I’d like to start by saying thank you for doing the interview we
did 14 months ago. The interview—in the shape of the film, Power and
Terror, has given many people the opportunity to think about what’s
going on in the world with a lot greater depth and perspective and
engagement. We estimate that probably 100,000 people have seen the
film, in Japan, the US, Australia, Canada, and now in Europe, and it
is still playing, a year after it was finished, to standing-room-only
audiences. We’re all grateful because it’s given us a great deal of
insight, and also stimulated a lot of action. |
We’re doing this interview today, aiming toward the next big event
that we’re organizing in
Tokyo, which is a gathering of about 2000 people. We’re
trying to fill a very large theater, and the title of the event is
"Let’s take a look at the Chomsky film and think about what we can do
now." That’s actually the way the film has been used in general, to
encourage people not just to learn about things, but also to think
about what can be done now.
A lot of events have taken place since we last talked 14 months ago,
but, of course, the biggest one is the
U.S. invasion of
Iraq. Is it your sense that this invasion is an epoch changing event?
The invasion of
was actually a piece of a much bigger picture. When we talked 14
months ago, we probably didn't talk much about it. The reason is that
the great government-media propaganda campaign-- about Iraq being an
imminent threat to the survival of the United States-- began in
September, a couple of months after we talked. And this campaign
coincided with two other crucial events.
One was the announcement on September 17th of the National Security
Strategy, which is not entirely without precedent, but it is something
new. The Bush administration declared, quite frankly and brazenly,
that the United States-- their version of the United States-- intends
to dominate the world completely and permanently. This means that any
potential challenge will be blocked, and if necessary destroyed by the
use of military force. This is the one dimension of power, and this is
crucial, in which the U.S. has overwhelming advantages. That's not
true economically, and it's not true in other respects. It's a more
complicated world. But, militarily the United States is in a class by
itself, and it's expanding its military force enormously in extremely
hazardous ways, which are worth looking at. And the intention is to
use that advantage to control the world. So, that was announced in
When you announce a policy--if you want it to be taken seriously--you
have to carry out what's sometimes called "an exemplary action" to
demonstrate that you really mean it. And Iraq was chosen to be the
test case, what the New York Times later called "the petri dish," in
which the strategy is tried.
was a very sensible test case. To be a test case for this strategy, a
country has to meet several conditions. One, it must be completely
defenseless. It doesn’t make any sense to attack anybody who can fight
back. That would be ridiculous. So, it has to be defenseless, which of
course Iraq was. It was one of the weakest countries in the region. It
was devastated by sanctions. Its military expenditures were about a
third of Kuwait's, which has 10% of its population. It was under
complete surveillance. They knew where every pocket knife in the
country was. So, it was completely defenseless. That's point one.
Secondly, it has to be important. There's no point intervening in or
conquering, say, Liberia. What are you going to do with it? Iraq is
extremely important. It has the second largest reserves of oil in the
world. The United States will end up dominating a major sector of the
hugest energy reserves in the world. It has dominated it for a long
time, but this will advance [that dominance]. Presumably, the U.S.
will end up with military bases in Iraq. This is part of the shift of
military bases towards the oil producing regions, and it will be the
first real military base right in the oil producing regions. So,
that's very important.
And third you have to be able to portray the country as somehow evil
or threatening our existence, or something like that. And that's
possible too. All you have to do is listen to every speech by George
Bush or Tony Blair, and they say, "How can we let somebody survive who
gassed his own population and invaded two countries, and was
developing weapons of mass destruction," and so on, all of which is
completely true. But, they always omit the few crucial words. Yeah, he
did all that, and we helped him. And we helped him because we didn't
care. And "we" is the people now running Washington.
They are almost completely recycled from the [Reagan-Bush]
administration, which in fact was supporting Saddam Hussein right
through his worst atrocities. They knew exactly what he was doing, and
didn't care. It wasn’t because of the war with Iran; the support
continued after the war with Iran was over. In fact, it continued up
to the day of the invasion of Kuwait. So, you have to suppress that,
and you have to count on the media not to be impolite and bring it up.
And then you add that, if he used gas against his own people, then
he's a threat to us. It doesn't make any sense. The United States was
the only country that feared Saddam Hussein. He was rightly despised
everywhere, but he was feared only in the United States. Kuwait and
Iran, the countries he invaded, didn't fear him-- they hated him, but
they didn't fear him. They knew he was powerless and weak and so on.
But, in September he was [described as a threat to the US].
And there was a third thing in September, namely the opening of the
mid-term election campaign. That's connected. Karl Rove, the
Republican campaign manager and one of the most important people in
Washington, informed party activists over the summer that if they
allow social and economic issues to be in the forefront of the
campaign, they're going to lose, because the [administration’s] social
and economic policies are very harmful to most of the population and
very unpopular. So, he said, "We have to focus the campaign on
security." If you can frighten the population, they will rally around
the man presented as the powerful leader who will protect them from
destruction. And then maybe "we can hold on to political power." And
that's exactly what was done.
So, you had these three things at once: The National Security Strategy
announcing the plan to dominate the world permanently, by force if
necessary; the test case, to invade a defenseless country that's worth
controlling; and three, the effort to maintain a very narrow hold on
political power, so that they can ram through an extremely reactionary
domestic agenda, which is basically rolling back the progressive
legislation of the past century-- literally, and very consciously.
[The domestic agenda] is serving the interests of very narrow sectors
of power, and it is very unpopular, but you can get away with it if
you can frighten people.
Iraq was used to frighten the population, and it worked. There was a
major government media campaign and, within a month about 60% of the
population thought that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United
States. We had to defend ourselves from Iraq. Around the world that's
laughable. Even Kuwait didn't believe that. In fact, no one did. But
in the United States it worked.
Within a couple of months more, about half the population or more came
to believe that Iraq was responsible for September 11th, and that it
was planning new terrorist attacks. And these views, as you'd expect,
are very closely correlated with support for war. And that's
understandable. I mean, if people think that there's this monstrous
country about to destroy us, that it had already carried out the
September 11th attacks, and that it is planning new ones, well, we've
got to defend ourselves. That way they could get some support for war.
Not a lot, but some.
All of that has happened since, and it's continuing. The Republican
Convention was delayed until mid-September 2004, the anniversary of
the September 11 terrorist attacks. That will be the opening of the
presidential campaign, which has to follow the same strategy. In fact,
Karl Rove has already announced that for the presidential campaign
they're going to have to focus on George Bush, the great war leader
who saved us from terrorism and from Iraq. And there will probably be
some new dragon to slay at that time, and we've got to defend
ourselves from him. [The message will be:] Don't pay any attention to
the fiscal train wreck that we are consciously creating, which is
going to force us (because we want to do it) to dismantle Social
Security and Medicaid, and Medicare and other social services. [Or to
policies] that transfer wealth-- even more than in the past-- into the
pockets of a very narrow sector, and a rather corrupt sector of
corporate power. Don't pay any attention to that. Just pay attention
to the fact that we're going to defend you from disaster.
The victory was declared in Iraq on May 1st, in a carefully
stage-managed event on the U.S. aircraft carrier, the Abraham Lincoln,
where Bush was flown in wearing battle gear. They had to position the
ship properly so they had the right background at sea and so on. It
was kind of a joke but it was taken seriously, except by the serious
press like the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out in its report
that this wasn't the end of the Iraq war; it was the opening of the
election campaign. It's the preparation of the carefully crafted
cowboy leader in his battle gear, who is going to protect you and who
already saved you from Iraq, which was just about to destroy us. And
he is now going to save you from the next dragon.
They said this is the opening of the presidential campaign, which is
correct. [The Republican convention] will be in New York in
mid-September , which is not accidental. You can just imagine
how the public-relations system is already planning to present it. And
it's conscious, and they're not secret about it. They actually tell
us. And the better press, like the Wall Street Journal, points it out.
So, yes, all of these things are connected.
The attack on domestic programs is a very serious matter. For these
people that's quite important. The core program is a huge tax cut for
the very wealthy. There's nothing much for anyone else, but for
wealthy and privileged people it's a huge savings. This is combined
with a sharp increase in the federal budget, a big increase in
government expenditures, a lot of which is called "military"--but,
remember, that means high-tech industry generally, under the cover of
the military. So, there is a huge increase in government spending for
high technology and the military, combined with a sharp cutback in
revenues because of the tax cuts for the wealthy. Of course, this
leads to what's called "a fiscal train wreck."
Their own economists have estimated the costs. They expect a $44
trillion dollar fiscal deficit—a fiscal gap of unpaid bills. And
that's purposeful. When the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, was
asked about this in a news conference: "Is this $44 trillion dollar
figure correct? " He said, "Yeah." And that means that Congress will
have to be "responsible" about Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security
benefits and so on. When he says, "be responsible," he doesn't mean
introduce progressive taxation to deal with the problems; he means cut
[those social programs].
They can't come before the country and say, "Elect us because we want
to cut back everything that benefits the general population." But,
they can come before the country, they think, and say, "Because we're
defending you from imminent disaster, we had to spend all this money,
and there's just nothing left for all these things you'd like. We'd
love to give them to you, but it's a fiscal disaster and we have to be
responsible. And so you're going to have to cut back your wages and
benefits and so on. And don't look at those rich people over there who
are having a ball."
If we had talked two months ago after Bush declared victory, it
might have seemed as if there was no stopping this juggernaut. And yet
now it seems as if they aren't going to be able to implement their
agenda so easily.
It's hard to say. This is a very public-relations oriented
administration. I mean, all administrations are, but this one
unusually so. Every figure is carefully crafted, coming out of central
casting with a particular role. The Abraham Lincoln extravaganza is
just a case in point. What they will probably do is just what Karl
Rove indicated, manufacture another extremely dangerous situation. It
doesn't take much to manufacture one. It doesn't have to be real, as
we saw with Iraq. Whatever you think of Iraq, it was certainly no
threat, but they were able to convince the country that it was a very
serious threat. And if they manufacture another one then, somehow,
people will forget about the problems in Iraq. Does anybody remember
what happened in Afghanistan or Kosovo? People don’t even know what
So, if you had to predict, you'd say they were going to be moving
on to another target to distract the public’s attention?
If things go badly at home and in Iraq, they'll have to. But this is
not very novel. I mean, we should remember who they are. The
administration is almost entirely recycled from the more reactionary
elements of the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Not the whole
administration, but the more reactionary elements are the ones who are
now in office. They ran the country for 12 years that way with pretty
much the same policies-- not as extreme, but similar.
When the Reagan administration came in, the first thing they did was
enact a sharp tax cut and a big increase in federal spending, which
led to huge deficits, as part of an effort to cut back social spending
and unravel New Deal legislation. Internationally, likewise, they
wanted to use force for domination. They declared war on terror in
1981. It wasn't as extreme as this time, but similar. And the Reagan
policies were quite unpopular in the United States. At the end of the
12 years, after the first Bush administration, Reagan was ranked right
alongside Nixon as the most unpopular living American president.
Throughout the 80's the policies were unpopular, but they could hold
on to political power by pushing the panic button.
Remember, every year there was another major threat: Libyan hitmen,
the Grenada air base, Nicaragua—"two days driving time from Harlingen,
Texas." Last October, the Congress passed a resolution authorizing the
government to use force in Iraq, and if you look at the wording of it,
it's almost the same wording as the "national emergency" that Reagan
declared in 1985, because of the threat to the security of the United
States posed by the government of Nicaragua. If somebody was watching
this from Mars, they'd start laughing. But it worked. People were
Domestic problems were also built up with huge propaganda campaigns to
inspire fear, very successfully. George Bush number one was able to be
elected in 1988 by running a straight, racist campaign. Do you
remember Willy Horton? This black man, this black criminal is going to
rape your sister unless you elect me. That was the theme of the
campaign. People were terrified about crime. By implication, blacks
are rapists and so on.
A couple of months later there was a drug scare: Hispanic narcotics
traffickers are going to destroy the country. That became the lead
issue. Crime and drugs are problems, but they're no different in the
United States from other industrial countries. Fear of crime, fear of
drugs is way beyond other industrial countries. Fear of everything.
And if you continue to conjure up threats to existence in a country
which is pretty frightened to start with…
This goes way back incidentally. When my children were in elementary
school around 1960, they were literally being taught to hide under
their school desks to protect themselves from atom bombs. Putting
aside the absurdity, is there any other country where school children
were being taught to hide from atom bombs? There have been major
efforts here for years to frighten the population into obedience. And
people are afraid of everything. They're afraid of aliens. A very
large part of the population in the United States thinks there already
are aliens among us, and they're going to try to destroy us.
There is fear of the U.N. There are parts of the country where people
are afraid that the U.N. is planning a genocide against the American
people, and they report black helicopters with U.N. troops and so on.
This is unique to the United States, as far as I'm aware, and
unscrupulous leaders can manipulate it. Crime, drugs, Nicaragua, the
Grenada air base, Saddam Hussein--you know, whatever it will be next.
But, there are real issues in the background. It's not just
controlling the American population that's required; you also have to
control the world. For 30 years now, the world has been economically
tri-polar, with three major economic centers, more or less on a par.
Europe, North America, and Japan-based Asia. That was the situation
beginning 30 years ago; Asia is now not just Japan-based, it's
China-based and so on, but these three areas are still there.
If you look at the three of them, Northeast Asia is the most dynamic
economic region in the world. It has the fastest growth. China is
becoming a major industrial power, Japan and South Korea already are.
There are plenty of resources. Siberia has lots of energy and other
resources. It's a potentially integrated area. The region actually
holds about half the world's foreign reserves. So, just in that
respect, it's the most important of the three major areas.
So the obstruction of that process, in a sense, is pushing North
Korea against the wall, isn't it? And pushing them to develop nuclear
weapons whether they want to or not?
It is pushing them in that direction. You can see it. You can ask
whether that's the conscious intent of that or not. We can't say. We
don't have television cameras in the internal planning meetings. But,
it certainly looks like that. I think there must be internal debates
going on, recognizing that this is dangerous. On the other hand, if we
let integration develop, that's also dangerous. They've got to make a
choice. And there are similar questions about Europe and have been for
years. Kissinger's statement wasn't out of the blue. That goes back a
The United States has always been quite ambivalent about European
unification. It favored it, in that Europe is a huge market. The basis
of contemporary multinational industry and enterprise is the European
market. The U.S. multinationals flourished on the European
integration, so they're very much in favor of it.
On the other hand, they're worried about it, for the reasons that
Kissinger mentioned. He was neither the first nor the last. This
hysteria about new and old Europe is in large part a reflection of
that. It's not the "disobedience" of France and Germany [that is at
issue].. Their unwillingness to follow U.S. orders is regarded as very
threatening. Who knows what they'll do next? That's one of the reasons
why the United States is so interested in expanding the European Union
and NATO to include the Eastern European countries. It is assumed,
probably rightly, that they will be more submissive to U.S. demands
than the old centers of European power are. They're kind of Trojan
horse by which U.S. power can intervene.
And it's also hoped that they'll help undermine the European social
market, which the U.S. doesn't like at all, of course. They are a
source of cheap labor-- kind of a European Mexico-- that can undermine
the more progressive structure of the European social market system.
All of this ties together, and it's a complicated affair.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is shifting its military basing system from
Central Europe towards the Middle East and Central Asia. Bases are
moving from Germany to Bulgaria and Romania. Probably the major result
of the Afghan war, from the U.S. point of view, is that the U.S. ends
up with a strong military position in Central Asia, which is a benefit
to U.S. corporations in the so-called Great Game, over who controls
its resources, but, more important than that, it helps surround the
far more significant Persian Gulf energy system, which is the main one
in the world.
The U.S. military basing system, from Okinawa and Guam up to the
Azores, has been focused, to a large extent, on the Middle East. And
the same is true of the Central European ones. Now that's moving
closer to the region. Until the Afghan War, the U.S. had only one
reliable military base near the Persian Gulf, namely the British
island of Diego Garcia. The population was kicked out [of the island].
The British courts ordered the government to allow them to return, but
the U.S. just refused. That's a military base, but it was a small base
in the middle of the ocean. Now they've got bases in Afghanistan, in
Central Asia, and probably pretty soon in Iraq, and surrounding ones
in Eastern Europe. The bases are moving toward the region that's of
crucial significance for strategic domination of the world.
They're also moving from South Korea and Okinawa toward frontline
South Korea is interesting. It's a little ominous. The part of the
North Korean deterrent that's prevented a U.S. attack on North Korea
is not nuclear weapons. It's massed artillery right along the DMZ,
which is aimed at Seoul and at American troops. That's the deterrent.
But the American troops are being withdrawn to the south, and that's
causing a lot of concern in both Koreas and in the region as to
whether it's a signal that the U.S. might attack, with its own
soldiers out of artillery range. Pretty cynical, and I don't believe
it, but it's something to worry about.
I'm sure that, meanwhile, the Pentagon is working very hard on
precision-guided weapons and other methods for destroying that
artillery to the north of the DMZ. And if they can figure out how to
do that, then North Korea would be vulnerable. North Korea is not
protecting itself with nuclear weapons.
The opposition to the war in Iraq was very strong in Japan. And the
government just ignored the public will, which was against
This was true in every country. There was an international poll last
December by Gallup, the major polling organization, in which many
countries were polled around the world on Iraq. The main question was,
"Would you support a war fought by the United States and its allies
without U.N. authorization?" Allies means Britain, so the question
really was, "Would you support a U.S./British war without U.N.
authorization," which is, of course, what they did. The highest figure
they got anywhere, I think, was 11% in Romania. In most countries, it
was very low. In fact, even when they asked, "with U.N.
authorization," it was also pretty low. But without U.N.
authorization, namely the war that was fought, it was almost nothing.
That wasn't reported in the United States.
How do you see things in Japan? Do you have a sense of where Japan
I hate to talk about Japan. You people know a lot more about it than I
do. It's pretty clear from observing from a distance that there's a
kind of a split developing. The policy is moving in a rightward,
militaristic direction. On the other hand, the population is clearly
much more open and free than it was before. For example, discussions
like this five or ten years ago in Japan would have been very
I should say, I've been visiting Japan for some 40 years now. I travel
in a lot of countries, and until recently it was the only country in
the world where I was never asked to give political talks, or have
political interviews. I had plenty of interviews, but they were on
professional topics, and I gave professional talks and so on. That's
changed a lot in the last couple of years. That's what it looks like
to me in one direction.
On the other hand, if you look at policies, it's going in the other
direction. It's just like the United States. The United States is much
more open than it was a couple of years ago. There are huge audiences
for talks and books, tremendous demand and so on. On the other hand,
policy is shifting so far to the right that positions that were
regarded as outlandish a couple of years ago are right in the middle
of the spectrum today.
The public opposition, in the form of demonstrations and things
like that, was a bit slow to develop in Japan. But, when it did
develop it was quite strong, historically, very large numbers.
I wouldn't say that it was slow [to develop]. I think we have a funny
perspective when we say that. If you go back, say, to the Vietnam War,
there were finally big demonstrations of protest, but that was after
about six or seven years of war. There was so little protest that
people don't even remember that the U.S. attacked South Vietnam in
1962. That's when Kennedy sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing
South Vietnam. That's when they started carrying out chemical warfare
programs to destroy food crops, started rounding up millions of people
in strategic hamlets, essentially concentration camps. There was no
protest. It was five or six years later that protest became
The same on other issues. There was a huge anti-nuclear movement in
the United States, I think it was [supported by] about 75% of the
population in the early 80's, but that was after decades and decades
of major threats of nuclear war. We just learned last October what may
be one of the most startling discoveries in history. It was right in
the middle of all the fuss about attacking Iraq, and the national
security strategy. I don't know if this was reported in Japan. There
was a meeting in Havana for the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile
Crisis, with key decisionmakers from the United States, Russia and
Cuba. Robert McNamara and others participated.
They knew at the time, in 1962, that the Missile Crisis was, as [the
historian] Arthur Schlesinger described it, "the most dangerous moment
in human history." They knew that. It was very close. But, they didn't
know how close it was. New information was revealed at the last
meeting. It turned out that there were Russian submarines armed with
nuclear torpedoes, and they were under attack by U.S. destroyers. Two
of the submarine commanders authorized shooting nuclear-tipped
torpedoes, which would have led to a nuclear response, and we wouldn’t
One Russian submarine commander countermanded the order. That's how
close it was. This was learned last October. And that is not the only
case. There have been case after case, some of them very dangerous.
One last question, which is often asked at screenings of the film:
How do you maintain your sense of optimism amidst all these unfolding
One thing is what we’ve been talking about. The populations of the
world, in my opinion at least, are becoming much more civilized.
They’re much more concerned about things. They're looking into issues
seriously, acting on them. There are very important developments in
the world which we haven't discussed: the international opposition to
the war in Iraq is completely without precedent. There has never, in
the history of Europe and the United States at least, been such
massive protest against a war before it was launched. It takes years
The global justice movements are, again, without precedent. They're
international, there's a lot of international solidarity, North/South
solidarity. They're dedicated to serious issues. They're working hard.
These are very promising developments.
Basically they're two trajectories in the world. There's one towards
war, destruction, repression, demolition of progressive achievements
and so on. That's very clear. There's another that's going quite in
the opposite direction, and it's just a question of which one will
prevail. We're not going to have a lot of time to answer that
question. The survival of the species is a fragile matter at this
point. Somebody, again, observing this from Mars would not put very
high odds on human survival.
So, it's up to us to make it happen. Thank you, I appreciate your