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NOW on the News with Maria Hinojosa

Transcript: Noam Chomsky on America's Foreign Policy

» More about this interview

MARIA HINOJOSA: Welcome to the NOW on PBS audio podcast. I'm Maria Hinosoja, senior correspondent for NOW on PBS. And it's a pleasure to welcome NIT professor, American intellectual and author of "Hegemony or Survival, America's Quest for Global Dominance," Professor Noam Chomsky. Welcome to our podcast.

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you.

MARIA HINOJOSA: I'm wondering, Professor Chomsky, do you feel like over the past week, that there has been something of a shift, when you've got the National Intelligence report coming out, saying terrorism has gotten worse, we've just concluded the General Assembly at the United Nations, you've seen President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton lashing back at Republicans. Do you feel like something has changed just in the past week or so?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there have been lots of interesting things certainly. Take the National Intelligence estimate. It's good that it's coming out from the National Intelligence estimate but what's been reported is nothing new.

In fact, not only in the book of mine that President Chavez mentioned, but in a later one that just came out a month — several months ago, I quoted the CIA and other intelligence estimates, analyses by terrorism specialists who pointed out there has been a sharp or a very sharp rise in terrorism since the Iraq invasion, also an increase in nuclear proliferation. It was all anticipated by the same intelligence agencies and experts, and it happened beyond the level that they anticipated.

As far as what's happened at the U.N., what happened is very interesting, but it didn't get reported. At least I didn't see it.

MARIA HINOJOSA: And what would be that?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: The content of what President Chavez said. So, for example, his most important address was the one to the Security Council. There was no inflammatory rhetoric, so there was nothing for gossip columnists. It was just a discussion of very serious issues.

He talked about the energy and environmental crisis, the need to change the socio-economic order in the advanced industrial countries, to reduce sharply their use of hydrocarbons for energy. And he talked about how to fight international terrorism and went on with quite serious issues.

Well, that's important. At the General Assembly, the rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric, that's what the news focused on, also a false claim, it turns out, that he thought I had died. Actually, he was referring to John Kenneth Galbraith.

But what was missing was the content.

I mean, it was reported — we found a few words — saying that there was prolonged applause, so prolonged that the chair had to interrupt it. But nothing much was said about the reasons. I mean, why is there prolonged applause?

MARIA HINOJOSA: In other words, why does someone like Hugo Chavez, who many in this country see as a firebrand, actually, on an international scale, have people who want to hear what he has to say and who support what he has to say in terms of the global view.


PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, maybe it's because of the substance of what he said. Now, the substance of what he said, which is called here very controversial, is that the U.S. is a leading threat to peace in the world. But that's not controversial. Just simply read the international polls and you find that even in Europe, which is where there's the largest support for the United States, the United States leads by far as, among the population, as regarded as a threat to world peace, way beyond Iran, far beyond any — Russia, China, anyone else.

Well, you know, those are not controversial statements. They may be controversial here, but it's because — if so, it's because we're out of step.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Let's talk for a second, Professor, about the National Intelligence estimate which was first published by The New York Times on Sunday, the fact that this report says that essentially the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives. As you say, you're not surprised by this at all, and yet it —


PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: No, I've quoted similar reports from intelligence agencies for the last several years.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Why do you think, then, that this report is getting such attention when this information has been out there?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, it's the National Intelligence A—estimate. It's not just the CIA and specialists on terror and so on. So yes, it's coming from a higher level.

Also, I think probably the reason is because by now opposition to the war itself within mainstream circles has increased.

MARIA HINOJOSA: I'm wondering, in terms of the response from the left or even the Democrats, I mean, is there a credible position in terms of dealing with terrorism, from the left? And why is it that Democrats are being quite quiet at this time?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it's an interesting situation in American political history. I mean, it's no big secret that for the last year just about every week, the Republicans, Republican Administration has been shooting itself in the foot on one thing or another, whether it's Katrina or Iraq or, you know, a long list - I don't have to go through it. And it's kind of interesting that the Democrats have basically not gained from this. The only gains they've made is that support for the Republicans has dropped.

Well, what that illustrates is that there is no functioning opposition party. People don't know what the Democratic proposals are. What are they saying? When Bush responds and says, okay, what do you have to say about it, there's nothing much. That even includes not only international affairs, but even major domestic crises.

MARIA HINOJOSA: What would be your proposal in terms of dealing with terrorism, in the world geo-political situation that we find ourselves in?


PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: My proposal happens to be very mainstream. It's the same as the proposal that you read from government and outside specialists on terrorism. They say, with virtual uniformity, other countries too, that terrorism is a very serious problem, and if you want to deal with it, you have to pay attention to its causes, to the background from which it comes. And what should be done is to deal with it.

The worst way to deal with it is by giving gifts to Osama bin Laden. And, as a number of the specialists have pointed out, Bush is Osama bin Laden's best ally, because the reactions are violence.

So let's take 9/11, a terrible crime. It turns out, and we now know, and knew then, that it was bitterly condemned by the Jihari movement around the world. The leading figures, you know, the radical clerics and others were denouncing it.

Well, there was an opportunity to make some moves towards the Muslim world, and, in fact, even the radical Islamic extremist elements in the Muslim world, and undermine support for al Qaeda, when what we did was the opposite, resorted to violence, particularly in Iraq, which simply mobilized support for Osama bin Laden. That's the way to deal with terrorism, if you want to escalate it.

MARIA HINOJOSA: People may say, all right, well we have now some hindsight in terms of September 11th, Osama bin Laden, but the reality is that we have President Bush in office for the next couple of years. Can the politics of how we move forward on an international scale change at this moment? Can there, in fact, be effective dialogue so that some of what you're saying becomes incorporated? Or is it simply a stalemate, and we'll just have to wait until there's a new president in office before anything can change this?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: It depends on whether we believe in a democratic society or a dictatorship. If it's a democratic society, of course, it can change. Public opinion can be influential, the media can be influential.

We're not North Korea, after all. We have every opportunity we like. In fact, let's take a possible catastrophe that's looming right now. I mean, Iraq is just escalating out of control; it's a total disaster.

But there is a possibility, which 'til recently I didn't take very seriously, that the tiny clique in Washington that's barely holding onto power might actually attack Iran. That's, as far as we know, over the opposition of U.S. military and intelligence. It's certainly over the opposition of Europe. And it's against the overwhelming opposition of the rest of the world.

I mean, even the countries in the region, I mean, it's kind of remarkable, but the — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which don't like Iran and hate it, in fact, and certainly don't want it to have nuclear weapons, nevertheless, public opinion in those countries prefers Iranian nuclear weapons to a U.S. military attack. It's not 'cause they want the weapons. Of course, they don't.

Furthermore, there are ways to deal with it; there are diplomatic options. The question is will public opinion here compel the Administration to pursue them, or will we allow them to drive to a war which could have horrendous consequences, could blow up the region with global consequences? We have choices about these things..

MARIA HINOJOSA: And what would you think then — I mean, people protested against the war in Iraq before it was launched, while it was launched, worldwide protests. Is it about street mobilizations? Is that what you think needs to happen? Or is it going to happen, in your view, in a different kind of modern form of democratic expression?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: There's no magic keys to this. It requires education, organization, action, honest media treatment, development of a real political alternative that's willing to function. These are perfectly normal means, and entirely within the framework of a functioning democratic system.

They don't happen to be working very well now, but that's because of a sharp deterioration in the functioning of democratic institutions, something else which ought to disturb us.

So, for example, by now there's a huge gap between public opinion and public policy, on a very wide range of issues. That is surely one of the reasons why the people who run elections try to avoid issues and focus on imagery.

MARIA HINOJOSA: I'm wondering how you see what happened in terms of President Bill Clinton—former President Bill Clinton and his reaction to Chris Wallace in the Fox News interview, and Senator Hilary Clinton's response as well? And yet, there's been this silence on the part of the Democrats. It's not as if you've seen all, you know, top-level Democrats kind of fall into line and say—you know, the former president and the senator are correct here.

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I—part of the reason, I think, is because they're probably not correct. Again, there is a—by now a rich and informative literature on terrorism. It's been a big a topic; it's been studied very carefully.

And what specialists have pointed out, years ago, is that Clinton himself acted in ways which increased the threat of terror. So take, say, the 1998 bombings of the Sudan and Afghanistan, well I know Sudan was—we don't pay much attention to it but people in the rest of the world, certainly the third world do, it was very destructive.

If you destroyed half the pharmaceutical production in the United States, we'd think it's a pretty serious problem. In fact, we'd probably go to war. Well, that's what he did. And it had a lot of effects. We don't pay attention to it.

Afghanistan, what happened is that relations between al Qaeda and the Taliban, which previously were pretty cool; the Taliban didn't like 'em much, they didn't want another source of authority in their country, and they never did like the Arabs—relations got much closer as a result of the bombing. Clinton did the same in 1998.

The sort of technical question that was discussed, how hard did he try to kill Osama bin Laden, well, you know, we can have our own opinions on that, but it's kind of a side question. The real question is what are we doing to undermine the support for the terrorist movements.

I mean, look terrorists regard themselves as a vanguard. They are trying to carry out actions which they portray as a response to grievances. And the grievances are often real. And they are trying to mobilize the population to support them, to join them.

Well, the rational way to deal with this is to look at the grievances that they are brining up, which the population feels, and address them, and undermine their base of support and isolate them.


How would that look, Professor Chomsky? How would, if that was to be the case, and there would be many who would say that they can't even accept the fact that there could be grievances—but how would that look? Play that out for me, and for our listeners-



PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, look for—for mo—a good part of the world, probably a majority of the world, the Israel-Palestine conflict is regarded as the core of the problems of the region; there are plenty of others, but that's the core one.

Certainly, in Arab and Muslim world, in fact, most of the world, it's regarded as an extremely serious issue, and in fact, a major crime.

Well, there are ways to deal with it. In fact, they've been known for 30 years, and we know them right now. A way to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestine-Israeli conflict, is to introduce a two-state settlement with guarantees for the security and the recognition of all states in the region, including Israel and a new Palestinian state. It's very hard to find anybody who opposes it, outside the United States and Israel.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So if you believe that, that the United States as a super power, has missed the opportunity to deal with one of those major grievances, then will the United States as a super power, will it take another five years, another couple of decades, from your view, before the way it deals with these central grievances, as you see them, actually change?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: That's up to people like you and me. I mean, again, we are not North Korea. The population here, which a majority of it supports this same solution, can act in ways which will make the government accept the international consensus that it has rejected for 30 years. That's within our power to do. And the Democrats are probably worse than the Republicans on this.

MARIA HINOJOSA: And that act, I mean, is it right now—we're, we're coming up to the mid-term elections, are you saying, you know what, the voting in these mid-term elections is central, this is where the change can begin?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: I wish I could say that. But part of the very serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions is that the November elections deal with only a periphery of candidates. But I think there's only about 10 percent of the seats that are seriously contested. That's not a democratic election.

And, in fact, you can pretty well over y—the years, you can pretty well predict the outcomes, just by looking at the—a level of campaign contributions which overwhelmingly come from corporate sectors. And it's craven [?] in stone. That can be changed too.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, when you step back, Professor Chomsky, do you say, this is a moment in American history where pessimism rules? Or do you say optimism is a possibility and you believe things can change?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Both. We are in an extremely dangerous situation, not only what we're talking but also much more large-scale threats to us and everyone else, in fact, literal threats to survival, like escalation of the threat of nuclear war, of environmental catastrophe, which we, unless we do something about, is—could be awful.

The U.S., again, is increasing those threats significantly. And that's—and what's happening in the Middle East and elsewhere is shocking and could become even worse than it is now. So yeah, those are pretty ugly—many pretty ugly things happening in the world.

On the other hand, there's every reason for optimism. I mean, look we have a legacy of freedom and privilege, which is incomparable in the world. It wasn't given by gifts, it was won by long, dedicated, committed popular struggle. But we have that legacy, and we can use it. We can abandon it and say, I don't care, or I'm gonna be hopeless, or we can use it. And if we use it, these things can change.

MARIA HINOJOSA: Professor Chomsky, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on our podcast on Now on PBS.


MARIA HINOJOSA: We'll speak to you soon. Thanks so much for joining us, listeners. We'll talk to you again next week.

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