On the Bush Administration

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Anthony DiMaggio

Independent Media Center, December 6, 2002

Anthony DiMaggio – I’ve always believed that the Bush Administration’s proposed war on Iraq was for two main reasons: to secure the last oil reserves in the middle east that are not under U.S. control, and to divert Americans attention from the policies that Bush is conducting at home against the common worker, basically against anyone that is not rich. In your opinion, how much of the War on Iraq has to do with securing Iraqi oil reserves and how much has to do with diverting American’s attention from the Bush Administrations war on the American people? Is one more of a factor than the other?

Noam Chomsky – It’s quite widely assumed, right within the mainstream, that these are the two primary reasons. I agree. Regaining control over Iraq’s oil resources (not access, but control; a very different matter) is longstanding. 9-11 provided a pretext for the resort to force, not only by the US: also Russia, China, Indonesia, Israel, many others. And the need to divert the attention of the population from what is being done to them accounts for the timing. Worked brilliantly in the congressional elections, and by the next presidential elections, it’ll be necessary to have a victory and on to the next campaign.

AD – One of the reasons given by some individuals originally for the Bush Administration not overthrowing Saddam in the Gulf War was that a new ruler might have been even less compliant with U.S. interests. This led many to believe that U.S. interest in the Gulf War related more to protecting American oil interests in Kuwait. Do you believe the Gulf “War” was primarily to secure American access to Kuwaiti oil? Did it also have to do with teaching Saddam a lesson for his aggressive behavior with Kuwait?

Isn’t aggression something only we’re “supposed” to be doing? Do you have any incite into which factor was more of a determinant for the Bush Administration?

NC – I think the main reason for the first Gulf war was what’s called “credibility”: Saddam had defied orders; no one can get away with that. Ask any Mafia Don and you’ll get the explanation. There’s good reason to suppose that a negotiated withdrawal would have been possible, but that wouldn’t make the point; again, ask your favorite Don. The reason for leaving Saddam in place was explained very openly and frankly: as the diplomatic correspondent of the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, explained when the US backed Saddam’s crushing of the Kurds, “the best of all worlds” for Washington would be an “iron-fisted junta” ruling Iraq just as Saddam did, but with a different name, because his is now embarrassing, and since no one like that seemed to be around, they’d have to settle with second-best, their old friend and ally the butcher of Baghdad himself. You can find plenty of material about all of this in what I wrote at the time, reprinted in Deterring Democracy; more has appeared since.

AD – If the new War on Iraq is really for oil, what makes the current Administration think they can secure Iraqi oil now as compared to 10 years ago? It seems that the country is just as unstable now as it was then.

What’s changed in the minds of the members of the Bush Administration since the Gulf War? If it was really for oil back in the Gulf War, why didn’t members of the Bush I Administration go all the way like they want to now?

NC – At the time, the US was unwilling to risk taking over Iraq. It has nothing to do with stability. The Iraqi dictatorship is very stable. It had to do with the coalition and domestic support, not willing then for a conquest, and as noted, there was no suitable replacement in sight. Now it’s different.

AD – I’ve heard that during the original Gulf “War”, George Bush had Colin Powell draw up plans to nuke Baghdad (according to Jello Biafra). Do you have any specific information or incite on this? If it is true, how could Americans not realize that American foreign policy doesn’t have even a small concern for humanitarian democratic principles espoused by our “leaders?” I doubt they ever really planned on using nukes, but isn’t the fact that they even contemplated it a sign of how these people and the institutions that support them really operate?

NC – There are no known plans for nuclear bombing, and it wouldn’t have made sense. It was known in advance that Iraq was virtually defenseless. The US preferred biological warfare (what do you think would happen in Chicago if someone destroyed the power, water, and sewage systems?), which is easier for editors and intellectuals to pretend not to see.

AD – Do you think that, setting aside the abnormal logic and irrational behavior of the Bush regime (at least regarding human rights and democracy), that members of the Bush Administration really are concerned that Saddam may have weapons of mass destruction/chemical/nuclear weapons? Are they legitimately threatened (in their minds at least) by Iraq? Although you and I both know the real danger of Iraq to the U.S. (which is minimal or next to nothing), do you think that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld really believe Saddam and his “supposed” weapons of mass destruction are a threat, or is this just a more devious “conscious fraud” that they are using to deceive Americans so they can steal Iraqi oil?

NC – I have no idea what Bush believes, if anything, but Cheney and Rumsfeld know that the external world is really there, and they understand very well why people and governments of the region, though they despise Saddam Hussein, don’t fear him; even Iran and Kuwait, which were invaded by Saddam when he was a favored US friend and ally. No one wants Iraq to have weapons of mass destruction; and no one sane wants Israel, Pakistan, India, the US, Russia, etc. to have them either. The best way to deal with it is to implement Resolution 687, which calls for disarming Iraq through inspections (which the US has been desperately seeking to block), and also for implementing Article 14, always excised when the resolution is brought up: it calls for moves towards disarmament in the region, a code word for Israel’s huge arsenal of WMD, which frightens everyone, including the US Strategic Command.

AD – It seems Bush’s pretexts must be a fraud if control of oil is the real motivation. It is just hard for me to believe that someone would be so devious and such a blatant liar, and know deep down that they are consciously lying and have no commitment to anything but power and wealth.

If this is the case, (that in their minds they don’t believe in freedom or democracy), how can Bush believe he has the right to claim the moral highroad? Maybe I just don’t understand human behavior well enough, but it seems impossible to know you’re lying and claim the moral stance. Am I missing something?

NC – Bush is probably irrelevant. But the people around him have a record: they are recycled Reaganites. That’s why media and intellectuals so scrupulously ignore what they did when they were running the first “war on terror” that they declared 20 years ago. Better not to remember the horror stories for which they were responsible.

On human behavior, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on. Unless you’re an unusually saintly figure, you’ve done things in your life that you knew were wrong. Maybe when you were 7 years old you took a toy from your younger brother, and when he ran crying to your mother, you told her – believing every word – that it was really yours, and he’d taken it from you, and he didn’t want it anyway, etc. Did you tell yourself that you’re stronger than he is so you could take it and get away with it? It’s the same when you’re running a country in the world. It’s interesting to read the archives of Nazi Germany, fascist Japan, the Soviet Union. The leaders are acting from the highest imaginable motives, and probably believed it. It is remarkably easy to come to believe what it is convenient to believe. That’s the secret of being a “responsible intellectual,” someone who serves power abjectly while believing oneself to be an independent thinker.

AD – Do you think the Bush Administration is bluffing about attacking Iraq?

NC – Not at all. I think they are desperately eager to win an easy victory over a defenseless enemy, so they can strut around as heroes and liberators, to the rousing cheers of the educated classes. It’s as old as history.

AD – Or more specifically, are they just trying to see how far the American people will let them go before we might try and stop them? It just seems like they’ve been dragging their feet for a long time on this one, Bush gave his state of the union address over half a year ago talking about Iraq, why has it taken him so long to move?

NC – Iraq wasn’t brought up as a matter of immediate significance until September of this year, when the election season started. In the State of the Union it was remote, along with Iran and North Korea, and the “world terrorist threat.”