Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill on Sept 26, 2018
Donald Trump (DT): The wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.
DT: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America’s — so true. [Laughter.] Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.
Jeremy Scahill (JS): There is one level where I believe the presidency of Donald Trump has actually brought a positive development to the discourse in our society — the discourse around the world. He has united many nations in openly laughing at the hubris and bravado of the United States. Yeah, I know, that they were specifically laughing at Donald Trump at the UN. But I also thought it was pretty funny. But as I’ve said over and over, Trump is a product of the American political system. When you strip down or strip away the buffoonery, and the arrogance, and the lies, and you look at the U.S. position in the world on foreign policy, Trump is basically in line with the political strategy of the empire politicians, of the elite.
The world has long watched in horror as the United States has pursued its imperial march. Trump has made it OK to openly mock it. And while Trump does, indeed, lie about anything and everything, he simultaneously engages in the big lies. The big lies that unite Democrats and Republicans.
DT: That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live, or work, or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.
JS: You see right there, this is a big lie. It’s a lie that has been told throughout the history of the United States. The U.S. has never honored the right of nations to pursue their own customs and beliefs. The U.S. invades countries, sanctions them, bombs them, overthrows governments, interferes in elections, assassinates people across the globe. This nation was founded on violating the sovereignty of indigenous people and then forcing enslaved Africans to build its infrastructure. These are the lies that bind Trump to his predecessors. These are the permanent lies of the ruling elite of this country.
DT: We have secured record funding for our military, $700 billion this year and $716 billion next year. Our military will soon be more powerful than it has ever been before.
JS: This is a horrifying declaration. It’s an abomination. It’s an abomination that it’s true. But is it because of the dangerous, deviousness of Trump? Did Donald Trump undemocratically seize public monies to build his unaccountable war machine? Let’s look at the vote tally on this whopping military bill: More than 2/3 of House Democrats voted for it and 85% of Democrats in the Senate voted to give Trump this massive military budget. And to drive home the passion for militarism and empire, this bill was ceremoniously titled the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act.
How is this justifiable to these Democrats who tell us every day about the unique danger that Donald Trump poses? The same could be asked of all those powerful Democrats who voted to give Trump widespread surveillance powers and capabilities. Now what they’ll tell you is: The military needs it; that we’re supporting the troops; the CIA and NSA, they need it — they are keeping the homeland safe. You know what, that’s bullshit. This is all about the politics of empire, imperialism, and in some ways crowd control.
Here we have yet another example — Trump bragging about pulling out of the UN human rights council because he was enraged that nations actually voted to condemn Israel or that they refuse to be a mouthpiece for Washington.
DT: So the United States took the only responsible course, we withdrew from the human rights council and we will not return until real reform is enacted. For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.
The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.
JS: All of this sounds like crazy, unhinged nationalism, authoritarianism, laws for thee but not for me. And that is what it is. Trump is brazenly attacking the notion that international law applies to the United States. But this wasn’t Trump’s idea and it wasn’t John Bolton’s idea. This was a bipartisan position going back decades.
In 2002, when the U.S. Senate voted on a bill that would authorize the U.S. military to invade the Netherlands if any U.S. personnel were arrested on war crimes charges, it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. As we said in an earlier episode of this show, it was known as the Hague Invasion Act. You know who voted for it? Joe Biden did. Hillary Clinton did. Chuck Schumer did. Dianne Feinstein did.
44 Democratic senators voted for a bill that would literally authorize the U.S. military to invade another NATO country to stop a war crimes prosecution of U.S. personnel. Yes, Trump’s declaration about international law is disgusting, but let’s be honest: In that vote, just 26 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting yes. And the Democrats controlled the Senate at the time. And this was a bill sponsored by lifelong racist and bigot, Senator Jesse Helms. And the Democrats supported it. This isn’t Donald Trump extremism. This is the politics of empire and so-called American exceptionalism.
I am deeply concerned that we are really losing our minds in this country with so many people falling victim to this notion that the U.S. was somehow this bastion of justice, and freedom, and democracy in the world until the orange-hued monster took power. It’s just not true. And when the dust settles on this moment in history, this narrative is going to ricochet into the future. Trump’s presidency will be like a ship that, if sunk, would place all the blame for the rot of this empire onboard with it.
We say a lot on this show that history matters, context matters, facts matter. And they do. But it does a disservice to those who believe in justice, and truth, and peace to pretend like Trump is somehow a great anathema. In some ways, he is. But not when it comes to the politics of empire. It’s important that we work hard to make those distinctions, no matter how widespread and group-thinky the flashy story is about Trump ruining America’s greatness. If we want to change this country, confront its injustices, we have to always return to history and context to understand how we got here.
Noam Chomsky on the Trump Presidency, the Defeat of the U.S. in Afghanistan, Syria’s Civil War, Yemen, Venezuela, and the Agenda of Vladimir Putin and Russia
JS: Today on the show, we have a special guest for an extended conversation on a wide range of issues, from the war in Afghanistan to North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia and the election, big tech companies and the role they play in our lives, propaganda, and beyond. Our guest is the legendary American dissident and scholar, Noam Chomsky.
I’m sure that pretty much every single one of our listeners is familiar with Chomsky, but you will almost never see him on major TV networks in the United States. Globally, yes. Chomsky is on TV all the time around the world. But here in his home country, nope. And if I am not mistaken, he has never been on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox. He did a few interviews over the years on PBS, on the Charlie Rose show. And I believe he was on CNN for a couple of minutes once.
Such is the fate of dissidents in the home of the brave. Here is one of the few times Noam Chomsky was actually allowed on U.S. TV. It was way back on April 3, 1969, where Chomsky debated the famed conservative William F. Buckley. The show was broadcast under the title “Vietnam and the Intellectuals,” and it was part of Buckley’s show, “Firing Line.”
Noam Chomsky (1969): What seems to me a very, in a sense, terrifying aspect of our society and other societies is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler, or LeMay, or other that crops up.
These people would not be able to operate were it not for the this apathy and equanimity and; therefore, I think it’s in some sense the sane, and reasonable, and tolerant people who should share a very serious burden of guilt they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent.
William F. Buckley: Oh, I agree but, but —
JS: Noam Chomsky is one of the most popular and influential political thinkers in the world, yet in the United States you will only find him on independent, alternative media outlets. Look at all of the pundits and well, criminals who are constantly on TV today. The people with long public career in mass killing or mass lying. This is part of the problem. It’s a big part of the problem in this country. How different would this country be, would the world be, if Noam Chomsky and other principled dissidents were regularly featured on major news broadcasts?
Noam Chomsky, welcome Intercepted.
NC: Very glad to be with you.
JS: If you watch, and I know you are not a fan of television news, but if you watch particularly MSNBC or CNN right now or you read the major newspapers in the United States, you can come away with the impression Donald Trump and his administration, his presidency, represent this grand departure from the way things are done in the United States historically.
How much of a departure is the Trump presidency from the bipartisan Washington empire consensus — the way the U.S. has been governed throughout its history?
NC: There are some differences and many continuities. On the domestic scene, Trump is, very effectively, managing both of his constituencies.
There’s an authentic constituency of corporate power and private wealth, and they’re being served magnificently by the executive orders. Legislative programs are being pushed through which represent the more savage wing of the traditional Republican policies — catering to private interests, private wealth, and dismissing the rest as irrelevant and easily disposed of.
At the same time, he’s managing to maintain the voting constituency by pretending, very effectively, to be the one person in the world who stands up for them against the hated elites. And this is quite an impressive con job. How long he can carry it off? I don’t know.
On the international scene, it’s actually more interesting. He’s being lambasted for taking positions which, in my view, are pretty reasonable. So, for example, in the case of Korea: The two Koreas, last April 27th came out with a historic declaration, in which they laid out fairly explicit plans for moving towards reconciliation, integration, and denuclearization of the peninsula.
Newscaster: Kim Jong-un made history today becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War began in 1950. He promised a new beginning as he met with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The meeting marks the first summit between the Koreas in more than a decade.
NC: They pretty much pleaded with outsiders – that means the United States – to permit them to proceed, as they put it, on their own accord. And so far, Trump has not interfered with this very much, calling off temporarily at least the military exercises, which has he correctly said are highly provocative. He’s been lambasted for that, but it’s exactly the right position I think. Right now, the president Moon is in North Korea. If they can make positive moves on their own accord as they’ve requested that should be beneficial.
In the case of Russia, it’s more complexes. His policies have, in fact, been two-fold his administration has continued the policies of building up military forces on the Russian border, carrying out military maneuvers, increasing the tensions in extremely dangerous parts of the world.
On the other hand, he has also taken somewhat conciliatory steps towards reducing tensions. And for that again, he’s been lambasted. Though, I think it’s the right thing to do. On other issue matters, he’s torn up important international agreements, the most significant was the Iran nuclear agreement.
DT: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction.
NC: That’s in isolation from the entire world, in this case, and that’s very serious. And the most serious of all, by far overshadowing everything else, is his pulling out of the Paris negotiations.
DT: The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries. Leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production. Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.
NC: Leaves the United States as the only country in the world which is refusing officially to take even small steps towards dealing with the true existential crisis, and that’s combined with the domestic programs of rapidly increasing the use of the most dangerous fossil fuels, cutting back regulations on economy for automobiles, eliminating safety protections for workers, and so on. All of that is just a race to disaster, and that’s by far the most serious of the initiatives to undermine what’s loosely called the “international order.”
Raising questions about NATO, for example, is quite a reasonable thing to do. One might certainly ask why NATO even exists after the collapse of the Soviet Union — not that there weren’t questioned before, there were — but the official story was NATO was in place to defend the West against the Russian hordes, which, putting aside the validity of that claim, was the official stand.
Newsreel: The Russian cynical blockade of Berlin had brought Europe to the brink of War. It was at last clear that only a strong alliance could deter them from further adventures. On 4, April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Canada, and the United States. This union of 12 Nations became known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or more simply: NATO.
NC: After the Soviet Union collapsed, a fair question arose as to why NATO should survive. And what it did was, in fact, expand. Expanded all the way to the Russian border, initially under the first Bush, then extensively under Clinton, then by 2008 even offering to have Ukraine join NATO, that’s an attack on Russian geostrategic interests that no Russian leader could easily accept.
All of this increases threats, tensions quite unnecessarily, at the same time NATO changed its official mission to say what they call “safeguard control” of the international energy system, pipelines, and sea lanes, and though it’s unmentioned to serve as essentially an intervention force for the United States. We have a good indication of how the world saw that international order. The Gallup polling agency takes international polls of international opinion every year — in 2013, for the first time, they asked an interesting question.
They asked the question, “Which country is the greatest threat to World Peace?” The United States was in first place. No other country was even close — far behind in second place was Pakistan that was doubtless inflated by the Indian vote. The countries that are called the greatest threat to World Peace here the United States like Iran were barely even mentioned. Interestingly, Gallop never asked that polling question again, and it was — the answer was not reported in the mainstream press.
JS: You bring up the issue of NATO and, of course, right now in the United States when Vladimir Putin is discussed, there is a lot of resurrection of, kind of, Cold War imagery. There are books being published with backward “Rs” on them, which isn’t even in Cyrillic, it’s not even actually the letter “R,” but there’s this sort of portrayal of Putin as, sort of, the Bolsheviks rising and this idea that Russia is seeking to take over the United States, and Russia is responsible for Donald Trump being president because they “hacked” our election.
What is true and what is hyperbole/ propaganda/ exaggeration about Russia and Putin, specifically, taking into account the U.S. posture toward Ukraine, NATO, but also the issue of electoral interference?
NC: What is true is after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990/’91, there was a period under Yeltsin in which the United States pretty much dominated what was happening in Russia and the region around Russia. NATO was expanded. The Russian economy totally collapsed under the imposed harsh market reforms. There was a radical collapse of the economy, sharp increase in the mortality rate. Russia was really devastated.
When Putin came in––he’s not a nice guy. I would not like to have dinner with him, but you can understand his policies. His policies were to try to restore some role for Russia at least in its own region of the world, which we might recall happened to be the traditional invasion routes through which Russia was attacked virtually destroyed several times in the last century.
So, this is not a small question. And yes, Putin is trying to restore some degree of Russian power in the world, some degree of Russian authority. One extension of that and, in fact, the only one is the Russian position in Syria. All of this encroaches on the global domination of the United States and secondarily, its allies, which is, kind of, taken to be the norm. The norm is, “we rule everything,” and if someone else tries to control their own area that’s disruptive of the international system. Which, from a certain point of view, it is.
If you take a look at Russian power as compared with the United States, it’s derisory. Just one indication: Trump’s increase in defense budget practically reaches the entire Russian military budget. So, the idea of Russia taking over the world is ludicrous. What it means is that they are trying, often in ways that merit condemnation, but nevertheless, trying to restore some degree of Russian influence in the region surrounding Russia plus Syria, their one Mediterranean base.
And to try to establish a place for Russia in the world system, far weaker than the United States, weaker than China. In fact, one of Russia’s International problems is to keep from being overwhelmed by Chinese power. That’s the kind of disruption of the international order that is attributed to Russia.
JS: You raise this issue of Russia in Syria. Of course, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, the list of countries involved actively in the just generically, let’s call it the Syrian War, right now. You do have a debate on the left in the United States about what a just position looks like toward the conflict in Syria. And, of course, you have isolationists, or Libertarians, or anti-imperialists who take the position of, “There should be total hands-off Syria that this is a civil war.”
I think the honest among us would say that of course, Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal. He is a mass murderer, but he is in a conflict with a lot of mass murderers and a lot of war criminals.
What, Noam Chomsky, do you believe is a just position to take on the war in Syria? Is it that people should defend Bashar al-Assad with the idea it’s the least bad option, or this is a matter that should be handled by the Syrians, or is there any international involvement you think makes any sense, or could be justified under both moral principles and legal principles?
NC: Well, the first point to bear in mind, which you already mentioned is Assad is a horrible war criminal. The bulk of the atrocities, which are enormous, are his responsibility. There’s no justifying Assad. On the other hand, he is essentially pretty much in control of Syria now, thanks largely to Russian, partially Iranian, support.
The Russians actually entered Syria extensively after the CIA had provided the rebel forces, which are mostly run by Jihadi elements, provided them with advanced antitank missiles which were stymieing the Syrian Army at which point the Russians came in with air power and overwhelmed the opposition. The current situation is that Assad has pretty much won the war. Like it or not. There was in the early stages a Democratic secular, quite respectable opposition, but they were very quickly overwhelmed by the Jihadi elements, supported from the outside — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and others.
There’s a pending humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, the province where the Jihadis have been — the place to which they’ve been expelled or fled. If there’s a Syrian Russian attack on that it could be a total humanitarian catastrophe. There is some indication that the Russians and the Turks may have been provided a safe area to which maybe some civilians can flee but that looks like a monstrosity developing. If there’s a way of countering that attack, it should be pursued by diplomatic means.
The other crucial question is the status of the Kurdish areas — Rojava. In my opinion, it makes sense for the United States to maintain a presence which would deter an attack on the Kurdish areas. They have the one part of Syria which is succeeded in sustaining a functioning society with many decent elements. And the idea they should be subjected to an attack by their bitter enemies the Turks, or by the murderous Assad regime, I think is anything should be done to try to prevent that.
JS: Let me ask you about that point because you are one of the leading people in the world that is consistently reminding the world that the United States has always adopted a posture of certain Kurds are good Kurds certain Kurds are bad Kurds and the United States has poured money and weapons into the coffers of for instance the Turkish military explicitly to be used for an ongoing attempt at genocide against the Kurds. So, I’m curious how you reconcile that with a position that the United States would, in essence, be the protector of the Kurds in the context of the Syrian War.
NC: The United States, like other great powers, does not pursue humanitarian objectives. It pursues objectives determined by power considerations, and they lead to different positions with regard to the Kurds or others at different times.
So, for example, in the 1970s there was a time when the United States supported Kurds against Saddam Hussein. Shortly after a deal was made in which they sacrificed the Kurds to Saddam Hussein. That led to Henry Kissinger’s famous comment that we shouldn’t confuse foreign policy with missionary activity.
It’s entirely true that especially in the 1990s Clinton was pouring arms into Turkey for the purpose of carrying out massive, murderous, destructive attacks against the Kurdish population of Turkey in the Southeast — enormously destructive. That does not change the fact that now the United States could, with a relatively small presence, deter attacks against the Kurds in Syria, which could destroy the one part of Syria that is actually functioning at a decent fashion. We don’t expect consistency in humanitarian terms from a great power because those are not the guiding principles.
JS: Regarding Afghanistan, were now 17 plus years in Afghanistan in the context of 9/11, shouldn’t we be talking about Afghanistan as A, Obviously a war that the United States should have never started, and secondarily, that the United States has actually been militarily and politically defeated in Afghanistan?
NC: Well my own view as you may recall back at the time was that the use of military force in Afghanistan was inappropriate and illegitimate. There were diplomatic options — they could have been pursued but the United States wanted to use force. I think the perhaps the most accurate description of what the United States did was by Abdul Haq — one of the most respected and honored of the Afghan anti-Taliban activists who in fact was killed in Afghanistan — who strongly opposed the U.S. bombing as most of the Afghan dissidents did, and argued that the United States was bombing just because it wanted to show its muscle and intimidate everyone else and it was undermining the efforts of the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance to solve the problem on their own.
Newscaster: Working their way through the rush hour that morning two men were about to offer the U.S. government the chance to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to expel Al-Qaeda from its terrorist bases, and to capture Osama bin Laden. This plan had been put together by Abdul Haq one of Afghanistan’s most respected leaders and was the culmination of Haq’s lifetime struggle to save his country.
NC: I think his analysis was correct. We’ve now gone through 17 years of failed attempts to impose a U.S. dominated system. There is an Afghan peace movement. It’s not enormous, but it’s significant. It’s been there for several years. We should be doing what we can to support it, to lead them to find a solution internal to Afghanistan, reconciling to the extent possible the conflicting warring factions, there ethnically divided, divided in other terms.
It’s an extraordinary problem. The most we can do is to try to facilitate efforts among the Afghans. I don’t think there’s much that the United States can hope to do beyond that, and the idea of imposing a military solution looks out of the question.
JS: Do you believe it’s accurate to say that the United States has been militarily defeated in Afghanistan?
NC: Well, certainly it has not achieved any of its objectives after a huge expenditure. So, give it whatever name you like. I mean, a great power like the United States never really gets defeated. It may not achieve its maximal objectives.
So, for example, let’s take Vietnam. It’s almost universally described as a U.S. defeat. But if you look back at the original planning this goes back to the early ’50s, for why the United States became involved in Vietnam turns out it wasn’t a complete defeat.
The U.S. did not achieve its maximal objectives of turning Vietnam into something like the Philippines, but it did achieve its major objective of preventing an independent South Vietnam from becoming a model that might be followed by others towards a successful independent development. Perhaps eroding the whole Southeast Asia East Asia order, which is what the planners were concerned with in the early 1950s. And that was in fact stopped. Power like the United States is unlikely to face anything like a real defeat, a failure perhaps.
JS: I want to ask you about this ongoing slaughter in Yemen. Recently, some of the networks started showing images of U.S. missile parts from munitions that killed an entire bus full of school children recently.
Newscaster: This video of shrapnel was filmed in the aftermath of the attack and sent to CNN by a contact and saddle a cameraman working for CNN subsequently filmed these images for us. Munitions experts tell CNN this was a U.S. made Mark MK 82 bomb weighing in at 500 pounds. The first five digits there are the cage number, the commercial and government entity number. This number here denotes Lockheed Martin one of the top U.S. defense contractors.
JS: But there was a dearth of that kind of reporting when Obama was waging what started as a secret deniable bombing campaign. He kicked it off in December of 2009 with a cluster bomb attack that killed three dozen women and children in the village of al-Majala in Yemen. And then regularly was hitting Yemen with drone strikes, but it also is often portrayed as kind of Trump supporting the Saudis, when in reality the U.S. first bombed Yemen in November of 2002. This has been going on for a quite a long time.
What is the U.S. motivation for this mass slaughter in Yemen right now that is primarily being carried out by Saudi war planes that were given to the Saudis by the United States? And, of course, the U.S. is doing all the intelligence assistance, the refueling and the providing of munitions. But what is the U.S. agenda in Yemen as you can see?
NC: The U.S., and you’re quite right in tracing this back to Obama, in fact, even earlier. The United States wants to ensure that Yemen will be incorporated within the system of reactionary Arab states that the U.S. dominates and largely controls that’s Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, which is a quite a significant military power by the standards of the region and quite vicious and brutal.
The Houthi presumably get some degree of Iranian support. To regard that as the Iran as the major threat in the region is ridiculous. The U.S. and secondarily Britain have been arming and developing, supporting the military forces and actions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the consequences that you describe. It’s becoming one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world, the attack on the port, the Hodeida port
Newscaster: Coalition forces are closing in and the fighting around the airport has blocked a key exit out of the city making it harder to transport much-needed food aid from Hodeida, the country’s largest port, to the rest of the country. 8.4 million Yemenis are already at risk of starvation. The war has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
NC: We can trace this back much farther if you like. So back in the early 1960s, there was a there was a war — a proxy war — going on in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. At that point, Egypt was the center of secular Arab nationalism under Nasser and regarded as the main enemy by the United States. Saudi Arabia was the center of radical Islam and very much like the British before us, the United States tended systematically to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That war was raging right through the ’60s. It was a significant war. Israel settled that problem for the United States and Saudi Arabia by smashing secular Arab nationalism in 1967.
And that is the major turning point in U.S. Israeli relations. Israel performed a great service to the United States and its Saudi Arabian ally and the radical Islamism that centered there by eliminating the secular nationalist alternative. And since then U.S. relations with Israel have been kind of unique, even historically but certainly in the modern world. And this is now another continuation of it with different cast of characters slightly.
But Yemen has been regarded as it’s the poorest of Arab states the most miserable in many ways, torn by all sorts of internal conflicts. And the U.S. continues to be committed to trying to ensure that its close allies, the radical Islamist states — Saudi Arabia, UAE — maintain control against any adversary. Egypt at that time, Iran, which is a very minor participant in fact, not like Egypt which had a major army there, very minor participant in this case.
JS: I’m sure that you paid attention to the reporting around national security adviser John Bolton’s speech at the Federalist Society in which he launched this blistering attack on the international criminal court, the ICC.
And, of course, John Bolton always has been against international law and its application to the United States. But Bolton did point something out in that speech that I think is important for people to understand and it’s accurate. Bolton described how in 2002 the U.S. Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, passed legislation known in human rights circles as the Hague Invasion Act.
John Bolton: This law which enjoyed broad bipartisan support authorizes the president to use all means necessary and appropriate, including force, to shield our service members and the armed forces of our allies from ICC prosecution. It also prohibits several forms of cooperation between the United States and the court.
JS: And such radical right-wingers as Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, and many powerful Democratic senators, they actually voted for that legislation. And yet when Bolton does his attack on the ICC. It was portrayed as “Oh, my God, look at how these Trump people are so outside of the norm.”
But the reality, isn’t it true, is this has been the bipartisan power consensus from the very beginning? That no international law should actually apply to the United States and both Republicans and Democrats, including the Democrat’s nominee in 2016, believe the United States would have a right to militarily intervene to prevent a war crimes prosecution of any of its personnel.
NC: You’re absolutely correct. In Europe, as you say, it’s called the Netherlands Invasion Act — authorizes the president to use military force as they put it to rescue any American who might be brought to trial anywhere. So you’re quite correct. It’s unfair to blame this position on Trump and Bolton it goes way back and it goes much farther back than that.
So, for example, let’s go back to 1984, the United States in 1984 was, by the World Court, was ordered to terminate what was called unlawful use of force, which means international terrorism against the state of Nicaragua and to pay very substantial reparations.
Newscaster: Docking the world court on the questioned drew barbs too on the house floor.
House: Mr. Speaker many of us have known for some time the Reagan Administration Central America policies couldn’t stand the light of day but now the administration is admitting as much by refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the international court of justice over the CIA’s mining of Nicaraguan ports, the Administration has demonstrated it knows its policies can’t withstand an inquiry by an impartial objective international body.
NC: The U.S. rejected the authorization of the world court and did so with the strong support of liberal America. So, the New York Times, for example, had an editorial condemning the court as what it called a hostel forum, and therefore, illegitimate.
It was a hostile forum because it condemned the United States. Three years earlier, the New York Times had lauded the World Court as a marvelous forum because it supported the United States in a claim against Iran, but now it was a hostile forum and therefore illegitimate. So, the U.S. had no need to pay any attention to its orders.
The U.S. even went so far as to veto a Security Council resolution basically calling on states to observe international law — didn’t mention the United States but was obvious with the intent was. All of this with the support of liberal opinion across the board. Now at that time, the United States was not alone in defying the World Court.
I think, Libya and Albania had also rejected World Court decisions, but they later accepted them. So, the United States is far as I’m aware, is now in splendid isolation and having rejected decision to the world court, entirely consistent with the 2002 legislation authorizing the executive to use military force to block any act against Americans by the International Criminal Court, if that’s even conceivable.
JS: Well, when victims of the U.S. torture program — the so-called extraordinary rendition program, or people that were taken to Guantanamo or to black sites — filed lawsuits in the United States against Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or other officials for the torture that they endured, or the kidnapping they endured, the justice department intervened in those cases using something called the Westfall Act, which actually has to do with U.S. labor law, and even Attorney General Eric Holder under Obama filed briefs in these lawsuits against Bush-era accused war criminals saying even if they had committed genocide, it was within the official scope of their duties. And therefore, they were removed as defendants in those cases and replaced by the U.S. government which has sovereign immunity, and therefore, they were dismissed.
So, it’s not just on a level of international war or conflict. It’s also on an individual level with U.S. officials, the position of the justice department, including under Obama was that even if Donald Rumsfeld was involved with genocide, it would have been within the official scope of his duties and therefore he cannot be held individually responsible for it.
NC: Yeah, the U.S. did add a reservation to the genocide convention when it signed it, finally, saying we’re immune. Incidentally, on the torture program, there’s more to be said. There’s good studies of this by Alfred McCoy — outstanding historian who did some of the major work, among other things, on the history of torture —
JS: He’s a great friend of this show, and has been on several times. He also was my professor when I was briefly an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin.
NC: OK, so I don’t have to laud him to you. Done excellent work.
But, on torture, he pointed out when the United States signed the international torture convention, I think it was 1984 or so, the Senate rewrote the convention to exclude the modes of torture carried out by the CIA, and that was then instituted into law under Clinton. So you could argue that much of the torture carried out under the Bush Administration was actually not in violation of U.S. law.
As McCoy also points out, the significant difference between the Guantanamo/ Bagram/ Abu Ghraib torture and earlier periods, was in earlier periods, the U.S. supervised the torture and trained the torturers in Latin America, Southeast Asia, but for this time, the U.S. personnel were actually involved, directly, in the torture instead of supervising it, and training the torturers. So that’s a slight change but from a moral point of view, not a very significant one.
JS: I do want to make sure to get your sense of what’s happening right now regarding the United States and Venezuela. Of course, you had Nicolas Maduro supposedly surviving a drone strike. Also, these generals, mutinous generals it appears meeting with the Trump Administration to plot a coup, coordinate? It’s unclear exactly what’s happening, but it does seem as though the United States is trying to, once again, foment either a coup or a removal of Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor.
NC: My sense is the United States would support a coup, but not that it’s really trying to instigate it. After all, in the year 2002, there was a military coup in Venezuela, which briefly overthrew the government eliminated Parliament, Supreme Court, it was reversed by a popular uprising. But during the time of the coup, the United States openly and quite publicly supported the military coup as did the liberal press.
There was a time back in the 1960s, 1970s when the U.S. was in a position to implement, and strongly support military coups right throughout the continent. This traces back to the decision by John F Kennedy in 1962 to change the mission of the Latin American military from what was called “hemispheric defense” — a holdover from World War II anachronistic — from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security.” And in the Latin American context, “internal security” means war by the military and paramilitaries against the civilian population.
Now in 1962, the U.S. was in a position to change, to shift, the mission of the Latin American military and, in fact, essentially to prepare what became the first major military coup, 1964 in Brazil, then others, one country after another — Chile, Uruguay, finally Argentina, the worst of them — strongly supported by Kissinger and Reagan then onto Central America. But the U.S. just doesn’t have that power anymore.
One thing that’s happened in recent years is that Latin America has, to a certain extent, extricated itself from imperial, meaning recently U.S. control. This shows in many ways, like largely expelling the IMF, which for Latin America is a branch of the Treasury Department, and eliminating the formal U.S. military bases.
So, the U.S. is doubtless involved and it will continue to support the traditional policies, but not with the degree of power it once had. In the case of Venezuela, if there were to be a military coup, I don’t doubt that the U.S. would support it may be the with some clicking of tongues about how it’s not a nice thing but short of that I think the U.S. Is likely to continue with subversion and sabotage and support for the right-wing elements.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out Venezuela is a major disaster at this point. Partly for external reasons, but considerably for internal reasons.
Noam Chomsky Talks About the Impact of Social Media Companies and Explains Why a Life of Resisting and Fighting Is Worth It
JS: This year’s 30 years since you and the great late Ed Herman published “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” and I wanted to get your thoughts on the role huge social media companies play in our society, given they are replacing a lot of news organizations, or the way that people — changing the way people consume information Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There’s a lot of talk about this. There’s hearings on Capitol Hill. There’s a lot of pleading with the billionaires to kick certain people off of social media, remove their accounts.
What about the way these entities — the Facebooks, Googles, Twitters of the world —have changed us as people, and our society, and the way we process, disseminate, absorb information?
NC: Well your words process, disseminate, and absorb are correct. But not produce. The source of information remains the major media, the correspondence on the ground — who often do excellent and courageous and very valuable work.
Facebook and the rest filter information they get from those sources and present it in ways which much of the public finds it easier to digest. I don’t think that’s a healthy development, but it is happening. And means essentially, dividing much of the population of much discussion of this into cocoons, into bubbles, into which they receive the information conducive to their own interests and commitments.
If you read a major newspaper, say the New York Times, you get a certain range of opinion. It’s narrow. It’s basically centrist to far right. But at least it’s a range of opinion. Those who are more addicted to social media tend to turn directly to what supports their own views and not to hear other things. That’s not a good thing.
Google, Facebook, and the rest, those are commercial institutions. Their constituency is basically advertisers. They would like to establish the kinds of controls over their consumers that will be beneficial to their business model, that enable them to get advertising. That has very serious distorting effects.
And we know they provide massive information to the corporate system, which they use in their own efforts to try to shape and control behavior and opinion. All of this is a dangerous development. The power of these private corporations to direct people, in particular, directions and so on, is a serious problem which requires considerable thought and attention.
JS: In all of the decades of debating these issues, and campaigning for human rights, and against U.S. wars: Have things changed? And is it worth it to spend a lifetime doing what you’ve done? For young people that are listening.
NC: I think if we look over the years, we can see that there have been considerable achievements in changing public attitudes with regard to aggression, human rights, civil rights, and so on. I don’t take credit for that — plenty of people are involved, plenty of activists, many of them young. but the changes are very significant.
Let’s go back to the 1960s. In the 1960s the Kennedy escalated the war in 1961 and ’62. Now that’s when Kennedy authorized the U.S. Air Force to begin directly bombing rural South Vietnam, authorized Napalm, chemical warfare to destroy crops and livestock, organized mass programs to drive much of the peasantry into what amounted to concentration camps, strategic hamlets, huge escalation. What was the public reaction?
At the time, if I wanted to give a talk about it, I’d talk in somebody’s living room, or something like that. That was no protest. In fact, for years, it was difficult, or even impossible, to have public meetings. In Boston, which is a liberal city, public meetings were violently broken up with the support of the press, churches were attacked, and so on.
It wasn’t until about 1967 a large-scale opposition to the war developed, and by that time South Vietnam had been practically destroyed, and the war had expanded the rest of Indochina. Well, finally there was a public reaction.
In the ’80s, the Reagan Administration came in and attempted to duplicate what Kennedy had done in the early ’60s. Almost step by step. They intended to essentially invade Central America, white paper, blaming the international communists, huge propaganda campaign, and so on. It was almost instantly aborted by popular opposition.
There was such massive popular opposition from popular groups, from the churches, and others, that they had to back off. What happened was awful enough, but it wasn’t Vietnam. They had to turn to bringing in other states like Taiwan, Israel, the Argentine neo-Nazis to try to carry out the atrocities. U.S. couldn’t do it directly. That’s very significant.
Let’s go on to 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The worst crime of this century. That’s the first war in the history of imperialism in which the war was massively protested before it was officially launched. That’s never happened before.
Now, it’s commonly said the opposition failed, but I don’t agree.
That restricted the kinds of military actions that the U.S. was able to carry out. Again horrible enough, but nothing like Vietnam. Well, all of these are indications of — and there are many others — of shifts of popular attitudes towards aggression, intervention, human rights violations, and so on, which make a difference. They haven’t gone far enough, but there’s a considerable improvement.
JS: Well, Noam Chomsky. Thank you very much for being so generous with your time. We really appreciate you being with us on Intercepted.
NC: Good. Glad to be with you.
JS: Noam Chomsky is one of the leading dissidents in the United States. He is currently a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
(Header image: map showing the United States is the biggest threat to world peace according to people around the world.)