In an attempt to define Noam Chomsky (Philadelphia, 1928) we could say that he is possibly the freest, most independent political analyst with the greatest intellectual baggage in the world; A tireless critic of the foreign policy of the United States –and, as a Jew, also of Israel–, a left-wing activist with conservative ethical and moral principles, he is also a generous and modest man. Mythical figure of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the founder of modern linguistics, his theory of transformational generative grammar opened a new dimension to scientific and humanistic knowledge. That reputation allowed him to "assume a privileged position from which he was able to develop a powerful critical voice in American academia." This is how Vijay Prashad quotes him, co-author of the last of his hundred books, which is about to be published by Captain Swing. The Indian historian adds that his "habit of contextualizing, of placing current events within the framework of their historical dynamics and within the framework of the sociology of power, represents Noam's main contribution to the understanding of our time" . The retreat. Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of US Power is a brief but intense overview of Washington's wars, which actually range from Vietnam to Ukraine, and the current tension with China, the latter issues that are the focus of Chomsky's attention today. , who at 93 years old, and up to date with the latest news, continues to make his voice heard.
The recently deceased Mikhail Gorbachev once said that “every president of the United States. you have to have a war.” It seems that this is done...
Well, let's go to the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev proposed at that time the establishment of what he called a common European home, contrary to military alliances. An agreement that would equalize the US, Russia and Europe, working together for a more social democratic system throughout Eurasia. That was Gorbachev's vision. It was not entirely new, he was surely based on the known objectives and positions that Europe should become a third independent force. Throughout the cold war there was a conflict between the vision of an independent Europe as a third force and the Atlanticist vision, which represents NATO, based on US dominance and control. That became a problem. when the USSR fell. President George Bush had a certain moderate position, he was in favor of what came to be called the Partnership for Peace, with which NATO would remain but countries could join that association without being members of NATO. That was thwarted by Bill Clinton, who abandoned him almost immediately and began to move forward with NATO enlargement to the east. That was a violation of Bush's unequivocal promises to Gorbachev. There have been many misleading comments about this, but you can read the documents on the National Security Archive website. The problems began when the second Bush, George W. Bush, in 2008 invited Ukraine to join NATO. Defense Secretary Robert Gates considered it reckless, a provocation. Russia had made that very clear. No Russian leader would agree to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join hostile military alliances. Now, at this moment, the US and Britain continue to block the way to a possible negotiation that could lead to an end to the horrors in Ukraine. The US position, officially, is that the war should continue until Russia is seriously weakened. Well, that's how the situation changed...
Was there an American provocation, according to you?
We don't have a lot of internal documentation on this, so there's a fair amount of speculation. It seems that US and Russian intelligence expected a very quick Russian victory, but all underestimated the courage, commitment and readiness of the Ukrainians to respond to the Russian invasion. They also overestimated Russia's military capabilities. But what is very clear is that the discourse on the subject is overwhelmingly, almost 100%, about how to fight this war. Almost nothing on how to end it. Is very striking. There was no effort, not even a mention of a possibility of avoiding the war. Ukraine should have a status like Austria during the cold war period, when she functioned perfectly well, better than if she had been a member of NATO. For Ukraine that would not have been a violation of its sovereignty, but the US adamantly refused, the State Department stating that Russian security concerns would not be taken into consideration. So were there opportunities that could have been successful? We can't know.
The Ukrainians want their country back and we Westerners are helping them. This means a long war. Where is the balance between helping Ukraine with weapons and negotiating to stop the bloodshed?
Unfortunately, there isn't. Ukraine has every right to have weapons to defend itself. On the other hand, there should also be great efforts to try to reach a diplomatic agreement to end the horrors in Ukraine and all the consequences, which we must not overlook. Millions of people face hunger. Efforts to deal with the enormous threat of global warming have been reversed. There is a growing threat of nuclear war. It is very easy to imagine scenarios that quickly lead to escalation. Nothing is going to happen by accident, it is a very tense and dangerous situation. Focusing solely on how to fight this war and practically nothing on how to end it is unbalanced, and that must be overcome. Boris Johnson appears to have stepped in to prevent a possible deal brokered in April. President Macron has adopted a statesmanlike attitude, he has been offering opportunities to prevent the invasion with some form of diplomatic agreement. He is the only figure to continue his talks with Russia to see if there are possible openings towards a diplomatic agreement. He gets heavily attacked for this, but he should be given credit. It is the only correct position.
You have claimed that Putin has put Europe back into Washington's pocket. Recently, the chief of the German General Staff said that they will expand their military presence in the Indo-Pacific region with warships…
It's quite interesting. NATO is expanding its interests to the Indo-Pacific region. What is this huge accumulation of Chinese military power that they are talking about? Chinese military spending is probably a quarter, maybe a fifth, of the United States per capita. And unlike the US, China faces security problems at all of its borders. China policy has been broadened under Biden: encircle China with sentinel states, heavily armed with precision weapons, South Korea, Japan, Australia. But there are many valid options that can be taken with China. What kind of threat is China?
No. There has been a Chinese policy for 50 years that Taiwan is part of China. That is also official US policy, but it has been pushing things to the limit. Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan was a great provocation, which led to a reaction from China to make it clear with naval operations that it could blockade Taiwan, that it did not have to go to the island. There is no indication that China intends to conquer Taiwan, that would be extremely foolhardy, it could very well lead to a war that will destroy China as well as everyone else. What do they gain from the situation? They have a policy to integrate Taiwan into China in the long term. The West is not opposed. The threat from China is real, but it is different. China's threat is that it doesn't follow orders, for example when the US imposes sanctions on Iran to punish its leaders after the US dismantled the nuclear deal. China ignores our orders and goes its own way. That is an intolerable threat to US dominance of the world. You can think of international affairs as something like the mafia. If the sponsor is not obeyed, that is a problem. China does not obey.
In your book, The Retreat, you speak of the fragility of US power. Does that fragility make its foreign policy dangerous?
In each case, the withdrawal was because of a failure, not because of a change in foreign policy. The US simply moved to other areas. What was called the war on terror was just a pretext to intervene throughout Asia. Moving from war on terrorism to confrontation with Russia and China: The US must be in a position to fight two simultaneous wars against Russia and China, and win them. This is total madness. I don't know what the so-called strategic analysts have in mind, but everyone knows that there can be no war between the major nuclear powers. Now NATO surrounds China. It is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. We should move towards cooperation with China on common interests. But that is not to say that we love China. There are many things to criticize. The UN has published a report on the severe repression, sometimes torture, against a million Uyghurs who went to concentration camps. Compare that to what is worse. Ask yourself that question. There is a difference. In one case, China is an enemy, so we give it high visibility. In the other case we are, who are responsible for the fact that the Gaza strip is a prison, that there is no drinking water or electricity, that there is constant torture, violence almost every day. That's us. It is unpleasant to look in the mirror.
The United States has convinced the Western world that it embodies the good and does not commit war crimes, as you have denounced. What should the Europeans do not to follow these orders from Washington? Does the soft power that Europe used to represent have prospects?
It is a question that Europeans have to ask themselves. Europe was quick to sanction Russia for invading Ukraine. Did you call for sanctions against the US and Britain when they invaded Iraq? No, and now they are considering stopping Russian visitors from coming to Europe, and they didn't do that with US and British visitors after the invasion of Iraq. Why the double standards? If you want to cling to America's coattails, say so outright. They should have embraced Gorbachev's vision of a common Eurasian home. That was years ago, but you should move in that direction. Europe will not be able to develop without accommodating Russia and the Eurasian market. Europe should move towards sustainable energy without Russian oil and gas. Euro-Russian relations are vital, that is another reason why efforts had to be made, with diplomacy, with negotiations, to end the war. It is necessary for the survival of both. And it's not just Russia, it's also the huge market of China. If not, Europe will suffer severely, and the world too.
In Europe, the left is in a strange position. It is against NATO and some align with the Putin regime in the Ukraine war. What should be the position of the left?
I think it's quite simple. Ukraine deserves the means of defense against Russian aggression, just as the Iraqis deserved the means of defense against British and American invasion. Well of course that was out of the question. You can't take on the United States, it's too dangerous. It is a matter of cowardice and subordination. As far as the immediate situation is concerned, Ukraine deserves weapons for self-defense, not weapons to expand and escalate the war. Suppose we persist in NATO's policy of continuing the war to weaken Russia. Suppose it is successful. Putin could simply slip away quietly and defeated and fall to personal destruction. Russia humiliated. That is a possibility. The other possibility is new: moving forward to set the stage for nuclear war. Well, do you want to play with the lives of Ukrainians? It is quite a gamble to think that Putin does not need nuclear weapons to devastate Ukraine. The United States, Britain and now Europe are playing with the lives of the Ukrainians, saying that Putin has just accepted being totally defeated and destroyed. That is gambling. It is not moral to strip words of their meaning. As for the left, it should not be saying what you are saying in any war of aggression. Those who are attacked have the right to defend themselves. The aggressor has no rights.