In the second part of our interview, US intellectual Noam Chomsky tells CJ Stone why war with Iraq will be met with greater opposition than any previous conflict, and why Tony Blair has to do all of Bush’s difficult PR…
Big Issue Feb 10th-16th
Big Issue: This interview will be going out in the same week that an anti-war march is scheduled in London. The last march drew over four hundred thousand people and even more are expected this time. At the same time polls indicate that while a majority of the British people are against the war, about the same number of people believe that war is inevitable. The second question has to do with protest as a catalyst for change. Can ordinary people in the west influence the course of events, and, if so, how ?
Noam Chomsky: Not only in the west. This must be the most unpopular war in history. I can’t think of anything like it. I can’t think of a time where the level of protest has been anything like what it is now. Remember that all of this is taking place before the war has even broken out. I can’t think of a case in European or US history when that’s ever happened. I mean, in the case of Vietnam, for example, it was four or five years after the US had attacked South Vietnam before you get significant protest. By then South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. Now it’s before. And it’s all over the place, including the United States. Very large scale protests. Unprecedented. The polls in the United States, incidentally, are kind of misleading. You have to look at them pretty carefully. Polls indicate very strong support for war. On the other hand, if you ask the question, what is the reason for that support, here a fact that I mentioned before is critical. For a very large percentage of the population that supports the war, the reason is fear. They think he’s going to come and get us, unless we stop him now. Well that’s manufactured fear. It certainly doesn’t withstand fact, and it also doesn’t withstand much discussion. If you extricate that factor which differentiates the United States from the rest of the world, then I think one would find the levels of protest and opposition here is fairly similar.
Well, can that make a difference ? Sure it can. It’s already made a difference. The administration is trying to work itself into a position where it will have to go to war, it will have no choices. On the other hand it’s becoming harder and harder, largely because of popular opposition. Even a dictatorship can’t disregard its own population. And the more democratic countries certainly can’t. There are efforts to force countries to override public opinion. The most dramatic case right now is Turkey. As you get closer to the region there’s more and more opposition to the war, which is telling in itself. But in Turkey the opposition is enormous, it’s around 85%, and it’s interesting the way that’s treated here. That regarded as a “problem” for Turkey. Turkey has to find some way to take a position that will support the United States in opposition to the overwhelming majority of the population. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal in January by Morton Abramowitz, the former US ambassador, saying, well, ten years ago, in the good old days, there was a Prime Minister of Turkey who was a real democrat. Therefore he went along with the United States even though the population was against it. But the problem now is the people in office aren’t real democrats. They’re paying attention to popular opinion, and we’ve got to do something to over turn that so they’ll become real democrats too. All of this is said without any irony. That’s the understanding of democracy. Democracy means, you do what we say. And if 85% of the population disagree, that’s your problem. You’ve got to overcome it somehow. But this is not easy to carry off, certainly in the more democratic societies. So sure, protest can make an enormous difference, and it already has. At the very least it has already made the operation a domestically costly one for the administration, which will impose restraints on the next round which they have in mind. But it’s not by any means certain that you can’t stop this war.
Big Issue: Given the support that Tony Blair is currently giving to the Bush administration, could you indicate how the British people in particular… what effect the British people might have on the course of events.
Noam Chomsky: Britain is the ONLY country in the world that’s going along with the United States. Israel is, for its own reasons. Britain does follow loyally when the United States resorts to violence. That’s been traditional. And the US counts on it. They use Britain as a kind of a cover.
Big Issue: The Phrase is “International Community” isn’t it, which means Britain and America.
Noam Chomsky: Yeah: “the International Community is supporting us”. And when a dossier has to come out about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or crimes or whatever, it’s handed over to the British to put it out. That’s good for public relations. Then the US media and others can say, look what the International Community is saying, and so on and so forth. If the British Government is compelled by its own population to withdraw from this stance, this reflexive support for US violence, that would be very difficult for Washington.