On the Iraq Election

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Andy Clark

Radio Netherlands, December 18, 2005

Andy Clark: Let’s start off by talking about the elections in Iraq. Let’s hear how President Bush was billing them just a few days ahead of the vote.

President Bush: “By helping Iraqis build a strong democracy, we’re adding to our own security and, like a generation before us, we are laying the foundation of peace for generations to come. Not far from here, where we gather today is a symbol of freedom familiar to all Americans – the Liberty Bell. When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration and a witness said: ‘It rang as if it meant something.’ Today the call of liberty is being heard in Baghdad and Basra, and other Iraqi cities, and its sound is echoing across the broader Middle East, from Damascus to Tehran, people hear it and they know it means something. It means that days of tyranny and terror are ending and a new day of hope and freedom is dawning.”

Andy Clark: President Bush there, speaking at the Philadelphia World Affairs Council, just a few days ago. I mean the sentiment is very clear there from the President, that the US is bringing hope and democracy to Iraq and that the elections are crucial in this. After the vote, the President has called the elections an important milestone. Professor Chomsky, how do you see the elections? Do you see them as an important milestone for Iraq?

Noam Chomsky: Actually I do, but before talking about that, I should just bring up a kind of a truism. No rational person pays the slightest attention to declarations of benign intent on the part of leaders, no matter who they are. And the reason is they’re completely predictable, including the worst monsters, Stalin, Hitler the rest. Always full of benign intent. Yes that’s their task. Therefore, since they’re predictable, we disregard them, they carry no information. What we do is, look at the facts. That’s true if they’re Bush or Blair or Stalin or anyone else. That’s the beginning of rationality. All right, the basic facts we know: when Bush and Blair invaded Iraq, the reason was what they insistently called a ‘single question.’ That was repeated by Jack Straw, by Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, everyone. ‘Will Iraq eliminate its weapons of mass destruction?’ That was the single question, that was the basis on which both Bush and Blair got authorization to use force. Within a few months this single question was answered and the answer came out the wrong way and then all of sudden…

Andy Clark: This was weapons of mass destruction you’re talking about?

Noam Chomsky: Yes. Then very quickly it turned out that that wasn’t the reason of the invasion. The reason was what the President’s liberal press calls his ‘Messianic Mission’ to bring democracy to Iraq and immediately everyone had to leap on the democratisation bandwagon and it began to be described as the most noble war in history and so on and so forth. Well, anyone with a particle of sense would know that you can’t take that seriously and, in fact, if you look at the events that followed, it just demonstrated that. The US tried, in every possible way, to prevent elections in Iraq. They offered effort after effort to evade the danger of elections. Finally, they were compelled to accept elections by mass non-violent resistance, for which the Ayatollah Sistani [moderate Shi’ite leader] was a kind of a symbol. Mass outpourings of people demanding elections. Finally, Bush and Blair had to agree to elections. The next step is to subvert them and they started immediately. They’re doing it right now. Elections mean you pay some – in a democracy at least – you pay some attention to the will of the population. Well, the crucial question for an invading army is: ‘do they want us to be here?’ Well, we know the answer to that. The British Ministry of Defence carried out a poll a couple of months ago, it was secret, but it leaked to the British Press – I don’t think it’s been reported in the US. They found that 82 percent of the population wanted the coalition forces, British and US forces to leave. One percent of the population said that they were increasing security.

Andy Clark: But isn’t this the start of a process that could see the occupying troops from America and Britain leaving? We’ve seen an awful lot of Iraqis taking part in the elections, two thirds, we’re told. The turnout was quite high…

Noam Chomsky: But hold on a second, the US and Britain announced at once, at once, we will not have a timetable to withdraw. So yes, you can all want us to leave, but we won’t have a timetable for withdrawal. Now of course, there’s a conflict, the Iraqis have forced the occupying powers to allow some kind of electoral process. What the occupying powers are doing now is perfectly clear and very familiar, very familiar. We’ve had a long history of this in Central America, the British ran an empire, the Japanese ran an empire, and the Russians ran an empire in Eastern Europe. The way they want it to work – standard procedure – you want the local forces to run their own countries, so Poland under the Russians, the Polish army runs it, the Polish civilians are the bureaucrats, Russians are in the background. The same in say, El Salvador, the US-run state terrorist forces are the military, the civilians are local, and the US is in the background. If anything goes wrong, they move in, the same with the British in India, the same with the Japanese in South Korea.

Andy Clark: So you see this is a step to set up a sort of puppet government and not something that’s really representative of ordinary Iraqis?

Noam Chomsky: That’s what they are trying to do, but there’s always a conflict about that. Many of the Western backed or Russian or Eastern or other backed tyrants rose up. However, it is as clear as a bell that the US, and Britain behind it, are doing everything they can to prevent a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq. And they are being dragged into it step by step. Now there’s a good reason why the US cannot tolerate a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq. We’re not allowed to talk about it because there’s a party line. The party line we have to rigidly adhere to says you’re not allowed to talk about the reasons for invading Iraq. We’re supposed to believe that the US would’ve invaded Iraq if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main exports were pickles and lettuce. This is what we’re supposed to believe. Now the truth of the matter, obvious to anyone not committed to the party line, is that Iraq has huge oil resources, maybe the second in the world, mostly untapped, that it’s right in the middle of the main energy-producing region of the world and that taking control of Iraq will strengthen enormously the US’s control over the major energy resources of the world. It will, in fact, give the US critical leverage over its competitors, Europe and Asia, that’s Zbigniew Brzezsinski’s [President Carter’s national Security Adviser] accurate observation. That’s the reason. Now suppose that Iraq were to become sovereign and democratic, what would happen? Just think of the policies they would undertake. I mean, we can run through them, it would be a nightmare for the US.

Andy Clark: You maintain that they would want to maintain control. This is an email from a listener, sent to us on the eve of the elections from Iraq, who just simply calls himself Mohammed:

Mohammed’s email: “Tomorrow it’s going to be us who decide and I can feel the greatness of the responsibility because the result will draw the shape of our future and will determine how long it will take till we can announce victory in this war; our war against the past, against the past’s illusions and the past’s mistakes.”

Andy Clark: What would you say to a comment like that? We hear that a lot from Iraqis. I spoke to some people from the Iraqi community here in the Netherlands just a few weeks ago and they were expressing very similar sentiments that they felt they were in some way having their destiny in their own hands for the first time.

Noam Chomsky: That’s exactly what I’ve been saying for the last three years and I just said it again here. The victory of the non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the occupying forces to allow elections, that’s a major victory. That’s one of the major triumphs of non-violent resistance that I know of. It wasn’t the insurgents that did it – the US doesn’t care about violence, they have more violence. What it can’t control is non-violence and the non-violent movements in Iraq, partially with Sistani as a kind of figurehead, but it’s much broader than that, it compelled the occupying forces to allow elections and some limited, very limited degree of sovereignty. And yet we should be trying to help them in these endeavours.

Andy Clark: In that sense you see that there’s a positive influence from these elections and you see that those forces can grow out of these elections and take more control in Iraq?

Noam Chomsky: I certainly hope so, but they’re going to have to be fighting Britain and the US tooth and nail all the way. The question is what Westerners will do about it. Will we be on the side of the occupying forces, which are trying to prevent democracy and sovereignty? Or will we be on the side of the Iraqi people, who want democracy and sovereignty? But in order to ask that question we first have to free ourselves of the doctrinal blinders, which prevent us from understanding what is actually happening.

Andy Clark: OK, let’s hear some more messages from listeners. This is an argument we hear an awful lot.

Listener in Canada Reg Pollock’s email: “I don’t think the Americans had any right to go into Iraq, but now there are there and removed the government they are stuck until there is a body which can maintain the country. As bad a Saddam was he did control three peoples. It’s not the same as Vietnam. They (the US) have a tiger by the tail.”

Listener Mark Humphreys from Ireland: “The ‘anti-war’ movement destroyed Vietnam, and far from being ashamed of it, they are proud of it, and they want to do the same thing to Iraq. They want to abandon Iraq to the Jihadis and the Baathists and civil war. All they care about is that no white people are involved.”

Andy Clark: That’s an argument we hear an awful lot of. You know, the Americans have to now see the job out as it were. What’s your reaction to that?

Noam Chomsky: That’s like saying the Russians invaded Afghanistan and they can’t just leave it to the Jihadis so therefore they have to stay there. I mean I was strongly opposed to that, I assume every listener was, and that we should be. An invading army has no right whatsoever, none. It has responsibilities. Its primary responsibility is to act in a way that the population of the country demands. They are to keep to the will of the population. They don’t have any right to stay there because they want to. Well as far as we know, and there’s fair amount of information. The Iraqi population wants the occupying forces to leave. As I mentioned, as shown by the last British Ministry of Defence poll, one percent think the occupying forces are contributing to security; most of them think they’re increasing insecurity. So yes, they should be withdrawing, as the population wants them to, instead of trying desperately to set up a client regime with military forces that they can control. That’s what’s happening. As for the comment on Vietnam, yes that’s probably…probably you would’ve heard that from some super Stalinist in Moscow in the case of Afghanistan. The fact of the matter is the US invaded South Vietnam in 1962, practically destroyed it, then expanded the war to the rest of Indochina. It ended up killing maybe three or four million people in Indochina, destroying the country. The anti-war movement succeeded in building up enough opposition so that the country at least survived, barely, although the US won a tremendous victory by destroying the country. Yes, you will find the equivalent of Stalinists in the US who will give that party line, but simply just take a look at the facts; they’re well known and well understood.

Andy Clark: But what do you think would happen if the process now goes forward and the Iraqi government is formed and the new parliament turns around and passes a majority motion for the coalition-led troops to withdraw within six months? What do you think would happen?

Noam Chomsky: In other words, suppose that the parliament, instead of being an elite force, dominating the population, suppose the parliament represents popular will, say the popular will of 80 percent of Iraqis who want the occupying forces to withdraw, according to the British Ministry of Defence. Suppose that happens? Well then the occupying forces should immediately initiate withdrawal and leave it to the Iraqis. Now there’s a good reason why Washington and London are not contemplating that. It has nothing to do with the fate of the Iraqis, quite the contrary. Just think for a minute. What would an independent Iraq be likely to do, an independent, more or less democratic Iraq? Think. I mean if you’re going to have a Shi’ite majority. Therefore the Shi’ites will have a lot of influence in policy, probably a dominant influence. The Shi’ite population in the south, which is where most of the oil is, would much prefer warm relations to Iran over hostile relations to Iran. Furthermore they are very close relations already, the Badr brigade, which is the militia that mostly controls the south, was trained in Iran. The clerics have long-standing relations with Iran; the Ayatollah Sistani actually grew up there. Chances are pretty strong, they’ll move towards a some sort of a loose Shi’ite alliance, with Iraq and Iran. Furthermore right across the border in Saudi Arabia, there’s a substantial Shi’ite population, which has been bitterly oppressed by the US-backed tyranny in Saudi Arabia, the fundamentalist tyranny. Any move towards independence in Iraq is likely to increase the efforts to gain a degree of autonomy and justice. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil is. So you can see not far in the future a loose Shi’ite alliance controlling most of the world’s oil, independent of the US. Furthermore, it is beginning to turn toward the East. Iran has pretty much given up on Western Europe, it assumes that Western Europe is too cowardly to act independently of the US, well it has options. It can turn to the East. China can’t be intimidated. That’s why the US is so frightened of China. It cannot be intimidated. In fact, they’re already establishing relations with Iran and in fact even with Saudi Arabia, both military and economic. There is an Asian energy security grid based on Asia and Russia but bringing in India, Korea and others. If Iran moves in that direction, having abandoned any hope in Europe, it can become the lynchpin of the Asian energy security grid.

Andy Clark: And you say that this may be part of an attraction for the Shi’ite groups in Iraq as well to sort of join this movement away from the Western world influence as it were?

Noam Chomsky: Yes, they have every reason to. In fact it might even happen in Saudi Arabia. From the point of view of Washington planners, that is the ultimate nightmare.

Andy Clark: And that’s why you say they won’t be prepared to leave…

Noam Chomsky: That is why they’re fighting tooth and nail to prevent democracy and sovereignty in Iraq. The Iraqi people have resisted and it’s a very impressive resistance. I’m not talking about insurgency. I’m talking about popular, non-violent resistance under bitter conditions. There’s a labour movement forming, which is a very important one. The US insists on keeping Saddam’s bitter anti-labour laws, but the labour movement doesn’t like it. Their activists are being killed. Nobody knows by whom, maybe by insurgents, maybe by former Baathists, maybe by somebody else. But they’re working. There’s the basis of a popular democracy being developed there, much to the horror of the occupying forces, but it’s going on and it could have very long term consequences in their national affairs, which is why Bush and Blair have so desperately been trying to prevent democracy and any form of sovereignty and have been forced to back off step by step. This is also going on with the economic arrangements. The US moved in and immediately tried to open up the economy to foreign take-over by imposing outrageous and in fact illegal laws for privatisation. You know, Iraqis don’t want that, they want to take control of their own economy and resources. There’s a battle going on about that.

Andy Clark: Let’s hear another message from a listener. This is from Miguel C. Alvarez, who is a Spanish ex-patriot living in the UK:

Miguel’s email: “Forget about the US and EU governments: they’re hopeless. Where to for ‘the people?’ How can the insanity be stopped? Or will it have to run its course and get much worse before it can get better?”

Andy Clark: What’s your take on that?

Noam Chomsky: The violence in Iraq is a serious problem for the Iraqis and I tend to agree with, apparently the majority of Iraqis, that it’s the occupation forces that are stimulating the violence. The fact that an insurgency even developed in Iraq is astonishing. I mean it’s an amazing fact that the US has had more trouble controlling Iraq than the Germans had in controlling occupied Europe or the Russians in controlling Eastern Europe. After all, the countries under Nazi or Russian occupation were run by domestic forces, domestic police, domestic armies, and domestic civilian forces. The Nazis and the Kremlin were in the background and if needed, they came in, but mostly it was domestically run. There were partisans in Western Europe and they were very courageous, but they would’ve been wiped out very quickly if it hadn’t been for enormous foreign support and, of course, Germany was at war.

Well, in Iraq none of these circumstances prevailed, there was no outside support for the resistance. The little support that has arisen, and it is very slight, is mostly engendered by the invasion. But there’s no outside support. The country had been devastated by sanctions. The US was coming in with enormous resources to rebuild it and they have turned it into a total catastrophe. It’s one of the worst military catastrophes in history. You look at figures for something like, say malnutrition; malnutrition is way up since the US took over, that’s unbelievable. It’s one of the few wars that can’t be reported, not because reporters are cowards, but because it’s too dangerous. Reporters are mostly in the Green Zone or else they go out with a platoon of marines. There are some, like Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and a couple of others who are independent and brave it, but not many. This is an incredible catastrophe. But it’s very likely, and I tend to agree with apparent opinion of most Iraqis on this, that it’s the invading armies themselves that are engendering the violence. Well, they’re carrying out plenty of it, but the violence of the insurgents would probably recline if they left and allowed Iraqis to be on their own.

Andy Clark: Another message, this is from Charles Harlich, from New Jersey in the US:

Charles’ email: “I have a relative who is now serving as a soldier in Iraq. What advice would you give to him?”

Noam Chomsky: Look, I have plenty of correspondence with soldiers in Iraq and all you can do is offer them your sympathy. You hope that they make it safely and that their leaders will get them out of there. The same kind of advice you would’ve given to Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. You have to sympathize with them; it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of their commanders. I don’t mean their military commanders, I mean the civilians in the Pentagon, in the White House and their counterparts in England.

Andy Clark: This is from Steve Brown in Mexico:

Steve’s email:” No one is talking anymore about oil. Isn’t that still the main reason the US invaded Iraq and are Iraq’s large reserves now under control of US corporations?”

Noam Chomsky: Nobody was talking about oil all along if you look. It was considered outrageous to talk about oil. If anyone talked about oil, Tony Blair would have a tantrum about conspiracy theories.

Andy Clark: Plenty of the protestors said it was a war for oil all along…

Noam Chomsky: Protesters did, but take a look at the mainstream. It was considered a conspiracy theory, Marxist, delusional and so on to talk about oil. Although every sane person knows that that was the reason, if Iraq had been producing pickles and lettuce, would they have been invaded? I mean, let’s be serious. Of course it’s oil. Furthermore the Iraqis know that. Right after the president gave his dramatic speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, announcing his ‘Messianic Mission’ to bring democracy to Iraq, after the collapse of the ‘single question,’ right after that a poll was reported. Gallup, the main polling organisation in the US, took a poll in Baghdad and asked people in Baghdad why they think the US invaded, about one percent agreed, with 100 percent of educated Western opinion, to bring democracy, one percent agreed to bring democracy, five percent said to help Iraqis. Most of the rest said the obvious: to take control of Iraq’s resources and to strengthen the US strategic position in the region. And incidentally, going back to the writer, it’s not so much a matter of gaining access to Iraq’s resources, you can get access even if you don’t control a country. I mean the oil market is something of a market. What matters is control, not access. It’s a very big difference. The main theme of US policy since the Second World War has been to control the resources of the Middle East, the energy resources. That would give what George Kennan, one of the early planners, called ‘veto power’ over their allies, they wouldn’t get out of line because we’d have our hand on the spicket. Now at that time, for about 30 years, North America was the major oil exporter. The US wasn’t using any Middle East oil, but it nevertheless was dedicated and it was the main theme of US policy to maintain control over it. If you look at US intelligence projections for the future, they project that the US must control Middle East oil, but that it itself will rely on more stable Atlantic Basin resources, Western Africa, Western Hemisphere resources. Europe and Japan will rely on the less stable Middle East resources, but the US will control them. That’s the way you prevent independence from developing. That’s why the Asian Energy Security Grid and the Shanghai Cooperation Council are regarded as such a threat by the US. The meetings right now, the Malaysian meetings, East Asian meetings, that’s a threat, it’s a coalescence of power moving independently of the US. You look back through the history of the Cold War, and it was the same with regard to Europe, a major concern throughout the Cold War was what was called European Third Force, which might find a way independent of the US in Europe, and there was every effort made to prevent that. A long story, and that makes sense if you want to run the world, you want to make sure there are not independent forces out of your control.

Andy Clark: This is a message from L. Douglas Raymond in the US:

“With the war in Iraq, it seems we are viewing the US’s engagement in some bold, in your face, strategic geopolitical chess. In your opinion, what is the US’s next likely international move?”

Noam Chomsky: My own guess frankly, was that the invasion of Iraq would be over in about three days and that the US would install a stable client regime. It should have been one of the easiest military victories in history. But they did turn it into a catastrophe. My guess back at that time was that the next place the US would move would be the Andes in the Western Hemisphere. This is a traditional region of US domination, but from Venezuela down to Argentina, the region is pretty much out of control and that’s a very serious worry for US planners. They expect the Western Hemisphere to be obedient and placid. And if you look at modern history the US has intervened violently and brutally throughout the Western Hemisphere for a long time to ensure obedience, overthrowing democratic governments, installing murderous military dictatorships, carrying out large-scale terror and it goes on pretty much to the present. It is somewhat out of control. Venezuela is increasingly going on an independent path and Venezuela is very important, the US took it from the British in 1921, kicked the British out at the time of the beginning of the oil-based economy because it was recognized that Venezuela had enormous oil resources, also others. And it has been one of the main oil suppliers under US control ever since, but it’s moving towards independence. Chavez is enormously popular in Venezuela; in fact, support for the elected government is higher in Venezuela than in any other Latin American country. Venezuela is beginning to diversify its international relations; it’s starting to export oil to China and may do so even more soon. The same is true of the other raw materials exporters, Brazil and Chile, not to the extent of Venezuela, but increasing. Furthermore, the region has left of centre governments. All through the regions, a few exceptions but almost all of them, and some of them are defying the IMF. Argentina simply defied IMF orders, told them to get lost, and did very well as a result. Furthermore, there’s a large Indian population in Latin America from Bolivia up to Ecuador, very large, and they’re beginning to organise and become independent. They may actually win an election in Bolivia [left wing leader Evo Morales has now won that election]. They’ve overthrown a couple of governments in Ecuador. They’re also calling for an Indian nation throughout this region. Now, they do not want their resources taken from them, they have plenty of resources, a lot of oil. They want either to control their own resources, rather than having it taken over by foreigners, or – many of them – don’t even want resources to be developed, so there are plenty of indigenous people in Ecuador who don’t particularly want their lifestyle disrupted so that people drive SUVs in New York City.

Andy Clark: This is an area, you think, that will be an area of concern for the US?

Noam Chomsky: It’s of deep concern. There are more US military in Latin America today than at the height of the Cold War. For the first time the number of US military in Latin America exceeds the combined number of civilians in key federal agencies, aid, state departments and others. Furthermore, the training of the Latin American military, which has always been under US control, has recently shifted; the Congress shifted it from the State Department to the Pentagon. Now that’s quite important. The State Department has a terrible record of atrocities and torture and crime – everyone should know about that – but under the State Department, military training was under some Congressional supervision, had some human rights conditions, some democracy conditions. Under the Pentagon, it has no conditions. Furthermore, the military is now being trained to deal with, what are called social problems, social unrest.

Andy Clark: It plays into an e-mail we received from somebody in Peru.

Gonzalo Alvarado, Peru: “Do you see any serious alternative to the Bush administration for next elections, in order to change the US foreign policy? How do you think the US will deal with the regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia? In Peru, we have a presidential candidate with the same profile, Humala. He is growing in the polls for next presidential elections. His tactic? Blaming imperialism and the free market for making us poorer.”

Noam Chomsky: It certainly doesn’t like them [the regimes in Bolivia and Venezuela]. Incidentally, we should stop talking about the free market, that’s another ideological trick. The US does not believe in a free market. The US itself is a largely state-based economy. You use computers and the Internet and telecommunications and lasers and aeroplanes and so on, most of it comes out of the dynamic state sector. The economy is handed over to private businesses if they make some profit out of it, but mostly state-based and same is true of pharmaceuticals and biology-based industries and so on. So, we should have no illusions about this. Even the free trade agreements, so-called, are highly protectionists, the extra-ordinary intellectual property rights go way beyond anything existed in the past those are purely protectionist. They are designed to maintain monopoly rights for major corporations. If the currently rich countries had ever been faced with such rules, the US would now be exporting fish and fur. So there’s no free market. But how the US is planning to deal with it, well we know. Let’s take Venezuela; there was a military coup in Venezuela in 2002. The US supported the military coup, the US had to back down very quickly because there was an overwhelming uproar in Latin America, where democracy is taken much more seriously than it is in Washington and there was great protest about US support for a military coup overthrowing a democratic government, so Washington had to back down and the military coup was quickly reversed. The US then moved into the next step, which is subversion; if you can’t carry out a military coup, try to subvert the government. So the US had been pouring in aid into what are called officially ‘anti-Chavez, pro-democracy elements.’ That’s where the money is going. The implication is: you can’t be a pro-Chavez, pro-democracy element; you can’t because the US says so. The fact that Venezuela leads Latin America in support for democracy and support for the elected government, going up very sharply since Chavez took over in 1998, that’s just irrelevant, we decide what’s democracy, not the people – that’s just subversion. We saw it in the last election just a couple of days ago. It was clear the US candidate was going to do very badly, so the opposition, almost surely with US initiative or support, pulled out of the election to try to de-legitimate the election, well, that’s a very standard tactic, the US used the same tactic in Haiti a couple of years ago. It was clear that Aristide, who they didn’t like, was going to easily win the election, so they got together with the opposition and got the opposition, which was quite small, to pull out and then they could say, well look it’s not legitimate, he’s a tyrant. The most striking example of this was 1984 in Nicaragua. There was an election in Nicaragua in 1984, we’re not allowed to admit that, but there was one. It was very heavily observed including a Dutch government team, very hostile, rightwing Dutch government observation team. There was a big delegation of Latin American scholars and US and British parliamentary human rights group and others. Probably the most heavily monitored elections in history and they regarded it as a pretty fair election, not magnificent, but fair by Latin American standards. Well Washington didn’t want that election, so it got its own candidate to pull out. He happened to be on the CIA pay roll, it turned out, to de-legitimate the election and claim that the election didn’t take place. You take a look at American press and journals and the same in Western Europe, they say there was never any election, the first election was in 1990. That’s the way you de-legitimate elections when you know you’re going to lose them.

And that’s what just happened in Venezuela. My guess was if Iraq had been successful, the US would simply have invaded. But by now they have lost the capacity to carry out military action.

Andy Clark: There’s been a lot of talk recently about how far the US should go in questioning suspected terrorists. If we can talk a little bit about the War on Terror. You know persistent allegations have been made of torture, and allegations were also made that there were secret CIA prisoners in Eastern Europe. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was keen to dispel the torture allegations during her recent trip to Europe.

We’ve also seen the Bush Administration accepting the bill put forward by Senator John McCain within the past few days, which will ban US interrogators from using, and I quote: ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in the war on terror.’ Earlier, Vice-President Dick Cheney had lobbied to try and have an exception for the CIA from this, but the government has now backed away from that. Professor Chomsky, what do you make of the McCain bill being accepted?

Noam Chomsky: To the extent the McCain bill is accepted, which hasn’t happened, that is saying that what Condoleezza Rice just said is a lie, she claimed it wasn’t happening. The discussion of the McCain bill is saying, yes it did happen, but we won’t do it any more. OK, that allows us to dismiss Condoleezza Rice’s statement.

Andy Clark: Are they saying that really, or are they saying “we want a safeguard against it happening in the future?”

Noam Chomsky: Yes that meant it happened in the past, they’re conceding it. Of course they don’t have to concede it, there’s overwhelming evidence for it. Just read American legal journals, full of discussion on it. Take a look at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, extensive evidence. Of course they’ve been torturing. Condoleezza Rice was very careful to say we don’t send people to countries where we believe they’re going to be tortured, so we send them to Egypt and Syria, but we don’t believe they’re going to be tortured there. How can you listen to that without laughing? What are they sending them there for? Why aren’t they sending them to Holland? But why aren’t they leaving them in the US? Do we have to even know what’s going on in Guantanamo? I mean Guantanamo is a horror chamber – there’s plenty of evidence, but did we need that evidence? Why are they even in Guantanamo? Why aren’t they in a prison in New York? There’s no security reason for that. The reason they’re sent to Guantanamo is elementary, any child can understand it, Guantanamo they can claim, is not under US judicial jurisdiction, so therefore they can do to people whatever they want, without habeas corpus, without judges and so on. If they weren’t torturing them, they would put them in New York, where they’d be under the legal system and the rendition, which is a shocking crime, is obviously to send people to places where they can be tortured. What Condoleezza Rice actually said is: ‘we take the word of the countries to which we’re sending them that they’re not going to torture them,’ meaning we know they torture everybody, but we’re going to take their word they’re not going to torture these people. We’re just sending them there for a vacation because we want them to have a good time, you know at a ritzy resort. How can we even listen to these words?

Andy Clark: Let’s hear from two listeners on torture.

Noel Smyth, Dublin, Ireland: “Can the people of this country believe anything that the US says about torture not being committed on their behalf in EU countries?”

R. Kurt, Oak Ridge, Tennessee: “Why isn’t Europe more critical of the Bush administration’s policy on torture and human rights?”

Andy Clark: What about that second question and Europe not being more forthright in that listener’s viewpoint?

Noam Chomsky: When you talk about a country you have to differentiate. Do you mean the elite sectors, the political class?

Andy Clark: I guess he does, he’s talking about the European Union, I guess.

Noam Chomsky: Well, talking about the elite sectors, the reason they don’t protest is they more or less agree. The general population doesn’t agree. The question: can you believe what the US says? Of course not, you don’t believe what any government say, you don’t believe what corporate leaders say. The role of people in power is to deceive, it’s not just the US, I mean, we all know that. When you look at an ad on television, do you believe it’s telling the truth? I mean, after all, systems of power are dedicated to deceit and delusion, to maintain power and to pursue their interests. That’s elementary; we should learn that in elementary school. So sure, you don’t believe what, you know, the benign, grandiose statements that are made by leaders. As I said before, they’re predictable, they carry no information, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the US or anyone else. You look at the practices, when you look at the practices, it stares you in the face, even without the volumes of evidence that we have. As for why Europe accepts it, I don’t think that Europe does. If you mean by Europe, the people of Europe. In fact, the US doesn’t accept it, if you mean the people of the US, they don’t like these policies. In fact, there’s an enormous gulf in the US between public attitudes and public policy, not just on this issue, but on a host of issues. Take another one, which is right on the front pages now, the Montreal Conference, the Kyoto protocols, you read everywhere that the US refused to accept Kyoto and broke up the Montreal meetings. Well, that’s true if you understand the US to exclude its population. The population of the US is overwhelmingly in favour of those agreements. In fact, so strongly that a majority of Bush voters think that he’s in favour of them because it’s so obviously right to be in favour of them. But when you have an enormous gulf between public policy and public opinion, we can mislead ourselves by saying Europe doesn’t want, the US doesn’t want and so on. No, we mean sectors that happen to concentrate power and keep the population out of their hair. What that means there’s a very serious democratic deficit in western countries, the US in particular. The population plays a very little role in policy and is often very strongly opposed to it.

Andy Clark: Professor Chomsky, your outspoken comments always provoke equally outspoken criticism. And when people have been e-mailing into our web page, there was, of course, criticism, too. So let me put some of these e-mails to you. I’m sure you’ve heard these arguments many a time before but it’s always interesting to hear your answer to them as well.

Michael Molluck, who is in Philadelphia in the US: “Noam Chomsky has a pathological hatred for the United States. Like all haters, he is blinded to everything that does not support his bigotry. It must kill him and his followers to constantly be so smart, so wrong and consistently on the wrong side of history.”

Andy Clark: That is an accusation that’s levelled against you that you are unpatriotic and that you have a hatred of the US What do you say to that?

Noam Chomsky: Well, since it’s just a tantrum, there’s nothing that you can say. If people want to have tantrums, that’s fine. There is a history of that; the writer should at least know what company he’s keeping. He’s keeping the company of Stalinist commissars, that’s exactly what they said about every dissident. So, Sakharov and the rest had a pathological hatred of Russia, they were on the wrong side of history and so on. That’s the stand of the commissars. In fact, it’s the stand of their counterparts in every country. It has a long history. I don’t know if the writer has religious education, but maybe he’s heard of something called the Bible, which is the source of this. The Bible is the source of the concept of hating your country. At that point, it meant hating Israel. King Ahab, who was the epitome of evil in the Bible, condemned the prophet Elijah as a hater of Israel. What did he mean by that? What did he mean by saying Elijah had a pathological hatred of Israel? What he meant is Elijah was condemning the acts of the evil king, not of the people of Israel, but of the evil king. And the king, like every totalitarian, identified himself with the people, the society, the country and so on. So you can love your country more than anyone else, but you have a pathological hatred of it if you criticize the acts of leadership. That’s the attitude of those who totally subordinate themselves to power, like Soviet commissars and others. So yes, it’s a familiar complaint, it goes through history, as in this case, it’s not presented with any argument or evidence, because there isn’t any, it’s presented as a tantrum, like King Ahab.

Andy Clark: This is from Jude Kirkham from Vancouver in Canada:

Jude’s email: “My problem with Mr Chomsky and the left in general regarding Iraq is that they oversimplify and fail to put forth realistic solutions. When I see a crowd of hippies parading around with giant paper-mace puppets of George Bush and Tony Blair, how on earth am I supposed to take them seriously? The invasion went well, insofar as it overthrew Saddam Hussein. The occupation was and is a disaster. Simply withdrawing is not going to happen because it would be political suicide. The answer is to reform the occupation, taking more a Colin Powell approach rather than Rumsfield one.”

Andy Clark: What’s your reaction to that?

Noam Chomsky: Well, forget about the hippies and so on and so forth. The person who proposed it has an idea, it’s the very same idea that was proposed by moderate communists in Russia during the Afghanistan years. They said Russia was originally successful, the invasion, took it over, it turned into a disaster. We obviously can’t leave; it would be politically impossible for the Kremlin. So there we have to reform it, it doesn’t matter what the Afghans want. That’s a point of view, to say, what he calls, the left doesn’t have a point of view is completely wrong, they have a clear point of view, he just doesn’t like it. The clear point of view is what I said before: let the people of Iraq decide. An invasion is a crime, in fact it’s the supreme crime, which includes, with it supreme international crime, which contains within it, all the evil that follows, I’m quoting from the Nuremberg judgements. Yes, it’s a supreme crime. I’m not saying we should hang the criminals who carried out the crimes, as it was done at Nuremberg, rather we should get rid of them. But once the crime has been committed, a very clear policy, whether the writer likes it or not, is to recognise that the invaders have no rights. They have responsibilities. There is the prime responsibility, one responsibility is to pay huge reparations to the people invaded for all the destruction they caused and that would include the sanctions, which were monstrous. The second one, as much as you can, is to keep to their will. If the large majority of the population, let’s say the British Defence Ministry poll is more or less accurate, if 80 percent of the population wants the invaders to leave, good, they should be preparing to leave. That’s a plan. When the writer said it’s politically impossible, meaning in Washington and in London, well if so, that’s a problem in Washington and London. That’s a problem in the US and Canada and England, we should deal with that problem because it’s our problem. Our problem is we can’t control our leaders. Iraqis don’t have to suffer for that. But the solution, the proposals that are coming from what he calls the left, are very clear, precise, belief in democracy, belief in freedom. He just doesn’t happen to like them. That doesn’t mean the proposals aren’t there.

Andy Clark: Another criticism that is sometimes levelled against you goes back to Cambodia and some of your writings there. This is from Noah Cooperman from Florida in the US

Noah’s email: “Does the Professor harbour any feelings of guilt for acting as an apologist for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during the period of the genocide in Cambodia. Or is mass murder by leftwing extremists still acceptable?”

Noam Chomsky: I would ask the listener whether he harbours any guilt for having supported Hitler and the Holocaust and insisting the Jews be sent to extermination camps. It has the same answer. Since it never happened, I obviously can’t have any guilt for it. He’s just repeating propaganda he heard. If you ask him, you’ll discover that he never read one word I wrote. Try it. What I wrote was, and I don’t have any apologies for it because it was accurate, I took the position that Pol Pot was a brutal monster, from the beginning was carrying out hideous atrocities, but the West, for propaganda purposes, was creating and inventing immense fabrications for its own political goals and not out of interest for the people of Cambodia. And my colleague and I with whom I wrote all this stuff simply ran through the list of fanatic lies that were being told and we took the most credible sources, which happened to be US intelligence, who knew more than anyone else. And we said US intelligence is probably accurate. In retrospect, that turns out to be correct, US intelligence was probably accurate. I think we were the only ones who quoted it. The fabrications were fabrications and should be eliminated. In fact, we also discussed, and I noticed nobody ever talks about this, we discussed fabrications against the US. For example a standard claim in the major works was that the US bombings had killed 600,000 people in 1973. We looked at the data and decided it was probably 200,000. So we said let’s tell the truth about it. It’s a crime, but it’s not like anything you said. It’s interesting that nobody ever objects to that. When we criticize fabrications about US crimes, that’s fine, when we criticize and in fact expose much worse fabrications about some official enemy, that’s horrible, it becomes apologetics. We should learn something about ourselves. If you’re interested in the truth, which you ought to be, tell the truth about yourself and tell the truth about others. These fabrications had an obvious political purpose. Incidentally, we continually criticize the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese invasion. After the Vietnamese invasion, which finally threw them out thankfully, the US and Britain immediately turned to support Pol Pot. Well, we criticized that, too, we said, no, you shouldn’t be supporting this monster. So yes, our position was consistent throughout. There’s been a huge literature trying to show that there was something wrong in what we said. To my knowledge, nobody’s even found a comma that’s misplaced. And therefore what you have is immense gossip. My guess is that the person who just wrote this in has never seen anything we wrote, but has heard a lot of gossip about it.

Andy Clark: This is from Jeremy Raskin in Los Angeles:

“What then do you make of the trend currently underway in the Middle East to move towards more democratic national institutions – for example, the growing strength of the anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon and the recent elections in Egypt and Iraq? Can we succeed in remaking the states of the Middle East by encouraging this trend? Or does America give up ‘spreading the gospel’ of democratic institutions?”

Noam Chomsky: US policy in these countries has always been and remains to deter democracy. There are a lot of popular democratic forces, all over the Middle East, they’ve been there for a long time and they’re not just starting now. We should stop preventing them. Take; say Egypt, the Kafiya movement is significant. The US is opposed to it. The Kafiya movement began with … its immediate roots were outrage over the US backed Israeli atrocities in the West Bank in 2000, which were extreme. That’s the origins of the Kafiya movement. Of course it has deeper origins and Egyptian democratic tendencies, which go far back. That was the origins of Kafiya and then it gained even more strength from the enormous opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. Now, it’s trying to break through to give some opening to the US backed Mubarak dictatorship. And yes, I think that instead of opposing Democracy in Egypt, as we’ve always been doing and still are, we should be supporting it. In Lebanon, there’s a long history. The issue right now is the Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 with the approval of the US and Israel, open approval because their task at the time was to murder Palestinians. They stayed there. In 1990, George Bush no 1, gave them further authorisation to stay in Lebanon because he wanted them as allies in the war against Iraq. By the early part of this millennium, they were becoming the one state in the region, which was not obeying US orders, so the US turned against them and wanted them out. Well how did they get out? I think they should’ve been out all along. Congress passed legislation to condemn Syria and impose sanctions and so on and in that resolution, if you look at it, here you see the ultimate cynicism. They appeal to a UN resolution, correctly, which said every country should allow Lebanon to run its own affairs and that all foreign forces should get out. That was the resolution they appealed to. Take a look at that resolution, it was directed against Israel in 1980. It said Israel should get out of Lebanon. Instead, Israel invaded Lebanon again and extended its role in Lebanon and stayed there until the year 2000. So here we use a resolution that was directed against Israel for its occupation of Lebanon for 22 years, parts of Lebanon. And we say that resolution says Syria should get out. Not a word in the Congressional discussion, not a word in the debate. I mean the cynicism is just mind-boggling. Yes, Syria should get out; of course, they should have been out in 1976, when we helped bring them in. The immediate impetus for getting Syria out was a car bombing of Rafik Hariri. Unless the CIA was involved in that bombing, the US has nothing to do with getting Syria out of Lebanon. There was a very important development in Lebanon of democratic forces, complex. One of the strongest forces in Lebanon is Hezbollah, which has a strong Shi’ite support. The US, of course, is opposed to it. But yes, we should permit for the first time, we should permit democracy to function in Lebanon, meaning getting our dirty hands out of their affairs. You could say the same about Iraq. Iraq has a long democratic tradition, goes back a century. It was crushed by the British invasion, but it continued to function in many different ways. There was some hope for it with the 1958 revolution, which was a kind of populist revolution which threw out the British and began to introduce social measures and so on and so forth. It introduced the constitution, which is far more liberal than the current one. Well the US and Britain couldn’t stand that, so they backed and maybe initiated a coup, a military coup to put the Baath party in. That crushed Iraqi democracy for years. We should let Iraqi democratic forces, which go way back, to flourish and develop internally. We can say the same thing right throughout the region.

Andy Clark: One final email, we’re almost out of time, this is from Jasmin:

“Politicians are rarely great minds or intellectuals, they are ‘scoundrels’ as Samuel Johnson said. So my question to Mr Chomsky is, what effect do intellectuals or great minds have in the politics of today, and has he ever been able to influence any major decision of the political leaders in the past few decades?

Noam Chomsky: First of all, we should have no illusions. History is written by intellectuals, almost by definition. So if you look at history intellectuals look pretty good. On the other hand, if you look at the actual history, the role of intellectuals has typically been awful. I mention the Bible as an example, but it’s a good example that pattern replicates. There were people in the biblical period who we would call dissident intellectuals, they’re called Prophets. It’s a bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word. But if you look at what the Prophets were saying, it’s what we would call dissident intellectuals. Geopolitical critique, a call for justice and freedom and so on. Yes, that’s dissident intellectuals. How were they treated? Well? No, they were denounced as haters of Israel. They were driven into the desert, they were imprisoned, reviled. Now, there were intellectuals at that time who were very highly respected, namely the flatterers at the court. Hundreds of years later they were called false prophets. That’s the way it works. It’s the flatterers at the court who are typically the mainstream of the intellectuals. It runs all the way through history, very few exceptions. So, you don’t look to intellectuals to influence policy. Dissident intellectuals often have many things to say, but they’re usually pretty badly treated, varying in different societies. What makes things better is popular movements. That is what effects policy, that’s how we’ve gained the freedoms that we have and we have a lot of freedom, but it didn’t come from above and it didn’t come from intellectuals. It came from organised popular movements, which demanded more freedom, like the non-violent resistance in Iraq, which forced the US and Britain to permit elections. That’s how we got the right to vote here. That’s how we got women’s rights, that’s how we got freedom of speech and so on. Constant struggle, that’s why there are such efforts to break up popular movements and to atomise people and separate them from one another and to create enormous gulfs between public opinion and public policy. It’s a constant battle and, yes, that’s the way to make things better as in the past, plenty of concrete ways to do it. We’re much more able to than in the past because of the freedoms that have been won. We have a legacy of freedom, which has been won. We can use it, improve it, carry it forward or we can abandon it. But you’re not going to look to intellectuals to save you.

Andy Clark: Professor Chomsky, as ever, a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for joining us.

Noam Chomsky: Good to be with you.