Chomsky on an unjust war

Excerpts from an interview with Prof. Noam Chomsky in his office in Building 20 of the MIT, by V.K. Ramachandran, published in the March 15, 1991, issue. Some of the predictions he made while speaking about the first Gulf War, particularly those on the U.S. economy, proved prophetic.

Published : Nov 10, 2020 08:00 IST

Noam Chomsky: “The U.S. and Britain did not want sanctions to work."

Noam Chomsky: “The U.S. and Britain did not want sanctions to work."

Professor Chomsky, the United States administration has said that it had no alternative to waging war against Iraq—that it had gone more than the extra mile for peace. Would you comment on this position?

In late December, Iraq made a peace proposal that was released by high U.S. officials on January 2. According to that proposal, they would withdraw totally from Kuwait—totally, no border issues—in return for Security Council arrangements on two outstanding issues: one, the Israel-Palestine issue, and the other, the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

Last April, when Saddam Hussein was still George Bush’s great friend and favourite trading partner, he offered the U.S. that he would destroy all of his non-conventional weapons, that is, all of his biological and chemical weapons (there are no nuclear weapons). That offer came to the White House, and since Iraq was still a friend at that time, there was an excellent official response. The official response was: we welcome Saddam Hussein’s offer to destroy all of his arsenals—that’s fine—but we do not want this linked to other issues or weapons systems. Now that is an oblique way of saying “we want Israel to keep its nuclear weapons”. On the second issue, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, for 20 years the U.S. has been opposing a diplomatic settlement of that. It has nothing to do with Iraq and Kuwait…. There are three issues here, and the U.S. is opposed to a diplomatic settlement of each one of them, and therefore it is opposed to linkage. It does not want a diplomatic settlement of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It does not want a diplomatic settlement of the problem of weapons of mass destruction. It does not want a diplomatic settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Accordingly, it is opposed to linkage, that is, to diplomacy that brings these issues together. It’s as simple as that.

Do you think that sanctions were beginning to take effect, that they were an effective method?

It was quite obvious in August that sanctions would be unusually effective in this case. There are two very clear reasons for that. For one thing, the sanctions were of absolutely unprecedented severity. There has never been a case in the past when sanctions were imposed on food, even in much worse cases of aggression and atrocities than this one, and there are worse cases. Secondly, the sanctions this time were going to hold. Remember: sanctions usually do not work because they are violated, and they are usually violated by the U.S., England and France and their allies. Sanctions against the racist states of southern Africa were very porous because imperial countries like the U.S., England and France violated them constantly. Hence they were very weak. In this case, however, the usual violators of sanctions supported them and therefore they were going to hold.

The U.S. and Britain, remember, moved as quickly as they could to undercut sanctions—they did not want sanctions to work. Very quickly they announced that they were going to send an expeditionary force to the desert. Now a deterrent force could be kept in place while sanctions took effect. An expeditionary force—a big expeditionary force, hundreds of thousands of troops—cannot be kept there for more than a few weeks, or maybe a few months at the most. It is just too expensive and it is generally impossible. They were telling the world: “We’re going to undercut sanctions, we don’t want sanctions to work.” That was combined with the explicit statement that there would be no negotiations. Remember, sanctions mean sanctions and negotiations.

In the light of U.S. policy in West Asia, of what does Bush’s New World Order consist? What message is he sending the world regarding its content?

He is sending the world a very clear message. The message is: the world is to be ruled by force. Not diplomacy, not economic power, but force. There is an obvious reason why he wants that. You simply take a look at the structure of the New World Order, which has been coming into existence for the last 20 years and has several dramatic features.

By the 1950s, England, which used to be the imperial power, was a power very much in decline. It had a very troubled economy; about all that it had left was a big military force and a martial tradition, and that remains the case. The U.S. is pretty much in the same position, although on a much grander scale….

The Reagan-Bush administrations have administered a very severe blow to the American economy. The costs have yet to be paid, but they are real. There is huge debt, the financial institutions are tottering, the infrastructure is collapsing, and the U.S. economy is in severe trouble…. That is one feature of the New World Order.

A second feature of this New World Order was also visible by the 1970s, and it was that the Soviet Union was in bad trouble. The Soviet Union’s military expenses began to level off in the 1970s—quite the opposite of what we were being told, but those were lies for other reasons—and it was clear that there was stagnation and serious internal problems. By the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was essentially collapsing and by now it has more or less withdrawn from the world. It is doubtful whether it will even hang together as an organised entity. So the disappearance of the Soviet Union from the world scene is the second feature of the New World Order, and that has consequences.

One consequence is that western Europe and the U.S. have now achieved a long-term objective, that they have been fighting for since 1917, and that is to return eastern Europe to its traditional status as Third World. Before 1917, eastern Europe was, for the most part, a quasi-colonial dependency of the West, with usual Third World functions—cheap labour, resources, and investment opportunities. The Soviet Union cut that region off from Western exploitation, which is one of the fundamental reasons for the Cold War and for the hostility towards the Soviet Union. Now that is over, and the West can expect to return this region to the status of Mexico and Brazil and others, which is what they have long wanted to do.

Of course Germany is well in the lead on this one and Japan will get in the act when they decide that it is worthwhile. The U.S. is going to have a much harder time, because of its economic decline and its capital deficits.

Another consequence of the Soviet withdrawal from the scene is that the Soviet Union had a big military force; although it was not much of an economic power, as a military force it deterred the U.S. Now, in Western ideology and propaganda, the U.S. deterred and contained the Soviet Union, but in the real world it was the other way around—the Soviet Union deterred and contained the U.S…. The U.S. is now much more free to use force than it has been in the past. We see that in the Middle East; 10 to 15 years ago, the U.S. and Britain, the two warrior-states, would not have been able to put large conventional forces in the region because it would just be dangerous. A Middle East confrontation could lead to a confrontation with the Russians and the forces would simply be exposed to destruction. Nowadays they do not have to worry. There is no deterrent; they can do anything they like.

To put this together, what do we have? We have a New World Order, in which the strength of the U.S. is certainly not diplomacy. The policies that it is pursuing are extremely unpopular. In the region, say from Morocco to Indonesia, popular support for U.S.-British policies is extremely low, to put it mildly. They get support from family dictatorships and so on but certainly not from the general population. The same is true in Latin America and Africa and elsewhere—U.S. and British policies are not popular and therefore diplomacy is ruled out….

For the U.S., its comparative advantage in the world is essentially its monopoly of force, and therefore the natural posture for it to adopt is that of a mercenary state. Somebody has got to control and subdue the Third World—the industrial countries understand that—you have to keep them under control, you have to block independent nationalism, you have to make sure they are readily exploitable. However, they no longer have the economic base for it. Therefore they have to be a mercenary.

The U.S. is becoming a mercenary state. It carries out the military interventions—it has the force—and others are supposed to pay for it. Well, who is going to pay for it? Germany and Japan want the services, but they do not want to pay for it. They have no particular interest in propping up the economies of their rivals, the U.S. and England. They will grudgingly give a little bit of support to the mercenaries, but not much.

There is only one other major source of capital in the world, besides Germany and Japan, and that is petrodollars. The way the New World Order is shaping up, you have to block diplomacy, and you have to block reliance on economic power, because the U.S. is not ruling now. You have to shift confrontation to the arena of force, where the U.S. reigns supreme. You need a world ruled by force, and somebody has got to pay for it. The primary source has to be oil production, the colossal profits from energy. This policy, incidentally, was pretty explicit in the 1950s and you can actually read it in the declassified secret documents of both Britain and the U.S. in the 1950s. Now it is much broader.

The crucial point to look at is 1958, when there was a nationalist officers’ revolution in Iraq. That was the first break in the Anglo-American condominium over oil production and naturally there was great fury in England and the U.S. We know what they did publicly. The U.S. sent the Marines to Lebanon the next day and Eisenhower authorised the use of any weapons whatsoever—meaning nuclear weapons—if anyone moved into Kuwait, that is, if the nationalist revolution spread to Kuwait.

The interests, with regard to Kuwait, were that the profits from Kuwaiti oil be used to prop up the sterling. The British economy was ailing, it was a weak economy, and at that time it very badly needed both the oil and the profits from Kuwaiti investments in order to meet its liabilities. So the imperial arrangement had to be that the profits from oil production not be used for the Arab peoples—of course, they could be used for the family dictatorships, so far as it did not amount to much—but mainly go to the West, primarily to England and later to the U.S. Well, that is what is going on.

By the 1970s, the U.S. also was beginning to be in a degree of trouble: it was following England, many decades behind, and it needed this capital resource. In fact, that is one of the reasons why the U.S. and England actually were pretty much supportive of the oil price rise in the early 1970s. It actually benefited their economies…. Capital resources from the Gulf oil producers by now are a very substantial contribution to the two ailing economies, Britain and the U.S., to their treasury securities, financial institutions and so on. There is a joke going around Wall Street now that more or less captures the story, and it goes like this. Question: Why do Kuwait and the United States need each other? Answer: Kuwait is a banking system without a country and the United States is a country without a banking system. Like a lot of jokes, it is not a joke. The Savings and Loan crisis is probably going to run over a trillion dollars (Savings and Loans institutions in the U.S. lend money to local people to buy homes.) The banks are beginning to go, and that is a much more serious business.


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