Monday, October 09, 2006


Dear Charngchi Way,
Thank you very much for your comment. I'm so grateful. Your interview with Professor Chomsky was inspiring. I'm Japanese so I'm always interested in interviews of Prof. Chomsky with Asian interviewers. I hope you'll translate your transcripts into Chinese so that more people can read them. I hope and I believe you hope too, that more and more people will come to know his views so that we'll be able to think ourselves as "members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire."
Thank you.

On Just War Theory and the Invasion of Iraq. U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Q&A

The Q&A

Chomsky: Your chance to talk. Repeat that the questioners won’t be filmed. So you can feel free to talk.

Q: Sir, I was just wondering, if you believe the United States of America has a responsibility to intervene in cases where just war says that it is justified to intervene?

Chomsky: Do I think that there’s responsibility to intervene in cases where just war theory concludes that it is correct to intervene, is that the question?
Personally, I agree with the UN Charter and the high-level UN panel of December 2004 in UN World Summit, which I quoted. But I can’t really answer the question because as far as I can determine, you can tell me if I’m wrong, just war theory never tells you anything. It doesn’t tell you when it’s proper to intervene. What it tells you is “I think it is proper to intervene.” Well, you know, I may also think so but there’s a big gap between assertion and argument. Between surmise and evidence. So if you can tell me where just war theory entails that we ought to intervene, we can consider the question. But until it’s done, we can’t really consider the question.

Q: Sir, I was wondering, do you believe that it’d have been right to reassess Article 51 of the UN Charter, you’d believe that by not reassessing and not rewriting it, it loses its relevancy?

Chomsky: Sorry, I didn’t get it. By…? Say it again?

Q: By not reassessing it and not rewriting it..

Chomsky: Yeah.

Q: you believe that it loses its relevancy?

Chomsky: It has been reassessed, repeatedly. For example, by the high-level UN panel of December 2004--the issues were reported in 2004--with many distinguished participants. I mentioned Brent Scowcroft, but there were others. Yes, that’s exactly what they did: They reassessed the UN Charter. And their conclusion is what I read. The UN World Summit last September, again reassessed the UN Charter and that’s what it concluded. Maybe there should be further reassessment, fine, then let’s undertake it. Let’s consider their arguments. There are other arguments. But we can’t say it hasn’t been reassessed. We can say we haven’t paid any attention to it. Well, that’s possible, in fact it’s true. But certainly it has been reassessed by very respectable and leading figures.
And the conclusions in my opinion at least are pretty justified. However, to get back to the main topic, I don’t think just war theory tells you anything about that. When we judge these things, we’re judging them on other bases. On the bases of actual evidence about what happens in particular cases in terms of our fundamental moral principles with which we should try to explicate and apply, like the principle of universality. That’s the way we should reassess it. Also we should, I think seriously about the statement that I quoted of the December 2004 panel, that was directed to people like us. It was directed to intellectual opinion in the West. And you can read it again but what they said is the foundations of world order based on the principle of non-intervention, in the affairs of others not forced to threat and intervention is too important and too fragile to be destroyed. Or the consequences will be terrible because for one to act is to grant the authority to all. At least if we believe in elementary moral principles. That’s a heavy burden to bear. Maybe we can come up with a different conclusion in some cases. Actually personally I think we can, but it has to be argued.

Q: You said that it’s possible that Article 51 needs to be reassessed, but you mentioned earlier when you were referencing Walzer’s book that he said that Israeli preemptive strike was just…eh, he said Israeli preemptive strike was justified. You also stated that his arguments did not really have justification by his theory. However, in the case of the preemptive strike, he does say that there’re several criteria that are necessary for the Israeli attack to be justified. Specifically the fact that the Egyptian army was standing at a state of readiness that Israeli army was incapable of holding. So under Article 51, even though Egypt had not yet invaded Israel, they were not at war. However, what Egypt was doing tactically put Israel at a severe disadvantage, so under our modern definition of war, it seems to be that it ought to be…”it seems to me” (laughing), it seems logical that it ought to be called an act of war, what Egypt was doing, putting Israel in such a disadvantage. So doesn’t Article 51 definitely need some reassessment?

Chomsky: Article 51 clearly does not apply. I read the article, we can argue that if it was justified, but we can’t say that Article 51 justifies it. Not under Daniel Webster’s characterization or any other one’s that is accepted by the international community. We might argue and here’s where I think you could make an argument that if you consider the range of issues that rose at the time that the preemptive strike was justified. Maybe one can give such an argument. But the point is that no argument was given to that effect, none of the relevant facts were considered and this is regarded as one of the half dozen cases where just war theory entails that the use of military force was legitimate. Just war theory doesn’t entail that. It doesn’t entail anything. What it tells you is well, I, Michael Walzer, believes this was justified above without giving any reasons and without looking into background. If you look into the background, there’s a lot more complex than that.. a lot of literature and scholarship on it. That the US did not agree, there were all sorts of possibilities you could’ve taken, I mean I don’t wanna.. if you want to run through the background. But it’s quite intricate and complex. Going back to the question of a free passage for the strait of Tehran, whether that should be brought to the World court, which the US and Israel refused to do. And Egypt insisted on, and involves Israeli strikes against Syrian targets, all sorts of things. So, yes, there’s a complicated background, you can look at them, you could decide, maybe, that in the light of these complex.. these complex circumstances, perhaps Israel was entitled to make a preemptive strike, but that’s not what it’s claimed. What it’s claimed is that without looking any evidence, just war theory-- whatever it is, it’s not easy to determine--just theory entails that this is one of the half dozen cases in the last century in which the use of force was “no doubt” legitimate, and the only case in which the preemptive strike was legitimate. And we can also raise the question of universality. I mean I don’t believe and I’m sure you don’t believe that Iran has a right to, say, carry out terrorist acts in the United States right now. But undoubtedly it’s under a serous threat. And undoubtedly the threat is simply overwhelming as compared with Iran’s capacities. But it will be outrageous to suggest that, of course. If it’s outrageous to suggest that why is it legitimate in this case? I mean for one to act is to give the right to all. And we can give a whole lot of other examples. Let me give even more outrageous one, ok, not because I accept it of course, but just as an example. Nobody I know of who’s semi-sane goes out every December 7th and celebrates the Pearl Harbor Day. However, if we use these arguments, you can do it. Japan, on December 7th, attacked US military bases in -- to effectively to US colonies, territories claimed by the US, Hawaii and Philippines-- attacked military bases. And the Japanese are perfectly capable of reading what was being written in U.S. public journals. In fact the U.S intelligence which cracked the Japanese codes know that they knew about it. What was being written going all way up to the high military command, being reported by political commentaries and the New York Times was that the United States was that B17s were-- running off the--going assembly line, designed to be able to burn the--to the ground, what they called “the antiques” in which the Japanese lived, these wooden cities, burned to the ground under B17 attacks. Furthermore, B17 being re-shifted from the Atlantic when they were needed to the Pacific bases in preparation for such attacks. Well, you know, is that a threat? Yes, it’s a pretty serious threat. Does that justify Pearl Harbor? I mean not in ten million years. But if that doesn’t, why is this justified? (pause)
My birthday incidentally, so I have a special interest in that day.

Q: Sir, up here. I just wanna know if you thought our operations in war were preemptive or preventive, and..

Chomsky: Sorry I couldn’t hear the first part.

Q: Do you think our operations in Iraq preventive or preemptive, and do you think that our operation in Iraq is just or unjust?

Chomsky: Well, there’s interesting terminology in that. The administration presented that in fact the National Security Council described, they had that in mind…but more generally, as preemptive war, but certainly it isn’t preemptive war by any stretch of the imagination. More accurately you can call it a preventive war. OK, say you have to prevent a potential attack against us. Personally, I don’t see much justification for that, even if you accept that they believed all the reports that Collin Powell was giving at the UN Security Council and so on. Even if we accept all that we believed, it doesn’t seem to me the preventive war in such cases legitimate. And as you know the world didn’t think so either. There were international polls taken on this and outside the United States and less… to more limited extent to England. You could barely find a country in the world where support for it was above 10%. In fact, the only two exceptions in international polls taken were India and Israel. But both of them had something different in mind. What they had in mind was their own repression of the occupied territories. Kashmir and the occupied territories, now they liked the idea, preventive war by the powerful. But they weren’t talking about this. However, the rest of the world is almost nonexistent. You know, 10% or less. Again, we have the same question. If preventive war is legitimate under those circumstances, it is legitimate for everybody. OK, that means it’s legitimate for Iran today. I mean to take another case, it is simply undeniable, I mean I read it right in US official documents that the United States has been carrying out a terrorist war against Cuba since 1960. I mean at first it was direct participation. More recent years, it’s just with tolerance. But that it happened isn’t even questionable. It was J.F Kennedy assigned his brother Robert Kennedy the task of running the terrorist war. It was to be his highest priority Robert Kennedy’s official, you know, more or less official biographer, a historian, Arthur Schlesinger, who was a well-known historian, it was Kennedy, member of the Kennedy team Latin American advisor He writes that Robert Kennedy’s task was “bringing the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. If you look back at the record, it was no joke. And it continues, now still based on the US soil. The US harbors happily harbors the terrorists who were involved in it. Does that give to Cuba the right to carry out terrorist acts in the US? That this preventive, did they give him the right? Well, I don’t think so and I’m sure you don’t think so. Ah, but if preventive war is legitimate, why not? In fact, there are many other cases where, take say, Lebanon in 1982. When Israel was preparing the attack, and in fact trying desperately to conjure up an excuse for the attack, they were bombing Lebanon, hoping for some retaliation that can be as used the pretext. And that was a serious attack, killed probably maybe 20,000 people, you know, destroyed a large part of Southern Lebanon, the city of Beirut, much of it. Did that give Lebanon or the Palestinians in Lebanon the right to carry out terrorist acts in Israel? Prior to it, to prevent the war? I certainly don’t think so, I’m sure you don’t. But if preventive war is legitimate under such ambiguous cases as Iraq, why isn’t that legitimate? So, no, I don’t think it was just, I think it was an aggression.

Q: Sir, Walzer’s legal paradigm when he described, he also describes three provisions one of which being the human right provision saying that it is justified to intervene if human rights are being violated. Ah would you give any credence to the argument that Saddam Hussein was in fact a tyrant that did violate human rights? Even though there are other apt reasons given for such as WMD. Additionally aggressors, Walzer also describes, aggressors are also being just, to go against war, to go war against and on one hand, did he ever lose his status as an aggressor from the first Gulf War?

Chomsky: He lost his status as an aggressor when he was driven out of Kuwait just as Israel lost its status as an aggressor when after 22 years it pulled out of Lebanon. But I can give you plenty of other examples, of course close to home. But as to human rights violations they were horrendous. Here’s one of the cases where it really is important to look at facts before you go make decisions. We know the facts. They are not secret. So yes, Saddam Hussein carried out horrendous human rights violations. In fact he’s on trail for them right now. Well, have a look at the trail. Saddam Hussein is on trial for crimes that he committed in 1982, right? Killed, the charge of killing probably, accurately by killing 150, or signed the death warrant for 150 or so Shiites who were involved in an uprising. Yeah that’s a crime. 1982 happens to be an important year in the US-Iraqi relations. This should be headlines in a free press in my opinion. It was a very important year. 1982 was the year in which Ronald Reagan dropped Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so the US could start providing him with extensive aid including military aid, including means to develop biological and chemical weapons and missiles, and weapons of nuclear weapons, it was dropped …… Donald Rumsfeld shortly after went to firm up the agreement, the next charge against Saddam Hussein, once going to come along, it’s been announced much more serious crime, the atrocities against the Kurds in 1987, 1988, unfold the massacre of Halabja. They were terrible, probably killed 100,000 people. The US didn’t object. In fact the Reagan administration blocked efforts of Congress and even to protest against it. Furthermore the support for Saddam increased and continued.
In fact Saddam was given an extraordinary privilege. Remarkable. I mean he was allowed.. he got away with attacking a US naval vessel and killing 37 soldiers. I’ve seen it in 1987. That was pretty astonishing and nobody would get away with that. But we were supporting, the Reagan administration was so strongly on support of Saddam right through the worst atrocities, even he got away with that. I mean in 19..this continued to the end of war in Iran after the worst atrocities. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States to take part in conference, it was in Portland Oregon, in which they were trained in how to develop, how to make weapons of mass destruction, 1989. And furthermore George Bush No1 told us why it was being done. He said “We have to provide aid to Saddam because it’s our responsibility to help US exporters and because he contributes to stability in the region.” In fact that continued. Take, after the invasion of Kuwait, after he was driven out of Kuwait, you know, Iraq was practically bombed into the rubble, the US had a total control of the area. There was an uprising, April, March, April 1991, Shiite uprising in the south. Probably would’ve overthrown it. They were rebelling Iraqi generals. Good chance it would have been overthrown. The Bush administration determined that they would essentially to permit Saddam to crush it. The US military helicopters and other armed equipment, they didn’t have to do that. That led to a huge massacre. And it was described. You know, you can go back and read the New York Times. Right after that, they said, well, it’s regrettable but there’s a consensus among the US and its allies, meaning Saudi Arabia and Britain, there’s a consensus that --I’m virtually quoting--that “Saddam Hussein offers more hope for the stability of the region than those who were trying to overthrow him.” That’s 1991. You know, yeah, human rights violations were horrendous. Does it have anything to do with invasion? No. nothing. You know.

Robert Tully: Professor Chomsky, I’m most regretful that I have to interrupt the whole of your thoughts and your very interesting presentation. Unfortunately, we’re constrained by the military time to end up this time, but I’m happy to say that the occasion, your opportunity of those of you who did not have an opportunity to ask your question, yours may come out of (*inaudible) I certainly hope it will, there’s a reception immediately to follow, but first sir.

Cadet: (approaching Chomsky) Sir, on behalf of class of 2008 I’d like to present you this gift, this is a small token of appreciation for speaking with us tonight. Thank you, sir.

Chomsky: Thank you very much.

(He opened the gift and it was a framed picture of the campus)