QUESTION: Professor Chomsky, the dust has now settled on Ground Zero. What is your assessment of what September 11th has done to the American psyche?
CHOMSKY: Well, it has been regarded, correctly, as a horrendous terrorist atrocity. It caused anguish, fear, concern — all of that’s completely understandable and absolutely correct. I share it as well. It has also opened up the society a lot so … there is much more discussion, debate, concern, dissidence, protest — in fact, beyond anything in my experience — and new questions have opened in people’s minds that they weren’t asking before — good questions. I even find that in the press to an extent. So, for example, The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, immediately after September 11th, began raising questions about what are actually the attitudes of people in the part of the world to which this terrorist act was traced. Everyone assumed it, rightly, to be somehow connected to networks like the al Qaeda and others who were organized by the CIA and the British for their own purposes. In fact, the people who are now chasing them in caves in Afghanistan were the same ones who were training them fifteen years ago — trained by the US Special Forces… So “What are the attitudes of people in that region towards the United States?” and these questions were explored with some minimal care, really, for the first time. I mean, it wasn’t really done seriously. If you would do it seriously, you would not just ask the way The Wall Street Journal did: what are the opinions [of] what they called “moneyed Muslims”? Rich, rich guys — bankers, professionals, partners in US multinationals — people who were right inside the US system. I mean, it’s interesting to know what they think, too, but that’s not everything. And it’s to their credit that they even looked that far.
And what they found, and if someone went a little bit further with minimal effort, they would discover that this question — you know: “Why do they hate us when we’re so good?” — George Bush’s poignant question — it’s a very old question, for it was asked by President Eisenhower in 1958 — actually, in secret at that time. But now it’s a pretty free country, we have a lot of documentary evidence so we know what’s been going on. Back in 1958 — which turned out to be a very crucial year in world history — that was the year, in particular, in which the US fought a major clandestine war to try to break up Indonesia, and a number of other things. … The US at that time had three major crisis areas, according to the internal discussions, all in Islamic countries, all in oil-producers. One was Indonesia, one was Algeria, one was basically Iraq — the Iraqi region. Those were the three crises. It was made explicit in the internal meetings. In fact, Eisenhower, vociferously, according to the minutes, insisted on this: there was no Russian involvement. The enemy is indigenous nationalism. In fact, that’s true throughout the Cold War, but very explicit then, and Eisenhower did discuss it with his staff, said there is a campaign of hatred against us — not on the part of governments but on the part of the people, and we wanna know why that’s true. And he got some answers. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, said the problem is that the communist — “communist” just means anybody who’s a nationalist, and the CIA was telling them strongly that their main enemy wasn’t communist but it didn’t matter, “communist” just means the ones we don’t like — and they said the communists have an advantage over us, an unfair advantage. He said they can appeal to the masses of the population. That’s an appeal that we can’t counter. And the reason is they appeal to the poor and the poor have always wanted to plunder the rich. That’s the big problem with world history. And we somehow find it hard to sell our message that the rich can — should — plunder the poor. That sentence I added — the rest was his.
But there was a more serious and considered answer given by the National Security Council, the highest planning agency. They pointed out that there’s a perception in the Arab world that the United States supports status quo regimes which, of course, are brutal and oppressive, and does so in order to secure its own interests in obtaining oil, and then they said, well, it’s hard to counter this perception because it’s correct. They said it’s natural for the United States to link itself up with the status quo regimes and try to sustain them and to pursue its interest in obtaining oil. So the end result is that there’s a campaign of hatred against us among the people who we’re basically robbing and on whom we’re imposing harsh, brutal, repressive and corrupt regimes, and it’s pretty difficult to counter that campaign. You know, that’s exactly what The Wall Street Journal is finding after September 11th. It wouldn’t take much research to discover this. Do a little more research you’d find out quite a lot, that this is very consistent. But at least these questions are finally coming to the open. I mean, I haven’t seen anyone point out the obvious like what I just said, which is indeed obvious. This ought to be, like, [in] headlines — so far I haven’t seen any mention of that in the headlines, but … among the public, you can discuss this, and maybe some day it will find its way to a leaked discussion. But, in the general public, these are perfectly open topics and just a couple of days ago in Town Hall, New York, I was talking to a couple of thousand people about exactly this. Well, there weren’t discussions like this pre-September 11th and that’s a step forward and it reflects a substantial wave of public opinion and concern.
QUESTION: Are you surprised, in fact, that Osama bin Laden is not necessarily seen by Muslims as the culprit; that there is — even amongst, you know, middle class intellectuals in Egypt that we’ve spoken to, there is a reticence to put him as prime suspect?
CHOMSKY: Well, that reticence, I’m sure, is shared by Australian intelligence and US intelligence, in fact, by you. How likely is it that some guy hiding in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan was able to organize a sophisticated operation like that? I mean, the chances are very strong that something else is true: that this is a case of what in the intelligence trade is called “leaderless resistance” — meaning a kind of a loose organization where there’s a kind of a framework of understanding that does trace back to gurus — Osama bin Laden and others — and that’s circulated in tens of thousands of cassettes of his speeches around the world. But that leads to groups that are more or less separated in their actual planning. That’s called “leaderless resistance” and it’s all over the place, and it’s one of the reasons why, say, the Christian right groups in the United States that carry out bombing, killings of doctors and bombings at abortion clinics and so on — they’re very hard to penetrate. It’s right here [in the US] but it’s very hard to penetrate because this is the kind of system that’s really hard to break into … and it’s very likely that that’s what al Qaeda is. So, yeah, he’s probably behind it in some significant sense, but that he actually sat down and said, you know, to Mohamed Atta … “You go take that airplane and do that” — I don’t think many people believe that. On the other hand, the idea that he’s not behind it at all is widespread in the Muslim and Arab world — in fact, the Third World. In fact, even in the West. If you have a look at the Internet, there’s all sorts of crazed theories about how it was done by the CIA …
QUESTION: Can I take you back to the speech to Congress that George Bush made — I’m sure you watched it very carefully. What did you make of the speech, in particular…
CHOMSKY: …we’re gonna drive evil from the world…?
QUESTION: …evil – the words “war” – you’re quite right – “with us or against us,” “hijacking Islam”…
CHOMSKY: Well, it was interesting. I mean, I happened to be in India shortly after that and, just for fun, was reading the old Indian epics, you know, from 1500 BC — very similar. The incarnation of Vishnu — the god comes down to earth and he is going to drive evil from the world — that’s his task on earth… And you find other things like this in folk literature and so on. And George Bush has speech writers. He doesn’t make it up. They’re just plagiarizing, saying: “Okay, we’re gonna drive evil from the earth.” There’s somebody else who says that, incidentally, at the very same time — hiding in a cave in Afghanistan — Osama bin Laden. He said, “We’re gonna drive the infidels out of our lands. We’re gonna drive evil out of our land.” And, actually, both of them say terrorism is good when we do it and bad when you do it. In fact, the fundamental difference between Blair and Bush on one hand, and Osama bin Laden on the other, at this level, is that when Osama bin Laden says, “We’re gonna drive evil out of our lands, the infidels,” he’s referring to Muslim lands. When Blair and Bush say, “We’re gonna drive evil out of our lands,” they mean the world. But that’s just the difference in power. On the other hand, the fact is, it’s only in children’s fairy tales and, you know, epic literature that any incarnation of God comes down and drives evil out of the world. This should cause ridicule, particularly when we look at who’s driving the evil out of the world. Who are they? You know?
Let’s take the so-called war on terrorism and just talk about some truisms — real truisms. The diplomatic side of the war on terrorism at the United Nations is led by the new Ambassador who was appointed to lead it, John Negroponte. Well, John Negroponte was in the Reagan Administration – he was the supervisor of the US terrorist war against Nicaragua. He was pro-consul of Honduras, which was the base for the war — that was much more serious than September 11th, tens of thousands of people killed, the country devastated — and, furthermore, it’s uncontroversial. The US was condemned for that at the World Court. His particular responsibility was supervising the mercenary forces that were attacking Nicaragua from Honduran bases, a serious act of terrorism: tens of thousands of people ended up dead, the country was devastated and they never recovered — worse even than September 11th by quite a margin. And it’s uncontroversial. It’s uncontroversial because it was condemned by the International Court of Justice who condemned the United States for, in their words, “unlawful use of force” — meaning international terrorism — ordered the United States to desist and to pay reparations. The [US] response was to escalate the war sharply, to dismiss the World Court decision as irrelevant, and to change the tactics to pure terrorism. So after that [World Court decision] came the first official orders to attack what were called “soft targets” — undefended civilian targets. Now, all of this passed with complete support from the media and the intellectuals and so on, except maybe a lot of popular opposition, but that’s something else. Nicaragua went to the [United Nations] Security Council which considered a resolution calling on all states to observe international law — didn’t mention anyone, but everybody knew who they meant. Well, the standard traditional terrorist states opposed it: the US vetoed it, Britain abstained — nice little abstain, doesn’t criticize the boss — and I think France may have abstained. … So, John Negroponte, in particular, head of the diplomatic side, is on record as being a condemned criminal by the World Court and the Security Council, except for the veto.
I’ll stick with the military side of the current war. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense — what was he doing? While he was Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East, he was supervising even worse terrorism and, furthermore, it’s conceded. Amazingly, it’s conceded — and so yesterday, January 25th, for the first time, the New York Times told the truth, which has been known for twenty years, about the Israeli invasion in Lebanon — which means the US invasion of Lebanon because the US provided the arms, the support, vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for a cease fire — it’s a US-Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Now, it’s been known — anybody who’s looked at the Israeli literature has known for years — that the purpose of the war was exactly the way it was described yesterday in The New York Times, namely, it was a war to install a friendly government in Lebanon, to kick out the PLO Palestinians in order to guarantee the Palestinians would accept Israeli rule of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Now, that’s literal terrorism. I mean, it’s worse than terrorism. Maybe it’s the war crime of aggression … But let’s give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say it was only terrorist killing around 18,000 people… And that’s only one part of it. I mean, I could go on.
So, just to conclude… the entire war is being led by the one state in the world condemned by the highest authorities for international terrorism; the specific individuals leading it were agents of those terrorist atrocities — the Middle Eastern [ones] weren’t condemned by the World Court, but they’re conceded. And that’s only a fraction. And then if you look at other participants in the war against terrorism, what do you find? Russia — so they can get authorization for their own monstrous terrorist atrocities in Chechnya, for example. China — same story. And one of the first countries to join enthusiastically was Turkey. In fact, they were the first ones to offer troops and the Turkish Prime Minister explained why. He wanted to thank the United States because it was the only country that provided them with full support for their huge atrocities in southeastern Turkey — they call it defense, but everybody calls it defense — in which they [committed] some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, peaking, in the late 1990s, thanks to Clinton who provided eighty per cent of the arms, including heavy arms while they wiped out 3500 towns and villages, killed tens of thousands of people, created two to three million refugees — this is all, incidentally, within NATO — just within the time where we were supposed to be tearing our hearts out about atrocities going on across the borders of NATO that we can’t tolerate [in Yugolsavia]. Only within NATO, where we not only tolerated them but escalated them. But he offered his thanks to the United States by even offering troops for the war against terrorism. Algeria joined very enthusiastically. They were very happy to have US authorization for their own terrorism. Israel immediately saw it as a window of opportunity to step up massive terrorism against the Palestinians. And so on, throughout the world. That’s the war on terrorism…
QUESTION: So what has it done to the Middle East?
CHOMSKY: What has it done to the Middle East? Well, it’s frightened everybody, of course. People are scared, and rightly. There’s a super power on the rampage and I am naturally afraid of it… Has it overcome what Eisenhower called the campaign of hatred against us on the part of people? I rather doubt it. I suspect more likely the opposite. But it certainly introduced changes — not so much in the Middle East as in Central Asia. So, the United States is now strongly supporting some of the worst repressive states in the world, not very different from the Taliban. Uzbekistan is pretty similar to the Taliban regime — brutal murderers, repressive state, but now a very close ally and the US is basically setting up a strategic position, military bases and so on in that region, which it didn’t have before but now it will happen. It’s an important region. It’s another [region] full of resources, energy and others, and it’s a kind of a new version of what in the 19th century was called “the Great Game” — then, it was Russia and England. Who’s going to control this region now? It’s the United States, China and Russia. England’s sort of in the pocket of the United States, and France is interested, and Iran is interested and so on. But the question is: who’s going to control and how are they going to control the major energy resources of that region? And the US is, of course, using the opportunity to establish a significant presence there. Again, that means supporting some of the most brutal and corrupt states around — horrifying in every respect you can imagine — but that’s part of a tradition. Well, there’s nothing novel about that.
QUESTION: Professor, given the political scenarios that you’re talking about now, what do you make of those that argue that we now face a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam?
CHOMSKY: Did we face it in 1958 when the three major foreign policy crises were Islamic states and oil producers? No. Did the British face it in the 1920s when they were trying to control that region and trying to fight off France and later the United States who wanted their share and, of course, were initiating the use of air raids against what they called “recalcitrant Arabs” or even poison gas, which Winston Churchill insisted on. Was that the “clash of civilizations”? Actually, when Churchill was advocating poison gas, it was against Afghans and Kurds, recalcitrant Arabs…. In fact, the whole concept is really strange. I mean, what’s the “clash”? Who are the US allies in this “clash”? Well, you know, the most fundamentalist Arab state in the world is Saudi Arabia. And the Taliban are kind of an offshoot of it. They’ve been a US client ever since the state was formed and remain so for a very simple reason — they have most of the oil. The biggest Islamic state in the world is Indonesia. Well, that’s had an off and on relationship with the United States. As long as it was under a murderous, terrorist gangster — one of the biggest killers of the 20th century — then it was great. He was “our kind of guy,” as Clinton called him. When they were under a nationalist and independent regime, which was in 1958… the main problem of which, remember, was: it was too democratic. They were allowing a party of the left to participate — that’s the prime reason when you look at the internal records why the US had to try to support the rebellion and then finally support the general. When it was too democratic, it was an enemy. But as long as it was under Suharto’s control, it was fine. That’s the biggest Islamic state in the world and we can go down the list. I mean, there’s…
QUESTION: But should the West fear Islam now?
CHOMSKY: Excuse me, should we fear the Catholic Church? In the 1980s, when the US was condemned for international terrorism, who were they fighting? Well, primarily the church. A prime enemy of the United States was the Catholic Church which had made an error. It had adopted “the preferential option for the poor” and that is unacceptable because, as we know, the poor have always tried to plunder the rich, as I explained. So therefore they were communists. So therefore they were massacred, and the Jesuits — especially in El Salvador — had some of the most grisly experiences. So, was there a “clash of civilizations” between the United States and the Catholic Church? There’s a clash between independent forces that try to go their own way. Furthermore, we know this. It takes calculated ignorance not to know it. You wanna know why the US is opposed to Cuba? Well, we have the internal records that explain it. We’ve had it for years — they’ve been de-classified. The US made a formal decision to overthrow Castro long before they felt there was any Russian connection — in fact, within a couple of months. When the Kennedy Administration came into office, they were going to focus on Latin America, so naturally Kennedy had a Latin American mission, headed by Arthur Schlesinger, a well known historian. Now, Schlesinger reported the conclusions of the mission to the incoming President — Kennedy, as he was coming into office. With regard to Cuba, he said the threat is the spread of the “Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands” — an idea which has a lot of appeal to impoverished people in the region who might try to do the same thing, stimulated by the Cuban revolution. Well, what about the Russians? He said, well, the Russians are in the background, offering development loans and presenting themselves as a model for development in one generation. Okay? That’s why there’s a “clash of civilizations” between Cuba and the United States. The Cubans have always been the main target of international terrorism for forty years. And so it goes. When you look around the world, yeah, sometimes it’s the campaign of hatred against us by people in the Arab world for reasons that the National Security Council explained, but it could just as well be the campaign of hatred against us by people in the Latin American world or any place else.
QUESTION: So, looking at US foreign policy today, the foreign policy which says we will fight terrorism and we are now at war with any country that harbors terrorism, what are the implications of that, do you think?
CHOMSKY: Well, is the United States bombing Washington? Is it bombing London? Is it bombing Moscow? No, because they don’t mean a word they’re saying. In fact, that’s why there’s such a problem defining terrorism and a big debate to try to find some sophisticated definition of terrorism. Well, actually, there’s a very simple definition. It’s right in US army manuals and the US Code… but you can’t use the simple definition because if you use the simple definition, actually, two conclusions follow. One conclusion – one problem with it is that the simple definition is a very close paraphrase of official policy, except the official policy is called “counter insurgence” or “low intensity conflict” or “counter terror.” But if you look at the definition of it in the same army manuals, you find it’s the calculated use of violence, etc, etc. So you can’t use the official definition for that reason. The other reason you can’t use it is because if you use the official definition, you’ll reach all the conclusions that I’ve just been sampling, and those are unacceptable conclusions. So therefore you can’t use the official definition, and you have to work very hard to find a definition of terrorism which will give all the right results: the people we don’t like today are terrorists but, of course, if we like ’em tomorrow, they’re not terrorists any more. Now, of course, we’re not terrorists … and it takes real sophisticated thinking to try to crack the definition like that. On the other hand, if we’re sort of simple-minded people — you know, like me — I think I have a fine definition of terrorism.
And, furthermore, if we’re really simple-minded, we might even believe what George Bush tells us he reveres most in the world, he’s a pious Christian … in fact, every [US] leader has to say “I’m a pious Christian.” Well, if you’re a pious Christian, you must revere the Gospels, which means you must have memorized the definition of the hypocrite in the Gospels, namely: the hypocrite is the person who applies standards to others but won’t allow them to be applied to himself. That’s the hypocrite. So suppose we’re simple-minded enough to actually believe what we say we revere. So we believe that we should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, and we’re so simple-minded we actually take the official definition of terrorism. Well, some conclusions follow. They’re so obvious I won’t spell them out but anyone who draws these conclusions would be … condemned, vilified. And you can see that and that’s correct. It’s completely intolerable to even imagine that we might not be hypocrites, that we might believe what we say, and that we might accept our own definition of terrorism — that’s a very dangerous heresy.
And, in fact, although the heresy is very rare, well, there are all kinds of barriers raised to prevent it from ever being expressed. They even have a terminology. Intellectuals are familiar with this. Now, there are terms like “moral relativism” — that’s a crime. Moral relativism means honesty. It means living up to the condition of the Gospels. If you apply something to someone else, apply it to yourself. That’s the crime of moral relativism… I think Jeanne Kirkpatrick invented this [term] — it’s an effort to try to prevent anyone from taking the dangerous step of looking in the mirror and asking what we’d do — that’s moral equivalence. There’s an interesting term “anti-Americanism.” That’s an interesting term. It’s used only in totalitarian states. So, in the Soviet Union in the old days, the biggest crime was anti-Sovietism, or the Brazilian Generals, you know, talk about being anti-Brazilian. But take any country that had any respect for its freedom, say Italy — suppose someone came out with a book in Italy called The anti-Italians, referring to people who criticize Italian government policy. Now, what would the reaction be in the streets of Milan? There’d be ridicule. I mean, it’s only in countries that have a deeply totalitarian mentality that the concept can even be, the word, uttered: the United States, England, Australia — places like that where you just don’t take your own freedom seriously. If you take it seriously, you ridicule a notion like that. People who criticized Russian foreign policy weren’t anti-Russian, they were pro-Russian. If you’re criticizing US crimes you’re not anti-American, you’re pro-American. In fact, on many of these issues, most of the population agrees with me. These are just the totalitarian notions [of the elite] but they have to be developed to ward off that very threatening heresy that we might believe what we say, either morally or even in terms of definition.
QUESTION: You said earlier that these sorts of thoughts are getting more of an airing now. Do you think to ordinary people in America the message is actually getting through about American hypocrisy?
CHOMSKY: Oh, I think it has been for a long time. I mean, it’s kinda hard to judge ’cause it’s never really studied carefully so a lot of it’s impressionistic. But there are some studies. So, for example, there are regular reviews of people’s attitudes on international affairs. The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations does this every couple of years. So just take, say, the Vietnam war. What do people think about that? Well, they’ve been taking polls since 1969 and you have a – it’s an open question. You have a lot of choices. You don’t expect high numbers, but around 70 per cent of the population has been selecting “the war was not a mistake, it was fundamentally wrong and immoral.” Now, search the literature. Search The New York Times, The Washington Post, the journals of opinion, scholarly literature and so on. See if you can find somebody who says the war was “not a mistake, it was fundamentally wrong and immoral.” I can probably — we can fit ’em in this room, you know. I think I know most of them. But that’s 70 per cent of the American population and has been since 1969. Now, what exactly do they mean when they’re saying that? Well, unfortunately, we can’t answer because the people taking the polls are so appalled by the answer that they can’t ask the next question, and in fact the way they interpret it is interesting, it’s in print. They interpret it as meaning the American population is unwilling to accept casualties. Maybe that’s what it means. It’s not what it sounds like to me but if you’re a well-bred intellectual and hold a degree from Harvard, that’s the only way you’re gonna interpret it — no other way to interpret that statement. Well, I think there’s a possible different interpretation.
QUESTION: Nevertheless, we have a President at the moment whose all time high in the popularity stakes — America has gone into Afghanistan and achieved what its stated aim was, pretty much, much quicker than expectations.
CHOMSKY: Actually, much slower in, at least, my expectations, and that’s in print. I mean, I was amazed to see how long the Taliban held out. But just take a look at the perception that the population has and what has happened. The perception is we were attacked by those guys in Afghanistan and they killed thousands of Americans and we went after them, the ones that carried out that atrocity and we got them, and we’re taking them and we’re gonna try them. Well, if that’s what happened, I’d support it too, and that’s what most people must believe. You can’t watch CNN [Cable News Network] or read the newspapers and not believe that ’cause that’s what they ram into your head day after day. It happens to be totally false but if you believe it, yeah, you should support it. I’d support it if I believed it.
QUESTION: But is America winning or is the White House winning the propaganda war then?
CHOMSKY: I don’t watch television much but I was in India for a month or so and was compelled to watch CNN and BBC to get the news. Every time you turned on CNN, the first thing you saw in the bottom is “war against terror,” and then the whole thing is framed as the war against terror. You know, heroic American troops going after the people who, you know, destroyed the World Trade Center — and that’s just rammed into your head time after time. In fact, people don’t even know that overthrowing the Taliban wasn’t a war act. It came very late, late October, I think is the first time it was ever mentioned, they didn’t care about that. Bush was telling the Taliban straight out, he said hand over Osama bin Laden and the other guys we suspect of terrorism and then we’ll let you alone. The Taliban actually made some tentative offers towards negotiations for extradition. We don’t know if they were serious because that was just dismissed with contempt. The US doesn’t ask for extradition. They [the Taliban] ask for evidence. That was ridiculed [by the US]: these guys have no right to ask for evidence. You just hand ’em over or else.
Well, I suppose we go back to the Gospels. In fact, here’s what the press would tell people if they had any interest in enlightenment: is it legitimate to bomb a country because its leaders don’t hand over people whom you claim are suspects and when you refuse [to present] evidence? Well, if it is, it’s legitimate to bomb the United States. Here’s an extreme case. Haiti — the poorest country in the hemisphere, the target of US attack through the whole century, one of the reasons it’s the poorest country in the hemisphere — for years has been asking for the extradition of a condemned criminal, not a minor one, he was chief of the paramilitary forces which were responsible for killing about four to five thousand people, not small. He’s in New York or somewhere in the United States. They’ve already sentenced him. First of all, they don’t need evidence, they already have it. Secondly, they ask for extradition instead of just saying “hand him over or else.” They asked for extradition again on September 30th — right in the middle of all this furor. I mean, you’ve got maybe three lines somewhere [in the US media about this]. We know why they’re not handing him over. If they hand him over, he’s probably going to testify about relations he had with the US government: Clinton’s administration and the Bush Administration during the period of terror, which Clinton and Bush more or less supported. Well, you know, going back to the Gospels … Does that mean that Haiti has the right to carry out, say, massive bio-terror in the United States? Well, if not, why not? Okay, if these questions were asked and somebody told the truth about what we’re actually doing to the people of Afghanistan, the support would go way down and we know that, because in those same polls when a question is asked later on, say, “Would you be in favor of what we’re doing in Afghanistan if it was harming innocent civilians?” — the numbers go way down. And if you give any picture of what they actually are doing, it would disappear, I think. It would be like Vietnam.
QUESTION: To what extent is there also foreign policy hypocrisy within Afghanistan, and going back to the war against Russia?
CHOMSKY: Well, I mean, if you can believe Carter’s National Security Advisor [Zbigniew Brzezinski] — and I frankly don’t believe him, I think he’s bragging — but if you can believe in him, he claims that the United States sent aid to the Mujahadeen in order to draw the Russians into what he calls an “Afghan trap,” okay? So, according to the highest authorities — let me say I’m skeptical, I think he’s bragging — but their picture is, what they’re trying to present is the claim that they drew the Russians into Afghanistan, and then they fell into this “Afghan trap” — well, we know what happened after that. The CIA, British intelligence, Egyptian intelligence, the rest of their friends tried to organize the most murderous killers they could find who happened to be radical Islamists — they picked them up from North Africa — wherever they could, armed them, trained them, invited them into the White House where they were hailed as freedom fighters and so on — they’re who the Special Forces were training, as I said, the same guys now hunting them down, and they turned them into a substantial mercenary force — maybe thirty, forty thousand, some estimate 100,000 people — who actually carried out terrorist acts inside Russia, you know, severe enough so as to almost cause a Russia-Pakistan war. They called ’em off when the Russians withdrew. I mean, the Russian invasion was a monstrosity, of course, and it would’ve been entirely legitimate for the Afghans to resist it but this was just pure opportunism and hypocrisy — just to hurt the Russians [and it] destroyed Afghanistan.
There’s an interesting, important woman who’s a well-known figure in the international feminist movement. She was one of the leading UN figures for the last thirty years in feminist issues — she happened to be the UN special representative in Kabul in the 1980s. In the late 80s, around 1988, she was writing articles in which she was warning that if these crazies who the US was training ever got control, the gains that had been made for women, which were significant, would be destroyed. And she said it’s already beginning to happen because the government’s beginning to be afraid of them and starting to cut back the gains. She warned about this, submitted it to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and nobody would touch it. They were not trying to help Afghanistan, they were destroying Afghanistan. Okay, soon as the freedom fighters won, they immediately turned to literally devastating the place. I mean, the worst period in Afghanistan’s history was probably the early 90s when there were mass murders, mass rapes, torture, destruction by a gang of warlords who, incidentally, happen to be the people running the country right now – outside of Kabul – it’s the same people, you know – almost entirely… everyone hopes they’re gonna be better behaved this time but it’s the same people. That’s why the leading women’s groups — who are never mentioned, who hated the Taliban and are very, you know, they were, they’re courageous people and their leader was assassinated by a Russian agent but they kept working even inside Afghanistan right through the Taliban period [in] schools, hospitals and so on — I mean, they bitterly condemned the bombing. They condemned the Northern Alliance. They say you’re just bringing back gangsters who are gonna do the same thing all over again. Nobody will report that either.
QUESTION: If we accept this notion of gross American hypocrisy…
CHOMSKY: American, Australian, British…
QUESTION: … Western hypocrisy, there still remains the problem of this particular brand of terrorism…
CHOMSKY: That’s right.
QUESTION: And what should be done about it, and how US foreign policy should be developed?
CHOMSKY: Well, one problem is you should’ve paid some attention to the reasons why, as Eisenhower said, there’s a campaign of hatred against us — not by governments but by the people. It’s worth paying attention to. I mean, if Britain wanted to pay some attention to, say, Northern Ireland, it wouldn’t have been enough to bomb West Belfast and destroy Boston, which is where the financing comes from. You also have to pay some attention to the grievances — they make the crimes legitimate. Grievances are real. And we can go back to the National Security Council to find the answer to the question: “Why do they hate us?” So we should pay some attention to that — and that’s independent of terrorism. We should do that whether there’s terrorism or there isn’t terrorism, because it’s the right thing to do.
With regard to the terrorism itself, you know, [take] the position that’s expressed in Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment journal, this month by the pre-eminent Anglo-American military historian who has perfect credentials [Michael Howard]. He’s a great admirer of the British empire. He thinks the American successors are even more marvelous. He can’t be accused of moral relativism, just of sanity, you know? This is actually a speech of October 30th but they just published it now. He says in the case of a criminal conspiracy — which this plainly is — what’s needed is careful police work to find the perpetrators, to get evidence, to apprehend them and, if you need force, get international authorization for force, to bring them to an international tribunal where they can get a fair trial — and if they’re convicted then call them terrorists. Nelson Mandela said the same thing, the Vatican said the same thing, and that’s very reasonable — in my view, very reasonable — with one qualification: nobody, including me, is honest enough to live up to the minimal moral principle of saying, “Okay, if it’s reasonable, let’s do it to ourselves.” Like, I haven’t called for taking Donald Rumsfeld and John Negroponte and George Schultz and the rest of them and saying let’s do [that]. We don’t have to bother with careful police work in this case ’cause we already have the evidence — so let’s bring them to an international tribunal and try them for their crimes. Now, I don’t see it that [way] — and that’s because I’m dishonest. See, if we could reach the minimal level of honesty, of practically living what we preach, that’s exactly what we would be saying.
QUESTION: What do you make then of the way the media — some in the media –interpret the administration attention between hawks and doves, between, crudely, [Secretary of State] Colin Powell on the one hand and [Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld on the other?
CHOMSKY: There’s a traditional hawk-dove distinction. So, for example, during the Vietnam war the hawk said “let’s just wipe the place out.” In fact, you still read that today. The dove said “no, let’s more or less wipe the place out but see if we can use some other tactic cause that’s not working.” All right, in the case of, say, the war against Nicaragua, it was very clear, actually, ’cause this is in print if you like. There’s a detailed media analysis of it. There was a split in the national press — [for example,] the Washington Post — between the hawks and the doves. I did a study, actually, of opinion pieces and editorials, and they were sort of split 50-50, hawks and doves. The hawks said let’s just murder ’em; the doves said the tactics aren’t working so therefore let’s use other means to, quoting now, to drive them back into “the Central American mode” and make them observe “regional standards” — that’s the Washington Post, and so on. But what was the Central American mode and the regional standards? Well, that was the mode and the standards of El Salvador and Guatemala, murderous terrorist states which didn’t have an army to defend themselves against US-run terrorists. They didn’t have a means of defense so they were really getting slaughtered by comparison. So, according to doves, let’s turn it into El Salvador and Guatemala… that’s the doves; and between the hawks and the doves, yes, there was a debate. It’s the same over Vietnam — you can see it very clearly when Robert McNamara’s shocking book came out — the book about apology. Take a look at today’s doves and hawks — the intellectuals who commented on it — they were split. The hawks criticized it ’cause he was a traitor. The doves welcomed it as a vindication — a vindication. They said “Okay, McNamara finally realized we were right.” And what did he say? He apologized. And who did he apologize to? Not one word of apology to the Vietnamese — not a hint of an apology. He apologized to the American people because he wasn’t straight with them and he caused them a lot of trouble. So he apologized to the American people — [like] some Nazi general after Stalingrad talking to the German people. But what did he say about the war? He said, “Well, we were right all along but it didn’t look as if we were going to win and that was a shame.” That’s the doves. So, yes… there’s a split between the hawks and the doves.
QUESTION: To go back specifically to the Middle East — because having been there and talking to Islamic academics, they talk about Western hypocrisy in the Middle East and they talk again and again about Israel — in what ways do you think the Western world has been hypocritical in recent history in the Middle East?
CHOMSKY: Well, see, I’m using “hypocrisy” only in the sense of the Gospels. But I don’t even call it “hypocrisy” — it’s just the ordinary behavior of the powerful and the acolytes of power who are called “intellectuals.” In the case of Israel, it’s pretty straightforward. Actually, in the case of Israel, there is a split in the West. There was, at least. It’s kind of hidden but what the United States doesn’t like, gets written out of history. But if we allow ourselves to bring it into history, in 1976 there was a UN Security Council debate on a diplomatic settlement of the Middle East of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It called for a two state settlement on the international border, pre-June 6 border, in accord with UN 242. So, all of the states of the region have their rights preserved, and so on and so forth — everything the US claims it’s for. It was supported, it was supported by everybody. It was put forth by the Arab confrontation states, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, supported openly by the PLO, supported by all of Europe — if you look back at it, you’ll find Australia supported it — supported by the Third World, supported by the Russians who were in the mainstream of diplomacy… It was vetoed by the United States. Okay, it happened again in 1980 but then for years at the General Assembly every year there were similar votes and they were, you know, 150 to 2 or something like that [against] the United States and Israel — all of this is written out of history because if the US opposes something, it didn’t exist. During this period, the US paid for, gave the military, economic and diplomatic support for substantial expansion of Israel into the occupied territories. It succeeded in getting Egypt out of the conflict, opened the way for integration of the territories and the war against Lebanon which, as I said, is finally being admitted. This goes on up to the late 90s. I mean, Clinton was still supporting Peres’ invasion of Lebanon in 1996, I mean, up until the point when international reaction got so bad after the massacre, they pulled back. … By now, Europe is so tamed and the rest of the world is so tamed that they’ve forgotten of what they believe. They’ve forgotten that they were for a long time in favor of a two-state settlement and they now support anything the master tells them to. You can listen to the master’s voice — I don’t know if you call that hypocrisy or cowardice or something else. But there is a possible solution.
And this goes right up to the present… So, last month, in December there was a Security Council resolution calling on all sides to reduce violence, calling for international monitors to be introduced to monitor the reduction of violence and institute the US Mitchell report, okay? The US vetoed it… Went to the General Assembly immediately where the vote was everybody versus the United States and Israel, but they weren’t alone this time. They picked up Nauru and the Marshall Islands, so they weren’t alone, okay? So you can’t say they’re isolated. A week before that there was a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention. Once again, everyone in the world outside of Israel and the United States, everyone holds that the Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories. When it comes up in international forums, Israel votes against, the US abstains. It doesn’t wanna be so blatantly opposed to a fundamental principle of international law which, remember, was instituted to criminalize the Nazi atrocities, you know? They don’t wanna say, “Okay, we’re in favor of Nazi atrocities,” so they abstain. And there was a Geneva meeting, it was boycotted by two states — the United States and Australia. Now why Australia? Can you figure out? From the few pieces I’ve seen in the Australian press, it was because the master had given the orders. When the US boycotts the Geneva Convention, it doesn’t matter that [the participants] unanimously came out saying that — including the European Union and so on — that the conventions apply in the territories. Which means just about everything the US and Israel are doing, including the settlements and the building up of the settlements, is completely illegal — in violation of the conventions. This wasn’t even reported in the United States. It’s our history. So, right at this moment, the good guys, the doves, are acting to escalate the violence for their own purposes. They’re acting to escalate terror. There’s no war on terror — you want your own terror and you don’t want somebody else’s terror.
QUESTION: So, overall, do you think that current US foreign policy is doing precisely that — is escalating terror? Do you think there will be an end to this war on terror the way the Americans and the West generally are going?
CHOMSKY: Well, we have to be a little careful. If there’s an end to the war on terror, they’re gonna have to [go to war?] with the terrorists. People like Donald Rumsfeld and John Negroponte and Richard Perle and George Schultz are not going to do that. So there won’t be an end to the war on terror. In fact, there won’t be a war on terror. Will there be an end to what is called “terror” — namely the terrorism they carry out against us? And that’s what’s called “terror” — everybody uses that [definition]. When the Japanese were in Manchuria and North China they were defending — you read their manuals — they’re defending the population against the Chinese terrorists. And that’s like a historical universality. I suppose when Australia was wiping out the native population they were defending themselves against terror. But that’s, like, universal. So, will there be a victory in that kind of war against terror? I kind of doubt it. I suppose the policies that continue to exist will continue to create what Eisenhower was asking about in 1958 and the British were asking about in the 1920s and so on and all the way back: the campaign of hatred against us by the people because of what we’re doing to them.