Noam Chomsky is a linguist and an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. This interview took place on February 28 in his office at the University of Arizona’s Department of Linguistics in Tucson, Arizona.
Fariba Pajooh: Your views on US foreign policy are well known. Even when President Obama was in office, you criticized components of his foreign policy. In terms of the current Trump administration, I’d like to know your thoughts on his foreign policy, especially concerning the Middle East.
Noam Chomsky: He’s lined up closely with Saudi Arabia and with Israel, which is basically an alliance, and he is bitterly opposed to Iran. [U.S. Ambassador] Nicky Haley spoke at the UN about Iranian violations of the accords. However, the US is violating them all the time. Nobody talks about this. The accord is explicit in terms of the requirement that the signatories do nothing with Iran’s commercial relations with the outside. The US is doing that constantly. Even under the Obama administration, there were radical violations of the agreements. Trump is trying everything that he can to destroy the accords. You probably saw this morning the Europeans trying to offer some conciliatory measures to keep Trump from pulling out entirely. This will probably fail.
I don’t think there is a coherent foreign policy. He’s been very critical of Pakistan. Pakistan is reacting by stepping up bombings by the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is a significant likelihood that real hostilities will break up between Israel and Hezbollah, which will probably mean the invasion of Lebanon by Israel. Israel will bombard Lebanon, which will mean the destruction of Lebanon. Israel is committed to their Dahiya doctrine, as they call it, which means they will go to war against any provocation. And it could just blow up the Iranian installations which are not too far from the Israeli border. Israel won’t allow anything near its borders. So, I think that is a very volatile and dangerous situation.
Some observers, such as the knowledgeable analyst Nicholas Noe, are predicting, with a degree of certainty, that a serious war could happen. That is an ugly situation. And, of course in Yemen the U.S. and Israel with British backing are just destroying the country. They are blaming Iran, but it’s basically U.S. and Saudi bombings. So that situation is extremely dangerous and vulnerable. On the other side, Turkey is attacking Syria in order to keep any Kurdish groups as far as they can from their borders.
You may have seen this morning that [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan told a six-year-old girl she would be honored if she was “martyred.” I can’t imagine what is going on in their minds. They are very unpredictable and dangerous people. Similarly, in Israel, [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is in serious trouble and it’s possible that he will try to salvage his situation by undertaking some violent act. All very dangerous! Lebanon will likely be a major victim.
Pajooh: Do you predict that we will have another violent war in the Middle-East?
Chomsky: If there is another war, it will be even worse than the last one. The reason is that Hezbollah by now, according to reports at least, has a very significant missile capacity which Israel won’t be able to stop. If they start hitting Israeli targets, Israel will just go “all out” without any restraint. They might go as far as bombing Iran.
Pajooh: I want to talk about the future of the Iran deal. President Trump has threatened to kill the Iran deal. He has imposed a travel ban, restrictions that affected me personally, and now they are pushing Europe to reconsider their relationship with Iran. How likely it is for Trump to undertake military action in the region of Iran? What do you think is the end game for the Iran deal?
Chomsky: The Europeans are trying almost desperately to save something. I doubt very much that Iran will accept the new proposals that they announced. It seems very unlikely. I am sure that the European negotiators know that Iran can’t reject them. If the U.S. also reject them, which is very possible, one conceivable outcome is that the U.S. would just withdraw, and the rest of the P5+1 will maintain some kind of relationship with Iran. They don’t want to break their relationship with the U.S. either. So, they are in a very difficult situation. They don’t want to abandon Iran and on the other hand, they are very frightened about the U.S. for good reason. Russia and China will maintain a relationship with Iran, but they can’t compensate for Western relations. And Iran, of course, has plenty of internal problems. Not just social and political, but also ecological and climatic concerns.
Pajooh: President Trump tasked Brad Pascale to run his political campaign for 2020. Do you think he has a chance to be re-elected in 2020?
Chomsky: I think has a very good chance. His popular base is fanatic. They are just dedicated to him. He could be God, as far as they are concerned. They are immobile no matter what happens. A lot of them are evangelical Christians. The secular state doesn’t mean anything to them. They are working for Jesus, and Jesus says support Trump. That’s probably 25% of the American population. The very rich support Trump. The Trump administration operates on two planes. On one plane, Trump’s role is to attract media attention to make sure he is in the headlines every day. He is the first thing to see on the television every day. That’s why he is doing one crazy thing after another. It’s not what it looks like. The media criticizes Trump, which fires up his base, because they regard themselves as under attack by the liberal media. So, he plays that game.
Underneath, the real villains Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are busy dismantling every aspect of the government that might be of benefit to the general population. They are serving their real constituency, the rich and the corporate sector, with abject dedication to sheer robbery. The tax bill was a massive gift to the super rich, with a few pennies to the others just to keep them quiet. Ryan and McConnell want to have a huge deficit so that gives the pretext to dismantling social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps—anything that benefits the general population. In the meantime, keep the base fired up with white nationalism, racism, religious extremism, and so on. It is a very dangerous situation.
Also, as you probably saw around the country, it is a very violent country. There are heavily armed militias all over the place. They are better armed than the state police. Angry people ready to go to war. If Trump hadn’t won the election, we might have had a civil war.