Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chomsky Q&A at the New School

The transcript is here. Some highlights:
…The major center of radical Islam, extremist radical Islam, is Saudi Arabia, unquestionably. They are the source of the Wahhabization of the region, which Patrick Cockburn points out is one of the major developments of the modern era. Who’s the main supporter of Saudi Arabia? You are. You know, that’s where your tax dollars go. It’s been for a long time. Right now tens of billions of dollars of arms being sent under Obama, but it goes way back.

…The most extreme and interesting example [of the US government supporting a secular state in the Middle East] is Saddam Hussein, who was greatly loved by the Reagan administration and by the Bush I administration. I could give you the details, but they were so supportive of Saddam Hussein that he was even given a gift that otherwise only Israel has been granted, no other country. He was permitted to attack a U.S. naval vessel, killing a couple of dozen American sailors, and to get away with it with just a tap on the wrist. Israel had done the same thing in 1967. Saddam Hussein did it in 1987. And the friendship for Saddam Hussein was so enormous that he was granted that right. And that was a secular state. In fact, George Bush number one even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production. That’s a pretty supportive relationship. So there are cases where the United States has supported secular Islam, but typically it’s radical Islam that has been the beneficiary of U.S. support, like Britain before it.

…The only conceivable hope for some resolution of this horrendous crisis [in Syria], which is totally destroying the country, is the kind of negotiated settlement that was worked on by serious negotiators, like Lakhdar Brahimi, an international negotiator, very respectable, sensible. And the main idea, which—shared by any analyst with a grey cell functioning, is some kind of negotiated settlement which will involve the Assad government, like it or not, and involve the opposition elements, like it or not. There can’t be negotiations that don’t involve the parties that are fighting. That’s pretty obvious, just as South African negotiations had to involve the leadership of the apartheid state. There’s no other way. They can’t have other negotiations. It’s perfectly obvious that the Assad government is not going to enter into negotiations that are based on the condition that it commits suicide. If that’s the condition, they’re just going to keep destroying the country. That unfortunately is the—has been the U.S. position of the negotiations. U.S. and its allies have demanded that negotiations be based on the precondition that the Assad government will not survive. It’s a horrible government, and I’d like it not to survive, but that’s a prescription for destroying Syria, because it’s not going to enter into negotiations on those terms.

…I think what’s actually happened is that during the whole so-called neoliberal period, last generation, both political parties have drifted to the right. Today’s Democrats are what used to be called moderate Republicans. The Republicans have just drifted off the spectrum. They’re so committed to extreme wealth and power that they cannot get votes, can’t get votes by presenting those positions. So what has happened is that they’ve mobilized sectors of the population that have been around for a long time. It is a pretty exceptional country in many ways. One is it’s extremely religious. It’s one of the most extreme fundamentalist countries in the world. And by now, I suspect the majority of the base of the Republican Party is evangelical Christians, extremists, not—they’re a mixture, but these are the extremist ones, nativists who are afraid that, you know, ‘they are taking our white Anglo-Saxon country away from us’, people who have to have guns when they go into Starbucks because, who knows, they might get killed by an Islamic terrorist and so on. I mean, all of that is part of the country, and it goes back to colonial days. There are real roots to it. But these have not been an organized political force in the past. They are now. That’s the base of the Republican Party. And you see it in the primaries. So, yeah, Trump is maybe comic relief, but it’s just a—it’s not that different from the mainstream, which I think is more important.

…The United States did not—it was a—it may have been—it was probably the richest country in the world back in the early 19th century, but not the most powerful country. Britain was the most powerful. France was a powerful country. And that changed over the years, especially with the First World War and finally with the Second World War. So, exceptionalism has greatly expanded as power expanded. And I say again that this exceptionalism was also true of other great powers during their day of imperial power and domination.

…Israel is now - does play a major role - small country, but good high-tech industry, and it plays a major role in repression and aggression. It’s developed - the Israeli arms fairs, where they sell their arms, they advertise, correctly, that they have developed advanced means of repression and control, and that the arms that they’re displaying are battlefield-tested, namely against the Palestinians. So they’ve refined the techniques of control. And they contribute to that all over the place—in Central America, even in the United States. They’re providing advice on how to bar Honduran immigrants, say, from coming to the United States. They help train police and so on, many examples.

…One of the major doctrines of international affairs, which doesn’t appear in the literature, is the Mafia doctrine. International affairs are run like the—very much like the Mafia. The godfather does not tolerate disobedience. It’s much too dangerous. So, if some small storekeeper somewhere, say, doesn’t pay protection money, the don doesn’t accept it. You send their goons to beat him to a pulp, even if you don’t need the money, because others might get the idea, then things might start to erode. That is a dominant principle of international affairs. In fact, that was the reason for the 1953 coup [in Iran, orchestrated by the CIA], when you look back. And it’s also the reason why—for U.S. hostility to Iran, which is extreme. I mentioned the support for Saddam Hussein. That was an attack on Iran, and a serious one. But they defied orders. They overthrew a U.S.-imposed tyrant. They thumbed their nose at the United States. And you don’t get away with that.

…Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s Latin American adviser, reported to him the report of his Latin American mission, said the problem is the Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands, which appeals to others in the hemisphere where people suffer similar repression, and you can’t let that idea spread.
His assertion that in Syria the US government “has taken a somewhat hands-off position, except that it’s supporting its allies” is an understatement. I hope to write more about this soon, but see, for example, this revealing document, here, and here.

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