Noam Chomsky: Subordinate and Non-Subordinate States
- Subordinate and Non-Subordinate States
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Khatchig Mouradian
May 08, 2006
Noam Chomsky, whom the New York Times has called "arguably the most
important intellectual alive," was voted the leading living public
intellectual in The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll conducted by the
British magazine Prospect. Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a world-renowned
linguist, writer, and political analyst. He is the author of many
books on US foreign policy and international affairs, the most recent
of which is "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on
This interview was conducted by phone from Beirut on May 2, 2006.
Khatchig Mouradian- In an article entitled "Domestic Constituencies,"
you say: "It is always enlightening to seek out what is omitted in
propaganda campaigns." Can you expand on what is omitted in the US
propaganda campaign on Lebanon and Syria after the assassination of
former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005?
Noam Chomsky- The only thing being discussed is that there was an
assassination and Syria was involved in it. How come Syria is in
Lebanon in the first place? Why did the US welcome Syria in Lebanon in
1976? Why did George Bush I support Syrian presence and domination and
influence in Lebanon in 1991 as part of his campaign against Iraq? Why
did the US support the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982? Why did
the US support Israel's 22 year occupation of parts of Lebanon, an
occupation in violation of Security Council resolutions? All these
topics, and many others, are missing from the discussion.
In fact, the general principle is that anything that places US actions
in a questionable light is omitted, with very rare exceptions. So if
you blame something on an enemy, then you can discuss it, and Syria,
right now is the official enemy. That doesn't necessarily mean that
the charges against Syria are wrong. It just means that everything
else is omitted.
K.M. - When speaking about regimes in the Middle East, you often quote
the expressions "Arab façade" and "local cop on the beat." What is the
role of Lebanon in the area?
N.C. - The phrase "Arab façade" comes from the British Foreign
secretary Lord Curzon after WWI. At the time, when the British were
planning the organization of the Middle East, their idea was that
there should be Arab façades which are apparent governments, behind
which they would rule. The expression "local cop on the beat" comes
from the Nixon administration. It was their conception of how the
Middle East should be run. There should be a peripheral region of
gendarme states (Turkey, Iran under the Shah, Israel joined after the
`67 war, Pakistan was there for a while). These states were to be the
local cops on the beat while the US would be the police headquarters.
The place of Lebanon was critical. It was primarily of concern because
of the transition of oil and also because it was a financial center.
The US was concerned in keeping it under control to ensure that the
entire Middle East energy system remains controlled. Incidentally, for
the same reasons, the US has regarded Greece as part of the Near East.
Greece was actually in the Near East section of the State Department
until 1974, because its main role in US planning was to be part of the
system by which the Middle East oil gets transported to the west. The
same is true with Italy. However, Lebanon had a much more crucial role
in this respect, because it is right in the center of the Middle East.
The aforementioned, as well as the support for Israel's action- Israel
being a local cop on the beat- were the motivating factors behind
Eisenhower's dispatch of military forces to Lebanon in 1958.
K.M. - And what does the US administration expect from Lebanon today?
N.C. - The role of Lebanon is to be an obedient, passive state which
regains its status as a financial center but accommodates to the major
US policies, which do include control of the energy resources.
K.M. What about Lebanon's role within the context of pressuring Syria?
N.C. - The question of Syria is a separate one. Yes, Lebanon is
expected to play a role for putting pressure on Syria. However, the
problem for the US is that Syria is not a subordinate state. There are
a lot of serious criticisms you can make about Syria, but the internal
problems of that country are of no special concern to the US, which
supports much more brutal governments. The problem with Syria is that
it simply does not subordinate itself to the US program in the Middle
East. Syria and Iran are the two countries in the region that have not
accepted US economic arrangements. And the policies against such
countries are similar. Take the bombing of Serbia in 1999, for
example. Why was Serbia an enemy? Certainly it wasn't because of the
atrocities it was carrying out. We know that the bombing was carried
out with the expectation that it would lead to a sharp escalation in
atrocities. We know the answer from the highest level of the Clinton
administration, and the answer was that Serbia was not adopting the
proper social and economic reforms. In fact, it was the one corner of
Europe which was still rejecting the socioeconomic arrangements that
the US wanted to dictate for the world. The problem with Syria and
Iran is more or less the same. Why is the US planning or threatening
war against Iran? Is it because Iran has been aggressive? On the
contrary, Iran was the target of US backed aggression. Is Iran
threatening anybody? No. Is Iran more brutal and less democratic than
the rest of the Arab world? It's a joke. The problem is that Iran is
K.M. - In this context, why is Europe increasingly being supportive of
US policies in the Middle East?
N.C. - If you look back over the past decades, a major concern of US
policy and it's very clear in internal planningis that Europe might
strike an independent course. During the cold war period, US was
afraid Europe might follow what they called "a third way," and many
mechanisms were used to inhibit any intention on the part of Europe to
follow an independent course. That goes right back to the final days
of World War II and its immediate aftermath, when US and Britain
intervened, in some cases quite violently, to suppress the
anti-fascist resistance and restore tradition structures, including
fascist-Nazi collaborators. Germany was reconstructed pretty much the
same way. The unwillingness to accept a unified neutral Germany in the
1950s was predicated on the same thinking. We don't know if that would
have been possible, but Stalin did offer a unified Germany which would
have democratic elections which he was sure to lose, but on condition
that it would not be part of a hostile military alliance. However, the
US was not willing to tolerate a unified Germany. The establishment of
NATO is in large part an effort to ensure European discipline and the
current attempts to expand NATO are further planning of the same sort.
European elites have been, by and large, pretty satisfied with this
arrangement. They're not very different from the dominant forces in
the US. They are somewhat different, but closely interrelated. There
are mutual investments and business relations. The elite sectors of
Europe don't particularly object to the US policies. You can see this
very strikingly in the case of Iran. The US has sought to isolate and
strangle Iran for years. It had embargos and sanctions, and it has
repeatedly threatened Europe to eliminate investments in Iran. The
main European corporations have pretty much agreed to that. China, on
the other hand, did not. China can't be intimidated, that's why the US
government is frightened of China. But Europe backs off and pretty
much follows US will. The same is true on the Israel-Palestine front.
The US strongly supports Israeli takeover of the valuable parts of the
occupied territories and pretty much the elimination of the
possibility of any viable Palestinian state. On paper, the Europeans
disagree with that and they do join the international consensus on a
two-state settlement, but they don't do anything about it. They're not
willing to stand against the US. When the US government decided to
punish the Palestinians for electing the wrong party in the last
elections, Europe went along, not totally, but pretty much. By and
large, European elites do not see it in their interest to confront the
US. They'd rather integrate with it. The problem the US is having with
China, and Asia more generally, is that they don't automatically
accept US orders.
K.M. - They don't fall in line
N.C. - Yes, they won't fall in line, and, especially in the case of
China, they just won't be intimidated. That's why, if you read the
latest National Security Strategy, China is identified as the major
long range threat to the US. This is not because China is going to
invade or attack anyone. In fact, of all the major nuclear powers,
they're the one that is the least aggressive, but they simple refuse
to be intimidated, not just in their policies regarding the Middle
East, but also in Latin America. While the US is trying to isolate and
undermine Venezuela, China proceeds to invest in and to import from
Venezuela without regard to what the US says.
The international order is in a way rather like the mafia. The
godfather has to ensure that there is discipline.
Europe quietly pursues its own economic interests as long as they
don't fall in direct conflict with the US. Even in the case of Iran,
although major European corporations did pull out of country, and
Europe did back down on its bargain with Tehran on uranium enrichment,
nevertheless, Europe does maintain economic relations with Iran. For
years, the US has also tried to prevent Europe from investing in Cuba
and Europe pretty much kept away, but not entirely. The US has a mixed
attitude towards European investment and resource extraction in Latin
America. For one thing, the US and European corporate systems are very
much interlinked. The US relies on European support in many parts of
the world. For Europe to invest in Latin America and import its
resources is by no means as threatening to US domination as when China
K.M. - In one of his recent speeches, Hasan Nasrallah, the
secretary-general of Hizbullah, spoke of solidarity with the
resistance movement in the occupied territories and with "our brother
Chavez." Let us speak about the common link that brings people on
different sides of the Atlantic, and of different ideological
N.C. - The common thing that brings them together is that they do not
subordinate themselves to US power. Hizbullah knows perfectly well
that they're not going to get help from Venezuela, but the fact that
they are both following a course independently of US power and, in
fact, in defiance to US orders, links them together.
The US has been trying, unsuccessfully, to topple the Cuban government
for more than 45 years now and it remains. The rise of Chavez to power
was very frightening to US elites. He has an enormous popular support.
The level of support for the elected government in Venezuela has risen
very sharply and it is now at the highest in Latin America. And Chavez
is following an independent course. He's doing a lot of things that
the US doesn't like a bit. For example, Argentina, which was driven to
total ruin by following IMF orders, has slowly been reconstructing
itself by rejecting IMF rules, and has wanted to pay off its debt to
rid itself of the IMF. Chavez helped them, and he bought a substantial
part of the Argentine debt. To rid oneself from the IMF means to rid
oneself from one of the two modalities of control employed by the US:
violence and economic force. Yesterday, Bolivia nationalized its gas
reserves; the US is opposed to that. And Bolivia was able to do that
partly because of Venezuelan support.
If countries move in a direction of independent nationalism, that is
regarded as unacceptable. Why did the US want to destroy Nasser? Was
it because he was more violent and tyrannical than other leaders? The
problem was that it was an independent secular nationalism. That just
can't be accepted.
K.M. - You talked about the Chavez government's popularity at home.
The polls show that the same is not true about the Bush Administration
and its policies, both at home and abroad. Despite the discontent on a
wide range of issues, little has changed in terms of US policy. How do
you explain that?
N.C. - In a book that just came out, I talk about this at some length.
The US has a growing and by now enormous democratic deficit at home;
there's an enormous divide between public opinion and public policy on
a whole range of issues, from the health system to Iraq. The Bush
administration has a very narrow grip on power- remember in the last
election Bush got about 31 percent of the electorate, Kerry got 29
percent. A few changes in the votes in Ohio and it could have gone the
other way- they're using that narrow grip desperately to try to
institutionalize very radical and far reaching changes in the US. They
can get away with it because there's no opposition party. If there
were an opposition party, it would have totally overwhelmed the Bush
administration. Every week, the Bush administration does something to
shoot itself in the foot, whether it's Hurricane Katrina, corruption
scandals, or other issues, but the formal opposition party can't make
any gains. One of the most interesting things about US politics in the
past years is that while support for the Bush administration, which
was always very thin, has declined very sharply because of one
catastrophe after the other, support for the Democrats hasn't
increased. It is increasing only as a reaction to the lack of support
to the Republicans. This is because the Democrats are not presenting
K.M. - You mentioned your recent book, Failed States. In the Afterword
of that book, you say, "No one familiar with history should be
surprised that the growing democratic deficit at home is accompanied
by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy to a suffering
world." How much are these "messianic missions" helping the Bush
N.C. - They're helping the administration among the educated classes.
I discuss this in some length in the book. The messianic missions came
along right after the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq. The invasion was only on the ground that Iraq was just about
to attack the US with nuclear weapons. Well, after a few months, they
discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction, so they had
to find a new pretext for invading and that became the messianic
mission. The intellectual classes, in Europe as well, and even in the
Arab world, picked this up: the leader said it therefore we have to
Among the general population, however, I don't think these messianic
missions have much influence, except indirectly. This whole rhetoric
is a weak effort, and in fact by now it's pretty desperate.
K.M. - My final question is about Turkey, one of the local cops on the
beat. I was quite disturbed by the recent developments in the
Southeast of the country. You have been to Turkey a number of times,
and you have also visited the Kurdish regions. What is your take on
the current status of freedoms in Turkey?
N.C. - As you most probably know, the leading Human Rights Watch
investigator in Turkey, who is an extremely fine person, Jonathan
Sugden, was just expelled from the country because he was
investigating human rights violations in the Southeastern zone.
In 2002, the situation in Turkey and especially the Kurdish zone was
pretty bad, but in the next few years it improved and now it's
regressing again. Let me just give you a personal example. I was there
in 2002 to participate in the trial of a publisher who was being tried
for publishing some remarks of mine about Turkey. Now he is again on
trial for a different book.
There are many reasons for the regression. The military is exerting a
much heavier hand; the reforms that were slowly taking place are
reduced. My own feeling is that one of the reasons for these
developments is the hostility of Europe towards allowing Turkey into
the EU. There's a pretty strong element of racism in that, which Turks
are not unaware of.
Khatchig Mouradian is a Lebanese-Armenian writer, translator, and
journalist. He is an editor of the daily newspaper Aztag, published in
Beirut. He can be contacted at khatchigm @ gmail.com
 Noam Chomsky, "Domestic Constituencies," Z Magazine, 11:5, p. 18.
 Lord Curzon once said that Britain wanted an "Arab facade ruled
and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native
Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff."
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