Does the U.S. Want Democracy?

Noam Chomsky interviewed by an anonymous interviewer

The Toronto Star, March 23, 2004

There are at least two ways that the future might unfold in Iraq — the democratic way and the American way.

According to Noam Chomsky, these are not the same thing at all.

“The issue is, who’s going to run Iraq? The struggle is between the steadfast Iraqi demand for democracy and the bitter U.S. insistence on resisting it. That’s the crucial issue now.”

The linguist, pundit, and left-leaning political gadfly, who has been subverting popular wisdom in the United States for several decades now, spoke with the Star yesterday from his office in Boston.

His interpretation of recent events in Iraq will likely come as a surprise to many Americans, and no small number of Canadians, who may well have been under the impression that Washington’s purposes in invading the Middle Eastern country a year ago included the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein and his replacement by a government of the Iraqi people’s choosing — in other words, a democratic government.

The U.S. interim administration in Baghdad is scheduled to hand over power to a transitional government on June 30, with national elections to be held under a new constitution at some future point.

Political leaders in both Washington and London, which assisted in last year’s American-led invasion, insist that what they want to establish in Iraq is a government that answers to the wants, needs and goals of its own people.

Chomsky doesn’t believe it.

“Is there any evidence that the U.S. or Britain has tried to do that anywhere?” he asked.

“They’re imperial powers.”

What Washington wants in Iraq, said Chomsky, is a government it can control.

If U.S. President George W. Bush really wanted to turn Iraq’s future over to Iraq’s people, then the United States would be ready to withdraw from the country come July 1, he said. But look at what is happening instead.

“The U.S. is building the biggest diplomatic mission in the world in Baghdad, with 3,000 people,” he said.

“Is the purpose to restore `sovereignty?'”

A thorough-going opponent of the war, Chomsky nonetheless concedes the invasion accomplished some good.

“It finally ended the sanctions,” he said, referring to an array of punitive economic measures imposed against Iraq by the United Nations beginning in the early 1990s, aimed at bringing Saddam into compliance with a variety of international demands.

“Of course, that could have been done without a war.”

He also noted that the invasion got rid of “a murderous tyrant,” although he speculates the Iraqi people might have been able to do that themselves, had they not been hobbled by 10 years of punitive economic sanctions (see above).

For Chomsky, the war’s somewhat equivocal benefits do not remotely outweigh its many costs. Far from discouraging international terrorism by radical Muslims — another of Washington’s avowed purposes for the operation — he says the invasion of Iraq has merely added to their ranks and enhanced the appeal of their cause.

“Every act of violence increases the recruitment of terrorists,” he said. “Iraq has been turned into a base of terror.”

Rather than invading countries it doesn’t like, he said, the United States should be combating international terrorism through a combination of police work (to round up the ringleaders) and sophisticated diplomacy (to address the legitimate grievances of their supporters).

“Terrorists are a small group. They see themselves as a vanguard. The big issue is the potential reservoir of support.”

As for Iraq and its prospects of genuine self-rule, Chomsky said the future depends partly on Iraqis themselves and their determination to shape their own future and partly on ordinary people in the West, who have the voices and the votes to hold their own governments to account.

“It’s pretty much up to us,” he said.

“Will the people in the West pressure their governments to allow Iraqis to have freedom?”

That would be the democratic way.