Chomsky: "Iraq is a trial run" (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Fri Apr 4 12:19:58 PST 2003

From: Tyler Durden <camera_lumina at>
To: cypherpunks at
Subject: Chomsky: "Iraq is a trial run"

What Chomsky says below is no suprise to most of those on this list, 
left/right/other. What IS of interest is that fact that a universal 
consensus seems to be emerging about the US's role in the world, and Chomsky 
articulates this sentiment.




Noam Chomsky , University Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology, founder of the modern science of linguistics and political 
activist, is a powerhouse of anti-imperialist activism in the United States 
today. On March 21, a crowded and typical  -   and uniquely Chomskyan  -   
day of political protest and scientific academic research, he spoke from his 
office for half an hour to V. K. Ramachandran on the current attack on Iraq.

V. K. Ramachandran :Does the present aggression on Iraq represent a 
continuation of United States' international policy in recent years or a 
qualitatively new stage in that policy?

Noam Chomsky : It represents a significantly new phase. It is not without 
precedent, but significantly new nevertheless.

This should be seen as a trial run. Iraq is seen as an extremely easy and 
totally defenceless target. It is assumed, probably correctly, that the 
society will collapse, that the soldiers will go in and that the U.S. will 
be in control, and will establish the regime of its choice and military 
bases. They will then go on to the harder cases that will follow. The next 
case could be the Andean region, it could be Iran, it could be others.

The trial run is to try and establish what the U.S. calls a "new norm" in 
international relations. The new norm is "preventive war" (notice that new 
norms are established only by the United States). So, for example, when 
India invaded East Pakistan to terminate horrendous massacres, it did not 
establish a new norm of humanitarian intervention, because India is the 
wrong country, and besides, the U.S. was strenuously opposed to that action.

This is not pre-emptive war; there is a crucial difference. Pre-emptive war 
has a meaning, it means that, for example, if planes are flying across the 
Atlantic to bomb the United States, the United States is permitted to shoot 
them down even before they bomb and may be permitted to attack the air bases 
from which they came. Pre-emptive war is a response to ongoing or imminent 

The doctrine of preventive war is totally different; it holds that the 
United States  -   alone, since nobody else has this right  -   has the 
right to attack any country that it claims to be a potential challenge to 
it. So if the United States claims, on whatever grounds, that someone may 
sometime threaten it, then it can attack them.

The doctrine of preventive war was announced explicitly in the National 
Strategy Report last September. It sent shudders around the world, including 
through the U.S. establishment, where, I might say, opposition to the war is 
unusually high. The National Strategy Report said, in effect, that the U.S. 
will rule the world by force, which is the dimension  -   the only dimension 
  -   in which it is supreme. Furthermore, it will do so for the indefinite 
future, because if any potential challenge arises to U.S. domination, the 
U.S. will destroy it before it becomes a challenge.

This is the first exercise of that doctrine. If it succeeds on these terms, 
as it presumably will, because the target is so defenceless, then 
international lawyers and Western intellectuals and others will begin to 
talk about a new norm in international affairs. It is important to establish 
such a norm if you expect to rule the world by force for the foreseeable 

This is not without precedent, but it is extremely unusual. I shall mention 
one precedent, just to show how narrow the spectrum is. In 1963, Dean 
Acheson, who was a much respected elder statesman and senior Adviser of the 
Kennedy Administration, gave an important talk to the American Society of 
International Law, in which he justified the U. S. attacks against Cuba. The 
attack by the Kennedy Administration on Cuba was large-scale international 
terrorism and economic warfare. The timing was interesting  -   it was right 
after the Missile Crisis, when the world was very close to a terminal 
nuclear war. In his speech, Acheson said that "no legal issue arises when 
the United States responds to challenges to its position, prestige or 
authority", or words approximating that.

That is also a statement of the Bush doctrine. Although Acheson was an 
important figure, what he said had not been official government policy in 
the post-War period. It now stands as official policy and this is the first 
illustration of it. It is intended to provide a precedent for the future.

Such "norms" are established only when a Western power does something, not 
when others do. That is part of the deep racism of Western culture, going 
back through centuries of imperialism and so deep that it is unconscious.

So I think this war is an important new step, and is intended to be.

Ramachandran :Is it also a new phase in that the U. S. has not been able to 
carry others with it?

Chomsky : That is not new. In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, the 
United States did not even try to get international support. Nevertheless, 
you are right in that this is unusual. This is a case in which the United 
States was compelled for political reasons to try to force the world to 
accept its position and was not able to, which is quite unusual. Usually, 
the world succumbs.

Ramachandran :So does it represent a "failure of diplomacy" or a 
redefinition of diplomacy itself?

Chomsky : I wouldn't call it diplomacy at all  -   it's a failure of 

Compare it with the first Gulf War. In the first Gulf War, the U.S. coerced 
the Security Council into accepting its position, although much of the world 
opposed it. NATO went along, and the one country in the Security Council 
that did not  -   Yemen  -   was immediately and severely punished.

In any legal system that you take seriously, coerced judgments are 
considered invalid, but in the international affairs conducted by the 
powerful, coerced judgments are fine  -   they are called diplomacy.

What is interesting about this case is that the coercion did not work. There 
were countries  -   in fact, most of them  -   who stubbornly maintained the 
position of the vast majority of their populations.

The most dramatic case is Turkey. Turkey is a vulnerable country, vulnerable 
to U.S. punishment and inducements. Nevertheless, the new government, I 
think to everyone's surprise, did maintain the position of about 90 per cent 
of its population. Turkey is bitterly condemned for that here, just as 
France and Germany are bitterly condemned because they took the position of 
the overwhelming majority of their populations. The countries that are 
praised are countries like Italy and Spain, whose leaders agreed to follow 
orders from Washington over the opposition of maybe 90 per cent of their 

That is another new step. I cannot think of another case where hatred and 
contempt for democracy have so openly been proclaimed, not just by the 
government, but also by liberal commentators and others. There is now a 
whole literature trying to explain why France, Germany, the so-called "old 
Europe", and Turkey and others are trying to undermine the United States. It 
is inconceivable to the pundits that they are doing so because they take 
democracy seriously and they think that when the overwhelming majority of a 
population has an opinion, a government ought to follow it.

That is real contempt for democracy, just as what has happened at the United 
Nations is total contempt for the international system. In fact there are 
now calls  -   from The Wall Street Journal ,people in Government and others 
  -   to disband the United Nations.

Fear of the United States around the world is extraordinary. It is so 
extreme that it is even being discussed in the mainstream media. The cover 
story of the upcoming issue of Newsweek is about why the world is so afraid 
of the United States. The Post had a cover story about this a few weeks ago.

Of course this is considered to be the world's fault, that there is 
something wrong with the world with which we have to deal somehow, but also 
something that has to be recognised.

Ramachandran :The idea that Iraq represents any kind of clear and present 
danger is, of course, without any substance at all.

Chomsky : Nobody pays any attention to that accusation, except, 
interestingly, the population of the United States.

In the last few months, there has been a spectacular achievement of 
government-media propaganda, very visible in the polls. The international 
polls show that support for the war is higher in the United States than in 
other countries. That is, however, quite misleading, because if you look a 
little closer, you find that the United States is also different in another 
respect from the rest of the world. Since September 2002, the United States 
is the only country in the world where 60 per cent of the population 
believes that Iraq is an imminent threat  -   something that people do not 
believe even in Kuwait or Iran.

Furthermore, about 50 per cent of the population now believes that Iraq was 
responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. This has happened 
since September 2002. In fact, after the September 11 attack, the figure was 
about 3 per cent. Government-media propaganda has managed to raise that to 
about 50 per cent. Now if people genuinely believe that Iraq has carried out 
major terrorist attacks against the United States and is planning to do so 
again, well, in that case people will support the war.

This has happened, as I said, after September 2002. September 2002 is when 
the government-media campaign began and also when the mid-term election 
campaign began. The Bush Administration would have been smashed in the 
election if social and economic issues had been in the forefront, but it 
managed to suppress those issues in favour of security issues  -   and 
people huddle under the umbrella of power.

This is exactly the way the country was run in the 1980s. Remember that 
these are almost the same people as in the Reagan and the senior Bush 
Administrations. Right through the 1980s they carried out domestic policies 
that were harmful to the population and which, as we know from extensive 
polls, the people opposed. But they managed to maintain control by 
frightening the people. So the Nicaraguan Army was two days' march from 
Texas and about to conquer the United States, and the airbase in Granada was 
one from which the Russians would bomb us. It was one thing after another, 
every year, every one of them ludicrous. The Reagan Administration actually 
declared a national Emergency in 1985 because of the threat to the security 
of the United States posed by the Government of Nicaragua.

If somebody were watching this from Mars, they would not know whether to 
laugh or to cry.

They are doing exactly the same thing now, and will probably do something 
similar for the presidential campaign. There will have to be a new dragon to 
slay, because if the Administration lets domestic issues prevail, it is in 
deep trouble.

Ramachandran :You have written that this war of aggression has dangerous 
consequences with respect to international terrorism and the threat of 
nuclear war.

Chomsky : I cannot claim any originality for that opinion. I am just quoting 
the CIA and other intelligence agencies and virtually every specialist in 
international affairs and terrorism. Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy , the 
study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the high-level 
Hart-Rudman Commission on terrorist threats to the United States all agree 
that it is likely to increase terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of 
mass destruction.

The reason is simple: partly for revenge, but partly just for self-defence.

There is no other way to protect oneself from U.S. attack. In fact, the 
United States is making the point very clearly, and is teaching the world an 
extremely ugly lesson.

Compare North Korea and Iraq. Iraq is defenceless and weak; in fact, the 
weakest regime in the region. While there is a horrible monster running it, 
it does not pose a threat to anyone else. North Korea, on the other hand, 
does pose a threat. North Korea, however, is not attacked for a very simple 
reason: it has a deterrent. It has a massed artillery aimed at Seoul, and if 
the United States attacks it, it can wipe out a large part of South Korea.

So the United States is telling the countries of the world: if you are 
defenceless, we are going to attack you when we want, but if you have a 
deterrent, we will back off, because we only attack defenceless targets. In 
other words, it is telling countries that they had better develop a 
terrorist network and weapons of mass destruction or some other credible 
deterrent; if not, they are vulnerable to "preventive war".

For that reason alone, this war is likely to lead to the proliferation of 
both terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Ramachandran :How do you think the U.S. will manage the human  -   and 
humanitarian  -   consequences of the war?

Chomsky : No one knows, of course. That is why honest and decent people do 
not resort to violence  -   because one simply does not know.

The aid agencies and medical groups that work in Iraq have pointed out that 
the consequences can be very severe. Everyone hopes not, but it could affect 
up to millions of people. To undertake violence when there is even such a 
possibility is criminal.

There is already  -   that is, even before the war  -   a humanitarian 
catastrophe. By conservative estimates, ten years of sanctions have killed 
hundreds of thousands of people. If there were any honesty, the U.S. would 
pay reparations just for the sanctions.

The situation is similar to the bombing of Afghanistan, of which you and I 
spoke when the bombing there was in its early stages. It was obvious the 
United States was never going to investigate the consequences.

Ramachandran :Or invest the kind of money that was needed.

Chomsky : Oh no. First, the question is not asked, so no one has an idea of 
what the consequences of the bombing were for most of the country. Then 
almost nothing comes in. Finally, it is out of the news, and no one 
remembers it any more.

In Iraq, the United States will make a show of humanitarian reconstruction 
and will put in a regime that it will call democratic, which means that it 
follows Washington's orders. Then it will forget about what happens later, 
and will go on to the next one.

Ramachandran :How have the media lived up to their propaganda-model 
reputation this time?

Chomsky : Right now it is cheerleading for the home team. Look at CNN, which 
is disgusting  -   and it is the same everywhere. That is to be expected in 
wartime; the media are worshipful of power.

More interesting is what happened in the build-up to war. The fact that 
government-media propaganda was able to convince the people that Iraq is an 
imminent threat and that Iraq was responsible for September 11 is a 
spectacular achievement and, as I said, was accomplished in about four 
months. If you ask people in the media about this, they will say, "Well, we 
never said that," and it is true, they did not. There was never a statement 
that Iraq is going to invade the United States or that it carried out the 
World Trade Centre attack. It was just insinuated, hint after hint, until 
they finally got people to believe it.

Ramachandran :Look at the resistance, though. Despite the propaganda, 
despite the denigration of the United Nations, they haven't quite carried 
the day.

Chomsky : You never know. The United Nations is in a very hazardous 

The United States might move to dismantle it. I don't really expect that, 
but at least to diminish it, because when it isn't following orders, of what 
use is it?

Ramachandran :Noam, you have seen movements of resistance to imperialism 
over a long period  -   Vietnam, Central America, Gulf War I. What are your 
impressions of the character, sweep and depth of the present resistance to 
U.S. aggression? We take great heart in the extraordinary mobilisations all 
over the world.

Chomsky : Oh, that is correct; there is just nothing like it. Opposition 
throughout the world is enormous and unprecedented, and the same is true of 
the United States. Yesterday, for example, I was in demonstrations in 
downtown Boston, right around the Boston Common. It is not the first time I 
have been there. The first time I participated in a demonstration there at 
which I was to speak was in October 1965. That was four years after the 
United States had started bombing South Vietnam. Half of South Vietnam had 
been destroyed and the war had been extended to North Vietnam. We could not 
have a demonstration because it was physically attacked, mostly by students, 
with the support of the liberal press and radio, who denounced these people 
who were daring to protest against an American war.

On this occasion, however, there was a massive protest before the war was 
launched officially and once again on the day it was launched  -   with no 
counter-demonstrators. That is a radical difference. And if it were not for 
the fear factor that I mentioned, there would be much more opposition.

The government knows that it cannot carry out long-term aggression and 
destruction as in Vietnam because the population will not tolerate it.

There is only one way to fight a war now. First of all, pick a much weaker 
enemy, one that is defenceless. Then build it up in the propaganda system as 
either about to commit aggression or as an imminent threat. Next, you need a 
lightning victory. An important leaked document of the first Bush 
Administration in 1989 described how the U.S. would have to fight war. It 
said that the U.S. had to fight much weaker enemies, and that victory must 
be rapid and decisive, as public support will quickly erode. It is no longer 
like the 1960s, when a war could be fought for years with no opposition at 

In many ways, the activism of the 1960s and subsequent years has simply made 
a lot of the world, including this country, much more civilised in many 

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