American Academic Criticizes US Policy on Iraq

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Lisa LaFlamme

Canada AM, February 14, 2003

QUESTION: Before we tackle the future, let’s just look at the last ten days if we can. Colin Powell becomes a hawk. Bin Laden is back. Tariq Aziz has an audience with the Pope. And Home Depot is teaching people how to make safe rooms in their homes with duct tape. Can you help us make sense of all of this?

CHOMSKY: First of all, as far as Colin Powell is concerned, he always was a hawk and he remains a hawk. As far as the duct tape is concerned, I don’t know what John Ashcroft knows. But it has been predicted by US intelligence and other intelligence agencies that an attack on Iraq, or a planned attack on Iraq, is likely to increase the threat of terrorism in the West — for pretty obvious reasons. Either as a deterrent or later on as revenge.

So what was anticipated by the intelligence agencies and by independent analysts is that a war with Iraq is very likely to increase the threat of terror, maybe substantial terror. And this threat is taken extremely seriously.

QUESTION: Well, if you look at all the polls, can you help us understand why does President Bush have such overwhelming support here in the United States, seemingly, and such overwhelming opposition in the international community?

CHOMSKY: For one thing, he doesn’t have overwhelming support from Americans. It’s true that if you look at, say, the international Gallup polls — which have not been reported in the United States, but they’re very instructive — they do show overwhelming opposition throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America particularly, all of Europe, in fact. And they do apparently show greater support in the United States and other English-speaking countries, higher in the United States than elsewhere.

But those figures are pretty misleading. Because there’s another difference between the United States and the rest of the world. And one has to take that into account. Saddam Hussein is despised throughout the world, including the region. And everyone would like to see him disappear from the face of the earth. But there is only one country in which he’s feared. And that’s the United States. And that’s, incidentally, since September. If you take a look at polls since the drumbeat of propaganda about Saddam being a threat to our existence it began in September. Since then on the order of two-thirds of the public in the United States does genuinely believe that if we don’t stop him today he is going to kill us tomorrow.

QUESTION: Well, what if George Bush and Tony Blair are right? What if they are welcomed in Iraq as the great liberators? Then would it have been worth it to go in?

CHOMSKY: Would it be worth taking the risk of maybe killing tens of thousands of Iraqis and maybe destroying the country, maybe increasing terrorist threats in the West, because possibly a best-case scenario would work out? That’s hardly sane and rational behaviour.

You have to have really strong arguments for the use of violence. The burden of proof for the resort to violence is very high. That’s true whether it’s personal affairs or international affairs. The argument that “Well, maybe it will turn out fine,” that’s not an argument for the use of violence.

QUESTION: Well, tomorrow hundreds of thousands of people really around the world, but particularly here in the United States, are going to be protesting a possible war with Iraq. Some of them have told us that they have been accused of being unpatriotic. So, if Americans don’t support a war then they are unpatriotic. And if the UN doesn’t support a war, it’s irrelevant. So I wonder, where does this put the whole question of democracy in the United States?

CHOMSKY: First of all, the talk about patriotism is ridiculous. There are two kinds of patriotism. There is the kind of patriotism which says you follow the orders of your leaders reflexively. And that is one kind. And there’s a kind of patriotism that is based on concern and care for the people of the country and of the society, their fate, what’s going to happen to my grandchildren and neighbors and so on. That’s another kind of patriotism. That’s the sensible kind. And, in that sense, the protesters are the greatest patriots. They are the ones who are acting in the benefit of the country as they see it and, incidentally, as I see it, and as most of the world sees it.

As for the UN being irrelevant unless it follows orders, and Europe being irrelevant unless it follows orders and so on, that’s kind of an interesting phenomenon. It’s an incredible and maybe unprecedented expression of hatred and contempt for democracy on the part of the Anglo-American leadership for which it’s pretty hard to think of an analog.

QUESTION: And they would say, “What are you supposed to do, ignore all of the violations that you’ve seen Iraq commit?”