The price they are willing to pay
Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian
International Socialist Review, November-December
The media have been noticeably lacking in providing a context
and a background for the attacks on New York and Washington. What
might be some useful information that you could provide?
There are two categories of information that are particularly
useful because there are two distinct, though related, sources
for the attack. Let's assume that the attack was rooted somehow
in the bin Laden network. That sounds plausible, at least, so
let's say it's right.
If that's right, there are two categories of information and
of populations that we should be concerned with, linked but not
identical. One is the bin Laden network. That's a category by
itself. Another is the population of the region. They're not the
same thing, although there are links.
What ought to be in the forefront is discussion of both of
those. The bin Laden network-I doubt if anybody knows it better
than the CIA, since they were instrumental in helping construct
it. This is a network whose development started in 1979, if you
can believe President Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew
Brzezinski. He claimed, maybe he was just bragging, that in mid-1979
he had instigated secret support for mujahideen fighting against
the government of Afghanistan in an effort to draw the Russians
into what he called an "Afghan trap," a phrase worth
remembering. He's very proud of the fact that they did fall into
the Afghan trap by sending military forces to support the government
six months later, with consequences that we know.
The U.S., along with Egypt, Pakistan, French intelligence,
Saudi Arabian funding-Israel was involved-assembled a major army,
a huge mercenary army, maybe 100,000 or more, and they drew from
the most militant sectors they could find, which happened to be
radical Islamists-what are called here "Islamic fundamentalists"-from
all over, most of them not from Afghanistan. They're called "Afghanis,"
but like bin Laden, they come from elsewhere.
Bin Laden joined very quickly. He was involved in the funding
networks, which probably are the ones which still exist. They
were trained, armed, organized by the CIA, Pakistan, Egypt, and
others to fight a holy war against the Russians. And they did.
They fought a holy war against the Russians. They carried terror
into Russian territory. They may have delayed the Russian withdrawal,
a number of analysts believe, but they did win the war and the
Russian invaders withdrew.
The war was not their only activity. In 1981, groups based
in that same network assassinated President Anwar Sadat of Egypt,
who had been instrumental in setting it up. In 1983, one suicide
bomber, maybe with connections to the same networks, essentially
drove the U.S. military out of Lebanon. And it continued.
By 1989, they had succeeded in their holy war in Afghanistan.
As soon as the U.S. established a permanent military presence
in Saudi Arabia [in 1990], bin Laden and the rest announced that
from their point of view, that was comparable to the Russian occupation
of Afghanistan and they turned their guns on the Americans, as
had already happened in 1983 when the U.S. had military forces
in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia is a major enemy of the bin Laden network,
just as Egypt is. That's what they want to overthrow, what they
call the un-Islamic governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, other
states of the Middle East and North Africa. And it continued.
In 1997, they murdered roughly 60 tourists in Egypt and destroyed
the Egyptian tourist industry. And they've been carrying out activities
all over the region, North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East,
for years. That's one group. And that is an outgrowth of the U.S.
wars of the 1980s and, if you can believe Brzezinski, even before,
when they set the Afghan trap. There's a lot more to say about
them, but that's one part.
Another is the people of the region. They're connected, of
course. The bin Laden network and others like them draw a lot
of their support from the desperation and anger and resentment
of the people of the region, which ranges from rich to poor, secular
to radical Islamist. The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, has
run a couple of articles on attitudes of wealthy Muslims, the
people who most interest them: businessmen, bankers, professionals,
and others throughout the Middle East region who are very frank
about their grievances. They put it more politely than the poor
people in the slums and the streets, but it's dear. Everybody
knows what [their grievances] are.
For one thing, they're very angry about U.S. support for undemocratic,
repressive regimes in the region and U.S. insistence on blocking
any efforts toward democratic openings. You just heard on the
news, it sounded like the BBC, a report that the Algerian government
is now interested in getting involved in this war. The announcer
said that there had been plenty of Islamic terrorism in Algeria,
which is true, but he didn't tell the other part of the story,
which is that a lot of the terrorism is apparently state terrorism.
There's pretty strong evidence for that. The government, of course,
is interested in enhancing its repression and will welcome U.S.
assistance in this.
In fact, [the Algerian] government is in office because it
blocked the democratic election in which it would have lost to
mainly Islamic-based groups. That set off the current fighting.
Similar things go on throughout the region.
The "moneyed Muslims" interviewed by the Journal
also complained that the U.S. has blocked independent economic
development by "propping up oppressive regimes." That's
the phrase they used. But the prime concern stressed in the Wall
Street Journal articles and by everybody who knows anything about
the region-the prime concern of the "moneyed Muslims,"
[who are] basically pro-American, incidentally-is the dual U.S.
policies, which contrast very sharply in their eyes, toward Iraq
In the case of Iraq, for the last 10 years the U.S. and Britain
have been devastating the civilian society. Madeleine Albright's
famous statement about how maybe half a million children have
died, and it's a high price but we're willing to pay it, that
doesn't sound too good among people who think that maybe it matters
if half a million children are killed by the U.S. and Britain.
And meanwhile [the sanctions are] strengthening Saddam Hussein.
So that's one aspect of the dual policy.
The other aspect is that the U.S. is the prime supporter of
the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory, now
in its thirty-fifth year. It's been harsh and brutal from the
beginning, extremely repressive. Most of this hasn't been discussed
here, and the U.S. role has been virtually suppressed. It goes
back 25 years of blocking diplomatic initiatives. Even simple
facts are not reported.
For example, as soon as the current fighting began last September
30, Israel immediately, the next day, began using U.S. helicopters
(they can't produce helicopters) to attack civilian targets. In
the next couple of days they killed several dozen people in apartment
complexes and elsewhere. The fighting was all in the Occupied
Territories, and there was no Palestinian fire. The Palestinians
were using stones. So this is people throwing stones against occupiers
in a military occupation, legitimate resistance by world standards,
insofar as the, targets are military.
Your comment [made in an unpublished part of this interview -
ed.] at the US. is a "leading terrorist state" might
stun many Americans Could you elaborate on that?
The U.S. is the only country that was condemned for international
terrorism by the World Court [for its actions in Nicaragua] and
that rejected a [UN] Security Council resolution calling on states
to observe international law. It continues international terrorism.
That example's the least of it. And there are also what in
comparison are minor examples. Everybody here was quite properly
outraged by the Oklahoma City bombing, and for a couple of days,
the headlines all read, "Oklahoma city looks like Beirut."
I didn't see anybody point out that Beirut also looks like Beirut,
and part of the reason is that the Reagan administration had set
off a terrorist bombing there in 1985 that was very much like
Oklahoma City, a truck bombing outside a mosque timed to kill
the maximum number of people as they left. It killed 80 and wounded
200, aimed at a Muslim cleric who they didn't like and who they
missed. It was not very secret.
I don't know what name you give to the attack that's killed
maybe a million civilians in Iraq and maybe a half a million children-which
is a price the secretary of state says we're willing to pay. Is
there a name for that?
Supporting Israeli atrocities is another one. Supporting Turkey's
crushing of its own Kurdish population, for which the Clinton
administration gave the decisive support-80 percent of the arms,
escalating as atrocities increased-is another. Or take the bombing
of the Sudan, one little footnote, so small that it is casually
mentioned in passing in reports on the background to the September
How would the same commentators react if the bin Laden network
blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the U.S. and the facilities
for replenishing them? Or Israel? Or any country where people
matter? Although that's not a fair analogy, because the U.S. target
is a poor country which had few enough drugs and vaccines to begin
with and can't replenish them. Nobody knows how many thousands
or tens of thousands of deaths resulted from that single atrocity,
and to bring up that death toll is considered scandalous. If somebody
did that to the U.S. or its allies, can you imagine the reaction?
Or to return to "our own little region over here,"
as Henry Stimson called it, take Cuba. After many years of terror
beginning in late 1959, including very serious atrocities, Cuba
should have the right to resort to violence against the U.S. according
to U.S. doctrine that is scarcely questioned. It is, unfortunately,
all too easy to continue, not only with regard to the U.S. but
also other terrorist states.
The U.S. is officially committed to what is called "low-intensity
warfare." That's the official doctrine. If you read the definition
of low-intensity conflict in army manuals and compare it with
official definitions of "terrorism" in army manuals,
or the U.S. Code, you find they're almost the same.
Terrorism is the use of coercive means aimed at civilian populations
in an effort to achieve political, religious, or other aims. That's
what the World Trade Center bombing was, a particularly horrifying
terrorist crime. And that's official [U.S. government] doctrine.
I mentioned a couple of examples. We could go on and on.
11th, 2001, New York City