Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Chomsky Interview on PBS

I found online another interview with Noam Chomsky, on PBS. You can listen to it here, or read the transcript here. The interview covered a lot of topics, but I’m quoting some excerpts I found especially interesting.

First, on democracy, in the US, and the “two-party system”:

Well, it’s an interesting situation in American political history. I mean, it’s no big secret that for the last year just about every week, the Republicans, Republican Administration has been shooting itself in the foot on one thing or another, whether it’s Katrina or Iraq or, you know, a long list—I don’t have to go through it. And it’s kind of interesting that the Democrats have basically not gained from this. The only gains they’ve made is that support for the Republicans has dropped.

Well, what that illustrates is that there is no functioning opposition party. People don’t know what the Democratic proposals are. What are they saying? When Bush responds and says, okay, what do you have to say about it, there’s nothing much. That even includes not only international affairs, but even major domestic crises.

In my opinion, the other problem with the Democrats is that they try and bill themselves as a liberal party, but they’re just as conservative as the Republicans. The reason they don’t seem to have a stance on some of these issues is that their stance is exactly the same as the Republicans’!

Later on, the interviewer asks Chomsky how he would propose dealing with terrorism:

My proposal happens to be very mainstream. It’s the same as the proposal that you read from government and outside specialists on terrorism. They say, with virtual uniformity, other countries too, that terrorism is a very serious problem, and if you want to deal with it, you have to pay attention to its causes, to the background from which it comes. And what should be done is to deal with it.

The worst way to deal with it is by giving gifts to Osama bin Laden. And, as a number of the specialists have pointed out, Bush is Osama bin Laden’s best ally, because the reactions are violence.

So let’s take 9/11, a terrible crime. It turns out, and we now know, and knew then, that it was bitterly condemned by the Jihari movement around the world. The leading figures, you know, the radical clerics and others were denouncing it.

Well, there was an opportunity to make some moves towards the Muslim world, and, in fact, even the radical Islamic extremist elements in the Muslim world, and undermine support for al Qaeda, when what we did was the opposite, resorted to violence, particularly in Iraq, which simply mobilized support for Osama bin Laden. That’s the way to deal with terrorism, if you want to escalate it.

I like the “if you want to escalate it” crack.

You may remember, almost a month ago, I mentioned the news item where Clinton was on FOX News, which was dealing with whether he did enough to catch/kill Osama bin Laden. And I was very much on Clinton’s side. However, what I forgot, and what Chomsky never forgets, is that there are deeper issues involved:

MARIA HINOJOSA: I’m wondering how you see what happened in terms of President Bill Clinton—former President Bill Clinton and his reaction to Chris Wallace in the Fox News interview, and Senator Hilary Clinton’s response as well? And yet, there’s been this silence on the part of the Democrats. It’s not as if you’ve seen all, you know, top-level Democrats kind of fall into line and say—you know, the former president and the senator are correct here.

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I—part of the reason, I think, is because they’re probably not correct. Again, there is a—by now a rich and informative literature on terrorism. It’s been a big a topic; it’s been studied very carefully.

And what specialists have pointed out, years ago, is that Clinton himself acted in ways which increased the threat of terror. So take, say, the 1998 bombings of the Sudan and Afghanistan, well I know Sudan was—we don’t pay much attention to it but people in the rest of the world, certainly the third world do, it was very destructive.

If you destroyed half the pharmaceutical production in the United States, we’d think it’s a pretty serious problem. In fact, we’d probably go to war. Well, that’s what he did. And it had a lot of effects. We don’t pay attention to it.

Afghanistan, what happened is that relations between al Qaeda and the Taliban, which previously were pretty cool; the Taliban didn’t like ’em much, they didn’t want another source of authority in their country, and they never did like the Arabs—relations got much closer as a result of the bombing. Clinton did the same in 1998.

The sort of technical question that was discussed, how hard did he try to kill Osama bin Laden, well, you know, we can have our own opinions on that, but it’s kind of a side question. The real question is what are we doing to undermine the support for the terrorist movements.

I mean, look terrorists regard themselves as a vanguard. They are trying to carry out actions which they portray as a response to grievances. And the grievances are often real. And they are trying to mobilize the population to support them, to join them.

Well, the rational way to deal with this is to look at the grievances that they are brining up, which the population feels, and address them, and undermine their base of support and isolate them.

Finally, to end the interview…

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, when you step back, Professor Chomsky, do you say, this is a moment in American history where pessimism rules? Or do you say optimism is a possibility and you believe things can change?

PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: Both. We are in an extremely dangerous situation, not only what we’re talking but also much more large-scale threats to us and everyone else, in fact, literal threats to survival, like escalation of the threat of nuclear war, of environmental catastrophe, which we, unless we do something about, is—could be awful.

The U.S., again, is increasing those threats significantly. And that’s—and what’s happening in the Middle East and elsewhere is shocking and could become even worse than it is now. So yeah, those are pretty ugly—many pretty ugly things happening in the world.

On the other hand, there’s every reason for optimism. I mean, look we have a legacy of freedom and privilege, which is incomparable in the world. It wasn’t given by gifts, it was won by long, dedicated, committed popular struggle. But we have that legacy, and we can use it. We can abandon it and say, I don’t care, or I’m gonna be hopeless, or we can use it. And if we use it, these things can change.