Monday, December 22, 2008

My deepest sympathies to the Chomsky family

Carol Chomsky has passed away.

Alexander Cockburn's introduction to Chomsky's book Chronicles of Dissent (1992):
The times I've stayed the night at Noam and Carol Chomsky's house in Lexington I've watched him at even-tide working his way through a capacious box of the day's intake of tripe--newspapers, weeklies, monthlies, learned journals, flimsy mimeo-ed mailers--while Carol Chomsky does the same thing on the other side of the room.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Authors@Google(part2): Noam Chomsky

Authors@Google: Noam Chomsky

(continued)43:50 And then you can ask a further question. What’s the US doing in Guantanamo? I mean actually…that the reason they chose Guantanamo is because they can pretend that the US just doesn’t have jurisdiction because it’s in Cuba. OK, so the courts don’t have jurisdiction and there’s big debates about that. But the debates are ridiculous of course.

What is the US doing in Guantanamo in the first place? Well, it turns out, if you look back, that there’s a treaty between the US and Cuba, which Cuba signed at gun point. It was under military occupation. And the treaty, hence, has absolutely no validity by any standard that you can think of. And the treaty allowed the United States to use Guantanamo-it’s a big port-as a calling station for the Navy. It didn’t say anything about their keeping prisoners there. So we’re violating the illegal treaty that we forced on Cuba. In fact, why does the United States― it leads a further question―why does the US hold onto Guantanamo altogether?

Well, for one thing, it is the major port, you’d need a naval base for controlling the Caribbean and South America. But there’s another reason: it prevents Cuban development. That means that the eastern end of the island is blocked from development. So if you want to strangle and destroy Cuba, which we’ve wanted to do since 1959 for reasons that are explained in the internal record. Because, if you go back to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, because of its “successful defiance” of US principles going back to the Monroe Doctrine. No Russians.

The Monroe Doctrine stated that we are going to run the hemisphere, that was the goal of the founding fathers. As I said, Jefferson, it’s the nest, we’re the nest from which the people will hold the whole continent getting rid of, you know, the red man and the Spanish speakers. And Cuba is carrying out “successful defiance” of this. And that’s intolerable. So therefore we have to seriously punish the people of Cuba, as we’ve been doing with terrorism, economic strangulations and so on, incidentally in opposition to popular will here. A large percentage of the American population, usually around two-thirds, think we ought to enter into normal relations with Cuba. Holding on Guantanamo is part of the strangulation of Cuba, ensuring that they can’t develop the end of the island, which would be base for trade with Europe, so on and so forth.

Well, all these questions are the ones that would be in the headlines, in free press. Not whether this particular 15-year-old who shot an American soldier invading his country. So yes, there’s a lot hidden behind the word “enemy combatant.”
And in fact if you just take about almost any word of political discourse, pick up at random, it has two meanings. And it has its literal meaning and it has its doctrinal meaning. And the two have usually almost nothing to do with each other.

So, take say “aggression,” an important term, which has a technical meaning. It was defined at the Nuremburg tribunal. And that was accepted internationally. What it means is―the obvious thing―sending military forces into another country, you know, not at their request or something. OK, that’s aggression. And that’s the term we use applied to anyone else like the Nazi war criminals. The primary reason that they were hanged was because of the crime of aggression. And incidentally, which is defined more carefully. The Nuremburg tribunal defines aggression as “the supreme international crime,” which “encompasses,”―which differs from other crimes-in it, it “encompasses all of the evil that follows.” So, the initial aggression in Iraq encompasses the sectarian warfare, the destruction of antiquities, millions of refugees. Everything that happened since is encompassed in the initial act of aggression.

 Justice Jackson, the American Justice at Nuremburg, gave a passionate declaration to the tribunal. He said that we are handing the defendants “a poisoned chalice,” and if we ever sip from it, meaning if we are ever guilty of the same crimes, we must suffer the same punishment, or else the whole trials are farce. OK? Again, those should be the headlines except for one problem. The United States cannot commit aggression. By definition: we don’t commit aggression.

Take a look at the front page of the Wall Street Journal today. Big lead article: “The US claims Iran is still sending arms to Iraq.” Maybe true. Is Iran the only country sending arms to Iraq? Well, Condoleezza Rice, a little while back, was asked on television, “what is the solution to the Iraq problem?” She said “Simple. Just end the flow of foreign fighters and foreign arms. Then it’s over.” Nobody batted an eyelash for a good reason. Our forces are not foreign. They are indigenous. Wherever they are, they are indigenous. If we invaded Canada, we would be there by right. And if a Canadian 15-year-old kid threw a stone at an American soldier, he’d be an enemy combatant and we’d send him to Guantanamo.

And it follows from a very elementary principle that’s the one on which the country was founded: we are a nascent empire, expansion is the path to security, we are indigenous everywhere. We own the world. You know, so therefore, the questions can’t be asked. If you look at commentary, debate and discussion, you’ll find that that’s internalized. Nobody points to it. It’s just part of our picture of the world. And that is in fact in everything. That’s why every term, like the terms you use, from an outside point of view, sounds like you’re talking about a bunch of mad men.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Authors@Google: Noam Chomsky

This event took place on April 22, 2008 at the Google Cambridge office, as a part of the Authors@Google Series.

27:40 Q: Due to the Internet, mass media is increasingly becoming more distributed: blogs, independent news, etc. How does the Internet media impact the propaganda model described in Manufacturing Consent?

NC: Well, literally, the propaganda model described in Manufacturing Consent does not…narrowly hold of the Internet. I mean, that’s the model that’s concerned with the institutional structure of the media. OK, the media―their institutional structure is major corporations selling audiences to other businesses, to simplify it. And that’s not true of the Internet. So it doesn’t apply directly, but it’s not completely inapplicable.
So, the Internet, like almost the entire high-tech economy, is a product of the state sector. I mean contrary to illusions, the United States is very far from a free enterprise market economy. Those of you…I’m sure that all of you people know that things like computers, the Internet, micro-electronics and biotechnology and go on across the list, come out of the state sector, places like MIT. In fact, for long periods the Internet was in the state sector for about 30 years or more before it was handed over to private enterprise for profit.

But the Internet, nevertheless, there is a question. And in fact, it’s a live question now about keeping the Internet neutral: neutrality of the Internet. So, will the few private systems that have control of access to the Internet once it became privatized―will they be able to use that control to differentiate access to yield preferred, say, fast and easy access to the places where they want you to go and make it harder and more devious and so on for the places they don’t want you to go?
So, net neutrality is a big issue. You people know more about this than I do, so I’m not going to talk about it. But in that respect, in that corner of the system, yes, the propaganda model still holds. But other than that, it’s been, at least in its early years, a very free system.

When it was under state control, like controlled by the Pentagon, it was totally free. That’s an illusion that many people have. The Pentagon is…actually, we know that here, MIT, was like maybe 90% Pentagon funded-up until the early 70s. And it was the periods of the greatest freedom-no classified work, complete free interchange of work, anything you wanted, nobody cared, because the generals, unlike many economists, are well aware that it’s the state sector that’s providing a large part of the initiative, the dynamism, the inventiveness and so on that keeps the high tech economy going. So, they didn’t put many constraints in. As it gets more corporatized, there’s more constraints. But for a long time it was just in the army, in the military. It was ARPA. That was the former Internet.

And just to give you an illustration of how it worked, I happened to have a daughter who was living in Nicaragua in the 1980s. And the United States was carrying out a major terrorist war against Nicaragua, practically destroyed the country. And communication was impossible, you couldn’t go by phone, mail wasn’t going and so on. But I could communicate with my daughter through the Pentagon system. Since I’m at MIT, I was on the ARPA net and she found some place where she was on the ARPA net. So, thanks to the Pentagon, we were able to communicate during the period when the US was trying to destroy the country. That’s an indication of how free it was. And the question is: can it be kept free? So yes, that’s a problem.
But there are other issues that arise with the Internet that are serious. It’s undoubtedly a tremendous contribution. If you are interested in research for example, it’s just fantastic. I probably do 50 google searches a day or something like that. You can get things that you really have to…I haven’t been to library for a long time. Thankfully, I have some friends and colleagues who go to the library for me. But a lot of what you had to go to the library for, you can just pick up quickly and in fact a lot more. If you want to find out about information about say, what’s going on in the world, news and so on, yes, if you know where to look you can find it. A much wider array of information is available.

All of that is positive but it also has a negative side, in fact a number of negative sides. Imagine, say, that you are a biologist. And you now have available every article that’s been published all over the world on the field that you’re interested in. And you spend your time reading those articles. The end result is that you’re the worst biologist in history. It’s a total waste of time. In order to become a serious biologist, you have to know what you’re looking for. If you’re flooded with massive information, and you sort of try to wade through it, you’re totally paralyzed. You have to know what to look for. You have to have a framework of understanding, you know, some background conception of what’s going on. The framework can’t be rigid. Like, you have to be willing to let it be modified. But it’s indispensable. If you don’t have it, you’re just flooded with meaningless information.

 The problem is that a large majority of people who are using the Internet do have a framework, but it’s the framework that comes from the indoctrination that they’ve been subjected to. Namely, what the propaganda model applies to and it also generalizes to the academic, you know, to the schools and the colleges, and to the general intellectual community. There is an intellectual community of which the media are a part, which, I don’t have time…I’ll talk about it if you like, but it does give an extremely skewed picture of the world, l could illustrate it from this morning’s newspapers, if you want. In fact you can always…when I give talks on the media, I almost never prepare them for a very simple reason: that morning’s newspapers give all the evidence you need. It never failed yet, in Europe or here. So I can talk about it. But it is an extremely narrow doctrinal universe and in fact the participants have it internalized.

If you want to see a good example of that, do a google search and find a program, an interview with Charlie Rose. You know, the intellectual man’s interviewer. He interviewed the most respected correspondent in Iraq, John Burns, who is kind of like the dean of foreign policy…foreign correspondents. That’s a very interesting interview. He asks Burns various questions about reporting in Iraq, and Burns expresses quite clearly, and I’m sure unconsciously, the doctrinal framework that shapes coverage and interpretation.

To put it simply: we have to be cheering for the home team--so, because the home team is perfect. That’s the picture. So what he says is…you have to get his words but the picture is that the United States, certainly since the Second World War, has been the major force in the world in protecting human rights, freedom, justice, all kind of wonderful things. History is irrelevant. We don’t look at that. It’s boring. But that’s the nature of the United States, like it’s the essence. And he says if the outcome of the Iraq War was that we would lose our willingness to intervene all over the world with force to protect human rights and everything the way we’ve been doing for the past 50 years, there will be dark days. OK, that’s the picture. It’s not unlike the picture that you would have heard from a correspondent at Pravda in 1985 about how Stalin was defending democracy and human rights and so on against the fascist attack, and probably would have believed it and I’m sure John Burns believes it. But if you look at actual coverage, it conforms pretty well to what he describes. Well, if that’s the approach you take towards using the Internet, you might as well be reading some local tabloid. That’s what you’ll find. If you have a different framework of interpretation and understanding, you’ll find other things, whether it’s science, or public affairs, or anything else. To achieve that requires something way beyond access. It requires understanding and that comes out of other factors.

Q: Politicians are adept at changing public opinion by inventing new phrases such as “enemy combatants” and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Does this expose some flaw in humans that we reason based on surface words rather than their underlining meanings?

NC: I don’t think it’s a flaw of humans, and I’m not sure how much…to determine…you see, there’s kind of these questions that you have to distinguish here. So, go back to the propaganda model.
That was a discussion of what the media are doing as institutions. And in fact it generalizes to the intellectual culture much more broadly, but there’s a separate question and that is how much people are influenced by it. That’s quite a separate question. So, to what extent do people accept and internalize the doctrinal system, that’s say, described by John Burns? Well, the answer is pretty complex when you look.

So for example, say, take the Vietnam War, it’s far enough back so we can think about it a little bit objectively, perhaps. If you look over the Vietnam War, there was never in the main stream--“never” is a strong word but close to never, like 99.9% --a principled critique of the war. A New York Times correspondent, C.J.Chivers, who was there recently and talks about “booming Grozny,”―it used to be rubble and now it’s booming. They have electricity run by Chechens. Of course, the Russians are in the background but a great success. I mean if Petraeus could achieve anything remotely like that in Iraq, he’d probably be crowned King. But we don’t praise Putin, at least we shouldn’t. We condemn it[sic]. Even though it succeeded in their terms like the Germans succeeded in Vichy France―it was a French-run society more or less stable. But we don’t praise it. However, for ourselves, we take totally different principles. We never, almost never permit or can even think of a principled critique of our own crimes. You can test it. But what about public opinion? Well, there you get a striking gulf.
So, for example, when the Vietnam War ended, everyone, every serious analyst had to write a commentary on it. And the most interesting ones, as always, are way out on other ones at the left extreme of the mainstream.
So, take Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, who’s about as far out as we can get, you know, and not be from Neptune or something. He wrote a critical commentary and he said that the Vietnam War began with what he called “blundering efforts to do good.” Notice that that’s mostly tautology: since we carried it out, it was efforts to do good. Period. No further discussion necessary. That’s by definition. It was blundering because it didn’t entirely work. So it began with “blundering efforts to do good,” but he says by 1969, come back to the date, it was clear to most of the world that it was too costly to ourselves. OK? That’s the left end of the critical spectrum. You can search and see if you can find anything that goes beyond that.

But what did the public think? Well, we know. In 1969, it happens the first general polls were taken of public opinion on the Vietnam War. General, important ones, the Chicago Counsel on Foreign Relations. They continue to be taken up till today, quadrennial.
In 1969, 70% of the public said the war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. Try to find that anywhere in main stream discussion. OK? Good exercise. And those figures persist up until the latest polls, a little vacillation, but basically. There’s a huge gulf between public opinion and intellectual elites, the doctorinal managers. And that’s true on a lot of other issues. That’s true on the Iraq war―that’s true on the threat to invade Iran. That's true on national health care. That’s true on relations with Cuba. You know, just run across the list. It turns out there’s the huge gulf between public opinion and intellectual opinion, hence, doctrine, media and so on.

So that does raise a question about the extent to which the public actually accepts this. To what extent they do is… take your example, the enemy combatant. What’s an enemy combatant? Well, actually one of them is coming up for trial. I think maybe the first trial from Guantanamo. It turns out it’s a kid, who was picked up as an enemy combatant when he was 15 years old because he did something, maybe threw a stone or did something. Maybe shot or something, some American soldier. OK. So therefore we have to try him. Maybe, sentence him…he’s been in Guantanamo for years now, who knows what will happen to him? What kind of framework is that? I mean if the United States was invaded by Iran, let’s say, and some 15-year-old kid tried to do something to the invaders, is he criminal? You know? The framework, the conception is kind of like in outer space, unfortunately it’s real.

“Enhanced interrogation,” in other words, torture. Like there’s a huge fuss now about Guantanamo. Delegations are taken there by the army to show how beautifully the prisoners are treated, and there’s books and articles about is there torture and so on and so forth. It’s all totally beside the point, entirely beside the point. As soon as you hear that those who are captured are taken to Guantanamo, you know it’s a torture chamber. There is no other reason for sending them to Guantanamo. Why not send them to a security prison in New York, let’s say? OK? Perfectly safe, they’ll never get out and so on. Well, the problem is if you send them to New York, automatically, you start getting the whole civil rights system coming in. Did they have lawyers, you know, can they be tortured, are they told the charges against them and so on. You send them to Guantanamo, you can do anything you like. So therefore, soon as we hear the word Guantanamo, we know it’s a torture chamber without the investigations, without the inquiries, anything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For the past months

During the summer I reviewed all the previous transcripts and corrected errors. I hope I can move on.

Lots of going on, such as Amy Goodman's arrest and Free Gaza Movement.
Amy was charged with "interference with a peace officer." But anyone who watched the video can see the officer that Amy was asking a question "Where's the producers, Sir?" was NOT a peace officer.
Free Gaza Movement, these people are serious. They mean to establish the way in/out of Gaza.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Perspective on the Israel Lobby

This is an excerpt of Noam Chomsky and Omar Baddar debate on the Israel lobby at Boston University, April 12, 2008.

Omar Baddar is the Director of the ADCMA (American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts)

Omar Baddar: Let me first start by saying that it was exposure to Professor Chomsky’s analysis―probably roughly 9 years ago at the age of 17―that sort of got me to begin to think critically about the world affairs. So, I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. I’m actually honored to be sharing a panel with him.
I got a message recently from a student at Brandeis University, somebody who clearly knows nothing about either my views or Professor Chomsky’s views about the Israel lobby. And basically, he was outraged at the thought that I would be debating Professor Chomsky, saying “a debate is supposed to be between people who disagree with each other. And here you have Professor Chomsky debating some guy from an Arab organization. Yeah, right, some debate,” which I guess is a really good point giving the fact that there is a monolithic view that all Arabs subscribe to at birth or something, which apparently Professor Chomsky happened to get on the wrong line at that subscription process or something.

Within people who actually understand the Israel-Palestine conflict and who share critique of US policy towards it, there is a debate over what actually guides the policy. On one end of the spectrum, you have people like Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, who argue that the Israel lobby essentially overrides independent US policy preferences to the detriment of US interest. And they go as far as to say that the invasion of Iraq was in a large part due to the Israel lobby’s influence. And on the other end of the spectrum, you have people like Stephen Zunes and Professor Chomsky and others who basically say that the Israel lobby really hardly has any independent influence and that it only appears to be powerful because its agenda happens to mesh pretty well with that of the centers of the power and the US; and furthermore, those policies are not basically harming US interests as defined by those centers of power.

Now, I think that neither perspective is entirely accurate in that while Mearsheimer-Walt definitely exaggerate the extent of the Israel lobby’s influence on foreign policy, I still do think that a strong argument could be made that the Israel lobby has driven policy in a way that was harmful to US interests.

Now, when I talk about the Israel lobby, I basically accept a variation of the definition of Mearsheimer-Walt of it, not the original one that came out of their paper; that was a bit too broad and vague and for that matter, a broader tautology in that it basically said anybody who has ever lobbied for their interests of Israel is part of the lobby. But they take a more sophisticated definition of that in their book, which is the one that I sort of like to think somewhat accurate.

So, when I say the lobby, I’m talking about national organizations whose primary and explicit purpose is the promotion of Israel’s interests in the United States. So, we’re talking about groups like AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the Israel Project, Christians United for Israel, as well as media watch dog groups whose basically primary purpose is to tilt media coverage in Israel’s favor, groups like CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and HonestReporting and others. Then on top of that, there are allied groups to the lobby. Those are groups or organizations whose… even though the interests of Israel are not their primary focus, they nevertheless happen to basically mesh with those of the main organizations. And here, I’m talking about the broader right wing Christian evangelical movement, think tanks, who basically... their views and analysis on world affairs are tinted through Israeli eyes, like the Washington Institute of US Policy and other organizations that basically happen to share the views and the interests of major pro-Israel organizations.

And in mainstream political science literature, basically, the determinants for success for interest groups have been fairly outlined. They include things like membership size, financial resources, unity, institutional complexity, access to power, coalition building and so on. And I don’t really have time to get into how the Israel lobby measures up to each one of these, but suffice to say that it measures up very well; and in fact the Israel lobby is extremely powerful in a way that basically every mainstream political scientist does acknowledge. If you want those details, basically you can read, for example, the Mearsheimer-Walt book.

And then you look at US policy towards Israel. You see that Israel is the single largest recipient of US foreign aid, receiving roughly 3 billion dollars each year, two thirds of which is military aid. And that’s about to be converted in its entirety to military aid as well. You also see that Israel is the only country that receives that aid all in one allocation at the beginning of each fiscal year; it is not basically required to account for it. Israel receives privileged intelligence from the United States and it’s allowed to develop nuclear weapons when many other countries are obviously under the threat of force over the thought.

Then you look at US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To reiterate something that Professor Chomsky just said, essentially there has been a practical solution on the table―not a perfect one but a practical one―for over 20 years now, which calls for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians accepted this, so did the Arab League and virtually the entire international community through the United Nations. And Israel is single-handedly essentially blocking the solution and the US is backing them up, I mean even, not just with continued military and financial support but also diplomatically. The US has vetoed over 40 UN resolutions that are critical of Israel’s violations of international law and human rights which is, to put that into perspective, is greater than the number of vetoes used by all other permanent members of the UN Security Council combined on all matters. So, it is kind of an obscene figure.

So, you look at the Israel lobby, and you say it’s powerful. And then you look at US policy towards Israel, and you see unrestrained support. And people might feel tempted to come to the conclusion that the Israel lobby is responsible for this policy.
But it’s not quite that simple because there are other forces that could account for that policy as well. For example, Israel has been of extreme strategic utility to the US; they defeated Nasser’s nationalism in 1967, which the US really needed; they protected King Hussein’s regime during the events of Black September from Syrian intervention; they supplied weapons to Apartheid South Africa and the Contras in Latin America at a time when it would look bad for the US to do that directly, and in fact, illegal.
Basically, Israel is the dominant military force in the Middle East and it’s a stable one. So, that makes it extremely important for the United States strategically. So, even the US grand strategy could also account for US support for Israel.

Furthermore, US military aid that goes to Israel―basically huge parts of it, something close to 78%―comes back to US military corporations. So, in essence, US military aid to Israel is a formal subsidy to US military corporations. So, you can see that the defense establishments would also be in favor of this strong relationship. So, given the fact that the defense establishment, the US grand strategy and the Israel lobby all advocate a policy, when you have multiple players, it becomes a bit difficult to isolate and assess the influence of one particular player; and in this case, that’s the Israel lobby.

And the way to resolve this is to look at cases where the Israel lobby alone contradicted―basically was in conflict with the other forces that support this foreign policy. Now, unfortunately, the record does not resolve this problem because the record shows mixed results. So, for example, Professor Chomsky and others have pointed to the 2005 incident when Israel sold sophisticated military technology to China against US wishes. The US essentially humiliated Israel and the lobby didn’t say a word. They forced Israel to apologize publicly, which they did.
In 1993, there was the incident where Israel was working out a deal with North Korea by which North Korea would cease to provide long-range missiles to Iran in return for Israel’s investment in North Korea, which―when you’re talking about missiles to Iran, this is something of serious strategic national security interest for Israel. And the US, in an effort to isolate North Korea, was basically able to compel Israel to end the deal. And in both of those cases, the lobby didn’t say a word.

Even in cases where the lobby did get active protesting. For example, there was the case of 1981, when the United States wanted to sell, the Reagan administration wanted to sell advanced radar systems to Saudi Arabia: the Israel lobby did essentially threw a fit and they got very active and gave the administration a very difficult time and they almost cancelled the deal. Only here, the defense industry, namely Boeing and United Technologies, basically who had hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal, basically got together and said that they were not going to allow this to happen. And sure enough, you know, in corporations with the Saudis and with the administration that was bent on getting this through, they were able to crush the lobby’s opposition; and the deal actually went through. So, all of these cases demonstrate the limits of the Israel lobby’s influence.

But on the other hand, Mearsheimer and Walt can point to cases where the Israel lobby did overcome administration opposition. So, for example, in 2002, Ariel Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, killing hundreds of Palestinians at a time when Bush basically was trying to gather up support for the Iraq War, so he did not want to be on bad terms with the Arab world. So, he demanded that basically Israel end its incursion. A couple of days later, he clarified that he meant Israel should end it immediately; and a day after that Condoleezza Rice got on TV, quite upset saying “immediately” means “now,” we expect Israel to end the incursion “now.” And in response, the Israel lobby essentially swung into action: there were 100,000 emails that were sent to the White House from Christian evangelical coalitions. Basically, AIPAC applied pressure on Congress, and the next thing you know, Congress is passing resolutions basically supporting Israel’s incursion in defiance of the administration’s requests for the opposite. And eventually Bush essentially caved; he realized this is not worth the fight. He said that Israel had responded satisfactorily to his calls but Israel actually had done no such thing. So, this is one example of the lobby overcoming US administration opposition.

Another would be the settlement building that goes on. Virtually every president, up until the second George W. Bush, opposed settlements quite explicitly. And in the case of George Bush the first, the opposition was so intense that he actually threatened to cut off loan guarantees to Israel; and there are heated comments on the record from James Baker and Bush the first that basically showed that they were quite upset about this. But in the end, the settlements continued, and settlements continue until today.

So, I think that pattern that you see emerging is that when we’re talking about the Israel Palestinian conflict, the Israel lobby seems to be able to get its way over administration opposition. But when you’re talking about broader strategic issues, the lobby does not stand a chance in the face of more powerful players.
And what’s important to know here is that one might say, “Well, the Israel Palestinian conflict is not a strategic interest so the US doesn’t care that much.” But the problem here is that this is not entirely true, is that US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been very costly for the United States on many fronts, the obvious ones being national security and the United States image in the world, and then, of course, in terms of strategic positioning in the Middle East, and for that matter, in more details about access to oil and things like that. So, on this particular issue, you can say that the Israel lobby does override independent US policy preferences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the detriment of the United States. We’re running out of time, so we can talk more about that.

Chomsky: Well, there isn’t going to be much of a debate because I basically agree with almost everything you’ve said and I’ve written it many times. I think you’re right in taking the narrower definition of the Israel lobby. Even in the book, Walt-Mearsheimer sometimes define the lobby so loosely that it becomes close to tautologous. But if we keep to organized groups, like, for example, the Christian evangelicals, who―as you say were instrumental, your claim and I don’t agree―were instrumental in overcoming administration opposition to Operation Defensive Shield, destruction of Jenin, yeah, that’s a big group.
Christian evangelicals are probably, you know, a third of the Republican vote, maybe. A quarter of the population, a huge electoral bloc. But the government does not go along with them. Their position is that the US should support every Israeli action―everything, blow up the Temple Mount, which they’ve tried to do. The US government doesn’t do that. Their reason for doing it is because they are dedicated anti-Semites. Their position probably is the most extreme. They want… you know, a lot of them accept the particular interpretation of the rapture, interpretation of revelations, which says what’s going to happen and there is going to be a war, gog and magog and all that business; then there’ll be a great war in Armageddon, everybody will be slaughtered and those who are saved, namely us, will arise to heaven. What happens to the Jews? Well, they are not saved, OK? So that’s anti-Semitism at its most extreme level. And yes, they do want to support Israeli policies because they’ll lead to war. But the US government doesn’t go along with that.

In the case of Operation Defensive Shield, notice that if that’s used as an example, then the lobby argument is in a serious self-contradiction. Walt and Mearsheimer, as you point out, tried to claim that Israel drove the United States to the Iraq War. On the side, that’s completely contradicted even by their own evidence. But suppose we accept that it is true. The logic that you outlined is that the lobby harmed US interests by forcing the US to accept the Jenin Operation, even though it’s undermining support for going to war with Iraq. But you can’t have both positions; either the lobby drove us to the war with Iraq or the lobby harmed the effort to go to the war with Iraq, but not both.

So, I don’t think that example shows much. In fact I don’t know any evidence that the US cared one way or another whether Israel smashed up Jenin. Yeah, it caused a lot of problems in what―to adopt the standard racist terminology―what’s called “the Arab Street.” We don’t talk about the British Street or the French street but the thing called “the Arab street,” namely the population. And yeah, the population didn’t like it. In fact, Bush is much more unpopular in, say, Saudi Arabia than Ahmadinejad or Osama bin Laden. But the question is whether anybody cares about that. I mean as long as the US-backed tyrannies are able to completely control their own populations, then the US government doesn’t care much about the populations. And they have been able to do that. The most valued and oldest ally of the United States in the region is actually Saudi Arabia, that’s where most of the oil is: source of the most extreme fundamentalist tyranny in the world.
And if you look at what harms US policy, we know, not just now but way back. Back in the 1950’s, in 1958, President Eisenhower asked his staff: why there is a campaign of hatred against us in the Arab world? And the National Security Council, the highest planning agency, had just given him an answer. They said there’s a perception in the Arab world that the United States supports harsh, brutal, tyrannical regimes and impedes development and democracy, and does so because it wants to control their oil. It went on to say the perception is true. That’s the way we should do it. So, yeah, that harms US interests if you think that the so-called “Arab Street” is something that the US cares about. And that’s persisted till today.

Right after 9/11, the Wall Street Journal did a study of the kind of the Arabs that they cared about, what they called “moneyed Muslims,”― rich guys: you know, directors of multinational corporations, bank managers, that sort of thing, people very much embedded inside the US-dominated system―and asked them why they were antagonistic to the US. Maybe they gave basically the same reasons. They did add the sanctions against Iraq as a major reason and also repression of the Palestinians, but they focused on the same reasons: the US supports harsh and undemocratic regimes, tyrannies, blocks democracy and development, and does so because it wants to control their oil. OK, it’s not the US-Israel lobby that’s pushing that. That’s the way the US has determined its strategic goals not only in the Middle East but the same everywhere else, the same policies around the world, nothing special about the Middle East.

As far as, just one factual comment, as far as the scale of the lobby, in the sense that you correctly define it in political science terms―money, membership, that sort of thing―that’s been analyzed and detailed by Stephen Zunes. And I advise that you look at it. And it turns out that’s one of the smaller lobbies; it’s dwarfed. I mean it’s totally dwarfed by the business lobby which is totally overwhelming and even by things like lawyers lobby, real estate agents lobby and so on. I mean it’s influential but it’s influential I think largely because, as you say, it conforms mostly to US policy.

I don’t consider the cases that you mentioned very… let’s take the George Bush 1 case, which is an interesting one which is seriously misunderstood. That’s the other example which is standardly given for the power of the lobby.
George Bush No.1 and his Secretary of State James Baker took the most extreme position against the Palestinians in support of Israeli expansion of any president. But they did it in secret so they weren’t getting any lobby’s support or pressure for it. I mean we now know because – actually documents are known but they were kept quiet. They took the position, they supported the Israeli coalition government (Shimon Peres/Yitzhak Shamir) position, that there can be “no additional Palestinian state” between Jordan and the sea, meaning there already is a Palestinian state, namely Jordan. And there can’t be an “additional Palestinian state” and the fate of the territory, they said, “has to be implemented in accord with the wishes of the government of Israel.” That was endorsed in what was called the Baker Plan, the December 1989 Baker Plan, which endorsed exactly that position. That’s the harshest position, anti-Palestinian position that has been taken by any American president. That was George Bush the first. No lobby pressure. The lobby probably know about it. But yeah, that’s the position they took. It’s kind of like saying that the Jews don’t need Israel because they already have New York, so there doesn’t have to be an additional Jewish state. It’s very much like that. If anybody would say that, he’d be called a Nazi, you know. But that’s the position that George Bush the first and James Baker took. No pressure from the lobby. The conflict was over something else.

Yitzhak Shamir happened to be unusually abrasive. He would wait until James Baker showed up in Jerusalem and right at that moment, brazenly announce we are setting up a settlement on such and such a hill top. OK, you don’t treat the godfather that way. You have to be more polite. You have to do it the way Shimon Peres does. You say, “Thank you master, we will not settle any more settlements, just like you say,” and a week after you leave, we’ll put up the outpost and build it and everybody is happy; exactly what happened with Condoleezza Rice on her last trip. That’s the way you’re supposed to behave. If you behave too abrasively to the master, he’s not going to like it. So, therefore they made a weak threat to withhold funds, which of course they didn’t live up to. But I don’t really think this had anything to do with the lobby.

However, this entire discussion illustrates two points. One, for me personally, it illustrates that I don’t want to get into this discussion. I haven’t even written about it. I think one paragraph somewhere because there’s something mildly or maybe seriously distasteful about the whole discussion in my opinion.

As I said, a nation is dying in front of our eyes. OK? And we are focusing on an abstract discussion which maybe appropriate for some seminar somewhere about – the various factors that influence policy which overwhelmingly coincide but sometimes differ. And we’re asking which one is more influential in the few cases that they differ. Actually, I basically agree with you where―for this abstract discussion―where major US interests in the sense of interests of those who matter, where they are involved, the Israeli lobby has no effect. On issues that don’t matter much to the United States, yeah, the lobby can have an effect just like the Armenian lobby can have an effect. I mean the Armenian lobby came very close to, a couple months ago, to seriously harming US relations with one of its most important allies, Turkey, over the Armenian genocide. But they came pretty close. Yeah, that’s what lobbies can do, but where any serious interest is concerned, they just totally get lost.

That was true on the China case 2005, which was particularly striking. And again in 2000 the North Korean case was a very important case. North Korea had agreed to stop sending any missile technology or any other advanced military technology to the Middle East, the entire Middle East, in return for Israeli recognition. And the Clinton administration simply told them no. And for Israel, that has a very serious significance.

There was a big fuss a couple of months ago, about Israel’s allegedly bombing some site in northern Syria, which was supposed to―the US claimed it had North Korean support. Well, whatever tiny element of truth there might be to that, there would be nothing at all like that or even any threat if Israel hadn’t bowed to US pressure. When we get a real issue, I think you’ll find that’s what happens; so as far as the “Arab street” is concerned, the US doesn’t care any more than Saudi Arabia does.

However, there’s another point that should be made. Let’s take this abstract discussion which personally I find distasteful about which factor in policy, which of the many factors and policies that almost always coincide has more weight. Let’s ask does it have any practical consequences, how the discussion turns out.
So suppose we decide with Walt/Mearsheimer that in cases, you know that there are cases of serious concern to powerful American interests where the US backs off because of the lobby. Well, if that’s true, there is a consequence, a tactical consequence.
For me, it would be terrific. I can stop writing books, I can stop writing articles, stop giving talks all over the place, stop getting vilified, and yeah, nothing. All I’d have to do or you’d have to do or anyone else concerned with the problem would have to do is put on our ties and jackets, go to the corporate headquarters of Lockheed Martin, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Warren Buffett, Exxon Mobil and so on and politely explain to them that their interests are being harmed by a lobby that they can put out of business in 30 seconds with their political clout and economic force. OK, game’s over, we’ve won.

Does anybody do it? I mean does anybody even bother to laugh? Well, no. I mean it’s laughable. If the few being interested in looking out for themselves didn’t like what was happening, they’d do something about it. What they are doing about it is investing in Israel, not under pressure of the Christian evangelicals or AIPAC, but because they find it useful to have the most powerful state in the region, actually with military forces that are more—with air and armor forces that are larger and technologically more advanced than any NATO power, let alone the region outside the United States.

And it’s totally subordinate to the United States; Israel made a decision a long time ago that it would sacrifice security for expansion which makes it totally subordinate to the United States: it has to do as the US wants, very loyal, performs any task it wanted, right on the periphery of the major oil producing regions. The tyrannies who run the oil producers really don’t mind as long as they can control their own populations. So it’s the system that works for the interests of the few big interests who look out for themselves. And we see it in their behavior.

If we think they are being misled, well, we should explain it to them so that they will change their behavior and put the lobby out of business. But far as I can see, that’s the only practical consequence to this discussion. Otherwise, it’s an abstract discussion. It’s what you can have often in some seminar room about relative weight of two factors and policy formation that almost always coincide but sometimes conflict. Well, that’s maybe an intellectually interesting discussion. I can’t get much involved in it when we see a nation being killed under our eyes.

Monday, June 09, 2008

On Just War Theory(revised)

This is a revised version of the talk at US Military Academy at West Point on April 20, 2006.

Correction and references were added by Scott Senn.

Many thanks to him.


"Just War Theory"
20 April 2006
U.S. Military Academy, West Point

Thanks. I think a useful place to start might be with a recent academic study, by an Oxford professor, of "traditions of war", which contrasts two leading paradigms in the study of just war: what the author calls the "Grotian" and "republican" interpretations [Karma Nabulsi, Traditions of War]. The first paradigm traces back to Hugo Grotius, famed 17th century humanist, who founded the dominant framework of thinking on laws of war. Within this paradigm, law war is an act of states and just war proposals are a means to humanize and to introduce humanity in warfare. That's one tradition. The contrasting "republican" paradigm traces back to Rousseau and the uprising against monarchy and feudalism in the late 18th century including the American Revolution. This paradigm blends war with justice, with liberty, equality, individual and community rights, whatever else may fall within our concept of justice. Well, these positions are of course idealizations; the real world is more complex. The formal implementation of efforts to introduce humanity into warfare do not simply disregard questions of justice, but they do put them to the margins. They're not central to the codification of the principles of world order in practice, with the single exception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has a pretty tattered history. Well, despite real world complexities, the differences between these two approaches to war, I think, deserve attention in considering both the issues that are addressed and those that are ignored. We might ask whether that itself is just.

There are at least three major sources of insight into the concepts of just war. The first is the scholarly literature. The second is the underlining notions of human nature that underlie our moral judgments. And the third is the international codifications. So I'd like to say a few words about each of these topics. I think it may help to indicate in advance where I'm heading: In brief, my own conclusions are that the literature merits careful attention, but is ultimately not very instructive about just war; secondly, that the notions of human nature should be at the heart of the discussion, although serious inquiry into this is still in its early stages; and third, that the codifications are—seem to me—sensible, but actions in the real world all too often reinforce the famous maxim of Tacitus that "the strong do as they can, while the weak do as they must" [quoting the imperial Athenians in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War 5.89; elsewhere Chomsky calls this the maxim of Thucydides]. So let's start with some remarks on some of the current literature on just war.

One of the most recent studies is Michael Walzer's book Arguing About War, which merits particular attention not only because of the high praise it's received but also because Walzer is responsible for the—largely responsible for the recent revival of just war theory. The strengths—I think the book reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of just war theory. The strengths are that many of the conclusions seem plausible enough, at least to me, but particularly those conclusions that pretty much reiterate standard codifications. The weakness is that, despite the book's title "Arguing About War", it's very hard to find an argument. You might try that as an experiment. More accurately, while arguments are sometimes detectable, they rely crucially on such premises as "seems to me entirely justified" or "I believe" or "no doubt." And there is almost no effort to bring in relevant background information and evidence. Walzer gives two paradigm examples in which case he simply asserts that the wars are just, in fact so obviously just that argument is unnecessary. The two examples are Afghanistan and Kosovo. He describes the invasion of Afghanistan as a "triumph of just war theory" [Chapter 1], which stands alongside the bombing of Serbia in 1999 as an uncontroversial case of "just war." No argument is felt to be necessary though in either case it doesn't take much effort to think of possible evidence that might bear on the pronouncement that these are triumphs of just war theory. And these are considerations that would certainly be brought up by just war theorists if the responsibility for the military actions lay elsewhere. Well, for lack of time, I'll skip the illustrations but can come back to them if you like.

To be clear, I'm not asking whether the bombings of Afghanistan and Serbia were right or wrong; maybe they were, maybe they weren't. I'm asking a different question: namely, what does this just war theory have to say about it? And I think if you look closely you'll find that the answer is that it has nothing to say about it. We're left with assertions of the authors, that state violence was justified, uncontroversially so. And any consequences, whether anticipated or not, are entirely "no doubt" the fault of the official enemy.

Well, another recent and also highly regarded inquiry into just war theory is by moral-political philosopher, Jean Bethke Elshtain. The paradigm of just war, she writes, is the bombing of Afghanistan [Just War Against Terror, pp. 61-62]. And she adds that "nearly everyone with the exception of absolute pacifists" and a few lunatics "agree" that the bombing of Afghanistan was clearly a just war ["A Just War?", Boston Globe, 6 Oct 2002]. Argument ended. In reality, "nearly everyone" excludes substantial categories of people, the majority of the world's population, for example, even in Europe, far more so in Latin America, and also leading Afghans who had been fighting the Taliban, including US favorites, and virtually all aid agencies working there. But what's relevant is that this constitutes the sole argument to establish that the war was just, in fact uncontroversially so. Facts are irrelevant, and no further argument is needed. Well, Elshtain does provide criteria for just war. So we at least have the rudiments of a theory. Four criteria. I'll read them.

First criterion: the "war must be openly declared or otherwise authorized by a legitimate authority." Second: It "must begin with the right intentions." Third: Force is justified if it "protects the innocent from certain harm", as when a country "has certain knowledge that genocide will commence on a certain date." Fourth: It "must be a last resort after other possibilities for the redress and defense of the values at stake have been explored." [Elshtain Just War Against Terror, pp. 57-58]

Well, the first two conditions are vacuous: declaration of war by an aggressor confers no support whatsoever for a claim of just war. And even the worst criminals claim right intentions. The third and fourth conditions sound reasonable, but they have no relevance at all, clearly, to the case of Afghanistan. So, therefore Elshtain's paradigm example collapses entirely under her own criteria.

Let me add just one word on the classic, modern work, Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, which I believe you've been reading. My personal judgment is that his conclusions are generally very reasonable, also pretty much in accord with the conventional reading of the United Nations Charter. But what's relevant here is that the conclusions, just about invariably, rely crucially on the ubiquitous phrase "it seems to me" and so on. Again, you might test. So, just as an illustration, take what he regards as "the hardest question", in his words. That is, the British bombing of urban centers in Germany up to the end of the war. Walzer concludes that such bombing (quoting him) "after the immediate threat posed by Hitler's early victories had passed…was entirely indefensible." Maybe so, but if you check you'll find there's no argument, apart from the statement that "the policy seems cruel." [Walzer pp. 323-324] Well, I think it does; it seems cruel to me at least. But what does just war theory have to say? Where does it enter into the argument, and why are relevant facts disregarded? There are, after all, relevant facts.

Well, the character of the theory is revealed further when we look at the examples that Walzer gives; he gives about half a dozen examples, which are just listed—no argument or discussion—to show that just war theory applies, leaving in his words "no doubts" [p. 292]. The examples are mostly uncontentious, although one might well ask why some of these examples are chosen but not others. For example, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia is given as a case where there is "no doubt"; but not given is the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which I suppose had about a hundred times as many as casualties, and many more during the 22 years of occupation of southern Lebanon in defiance of Security Council orders. So maybe there's a reason, maybe there isn't; but whatever it is, it's not given. That's all examples, except one. The last example of a case where just war theory applies leaving "no doubt" is the Egyptian challenge to Israel in 1967. That's the sole example in a long period covered where just war theory allegedly demonstrates that a preemptive strike was just beyond all doubt. Well, maybe the selection of cases and the conclusions are correct, maybe they're not, but what's relevant here is that just war theory plays little if any role in the argument, which reduces pretty much to declarations of personal preference.

Well, I won't go on, but these are to my knowledge fairly representative selections from the most highly regarded literature and I think it's fair to conclude more generally that we learn very little about just war from just war theory, although we do learn something about the prevailing intellectual moral climate in which the theory is presented and honored.

Well, let's turn to the second source of potential insight—the second source of potential insight into just war theory: that is, our intuitive moral judgments. Well, here, we are turning to what was traditionally called "moral philosophy". I think it's more aptly described as "moral psychology" in modern terms; that's after the divorce of science and philosophy in the mid-19th century. A century before that, David Hume had done his classic work on what he called "the springs and origins" of human nature. Hume recognized that knowledge and belief are grounded in what he called a "species of natural instincts," part of our inherent mental nature [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, sect. 5 part 1]. He recognized also that something similar must be true in the domain of moral judgment. His reason was that our moral judgments are unbounded in scope: we're constantly applying them in systematic ways to new circumstances in a manner that's intelligible to others. Hence, they too must be founded on general principles that are part of our nature, although beyond what he called our "original instincts", meaning the narrower instincts that we share with animals [A Treatise of Human Nature book 3 part 1 sect. 2].

Well, that insight, which I think is accurate, should lead directly to efforts to develop something like a grammar of moral judgment. That's an enterprise very much like the inquiry into the principles that are encoded somehow in our brains but permit us to do what you and I are now doing, and more broadly to produce and understand linguistic expressions over an unbounded range and use them in a way which is appropriate to circumstances and intelligible to others, even though they may be quite new in our own history, our own experience, in fact all of history. Well, as was recognized a century before Hume, these principles must be universal, hence grounded in our nature and the basis for acquisition of any particular language. Today we would say that the principles of language and moral judgment are part of our genetic endowment, part of human biology. In both cases, there are culturally specific and universal aspects, in both the case of internal faculty of language and moral judgment. These things can be studied—they are part of science—in fact studied in rather similar ways.

Inquiry into the moral faculty in these terms was undertaken by the leading American moral and political philosopher of the late 20th century, John Rawls, who relied explicitly on the analogy of two linguistic theories that were being developed in the 1960s at the time that he was writing his classic work Theory of Justice. Rawls in fact put this aspect of his work aside under severe criticism by moral philosophers, turned to core issues for him. The criticisms were re-examined and I think adequately refuted in a doctoral dissertation a few years ago by John Mikhail, who is now a law professor at Georgetown. A forthcoming book of his [Moral Grammar: Rawls' Linguistic Analogy and the Cognitive Science of Moral Judgment], based upon the dissertation develops this, and also presents empirical investigation of moral judgments in puzzling thought experiments that have been designed by moral philosophers. This experimental work reveals that intuitions in these quite puzzling cases are typically instantaneous and reflexive in adults and children, with systematic changes through early childhood development, much as in other aspects of development. He then goes on to develop a theoretical explanation in terms of fixed principles that can be regarded as a development of Rawls' Theory of Justice and the much earlier work of Hume in other classical writers on our natural instincts.

There's another book soon to come out by Harvard primatologist and cognitive scientist Marc Hauser carrying such inquiries further. [It] includes comparative studies and more general ideas about what he calls "the moral organ", analogous to the language organ, other subcomponents of the cognitive systems that are a core part of our biological nature. Well, in recent years, these topics have become a lively field of theoretical and empirical inquiry, from many points of view, incidentally; these are study of principles that underlie intuitive conceptions of justice and rights and their cultural variety—their limited cultural variety and their universal properties. That could someday provide foundations for a more substantive theory of just war. But it remains largely a task for the future; it's underway in interesting ways.

Well, finally a couple of words on the codification of these intuitive judgments in the past century. I'll keep it to the period after World War Two, though the earlier conventions have very clear and significant contemporary relevance: Hague Conventions of 1907 for example. I can come back to that it if you like. The post Second World War codification of laws of war consists primarily of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg principles later adopted by the General Assembly. Well, as you know, I'm sure, the Charter bars "the threat or use of force" except in two instances: if authorized by the Security Council of the United Nations; or, under Article 51 of the Charter, in "self-defense" against "armed attack" until the Security Council acts. The phrase "armed attack" is conventionally interpreted in terms of Daniel Webster's principle, which extends armed attack to cases where, in his words, "the necessity" for action is urgent—is "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment of deliberation." Any other resort to force is a "war crime", in fact "the supreme international crime", encompassing all the evil that follows, in the words of the Nuremberg tribunal.
There was a High-level UN Panel—meeting issued its report in December, 2004, included, among others, former National Social Security advisor Brent Scowcroft. It concluded that "Article 51 needs neither extension nor restriction of its long-understood scope." It "should be neither rewritten nor reinterpreted." Last September [2005], the UN World Summit reaffirmed—I'm quoting—that "the relevant provisions of the Charter are sufficient to address the full-range of threats to international peace and security." The summit further endorsed "the responsibility to commit ourselves…to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out." The summit granted no new "right of intervention" to individual states or regional alliances whether under humanitarian or other professed grounds, and it established no "responsibility to protect", contrary to what was widely alleged in news reports and commentary.

The High-level Panel of December 2004 had reached the same conclusion, in words that were specifically directed at international—[correction:] at intellectual opinion and state practice in the West in recent years. Its words were these: "For those impatient with {declaring Article 51 to be appropriate as formulated}, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of non-intervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all." Allowing one to so act is to allow all. Here the panel is presupposing the principle of universality, namely that we apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others, if not more stringent ones. That's perhaps the most elementary of moral truisms and it's the foundation of just war theory if that theory is to be taken that all seriously. The principle, however, is flatly rejected in the elite intellectual, moral and political culture of the most powerful states and it's explicitly rejected by official doctrine. That includes the expositors and advocates of just war theory, also includes a substantial legal literature; it's pretty easy to illustrate—there's plenty of material in print about it—and we can draw some conclusions from that.

In this connection, let me end by saying that it's worth remembering some eloquent words on the principal of universality, the foundation of just war theory and any serious moral theory: the comments by Justice Robert Jackson. He was the chief for the council for the prosecution at Nuremberg. He informed the tribunal that: "If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are the crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us." "We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants to a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well."

The "supreme international crime" for which the defendants were hanged at Nuremberg was defined clearly enough by Justice Jackson at Nuremberg. He proposed to the tribunal that an "aggressor" is a state that is the first to carry out "invasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another state." Illustrations of that too are easy enough to find and others are on the horizon. It's again noteworthy that these considerations are virtually excluded from the dominant intellectual and moral culture in the West rather generally, although we have no difficulty at all in applying them to official enemies. Well, once again, there's nothing special about our own country in this respect, except that it's more powerful than others. Such evasions with regard to the acts of one's own state are close to universal; they disfigure intellectual history as far back as you go. To the maxim of Tacitus that I quoted, we may add an observation by the President John Adams: "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak." I think that's another near universal, again all too easy to illustrate from the traditional practice of governments and the educated classes within them.

Well, to return to the beginning: what can one learn from just war theory? My feeling is that from the literature on just war, we learn mostly about the prevailing moral and intellectual climate in which we live. Scientific inquiry into moral psychology and its roots in our nature may someday provide important insights; but practice cannot wait for that day, any more than engineering has waited for physics or medicine for biology, for centuries in these cases, which are much simpler ones and much more accessible to inquiry than human nature. Thirdly, the codification of laws of war has over time had a notable civilizing effect, but the gap between professed ideals and actual practice is much too large to be tolerated in my opinion. Thanks.

[Q & A]

Chomsky: Your chance to talk. [I should] repeat that the questioners won't be filmed. So you can feel free to talk.

Questioner #1: Sir, I was just wondering if you believe the United States of America has a responsibility to intervene in cases where just war says that it is justified to intervene?

Chomsky: Do I think that there's a responsibility to intervene in cases where just war theory concludes that it is correct to intervene? Is that the question? Personally, I agree with the UN Charter, the High-level UN Panel of December 2004, and the UN World Summit, which I quoted. But I can't really answer the question because as far as I can determine—you can tell me if I'm wrong—just war theory never tells you anything. It doesn't tell you when it's proper to intervene. What it tells you is: "I think it is proper to intervene." Well, you know, I may also think so, but there's a big gap between assertion and argument, between surmise and evidence. So if you can tell me where just war theory entails that we ought to intervene, we can consider the question. But until that's done, we can't really consider the question.

Questioner #2: Sir, I was wondering, do you believe that it would have been right to reassess Article 51 of the UN Charter? And do you believe that by not reassessing and not rewriting it, it loses relevancy?

Chomsky: I'm sorry, I didn't get it. By…? By….? Could you say it again?

Questioner #2: By not reassessing it…

Chomsky: …not reassessing it…

Questioner #2: …and not rewriting it…

Chomsky: Yeah.

Questioner #2: you believe it loses its…?

Chomsky: Well, it has been reassessed, repeatedly. For example, by the High-level UN Panel of December—that issued its report on 2004—with many distinguished participants. I mentioned Brent Scowcroft, but there are others. Yes, that's exactly what they did: They reassessed the UN Charter. And their conclusion is what I read. The UN World Summit last September again reassessed the UN Charter and that's what it concluded. Maybe there should be a further reassessment; fine, then let's undertake it, and let's consider their arguments, or other arguments. But we can't say that it hasn't been reassessed. I mean, we can say that we haven't paid any attention to it. Well, that's possible, in fact true. But it certainly has been reassessed by very respectable and leading figures. And their conclusions in my opinion at least are pretty justified. However, to get back to the main topic, I don't think just war theory tells us anything about that. When we judge these things, we're judging them on another basis: on the basis of actual evidence about what happens in particular cases in terms of our fundamental moral principles which we should try to explicate and apply, like the principle of universality. That's the way we should reassess it. Also we should, I think, think seriously about the statement that I quoted of the December 2004 Panel, that was directed to people like us. It was directed to intellectual opinion in the West. And you can read it again, but what they said is: the foundations of world order—based on the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of others, not forcible intervention—is too important and too fragile to be destroyed, or the consequences will be terrible, because for one to act is to grant the authority to all, at least if we believe in elementary moral principles. That's a heavy burden to bear. Maybe we could come up with a different conclusion in some cases. Actually personally I think we can, but it has to be argued.

Questioner #3: Sir…you said that it's possible that Article 51 needs to be reassessed, but you mentioned earlier when you were referencing Walzer's book that he said that the Israeli preemptive strike was justified—that he said that the Israeli preemptive strike was justified.

Chomsky: "Undoubtedly."

Questioner #3: You also stated that his arguments did not really have justification by his theory. However, in the case of the preemptive strike, he does say that there are several criteria that are necessary for the Israeli attack to be justified: specifically the fact that the Egyptian army was standing at a state of readiness that the Israeli army was incapable of holding. So under Article 51, even though Egypt had not yet invaded Israel—they were not at war. However, what Egypt was doing tactically put Israel at a severe disadvantage. So under our modern definition of war, it seems to me that it ought to be—"it seems to me". [laughs] It seems logical that it ought to be called an act of war: what Egypt was doing, putting Israel at such a disadvantage. So doesn't Article 51 definitely need some reassessment?

Chomsky: Well, Article 51 clearly does not apply. I read Article—I mean, we can argue that it was justified, but we can't say that Article 51 justifies it, not under Daniel Webster's characterization or any other one that's accepted by the international community. We might argue—and here's where I think you could make an argument—that if you consider the range of issues that arose at the time, the preemptive strike was justified. Maybe one can give such an argument. But the point is that no argument is given to that effect, none of the relevant facts are considered, and this is regarded as one of the half dozen cases where just war theory entails that the use of military force was legitimate. Just war theory doesn't entail that. It doesn't entail anything. What it tells you is: "well, I, Michael Walzer, believe this was justified", but without giving any reasons and without looking into the background. If you look into the background, it's a lot more complex than that. There's a lot of literature and scholarship on it: The US didn't happen to agree. There were all sorts of possibilities: you could've taken—I mean I don't want to—if you want, I'll run through the background. But it's quite intricate and complex, going back to the question of free passage through the Straits of Tehran, and whether that should be brought to the World Court, which the US and Israel refused to do and Egypt insisted on. It involves Israeli strikes against Syrian targets. All sorts of things. So, yes, there's a complicated background; you can look at them; you could decide, maybe, that in the light of these complex circumstances, perhaps Israel was entitled to make a preemptive strike. But that's not what's claimed. What's claimed is that without looking any evidence, just war theory—whatever it is, it's not easy to determine—just war theory entails that this is one of the half dozen cases in the last century in which the use of force was "no doubt" legitimate, and the only case in which the preemptive strike was legitimate. And we can also raise the question of universality. I mean I don't believe and I'm sure you don't believe that Iran has a right to, say, carry out terrorist acts in the United States right now. But undoubtedly it's under a serious threat. And undoubtedly the threat is simply overwhelming as compared with Iran's capacities. But it would be outrageous to suggest that, of course. And if it's outrageous to suggest that, why is it legitimate in this case? I mean, for one to act is to give the right to all. And we can give a whole lot of other examples. I mean, let me give an even more outrageous one, ok, not 'cause I accept it of course, but just as an example. Nobody I know of who's semi-sane goes out every December 7th and celebrates Pearl Harbor Day. However, if we use these arguments, you can do it. Japan, on December 7th, attacked US military bases in, effectively, two US colonies, territories claimed by the US—Hawaii and the Philippines—attacked military bases. The Japanese were perfectly capable of reading what was being written in U.S. public journals. And in fact US intelligence which had cracked the Japanese codes know that they knew about it. What was being written—going all way up to the high military command, being reported by, you know, political commentators in the New York Times—was that the United States was—that B17s were running off the Boeing assembly line, designed to be able to burn to the ground—what they were called—the "ant heaps" in which the Japanese lived, these wooden cities; you could burn them to the ground with our B17 attacks. Furthermore, B17s were being shipped from the Atlantic, where they were needed, to Pacific bases in preparation for such attacks [Arthur Krock, "Philippines as a Fortress: New Air Power Gives Islands Offensive Strength, Changing Strategy in Pacific," New York Times, 19 November 1941, p. A4]. Well, you know, is that a threat? Yes, it's a pretty serious threat. Does that justify Pearl Harbor? I mean, not in ten million years. But if that doesn't, why does this justify it. ([December 7th is] my birthday incidentally, so I have a special interest in that day. [laughs])

Questioner #4: Sir, up here. Cadet Hobson. I just want to know if you thought that our operations in our war were preemptive or preventative, and...

Chomsky: Sorry I couldn't hear the first part.

Questioner #4: Do you think our operations in Iraq are preventive or preemptive, and do you think that our operations in Iraq are just or unjust?

Chomsky: Well, there was interesting terminology in that. The administration presented it and in fact the National Security Council described—you know, they had that in mind, but more generally—as preemptive war. But it certainly isn't preemptive war by any stretch of the imagination. More accurately you could call it "preventive" war. OK, you could say, "We have to prevent a potential attack against us." Personally, I don't see much justification for that, even if you accept that they believed all the reports that Colin Powell was giving at the UN Security Council and so on. Even if we accept that all that was believed, it doesn't seem to me that preventive war in such a case is legitimate. And as you know the world didn't think so either. There were international polls taken on this. And outside the United States and—to a less—to a more limited extent—England, you could barely find a country in the world where support for it was above 10%. In fact, the only two exceptions in the international polls that were taken were India and Israel. But both of them had something different in mind. What they had in mind was their own repression of occupied territories: Kashmir and the [Israeli-]Occupied Territories. You know, they liked the idea of preventive war by the powerful. But they weren't talking about this. However, in the rest of the world, it was almost nonexistent: you know, 10% or less. Again, we have the same question: If preventive war is legitimate under those circumstances, it's legitimate for everybody. OK, that means it's legitimate for Iran today. I mean, to take another case: it is simply undeniable—I mean you read it right in US official documents—that the United States has been carrying out a terrorist war against Cuba since 1960. I mean, at first it was with direct participation. In more recent years, it's just with tolerance. But that it happened isn't even questionable. You know, John F. Kennedy assigned his brother Robert Kennedy the task of running the terrorist war. It was to be his highest priority. Robert Kennedy's official—you know, more or less official biographer, the historian Arthur Schlesinger, who is a well-known historian, who was a Kennedy—member of the Kennedy team—a Latin American advisor. He writes that Robert Kennedy's task was to bring "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba [Robert Kennedy and His Times]. And if you look back at the record, it was no joke. And it continues, now still based on US soil. And the US harbors—happily harbors terrorists who were involved in it. Does that give Cuba the right to carry out terrorist acts in the US to prevent this. Did it ever give them the right? Well, I don't think so and I'm sure you don't think so. But if preventive war is legitimate, why not? And in fact, you know, there are many other cases where—take, say, Lebanon in 1982, when Israel was preparing the attack, and in fact trying desperately to conjure up an excuse for the attack. They were bombing Lebanon, hoping for some retaliation that can be as used as a pretext. And that was a serious attack, killed probably—maybe 20,000 people, you know, destroyed a large part of southern Lebanon, the city of Beirut, much of it. Did that give Lebanon—or the Palestinians in Lebanon the right to carry out terrorist acts in Israel, prior to it, to prevent the war? Well, I certainly don't think so; I'm sure you don't. But if preventive war is legitimate under such ambiguous cases as Iraq, why isn't that legitimate? So, no, I don't think it was just; I think it was aggression. 

Questioner #5: Sir, Walzer's "Legalist Paradigm"—when he describes it, he also describes three provisions, one of which being the human rights provision, saying that it is justified to intervene if human rights are being violated. Would you give any credence to the argument that Saddam Hussein was in fact a tyrant that did violate human rights…?

Chomsky: Oh, he certainly did.

Questioner #5: …even though there were other reasons given for war, such as WMD? And additionally, aggressors—Walzer also describes aggressors as also being just to go against—to go to war against. One. And did he ever lose his status as an aggressor from the first Gulf War?

Chomsky: He lost his status as an aggressor when he was driven out of Kuwait, just as Israel lost its status as an aggressor when, after 22 years, it pulled out of Lebanon. But—and I can give plenty of other examples close to home. But as for the human rights violations, they were horrendous. And here's one of the cases where it really is important to look at facts before you make decisions. And we know the facts. They're not secret. So, yes, Saddam Hussein carried out horrendous human rights violations. In fact he's on trial for them right now. But have a look at the trial. Saddam Hussein is on trial for crimes that he committed in 1982, right? Killed—charged with killing—probably accurately—killing about 150, or signing the death warrant for 150 or so Shi'ites who were involved in an uprising. Yeah that's a crime. 1982 happens to be an important year in US-Iraqi relations. This should be headlines in a free press in my opinion. It was a very important year. 1982 was the year in which Ronald Reagan dropped Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the US could start providing him with extensive aid, including military aid, including means to develop biological and chemical weapons and missiles and weapons of mass—and nuclear weapons. He was dropped from—and Donald Rumsfeld the next—shortly after went to firm up the agreement. The next charge against Saddam Hussein—the one that's going to come along, it's been announced—is a much more serious crime: the atrocities against the Kurds in 1987-1988, the al-Anfal massacres of Halabja. Yeah, they were terrible, probably killed 100,000 people. The US didn't object. In fact the Reagan administration blocked efforts in Congress even to protest against it. Furthermore the support for Saddam increased and continued. 
In fact Saddam was given an extraordinary privilege, remarkable: I mean he was allowed—he got away with attacking a US naval vessel [the USS Stark] and killing 37 soldiers—seamen in 1987. That's pretty astonishing; nobody can get away with that. But we were supporting—the Reagan administration was so strongly in support of Saddam, right through the worst atrocities, they even let him get away with that. I mean, in 19—this continued after the end of the war with Iran, after the worst atrocities. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States to take part in a conference—this was in Portland, Oregon—in which they were trained in how to develop weapons of mass destruction. I mean, that's 1989. And furthermore George Bush #1 told us why it was being done. He said, we have to provide aid to Saddam because it's our responsibility to help "US exporters" and because he contributes to "stability in the region". In fact that continued. I mean, take the—After the invasion of Kuwait, after he was driven out of Kuwait, you know, Iraq was practically bombed into the rubble, the US had total control of the area. There was an uprising—April—March/April 1991—Shi'ite uprising in the south, probably would've overthrown him. There were rebelling Iraqi generals. Good chance he would have been overthrown. Well, the Bush administration determined that they would essentially permit Saddam to crush it. They [Saddam's forces] used military helicopters, other armed equipment. They [the Bush administration] didn't have to do that. That led to a huge massacre. And it was described. You know, you can go back and read the New York Times right after that. They said, well, you know, it's regrettable but there's a consensus among the US and its allies—meaning Saudi Arabia and Britain—there's a consensus that—I'm virtually quoting—that Saddam Hussein offers more "hope" for the "stability" of the region than those who were trying to overthrow him [Alan Cowell, New York Times, 11 April 1991]. That's 1991, you know. Yeah, the human rights violations were horrendous. Does that have anything to do with the invasion? No, nothing, you know.