that had substantial support in both Europe and Japan — it is particularly striking in Japan with the reverse course in 1947. It meant reconstituting something like the old order, under US control, with enormous profits for US corporations, a huge expansion of investment, of exploitation of the Third World, and so on — all of this an enormous and maybe unprecedented success.
The Third World, remember, had a very definite role in that system. Its role was to fulfill its function as a source of raw materials and markets for this conservative, quasi-democratic order that we had reconstructed, by pressure and force in fact, in Europe and Japan. And it did that. When I mentioned Honduras, that is just a symbol. That is a symbol of US development policies everywhere. I mentioned Honduras because it was only one minute, but the point is not that Honduras is exporting snow peas, the point is that Honduras is not producing food. The effect of the Alliance for Progress policies in Honduras, in Costa Rica, in Nicaragua, everywhere was to lead to what American economists call an economic miracle. Gross national product went up, and so did child malnutrition, the death toll, misery and suffering. And the reason is, when you impose — by force of course — a development model, in which production for domestic used is replaced by agro-export for foreign use, people starve. And you make profits. So you take land that was used for subsistence agriculture, you turn it over to ranchers linked to American agro-business or the Hanover Company and so on, to produce specialized vegetables and flowers and beef for pet food for the American markets, GNP goes up. Profits go up. A small sector of the local economy profits and the population plummets into disaster. That is why there have been hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Honduras in the last years, and in fact, pretty much the same story was true throughout most of Central America. Take Nicaragua. Nicaragua did have an economic miracle in the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, child malnutrition doubled and general misery vastly increased. That laid the basis of the crisis of Central America. And similar things are true in much of the Third World, that is the effect of this development model.

HERMANN: Let us ask Mr. Perle about that. You gave me a response. The international liberalism that you said you like, he is saying produces an economic model that produces crops for export, which profit only a small sector and produces indigenous wide-scale poverty and starvation.

PERLE: Well, this is garbage of course, as is the whole notion that American policy consists of a group of people sitting in the State Department and figuring out how we can exploit the rest of the world, which is, in essence, what Professor Chomsky is asserting. It ignores the fact — I do not know what development model he has in mind, I imagine it is a Marxist development model…
If you want to know what I have in mind, it is very simple: independence.
PERLE: Wait a minute…
CHOMSKY: I would like to say…
PERLE: That’s not a development model.
CHOMSKY: No, because I don’t think…
PERLE: Is there any country that installed the development model that you would recommend?
CHOMSKY: I think you’re missing my point. Neither the United States, nor the Soviet Union, nor Britain or anyone else has a right to ram some development model down somebody’s throat.
PERLE: That is… I’m not…
CHOMSKY: I can tell you what I think, and in an academic seminar we could talk about how development should take place, but that’s not to the point here. The question is, whether the countries of the world and the peoples of the world are allowed to pick their own development model. That’s the question.
PERLE: Of course they are, and in fact, if you look at the countries that have been most prosperous and most successful, that have picked their own path, and whose people have prospered and whose institutions are democratic and flourishing, they are for the most part countries that have maintained close and friendly relations with the United States. And if you look at the Pacific basin, for example, the success stories in the Pacific basin are countries like Taiwan and Japan and Korea, you can look at Singapore, you can look at Hong Kong, the development model that has worked there has worked with very substantial results for the benefit of the people. They are independent in every sense. I noticed how you slipped in “quasi-democratic” as a description of Europe.
PERLE: I don’t know exactly what you have in mind…
CHOMSKY: I’ll explain.
PERLE: The quasi… But it was a relevant question that you dodged: what development model you have in mind, because I think what I detect underneath all of it is a simple equation of independence with a development model that you happen to prefer, that is something other than a capitalist model of development. And I think you ought to tell us what it is!
CHOMSKY: Well, you see, you’re assuming that I have your values, and I don’t have your values.
PERLE: I’m quite sure you don’t.
CHOMSKY: I have my own ideas about how development takes place, but my point is that neither I, nor you or the US government or the Soviet government or anyone else has the right to ram those ideas down someone else’s throat.
PERLE: No one’s quarreling about that.
CHOMSKY: Now if you want to have this discussion on development models, I’d be perfectly happy to have it. It’s just irrelevant here. I mean, in fact, let’s take a look at the development models you say have worked. If you look at them you’ll notice something very interesting. The ones you mentioned are the right ones. They worked in a particular way, the Pacific basin. But in order to understand those development models, you have to look at the history of those regions. History and documents and so on really are important. You can’t just make this stuff out of your head. Now the countries that have developed in the Pacific basin are in fact the countries that are former Japanese colonies. And there’s a reason for that: Japanese colonialism was very brutal, but was quite different from European colonialism. If you look back at the record, you’ll find that it operated in a different way. Japanese colonialism, while extremely brutal, actually carried out development. And in fact, if you look at the history of these countries since the period of Japanese colonization, you’ll find that development took place — industrial development, in fact, under conditions of extraordinary brutality. It then of course stopped during the second world war and post-world war period, and then took off again where it was under pretty much the same model, namely, a state-controlled, directed economy. What they have, we call it capitalism, has in fact very little to do with capitalism. Well, that’s a particular kind of development model. It didn’t just come by free choice. I mean, in Korea, say, it came after ten years of war: the Korean war started in 1945, remember. In 1945, when the United States intervened in South Korea, and the Soviet Union came into North Korea, what happened was that a civil war began. And in South Korea, about a hundred thousand people were killed before what we call the Korean war broke out, with plenty of conflicts across the borders — the Russians pulled out, incidentally. That’s the basis for the Korean war, then came the fighting, the destruction of Korea, the control over it by the conquerors. You may say it’s good or bad or whatever, it certainly wasn’t free. In Taiwan, the development was carried out under, in fact, a conquering army, he Kuomintang army. And similarly, in Indonesia, let’s say, the development again wasn’t just free. In Indonesia there was a military coup in 1965, strongly supported by the United States. 700,000 people, approximately, were slaughtered within four months, mostly landless peasant. That destroyed the only mass-based political party in the country, with US enthusiastic support, I should say. Then came a certain kind of development model, one which opened up the country to exploitation by Canada, by Japan, by the United States, and a certain kind of development, if you like.
All of these are forms of development, but they didn’t come by free choice: they came by forceful imposition. Just as the development in Hungary didn’t come by free choice, it came by forceful imposition. Of a different kind, undoubtedly: the forms of US intervention are different from the forms of intervention of other countries, for all sorts of reasons, but it’s rammed down people’s throats, it’s not their choice.
When moves began to take place in a way inconsistent with our officially stated goals, namely the threat of ultra-nationalism began to develop, independent regimes responsive to the demands of the population for improvement in their living standards and diversification of production, we have repeatedly intervened by force to block it. We did so in Guatemala since 1954, over and over again, we did it in the Dominican Republic, we’ve done it in the Southern Cone, we’ve done it extensively throughout Central America. In the current period, we’re doing it now in the Philippines. There’s case after case after case.
Let me separate again two issues: what’s the right kind of development model, the proper topic for an academic seminar. What’s the right kind of policy? The right kind of policy is one that allows people to be as free as they can to determine the course of their own affairs, without foreign intervention, without violence.

HERMANN: I’m going to turn now to some questions from you. The first one:
QUESTION: What would you consider a viable alternative to the current Palestinian situation? Would the current Occupied Territories serve as an adequate sovereign state, with a government independent from Jewish influence? Mr. Perle, can we start with you?

PERLE: I’m a lot less enthusiastic about that than I was an hour ago. I don’t have an answer. And I think I probably differ from Professor Chomsky, who has an answer for absolutely everything… and will tell it to you at great length.
HERMANN: Right. What about the Palestinian situation?
PERLE: I really don’t have a solution, except to say that a precondition for any solution must be a recognition on the part of all parties of the legitimacy of all parties. That is, you cannot build a political agreement on the premise that a Jewish state in Palestine is illegitimate. It will not happen, and if it did happen, it would not be stable or secure. So that seems to me the necessary first step. Professor Chomsky has all but acknowledged that he too thinks that the PLO ought to recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state in Palestine, and I hope he has more influence with them than he is likely to have with the makers of American foreign policy.

HERMANN: Professor Chomsky, what would you consider a viable alternative to the current Palestinian situation?

CHOMSKY: Well, there is an obvious viable alternative, and the international consensus that I described has in fact outlined it. Most of Europe, most of the aligned countries, the major Arab states, the mainstream of the PLO for well over a decade, have called for a two-state political settlement arrived at by negotiations leading to mutual recognition. PLO does not have to wait for my advice, which I wouldn’t give them anyway, to call for mutual recognition of Israel and a new Palestine state: they’ve been calling for that for years.
Now if you listen to Mr. Perle carefully, you will notice that a word was sneaked in there: that was the word recognition of their legitimacy. Now that they will not do. There is an interesting diplomatic history with regard to the Middle East. The United States has been trying to block a settlement for a long time. As it became obvious that the PLO and the Arab states were quite willing to accept the existence of Israel — the existence of Israel — that is, to achieve a two-state settlement with recognized borders, with international guarantees, with mutual recognition and so on, after it became obvious that this was possible, it was necessary to up the ante a notch. And what happened was — and here, take a look at the recent American diplomatic history, I urge you to look at the documents, very informative — you’ll notice that the position was changed. It was not enough for them to recognize Israel: they had to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, or the right to exist of Israel. Now “right to exist” is something that does not exist in international law. No state recognizes the right of any other state to exist. Mexico does not recognize the right of the United…
PERLE: Most states don’t question the right of other states to exist.
CHOMSKY: Excuse me. That’s not true. We reject outright the right of the Soviet Union…
PERLE: No we don’t.
CHOMSKY: …to exist in its present borders. That’s why…
PERLE: Not at all.
CHOMSKY: …we have Captive Nations Week every year. And we may be perfectly right in doing that. Mexico does not recognize the right of the United States to exist within its present borders, which happen to include a third of Mexico. In fact, in the international system, there is a notion of recognition of a state, but there is no notion of recognition of the legitimacy of a state. To call on the Palestinians to accept this new concept is to ask them to accept that it’s not only that there is a state in an area which they regard as their own — they’re willing to recognize that — but to recognize the right of that state to have dispossessed them. Of course, they’re not going to accept that, nor should they, there is no such thing in international affairs, and the effort to try to obtain it is pointless and absurd. Let me now make clear that while the PLO has, with varying degrees of ambiguity but often with great precision, I should say, called for a political settlement along the lines I mentioned, Israel and the United States have been equally clear, namely in rejecting any such political settlement. Not only do they reject the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, but they reject any manifestation of that right.
US-Israeli rejectionism is so extreme that they will not even permit the Palestinians to select their own representatives for negotiations. That’s really extreme. If somebody had came in 1947, and said: “The Jews in Palestine can be represented, but not by Zionists,” we would have called that a regression to Nazism. And the same principle holds here. The fact that the PLO has engaged in terror, as have other nationalist movements, including George Washington, is obviously not to the point. By these standards, we would have rejected the Zionist movement, which engaged in extreme terror. In fact the current Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir, was the head of one of the leading terrorist groups, the group that assassinated UN ambassador Folke Bernadotte, among many other atrocities. And was the author, in 1947, of a pamphlet in which he not only advocated terror, but said there was no moral barrier whatsoever to the use of terror, nor can there be. Well, yeah, that’s what national movements are like, that doesn’t stop us from dealing with them. And it doesn’t stop us — we’re like that too. All of these are simply excuses to try to evade a political settlement that has long been possible. That’s a political settlement among national groups which exist. One of them has its national existence realized in the State of Israel, the other is under military occupation. If we agree — there is a point of principle here, of course — if we agree that Palestinians have the same human rights as Jews — maybe we don’t, but if we agree to that, then there is an obvious form of political settlement. The two-state settlement of the sort that we have rejected, which Israel rejects, just as its governing party continues to claim Jordan. Now, I don’t think we should back that, I think we should allow a move towards political settlement. It won’t be easy, there are a lot of problems, but at least we can begin to move in that direction.

HERMANN: Let me pick another question. And for this one, Professor Chomsky, we’ll start with you:
QUESTION: What do you think the US can and should do to help stop drug trade in Latin America?

CHOMSKY: Well, one thing we can do to stop drug trade is to stop cooperating with it. In fact, if that one ended, it wouldn’t come near ending it, but it would be a good start. For example, take, say, General Noriega. He’s been well known to be up to his neck in the drug racket since certainly the early seventies, mid-seventies at the latest, and we was a very favored US ally until the mid-1980s, long after that. The reason was, because he was performing services for us. He was offering a base for the attack against Nicaragua, and so on. No he ran a totally fraudulent election in 1984. He was right at the top of the Colombian drug cartel. We rewarded that by sending George Shultz down to bless the occasion as a great step forward in democracy, after the fraudulent election. For reasons that are still not entirely clear, but apparently because Noriega at some point stopped following our orders, we decided to turn against him, and incidentally we’ve achieved the magnificent result of organizing virtually most of Latin America, and even the Catholic church in Panama, in favor of Noriega, who they hate, because of the form of US intervention. That’s a real achievement. One thing we could have done is to avoid that form of participation in a drug racket.
The same is true of the Contra story. There is very little doubt by now — I mean, I think the evidence is very convincing — that the Contra aid program was tied up with drugs, and it’s not the first time, incidentally. If you look at the history of clandestine warfare, you’ll find that it’s very often linked to the drug racket. There’s a very simple reason for that: covered actions, clandestine actions require untraceable money. And one of the places you go for untraceable money, and so on and so forth is to the drug racket. That’s why the CIA, back in the late 1940s, as part of its efforts to break up the French labor unions, reconstituted the Corsican mafia, apparently offering as a quid pro quo the rebuilding of the heroin racket. That’s why one of the major centers of the drug trade shifted to the Golden Triangle (Laos, Thailand and Burma) at the time of US clandestine operations there, and it’s why the Contra operations are involved in drugs.
Now this is a small part of it, the main source of drugs is coming from elsewhere, but that’s a part. So one thing we could do to try to control the drug racket is to stop supporting it. A second thing we can do, and this becomes more serious — my own view, frankly, is that the only way the drug racket will be controlled is by legalizing it. That’s a proposal that’s been made repeatedly. This has to be thought through carefully, it’s not a trivial matter. But I think we’re in a situation rather like that of prohibition, structurally. The drugs are going to come. The drug racket is linked to powerful financial institutions. Ramon Milian Rodriguez, the accountant for the Colombian cartel testified not long ago before Congress, that he had connections with major American banks — we hardly needed his testimony to know this. This is a major capitalist institution: it’s going to work through existing institutions. If it’s illegal, it’s also going to build up crime, organized crime and terror. I really do not think there is going to be any way to control it. It’s too closely interlinked with major centers of finance, capital, power and so on, and I think the only thing we can do is to decriminalize it, and try to reduce it in the manner in which the plague of alcoholism, which of course still exists, was decriminalized, thus reducing the power of the criminal elements, while not eliminating alcohol. And I’m pretty much convinced that that’s the direction we’re going to have to go if we want to overcome this plague, and it is a plague.

HERMANN: Mr. Perle, what can the United States do to stop the drug trade in [Central] America?

PERLE: I think I am not either expert or particularly interested in that question, so I won’t say more than that I think the idea that we should legalize drugs, and we’re not talking here about a little pot, we’re talking about hard drugs — on the theory that because it is so well-protected by capitalist interests, if we legalize it, at least there won’t be criminals involved is an absurdness. We may not be able to stop the flow from Latin America. We can, to some degree, reduce it, to keep market prices high, and that may be the best we can hope to accomplish.

HERMANN: Next question: we’ll start with you, Mr. Perle.
QUESTION: You point out that American foreign policy in regard to our natural allies and Japan is based on the idea of reconstruction and not control. But you fail to take into account the sources of new materials for these reconstructions, namely Third World countries, which were directly controlled by the US. How then, can United States foreign policy be classified as not being one of control in other countries when this state of affairs exists?

PERLE: Look. We have no particular interest, despite the fact that Professor Chomsky continues to assert it in obvious case when pressed to explain himself, in controlling other countries. He makes it sound as if somehow we benefit from control, and takes such an extreme view of it that we would even, in his theory, deliberately drive a country that might otherwise not be aligned with the Soviet Union into the arms of the Soviet Union, it is a bizarre theory of American policy. The fact is, that we have no particular interest in controlling countries beyond the United States. We have an interest in protecting our security: we do not want to see, obviously, Soviet military forces in Latin America. We have an interest in working together with our allies to protect and maintain a stable military balance but the notion of control, his image of the post-war reconstruction of Europe, where we are accused of eliminating the antifascist resistance — the buzzwords are starting to come out as this debate continues — in order to facilitate American investments. Now of course you would have most Europeans accusing us of protectionism and trying to protect our own domestic markets for ourselves… The fact is that we are better off — and it is Professor Chomsky’s terms — with liberal internationalism that is with other countries free and independent and democratic, in a position to interact on a free and independent and voluntary basis with the United States, and the notion that we have anything to gain from control is not only not proved historically and rubbish, it’s a construct that he builds in order to explain — in order to get out what ultimately is his preference for a difference international economic order and a different development model.

HERMANN: Do you wish to comment on it?

CHOMSKY: Let me stress again that my preferences are besides the point here. The preference of mine that is relevant in this case is permitting freedom and independence, and avoiding forceful intervention of great powers in the interests of their own groups.
It was understood that a unified Germany would have a powerful labor movement.
Mr. Perle points out that now we are moving towards a degree of protectionism. That’s true, because the relative power no longer guarantees our dominance. And here again, I suggest that we look at all of this in a broader historical perspective. It has been absolutely traditional, for a couple of hundred years, since modern industrial capitalism developed, it has been traditional for those who believe they’re going to win in the competition to be in favor of free trade. There’s even a standard name for it for the scholarly literature: it is called imperialism free trade, referring in particular to the British Empire. During the period when Britain was being established as the world’s major industrial power, with their rape of India and so on, they were not at all in favor of free trade. By the early part of the nineteenth century, when England became the workplace of the world, the dominant industrial power, it became in favor of free trade, on the assumption that its domestic investors and so on would win out in any competition. By about the 1920s, when England was no longer able to compete with Japan, it turned against free trade, and in fact, closed off the Empire to Japanese penetration.
And that’s exactly the story that we are living. As long that it was assumed that the United States’ interests would effectively win out in any competition, as in fact they did for decades, we were all in favor of freedom of trade. Now that it’s not at all clear that they’re going to win out in competition, we now turn to other forms of protectionism. We were highly protectionist in the nineteenth century. And we had to develop our own industrial system by blocking steel imports. There is nothing very surprising about this, it’s perfectly standard. If we didn’t have the documentary record which explains it, we would know it anyhow, just by looking at the historical record. With regard to the Third World, that meant exactly what we stated: it has got to be available for exploitation, for the reconstruction of industrial capitalism, in the manner in which we want it reconstructed. That’s the reason for the continual intervention and violence on the Third World, the attacks on democracy, the attacks on freedom, the slaughters, whether it’s Indonesia in 1965 or Central America today, the repeated interventions in places like Guatemala. That’s the reason for it. A way to maintain a certain kind of world order, a world order in which US-based interests will in fact prosper. That’s been the purpose, and it’s not terribly surprising.

HERMANN: Let me shoot at Professor Chomsky with this question:
QUESTION: Your summary of US foreign policy in the post-war period implies a level of rationality, efficiency and unswerving purpose at variance with the widespread perceptions of that policy, which frequently seems irrational, ineffective, and oscillating in character. What group do you see as driving force behind that policy, and how has it been so singularly effective in pushing its program?

CHOMSKY: Well, we can identify exactly who was involved. In the 1940s and the early fifties, there was quite sophisticated planning, I should say. This was a period of considerable intelligence. If you read the documentary record, you see thoughtful, careful planning of the kind which I have sampled. Not that they didn’t make mistakes, the world is a complicated place and there were many mistakes, but it was largely successful in the interests that they attempted to achieve, the interests that I have described.
As to identifying the people involved, that’s easy, you can even find their names. But more interesting than their names is the institutions they represented. Overwhelmingly, they were drawn from a small number of corporations, investment firms and half a dozen law firms that represent primarily corporate interests. People who had a broad picture of the needs of US-based corporations, which of course dominate the state system now, surprisingly. That’s the interests they represented, that’s the world they organized. You can even say you like this world or you can say you hate it, that’s the world they organized with considerable thoughtfulness and in fact a lot of success. Since that period, it’s been mostly a matter of following up the lines of policy that were already established. So for example in the case of South-East Asia, we happen to have a very rich documentary record, reaching in fact way beyond the officially declassified materials, because of the opening up of the South East Asia files after the Pentagon papers affair. And what you see there, if you look, is simply the application of principles already established to this specific case, with very little innovative thinking, I should say. Today, we don’t know what the planning is, because we don’t have the documents, but you can make it out. You can make it out by watching the events unfold.
Since the economic damage caused to the United States by the Vietnam War (they didn’t know that it was going to be so costly), since that time, the US economy has been in trouble. It has been necessary to extend the role of the state in protecting the relatively competitive sectors of the US economy. We are moving towards a kind of protectionism. The major protectionism in the United States is the support for the high technology industries. We in the United States have a system of state-guaranteed market for high-technology production, a system for forcing a public subsidy to high-technology production, in particular, the costly research and development aspect of high-technology production: that’s called the Pentagon. It’s not just for producing weapons. Take a look at the history of the computer industry, the core of any modern industrial society. If you look at the 1950s, when computers were not marketable, really, the support for research and development of computers was a hundred percent the military system. By the 1960s, computers became salable on the market, so that support by the State — you know, forced subsidy through the State — reduced to approximately 15 percent. Now we’re engaged in the development of what’s called fifth generation computers, huge computer development competing with Japan and so on, and the State contribution shot up again. It’s now approximately a hundred percent, through research and development through the Pentagon, NASA, which is just a front for the Pentagon, and the Department of Energy which is primarily using it for the production of nuclear weapons. That’s the system that we used to create a protected market for the parts of the economy that still function, and under the Reagan administration, which in fact is highly protectionist and highly committed to State intervention, this system expanded radically. That’s our system, called military Keynesianism, of protecting the parts of the economy that in fact function. It’s a costly system. The Reaganite economic management, which was particularly disastrous, had the effect, as you know, of turning the United States into a tremendous debtor country after having been the world’s major creditor, of seriously affecting the trade balance and so on, and those are costs that we’ll have to bear, but that’s what comes from this kind of protectionism. Particularly in the Reagan administration, which succeeded in combining some of the worst features of state-run economies, in efficiency and so on, with some of the worst features of private capitalism. It’s a little achievement.

HERMANN: Mr. Perle: “There is an economic power elite which provides the consistency in American foreign policy.” Your response?

PERLE: Well, of course it is a lot more complicated than Professor Chomsky thinks it is. The making of American foreign policy is subject to a great many influences other than the roomful of capitalist lawyers, bankers and corporate executives that he conjures up, who in his view of the world, have since 1945 been manipulating American policy in order to serve their own, selfish financial interests. It’s a simple enough model, it’s a model that is intended to appeal. He keeps referring to the documents that prove it. He keeps coming back to the policy planning council at the Department of State. I have served in government for a good many years now, and I’ve never yet seen a policy planning council document that interested anyone except the authors of the policy planning council. And anyone who thinks that American policy is based on the implementation of policy planning council documents has never had the experience of one of these documents or grappling with the problem of implementing American foreign policy.
HERMANN: Could you…
PERLE: There is no power elite of the kind that Professor Chomsky suggests there is, manipulating the world in the interest of American capitalism. You’re perfectly free to accept that model if you’d like, but no one who’s had any association with the policy process would believe it for a minute.
HERMANN: Do you have an alternative notion of the policy process?
PERLE: As the question implies, there is a great deal that goes into the making of policy that includes things like imperfect knowledge, and not necessarily understanding the social and political forces with which we’re dealing. There are mistakes, to be sure. There is a lot of idealism in the process, people to believe that the United States are to make sacrifices of various kinds in order to assist in the expansion of democracy around the world, and we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble from time to time, in an effort to accomplish that. But if you listen to Mr. Chomsky, you think that we’re motivated entirely by a kind of rapacious elite looking after their own interest, and it’s complete nonsense, of course.

HERMANN: A question, we’ll start with you, Mr. Perle, about terrorism, and what is terrorism:
QUESTION: Does 170+ dead Palestinians killed by settlers and Zionist troops qualify as terrorism? How about 700+ dead South African youth in 1976 in South Africa? Is this terrorism? Does 40,000 dead Nicaraguans qualify as terrorism? If not, please explain.
Whatever terrorism is, I would not define it in such a manner as to confuse acts by the PLO against noncombatants, frequently children, with action taken by George Washington in the American War of Independence.
PERLE: That applause, I take it is for the question, and not for my answer. Let me say this: whatever terrorism is, I would not define it in such a manner as to confuse acts by the PLO against noncombatants, frequently children, with action taken by George Washington in the American War of Independence. It does seem to me that the essence of the concept of terrorism is an attack against noncombatants, that is an attack against people who are not involved, not directly parties to a conflict. And one of the things that I object to in the analogy suggested by Professor Chomsky is the failure to recognize than when the PLO attacks a bus full of civilians, including children, and murders them, that is not in any way to be compared with a struggle for independence.
WOMAN IN THE AUDIENCE, shouting — Of course it is!

CHOMSKY: OK. May I come in on that one?
HERMANN: Terrorism…
PERLE: Well, I have given a definition of terrorism. You can apply it to those situations.
CHOMSKY: Here again, I’ll unfortunately refer to US documents, which I think are quite good. The US code has an official definition of terrorism, and it’s a pretty good one. State department and Army documents, for example the Army manual of counter-terrorism have good definitions of terrorism. I think we ought to keep to it. Basically, without quoting all the words, it comes down to just what you said. The threat or use of force to coerce and intimidate civilian populations. That’s terrorism. Now, that would include, in fact, George Washington’s actions, for example — in fact, that may have went beyond terrorism — the destruction of the Iroquois civilization in 1779, the rampaging of Greene’s armies and so on. I don’t say that particularly critically, I really don’t know of any national movement that didn’t involve terrorism. But let’s keep up until today. I agree with you that when the PLO attacks civilians, that’s terrorism. Similarly, when the United States direct its “proxy army,” as it’s called in internal documents again, when it directs its proxy army to attack “soft targets” — the words of General John Galvin, testifying before Congress a year or two ago, to attack soft targets and not going on to duke it out with the Sandinistas directly, that is to avoid defended targets and attack soft targets, that’s terrorism. When Charles Redman, State Department spokesman, endorses publicly the attack of our proxy forces against agricultural collectives, on the grounds that there are some people with arms defending them, that’s advocacy of terrorism. Just as it would be if Qaddafi endorsed the attacks by the PLO against Israeli collectives, which are far better armed than the cooperatives that we’re attacking. All that is terrorism. In fact, when former CIA director Stansfield Turner testified before Congress in 1985 on this, he simply referred to our attack against Nicaragua as terrorism, State-sponsored terrorism.
That’s giving us the benefit of the doubt, I should say. If you take the World Court decision seriously, it may pass beyond terrorism to the much more serious crime of aggression: unlawful use of force. But, giving the US the benefit of the doubt, it is large-scale terrorism. When the PLO attacks a bus and kills civilians, that’s terrorism. When Israel bombs civilian targets in the Beqaa valley, with maybe 400 casualties, including children killed in a bombed out schoolhouse, mosques destroyed, markets destroyed, that’s terrorism. In fact, there is plenty of terrorism in the world. By and large, it is a roughly fair generalization that the more powerful the entity involved, the more terrorism it carries out. There are exceptions, but there is now doubt that we are doing quite well in that conflict.
I might point out that we are one of the few countries in the world that is officially committed to terrorism. There are other terrorist states, but I want to stress that the United States has an official commitment to terrorism. The commitment to attack soft targets such as agricultural cooperatives, that’s an official commitment to terrorism. If you take a look at the published US Army manuals on “low intensity conflict,” the policy we are officially committed to, you will notice that the definition of low intensity conflict happens to be almost word for word the definition of terrorism: the use of measures short of aggression to coerce and intimidate the population, that’s low intensity conflict, take a look at the definitions. Not that we are the only terrorist state, but we are ranked rather high in the competition for major terrorist powers.
HERMANN: Mr. Perle?
PERLE: I don’t have anything to add to that.

HERMANN: I have a question, let’s start with you, Professor Chomsky.
QUESTION: The Nicaraguan government official who recently defected has stated that regardless of peace efforts, the Nicaraguan government will pursue a policy of military expansion with the Soviet Union. Why should we or shouldn’t we believe their claim that this is going to be a defensive force?

CHOMSKY: Well, he’s speaking of Roger Miranda, who did not state (read the documents that he produced), state or in any way imply that Nicaragua was intending, regardless of peace, to carry out a policy of military expansion with the Soviet Union. What Miranda stated, true or false, was the following — the only newsworthy and in fact novel statement that he produced was that the United States had been vastly exaggerating the number of Cuban and Soviet advisers in Nicaragua, which is much lower than what the United States had claimed, according to him, and approximately what Nicaragua had stated. He said that in the coming years, if the Contra war declines, Nicaragua would reduce the size of its military forces, that’s what he stated, and it would provide light arms to the civilian population, to defend the country against the threat, which continues and is constantly raised, the threat of a possible US military invasion. That means that they would try to turn the country into something roughly like Israel, a nation under arms, but of course with a much lower level of military armament. He stated that Nicaragua — it was the only place where the Soviet Union came into this — he stated that Nicaragua intended to obtain MiG aircraft (jet interceptors), however he did not state and you can easily discover if you want, that Nicaragua would be delighted to obtain French Mirage interceptors. They’ve repeatedly said that. They don’t care if the interceptors they get come from France or the Soviet Union, they in fact prefer to get them from France, because that would terminate the propaganda about their being a client of the Soviet Union. So the fact is they want jet interceptors. Since we’ve blocked our allies from sending them to them, they’re going to turn to the Soviet Union.
We regarded as scandalous for any country to be able to defend themselves against our attack.
Let me suggest a question to you: take the way we talk about this Miranda exposure and about Nicaragua in general, and let’s try the following thought experiment. Suppose that there was a debate going on in the Soviet Union about Luxembourg, in which they said: look, Luxembourg is an advanced industrial power, linked to the United States, part of a hostile military alliance, Denmark even worse, planes and so on and so forth: tremendous threat to Soviet security. Obviously we’ve got to organize a terrorist force to undermine them. Maybe in fact, given the scale of the threat they pose as compared to the threat Nicaragua poses to us, maybe we ought to actually, you know, nuke them or something like that. Suppose that we are on to say, look, if Luxembourg or Denmark obtain jet planes, well obviously we’ve got to bomb them into the sea, how can we tolerate that kind of threat? If a discussion like that was going on in the Soviet Union, how would we react? — as far as I know, a nonexistent Soviet discussion, and see what conclusions you draw about our own political culture from that.

HERMANN: Mr. Perle, shouldn’t we believe a defecting Nicaraguan official about their intentions to follow a policy of military expansion with the Soviet Union?

HERMANN: OK… Let me ask each of you to make a brief comment about one concluding question, and then I’ll ask for final summary statements. The final question that I will put to each of you is:
QUESTION: Pick either area that we’ve talked about, either Nicaragua and Central America, or the Middle East, and say in a few sentences what the United States foreign policy in that area should be now. What would you propose? Mr. Perle?

PERLE: Well, I happen to think that broadly speaking, American policy in the Middle East has been aimed, and continues to be aimed at trying to help bring about a settlement of the principal disputes that plague that part of the world, in particular, the dispute between Israel, and some of its Arab neighbors, and the PLO, but I think we have chosen the right basis upon which to attempt to do that, which is a change of a fundamental nature in the threat that an irredentist PLO committed to the destruction of Israel would pose. Professor Chomsky says that it is not an issue of security, it is very much an issue of security. It’s all very well to sit in Columbus, Ohio, and say it is not an issue of security, but there have been a number of wars already in the Middle East, each one of which potentially threatened the survival of the Jewish population of the State of Israel, and I think Israelis have a right to insist on security arrangements that have some hope and some promise of stability, and the United States has by and large been right in supporting those same objectives.
It is more than a trivial matter when one talks about the legitimacy of one’s right to exist, because as Professor Chomsky knows full well, until the legitimacy of that right to exist is acknowledged, any settlement, any political or territorial settlement will at best be a temporary settlement in the context of the larger effort to destroy the very existence of a Jewish state in Palestine, and I think the United States is quite right not to align itself with pressures to that end.
HERMANN: Thank you. After Professor Chomsky responds, I’ll ask you to make the concluding remarks in about five minutes.
PERLE: That should be some time around breakfast, by my reckoning.
CHOMSKY: I’ll try to make it in time for a midnight snack.
Let me talk about Israeli security, which I think we should be concerned about. Let me repeat that the comments on Israeli security were not my judgments, but were the judgments expressed in the cabinet meetings and other planning sessions that have been amply documented in the scholarly literature in Israel. They did not see the issue in security, and rightly so. As former head of military intelligence General Harkabi and others will explain to you and do explain to you , the problem of a Palestinian state is not one of security. A demilitarized Palestinian state, which is what it would be, contained in a hostile Jordanian-Israeli military alliance, would undoubtedly improve the security of Israel. But that’s not the whole point. In my view here, we probably do differ. It’s not just the security of Israel that’s at stake, peace in that region will improve the security of Israel, that’s pretty likely, and steps toward peace would be steps toward Israeli security. But that’s not the only issue: there happens to be Palestinians there. There is an indigenous population. And their security counts every bit as much as the security of the Jewish population. So all of your talk about your sitting here and not talking about them, you know, if I were to resort to the same rhetorical technique, I would say — I do not do this, this is conditional — I would say, well it’s very nice to sit here and talk about the security of Palestinians in refugee camps. But that’s not the point. We should be concerned with the security of the Israelis and of the Palestinians. Then I think there is an obvious way to maximize, not of course guarantee, that security.
With regard to the question of legitimacy, if the failure to recognize the legitimacy of Israel — it’s a new concept in international affairs — if that excludes the PLO, then plainly, Israel is excluded from the negotiations as well. But it not only refuses to accept the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it even refuses the much lower demand of accepting the request of the PLO for negotiations leading to mutual recognition. In fact, it refuses even to allow the Palestinians to choose their own representatives for eventual negotiations. and it is not only putting these forth as statements, it is acting to implement them.
Finally, last comment. Even if we were to accept this innovation in international affairs and demand that the Palestinians not only recognize Israel, which they have already stated long ago they are willing to do, but recognize the legitimacy of their dispossession from their homes, even if we impose this extra and novel burden on them, can anyone seriously believe that such a statement, such a verbal statement would improve the security of Israel? That’s living in a dream world. Security is not based on verbal statements made by some leader under duress, security is based on arrangements that are created among states and other groups, not on some empty verbiage. Even if they were to produce that statement, it would not contribute one iota to the security of Israel, in fact that’s obvious and that tells us exactly what the point of those demands is: the point of those demands is to place further roadblocks in the way of a political settlement.

HERMANN: Now for the five minute concluding statements. We’ll start with Mr. Richard Perle. The podium is yours.

A deeply cynical view of the world. You know from your own experience, you know from your own observations what the people of this country represent and by and large, although mistakes get made from time to time, and in any human organization, mistakes will be made, I think you know and understand what the American people represent and what their elected leaders represent. They do not represent what Professor Chomsky says they represent. And if you believe that that is what this country is all about, if you believe that we are organized principally to serve the self-interest of a few and that the historical experience of this country since the war has been dedicated and devoted to that, then I think you will have a lot of difficulty to explain it. The enormous prosperity, the benefits of democracy that this country has managed to bring to much of the world. And I ask you, as you depart this evening, to consider whether the world that was described tonight by Professor Chomsky bears any relationship to the world in which you live and make observations of your own. Thank you.

HERMANN: And now for the five minute concluding statement from Professor Noam Chomsky.

CHOMSKY: Well, I finally found something that Mr. Perle said that I agreed with. Our discussion so far has been relatively cool and abstract and antiseptic. We have not looked into the eyes of the victims, as is often the case. The terrorized peasants, the slum dwellers of El Salvador — they have been removed from our consciousness, the maimed victims of the forces we sent out to attack soft targets in Nicaragua, the children with broken limbs in the Gaza hospital, a peasant woman trying to cook in the rain in the ruins of her home demolished in collective punishment in what Israel, with our aid, is turning into a vast concentration camp. Having just returned from the West Bank, and shortly before, from Central America, these images do happen to be vivid in my mind. I haven’t talked about them. I’d like to use these last few moments to outline the radical shift in policy that I think Americans should induce our government to undertake, and we have ways to do it.
With regard to Nicaragua, I think we should follow the advice of the leading democratic figure in Central America, JosŽ Figueres, who was the founder of Costa Rican democracy. He returned recently from a trip to Nicaragua, which he described as an invaded country, and he called upon the United States to allow the Sandinistas to finish what they started in peace: they deserve it. For the first time, he says, Nicaragua has a government that cares for its people, one that was elected as freely as anyone else in Central America except for Costa Rica. He found a surprising amount of support for the government, he said, despite the destruction of the economy caused by US terror and economic warfare. As is understood throughout he world, this is the reason why the US government has been unable to convert its proxy army into a guerrilla force, despite the unprecedented support lavished upon them, vastly beyond anything available to a kind of popular guerrilla movement. We should put aside our reliance on violence and our defiance of international law, we should terminate our dedicated efforts to block a peaceful settlement in Central America, we should offer large-scale reparations for recovery from the destruction for which we are responsible.
With regard to El Salvador, we should listen to the archbishop, who called upon the government we established to accept the offer for negotiations, on the part of the indigenous guerrilla forces, and to halt what he calls the escalade and terror of the death squads, as he now does. We should heed the church-based human rights organization that denounces the continuing state terror, and describes Salvadoran society as, I’m quoting, “affected by terror and panic, a result of the persistent violation of basic human rights,” “as society living under collective intimidation and generalized fear that accepts the frequent appearance of tortured bodies because basic right, the right to life, has absolutely no overriding value for society.” We should attend to the recent poll taken by the Jesuit University of San Salvador, which shows that 95 percent of the population prefer economic and humanitarian aid over military aid of any kind, and at 75 percent, oppose both of the political parties permitted to function under US-backed state terror, called here “democracy.”
The same is true wit regard to Guatemala and Honduras, which like El Salvador, remain under effective military rule, behind a thin civilian facade, which is erected primarily to extort money from Congress in the benefit of the wealthy and the privileged.
In the Middle East, we should reverse our policy of unswerving rejectionism, we should join the very broad international consensus favoring a political settlement with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, within a regional settlement with the Palestinians permitted to select their own representatives for negotiations. That means the PLO, which has every bit as much legitimacy as the Zionist organization did in 1947.
We should ask how our institutions can become responsive to our true interests, which are not different from those of those who suffer at our hands.
By world standards, we happen to be very free of state — and other coercion, and that means that we have means available to learn about ourselves and to act to reverse a course that has brought us shame and has plunged many others into misery. We cannot appeal to fear of oppression if we fail to undertake such efforts, but only to selfishness and cowardice. More than any other power, we have the resources to contribute to freedom, human rights, and social and economic development, just as we have the power to destroy and oppress, which is just what the United States government will continue to do if its citizens choose the easy path of obedience and apathy. Ample opportunities are open to us: our willingness to make use of them will determine the fate of many millions of suffering people in the world, ultimately our own as well.