Failed States, Rogue States and America

[Editor's Note: This is an edited transcript of an interview from the radio program Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. The interview originally aired on March 31, 2006, and the full transcipt and podcast are available for download from Democracy Now!.]

AMY GOODMAN: 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 No. 1 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.

AG: 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.

AG: It's good to have you with us. Failed states -- what do you mean?

NC: 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, 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 FBI 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, 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?

NC: 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's 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, as 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. Ninety-five percent 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 raises the already severe threat of 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; in 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 percent. 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 CIA, 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.

JG: Professor Chomsky, in your book you also talk about how Iraq has become almost an incubator or a university now for advanced training for terrorists, who then are leaving the country there and going around the world, very much as what happened in the 1980s in Afghanistan. Could you talk about that somewhat?

NC: Actually, these are just quotes from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies and analysts. Yes, they describe Iraq now as a training ground for highly professionalized terrorists skilled in urban contact. They do compare it to Afghanistan, but say that it's much more serious because of the high level of training and skill. These are almost entirely Iraqis. There's a small number of foreign fighters drawn to Iraq. Estimates are maybe 5 percent to 10 percent. And they are, as in the case of Afghanistan, expected to spread throughout many parts of the world and to carry out the kinds of terrorism that they're trained in, as a reaction to -- clearly a reaction to -- the invasion. Iraq was, whatever you thought about it, free from connections to terror prior to the invasion. It's now a major terror center.

It's not as President Bush says, that terrorists are being concentrated in Iraq so that we can kill them. These are terrorists who had no previous record of involvement in terrorism. The foreign fighters who have come in, mostly from Saudi Arabia, have been investigated extensively by Saudi and Israeli and U.S. intelligence, and what they conclude is that they were mobilized by the Iraq war, with no involvement in terrorist actions in the past. And undoubtedly, just as expected, the Iraq war has raised an enormous hostility throughout much of the world, and particularly the Muslim world.

It was the most -- probably the most unpopular war in history, and even before it was fought. Virtually no support for it anywhere, except the U.S. and Britain and a couple of other places. And since the war itself was perhaps one of the most incredible military catastrophes in history, has caused utter disaster in Iraq, and all of that has since simply intensified the strong opposition to the war of the kind that you heard from that Indonesian student of a few moments ago. But that's why it spread, and it increases the reservoir of potential support for the terrorists, who regard themselves as a vanguard, attempting to elicit support from others, to bring others to join with them. And the Bush administration is their leading ally in this. Again, not my words, the words of the leading U.S. specialists on terror, Michael Scheuer in this case. And definitely, that's happened.

And it's not the only case. I mean, in case after case, the Bush administration has simply downgraded the threat of terror. One example is the report of the 9/11 Commission. Here in the United States, the Bush administration didn't want the commission to be formed, tried to block it, but it was finally formed. The bipartisan commission gave many recommendations. The recommendations, to a large extent, were not carried out. The commission members, including the chair, were appalled by this, set up their own private commission after their own tenure was completed, and continued to report that the measures are simply not being carried out.

There are many other examples. One of the most striking is the Treasury Department has a branch, the Office of Financial Assets Control, which is supposed to monitor suspicious funding transfers around the world. Well, that's a core element of the so-called war on terror. They've given reports to Congress. It turns out that they have a few officials devoted to al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, but about -- I think it was six times that many devoted to whether there are any evasions of the totally illegal U.S. embargo against Cuba.

There was an instance of that just a few months ago, when the U.S. infuriated even energy corporations by ordering a Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City to cancel a meeting between Cuban oil specialists and U.S. oil companies, including some big ones, seeking to explore the development of offshore Cuban oil resources. The government ordered -- this OFAC ordered the hotel, the U.S. hotel, to expel the Cubans and terminate the meeting. Mexico wasn't terribly happy about this. It's extraordinary arrogance. But it also reveals the hysterical fanaticism of the goal of strangling Cuba.

And we know why. It's a free country. We have records going from way back, and a rich source of them go back to the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. They had to carry out a terrorist war against Cuba, as they did, and try to strangle Cuba economically because of Cuba's -- what they called Cuba's successful defiance of U.S. policies, going back to the Monroe Doctrine. No Russians, but the Monroe Doctrine, 150 years back at that time. And the goal was, as was put very plainly by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, to make the people of Cuba suffer. They are responsible for the fact that the government is in place. We therefore have to make them suffer and starve, so that they'll throw out the government. It's a policy which is pretty consistent. It's being applied right now in Palestine. It was applied under the Iraqi sanctions, plot in Chile, and so on. It's savage.

JG: Professor Chomsky, in your book you have a fascinating section, where you talk about the historical basis of the Bush doctrine of preemptive war, and also its relationship to empire or to the building of a U.S. empire. And you go back, you mention a historian, John Lewis Gaddis, who the Bush administration loves, because he's actually tried to find the historical rationalization for this use, going back to John Quincy Adams and as secretary of state in the invasion by Gen. Andrew Jackson of Florida in the Seminole Wars, and how this actually is a record of the use of this idea to continue the expansionist aims of the United States around the world.

NC: Yeah, that's a very interesting case, actually. John Lewis Gaddis was not only the favorite historian of the Reagan administration, but he's regarded as the dean of Cold War scholarship, the leading figure in the American Cold War scholarship, a professor at Yale. And he wrote the one, so far, book-length investigation into the roots of the Bush Doctrine, which he generally approves, the usual qualifications about style and so on. He traces it is back, as you say, to his hero, the great grand strategist, John Quincy Adams, who wrote a series of famous state papers back in 1818, in which he gave post facto justification to Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida. And it's rather interesting.

Gaddis is a good historian. He knows the sources, cites all the right sources. But he doesn't tell you what they say. So what I did in the book is just add what they say, what he omitted. Well, what they describe is a shocking record of atrocities and crimes carried out against what were called runaway Negroes and lawless Indians. [They] devastated the Seminoles. There was another major Seminole war later -- [they] either exterminated them or drove them into the marshes, completely unprovoked. There were fabricated pretexts. Gaddis talks about the threat of England. There was no threat from England. England didn't do a thing. In fact, even Adams didn't claim that. But it established what Gaddis calls the thesis that expansion is the best guarantee of security. So you want to be secure? Just expand, conquer more. Then you'll be secure.

And he says, yes, that goes right through all American administrations -- he's correct about that -- and is the centerpiece of the Bush Doctrine. So he says the Bush Doctrine isn't all that new. Expansion is the key to security. So we just expand and expand, and then we become more secure. Well, you know, he doesn't mention the obvious precedents that come to mind, so I'll leave them out, but you can think of them. And there's some truth to that, except for what he ignores and, in fact, denies, namely the huge atrocities that are recorded in the various sources, the scholarly sources that he cites, which also point out that Adams, by giving this justification for Jackson's war -- he was alone in the administration to do it, but he managed to convince the president -- established the doctrine of executive wars without congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution. Adams later recognized that and was sorry for it, and very sorry, but that established it and, yes, that's been consistent ever since then: executive wars without congressional authorization. We know of case after case. It doesn't seem to bother the so-called originalists who talk about original intent.

But that aside, he also -- the scholarship that Gaddis cites but doesn't quote also points out that Adams established other principles that are consistent from then until now, namely massive lying to the public, distortion, evoking hysterical fears, all kinds of deceitful efforts to mobilize the population in support of atrocities. And yes, that continues right up to the present as well. So there's very interesting historical record. What it shows is almost the opposite of what Gaddis claims and what the Bush administration likes. And it's right out of the very sources that he refers to, the right sources, the right scholarship. He simply ignores them. But, yes, the record is interesting.

AG: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you a question. As many people know, you're perhaps one of the most cited sources of analysis in the world. And I thought this was an interesting reference to these citations. This was earlier this month -- Tim Russert, Meet the Press , questioning the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace.

    TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Jaafari said that one of his favorite American writers is professor Noam Chomsky, someone who has written very, very strongly against the Iraq war and against most of the Bush administration foreign policy. Does that concern you?

    GEN. PETER PACE: I hope he has more than one book on his nightstand.

    TIM RUSSERT: So, it troubles you?

    GEN. PETER PACE: I would be concerned if the only access to foreign ideas that the prime minister had was that one author. If, in fact, that's one of many, and he's digesting many different opinions, that's probably healthy.


AG: That's Gen. Peter Pace, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, being questioned by Tim Russert, talking about Jaafari, who at this very moment is struggling to hold on to his position as prime minister of Iraq. Your response, Noam Chomsky?

NC: Well, I, frankly, rather doubt that Gen. Pace recognized my name or knew what he was referring to, but maybe he did. The quote from Tim Russert, if I recall, was that this was a book that was highly critical of the Iraq war. Well, that shouldn't surprise a prime minister of Iraq. After all, according to U.S. polls, the latest ones I've seen reported, Brookings Institution, 87 percent of Iraqis want a timetable for withdrawal. That's an astonishing figure. If it really is all Iraqis, as was asserted. That means virtually everyone in Arab Iraq, the areas where the troops are deployed. I, frankly, doubt that you could have found figures like that in Vichy France or, you know, Poland under … when it was a Russian satellite.

What it means essentially is that virtually everyone wants a timetable for withdrawal. So, would it be surprising that a prime minister would read a book that's critical of the war and says the same thing? It's interesting that Bush and Blair, who are constantly preaching about their love of democracy, announce, declare that there will be no timetable for withdrawal. Well, that part probably reflects the contempt for democracy that both of them have continually demonstrated, them and their colleagues, virtually without exception.

But there are deeper reasons, and we ought to think about them. If we're talking about exit strategies from Iraq, we should bear in mind that for the U.S. to leave Iraq without establishing a subordinate client state would be a nightmare for Washington. All you have to do is think of the policies that an independent Iraq would be likely to pursue, if it was mildly democratic. It would almost surely strengthen its already developed relations with Shiite Iran right next door. Any degree of Iraqi autonomy stimulates autonomy pressures across the border in Saudi Arabia, where there's a substantial Shiite population that has been bitterly repressed by the U.S.-backed tyranny but is now calling for more autonomy. That happens to be where most of Saudi oil is.

JG: I would like to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of democracy -- in your book you talk about the democracy deficit. Obviously, the Bush administration is having all kinds of problems with their -- even their model of democracy around the world, given the election results in the Palestinian territories, the situation now in Iraq, where the president is trying to force out the prime minister of the winning coalition there, in Venezuela, even in Iran. Your concept of the democracy deficit, and why this administration is able to hold on in the United States itself?

NC: Well, there are two aspects of that. One is, the democracy deficit internal to the United States; that is, the enormous and growing gap between public opinion and public policy. Second is their so-called democracy-promotion mission elsewhere in the world. The latter is just pure fraud. The only evidence that they're interested in promoting democracy is that they say so. The evidence against it is just overwhelming, including the cases you mentioned and many others. I mean, the very fact that people are even willing to talk about this shows that we're kind of insisting on being North Koreans: If the dear leader has spoken, that establishes the truth; it doesn't matter what the facts are. I go into that in some detail in the book.

The democracy deficit at home is another matter. They have an extremely narrow hold on political power. Their policies are strongly opposed by most of the population. How do they carry this off? Well, that's been through an intriguing mixture of deceit, lying, fabrication, public relations. There's actually a pretty good study of it by two good political scientists, Hacker and Pearson, who just run through the tactics and how it works. And they have barely managed to hold on to political power and are attempting to use it to dismantle the institutional structure that has been built up over many years with enormous popular support -- the limited benefits system. They're trying to dismantle Social Security and are actually making progress on that. The tax cuts, overwhelmingly for the rich, are purposely creating a future situation -- first of all, a kind of fiscal train wreck in the future -- but also a situation in which it will be virtually impossible to carry out the kinds of social policies that the public overwhelmingly supports.

And to manage to carry this off has been an impressive feat of manipulation, deceit, lying and so on. No time to talk about it here, but actually my book gives a pretty good account. I do discuss it in the book. That's a democratic deficit at home and an extremely serious one. The problems of nuclear war, environmental disaster, those are issues of survival, the top issues and the highest priority for anyone sensible. Third issue is that the U.S. government is enhancing those threats. And a fourth issue is that the U.S. population is opposed, but is excluded from the political system. That's a democratic deficit. It's one we can deal with, too.

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