On the Internet, the Middle East, and Democratic Elections

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Charlie Rose

The Charlie Rose Show, November 11, 2003

Charlie Rose: I get more email requests for you than anyone can ever imagine. How do you explain this phenomenal connection between you and certainly an audience of people who are user-friendly with the Internet?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I think there’s an enormous number of people involved in an informal, disorganized, activist and dissident culture and they tend to make their own connections outside the major institutional channels, which are not hospitable to them. The Internet has become a major form of interconnection, organizing not just in the US but everywhere. South Korea, for example, recently elected a president using the Internet for organizing and communication and getting around the strong opposition of the media and concentrated power to the popular candidates.

CR: There is a higher concentration in South Korea, more than Singapore.

NC: Take Indonesia. When the Suharto dictatorship was overthrown in 1998, a lot of the organizing was student activism and it was a very harsh, brutal society. But they did succeed through Internet connections to have demonstrations, political action and other activities, and it was a major factor leading to the overthrow of the dictatorship.

CR: Howard Dean said one of the primary reasons he was able to get to his position in the race for the presidency is the Internet, allowing him to communicate and raise money.

NC: It can also be a lethal instrument.

CR: Lethal in what way?

NC: I don’t want to guess how many emails you get. It can be overwhelming. The good part is that it’s free and open. But of course that has a down side. It means that things go up that are not reviewed or supported.

CR: And they clog the system?

NC: They clog the system. So it’s a mixture. But it’s been an extremely effective way of allowing people to actively participate in industrial societies to very repressive societies. So if you take the World Social Forum, which is a huge enterprise, a hundred thousand people last year, it’s mostly Internet organized. There’s no other means of inter-communication among highly diverse people. Most are out of the power centers in their own societies and this provides them a means of organizing and exchanging information, interaction

that gives access to a far wider range of sources
and analysis than they would get by, you know, picking up the newspapers. It has a major effect.

CR: Do you think regimes around the world ought to be frightened at the possibilities of the Internet?

NC: I’m sure they are, including our own government. The Internet, like most modern technology, came out of the state system. A lot of the economy relies on a dynamic state sector. The Internet was developed…

CR: In the Pentagon or somewhere?

NC: Actually places like MIT. But it came out of Pentagon funding and the advanced research project, the agency from the Pentagon in the early 1960s, and remained in the state system until the mid-90s. In 1995 it was privatized. Since then, it’s changed. I mean, before that it was considered–in fact it was called an information highway. After that it’s mostly called e-commerce. And the character of it changed. But there has been a lot of concern in power centers all over the world that it’s just too free and open. They want to shape and modify it to lead people in preferred directions, away from organizing the World Social Forum.

CR: What, for example, are the Chinese doing about it?

NC: In China I think Internet access is restricted and highly censored. I don’t know how much limited access there is. But it’s a very hard medium to control. Once people have access, they can do all sorts of things. So the means of controlling it that are being considered, as far as I understand, are mostly trying to lead people in particular directions, so that when you enter an Internet portal, you will be sort of drawn off this way or that way.

CR: Rather than opening up, it will take you somewhere.

NC: You have to use energy and initiative and commitment if you want to go in the directions less preferred by power centers. It’s a terrain of struggle right now. There’s a lot of pressure from popular activist groups to leave it entirely open, not controlled.

CR: If this would be your last day on earth…

NC: Not that far from it.

CR: You’re what, 75?

NC: Yeah.

CR: Would you like what is said about you to be your political arguments or your contribution to the theory of linguistics?

NC: To tell you the honest truth, I really don’t care. I would like to see people follow up on the things that are interesting and important and productive and forget about the things that were byways and mistakes–if my name is attached to it or not.

CR: What would you characterize as most important in your judgment?

NC: I played a certain role in reshaping the fields concerned with the human intellectual faculties, cognitive sciences and linguistics. Some of this has been extremely productive, and is now off and running on its own. In the political domain I would like to see people energized to think for themselves and reject systems of propaganda to overcome illegitimate authority, domination and hierarchy and free themselves. That’s the best legacy I can imagine.

CR: I know nothing about linguistics. Is there one question in the air in that whole realm you would like most to know the answer to?

NC: Well, like everyone I have known, yes, there are questions, especially those on the border of research which are difficult to study. You can pick away at them. But one question, which is sort of a personal obsession, is language as a biological system, like our immune system or visual system, and how it’s highly specific to humans. There don’t seem to be any counterparts elsewhere in nature.

CR: You’re in New York because of our mutual friend, Edward Said, who passed away a month ago?

NC: Yes.

CR: Tell me, what would you most want to say to him?

NC: Edward and I were close friends for years. We had a lot of mutual interests. We’ve…

CR: Would that be culture, music, politics…

NC: Culture, politics. Mainly political interests, including his prime concern and mine, the Middle East, and much broader questions of justice, freedom and oppression, which he was much involved in. And our paths often crossed. We were close personal friends. And he began arranging, it must have been around twenty, twenty-five years ago, meetings between high officials in the Palestine Liberation Organization when they were visiting New York, meetings with friends of his who were sympathetic to the Palestinians. These were critical for the PLO to get constructive discussions going, and I was involved in some of those meetings.

CR: Anything come out of it?

NC: No. I have to say no.

CR: What do you think of the Geneva Accords?

NC: The current Geneva Accords?

CR: Yes.

NC: A great improvement over the Camp David proposals which were completely unacceptable.

CR: For the Palestinians?

NC: They made no sense.

CR: Jimmy Carter said that recently on this program.

NC: He is quite right. As soon as you look at the maps which were discussed–and not easily available in the US–you can see this was absolutely unacceptable. In effect what it did was break the West Bank into three pretty separate areas.

CR: So they were not contiguous territories?

NC: They were technically contiguous. If you wanted to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah, you had to go west to east. So the three territories were effectively separated from a little part of East Jerusalem, the traditional center of Palestinian cultural education and commercial existence. As discussed in Israel at the time, all this was separated from Gaza. Well, the meaning of that was described by Barak’s chief negotiator, Shlomo Ben-Ami.

CR: Later foreign minister?

NC: He was a negotiator at Camp David. And shortly before he entered the government he wrote a book about it in Hebrew in which he said the goal of the whole Oslo process would lead to making the Palestinians neo-colonially dependent. And it couldn’t work. After the Camp David proposals broke down, in August and September of 2000, that’s when the current Intifada started, with some progress. In January 2001 there were meetings in Taba which led to informal meetings but with fairly high level people on both sides. And they made considerable progress towards a more acceptable two-state settlement.

CR: But it was too late then because the Israelis were into their election.

NC: They were into the election campaign and Prime Minister Barak canceled the meetings and after Sharon was elected and the violence began to escalate they were never picked up. Everyone assumed they never continued. However it turns out that the context did continue and the Geneva Accords that you mentioned are the result of these continuing contacts. And they made considerable progress beyond Taba.

CR: Which was hammered out by Yossi Beilin and other Israelis over two years with the Palestinians who, I’m not sure, may have been part of the Palestinian Authority.

NC: Some had been. But all are close to it. The Palestinians don’t have a state but they were as close to the central part of it as the Israeli negotiators were to the Israeli government, in fact closer.

CR: The late Edward Said didn’t have much good to say about Yasser Arafat.

NC: Nor did I. In fact, we were very much in accord about this for some time.

CR: He did a real disservice to the Palestinians?

NC: Well, I don’t think one can say that exactly.

CR: Why is that?

NC: Because he is also a symbol. Without him…

CR: I’m not making a statement, I’m asking.

NC: He remained a symbol of Palestinian nationality, struggle, refusal. That is important. Whatever you think of him personally, just serving the role of enabling people to resist harsh oppression and probable destruction–that is significant, whatever you think about his particular decisions and choices. Of those, they’re a mixture. I was always harshly critical of what I wrote in the 1960s. Nevertheless, there’s a train that was on the right track. So in the mid-1970s Arafat did recognize there would have to be a two-state political settlement. There was a Security Council resolution debated in January 1976. The PLO publicly supported it which called for a two-state settlement on the international border with full recognition of Israel’s rights of peace and security and so on. That was a good resolution. Unfortunately, the US vetoed it. And then there was a process for a number of years in which Arafat in his complicated way was trying to press for such a settlement. The reason Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 was to try to prevent these efforts of diplomacy to continue. In fact they said so publicly. It was an invasion to secure…

CR: The invasion of Lebanon.

NC: Which is where the PLO was based.

CR: Right.

NC: And they wanted to destroy—it was called by the high command, a war for the West Bank. We had to stop the negotiations and the diplomacy which was becoming an embarrassment, and get back to terror. They’re happier with that. And this continued for some years. It’s sort of a mixture of corruption, terror, violence, bad judgment, and a continuing drive towards what has to be–what almost the entire world recognized must be–some kind of political settlement roughly along the international border with two states side by side. I should add, and we should be willing to recognize this, the main reason this has not taken place is that the US has unilaterally blocked it for 30 years.

CR: How so?

NC: Well, as I said, it vetoed the 1976 resolution and vetoed another resolution in 1980.

CR: At the behest of Israelis or…

NC: Israel didn’t like it but they could never have blocked it if the US didn’t back it. And much more importantly the US provided the means, the diplomatic military and economic support which enabled Israel to continue slowly integrating the territories effectively within Israel, the big settlement and infrastructure programs. They can’t do it without US support. That’s true right to this minute.

CR: US support in the international community or US support at the UN?
NC: At every level.

CR: So you’re suggesting without the US’s ever-looming possible veto at the Security Council or in some other way, there would be some kind of Arab military reaction without the US?

NC: They can’t—no small country can stand alone against the unified international community. It’s just impossible. There’s all kinds of ways of stopping it, and they need the economic and military support. Actually, it goes back before 1976. In 1971, that’s where the real split between the US and the world begins on this. In 1971, the new president of Egypt, President Anwar Sadat offered Israel a full peace treaty in return for withdrawal from Egyptian territory. He said nothing about the West Bank, nothing about the Palestinians. It was a full peace treaty, recognizing and incorporating the main UN resolution, 242, the right to live in peace and security and so forth, everything—nothing about the refugees—just in return for withdrawal from Egyptian territory. Israel discussed it. They knew that it was a possible, and we had the internal records. Yossi Beilin wrote his doctoral dissertation in Hebrew about the revealing cabinet discussions and it was also in the public record. They discussed the question whether to accept it, and they had a choice. It was a fateful choice. The choice was to accept peace with Egypt, the main military force, which would essentially end the military conflict. There were no other major Arab military forces. And they could still retain control of the occupied territories.

CR: But it wasn’t on the table?

NC: It wasn’t on the table. To integrate themselves somehow into the region, that was the one choice. The other choice was to insist upon expansion. And the crucial expansion at that time was not the West Bank, it was northeastern Sinai, the Egyptian territory. They wanted to expand into northeastern Sinai. And there were big developments there driving Bedouins out of their homes. That was a choice. If they made the second choice, as they did, that entailed dependency on the US because there was going to be a situation of conflict. That was the choice they made. I think it was a bad mistake.

CR: My impression was that when we had the agreement between Egypt…

NC: 1978.

CR: Yeah. The agreement was that the Israelis withdraw, and in fact Ariel Sharon came in and cleaned up the settlements?

NC: In the northeastern Sinai.

CR: Am I right or wrong?

NC: That’s right. But that’s only half the story. What happened in 1971 is the offer was made but Israel rejected it. The crucial question is what would the US do. Well, there was an internal debate in the US and it was won by Henry Kissinger, whose view was, as he described it, that we should keep to what he called stalemate, meaning no negotiations, just force.

CR: He was opposed to an agreement in 1971 between Egypt and Israel which would have led to the withdrawal from the Sinai. Egypt would once again have the Sinai and there would be diplomatic relations between the two countries?

NC: Right. And that is what decided the matter. You know, the way the US goes sort of determines what happens. It’s overwhelmingly powerful. He kept saying if you don’t withdraw from the Sinai, there’s going to be a war. Nobody believed him and nobody took it seriously. War did come in 1973 and it was a huge shock—it was a close thing for Israel, and the US ended up on nuclear alert. At that point Kissinger recognized that Egypt isn’t a basket case and you can’t just dismiss it. Then he began shuttle diplomacy and went to Camp David in 1978 and 1979. And at that point, the US and Israel agreed to an offer that Sadat had presented in 1971. But the new one was harsher than the original one.

CR: It would have been smarter to keep with the original one?

NC: Right. But see in 1971 the Palestinian issue was not on the table. In 1977 it was. And the US and Israel had to accept an order, an offer which recognized in some fashion Palestinian national rights, which they didn’t want to do. I think they should have done it. But they didn’t want it. Now it’s interesting that this is described in the US as a diplomatic triumph. It was a diplomatic catastrophe. If they would have accepted it in 1971…

CR: Jimmy Carter was here several days ago. I mean, he certainly thought it was a triumph.

NC: He probably doesn’t know the history. You should have asked him whether he knows what happened in the background. It’s all in the public record. But this is one of the things that we have to learn if we want to gain some understanding of what is really happening there. When you ask questions about Arafat, this has to come in.

CR: Interesting. I spoke to someone about you today. And he said you are someone whose views he mostly would agree with. He said to me, after complimenting the quality of your mind and the contributions you’ve made, that what you have done is turn American Exceptionalism on its back, believing exactly the opposite, whatever that is. Let me stay with this question. On the other hand, there are people who have asked you, look, if you have such strong feelings about how wrong-headed American policy has been, why don’t you leave the country, and you would always say, I love this country. Correct?

NC: I do. That’s an interesting question. Let’s try it on another country. It’s sometimes easier to think about things clearly that way. Let’s go back to the old big enemy, the Soviet Union. The Russians would have been delighted to have the dissidents leave the country. If Andrei Sakarov would have moved to the West, they would have loved it. Did it make sense to ask him why didn’t he leave the Soviet Union?

CR: I’m just making the point that you always said…

NC: That’s the framework the question should be understood in. It’s assuming that you can’t have a democratic society.

CR: You stay and fight for values because you love the country.

NC: You would think that the country ought to live up to these values. Now, you can’t rank countries a, b, c, d. They have a culture and society and modes of interaction and so on. Take for example protection of free speech. That’s unique in the US. A lot of great things have been achieved. A lot of rotten things have been done. If you have any concern about the country, meaning its people, culture and so on and you want to save and extend and amplify the achievements and modify the crimes…

CR: You put free speech high on that list.

NC: Very high. But it’s not the only one. We have to make a clear distinction between state power and a country. They’re different things.

CR: I understand.

NC: But it’s often not distinguished. If you criticize state policy you’re not criticizing a country.

CR: I understand that, too. Frequently when you’re traveling around the world, as I do, people say I love America, I just hate the policy.

NC: Sure. And we’re responsible for the policy. It’s a free country. We can’t say we’re not responsible for the policy because we are. We may not know about it but then we should find out about it and if we don’t like it, we should change it. Look at the questions we have just been discussing, like the settlement issue. About 2/3 of the American population supports the international consensus on this…

CR: Which is there ought to be a two state solution.

NC: Roughly back to the ’67 borders. The polls show roughly two-thirds of the population saying they support that. And roughly the same proportion said the US should become more involved in diplomacy. People don’t know that’s a contradiction. The reason that program has not been achieved is because of consistent US intervention to prevent it from being achieved. And that continues at this very moment. We have a lot of freedom. That means people have the opportunity to discover its work. That’s where the Internet has helped. But to have the opportunity to discover the relevant facts and background which should show them that their position is contradictory, they must come to understand what the US Government role has been over the years and prevent the outcome they want.

CR: Do you in the end accept the premise that in a democracy people get the government they deserve?

NC: No.

CR: Because you believe the political process is corrupt?

NC: Not corrupt.

CR: It’s what?

NC: Look.

CR: When somebody says look, I know…

NC: It’s not that there’s robbery and stealing of elections. There is a distribution of power, internal to the country and enormous disparity of economic and other power. And that influences everything that happens in dramatic ways. So many issues simply don’t come up.

CR: They have more power than have nots.

NC: If you really look closely, elections eliminate issues where the masses are the opposing opinion. Let’s take a concrete case, the 2000 election. Among the issues of highest concern to the general population are things that roughly relate to the so-called trade agreements. So deficits, and overseas investment, the transfer of jobs, lots of topics like that. Right at that time there was a plan for an international conference in Quebec intended to extend the NAFTA type agreement to the whole hemisphere. These are issues of enormous concern to the people. Did it come up in the election? No. There’s a reason why it didn’t come up. It’s consistent. On those issues, the public tends to oppose policies on which there is an elite consensus and therefore it doesn’t come up in the elections.

CR: How do you stand yourself on NAFTA?

NC: I agree with the general population.

CR: You agree with the general population whose view is…

NC: Critical.

CR: Because?

NC: Because it’s the wrong agreement. If you go back to 1994, ten years ago, when the NAFTA agreement was coming along, there were favorable analyses of it from the labor movement, the Congress’s Research Bureau, and the office of technology assessment. But this one is designed as an investor rights agreement. It privileges the rights of investors and lenders and it marginalizes the rights of people.

CR: Were you worried about the loss of jobs and those issues which became a political football? The unions essentially were opposed to it.

NC: That’s the story. That’s not true.

CR: In other words you’re saying that they misled us when they made that argument?

NC: No. The unions did not make that argument. They mentioned it. But the labor movement had an official position that was produced by the Labor Advisory Council, a long detailed analysis, and it was a very sensible position. It never entered the media discussion. It was never given any publicity. The labor movement was accused of crude nationalism, this, that and the other thing. That was not their position. Their actual position never made it to the public agenda. The same is true of Congress’s own Research Bureau. Yes, in favor of a NAFTA style agreement but not that one. It’s interesting, a few days ago, the Carnegie Endowment released an analysis of NAFTA, a fairly critical analysis that was reported in the press, making proposals for how it should have been done. Those proposals happen to be very similar to those proposed by the labor movement and Congress’s Research Bureau ten years ago but didn’t enter the political discussion. It was not mentioned in the media. This is only one example of many.

CR: What you’re arguing is that people are not getting the information they need to make wise choices?

NC: Nor are they given the choice. And the two parties represent the same interests: the US is essentially a one-party state. It has two factions of the business party.

CR: Let me ask you this. We have two parties in the United Kingdom, right? The Tory Party and the Labor Party. Would you say the same about them?

NC: It depends.

CR: Today?

NC: Today it’s close to true.

CR: In France you have a Socialist Party and, you know, the Chirac Gaullist Party. Not a lot of difference there. And in Spain we have the Socialist Party. Let me make this argument with you and ask, is the battle in politics in most countries for the center?

NC: That’s not true. There are countries with a much more lively democratic culture. Let’s take a country that has a more lively democratic culture than we do.

CR: Like?

NC: Brazil. Brazil is a potentially rich and important country. Something just happened there recently which should humiliate us. They gave us a lesson in democracy. In Brazil, large-scale popular movements have been developing over twenty years, reaching the scale where they were able to elect a populist president over the opposition of highly concentrated capital and media. We can’t even dream of that.

CR: Let me stop you for a second and get in a few questions. Number one I asked that question recently when Gary Wills was here, why haven’t we seen in the US a more powerful coalition, essentially coming from the left, but not necessarily defined by the traditional wisdom of the left, labor, minority, poor, black and white.

NC: We have seen it.

CR: When?

NC: We saw it in the 60s. That’s where the Great Society programs come from. We saw it in the 30s. That’s where the New Deal comes from. This is a battle that goes back to the origins of American history. You know, the original constitutional framework.

CR: The author of the Great Society programs was Lyndon Johnson.

NC: Right. The programs are not initiated by leaders. That’s a serious misunderstanding.

CR: Those were initiated by people, many of then, who served with FDR.

NC: See, that’s a serious misinterpretation I believe of the way the system works. Leaders may sign their names and may push programs but they do it because a popular constituency is compelling them to do it. That’s the way changes take place. If there’s a large-scale populist movement, somebody will say I am your leader. But what happened is that the programs coming out of the so-called Great Society were the result of popular ferment, activism and significant changes taking place in the 1960s which very much democratized the society. Since then there’s been an enormous counterattack from business centers trying to beat it back. That’s the course of history. It’s the same with the Civil Rights Movement and the federal…

CR: But let me make this point about Lyndon Johnson. I want to say that many people saw Lyndon Johnson as a man too beholding to economic interest in terms of how he achieved his own wealth and a range of things, especially with a whole lot of institutions. But you were saying he responded…

NC: He responded to pressures. The same was true of John F. Kennedy.

CR: That was where his heart was and in terms of what influenced him. And secondly, the things John Kennedy responded to, he saw his chance in history to show that he could get these things enacted because that was his principal skill.

NC: We’re not disagreeing. We’re talking about different topics. The topic that you’re talking about is the individual personality of Lyndon Johnson. The topic I’m talking about is how popular movements develop, create their own programs, press for them, finally often get somebody to initiate them. Those are different questions.

CR: I may agree with you actually. I look with great interest in what is happening in Brazil.

NC: It’s happened here. Why do we have freedom of speech? I mean freedom of speech is not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. In fact with the exception of the 1960s the legal battles about freedom of speech are mostly in the 21st century. There was no real legal protection for substantial freedom of speech actually until the 1960s. Then the Supreme Court, first in the course of the Civil Rights Movement and then later in the decade, finally realized a level of legal protection of freedom of speech that, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist in any other country. And a large part of it grew out of the activism of the Civil Rights Movement.

CR: I’m going to go to things often bringing great controversy to you. Other than freedom of speech, what else do you think is part of what America represents?

NC: Represents?

CR: Is, what it is…

NC: There are a lot of things I think that are great about American life. For one thing, compared to other societies, there’s very little in the way of a caste system.

CR: Is there a meritocracy?

NC: Certainly. But we’re talking about interactions among people. Informal interactions in my view, are much healthier in the US than in other societies. Those are important facts about culture. Freedom of speech is not just a matter of law. It’s a matter of being internalized, you know, realizing and understanding that’s my right and I’m going to defend it. That’s important. The same is true of other rights. Actually the US has become a much more civilized society since the 60s.

CR: Because you think?

NC: Because of popular activism. Let’s take women’s rights. Was that an issue 40 years ago? No. Did environmental issues exist 40 years ago? No. Take something like opposition to aggression and violence. Attitudes on that have changed enormously. When John F. Kennedy attacked South Vietnam as he did in 1962, a direct attack, there was so little opposition to this that nobody even knows what happened. But if you look back at the record, the historical and documentary record, it’s not controversial. In 1962, Kennedy sent the US Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam. They did it in South Vietnamese planes with markings but it was US pilots and US equipment. He authorized the use of napalm. He started the crop destruction programs to keep food from the indigenous rebels.

CR: Wait a second.

NC: Look, this was war. Was there any protest?

CR: No.

NC: But that has changed. I can tell you, because I was directly involved…

CR: People know you because of your opposition to Vietnam.

NC: You couldn’t get four people in a room to talk about it. But this was important. It was four or five years before a significant popular movement developed opposing an aggressive war against another country. Let’s fast forward to today. In this year there were huge popular protests before the war was officially launched. That’s a tremendous change in consciousness.

CR: Why do you think that took place, because of the 1960s, because as it breathes, it gets wider and stronger and…

NC: The change took place because a lot of people worked very hard to make a change. The same is true of civil rights, of women’s rights, of environmental issues and so on. That’s the way changes happen. The same thing happened in Brazil. The popular movements developed that way, not by some leaders saying…

CR: I do agree with you on that. I’m not arguing that. Brazil is an interesting case.

NC: If you investigate this, here is what you will find. Over the last 20 or 30 years, in part as a reaction to the democratizing tendencies of the 60s, there were worldwide protests. They were dramatic here but elsewhere there has been a backlash. It’s taken many forms. One of the forms it’s taken is international economic arrangements virtually designed to undermine democracy. What is called in the rest of the world neoliberal arrangements, here it is called free trade but it’s not free trade only an array of international arrangements sort of formalized in the trade association. Those measures, if you look at them, undermine democracy. One of the first measures taken in the early 70s, initially here but then everywhere, was to free up the flow of financial capital. They place the countries in a stranglehold where they cannot follow the policies of the overwhelming majority. That’s what is happening in Brazil and why there’s disappointed constituents.

CR: I will move on. I talked to someone else who was in Iraq recently. He said he met no Iraqi who believed the war was a mistake. Lots of them even now still like the idea of overthrowing Saddam, though many of them wished the US would leave and are terribly upset, opposed to the way things are going. Tell me why you were against the use of American power to overthrow Saddam. Was it because it violated your own sense of international law? Was it because that we didn’t have the UN behind it?

NC: I am not going to be able to answer the question because the assumptions are wrong. The US was not in favor of overthrowing Saddam. George Bush made that explicit at the summit a few days before the invasion started. Bush and Blair were there and they issued a declaration in which Bush said, even if Saddam and his family leave the country, we’re going to invade anyway. In fact that is consistent with a long-standing US policy. I’m sure every sane person in Iraq wanted to get rid of him for 20 years as we all have. He is a murderous tyrant. Why was he there? Why wasn’t he overthrown? Why do the majority of the Iraqis in the US-run polls, when asked who is their favorite foreign leader, say it is President Chirac of France who was the symbol of the opposition to the invasion. Bush is below him and Blair is further below. The same polls say nevertheless we are glad to get rid of Saddam. If we think about this, we can figure out what is happening. Sure they would like to have gotten rid of Saddam years ago. In 1991 they almost did get rid of him but the US supported him so that he could crush the rebellion, which probably would have overthrown him, and we know why.

CR: I’m not sure they supported him…

NC: They effectively authorized him to rush the rebellion.

CR: Let me make one point, that it clearly was a mistake in 1991.

NC: Was it a mistake?

CR: Sure it was. To allow him to crush the rebellion?

NC: Did George Bush think it was a mistake? Did Thomas Friedman from the New York Times?

CR: I can’t speak for them.

NC: Take a look at the analysis.

CR: The Shias…

NC: Let’s look at the time. That’s what we need to be looking at. There’s an overwhelming consensus that Saddam offered more hope for the stability of the country than the people trying to overthrow him. They would rather have him rather than the people overthrowing him. Thomas Friedman, a chief diplomatic correspondent, said the best possible world for the US would be an iron-fisted military Junta ruling Iraq the same way Saddam did much to our satisfaction.

CR: I’m sure he did not mean using torture and other techniques.

NC: Then why did he say it?

CR: He may very well have believed it. First I’m leery of speaking to anyone like this of George Bush or Tom Friedman. But he may well have meant Iraq, whatever the fears he had of breaking up Iraq, and it needed a head figure.

NC: That means from the point of view of the US policy makers it wasn’t a mistake. We think it’s a mistake but they didn’t. The analysts and the policy makers thought it was right. And then let’s look at the next…

CR: I bet you the neocons did not think it was a mistake.

NC: We don’t know…

CR: Thank you very much for this conversation. Many of the issues we have discussed are in your book, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance.


Transcribed by John O’Kane. This interview is an unedited transcript of The Charlie Rose Show. Copyright Noam Chomsky and Charlie Rose, 2004. Thanks to Anthony Arnove.