Noam Chomsky Interview

Slingshot asked Noam Chomsky to write an article for us describing his unique perspective on the current war crisis. But he was so busy writing a book every month that he didn’t have time. So instead, here’s some answers he gave to various interviewers’ sage questions.

Q: It is sometimes said that Saddam Hussein wouldn’t be crazy enough to launch a nuclear weapon at the U.S. or (more realistically) Israel, knowing the inevitable consequences. But wouldn’t a nuclear-armed Iraq be able to conventionally attack weaker neighboring states, knowing that his victims could not successfully call on the U.S. (or even the UN) for assistance, because Washington would fear a nuclear strike on Tel Aviv?

A: All sorts of outlandish possibilities can be imagined. That’s kept many people employed at Rand and other think-tanks ever since WMD became available. This is hardly one of the more credible examples. One reason is that the situation will almost certainly not arise. The scenario assumes that Saddam has provided credible evidence that he has WMD available and is capable of using them. Otherwise, such weapons are not a threat or a deterrent at all. But if there ever is any indication that he does have significant WMD capacity, he’ll be wiped out before he can threaten anyone with invasion. Suppose, however, just to play the game, we accept the absurd assumption that the US and Israel will just sit there quietly while Saddam brandishes WMD as a potential deterrent, in advance of the invasion of some other country. Then the US and Israel would instantly respond to the invasion, expelling him (and probably destroying Iraq). His WMD would be no deterrent at all. A sufficient reason is that to allow his invasion to succeed would leave him as a far greater threat. Furthermore, it would be assumed that he would not use whatever WMD capacity he has because that would mean instant suicide, and if he was bent on suicide he would have used his WMD against Israel (or someone else)even before invading another country. The scenario has such slight plausibility that it is hardly worth considering in comparison with real problems that do not have to be conjured up by fevered imaginations.

If one wants to play such games, why not take some more plausible scenarios. Here’s one. Suppose that the US shifts policy and joins the international consensus on a two-state Israel-Palestine settlement. Suppose, for example, the US endorses the recent Saudi plan adopted by the Arab League. Suppose Israel reacts by threatening the US — not threatening to bomb it, but in other ways. For example, suppose Israel sends bombers over the Saudi oil fields (maybe nuclear armed, but that’s unnecessary), just to indicate what it can do to the world if the US doesn’t get on board again. It would be too late to react, because Israel could then carry out its warnings. That scenario has a certain plausibility because apparently it actually happened, 20 years ago, when the Saudi government floated a similar plan, violently opposed by Israel. According to the Israeli press, Israel reacted by sending bombers over the oil fields, as a warning to the US, but one that was unnecessary because the Reagan administration joined Israel in rejecting that possibility for a political settlement, as it has consistently done. True, Israel might have been facing destruction, but one might argue that Israel’s strategy allows that possibility. As far back as the 1950s, leaders of the then-ruling Labor Party advised that Israel should “go crazy” if the US wouldn’t go along with its demands, and the “Samson complex” has been an element of planning — how seriously, we don’t know — ever since. So we should bomb Israel right away, before it has a chance to carry out these evil plots.

Do I believe any of this? Of course not. It’s nonsensical. However, it doesn’t compare too badly with the scenario about Iraq.

It should be added that there are circumstances under which Saddam might use WMD, assuming he has the capacity. If Iraq is invaded with the clear intention of capturing or more likely killing him, he would have every incentive to go for broke, since he’d have nothing to lose. But it is hard to imagine other circumstances.

Q: What will the implications of war be in the Mideast, and also other parts of the world? Do U.S. elites care?

A: Elites of course care, though the small group that holds the reins of power currently may not care very much. They evidently believe that they have such overwhelming force at their command that it doesn’t really matter much what others think: if they don’t go along, they’ll be dismissed, or if they are in the way, pulverized. The thinking in high places was made pretty clear when Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited the US in April to urge the administration to pay some attention to the reaction in the Arab world to its strong support for Israeli terror and repression. He was told, in effect, that the US did not care what he or other Arabs think. A high official explained that “if he thought we were strong in Desert Storm, we’re 10 times as strong today. This was to give him some idea what Afghanistan demonstrated about our capabilities.” A senior defense analyst gave a simple gloss: others will “respect us for our toughness and won’t mess with us.” That stand has precedents that need not be mentioned. But in the post-9/11 world it gains new force. Are they right? Could be. Or maybe the world will blow up in their face, perhaps after a “decent interval,” as it’s called in diplomacy. Again, resort to large-scale violence has highly unpredictable consequences, as history reveals and common sense should tell us anyway. That’s why sane people avoid it, in personal relations or international affairs, unless a very powerful argument is offered to overcome “the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force” (to borrow the phrase of Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz, paraphrasing Goebbels).

Exerpted from an email interview With Noam Chomsky about US Warplans by Michael Albert


Exerpted from an email interview With Noam Chomsky about US Warplans by David Barsamian