Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael Shank

Chomsky Takes on the World (Bank), Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael Shank:
Michael Shank: Given that the U.S. Congress is no longer calling for binding timelines for troop withdrawal, how is this indicative of a broader struggle between the executive and legislative branches?

Noam Chomsky: There are a number of issues. One is the unitary executive conception. The Republican Party happens to be right now in the hands of a very extreme fringe. That goes from the legal system and the Federalist Society to the executive and so on. What they basically want, to put it simply, is a kind of an elective dictatorship. The chief executive should have total control over the executive branch. And the executive branch should dominate the other branches. That’s an effective mode of authoritarian control, natural for those whose dislike of democracy goes beyond the norm.

There’s a real fascist streak there, definitely. And Congress, to some extent, is trying to recreate more of a balance between the executive and legislative branch. So that’s part of the struggle. Part of it is just that neither party is willing to face the consequences of a withdrawal from Iraq. It’s not a trivial matter. First of all, there’s almost no public discussion of the issues involved in the war. Why did we invade? Why don’t we want to get out?

I was listening to the National Public Radio tribute to David Halberstam the other day, and they had on Neil Sheehan, David Greenway, and others. They were talking correctly about these young reporters in Vietnam who with great courage stood up against power and told truth to power. Which is correct, but what truth did they tell to power? The truth they told to power was: "you’re not winning the war." I listened through the hour and there were never any questions like: should you be fighting the war or should you be invading another country? The answer to that is not the kind of truth you tell to power.

In fact, it’s rather similar to what critical journalists in the Soviet Union were saying in the 1980s. They were saying, “Yeah we’re not winning the war in Afghanistan.” From my point of view, that’s not telling truth to power. Truth to power would be: why are you invading Afghanistan, what right do you have to commit crimes against peace and against humanity? But that question never came up. And the same is true in the discussion of Iraq. The question of whether it’s legitimate to have a victory doesn’t even arise. In fact, the current debate about Iraq reminds me very much of the dove/hawk debate over Vietnam.

Take, for example, Arthur Schlesinger, leading historian, Kennedy advisor, and so on. He was originally a strong supporter of the war during the Kennedy years. But by the mid-1960s, there was a mood spreading in the country generally, but also among the elites, that the war is not wise, it’s harming us. Then he had a book that came out in 1966 called Bitter Heritage, which is very much like what’s happening today. He was one of the extreme liberal critics of the war by then. He said, “We all pray that the hawks will be correct in thinking that sending more troops will bring us victory. And if they are, we’ll be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that they’ve left in wreck and ruin. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.”

You can translate that almost verbatim into the liberal dove critique of the war today. There’s no question about whether we are justified in invading another country. The only question is: is this tactic going to work, or is some other tactic going to work, or maybe no tactic and it’s costing us too much. And those are the limits of the presidential debates, the congressional discussion, and the media discussion.

Invading Iraq was the kind of crime for which Nazi war criminals were hanged at Nuremberg. They were hanged, primarily, for crimes against peace, i.e. aggression, the supreme international crime. Von Ribbentrop, foreign minister, was hanged. One of the main charges was that he supported a preemptive war against Norway. It’s kind of striking that at the end of the Nuremberg tribunal, the chief counsel for the prosecution Justice Robert Jackson, an American justice, made some pretty eloquent speeches about the nature of the tribunal. After the sentencing, he said, “We’re handing the defendants a poisoned chalice and if we sip from it we must be subject to the same charges and sentencing or else we’re just showing that the proceedings are a farce.” So if they mean anything the principles have to apply to us.

Try to find a discussion of that anywhere, either in the case of Vietnam or in the case of Iraq, or any other aggression.

This is what I call the Chomskyan Revolution: That the standards of criticism and condemnation that we apply to the crimes and atrocities of other powers should also be applied to ourselves, our friends and our allies. Prior to this revolution, it has not occured to most people that this should be done. It is almost subconsciously assumed that we are 'good' and they are 'evil'. But subsequent to Chomsky, people will be ashamed to be caught denouncing the crimes of Hitler or Genghis Khan or other enemies without having on record even more prominent condemnations of crimes for which we are responsible right now, and could stop - if we exercised our citizen's power.

Chomsky goes on in this interview to discuss Wolfowitz and the World Bank.

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