Noam Chomsky    Published: Saturday 17 December 2011   Nation of Change

“It is well understood among the military leadership and also the political leadership in the United States and its allies, that they cannot achieve a military solution of the kind that they want.”

Nation of Change Ed­i­tor’s note: This is a tran­script of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween mem­bers of the Afghan Youth Peace Vol­un­teers and Noam Chom­sky, which took place on Sep­tem­ber 21, 2011. Each ques­tion was asked in Dari and trans­lated by Hakim.

Hakim: We are speak­ing from the high­lands of Bamiyan in cen­tral Afghanistan, and we wanted to start off by thank­ing you sin­cerely for the guid­ance and wis­dom that you have con­sis­tently given through your teach­ing and speeches in many places. We want to start off with a ques­tion from Faiz.

Faiz: In an ar­ti­cle by Ahmed Rashid in the New York Times re­cently, he said that “after 10 years, it should be clear that the war in this re­gion can­not be won purely by mil­i­tary force…. Pak­ista­nis des­per­ately need a new nar­ra­tive… but where is the lead­er­ship to tell this story as it should be told? The mil­i­tary gets away with its an­ti­quated think­ing be­cause no­body is of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive, and with­out an al­ter­na­tive, noth­ing will im­prove for a long time.” Do you think there is any lead­er­ship in the world today that can pro­pose an al­ter­na­tive non-mil­i­tary so­lu­tion for Afghanistan, and if not, where or from whom would this lead­er­ship for an al­ter­na­tive non-mil­i­tary so­lu­tion come from?

Noam Chom­sky: I think it is well un­der­stood among the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and also the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in the United States and its al­lies, that they can­not achieve a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion of the kind that they want. This is putting aside the ques­tion of whether that goal was ever jus­ti­fied; now, put that aside. Just in their terms, they know per­fectly well they can­not achieve a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion.

Is there an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal force that could work to­wards some sort of po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment? Well, you know, that ac­tu­ally the major force that would be ef­fec­tive in bring­ing about that aim is pop­u­lar opin­ion. The pub­lic is al­ready very strongly op­posed to the war and has been for a long time, but that has not trans­lated it­self into an ac­tive, com­mit­ted, ded­i­cated pop­u­lar move­ment that is seek­ing to change pol­icy. And that’s what has to be done here.

My own feel­ing is that the most im­por­tant con­se­quence of the very sig­nif­i­cant peace ef­forts that are un­der­way in­side Afghanistan might well be to stim­u­late pop­u­lar move­ments in the West through just peo­ple to peo­ple con­tact, which would help im­pose pres­sures on the United States, and par­tic­u­larly Britain, to end the mil­i­tary phase of this con­flict and move to­wards what ought to be done: peace­ful set­tle­ment and hon­est, re­al­is­tic eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

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A Candlelight Service for The Children of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Other Child Victims of War
Steve Clemens, who traveled to Afghanistan earlier this year and has maintained contact with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, will be the speaker.
Today:  Wednesday, December 28, 2011, 6:30 PM
St. Joan of Arc Church. 4537 – 3rd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

 Article imageAb­du­lai: Dr. Ra­ma­zon Bashar­dost told the Afghan Youth Peace Vol­un­teers once that the peo­ple of Afghanistan have no choice be­cause all avail­able op­tions in Afghanistan are bad. So, Afghans have no choice but to choose the least bad of the bad op­tions. In this sit­u­a­tion, some Afghans, and in par­tic­u­lar many in Kabul, feel that the least bad op­tion is to have the U.S. coali­tion forces re­main in Afghanistan. Do you think that the con­tin­ued pres­ence of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan is the least bad op­tion? If not, what are the pos­si­ble truly good op­tions for or­di­nary Afghans?

 Noam Chom­sky: I agree that there don’t ap­pear to be any good op­tions, and that we there­fore re­gret­tably have to try to seek the least bad of the bad op­tions. Now, that judg­ment has to be made by Afghans. You’re on the scene. You’re the peo­ple who live with the con­se­quences. You are the peo­ple who have the right and re­spon­si­bil­ity to make these del­i­cate and un­for­tu­nate choices. I have my own opin­ion, but it doesn’t carry any weight. What mat­ters are your opin­ions. 

Article image

My opin­ion is that as long as the mil­i­tary forces are there, now, they will prob­a­bly in­crease the ten­sions and un­der­mine the pos­si­bil­i­ties for a longer term set­tle­ment. I think that’s been the record of the past 10 years largely, and that’s the record in other places as well—in Iraq, for ex­am­ple. So, my feel­ing is that a phased with­drawal of the kind that’s ac­tu­ally con­tem­plated may well be the least bad of the bad op­tions, but com­bined with other ef­forts. It’s not enough to just with­draw troops. There have to be al­ter­na­tives put in place. One of them, for ex­am­ple, which has re­peat­edly been rec­om­mended, is re­gional co­op­er­a­tion among the re­gional pow­ers. That would of course in­clude Pak­istan, Iran, India, the coun­tries to the north, all of which, to­gether with Afghan rep­re­sen­ta­tives among them, might be able to ham­mer out a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram that would be mean­ing­ful and co­op­er­ate in im­ple­ment­ing it, shift­ing the focus of ac­tiv­i­ties from killing to re­con­struct­ing and build­ing. But the core of is­sues are going to have to be set­tled in­ter­nal to Afghanistan.

 Mo­ham­mad Hus­sein: It has been an­nounced that the for­eign forces would leave Afghanistan by 2014, and trans­fer re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cu­rity to Afghans. How­ever, what we have be­fore us ap­pears to be a very de­ceit­ful, cor­rupt sit­u­a­tion of the U.S. gov­ern­ment sign­ing a Strate­gic Part­ner­ship agree­ment with the Afghan gov­ern­ment to place per­ma­nent joint mil­i­tary bases in Afghanistan be­yond 2024. It feels as if, to the Afghan Youth Peace Vol­un­teers, that the with­drawal by 2014 is there­fore in­con­se­quen­tial in light of the larger long term plans to keep forces in Afghanistan. Could you com­ment on this?

Noam Chom­sky: I’m quite sure that those ex­pec­ta­tions are cor­rect. There is very lit­tle doubt that the U.S. gov­ern­ment in­tends to main­tain ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary con­trol over Afghanistan by one means or an­other, ei­ther through a client state with mil­i­tary bases, and sup­port for what they’ll call Afghan troops. That’s the pat­tern else­where as well. So, for ex­am­ple, after bomb­ing Ser­bia in 1999, the United States main­tains a huge mil­i­tary base in Kosovo, which was the goal of the bomb­ing. In Iraq, they’re still build­ing mil­i­tary bases even though there is rhetoric about leav­ing the coun­try. And I pre­sume they will do the same in Afghanistan too, which is re­garded by the U.S. as of strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance in the long term, within the plans of main­tain­ing con­trol of es­sen­tially the en­ergy re­sources and other re­sources of the re­gion, in­clud­ing west­ern and Cen­tral Asia. So this is a piece of on­go­ing plans which in fact go back to the Sec­ond World War.

Right now, the United States is mil­i­tar­ily en­gaged in one form or an­other in al­most a hun­dred coun­tries, in­clud­ing bases, spe­cial forces op­er­a­tions, sup­port for do­mes­tic mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces. This is a global pro­gram of world mil­i­ta­riza­tion, es­sen­tially trac­ing back to head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, and Afghanistan is a part of it. It will be up to Afghans to see if, first of all, if they want this; sec­ondly, if they can act in ways which will ex­clude it. That’s pretty much what’s hap­pen­ing in Iraq. As late as early 2008, the United States was of­fi­cially in­sist­ing that it main­tain mil­i­tary bases and be able to carry out com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq, and that the Iraqi gov­ern­ment must priv­i­lege U.S. in­vestors for the oil and en­ergy sys­tem. Well, Iraqi re­sis­tance has com­pelled the United States to with­draw some­what from that, sub­stan­tially, in fact. But the ef­forts will still con­tinue. These are on­go­ing con­flicts based on long stand­ing prin­ci­ples. Any real suc­cess in mov­ing to­wards de­mil­i­ta­riza­tion and re­con­struc­tion of re­la­tions will have to re­quire pri­mar­ily the com­mit­ment of Afghans, but, as well, the co­op­er­a­tive ef­forts of pop­u­lar groups of the West­ern pow­ers to pres­sure their own gov­ern­ments.

Faiz: After three decades of war and being at the raw end of re­gional and global mil­i­tary in­ter­fer­ence in Afghanistan, the peo­ple are feel­ing lost and with­out hope. Peo­ple are even los­ing hope and not con­fi­dent that the United Na­tions, whose char­ter is to re­move the scourge of war from all gen­er­a­tions, would be able to offer an al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion. We have talked with peace groups about the pos­si­bil­ity of a blue rib­bon or blue scarf team of in­di­vid­u­als, per­haps in­clud­ing Nobel Lau­re­ates, who could speak out and make a state­ment about the dire hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan, and per­haps throw open a de­bate to the world about al­ter­na­tives for or­di­nary Afghans who are los­ing all hope. Do you think that there is any pos­si­bil­ity of the United Na­tions step­ping in to offer a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive in these dire straits? And is there any pos­si­bil­ity of an in­de­pen­dent peace­mak­ing blue rib­bon team of peace builders who can offer a way out?

Noam Chom­sky: One has to bear in mind that the United Na­tions can­not act in­de­pen­dently. It can only act as far as the great pow­ers will per­mit—that means pri­mar­ily the United States, also Britain, and France, es­sen­tially, the Per­ma­nent Mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil—which limit what the United Na­tions can do. It can act within the con­straints that they im­pose, and the United States is by far the most in­flu­en­tial.

So, just to give one in­di­ca­tion of that, take a look at the record of ve­toes at the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. In the early days of the United Na­tions, be­gin­ning in the late 1940s, U.S. power was so over­whelm­ing in the world that the United Na­tions was ba­si­cally an in­stru­ment of the United States. As other in­dus­trial pow­ers re­cov­ered from the war and de­col­o­niza­tion began, the United Na­tions be­came some­what more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple of the world. It be­came less con­trolled by the United States and the U.S. began ve­to­ing res­o­lu­tions. The first U.S. veto was in 1965, and since then, the United States is far in the lead ve­to­ing Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, which blocks ac­tion. Now, Britain is sec­ond, and no one else is even close. And that con­tin­ues now. There will prob­a­bly be an­other U.S. veto next week. That’s in gen­eral the case. If the United States re­fuses to allow some­thing to hap­pen, the United Na­tions can’t do any­thing. Other great pow­ers have also some in­flu­ence, but less. So, the real ques­tion is, will the United States and Britain agree to per­mit ac­tions of the kind that are out­lined in the ques­tion. And I think that can come about, but again, we’re back to where we were be­fore.

Ab­du­lai: On be­half of the Afghan youth in Bamiyan, as well as those lis­ten­ing in from Kabul, we thank you for your time with us. We wish you well, and the best of health.

Noam Chom­sky: Thank you very much for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity to talk to you briefly. It’s a real priv­i­lege, and I greatly ad­mire the won­der­ful work that you’re doing.


One Comment

  1. […] around the world to discuss a vision of a world without war. Guests of the Conference call have included Noam Chomsky. Now two of the youth,Abdulhai and Ali, both 15, have been invited to speak to young peace […]

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