Untitled interview

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Wissam Matta, Assafir newspaper (Lebanon)

E-mail correspondence, August 1, 2008

MATTA: How do you thing president Bush is preparing to close his administration’s file, few months before he left the white house, in term of internal and foreign policies (energy, economy, Middle East, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Northern Korea)?

CHOMSKY: One cannot predict with any confidence. They have demonstrated extreme irrationality and ignorance. Virtually everything they have touched has turned to disaster. They are desperate to salvage something from the wreckage they have created at home and abroad, and for that reason alone, are unpredictable.

On North Korea, the prominent Korea scholar Bruce Cumings writes accurately that “Bush had presided over the most asinine Korea policy in history,” undermining diplomatic efforts that were making some progress, and leaving North Korea with a greatly enhanced nuclear weapons capacity. The administration was under so much international and domestic pressure that it was compelled to return the diplomatic track, leading to some progress, and hope for more, though neither side as yet has fulfilled its commitments.

In the Middle East, they are doing everything they can to ensure that Iraq remains an obedient client state that serves as a base for US power projection in the region and permits free exploitation of its rich oil resources by Western (primarily US) corporations. That much is evident from ongoing activities and formal pronouncements. The huge military bases around the country and the massive “embassy” — a city-within-a-city that resembles no embassy in the world — are not being built to be dismantled, and it is worth noting that they are being constructed with bipartisan support. The White House declared last November that Iraq must permit US military operations and encourage foreign investment, “especially American investments,” an unusually brazen pronouncement of imperial intent. Washington’s plans for energy production effectively reconstitute the Iraq Petroleum Company that was established under British rule, and if implemented, would leave Iraq as the only major oil-producing power not controlling its own resources, after the nationalizations of the 1970s. Just a few days ago the US Air Force announced plans for extensive operations in Iraq “for the foreseeable future.” It is unclear whether the US can impose such goals on a country where a large majority of the population calls for withdrawal of US forces, but there is every reason to expect that intensive efforts will be made to compel Iraq to accept them. Meanwhile the US is strengthening the sectors of Iraqi society that have the closest relations to Iran, and its counterinsurgency policies are enhancing tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism, as Middle East specialist Steven Simon observes in the leading establishment journal, Foreign Affairs.

For Israel-Palestine, there is unlikely to be a change from Bush’s “’67-plus” program, formally granting Israel the right to annex parts of the West Bank; these are not specified officially but are fairly well known. That is Bush’s sole innovation in US policy towards the conflict. There is no indication of any departure from this stand. If so, the US-Israel will continue to block the overwhelming international consensus on a two-state settlement, and to create “facts on the ground” designed to undermine the possibility of a viable Palestinian state, while Condoleezza Rice occasionally issues mild censures of the Israeli policies that proceed thanks to Washington’s diplomatic, military, economic and ideological support.

The major open question is Iran. There has been a feverish government-media campaign to portray Iran as an aggressive imperial power, a new Nazi Germany, which must be stopped, by violence if necessary, before it is too late. Both political parties are committed to the illegal threat of force against Iran, which is opposed by a large majority of the population (and by the world). The Iranian government can be severely condemned on many counts, but this fantasy is the desperate construction of those who regard it as their right to rule the world without resistance or interference.

It is unmentionable in US media and commentary that most countries of the world endorse Iran’s right to enrich uranium, a position recently reiterated by the Nonaligned Movement. They are joined by the large majority of Americans, who, furthermore, call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region, including Iran and Israel, a step that would significantly reduce the threat of conflict, perhaps even nuclear war. That too is unmentionable.

Bush-Cheney might decide to go down in a blaze of glory Ð or the fires of Hell — bombing Iran if Obama wins the election, a proposal now circulating in radical nationalist circles (called “neoconservative’). In June, Congress came close to passing a resolution, strongly supported by the Israeli lobby, virtually calling for a blockade of Iran Ð an act of war that could have set off the conflagration that is greatly feared in the region and around the world. Pressures from the anti-war movement appear to have beaten back this particular effort, but others are likely to follow.

The administration has no energy policy, other than to maximize the huge profits of energy corporations. On the economy generally, policies have been designed to enrich a tiny fraction of the population. They have been harmful to the large majority and have by now caused a severe financial crisis, spreading to the world. The specific programs to respond to the crisis in housing and credit markets are designed to reward the managers for their incompetence with large compensation packages, and to pay off shareholders, with the taxpayer picking up the burden. This is consistent with the general anti-capitalist commitments of the right-wing.

MATTA: Do you think he is really closing these files, or opening them, in order to make the next administration involved with these issues? And what is the margins of freedom for the next president in these issues?

CHOMSKY: The administration will, of course, seek to establish its “legacy,” which reduces to several simple propositions: (1) greatly enhance executive power, (2) enrich the wealthy, (3) intimidate the world by the threat and use of overwhelming means of violence. The great damage that they have done to US interests limits the extent to which they can impose their legacy on future administrations. However, objections within the political class are more on grounds of failure than principle. Hence a good deal is likely to remain, at least until the general population becomes a significant force in policy formation. On a host of major issues, both political parties are well to the right of the population, which is not unaware of what is happening. 80% believe that the government is run by “a few big interests looking out for themselves,” not for the benefit of the people, and 95% believe that the government should pay attention to public opinion. Unless significant steps are taken towards “democracy promotion” in the United States, one cannot expect policy to depart from the fairly narrow elite spectrum — in which Bush and company are far to the extremist end.

MATTA: In your opinion, did Bush draw the future of America (9-11, war against terror), so that we can talk on “America before Bush” and “America after bush”.

CHOMSKY: Doubtless Bush introduced some radical innovations, which is why his administration has been sharply criticized within the mainstream. But these are more matters of practice than principle. Consider, for example, the resort to torture and denial of elementary rights to those who the administration declares to be “enemy combatants” — for example, a 15-year-old boy who is soon to be tried in a military court that barely rises to a caricature of justice, charged with resisting the US invasion of his country. He has languished for years in the Guantanamo prison-torture chamber, which the US is using in violation of a treaty that was imposed on Cuba at gunpoint a century ago. All of this proceeds with bipartisan support. Or consider what many regard as the most significant doctrine of the Bush administration: the National Security Strategy of September 2002, which declared that the US has the right to attack anyone it believes is posing a potential threat (“preventive war”). That was harshly criticized, but because of its style, not its content. Clinton’s doctrine, taken literally, was even more extreme: he declared that the US has the right to use force to protect markets and access to resources, without even the pretexts on which Bush insisted. But Clinton’s doctrine passed without comment, because it was presented quietly in a message to Congress, without the brazen arrogance and open contempt for the world that antagonized even allies. In fact the doctrine can be traced back to high-level World War II planning. Or take the “war on terror.” A “war on terror” was declared by Ronald Reagan in 1981, with much the same rhetoric as today. It had bipartisan support, but has been left in the shadows of history because it very quickly became a murderous terrorist war. For example, it is not considered good manners to report that Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress was designated one of the “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world in 1988, when Reagan was supporting his South African friends and participating in their slaughter of over 1 million people in the neighboring countries (though Mandela has recently been removed from the list of international terrorists). It is also not considered proper to recall that a US-run elite battalion murdered six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, in 1989, after having compiled a bloody record of atrocities among the usual victims. And so on, through a hideous record, best forgotten.

There is an elite political spectrum, but it is fairly narrow — and, as noted, on many crucial issues it is to the right of the general population.

MATTA: Do you expect a “happy end” for our region with Bush outside the white house?

CHOMSKY: I wish I could say that I did. But I cannot.