Chomsky on US Global Policy

November 21, 2010

Chomsky: US still wants to dominate but cannot order other big powers as it pleases; Iran war threat is real

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Chomsky: US still wants to dominate but cannot order other big powers as it pleases; Iran war threat is real


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Professor Noam Chomsky. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: So let’s talk a little bit about the global situation. President Obama campaigned, he said, for a new mindset in US foreign policy. But the underlying assumption, that the US needs to project power around the globe, really doesn’t seem to have changed. So talk a bit about the state of things. And particularly if you’ve done a lot of work and been in the Middle East recently.

CHOMSKY: Well, you’re quite right. I mean, there are policies actually going back to the Second World War which have been very stable. If you go back to, say, the years of the Second World War, ’39 to ’45, there were, of course, high-level planning meetings in State Department, Council on Foreign Relations, and so on. They took for–and the–they’re interesting discussions. They’re public; they have been for a long time. They recognized that the United States was going to come out of the war in a position of overwhelming power, like, nothing like it in history, which was true. At the end of the war, the US had half the world’s wealth, incomparable security, and so on, and they planned to use it. The US had not been a major player in world affairs before that. It had the largest economy by a long shot, but the leading players in world affairs were Britain and, secondarily, France. And the US was going to replace that, and they knew it, and they planned to construct a world which would be open to US economic penetration and political control, and in which no exercise of sovereignty would be tolerated that would interfere with US designs. It was said pretty frankly.

JAY: Now, part of this which doesn’t get talked about too much is this was very much FDR’s vision. It wasn’t something that came, like, from right-wing Republicans. This came out of the Democratic Party.

CHOMSKY: I’m talking about the early ’40s. These are Roosevelt’s planners. I mean, they sort of had, you know, a soft version of it–this’ll be for everyone’s good, then we’ll be in charge, but, of course, we’re working for the benefit of others, and so on. The usual story. And it wasn’t totally false, but partially. No propaganda is. Anyway, they had plans, and they even designated the area for which these plans would apply, what they called a "Grand Area", which would be dominated by the United States. And it would include, of course, the Western Hemisphere (taken for granted), the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which included, crucially, the Middle East. And one of the leading figures, an early Roosevelt advisor and on through later liberal administrations, he pointed out that if we control the Middle East, we can control the world–that’s where the energy resources are. As the Russians ground down the Nazi armies after Stalingrad, the vision extended to include as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially the commercial and industrial centers in Germany, France, so on. So that was the picture. And the plans were then–in the late ’40s, when the war was over, you know, they were implemented in pretty sophisticated ways. If you look at the planning documents and the implementation, it was quite rational. It was creating this kind of world, a world in which the US will be dominant. It will not tolerate exercises of sovereignty that interfere with that dominance. The world will be an open society, free economically, which is the natural position for those who expect to dominate the world. So when Britain finally became the world-dominant power and had maybe twice the per capita level of capitalization than anyone else and hence thought it could win in trading, they came out in favor of free trade. You know, that’s natural. Plenty of restrictions on it. So in England, too. But in the US case, you know, let’s have a society in free trade, you know, no government intervention, except for us. So in the United States, this plans, at the same time, especially the late ’40s, we’re to develop massive government intervention in the economy. The business world understood, and you can read it in the business press in the late ’40s, that unless there’s a massive government intervention in the economy, kind of a stimulus, we’ll go back to the Depression. High-tech industry, it was understood, cannot flourish in a free enterprise economy.

JAY: And the war was essentially [inaudible] of stimulus money.

CHOMSKY: The war was a huge stimulus, which virtually quadrupled industrial production, ended the Depression, laid the basis for the postwar expansion, left a huge debt, far higher than now, but which was overcome by the large-scale growth of the economy, the way you’d expect.

JAY: And partly through the plunder of the rest of the world, too.

CHOMSKY: There’s plunder of the rest of the world. But the main thing was–that’s a complicated issue, because the United States wanted the former imperial countries, you know, Britain particularly, but to be able to recover control of their former colonies so that they could then develop and purchase the huge manufacturing surplus of the United States. One of the big economic problems after the Second World War was that most of the industrial world had been, you know, demolished or seriously harmed. US economy had boomed. We had this huge manufacturing surplus. Somebody’s got to buy it. The Marshall Plan and other devices were–.

JAY: Another stimulus plan.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. And–but domestically what it meant was that what–pretty much what [inaudible] proposed and was later implemented, that the government should have a major role in developing and protecting high-tech industry. The building we’re sitting in happens to be right above a former electronics lab, which is where–one of the main places where–for the development of computers, the Internet, microelectronics, and so on and so forth, on Pentagon money.

JAY: Just for–in case people don’t know, we’re at MIT.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. Okay, yeah. But it happens to be right below where we’re sitting. I was there at the time. The–and beyond that, when other government initiatives–like, take just procurement. I mean, when IBM finally learned enough from the government labs so that they could make computers, they made them, but they couldn’t sell them, ’cause they were too big and clunky. So the government procured them. And in fact it was decades before you could make money selling computers. The Internet was in the state sector for over 30 years before it was handed over to private industry. When you fly on a commercial airliner, it’s sort of a modified bomber. And this runs through the economy–now, large expenditures in the biology-based sectors (that’s the growth part of the economy) and plenty of other state intervention. It’s substantial. But free enterprise is for everybody else. Like, in the Third World, you can’t do this. You know? It’s quite traditional. I mean, Britain was the same in its heyday. But it was a system that worked, you know, quite well, I mean, for–through the ’50s and the ’60s. So, huge economic growth by historical standards. Then you get to the mid ’70s, and for a lot of reasons you get this fundamental change. The international economic system, the so-called Bretton Woods system, was essentially dismantled. Capital controls were–they’re technically permitted, but they were basically abolished. There was a huge rise in speculative capital flows, enormous rise. And you get the kind of financialization in which we’re now living and quite a significant decline in macroeconomic indices, almost all of them, but–and the sharp disparities of growth, and, you know, the attacks on democracy, and so on. Well, that’s–those are kind of large terms. But going back to what you said before, that the same principles hold, that’s true. I mean, the government still holds to the principle that we must dominate, basically, the world, you know, an expanded Grand Area, and we should not tolerate exercises of sovereignty that interfere with this. Now, the world has meanwhile become much more diverse. It’s not as easy to implement these plans as it was in, say, 1950, or even in 1970. So by now, you know, the traditional backyard, the Western Hemisphere, a big piece of it, South America, it has become much more independent. They’re throwing out all US military bases. They’re moving towards some degree of integration. They’re not following the US orders. We just saw that when Brazil joined with Turkey to arrange for a mechanism for Iran to enrich substantial parts of its uranium outside of Iran. Actually, the Obama administration had to encourage that initiative. Obama wrote to the president of Brazil saying, yes, good idea, go ahead with it. Presumably, he did that because he thought it would fail, that Iran wouldn’t agree and you’d have a propaganda point. Well, it worked, and the US was irate, immediately rammed through a UN resolution which in fact was much weaker than the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian arrangement but at least kept the US running things. The issue of sanctions on Iran is a very striking illustration of the increasing limitations of US power. I mean, that’s kind of like–you read the foreign policy literature and, you know, government statements, this is the big problem. This is in fact called the year of Iran, and Iran is described as the greatest threat to world order. I’ll come back in a moment to what the threat is. But part of this is the US effort to try to get the world to accept the harsh US sanctions, not the UN sanctions. UN sanctions are pretty much toothless, so China and Russia and others go along with them willingly. The US sanctions are much harsher. They have no international legitimacy other than the force that lies behind them, and the US is getting desperate about the fact that the rest of the world isn’t following them. So Brazil has–and Turkey, neighboring power and leading power in the Third World, have just essentially rejected them. Turkey’s announced it’s going to triple its growing trade with Iran, establish a new pipeline. Brazil says, look, we go along with the Non-Aligned countries and most of the world in supporting Iran’s right to enrich uranium. But the big one is China. That they can’t push around, and they’re very upset about it. A couple of weeks ago, the State Department issued a warning to China and said that if you want to join the international community–meaning, what we run–you have to meet your international responsibilities, namely, follow US orders, follow our sanctions. It probably elicited laughter in the Chinese foreign office. They cannot force them to do it. And this is indication of an erosion of the ability to coerce. You can have 800 military bases and spend as much as the rest of the world combined on the military, but you can’t force China, or even Turkey or even Brazil, to follow your orders. That’s quite different from the early days of the Grand Area.

JAY: I talked to Larry Wilkerson, and we interviewed him a few days ago–you know, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. And he says that he and many people in the intelligence community are convinced that the sort of neocon axis, the same people that Bush-Cheney represented, are very committed to an attack on Iran, and, you know, within 3 to 4 years, they think, they’re preparing the conditions for this. How serious a threat do you think this is?

CHOMSKY: Oh, it’s a very serious threat. But the threat is Obama, too. You don’t have to go to the neocons. I mean, Obama has significantly increased the US military threat to Iran. So take, say, the island of Diego Garcia, an important island. It’s a major US military base, one of the major bases for bombing the Middle East and Central Asia. The British–it was a British island–they kicked the population out so that the US could develop a military base there. And it’s big. Obama has substantially increased it. There hasn’t been reporting about this, unfortunately, but he about a year ago established facilities for nuclear submarines–which means with nuclear-tipped missiles–to be there. He’s sharply increased the number of what are called deep penetration ordnance, sometimes called bunker busters, the biggest bombs in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons, which are designed to go deep underground to destroy targets. He’s sent hundreds there. In fact, that was a Bush program, but it kind of languished. As soon as Obama came into office, he very sharply stepped up production, now deployment. The–I think about a quarter of the world’s aircraft carriers (almost all of them–the big ones are almost all US) are in the Arabian Sea. That’s a–in fact, Iran is completely surrounded by US military bases. And the threat of attack is constant. The phrase that’s used is all options are open, meaning we can attack if we like. Well, that’s a serious threat. Now, US military and the US intelligence understand this. They–the question what is the Iranian threat is one that everybody should be asking. It should be the headlines in the newspapers. I mean, if this is the worst threat to world peace, what is it?

JAY: They keep saying even the Arab countries are afraid of all this, but I see yesterday Qatar just had a big cultural event with Iran, where the cultural ministers put together [inaudible]

CHOMSKY: Yeah. They’re–I mean, they’re not going along. And, in fact, if you look at Arab public opinion–if anyone cares–that is now so outraged by US policy, Obama, that a majority of the Arab public says they’re in favor of Iran having nuclear weapons. I mean, I doubt that they really are, but I think that’s a sign of outrage. So what is the Iranian threat? Well, we have an authoritative answer. It ought to be in the headlines of the newspapers. Every year, the Pentagon and US intelligence provide an analysis to Congress of the global security situation. Last one was last April. Of course, there was a big section on Iran, and what they say is interesting. They say there is no military threat. Iran has limited capacity to deploy force, has some of the lowest military spending in the region–obviously nothing like the United States. Its strategic doctrine is completely defensive. It’s to fend off an invasion. They say if they’re developing a nuclear capability, that would be part of their deterrence strategy. Well, you know, you look at the world, you see nobody needs a deterrent more than Iran. So that’s the threat. So what is the threat? Then they go on to say, yes, it’s the major threat. What’s the threat? They’re trying to expand their influence into neighboring countries. They’re exercising sovereignty.

JAY: They’re a regional power.

CHOMSKY: They want to have influence in the countries that are occupied by the United States on their borders. Now, when we invade and occupy those countries, that’s not a threat; that’s called stabilization.

JAY: Well, no one would ever critique US foreign policy as being guided by intelligence. Thanks very much for joining us.

CHOMSKY: Thanks.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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