Transcribed by Scott Senn
"Assessing the Role of US Foreign Policy, Israeli Security, & Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories"
7 April 2009 Madison, WI
Chomsky (continued): Now the Russians understand that as well as the Americans. And in fact if they don't understand it, they can read it in American strategic analysis journals, where they can read the detailed explanation of why the "missile defense" system is a potential threat to the Soviet deterrent. Okay, if there's a threat to the Soviet deterrent, what they're going to do is build up offensive military capacity to get around it, which is exactly what they're doing of course. That increases the threat of nuclear war – of maybe, by accident, if you have systems on high alert – . They've come really close to accidents very frequently – maybe stopped by human intervention in the last two minutes or something. So we're consciously increasing the threat of nuclear war. And there are many other cases. I mean, let's take a major case: We just had the NATO summit, okay? Think about NATO for a minute. If somebody wanted some other topics to work on, take NATO. Why does NATO exist? Okay, now, during the Cold War there was a kind of rationale. I mean, you could believe or not; but it had a rationale that wasn't total imbecility: It was supposed to be there to protect ourselves from a Russian attack. Was there a possibility of a Russian attack, you know? Probably not. But at least there's some kind of a credible rationale. Well, you know, after the Soviet Union disappeared, what's the rationale? I mean, there isn't any! And take a look at what happened. I mean, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachev, the Russian premier, made an astonishing concession to the United States, he allowed – he agreed to allow a unified Germany to be of course militarized and also to join a hostile military alliance. Now that's astonishing. Just look at the history of the past century: I mean, Germany alone practically destroyed Russia several times in the century. Now he's saying a militarized Germany – a main power in Europe – can join a hostile military alliance led by the United States. Amazing concession! But he insisted on a quid pro quo and got it. He insisted that the Bush administration (this is Bush I) agree that – the words they used – that NATO would not expand "one inch" to the east. Okay, that gives Russia a kind of a buffer zone. And that was agreed upon; it was a pledge by the United States. Gorbachev also proposed a nuclear weapons free zone from the Arctic down to the Mediterranean, which would, again, reduce the threat of accidental conflict or some other kind of conflict. The US never responded to that, as far as I know; and it never happened. All right, then Clinton came in. One of Clinton's first acts was to violate that pledge and expand NATO to the east. You know, the Clinton administration – people like Strobe Talbott who was in charge of eastern Europe – say, well, we had to do that to get the eastern European states to join the European Union. But that's just not true. There's no connection between joining the European Union and being a member of NATO. I mean, there's a lot of states – Austria, Finland, Sweden – are part of the European Union but they're not part of NATO. So, okay, you want the eastern European states in the European Union? It makes some sense; it's got nothing to do with NATO. Expanding NATO to the east is just a seriously aggressive act, which significantly threatens Russia, so of course they reacted, by expanding offensive military capacity. Then Bush came along with his aggressive militarism, and it expanded even further. And now it's expanded still further by Obama, by insisting on putting systems in eastern Europe which can only be understood – you know, it's not even a worse case analysis [but] the only rational interpretation of them – is as a threat to the Soviet deterrent which is going to increase tensions. Well, you know, that's not the only example. But there's case after case where actions are being taken which increase the threat of nuclear war. (And that's terminal; you know, nothing much is going to survive a nuclear war.) Many other examples. That's one case, and the other case is environmental destruction, which is creeping along; you know, it's not like imminent and total the way a nuclear war is; but it's going to be severe. Nobody knows the exact details; but everybody knows that the longer you wait, the worse it's going to be. And it could be very severe. Again, [there's] a lot of uncertainties; but all the uncertainties look bad, and most of them look pretty bad. So that's two good reasons why the species is not likely to survive.
Chomsky (continued): As for the Samson option, that's actually real. I mean, I said before that if the United States essentially tells Israel, "you've got to withdraw", they'll almost certainly do it. But they do have an option. It was called – It goes back to the 1950s. [If] you look at the Israeli records back to the 1950s, when they were a weak state, not a powerful state, they did say – the top leadership, you know, the Defense Ministry and others (this is the Labor government) – that if anybody crosses us, "we will go crazy". That was the phrase that was used: "we'll be a crazy state; we'll do something so wild that they'll be forced to do what we want." Well, they couldn't really do that back in the 1950s. But once they have nuclear weapons options, they can. And in fact if you read US military journals, you find analyses saying that the Israeli nuclear weapons are a threat to us. You know – not that they're going to attack us, but they'll do something that will cause such, you know, blow-up in the world that we'll get in real trouble. Okay, that's the "Samson option". It goes back to the biblical story of Samson who, you remember, killed a lot of Philistines, and then they caught him and blinded him. And he was in a Philistine temple. He'd gotten his strength back; his hair grew. (You've all learned this stuff.) And he stood between two pillars, and he pulled down the pillars, and the ceiling fell, and he killed more Philistines in his death than in his lifetime. He was basically the first suicide-bomber, who killed lots of Philistines. He's a hero, you know. But that's the Samson option: "we'll bring the temple down, even if we kill ourselves." And it's real, you know. And it's a danger. The more we strengthen Israel's military capacity, the greater the threat to us. I mean, the former head of the Strategic Command, General Lee Butler, after he left it – . (That's, you know, the part of the military that controls strategic weapons, including nuclear weapons.) He was very straight about it; he said, the greatest threat in the region is that Israel has this extraordinary destructive capacity, which first of all impels others to try to match it, but also is an enormous danger in itself. [http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/1998nuclearfutures(2).pdf] So we may be shooting ourselves in the head by letting a crazy state develop. And the craziness of the state is not because the people are insane. Once you pick a policy of choosing expansion over security, that's what you end up getting stuck with.
Questioner #6: I was wondering if you could address the Palestinian refugee problem and the question of the right of return in terms of a two-state solution.
Chomsky: Well, there are some problems that are solvable, and there are others that unfortunately – much as we regret it – aren't solvable. It'd be nice if it were otherwise. A two-state settlement can be achieved. But the rights of Palestinian refugees are not going to be achieved except symbolically. It's a horrible story; but if you think about it, it's basically a fact. The refugees in Lebanon or in Jordan – some of them – under a political settlement – some of them could return. Very few are going to return to their homes. I mean, that's about as likely as, you know, Native Americans coming and resettling in Madison. I mean, you could give an argument for it that it would be just. But it's not going to happen in the real world. And the Palestinian refugees – very few are going to return to their homes which have been destroyed, taken over, and so on. I mean, some proportion of them might go back to a Palestinian state, which is of course not their home and is very poor and so on – at best. But most of them are just going to have to be absorbed somewhere. And the right solution, I think, would be for the United States to bring them to the United States. I mean, we have a large degree of responsibility for their plight; we have the wealth and resources to take care of refugees. So, yeah, we ought to do it. I mean, just as in the late – .
Questioner #7: You think Israel and the US will go after Iran?
Chomsky [hoarsely]: I think I better end at this point, because I can't talk.