Power and Terror image
Noam Chomsky on the Post - Iraq world - 7/22/03
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Q 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?
A The invasion of Iraq 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 September.

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.

Now, Iraq 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].
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