Turkey and The US War On Iraq

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Anonymous Interviewer

, April 3, 2003

1.Turkey is being bitterly criticized in the US for failing to allow us combat troops to use Turkey as a launching pad to open a second front in northern Iraq. There are indeed some who say US and British soldiers are dying in higher numbers because of Turkey. How would you respond to such claims and how would you evaluate Turkey’s stand so far. Was it an accidental no in the parliament or did it reflect a coming of age of Turkish democracy.

The criticism of Turkey in the US is indeed bitter, and extremely revealing. The Turkish government took the position of over 90 percent of the population. That reveals that the government lacks “democratic credentials,” according to former Ambassador Morris Abramowitz, now a distinguished elder statesman. The government is “following the people,” he wrote, instead of following orders from Washington and Crawford Texas. That is plainly unacceptable. The view he articulates is standard.

Turkey taught the US a lesson in democracy. That is regarded as criminal. One can debate the reasons and the background, but the facts are glaringly obvious, underscored even more dramatically by the reaction in the US to similar crimes elsewhere. Germany and France are bitterly condemned for the same reason, while Italy, Spain, Hungary and others are praised as the “New Europe,” because their leaders agreed to follow US orders in opposition to the vast majority of the population, almost as much as in Turkey.

I do not recall ever having seen such demonstration of intense hatred for democracy on the part of elite opinion in the US (and to some extent Britain).


2. You have long argued that it was the basic decency of the American people and not body bags that helped end the war in Vietnam. What will it take to end this war ? What is driving continued support for President Bush ?

Public mood is in the US is complicated. It’s important to bear in mind that last September a huge government-media propaganda campaign was put into operation, which left the US population on another planet as far as Iraq is concerned. Iraq’s neighbors, and most of the rest of the world, rightly despise Saddam Hussein. But they do not fear him. In the US, and the US alone, the majority of the population — since September 2002 — regards Iraq as an imminent threat to US security. That was basically the wording of the October 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the US of force. After the September 11 attacks, virtually no one regarded Iraq as responsible. By December 2002 the figure had risen to almost half the population. By now it seems that a considerable majority not only attribute the terrorist attacks to Iraq and believe that Iraqis were on the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center, but also believe that Saddam Hussein will soon carry out more such attacks unless he is stopped now. Evidence for all of this is zero, and the claims have been refuted by intelligence agencies and the leading specialists on the topic. It is a truly spectacular achievement of propaganda — an achievement, incidentally, which is second nature to those running Washington today. They are mostly recycled from the Reagan-Bush administrations of the 1980s. They were able to retain political power even though the public was strongly opposed to their policies, which were quite harmful to the majority. They did so by regularly pushing the panic button, with claims even more absurd than their current ones: Nicaragua is a threat to US security, the Russians will bomb from an air base in Grenada, etc.

Take away the fear factor, and the US is probably much like the rest of the world with regard to the war in Iraq: overwhelming opposition.

In the case of Vietnam, it took years before the public turned against the war — on principled grounds, unlike educated elites and the business world, who finally came to oppose the war too but on “pragmatic grounds”: it was becoming too costly to the US. The situation is far better now, because of the civilizing effect of the popular movements of the past 40 years. But it remains difficult.


3. Is this war truly the turning point in the way international relations are conducted ? Are the Bushies really trying to reshape the world and what impact will its outcome, whatever you predict it to be, have on Israell and the Palestinian question.

They have proclaimed very explicitly, in the National Security Strategy of September 2002, that they intend to control the world by force and to prevent any potential challenge to their domination. It is reasonable to assume that part of the motivation for the attack on Iraq is to establish the principle of “preventive war,” enunciated in the Security Strategy, as a norm that can be followed elsewhere. The plans have aroused enormous fear and opposition worldwide, and among the foreign policy elite at home. True, some approve it. Among them are the ultra-right and large sectors of Christian fundamentalist movements in the US, and others as well. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, must be delighted: the outcome surpasses his wildest dreams. Within a year, Bush and his associates have succeeded in becoming the most feared and hated political leadership in the world, as international opinion studies reveal very clearly. If they are allowed to persist in their plans, the future looks ominous.

For the Palestinians, the results are an unmitigated disaster. Bush and Powell speak of their “vision,” but are careful never to describe what it is. That we can ascertain from their actions in support of their most favored client, the official “man of peace,” Ariel Sharon. Bush and Powell are now even on record as stating that Israel can continue to expand settlements in the occupied territories until some unspecified future when the US government will decide that the Palestinians are making “progress.”

Two-thirds of the US population support the long-standing international consensus in favor of a two-state settlement on the internationally-recognized (pre-June 1967) borders, with minor and mutual adjustments. The US government has barred that outcome for 25 years, and still does. The facts, though uncontroversial, are scarcely known in the US. The Bush administration has gone even beyond its predecessors in this regard. Apart from vague talk about “visions” and “dreams,” there is nothing to indicate that these commitments have changed, unfortunately. Again, there is a lot of work to do.