The Last Word: Noam Chomsky
A Tale of Two Quagmires
Jan 9, 2006 Issue
Noam Chomsky has been called one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century, but it's an accolade the 77-year-old MIT professor doesn't take very seriously. "People just want to hear something outside the rigid dogma they're used to," he says. "They're not going to hear it in the media." The linguistics prodigy turned political theorist has been a leading mind in the antiwar movement since the early '60s; he's also still a prolific author, producing more than six books in the past five years. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings about the current geopolitical climate. Excerpts:
Hastings: Where do you see Iraq heading right now?
Chomsky: Well, it's extremely difficult to talk about this because of a very rigid doctrine that prevails in the United States and Britain which prevents us from looking at the situation realistically. The doctrine, to oversimplify, is that we have to believe the United States would have so-called liberated Iraq even if its main products were lettuce and pickles and [the] main energy resource of the world were in central Africa. Anyone who doesn't accept that is dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or a lunatic or something. But anyone with a functioning brain knows that that's not true--as all Iraqis do, for example. The United States invaded Iraq because its major resource is oil. And it gives the United States, to quote [Zbigniew] Brzezinski, "critical leverage" over its competitors, Europe and Japan. That's a policy that goes way back to the second world war. That's the fundamental reason for invading Iraq, not anything else.
Once we recognize that, we're able to begin talking about where Iraq is going. For example, there's a lot of talk about the United States bringing [about] a sovereign independent Iraq. That can't possibly be true. All you have to do is ask yourself what the policies would be in a more-or-less democratic Iraq. We know what they're likely to be. A democratic Iraq will have a Shiite majority, [with] close links to Iran. Furthermore, it's right across the border from Saudi Arabia, where there's a Shiite population which has been brutally repressed by the U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny. If there are any moves toward sovereignty in Shiite Iraq, or at least some sort of freedom, there are going to be effects across the border. That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabia's oil is. So you can see the ultimate nightmare developing from Washington's point of view.
You were involved in the antiwar movement in the 1960s. What do you think of the Vietnam-Iraq analogy?
I think there is no analogy whatsoever. That analogy is based on a misunderstanding of Iraq, and a misunderstanding of Vietnam. The misunderstanding of Iraq I've already described. The misunderstanding of Vietnam had to do with the war aims. The United States went to war in Vietnam for a very good reason. They were afraid Vietnam would be a successful model of independent development and that would have a virus effect--infect others who might try to follow the same course. There was a very simple war aim--destroy Vietnam. And they did it. The United States basically achieved its war aims in Vietnam by . It's called a loss, a defeat, because they didn't achieve the maximal aims, the maximal aims being turning it into something like the Philippines. They didn't do that. [But] they did achieve the major aims. It was possible to destroy Vietnam and leave. You can't destroy Iraq and leave. It's inconceivable.
Was the antiwar movement more successful in the '60s than it is today?
I think it's the other way around. The United States attacked Vietnam in 1962. It took years before any protest developed. Iraq is the first time in hundreds of years of European and American history that a war was massively protested before it was launched. There was huge protest in February 2003. It had never happened in the history of the West.
Where do you put George W. Bush in the pantheon of American presidents?
He's more or less a symbol, but I think the people around him are the most dangerous administration in American history. I think they're driving the world to destruction. There are two major threats that face the world, threats of the destruction of the species, and they're not a joke. One of them is nuclear war, and the other is environmental catastrophe, and they are driving toward destruction in both domains. They're compelling competitors to escalate their own offensive military capacity--Russia, China, now Iran. That means putting their offensive nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert.
The Bush administration has succeeded in making the United States one of the most feared and hated countries in the world. The talent of these guys is unbelievable. They have even succeeded at alienating Canada. I mean, that takes genius, literally.