Last page of Paul Berman Salon interview (where he disses Chomsky and calls antiwar movement appeasers):
I'm sure this one line in your book will infuriate some and surprise others -- especially Europeans. You wrote: "In this country, we are all Noam Chomsky." What do you mean by that?
Chomsky is a man who thinks the entire world operates on simple and rational principles. The reason he's able to crank out these thousands of pages a year on all subjects is because he has an extremely simple analysis: Evil American corporations are acting in their own self-interest and trying to increase and spread their exploitation around the world. The American government is in their hands and is acting to expand its nefarious control over the world. The press has been corrupted by the wealth and power of corporations and spreads the propaganda messages required by the corporations. American claims to ever do any good around the world are merely hypocritical mendacities uttered for the purpose of advancing the larger cause of exploitation and oppression. And the response of other people in the world is that of resistance as inspired by an instinct for human freedom, even if the resistance sometimes takes a perverse and unfortunate form. Therefore, from Chomsky's point of view, all events are rationally explicable according to one or two tiny little factors: the self-interest of American corporations and the urge to resist the American corporations.
It's a very simpleminded view in which nothing inexplicable ever occurs. And yet although Chomsky is regarded by some people as the great anti-American, this kind of thought is entirely typical of America itself, of people across the political spectrum in America. People tend to think that everybody around the world is acting on some rational calculation, that the mad and pathological movements I describe that have emerged from the First World War really can't exist, that surely everybody is acting in some way in their own self-interest in a fashion that could be calculated and addressed. Finally, even the FBI and the CIA have obviously thought along these lines because it never crossed these people's minds -- not seriously anyway -- that somebody was going to be so mad to attack the United States directly. Sept. 11 revealed many shocking things and the most shocking was that the Pentagon had no plan to defend the Pentagon. In that sense, everybody in the United States, even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, everybody is a simpleminded fool.
All this is part of your belief that good people can end up supporting horrible movements if we're not vigilant.
People ought to think coldly about it. There really is a long history of excellent people with the best of hearts and the best of intentions ending up inadvertently collaborating with the worst of totalitarians. There's a long history of this. To look into your own heart and ask yourself if you're good and honest and to examine yourself to see if your own analyses are moral and well-intended is not enough. You may have the best of intentions and the purest of hearts and the warmest of feelings of solidarity for other people and yet be led by some failure of imagination to end up more or less aligned with the baddest of bad guys.
There's a long history of this kind of thing. The simplest history is of the fellow travelers of Stalin. But there's even more grotesque examples of it -- that of the French socialists in the 1930s. They wanted to avoid a new outbreak of the First World War; they refused to believe that millions of people in Germany had gone out of their minds and supported the Nazi movement. They didn't want to believe that a mass pathological movement had taken power in Germany, they wanted to be open-minded to what the Germans were saying and to the German grievances of the First World War. And the French socialists, in their open-minded, warm-hearted effort to avoid seeing anything like the First World War occur again, went out of their way to try and find what was reasonable and plausible in the arguments of Hitler. They really did end up thinking that the greatest danger to world peace was not posed by Hitler but by the hawks in their own society, in France. These people were the antiwar socialists of France, they were good people. Yet one thing led to another, they opposed France's army against Hitler, and many of them ended up supporting the Vichy regime and they ended up fascists!
Where's the parallel to today?
It's not impossible to see something like that today. People want to avoid a war in the Middle East, they say they're not for Saddam but yet they don't really want to do anything against Saddam. They see Iraqi liberals and Kurdish democrats struggling against Saddam, and they really don't want to help these people. They see pathological movements in Palestine and elsewhere engaging in acts of random murder for the purest of irrational reasons and these people, the warmhearted, good-souled antiwar socialists of the Western countries, fall all over themselves in finding ways to justify the terrible things that are happening elsewhere and find ways to prevent themselves from showing solidarity with the victims.
We do see some of the same things. With the French socialists of the 1930s, there was even a slippage into outright anti-Semitism, and no one can doubt that some of that has been occurring in the antiwar movement in the United States and above all in Europe. Of course most people in the antiwar movement are against that. But signs of it exist and it would be foolish to close your eyes to that.
So what should the left's position be today? If your argument is that we are facing a totalitarian threat similar to those of the first part of the 20th century, what do you suggest?
The true model of what the left should be doing here is shown by the other wing of French socialism, that of Léon Blum, an antifascist who was willing to fight and did fight. This ought to be the real goal of the left in the Western countries -- to be antifascist, to be in favor of liberating the people who are suffering under these regimes which are threats not only to their own citizens but to us.
Instead, we have the Bush administration's "realist" approach, which is propelling us to war.
Yes, it's the so-called realist policies of the American conservatives that ultimately got us into this situation. We, the United States, have followed the most cynical policies in the Middle East. We've aligned with reactionary feudal monarchies of the worst sort, backing the most horrendous right-wing tyrants and dictators, thinking that liberal values ought to play no role at all in formulating American policy. All this has especially been the doctrine of American conservatism. It's what I call the Nixonian tradition. It was certainly the policy of Bush the elder and it was the original instinct of the present Bush, although now he appears to be confused.
This has simply been catastrophic for people in the Middle East and ultimately for ourselves. What we need is a politics as I describe in my book, a new radicalism which is going to be against the cynical so-called realism of American conservatism and traditional American policy, in which liberal ideas are considered irrelevant to foreign policy. And also against the head-in-the-sand blindness of a large part of the American left, which can only think that all problems around the world are caused by American imperialism and there's nothing else to worry about.
What we need is a third alternative -- a politics of liberal solidarity, of anti-fascism, a politics that's willing to be interventionist when tyrants or political movements really do threaten us and the people in their own countries, a politics that's going to be aggressive in spreading and promoting liberal ideas and values in regions of the world where people who hold those values are persecuted. A politics of active solidarity, not just expressions of solidarity, but actions of solidarity with liberal-minded people in other parts of the world.
It's scandalous to me that large parts of the political spectrum aren't acting on this now. Where are all the universities and human rights foundations and trade unions and all the other civic associations in the United States? Where are those groups now? Why aren't those groups acting now to establish links of solidarity with people of the Middle East and Muslim world? To try to foment movements, or even revolutions, on behalf of liberal ideals?
But it seems impossible to work for such ideals under the current administration.
We don't need Bush to lead us to do that, we can do that without him. Even if Bush does the wrong thing, which he's bound to do, we can act on those ideas ourselves. The notion that we, the high-minded people of the left, ought to confine ourselves to marching against Bush is a very foolish idea. There's much that we can do.
That's what I call for. It's vastly needed in Europe too. Why aren't the Germans doing this? The Germans are pacifist-minded, they don't want to participate in the war, but there's a lot Germany could do. They should have people all over the Middle East promoting liberal ideas, they should be spending billions of dollars to engage in solidarity with the liberal movements in those countries. They are not doing that. All they appear to be doing is opposing Bush but not taking on a very large role themselves, though they do have peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan and Kosovo. But there's much more that Germany and France could be doing.
Even people who think that Bush is making a blunder with his military approach can try to undo that blunder themselves in some way by going ahead and doing the things that ought to be done -- promoting liberal ideas. Promoting liberal ideas, finally, is the only real way to oppose the totalitarian movements that threaten us and threaten people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether they're Baathist or Islamist.
I want to be clear on something. Do you support this military invasion?
I can certainly imagine how the whole thing can be done better. Bush is probably the most inept president we've ever had in regard to maintaining foreign alliances and presenting the American case and convincing the world. He's failed in every possible way. The defeat and overthrow of Saddam Hussein is in the interest of nearly the entire world and although it is in the interest of nearly the entire world, nearly the entire world is against Bush. That situation is the consequence of Bush's ineptness.
At the same time, I think that getting rid of Saddam is in our interest and in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of the Arab world. Saddam is a mad tyrant.
So I wish Bush had gone about it differently. But now that the thing is getting under way, I fervently hope it goes well. And I think that the attitude of everyone with the best of motives who have opposed the war, should now shift dramatically. The people who have demanded that Bush refrain from action should now demand that the action be more thorough. The danger now is that we will go in and go out too quickly and leave the job half-done. The position of the antiwar movement and of liberals should be that the United States fulfill entirely its obligations to replace Saddam with a decent or even admirable system. We've done this in Afghanistan but only in most halfhearted way. We should now do more in Afghanistan and do a lot in Iraq. The people who've opposed the war should now demand that Bush do more.
Are you apprehensive?
I'm scared out of my mind! Only a lunatic could be calm and confident at such a moment.
But you do think we're doing the right thing this week?
You're trying to pin me down. I'm not going to endorse Bush's policy. I'm saying that he went about it in the wrong way but I want the U.S. to do it thoroughly. No goodhearted person should imagine that it would be a bad thing to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But we have to do it well.
Have you been watching the war coverage on the news?
A little bit. I can say that there was something truly pathetic in seeing antiwar demonstrations denounce the war at one moment and then in another moment seeing grateful Iraqis welcome their British and American liberators. If I were a member of the antiwar movement, I would have felt a moral shudder at that experience.
But we can imagine the devastation in Baghdad as well.
We have no idea what it is. Like anybody I'm hoping for the least amount of suffering. The war could certainly end up achieving the opposite of what its goals should be. History offers more than one example of that.
By which you mean? Is this campaign what you expected, for the most part? War is war?
Well, no. If it turns out that out bombs have ended up slaughtering masses of Iraqi civilians, that would be a horror. But we don't know what's happened. We won't know for a while.
So what's particularly struck you has been some of the protests.
Yes, because the role of the left ought to be to express solidarity with the Iraqi people, to hope for the defeat of the fascist tyrant and to see their freedom and our own self-defense. This in fact became visible today, when some Iraqis at least, celebrated their liberation.