Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Shalom: Back in February 2003, when prowar forces in the United States were pouring out all their French wine and renaming French fries because France wasn't cooperating in the Security Council, a lot of people in the antiwar movement were sort of cheering on France and Germany and Russia, and other governments that opposed the war. How reliable are these governments in their antiwar stances?

Chomsky: Their reliability is approximately zero. Sensible antiwar activists don't ally themselves with governments. There was something important about their position -- namely, there was a reason why they were being so bitterly denounced by U.S. elites: They were meeting minimal conditions of democracy. For whatever reason -- pure cynicism, in fact -- they were acting the way a democratic government is supposed to act. In short, they were responding to the will of the overwhelming majority of their populations. The position of the antiwar movement should have been that it's fine that these governments are paying attention to their populations, whatever their reasons may be, but we certainly don't ally with them, or have any trust in them. What happened here was quite intriguing, but was basically ignored. I can't recall any display of hatred and contempt for democracy as extreme as what took place in those months in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum. There was what Rumsfeld called "Old Europe" and "New Europe." Under his definition, they are distinguished by a very sharp criterion: Old Europe consists of the countries where the governments took the same position as that of a large majority of the population; New Europe -- the "hope for democracy" -- is the governments that disregard an even larger percentage of the population. Some of it was almost comical, like Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi being invited to the White House as the representative of the hope for democracy. You don't know whether to laugh or cry. But the worst case was José María Aznar, the Spanish prime minister. He was so lauded by Bush and by British prime minister Tony Blair as the hope for democracy that he was brought to their summit in the Azores, where they basically declared the war a couple of days before the invasion. Aznar joined in this war declaration right after polls in Spain showed that the war had the support of 2 percent of the population, so therefore he's the great hope for democracy.[1] He was willing to follow orders from Crawford, Texas, with 2 percent of the population supporting him. What does that tell you about the attitudes toward democracy?

Some of it became surreal. When the Turkish government, to everyone's surprise, including mine, went along with the opinion of 95 percent of its population and refused to allow a U.S. offensive through Turkey, the Turkish government was bitterly condemned for lacking democratic credentials -- that was the phrase that was used -- because it went along with the opinion of 95 percent of the public. That great dove, Secretary of State Colin Powell, immediately announced we're going to have to have sanctions against Turkey.[2] Most extreme was former undersecretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz. He is the person identified in the United States and, as far as I know, the European media as the leading force in democracy promotion -- the "idealist in chief," as he was called in the Washington Post.[3] He berated the Turkish military for not intervening to compel the government to overrule 95 percent of the population; he basically ordered them to apologize to the United States, and to say, "Let's figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to the Americans."[4] And this was supposed to be democracy. And this farce went on, without comment. The fact that anyone can talk about democracy promotion, after this display, is astounding.

This is what the antiwar movement should be emphasizing. And if there are a couple of governments that for their own cynical reasons happen to agree with the majority of the population and take the right position, fine, but that's the end of it; there's nothing more to say about them. Tomorrow they'll do the opposite, because they're acting out of pure cynicism -- power interests -- anyway.

Achcar: Noam's quite right to stress the importance of this feature of our times. There's a general trend at the level of the mainstream media to praise those ruling politicians who rule without considering the polls; that is deemed a great virtue. But behind it is the very elitist idea, also embedded in the very concept of "representative democracy," that, once elected, a representative is free to do whatever he or she wants, even against the unanimous will of his or her constituency. But I must also say that in the case of the three governments that we've mentioned -- France, Germany, and Russia -- it was certainly not out of any consideration for democracy that they were against the war. I don't need to elaborate on the Russian government. But even the French and German governments do not hesitate to pursue the most unpopular neoliberal policies and assaults on social gains. On the issue of Iraq, their motivation was definitely not any democratic principle: There were much more down-to-earth considerations at stake.

Iraq is a country where there was a direct clash of interests, in a very primary economic sense, between the United States and Britain, on the one hand, and France and Russia -- one could add China -- on the other hand. The Soviet Union and France were the main partners of Saddam Hussein for many years, providing him with arms. France, especially, was his main military backer in the war against Iran. And despite Russian collusion and French participation in the 1991 war on Iraq, Saddam Hussein tried to play his traditional partnership with France and Russia, during the UN embargo years, as a counterweight to the United States and Britain in the Security Council. French and Russian companies were granted important oil concessions that were conditioned on lifting the embargo. That is why at some point Paris and Moscow changed their attitude, trying to find ways to lift the embargo, and were blocked on that by Washington and London. The United States and British refusal to lift the embargo -- that is, to allow the lifting of the embargo if and when UN inspectors determined that Iraq had disarmed -- was rightly perceived by Paris and Moscow as a refusal to permit them to take advantage of the oil concessions they had been granted. And they very much saw the dedication of Washington and London to invade Iraq as a desire to snatch the prize from them. Actually one of the first proclamations after the invasion was that all contracts granted by Saddam Hussein were to be considered null and void. So that's the main reason why Paris and Moscow opposed that war. Had the Bush administration offered them a substantial slice of the cake, I'm sure they would have joined in. But the Bush administration was so arrogant that it didn't want to grant them much of anything, and that's why they kept opposing the war to the end.

In the German case, there were no direct economic interests at stake. At best, if one were generous with German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, one could grant him some concern over superior geopolitical considerations -- for example, to say that he had some concerns about the fact that the United States should not have all the levers over Europe -- and one could link that also to the very close relationship he had nurtured with Putin, and the deals being worked out for a new gas pipeline going from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. But that would be a generous assessment of Schröder's motivation. If one wanted to be less generous, one would just stress that there's a big dose, not of democracy but of opportunist electoralism, behind his stance, because the preparation for the invasion of Iraq happened at a time when the German chancellor was projected as the loser in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, because of his neoliberal social program, which caused the traditional constituency of social democracy to be reluctant to support him; and therefore, the only popular issue he could find was opposition to the war, at a time when, indeed, the polls were showing that the overwhelming majority of German public opinion was opposed to the war.

Rulers like Chirac, Putin, or Schröder should definitely not be regarded as allies by the antiwar movement, especially since they are themselves hawkish warmongers when their interests are at stake. Russian forces are waging a terrible quasi-genocidal war in Chechnya. The French government still considers itself a colonial power in Africa, and behaves as such. Not to mention the fact that both France and Germany are involved in Afghanistan, along with the U.S. troops. To that we should add that although Paris and Berlin did not support the invasion of Iraq politically, technically speaking they did everything they could to facilitate it: the Germans, of course, by letting the whole U.S. military infrastructure on their territory be used for that purpose,[5] the French by opening their airspace to U.S. warplanes. So we should not be fooled by such governments. The antiwar movement, at least its most dynamic sectors, is closely linked with the global justice movement, and I believe that's a very good combination because these are two facets of the same reality: opposition to imperial wars and to neoliberalism.

Chomsky: I could add an analogous comment about U.S. attitudes. I don't think it's just arrogance; the United States has a real interest in undermining France and Germany, because they are the industrial, commercial, and financial center of Europe. The rest is a kind of periphery. The United States has had a deep concern back through the 1940s that Europe might strike out on an independent path. That's one of the reasons they were so concerned about French president Charles de Gaulle, with his call for a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And the forces that might impel Europe that way today are "Old Europe." That's one of the reasons the United States was so much in favor of expanding the European Union (EU) to include the former Soviet satellites, which it plausibly assumes it can control. And it's one of the reasons also why U.S. policymakers are so supportive of getting Turkey into the EU -- not because they love Turkey, but because that's another way of diluting the influence of the powerful sectors in Europe and ensuring, they hope, that Europe will remain under U.S. control. Whatever position Germany and France had taken on the Iraq war, that would remain constant.

It's also what happened in 1990 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to allow Germany to be unified, which from the Russian point of view was an enormous threat. Unlike the United States, Russia has real security concerns. Germany alone practically destroyed Russia twice in the first half of the twentieth century. For a unified Germany to be incorporated into a Western military alliance was a tremendous threat. So Gorbachev agreed to German unification, but on one condition: that he get a firm pledge from Bush Sr. that NATO would not expand to the east. Within a couple of years, however, Clinton just reneged on the commitment, and expanded NATO to the east, right to the borders of Russia. Russia responded, as you'd expect, by beginning to increase its offensive military capacity. Russia had been pressing very hard for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and it had declared -- as the United States and NATO had not -- that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. After Clinton's backing down on the NATO pledge, Russia backed down on its moves and moved toward a more militaristic, offensive posture, extended more under Bush Jr. These are really important developments that are part of the background of the hysteria about Old Europe and New Europe. New Europe is important for the United States as a way of undermining European independence.

Achcar: I quite agree. But we should also stress the fact that in New Europe public opinion was overwhelmingly against the war, even more so than in Old Europe!

Chomsky: The only place prowar sentiment reached 10 percent was Romania.[6]

Achcar: So it was in New Europe that governments most disdained the opinions of their own populations.

Chomsky: But they are obedient to the United States when they dilute European independence.

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