Friday, March 31st, 2006
The New York Times calls him "arguably the most important intellectual alive."
The Boston Globe calls him "America's most useful citizen"
He was recently voted the world's number one intellectual in a poll by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines.
We're talking about Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the foremost critics of U.S. foreign policy. Professor Chomsky has just released a new book titled "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy."
It examines how the United States is beginning to resemble a failed state that cannot protect its citizens from violence and has a government that regards itself as beyond the reach of domestic or international law.
In the book, Professor Noam Chomsky presents a series of solutions to help rescue the nation from turning into a failed state.
They include: Accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; Sign the Kyoto protocols on global warming; Let the United Nations take the lead in international crises; Rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; and Sharply reduce military spending and sharply increase social spending
In his first broadcast interview upon the publication of his book, Professor Noam Chomsky joins us today from Boston for the hour.
AMY GOODMAN: In this first broadcast interview upon publication of his book, Professor Noam Chomsky joins us today from Boston for the hour. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Noam.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Failed States, what do you mean?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, over the years there have been a series of concepts developed to justify the use of force in international affairs for a long period. It was possible to justify it on the pretext, which usually turned out to have very little substance, that the U.S. was defending itself against the communist menace. By the 1980s, that was wearing pretty thin. The Reagan administration concocted a new category: terrorist states. They declared a war on terror as soon as they entered office in the early 1980s, 1981. ‘We have to defend ourselves from the plague of the modern age, return to barbarism, the evil scourge of terrorism,’ and so on, and particularly state-directed international terrorism.
A few years later -- this is Clinton -- Clinton devised the concept of rogue states. ‘It’s 1994, we have to defend ourselves from rogue states.’ Then, later on came the failed states, which either threaten our security, like Iraq, or require our intervention in order to save them, like Haiti, often devastating them in the process. In each case, the terms have been pretty hard to sustain, because it's been difficult to overlook the fact that under any, even the most conservative characterization of these notions -- let's say U.S. law -- the United States fits fairly well into the category, as has often been recognized. By now, for example, the category -- even in the Clinton years, leading scholars, Samuel Huntington and others, observed that -- in the major journals, Foreign Affairs -- that in most of the world, much of the world, the United States is regarded as the leading rogue state and the greatest threat to their existence.
By now, a couple of years later, Bush years, same journals’ leading specialists don't even report international opinion. They just describe it as a fact that the United States has become a leading rogue state. Surely, it's a terrorist state under its own definition of international terrorism, not only carrying out violent terrorist acts and supporting them, but even radically violating the so-called "Bush Doctrine," that a state that harbors terrorists is a terrorist state. Undoubtedly, the U.S. harbors leading international terrorists, people described by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department as leading terrorists, like Orlando Bosch, now Posada Carriles, not to speak of those who actually implement state terrorism.
And I think the same is true of the category “failed states.” The U.S. increasingly has taken on the characteristics of what we describe as failed states. In the respects that one mentioned, and also, another critical respect, namely the -- what is sometimes called a democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion. So those suggestions that you just read off, Amy, those are actually not mine. Those are pretty conservative suggestions. They are the opinion of the majority of the American population, in fact, an overwhelming majority. And to propose those suggestions is to simply take democracy seriously. It's interesting that on these examples that you've read and many others, there is an enormous gap between public policy and public opinion. The proposals, the general attitudes of the public, which are pretty well studied, are -- both political parties are, on most of these issues, well to the right of the population.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Professor Chomsky, in the early parts of the book, especially on the issue of the one characteristic of a failed state, which is its increasing failure to protect its own citizens, you lay out a pretty comprehensive look at what the, especially in the Bush years, the war on terrorism has meant in terms of protecting the American people. And you lay out clearly, especially since the war, the invasion of Iraq, that terrorist, major terrorist action and activity around the world has increased substantially. And also, you talk about the dangers of a possible nuclear -- nuclear weapons being used against the United States. Could you expand on that a little bit?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there has been a very serious threat of nuclear war. It's not -- unfortunately, it's not much discussed among the public. But if you look at the literature of strategic analysts and so on, they're extremely concerned. And they describe particularly the Bush administration aggressive militarism as carrying an “appreciable risk of ultimate doom,” to quote one, “apocalypse soon,” to quote Robert McNamara and many others. And there's good reasons for it, I mean, which could explain, and they explain. That's been expanded by the Bush administration consciously, not because they want nuclear war, but it's just not a high priority. So the rapid expansion of offensive U.S. military capacity, including the militarization of space, which is the U.S.'s pursuit alone. The world has been trying very hard to block it. 95% of the expenditures now are from the U.S., and they're expanding.
All of these measures bring about a completely predictable reaction on the part of the likely targets. They don't say, you know, ‘Thank you. Here are our throats. Please cut them.’ They react in the ways that they can. For some, it will mean responding with the threat or maybe use of terror. For others, more powerful ones, it's going to mean sharply increasing their own offensive military capacity. So Russian military expenditures have sharply increased in response to Bush programs. Chinese expansion of offensive military capacity is also beginning to increase for the same reasons. All of that threatens -- raises the already severe threat of even -- of just accidental nuclear war. These systems are on computer-controlled alert. And we know that our own systems have many errors, which are stopped by human intervention. Their systems are far less secure; the Russian case, deteriorated. These moves all sharply enhance the threat of nuclear war. That's serious nuclear war that I'm talking about.
There's also the threat of dirty bombs, small nuclear explosions. Small means not so small, but in comparison with a major attack, which would pretty much exterminate civilized life. The U.S. intelligence community regards the threat of a dirty bomb, say in New York, in the next decade as being probably greater than 50%. And those threats increase as the threat of terror increases.
And Bush administration policies have, again, consciously been carried out in a way, which they know is likely to increase the threat of terror. The most obvious example is the Iraq invasion. That was undertaken with the anticipation that it would be very likely to increase the threat of terror and also nuclear proliferation. And, in fact, that's exactly what happened, according to the judgment of the C.I.A., National Intelligence Council, foreign intelligence agencies, independent specialists. They all point out that, yes, as anticipated, it increased the threat of terror. In fact, it did so in ways well beyond what was anticipated.
To mention just one, we commonly read that there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Well, it's not totally accurate. There were means to develop weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and known to be in Iraq. They were under guard by U.N. inspectors, who were dismantling them. When Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest sent in their troops, they neglected to instruct them to guard these sites. The U.N. inspectors were expelled, the sites were left unguarded. The inspectors continued their work by satellite and reported that over a hundred sites had been looted, in fact, systematically looted, not just somebody walking in, but careful looting. That included dangerous biotoxins, means to hide precision equipment to be used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, means to develop chemical weapons and so on. All of this has disappeared. One hates to imagine where it's disappeared to, but it could end up in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Noam Chomsky, and we're going to come back with him. His new book, just published, is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. We'll be back with Professor Chomsky in a minute.