Interview with Professor Noam Chomsky, renowned American author and political analyst
Broadcast By Press TV – February 24, 2011
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also censured the Libyan government's severe suppression of Libyans and called for an end to the “bloodshed” in the North African country.
To learn more on the latest developments in the Arab world, Press TV has conducted an interview with renowned academician Professor Noam Chomsky who says the US and its allies have vested interests in stable dictatorships in energy rich countries rather than real democracies.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Press TV: Professor Chomsky, I would like to ask your reaction to today's statements not only by Obama's administration officials but also by [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon as well considering the loss of life in Libya has been so high. Do you believe that they have done enough and said enough to meet the needs of the Libyan people?
Chomsky: I think that more can be done, what is happening is already pretty awful and that could lead to a really major bloodbath. Information is pretty sparse but at least the eastern province appears to be substantially under control by the popular uprising. Tripoli looks very dangerous. I think efforts could be made to provide assistance and protection to the parts of the population that have succeeded in liberating parts of Libya. However, nobody wants a western intervention. That would probably be not only wrong but also disastrous. But actions could be taken through the UN presumably.
Press TV: When the Egyptian revolution occurred, you along with several other American academics had actually written an open letter to President Obama urging him essentially to heed the will of the people. Is there any such movement currently underway within the US about Libya?
Chomsky: There have been pretty strong statements actually coming from pretty much the same sources, like the Campaign for Peace and Democracy in New York, which I think may have been the one that initiated the Egyptian statement, have also come out with the strong statement on this. Egypt is somewhat different. Remember in the case of Egypt, the US was in fact continuing to back the Mubarak dictatorship so the call was to drop that stand and provide at least verbal support for the popular uprising. Libya is a different story.
Press TV: Libya is important especially when it comes to the factor of oil and oil is obviously extremely important to the US and to the EU as well, which gets a lot of its oil from Libya. How will oil play out in this, considering the price of oil has been steadily increasing and there are a lot of fears about if this unrest continues, what will happen in that arena?
Chomsky: There is a reason why there is so much concern about the democracy uprising in the Arab world than in, say, the sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the major energy resources of the world are. There is quite a good reason why the US and its allies will pull out the stops to prevent any really functioning democracy from developing in the Arab world. To see why, that is enough to look at the studies of the Arab public opinion, which are well-known, they come from highly reputable sources, they are not published but they are certainly known to the decision makers and so on. So for example, the US will call for democracy in Iran just as it called for democracy in Eastern Europe states that are taken to be enemies but they know that the public doesn't agree with that, the Arab public. For the Arab public, the major threat by overwhelming majority is the US and Israel and Iran is considered a threat only a by small minority. Actually the figures are even sharper in Egypt than in other countries.
Press TV: When you mention about the fact that democracy in the region and the US's issues with that, certainly somebody within the administration, certainly somebody within all these officials of the EU as well, must understand that the people of the Arab world do understand what is going on and that will at some point in time backfire?
Chomsky: The leaders of the EU and of the US happen to agree with the ruling clerics in Iran that democracy is dangerous and intolerable. They know what the public thinks, they have always known so you can go back to, say, 50 years ago to the Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration. Eisenhower was concerned about what he called the campaign of hatred against us in the Arab world not among the governments that were mostly compiled but with the people and there was an analysis at the same time by the National Security administration, the highest planning body, which said yes, there is a campaign of hatred and the reason is that there is a perception that the US support dictatorships and blocks democracy and development. But the basic point in connection with this whole quite spectacular and remarkable uprising, the basic point was stated simply by a high Jordanian official who is now chief of the Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. He said the principle is that as long as people are quiet everything is fine, if the stop being quite, something has to be done to reassert control; but it they are quite, we do what we like. That is the basic principle of governance.
Press TV: There is a lot of talk about what actually sparked this movement of revolutions within the Middle East and North Africa. A lot of people are asking why right now, because all these populace have been suffering under these dictators for many years?
Chomsky: First of all, it is not just now. Take Egypt for example. There have been significant labor struggles going on for years. The immediate sparks for the January 25th movement was the April 6th group of young media-savvy activists but they picked their name from a major strike action in 2008 which was supposed to be on April 6th but was crushed by the government and it is only one of the series of labor struggles that have been going on for years and in fact the January 25th movement really got a major shot in the arm when the rising Egyptian labor movement joined in a few days later. So there is a background. It is not just Egypt, the same was in other places; things have been simmering for a long time. It takes a spark that lights a fire that carries it forward.
Press TV: Others, like Henry Kissinger, have said the US essentially would need to choose between democracy and stability in the region. When the Egyptian revolution had begun, Israel had essentially shown its displeasure at the fact that there would be democracy at its door step in the Persian Gulf states and in North Africa as well. Why is so hard for the US to accept that is possible that there may be both democracy and stability together in the region?
Chomsky: You have to remember that stability is a cold code word. Stability doesn't mean stability; it means obedience to US domination. So let's go back to Kissinger again. He was the primary agent in, among other things, undermining the democratic regime in Chile. He later commented that “The US had to destabilize Chile in order to establish stability.” If you understand the terminology, that is not a contradiction. It means the US had to undermine, through Kissinger initiative, the parliamentary government in order to institute an obedient dictatorship and that is what he manes by stability. He doesn't mean that things are calm and straightforward, he means they are under control. That of course it is inconsistent with democracy for the reasons I mentioned before. Just look at the studies of the public opinion.
Press TV: Many times, especially even during the Egyptian revolution, many US officials had consistently said that whatever happens in that country was up to the people of that country. We know of course, and that was very obvious, that the US administration officials were very involved in what was going on behind the scenes in that country. In Libya there has been less of an obvious connection between the administration and Gaddafi. Do you believe that there are backdoor channels there that are being used, or is the US really not getting involved is what is happening in Libya right now?
Chomsky: I am sure the US is involved to the extent that it can be but remember that it doesn't support the Gaddafi regime. Right through the 1980s for example, the Ronald Reagan administration took Libya more or less as a punching bag; all the bombings and provocations, almost never without any pretext. They don't like the Gaddafi regime. It is not what's called " stable" or "obedient." So whatever little they are doing, I presume, is to support the uprising. I don't think they have the great many assets in Libya. I should say, however, that reports from ground in Libya that we get is that people are under attack by Apache and Chinook helicopters and jet fighters that come from the US.
Press TV: Going back to Egypt, considering that it was one of the larger revolutions that occurred in recent times. In Egypt, till now, a lot of people have been celebrating the stepping down of Mubarak essentially. However, there was a lot left to be done considering Omar Suleiman is technically still part-ruler, I guess one can call him, and this is the man who was known as Dr. Torture in the Arab world: he supported the Rendition programs; there are people in Guantanamo who say that he personally tortured them himself. Pushing forward such people by the US, though they are quiet on this front, they haven't yet spoken against him, do they not realize that , given the fact the Obama said he wanted to improve the US image, certainly this is not helping him toward that cause?
Chomsky: At first they did speak out in support of Omar Suleiman, but this was very quiet as you say. In fact his status is not clear; he seems to have pretty much disappeared. However, Obama also spoke in support of Mubarak on his famous trip to Cairo. In 2009, in a press conference on the way, he was asked whether he would say anything in Cairo about the authoritarian, autocrat character of Mubarak regime, he said: No, Mubarak is a good man, he is doing good things, he is maintaining stability and I am not going to criticized him. Actually, Tony Blaire, right though the current uprising, came out with a very strong statement of support for Mubarak and how wonderful he was. Of course they are realizing, just as Eisenhower realized 50 years ago that there is a campaign of hatred and you don't win people by supporting dictators but as Kissinger rightly pointed out the dominant goal is what they call stability and maintaining control.
Press TV: The US and EU have been releasing human rights reports for many years and of course Libya has been part of those reports for many years, as was Egypt and they [the US and EU] very well know the issues surrounding these regimes and dictatorships. Yet they never acted or spoken out and now that this is occurring, something that they obviously expected to occur at some pint of time in history. Why has been their response has been so disorganized in a sense, considering [the US] administration was saying one thing one day and another thing the other day?
Chomsky: I don't see it as particularly disorganized, remember that this is something that takes place very often and very often it becomes impossible to support your favorite dictator. There is a whole series of such cases all over the world: in the Philippines, Haiti, South Korea, Indonesia…. And there is a standard playbook: Support them as long as possible. When it is no longer feasible, maybe it is the army's turn to turn against them or send them out to pasture, forget about them, issue a ringing declaration about how we are on the side of the people and how we have always loved democracy and then try to restore as much of the traditional regime as possible. But policies are pretty straightforward not only on the side of the US but also the EU. Take Tunisia for example and western Africa all together. That is France's primary domain.
Actually there are a series of uprisings, as I mentioned, there has been plenty going on for many years and it has been repressed but the current series actually started in Western Sahara in November, that territory conquered very brutally by Morocco 30 years ago and ruled very harshly. Theoretically, it is under the UN. The UN is committed to carry forward de-colonization; it was a Spanish colony and in November there was another significant protest and Moroccan troops came in and smashed it all. It was bad enough that the UN did consider at least carrying out an inquiry but that was crushed by France. France wants to protect its Moroccan ally and does not want an inquiry into its crimes. The United States happens to be in those powerful states but that is the way states behave. Actually the same in Iran; that is the way state behaves.
Press TV : Right, so what is your opinion then, professor, on the fact that the US director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, was criticized that the US intelligence services missed the warning signs of turmoil in Egypt? Was that, do you think, just a public facade in a sense, that behind the scenes the administration knew what was going on or was that some in genuine?
Chomsky : I think it was genuine. They had some sense of what was going on surely but they obviously didn't expect any uprising of this nature and they certainly knew about the labor protests, the oppression and so on. In the case of Tunisia, which is kind of an interesting case, Tunisia was held as (the) very beacon of democracy and progress in the region. Some of the articles that appear kind of embarrassing to read now. But they knew. In fact one of the interesting WikiLeaks disclosures was series of cables by the American ambassador in Tunisia who said, very straight out, look this is a police state, there is no freedom of speech or association, the public is extremely angry at the corruption of the ruling family. So they knew but the … doctrine prevailed. It was quiet so everything was fine.
Press TV : Let me go back to the Egypt, if I may, just for a moment. Considering as I mentioned that revolution has not yet, in a sense, succeeded to fulfill the complete demands of the people who brought it about, do you believe that if that revolution were to succeeded in a way if the people have envisioned it, how much of an impact, do you believe, that would have on not only North Africa but obviously the Middle East region?
Chomsky: Well, Egypt is an important country. I mean, there is a long interesting history but if we have time to go it, in the early 19th century, Egypt was poised for an industrial revolution. It might have actually carried it out. It was a situation not very much unlike the US at the same time but the US had been liberated to do what it wanted. Egypt was under control of primarily England which would not permit it and the story continues up to the present.
I think that the United States and its European allies will do everything they can to prevent full flourishing democracy in Egypt for exactly the reason I mentioned. In Egypt even more than the rest of the Arab world, the United States is considered the main enemy. They do not go along with the US policy on Iran; in fact they are strongly opposed to it in most other issues. Furthermore, this is one tradition during the period of secular nationalism in Egypt which was very much opposed by the Unites States and Britain, as you know, there was a threat that Egypt might spearhead an effort to use the energy recourses of the region for the benefit of its own population not for Western investors, Western powers and our ruling elite. That is a real threat. I mean that is why Britain and the United States have traditionally supported the radical Islamic fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia primarily, in opposition to secular nationalism. That provides them with, I think, stability.
Press TV : Omar Suleiman said during the unrest, uprising and the revolution in Egypt, that essentially the Arab world and its people were not yet ready for democracy. Do you agree with that sentiment or is he just essentially, just as you said, reflecting US concerns in the region?
Chomsky : Well, I think a more accurate statement would be that elite elements are in the West, in Egypt, the old regime, and Iran and elsewhere are not ready for democracy. People are ready for democracy everywhere. That is the problem elite face.
Press TV : I would like to ask you a yes or no question, professor. Do you believe that there is a chance of success within the current uprisings in the Middle East and North African regions?
Chomsky : You know, success is not a yes or no affair. There can be partial successes and partial failures. But partial failure can leave a legacy which is a basis for the next success. I think that there will be a major effect. These are really spectacular uprisings but how far they would go in shaking the traditional world of domination; we cannot really say.