world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His new book comes out today, titled Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Since Trump’s inauguration, his presidency has been engulfed by a media scandal and investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. But is the Democratic Party’s obsession with this question distracting the public from the Trump administration’s actions? And, given the United States’ long history of influencing other countries’ elections and overthrowing democratically elected leaders, is the outrage over Russia’s alleged interference laughable? That’s the opinion of world-renowned linguist, author and political dissident Noam Chomsky. For more, we sit down with Chomsky on the day his new book is released. It’s titled "Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMYGOODMAN: Our guest for the hour, Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I’d like to ask you about something that’s been in the news a lot lately. Obviously, all the cable channels, that’s all they talk about these days, is the whole situation of Russia’s supposed intervention in American elections. For a country that’s intervened in so many governments and so many elections around the world, that’s kind of a strange topic. But I know you’ve referred to this as a joke. Could you give us your view on what’s happening and why there’s so much emphasis on this particular issue?
NOAMCHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact that—first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships. Simply in the case of Russia alone—it’s the least of it—the U.S. government, under Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways. So, this, as I say, it’s considered—it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.
So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia? That’s—the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed. Just a couple of days ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, came out and said he just can’t believe that so much attention is being paid to apparent efforts by the incoming administration to establish connections with Russia. He said, "Sure, that’s just what they ought to be doing."
So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful. So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly. And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, that the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.
AMYGOODMAN: Well, of course, because the Democrats feel that that’s the reason, somehow, that they lost the election. Interesting that James Comey this week said he is investigating Trump campaign collusion with Russia, when it was Comey himself who could have—might well have been partly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, when he said that he was investigating her, while, we now have learned, at the same time he was investigating Donald Trump, but never actually said that.
NOAMCHOMSKY: Well, you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies, and meanwhile focus on one thing that could become a step forward, if it was adjusted to move towards serious efforts to reduce growing and dangerous tensions right on the Russian border, where they could blow up. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, adding—the U.S. is—one thing that the Russians are very much concerned about is the so-called anti-ballistic missile installation that the U.S. is establishing near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles. Nobody seriously believes that. This is understood to be a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse. That’s really serious. And efforts to try to calm that down would be very welcome. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There’s no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico. And that’s a border that the Russians are quite reasonably sensitive about. They’ve practically been destroyed several times the last century right through that region.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In line with your concern about the growing threat in terms of nuclear weapons, there are also maneuvers going on off the coast of Korea, and the words that we’ve heard from President Trump in the last few days, that if China doesn’t deal with North Korea, the U.S. will. Can you talk about his policies already, his developing policies toward Korea and toward China?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s kind of interesting to look at the record. The claim is "Well, we’ve tried everything. Nothing works. Therefore, we have to use force." Is it true that nothing’s worked? I mean, there is a record, after all. And if you look at the record, it’s interesting.
1994, Clinton made—established what was called the Framework Agreement with North Korea. North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. would reduce hostile acts. It more or less worked, and neither side lived up to it totally, but, by 2000, North Korea had not proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, "axis of evil," sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it’s the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.
And why are they developing nuclear weapons altogether? I mean, the economy is in bad shape. They could certainly use the resources. Everyone understands that it’s a deterrent. And they have a proposal, actually. There’s a proposal on the table. China and North Korea proposed that North Korea should terminate its further development of nuclear weapons. In return, the United States should stop carrying out threatening military maneuvers with South Korea right on its border. Not an unreasonable proposal. It’s simply dismissed. Actually, Obama dismissed it, too. There are possible steps that could be taken to alleviate which could be an extremely serious crisis. I mean, if the U.S. did decide to use force against North Korea, one immediate reaction, according to the military sources available to us, is that Seoul, the city of Seoul, would simply be wiped out by mass North Korean artillery aimed at it. And who knows where we’d go from there? But the opportunity to produce—to move towards a negotiated diplomatic settlement does not seem outlandish. I mean, this Chinese-North Korean proposal is certainly worth serious consideration, I would think.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that North Korea has some memories. They were practically destroyed by some of the most intensive bombing in history. The bombing—you should—it’s worth reading. Maybe you should read, people, the official Air Force history of the bombing of North Korea. It’s shattering. I mean, they had flattened the country. There were no targets left. So, therefore, they decided, well, we’ll attack the dams—which is a war crime, of course. And the description of the attack on the dams is—without the exact wording, I hate to paraphrase it. You should really read the—they were simply exalting, in the official histories, Air Force Quarterly and others, about the—how magnificent it will be to see this massive flood of water coursing through North Korea, wiping out crops. For Asians, the rice crops is their life. This will destroy them. It will be magnificent. The North Koreans lived through that. And having nuclear-capable B-52s flying on their border is not a joke.
But, most significantly, there’s a record of partial success in diplomatic initiatives, total failure with sanctions and harsh moves, and options that are on the table which could be pursued. Now, instead of concern about whether somebody talked to the Russians, this is the kind of thing that should be—that should be pursued very seriously. That’s what the Democrats or anyone hoping for some form of peace and justice should be working for.
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AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to China. President Trump said, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will." Are you concerned that with Trump at an all-time low for presidents, when it comes to popularity, with suffering defeat after defeat, lashing out and trying to focus on a foreign enemy? But at the same time, you have China coming to the United States, this meeting that he’s going to have with the Chinese leader, Xi, in Mar-a-Lago—also very interesting, considering it’s a golf course, right? He hates golf and forbade Communist Party members to play golf. Is it more about Trump feeling he has more access to shut down press coverage or any information about who’s meeting with him, when it’s in his private resort? But more importantly, what the agenda is there and what our relationship is with China?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, as you recall, one of the interesting incidents was a public discussion of significant security issues in the resort with people sitting around drinking coffee and having drinks. Maybe they keep the press out, but they didn’t seem to keep the guests out.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, not if you pay $200,000 a year and you’re a member of Mar-a-Lago.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right. Then you pass the filter.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you get to take photos, selfies, with the man carrying the nuclear codes.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The "football."
AMY GOODMAN: The "football."
NOAM CHOMSKY: He’s extremely unpredictable. But this—the relations with China are an extremely serious issue. China is not going to back down on its fundamental demands, concerning Taiwan, for example. And if Trump—a lot of what China is demanding, I think, is—it shouldn’t be—is not acceptable. It shouldn’t—it’s not internationally acceptable. But the reaction through use of force is just extraordinarily dangerous. I mean, you cannot play that game in international affairs. We are too close to destroying ourselves. You take a look at the record of—through the nuclear age, of near—of accidental—sometimes accidental, sometimes kind of irrational actions. It’s almost miraculous that we’ve survived.
And anything that—to get a good estimate of this, of the danger, take a look at the best monitor of the global security situation that we have as a simple measure—namely, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. This is set every year, since the beginning of the nuclear age, 1947, by a group of serious specialists, scientists, political analysts and others, who try to give a measure of the danger that the human species faces. Midnight means we’re finished. In 1947, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, right after the U.S. and Russia tested hydrogen bombs, thermonuclear weapons, it went to two minutes to midnight. That’s the closest it’s been to total disaster. Right now, as soon as Trump came in, it was moved to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, both because of the nuclear threat, recognized to be serious, and the threat of environmental catastrophe, which was not considered in the earlier years, now is.
Now, those are, overwhelmingly, the most crucial issues that face us. Everything else fades into insignificance in comparison to them. Those are literally questions of survival. And two-and-a-half minutes to midnight means extraordinary danger. These should be the major focus of attention. And it’s kind of astonishing to see the way they’re ignored. Throughout the whole electoral campaign, practically no mention of them. Every Republican candidate, every single one, either—with regard to the climate, either denied what is happening or else said—the moderates, like Jeb Bush, Kasich, said, "Well, maybe it’s happening, but doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t do anything about it."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the U.S. just led the boycott at the U.N. of the nuclear ban talks.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Of the nuclear ban. It joined with the other nuclear powers, unfortunately. There are—there’s also the question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There are now three nuclear powers which have refused to ratify it: China, the United States and Israel. And if tests begin again, it’s an extremely serious danger. As I mentioned, it was when the first tests were carried out that the Doomsday Clock went to two minutes to midnight.
There’s the problem of the New START Treaty, a treaty—there has been inadequate, but significant, reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The New START Treaty is supposed to carry it forward. Russia and the United States have the overwhelming mass of the nuclear weapons. And this would cut down the number, but also the more threatening ones, would reduce it. Trump has indicated—I don’t know—nobody knows what he means, but he’s indicated that is what he calls a bad deal for the United States, suggesting maybe we should pull out of it, which would be a disaster. I mean, these are major issues. And the fact that they’re barely being discussed is a shattering commentary on the level of contemporary civilization.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years. He has a new book out today. It’s called Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. We’ll be back with him in a minute.