We e-mailed him & he wrote us back!
Interview BY IAN MURPHY
The BEAST: You often refer to Israel as being the United States’ “cop on the beat” in the Middle East. Given the immense influence of the Israeli lobby AIPAC in our congress, who’s really calling the shots?
Noam Chomsky: The phrase is not mine. It was used by Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, Melvyn Laird, referring to US policy in the Middle East. Similar descriptions were given at the same time by US intelligence, by Senator Henry Jackson (the Senate’s leading specialist on the Middle East and energy), and others. And often at other times. AIPAC undoubtedly has a lot of influence on Congress, and that often shows up in legislation and in resolutions that everyone knows to be meaningless because they won’t be enacted. And doubtless it has some influence on policy formation, though it is important to bear in mind that AIPAC and similar organizations are only a part of the “lobby,” understood to refer to those who actively engage in influencing discussion and policy in support of Israeli expansionism and rejectionism. Another component—more significant in my opinion—is the general intellectual community, which has had a real love affair with Israel after its 1967 victories, for reasons that had more to do with the US than with Israel I think. I wrote about it at the time, and Norman Finkelstein has recently done so more extensively. Their influence is of course enormous in shaping attitudes and opinions, filtering information and presenting their version of what is happening, etc. In media, journals, teaching, in fact throughout the doctrinal system.
To determine how much influence the lobby has is a rather subtle matter. We are asking, in effect, about the relative weight of two factors that generally coincide: perceived strategic/economic interests of closely-linked state and private concentrations of power, and the lobby (whether construed narrowly or, as I think makes more sense, much more broadly). As a matter of simple logic, we have to look at cases where these factors diverge. I’ve run through the record, and I think what we find is that that where they diverge, if the issue is of much importance to US power concentrations, they prevail—in fact, the lobby quickly disappears, knowing better than to confront real power. Merely to take one recent illustration, in 2005, Israel once again tried to sell advanced military hardware to China, a matter of extreme importance to a country that is a kind of caricature of the US, with the economy highly reliant on high-tech production, military related, and badly needing markets. The US, however, does not want them to do it, and really put on the screws, not only giving them orders (which they have to follow) but purposely humiliating them. I’ve described the details in print; widely reported in Israel, but barely mentioned here. The lobby, as usual in such cases, was not to be seen or heard. There are plenty of other examples. In contrast, if the issue is not of much importance to US power concentrations, the lobby is influential. For example, the US has no particular interest in Israel’s making life completely impossible for Palestinians, so the lobby helps to influence US support for Israeli violence, terror, and gross violations of international law.
It seems to me, frankly, rather distasteful to spend time debating the rather academic question of the relative weight of factors in policy formation that mostly coincide. It would be different if there were implications for action. In fact there are. Thus if AIPAC is as powerful as claimed, and is harming the interests of major power centers, then the way to proceed is clear. We should be putting on ties and jackets, going to the corporate headquarters of Lockheed-Martin, Intel, Buffett, etc., and patiently explaining to them that their interests are being harmed by a lobby they can put out of business in five minutes with their political clout and economic power. I’d be delighted to believe it. It would save an enormous amount of time and effort writing, speaking, and other very demanding activities. However, no one seems to want to pursue the tactics that their claims dictate.
Why do you hate America?
I realize that the question is not intended seriously. However, there is a serious point lurking behind it. A crucial totalitarian principle is that the state is identified with the people, the culture, the society. For those who adopt that principle, criticism of the state is hatred of the country. In the old Soviet Union, for example, dissidents were condemned as “anti-Soviet” or “haters of Russia,” because they condemned policies of the Holy State. We, however, rightly regarded them as the people most dedicated to the welfare of the Russian people. The concept has biblical origins. King Ahab, the epitome of evil in the Bible, condemned the Prophet Elijah as a hater of Israel because he denounced the crimes of the evil king, who, like all totalitarians, identified state power—himself—with the society and people. Where there is a democratic culture, such a notion would be ridiculed. In Italy, for example, if someone were to publish a book called “the Anti-Italians,” denouncing people who dare to criticize government policy, people would collapse with ridicule. It is rather striking that in the US, such a book (of course full of outlandish lies) is reviewed seriously and treated with respect. The US is alone, to my knowledge, outside of totalitarian states, in that concepts like “hate America” or “anti-American” are adopted in the style of King Ahab and his totalitarian successors. That should trouble us.
You seem to hold the human intellect in high regard, and have remarked in the past of the amazing capacity “normal people” demonstrate simply by communicating with the plainest of language. That said: have you ever been to a Wal-Mart?
Sure. I’ve taken my grandchildren there to buy something they wanted. It was the nearest place, also the cheapest.
The Iraq War is a disaster, yet there’s this “we broke it- we should fix it” attitude even within liberal circles on the topic of immediate withdrawal. Given the latest Lancet study, which pegs the Iraqi body count at approximately 650,000, what are your thoughts on the carnage that will accompany continued U.S. military involvement versus the furthering of sectarian violence, and possible ethnic cleansing that may result from immediate withdrawal?
I can tell you my opinion, which is as uninformed as that of everyone else, including specialists on Iraq and the White House. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the opinion of Iraqis. That’s known from regular US-run polls. About 2/3 of Baghdadis want US troops out at once, and about 70% of all Iraqis (including Kurds) want a firm timetable for withdrawal, most within a year or less. And a large majority feel that US forces contribute to violence. Aggressors have no rights, only responsibilities. One of them is to pay attention to the will of the victims.
Have you ever been chased, man-handled, karate-chopped, administered a “purple nurple,” threatened, offered hush money, or otherwise hassled by shadowy government agents?
Manhandled, threatened, of course. That’s almost automatic when one is involved in civil disobedience, or in my case, organization and participation in resistance. But it’s of little significance.
Do you think bad folk music, drugs and poor hygiene will ever topple the Military Industrial Complex?
I assume that too is not intended seriously, but in this case I don’t discern a serious issue lying behind the query.
Noam Chomsky is the bomb.