Noam Chomsky on US Hypocrisy

[Despite rapidly approaching his ninety-third birthday, Noam Chomsky shows few signs of slowing down. The world-famous public intellectual has published two books in 2021— Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance (with Marv Waterstone) and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (with C. J. Polychroniou)—and his willingness to sit down for interviews on wide-ranging topics remains unflagging.

Chomsky spoke with Poyâ Pâkzâd and Benjamin Magnusson from the Danish magazine Eftertryk in October 2021. Excerpts:]

On Afghanistan
PP : The war in Afghanistan has been dubbed “the good war,” usually in contrast to the war in Iraq. I know you have an alternative view of what the war in Afghanistan was.

NC : Let’s go back twenty years [to] 9/11. It’s important to recognise first that the United States didn’t know who was responsible for 9/11. In fact, eight months later, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, had his first major press conference. He was asked, “Who was responsible for 9/11?” This is now after the most intensive multinational investigation, probably, in human history. He said, “We presume that the perpetrators were al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden, but we haven’t been able to establish it.” That’s eight months after the invasion.

What was the motivation for the invasion itself? I think the best answer to this was given by the leading figure in the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance, Abdul Haq, a highly respected Afghan leader [who was] leading the resistance to the Taliban from within. He had an interview in October 2001, right after the bombing started, with a leading Central Asia scholar, Anatol Lieven, who asked him, “What do you think about the invasion?”

[Abdul Haq] said, “The invasion will kill many Afghans, [and] it will undermine our efforts to overthrow the Taliban-regime from within.” He laid out those efforts and thought they were promising. This [the invasion] will undermine them. “But the Americans don’t care about the Afghans, and they don’t care about overthrowing the Taliban. What they want to do is show their muscle and intimidate everyone in the world.”

That was pretty much repeated, in different words, by the American secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who was one of the main agents of the invasion. The Taliban very quickly offered to surrender. They would just go back to their villages and be left alone, and the United States could take over. Of course, [the United States] could then have Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in their hands.

Rumsfeld’s response to this offer was “We do not negotiate surrenders.” It was then seconded by the president, George Bush, who said the same thing: “We do not negotiate surrenders, we just use force.” He was asked questions about al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden. He said, “I don’t know anything about them. We don’t really care about them. We have a bigger game in mind.”

The “bigger game in mind” was, of course, outlined publicly. It was not a secret. They wanted to go after Iraq—that’s the real prize. Afghanistan is nothing. [They wanted to] go after Iraq, the major prize, and then use that as a base for going on to other countries in the region. That was the plan.

In fact, if the United States had wanted to capture [Osama] bin Laden—who was then a suspect, remember, not guilty—it wouldn’t have been very difficult. [They] could have done it with a small police action, which probably would have been supported by the Taliban. They would have been happy to get rid of him. He was a nuisance for them. [The Taliban] couldn’t just throw him out because of tribal rules—you don’t throw out somebody who’s taken refuge. That’s important for the Pashtun conception of proper behaviour. But they wouldn’t have offered any opposition if the United States wanted to send in a police action.

[But] that’s no good. We have to show our muscle and intimidate everyone.

What happened after that is, the Taliban went back to their villages. The United States came in, its allies came in. There are very good reporters who have been following this on the ground from the beginning. The best is Anand Gopal. [He] has a recent article about it in the New Yorker repeating it. Others have reported the same thing. A recent report in the Washington Post is saying basically the same thing, from another one of the few reporters who was actually in the rural areas—that’s where Afghanistan is.

They all say the same thing: at the beginning, the Afghan rural population was relieved that the fighting was over. They could have some peace. And they had this idea—they didn’t know much of the United States—that many people in the world have: “Here’s this superrich country, which can do all kinds of good things for us.” They hoped that the United States would somehow come in and deal with their problems with poverty and so on.

That didn’t last very long. As soon as the US forces came in, they started attacking Afghans. A bomb could be aiming at somebody they thought was Taliban, but it could hit a wedding party and kill forty people. So now [the Taliban] could recruit the relatives.

What about the withdrawal? This goes back to President Donald Trump. In February 2020, Trump made a deal with the Taliban. He didn’t even bother to inform the Afghan government, [because] they’re nothing. Afghan people, of course, don’t count at all. [Trump] made a deal with the Taliban that American troops would withdraw in May 2021—the worst possible time. The onset of the fighting season. No opportunity to accommodate, to make local arrangements. “We will pull out, and you can do anything you like,” he said. He imposed no conditions. He just had one condition: “Don’t fire at American soldiers, which wouldn’t look good for me. But anything else is your business.”

Joe Biden slightly improved on Trump’s conditions: he delayed it a couple of months, so there was a little more time, [and he] added some conditions on the Taliban. [Joe Biden] carried out an improved version of what they were hailing as a marvelous historic achievement by the genius Trump.

Now comes the next stage. Now, there’s a split in the international community about how to deal with the situation. One approach was advocated by the China-based regional powers—it’s basically the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO]—China, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, India, and Pakistan. Their approach is to accommodate somehow the Taliban regime. It’s a miserable situation in Afghanistan. A mass of people is starving, [and] the economy [has] collapsed, so their approach is, “Let’s give them some aid and support for the population, engage with them, and make an effort to make their government more inclusive, less repressive, and shift the economy from opium production to the export of minerals and their other resources.” That’s one approach.

That’s one of the reasons China is an enemy: they don’t just follow orders. It’s not tolerable.

There’s another approach, which is led by the United States and includes India, a US ally. In the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India opposed this, preferring the US approach, which is to deprive Afghans of any aid and assistance. To hold their resources—[their] treasury resources happen to be in US banks—and pressure the IMF and the World Bank not to offer them assistance. Just punish the Afghans as much as possible. This doesn’t punish the leadership—sanctions hurt the population. They usually make the leader stronger, as the population has to huddle under the leader’s umbrella just to survive.

The United States is the only country that can impose sanctions. Others go along sometimes, but if they try to do it on their own, nobody would pay the slightest attention. When the United States imposes sanctions, everyone has to obey—even if you oppose them.

So, if the United States imposes sanctions, like on Afghanistan, like it or not, the rest of the world has to obey. Maybe not China. They won’t. That’s one of the reasons China is an enemy: they don’t just follow orders. It’s not tolerable.

On China
PP : China is portrayed as a threat to the West—namely Europe and the United States—and recently there has been this new alliance, which seems to be a weapons-sale alliance. And we have a big reaction from Emmanuel Macron in France, because he is losing market share. What do you make of it?

NC : First of all, why is China a threat? A good recent statement about this [was made] by the distinguished international diplomat, former prime minister of Australia Paul Keating. He said, “What’s the China threat? Well, here’s a country that raised 20 percent of the world’s population from poverty moving on to become a functioning state.” It’s moving forward in the economy, [but] it’s independent of the United States—that’s the China threat. The China threat, he said, is China’s existence. That can’t be tolerated.

Let’s go back to the mafia. The Godfather does not accept centers of power that don’t follow the rules, so China’s a threat. It’s not a military threat. The military threat is against China. China is ringed with US bases with nuclear armed missiles, right offshore, aimed at China. It’s China that’s under threat, not the United States. The United States is under threat from a potential rival that doesn’t follow orders. That’s the threat.

Let’s take a look at AUKUS. What’s portrayed in the press and the governments is [that] it’s a problem of freedom of navigation. [But] there is no problem of freedom of navigation. Actually, one of Australia’s leading strategic analysts just wrote an important article about this. He said, “[There’s] no threat to navigation.” And there is none. There’s none that’s been raised. The problem is what are called the “exclusive economic zones.” The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 established what are called “exclusive economic zones.” Two hundred miles offshore, there has to be complete freedom of navigation. But there should be no “threat or use of force.”

Now, that’s interpreted by China and India to mean no military intelligence operations. The United States disagrees. [They] say that the United States has the right to carry out military and intelligence operations in the exclusive zone, which they recently did, just a couple of weeks ago, in the Indian zone. India protested vigorously, but [they], of course, can’t do anything about it.

Well, China also protests, and they can do something about it. That’s the contention: Can there be US military intelligence operations in China’s exclusive economic zone? The wording again is “no threat or use of force.”

China is not a military threat. The military threat is against China. China is ringed with US bases with nuclear armed missiles, right offshore, aimed at China. It’s China that’s under threat. Not the United States.

So the United States escalates tensions off the China coast. China sends warplanes into Taiwan’s protected area. Those are the “tit for tat” actions. They expand. They can lead to war, [and] a war between China and United States means we’re finished. It’s over. Not just them—everybody. You can’t have a war between nuclear powers. China doesn’t have much of a nuclear system—nothing like the United States—but enough to attack the continental of the United States from the mainland [of China].

On Climate Change
BM : To change subjects: What do you see as the greatest obstacle in solving the climate crisis?

NC : There are two major obstacles. One is, of course, the fossil fuel companies. Second is the governments of the world, including Europe and the United States. We have just seen that very dramatically over the summer. On August 9, 2021, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] issued its last analysis of the climate situation. It was a very dire warning—much more than before.

The message basically was, “We have two choices.” We can either start right now cutting back on fossil fuel use, [and] do it systematically every year, until we phase them out by mid-century. That’s one choice. The other choice is cataclysm. The end of organized human life on earth. Not immediately—we’ll just reach irreversible tipping points, and it goes on to disaster. Those are the options.

How did the great powers react? The day after the IPCC report, Joe Biden issued an appeal to the OPEC cartel [Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] to increase production. Europe chimed in by calling on all producers, including Russia, to increase production. Increase production. This is a response to the IPPC warning that we have to start reducing right now.

Back to Home Page

Vol. 54, No. 24, Dec 12 - 18, 2021