Money Determines U.S. President

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Mehr News Agency

Tehran Times, October 11, 2004

Mehr News Agency: Given the fact that the US presidential election looms closer, how do you see the perspective of such an event?

Chomsky: The US is a very free country, perhaps uniquely so. It is also, to an unusual extent, dominated by a highly class conscious business sector, so much so that America’s leading social philosopher, John Dewey, described politics as “the shadow cast by business over society.” That is not much of an exaggeration. On the eve of the year 2000 presidential elections, a large majority of the population dismissed it as unrelated to their interests and concerns, regarding it as a game played by wealthy contributors and the Public Relations industry, which trains candidates to focus on “values” and “personal qualities,” and to keep away from issues. There are good reasons for that. On many important issues, there is a considerable gap between an elite consensus and popular opinion, as polls reveal. Voting is heavily skewed towards the more wealthy. Years ago it was shown by leading political scientists that non-voters — about half the population — have a socioeconomic profile rather like those who vote for labor-based and social democratic parties in Europe, but feel that they are not represented in the US. In 2004, more appears to be at stake and interest is greater than in 2000, but there is a continuation of the long process of disengagement, mainly on the part of poor and working class Americans. The Harvard University project that monitors electoral politics currently reports that “the turnout gap between the top and bottom fourth by income is by far the largest among western democracies and has been widening.” There are some differences between the candidates, but they are not very far-reaching, particularly in foreign affairs. In a system of immense power, however, slight differences can translate into outcomes of considerable significance, both in foreign affairs and on domestic issues.

MNA: As you know the two main US parties are competing with each other in supporting Israel. Now in view of Jewish support for Democrats in the last presidential elections and given George W. Bush’s Israel policies how do you foresee the Jewish policies in this regard?

Chomsky: There are strong pro-Israel voting blocs and funding constituencies. The largest voting bloc by far is evangelical Christians, an enormous segment of the population in the US, which is entirely unlike other industrial societies in the scale of religious fundamentalism, and in recent years, its role in electoral politics. The matter is debated, but my own view is that US policies towards Israel have been guided primarily by geostrategic considerations, more so than domestic politics. That has been so particularly ever since Israel performed an enormous service for the US (and its Saudi and Iranian allies) in destroying the major center of secular Arab nationalism in 1967, Nasser’s Egypt. By now Israel has become almost an offshore military base for the US, and a high tech and financial center closely linked to the US economy, and resembling it in many ways. A large majority of the US population opposes the bipartisan and quite extremist “support for Israel” — in fact, very harmful to Israelis in my opinion — and favors the overwhelming international consensus on a two-state settlement approximately on the international border. But these views receive little articulate expression, and the most important polls are not even reported. There is little organization related to these views, and they do not enter the electoral system.

MNA: The US president has recently announced that he would need another 4-year term in office to complete his mission in Afghanistan and Iraq; he has also said that he would strongly tackle Iran. How do you assess the next US administration policies in the face of the Middle East issues particularly the Palestinians?

Chomsky: The US mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is intended to be permanent. “Completing the mission” means establishing dependent client states, with some formal trappings of democracy but under US control, the sites for major US military bases, with the US maintaining primary control over the immense energy resources of the Persian Gulf and secondarily Central Asia. That is familiar from earlier days of British imperialism, in Iran as well, and in US traditional US domains in Central America and elsewhere. The US intends to bring Iran into this system in one way or another, probably by subversion and, some scholars believe, supporting efforts to fragment the country. Palestinians offer nothing to the US. They have neither wealth nor power, so they are granted no rights, by the most elementary principles of statecraft. The most recent manifestation of these attitudes on the part of the US political leadership is their reaction to the World Court ruling on Israel’s separation wall, which was virtually unanimous: the US Justice dissented, but on narrow grounds having to do with procedural matters, while he accepted the basic Court conclusions, including the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories and the illegality of settlements. But that will have no effect on US policies unless there is some success in educational and organizing activities among the public, as has happened in the past on many other issues. I should add that one of the disastrous failures of the leadership of the Palestinians, and the Arab states, has been that they did not help in this process, as they could have done, or even appear to recognize its importance.

On Iran, I am sure you know that the US is providing its Israeli client with over 100 of its most advanced jet bombers, F16-Is, to supplement an air force that Israeli military analysts already describe as more technologically advanced and larger than any NATO power, US excluded. That is thanks to the US-Israel military alliance; on its own, Israel is a small country with limited resources. The new jet bombers are openly advertised as capable of bombing Iran and returning, and according to the Israel (Hebrew) press, are provided with “special weapons”; what that means is unexplained. Surely all of these announcements (unpublished in the US) are intended for the ears of Iranian intelligence, for what purpose one can only speculate.

MNA: How do you see the voters’ viewpoint about the next presidential elections, in view of the ongoing US problems in the Middle East particularly in Iraq? Will the U.S. citizens vote for a change of president at a time of crisis?

Chomsky: At the moment, the polls indicate an even race. Usually, US elections can be predicted pretty well by the level of funding, overwhelmingly from the very wealthy and corporations. In the early stages, Bush was far in the lead, not a surprise in the light of the enormous gifts his administration has lavished on a very small wealthy minority and on corporate power. However, that funding gap has reduced considerably in the past months, apparently reflecting concern among elite sectors over the extraordinary incompetence of the Bush planners and the harm they are doing to core elite interests. The election is, as usual, avoiding issues of major concern to the population. Few people are aware of the proposals of the political parties on matters of concern to them. The public relations campaigns are focusing on “strength,” “leadership,” “personal qualities,” and other matters that keep the public removed from interference with policy choices, which are not considered to be the public role in a severely eroded democratic culture.

MNA: How would Democratic Party victory in the elections affect the Greater Middle East initiative?

Chomsky: There is very little in the way of a “Greater Middle East initiative,” apart from rhetorical posturing. The primary concerns remain as they have been for close to a century, very clearly since World War II, when the US government recognized the Persian Gulf region to be a “stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” “a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination,” as Britain, previously the dominant power, described the region in 1947. That is even more true today than it was then. We should always be careful to distinguish rhetoric from policy. Even the most awful criminals — Hitler, Stalin, and others — typically employ quite noble and uplifting rhetoric. It carries no information, because it is completely predictable. People who want to understand the world will therefore pay little attention to it, and will inquire instead into consistent practice and its institutional roots.