Noam Chomsky discusses the White House’s threats to the New START treaty, the last remaining accord limiting the US and Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenals; its latest round of crippling sanctions and threats against Iran; the bipartisan US refusal to accept a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which would terminate Israel’s nuclear weapons program; and the silencing of former OPCW officials who challenged a cover-up of findings that undermined Trump’s 2018 bombing of Syria.
Guest: Noam Chomsky, linguist, author and political dissident.
AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté. Joining me is Noam Chomsky. Noam, thank you for joining me today.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you.
AARON MATÉ: You have been warning that Trump and the people around him pose a unique threat to humanity. On this front you’ve gotten a lot of attention for your warnings about Trump’s policies on climate change. I want to focus today on other aspects of your warnings that have not gotten as much attention, starting with nuclear weapons, an issue that you’ve been involved with your whole life.
Trump has greatly exacerbated the threat of pulling out of the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty with Russia, pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, and now looking like he will sabotage the New START Treaty, the last remaining accord that limits the nuclear weapons stockpiles of the US and Russia. As we are speaking, Russia has said that there’s no chance of an agreement between the US and Russia before the election, which leaves a very short window to renew New START before it expires in February. Your thoughts on the Trump administration’s nuclear policy and what it would mean if it manages to kill the New START Treaty.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the New START Treaty will be the last of the remaining treaties on arms control. Trump has—actually, George W. Bush eliminated the first one, the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty—but Trump, ever since he’s come into office, has systematically destroyed one after the other: the INF Treaty, which goes back to Reagan-Gorbachev; the Open Skies Treaty [that] actually was initiated by Eisenhower; he’s threatened to carry out new nuclear tests—that hasn’t been done for almost 30 years; the New START is the last one. As you said, it’s due to be renewed in February. The Trump administration has been delaying and delaying and delaying. The Russians have been pleading for negotiations to renew it. Washington’s been producing very frivolous objections. Finally, at the last minute, [Marshall] Billingslea, their negotiator, claims, “Okay, I finally reached an agreement.”
Marshall Billingslea, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control: We believe that there is an agreement in principle at the highest levels of our two governments. It’s why I cut short my trip to Asia and made a beeline for Helsinki when the Russians called and wanted to sit down, and I’m hopeful that that sort of gentleman’s agreement, that arrangement that I feel has been reached, as I’ve said, at the highest levels, will ultimately need to percolate down through their system so that my counterpart hopefully will be authorized to negotiate.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Nobody knows what it is. It seems to require that Russia make certain concessions, with the US making no concessions.
One of the crucial issues for Russia is the fact that we have ABM installations on their border. Now, ABM installations can readily be modified, even with nobody knowing anything about it. It could be first-strike weapons. If they had those weapons on our border, we’d blow them up, wouldn’t tolerate it for a moment. This actually goes back to Obama, so if there is to be any renegotiation, it would certainly have to include that, whatever the Trump administration’s proposing. Seems it’s just calling for the Russians to give up something. But the point is, it’s the last-minute; negotiations take some time. There are issues. So, what the Russians are asking for now is, “Okay, let’s just continue the treaty, period. Then we can get into negotiations.” Apparently, Washington’s refusing.
A lot of this is going on pretty much in secret. We don’t really know the details. That’s what it looks like. What we do know is that the Trump administration has been delaying and delaying until it’s probably too late to do something. Right now, you can guess what their strategy is: they want to ram something through before the election so they can claim, “Look how wonderful we are.”
It’s worth remembering that there’s a kind of a principle behind Trump’s behavior, which is virtually universal. “If there is any treaty or international arrangement that I didn’t create, it’s the worst one in the world. We have to destroy it. If I can reach some arrangement,”—even if it’s maybe the same as before, maybe it’s ludicrous like the Middle East one [Abraham Accords]—”then it’s the greatest deal in history.” That’s the principle, and the arms-control regime has fallen under that, just as the Paris negotiations on climate did, the Iran sanctions agreement, the Iran JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the agreement on Iran nuclear weapons. A couple of weeks ago Trump pulled out of COVAX, the international consortium that’s working on cooperation in developing a vaccine [for COVID-19]. Obviously, the best way in dealing with the distributional problems of ensuring that those who need it will get an eventual vaccine or vaccines, instead of it being monopolized by the rich and powerful. So, Trump pulled out of that.
Right now, at this moment it’s not getting any coverage, [but] there’s a very important international conference going on, a UN conference on biodiversity, which is extremely important. We’re in the midst of the six extinction; species are disappearing at an incredible rate. Even if you’re just looking at the single prospect of—very likely prospect of—a new pandemic worse than this one, biodiversity is crucial for dealing with it. Everybody’s attending. Trump won’t attend. It doesn’t matter. Any international agreement, treaty, whatever, that he didn’t create has to go, period.
Okay, New START is falling under that. Actually, it goes beyond just destroying the arms-control regime. So, you may recall a year ago when Trump dismantled the INF agreement, the Reagan-Gorbachev agreement, immediately within days the US launched new weapons, violating the treaty. That’s telling the Russians and everyone else it’s gone. We’re not only rescinding it; we’re going to violate it. You do the same, so you create weapons and destroy us, just as we’ll create weapons to destroy you. In the background is, of course, the great Trump increase in developing weapons of mass destruction, new, more dangerous ones, what they call tactical nuclear weapons. No enemy knows what’s on them; they could be first-strike strategic weapons, very destabilizing and dangerous. Hypersonic missiles, a new space military system, effectively breaking the space treaty that tries to neutralize, keep space neutral.
So, in general—and I should add that this goes along with highly provocative military maneuvers on the Russian border, and now sending virtually the whole Pacific Fleet into the South China Sea, a point of high tension where clearly negotiations and diplomacy were in order, not waving your fists at a potential enemy which could, in carrying out actions which in fact, just by accident, could break out into an incident which would escalate.
All of this is going on, greatly increasing the threat of nuclear war. Specialists, the people who are acquainted with the topic who know the history, which is quite a history, incidentally, shows that it’s a virtual miracle that we’ve escaped this far. People cognizant of that, people [who] have been immersed in these issues for years are very concerned. You can see it in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. So, you can see it in, perhaps most strikingly with, William Perry—sober, not given to exaggeration, spent all his life at the top of the government working on nuclear issues, former defense secretary [under President Bill Clinton]. He’s now [on] a recent book [tour], touring the country. His message is that he’s not only terrified but doubly terrified. Terrified because the threat is greater than it was during the Cold War, in his estimate. And he’s doubly terrified because nobody’s paying any attention to it. If you look at the two coronations—you know, the [DNC and RNC] conventions—I doubt it was even mentioned. I couldn’t see a mention of it. Even global warming was barely mentioned, but this was not.
So, yes, it’s extremely serious. We may be heading to a point of really no return. There are many possibilities around the world where a nuclear war could break out. This, incidentally, is related to Iran, so Trump’s actions on Iran, first eliminating the JCPOA, the joint agreement that was settled. Notice, incidentally, this violates international law. That was an agreement authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Trump says, “Fine, I don’t want it. Somebody else created it, it’s out.” That, of course, increases tensions. It leads predictably to Iran, [who] so far [has had] pretty mild reactions, but they could extend [on] the murder of Soleimani, which is greatly praised in the United States.
It is an extraordinarily dangerous act. Nothing like that happened during the Second World War or during the Cold War. It’s as if Iran had decided to murder Mike Pompeo and a major general along with him at the Mexico City International Airport. We’d think that’s pretty serious. That’s what the murder of Soleimani was. Incidentally, it’s praised here, which is pretty astonishing. Shows how extreme the internal assumption is that the United States is a rogue state which has nothing to do with international law or obligations. We do what we like. It’s accepted pretty much across the board.
But actions like that and further actions are increasing tensions. Some incident in the Gulf, even by accident, could blow up, could lead to an Iranian reaction, which in turn could lead to a US-Israeli bombing of Iran. Israel’s just itching to do it. It’s been hoping to be unleashed for a long time. Now that could lead to Iran’s immediate destruction of the world’s major energy reserves. It’s not an exaggeration—they happen to be in northeast Saudi Arabia right on the Iranian border. Iran already demonstrated with Houthi attacks that it has the capability to do that. Suppose they do it. Suppose that Hezbollah rockets start bombing, attacking Tel Aviv and Haifa. Israel reacts with a nuclear attack. The US reacts to the nuclear attack. You’re off and running. There are possibilities like that. This is one of the worst, but there are others. So, yes, we’re facing an extremely dangerous situation. And I think William Perry is right at being doubly terrified, both by the increasing threat and the failure to pay any attention to it.
AARON MATÉ: I have a lot of follow-ups, including about Iran, where Trump has recently imposed more sanctions that further cut a runoff from the financial system, which will only punish Iranian civilians. But on the nuclear weapons front, you’ve had this going on for a while. You mentioned Marshall Billingslea, the US arms control envoy. He’s talked about spending our adversaries into oblivion.
Marshall Billingslea: The President’s made clear that we have a tried and true practice here. We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion. If we have to, we will. But we sure would like to avoid it.
AARON MATÉ: A series of treaties have been killed, but yet, as you say, this has gotten almost no attention. And meanwhile Trump’s opposition, the Democrats, have been wedded to this narrative that Trump is actually doing Russia’s bidding, is in cahoots with Putin, which I think has incentivized them to ignore all the hawkish things he’s doing, even if that means exacerbating the threat of nuclear peril. What do you make of the fact that Trump’s nuclear policy has gotten very little attention?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s almost unimaginable; almost everybody with any familiarity with these issues is deeply concerned. I mean, take, say, the doomsday clock of the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists. Every January they set the clock to give some kind of assessment of the world security situation. One of the top issues for them is nuclear war, of course. It has been, back to 1947. Every year that Trump has been in office, the minute hand has been moved closer to midnight, meaning termination for all of us. Two years ago, it reached the closest point it had ever reached since 1947. This last January, the analysts gave up minutes altogether; they moved to seconds. So, no more minute hands; now it’s the second hand—100 seconds to midnight.
One of the major concerns, not the only one, is the increasing threat of nuclear war, which Trump has magnified since then, by breaking the open START treaty, threatening nuclear weapons attacks, and now probably killing a new START. The lack of attention to this—and the Democrats are deeply culpable, I should say, as you said—is just shocking. We recall that it was not always like this.
So, in the early 80s the largest mobilization in American history took place, opposing the enormous threat of nuclear weapons. It’s not that long ago. That had a consequence; it’s one of the factors that led Reagan to agree with Gorbachev on the INF Treaty. It was the immediate background for Reagan’s development of these SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative] so-called “Star Wars” fantasies, to try to dampen down protests, which unfortunately it did. But it was a huge opposition. A million people in the streets of New York. What’s happened since, just illusions that somehow if the Cold War is over it doesn’t matter. It matters very much, greatly, and trying to break through on this is pretty, it’s pretty…I just don’t know how to proceed on it. It goes beyond this, incidentally.
Now, take a look at The New York Times this morning. There’s an editorial saying we shouldn’t torture Iranians; sort of a mixed editorial, but at least it’s there. Read down to the bottom. Right below the editorial there’s a questionnaire which asks people to list their reasons for voting in November. What’s your top reason for voting? And look at the choices: hurricane, businesses put out of business, all immediate local things. Not only nothing about nuclear weapons, nothing about destroying the environment, the two major topics that humanity not only faces now but has ever faced in its history, and especially on, actually on both, but especially on global warming, a case where the Trump administration is simply driving to catastrophe. But that’s not one of the choices you’re supposed to pick as to why to vote. It’s as if the elites are mesmerized. Can’t think. Hard to know how to break through on this.
AARON MATÉ: You mentioned how the Reagan administration was compelled by public pressure to embrace some arms control treaties, and I believe this speaks to a point that you’ve made that the Trump administration is an aberration on this front, that you don’t think that any popular pressure could make any difference with them because they’re so beholden to their very narrow constituency. Is that a fair reading on one of the many reasons why you think we should vote to defeat Trump in November?
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s one strong reason. Whatever you think about the Democrats—not much in my opinion—but whatever you think about them, they are amenable to pressure. Now, just as Reagan was, just as Nixon was.
We’re dealing with a very different situation now. Actually, you see it very clearly in the repeated statements by Trump—backed by what used to be a political party, I hate to call it that now—that he might not leave office if he doesn’t like the outcome of the election. Just compare that with predecessors. Now, take Richard Nixon, not the most delightful figure ever to have been in office. In 1960 Nixon had fair reason to believe that the election might have been stolen by Democratic Party machinations in urban centers, mainly Chicago. He didn’t challenge it. Nixon put the welfare of the country above his personal ambitions. Al Gore did the same when the election was stolen by the Supreme Court in 2000. The idea that Trump would put the welfare of the country above his personal ambitions is just too ludicrous to discuss. We’re just in a different world, and in this different world, yes, I think Trump and the political organization he has in his pocket are not amenable to public pressure. He has two constituencies. One is the traditional Republican constituency of extreme wealth and corporate power. He’s got to keep them happy. The other is the voting constituency, which has the Republican Party terrified. They’re afraid to lift a finger because it’ll launch his adoring masses against them. That’s a serious matter. This is a new situation in the history of parliamentary politics, very different. We have to get rid of this malignancy where we’re in deep, deep trouble.
Okay, then with Biden and the Democrats, they are susceptible to pressure. We’ve already seen that. In fact, the Biden program, I don’t love it, but it’s been pressed well to the left by popular pressure, beyond predecessors, in fact. They are susceptible whether they like it or not. That’s one of many crucial differences.
AARON MATÉ: I think one thing that’s been misunderstood about your advocacy for voting to defeat Trump, so in this case electing Biden, is that you weren’t saying that it ends there. And, in fact, you’ve always said this, that we should vote to defeat the worst candidate, going back many elections. I remember when Barack Obama was on the ballot, you said that we should elect Obama but without illusions. So, in other words, put him in office but then keep the pressure on him, which of course did not happen. He dismantled his grassroots campaign and a lot of us got complacent and went home. Do you think that this time now, though, with the Bernie Sanders movement awakened, with there being widespread distrust of the establishment and we’re dealing with a pandemic, do you think things are different now than they were under Obama, when everybody sort of packed it in after he won?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I hope so. Actually, I’ve never…I’ve often myself just not bothered to vote when it didn’t matter or voted for a third party if it didn’t matter. This time is unusual. It matters. A lot. In fact, more than anything ever, literally. So, I therefore think it shouldn’t take five seconds for people to recognize we have to vote against Trump. There’s only one way to vote against Trump in our two-party system. That’s to push the lever for the Democrats. That’s voting against Trump. If you decide not to vote against Trump, you’re helping him, you’re helping him win. We can debate lots of things, but not arithmetic. If you withdraw a vote from Biden, that puts Trump one vote ahead. So, you have essentially two choices on November 3rd. Am I going to vote against Trump or am I going to help him win? I can’t imagine how there can be a discussion about that among rational people.
Then, if you can manage to get them out, which is by no means obvious, then put the pressure on, continue the pressure, which Sanders and the popular movements have actually been doing, to ensure that not only that they keep their campaign promises but they go far beyond. That’s, as you say, what was missing when Obama came in.
Obama was very successful in marketing his fakery, I would say, his image. I’m sure you recall that in 2008 Obama won an award from the professional association of advertisers [Association of National Advertisers] for the best advertising campaign of the year, and they said, “Yeah, we’ve got to pick up his techniques and use them to sell other things.” They weren’t fooled; they saw it as a marketing campaign which was very successful, and unfortunately it was successful even in the activist community. They did not go on to keep his feet to the fire, make him do something.
Well, we saw what happened. That shouldn’t—if you can get rid of Trump this time, that shouldn’t happen. I think Bernie Sanders has had the right position on this: engage in the campaign to press them to the left, which has been done to an extent—not as much as I’d like, but to an extent. Then, if they’re in, keep the pressure on without stopping, because otherwise nothing will happen. Otherwise it’ll move back towards the Clintonite DNC donor-oriented center.
AARON MATÉ: And fortunately, I think this is a wonderful thing. Joe Biden doesn’t have the political skills and charm that Obama did in being able to neutralize people, which then raises the prospects of there being an effective grassroots movement that could put pressure on him and impact policy.
But, let me ask you about Iran. If Trump manages to win and these sanctions continue—new sanctions have just been imposed [that] make it even more difficult for Iran to access humanitarian goods, cut off Iranian banks from the financial system. If Trump stays in power and there’s no Biden, which means no Biden means no return to the Iran nuclear deal which would be likely under him, if Trump stays in office, what are Iran’s options?
NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, we should take a minute to recognize what just happened, which is something that I think has no precedent in the history of the United Nations. Remember what happened. The Trump administration went to the Security Council and requested that the Security Council extend UN sanctions against Iran. Actually, I don’t think those sanctions were appropriate, but let’s put that aside. US went to the Security Council, said, “We would like you to renew the sanctions.” Security Council refused, totally. Every single US ally said no. Next step: Pompeo went to the Security Council and said, “Tough luck, children. It’s reinstated because we say so. Get lost.” We said it’s reinstated, it’s reinstated, period. See, I didn’t find a precedent for that. I can’t. Try to find one. What’s more, it passed over virtually without comment. Try to find one again. I couldn’t. It’s an astonishing comment, not only about the administration and their sort of proto-fascist mentality, but also about the elite opinion, just watching this and not saying anything. And, of course, when the US imposes sanctions, that means everyone has to adhere to them. They’re what’s called third-party sanctions. Europe doesn’t like it, other countries don’t like it, but they’re not going to step on the toes of the godfather. It’s too dangerous. It’s a rogue elephant raging out there. You can’t do anything about it. We can. They can’t. The United States can simply throw them out of the international financial system, so they’ll obey. They don’t like it. That’s the thinking. Interesting world that we’re creating, okay.
Well, what are Iran’s options? Not much. They have to, they’ll surely—first of all, it strengthens the hard-liners in Iran, that’s perfectly obvious. Undermines the critical opposition. They’ll have to react in some way or other; a reaction on their part might blow up in the manner that I described before.
There’s something else that we ought to bear in mind about Iran and the whole Iran affair. This goes back to Obama, and before, in fact. Let’s imagine for a moment that the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons is serious. I don’t think so, I don’t think you think so. But let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that there’s a serious threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Is there a way to deal with it without sanctions, without threats, without murdering Iranian scientists, without cyberwar to destroy their facilities, which is an act of war? Yeah, a very simple way, and everyone in the diplomatic world knows it.
AARON MATÉ: And there’s a conference about it coming up at the UN next month.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yes, it’s to institute a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. How hard is it that? The Arab states are strongly in favor of it. They initiated that appeal 25 years ago. They’re even threatening to break out of the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] if that isn’t installed. They’re in favor. What about Iran? Strongly in favor of it. It’s been calling for it for years.
Okay, that’s Iran. Now how about the Global South? The G77, the non-aligned movement, 130 countries strongly in favor of—been calling for it for years. Europe’s in favor of it. In fact, you can’t think of almost anybody who objects to it except two countries.
One is Israel, which doesn’t want its nuclear weapons system inspected, and the second is the godfather, the United States. Blocks it at every turn. Most recently Obama. Came up in 2015 at the NPT review sessions, where it always does. Obama nixed it; can’t do it. We can, if you think what’s behind this, something very significant. If the US does not acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons—of course, everyone knows it does, you can’t even call it an open secret because it’s totally open, but the US does not acknowledge it. If there’s a nuclear weapons-free zone, the US will have to acknowledge it. Israeli nuclear weapons get inspected.
That brings up other issues such as the United States law. Symington Amendment, for example, which bars aid—military, even economic aid—to countries that have produced nuclear weapons outside the NPT framework. Nobody—the Democrats don’t want to open that spigot; they don’t want to say, “Let’s look at that.” You could argue the legalism, but even opening that question indicates what I think has always been true: that US aid to Israel is illegal under US law. Okay, no other considerations. US law. Well, that’s something that elites don’t want to open up, so therefore we threaten the world with nuclear war. We torture Iran, killing who knows how many people. We raise the threat, the secret threat of tensions and a major threat in the Middle East, all in order to protect US aid to Israel. That’s what it comes down to.
This is one of those things you just can’t talk about in the United States. I tried. I mean, I’ve been trying for years. You talk to an audience [and] they understand it in 10 minutes. But try to put it in the public domain, it’s one of those unspeakable things. It’s what Orwell called the kind of thing that you’re trained in the top educational institutions, you’re trained that it wouldn’t do to say. That’s the ultimate in censorship, when you have inculcated into you the Orwellian doctrine that it wouldn’t do to say certain things. That’s his criticism of what he called literary censorship in England. You go to Oxford and Cambridge, you understand the mores, you know that there are things it wouldn’t do to say. Well, here’s one in the United States. Orwell was talking about thought control in free societies. We should talk about that, too. This is one striking example of it.
AARON MATÉ: Well, speaking of which, let me ask you about another related bipartisan establishment talking point when it comes to Iran, which is that it’s taken for granted that Iran exhibits malign behavior, and that we have to confront Iran’s malign behavior. What do US elites really mean when they say that?
NOAM CHOMSKY: What they mean is same as Cuba’s malign behavior. That’s what the State Department back in the early ‘60s, in the case of Cuba, called the threat of Castro. The threat of Castro, they said, is his successful defiance. Their phrase. “Successful defiance” of US policies going back 150 years, that is, back to the Monroe Doctrine, when the US proclaimed that it had the intention of dominating the hemisphere. Couldn’t do it at that time. The British were too strong. They were the main enemy. But the great strategic analyst John Quincy Adams recognized that over time British power would decline, US power would increase, and we would be able to establish the Monroe Doctrine.
But in 1959 Cuba became independent and made it clear it was not going to accept US domination. It was going to carry out successful defiance of US demands. Okay, therefore Kennedy launched an invasion, major terrorist war, destructive murder, sanctions which continue until the present. Successful defiance is not acceptable. Your nearby Mafia don will explain that to you. Suppose some small grocery store somewhere says, “I’m not going to pay the protection money.” Well, as far as the don is concerned, it’s a rounding error in his finances, doesn’t even notice it. But he does notice it; he sends in his goons to smash him up because he can’t tolerate successful defiance. Tolerate in one place, it’ll spread. It’s been a leading principle of international affairs. United States predecessors.
Let’s go to Iran. Since 1979, they’ve engaged in successful defiance of US policies in the Middle East. US reacted at once, right after the overthrow of the Shah. One of the bases of US power in the region, the US strongly supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. A murderous, brutal invasion, hundreds of thousands of people killed, Iranians, chemical warfare, chemical warfare even against Iraqis. Reagan administration supported it to the end, even entered the war to ensure that Iran would have to capitulate.
Then comes the next step. Very harsh sanctions, and even worse, President [George H.W.] Bush took office after Reagan. One of the first things he did was to invite Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in weapons production. That’s right after the Iraqi invasion, which had devastated Iran. Then the harsh sanctions, then the rest of the story right up until today. And when you talk about Iran’s malign activities, they’re not nice. No countries’ activities abroad are nice. Iran’s aren’t, either. But they’re acting like any power trying to extend their influence in many ways. That cannot be tolerated, [but] could be tolerated under the Shah, because he was our boy. So, when the Shah invaded and conquered Arab islands in the Gulf, the US said, “That’s fine, that’s not malign, because you’re our boy, we support you, you’re the base for our power.” But if you’re carrying out successful defiance, then any activities you carry out are maligned, and we can’t tolerate that. Then comes what we’ve just been discussing.
AARON MATÉ: So, Noam, I know you have to go. So, let me ask you finally about another issue that speaks to the US trying to silence defiance on the world stage. And that has to do with this scandal unfolding at the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons].
Last week at the UN Security Council, the US and its allies voted to block José Bustani, the OPCW’s first director-general, from speaking. He had come to testify in support of two OPCW inspectors who challenged the cover-up of their investigation in Syria. They found evidence that pointed to this attack—this alleged attack in Douma in April 2018—being staged on the ground, not carried out by the Syrian government. Their findings would have undermined the rationale for the US-led bombing of Syria under Trump that same month. Their evidence was censored. So, Bustani came to speak in support of them, but the US and their allies blocked them from speaking.
You’ve previously signed a petition in support of these inspectors. Just, with the few moments we have, I’m wondering your thoughts on why this story is important and why you think these inspectors should be heard.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, what happened certainly arouses very severe suspicions. The OPCW came out with a report blaming Syria for a chemical attack. Reporters like Robert Fisk and others thought it was pretty shady at the time but didn’t know.
Then came the bombshell. Some of their leading investigators, top ones, came out and said that their own analyses undermined the OPCW reports and that they were being silenced. Okay, that asks the question. What then comes [is] a long series of efforts to silence them, up to what you just described. The United States and its allies want the evidence provided by some of the top inspectors to be banned. We won’t discuss it. We won’t see if they’re right or wrong. We’ll just ban it.
Well, it tells a reasonable person something. They want to ensure that it’s not discussed, meaning they have no confidence in their own conclusions. Meaning the US bombing of Syria was undertaken on false presences. Okay, that’s got to be covered up. I think that’s about whether their report is correct or not. I have no judgment, but what we do know is the United States and its allies don’t want it discussed. They don’t want the evidence discovered by some of their top inspectors to be looked at, and the OPCW is capitulating to this, which is pretty shocking because they’ve been trusted on other things. If they’re going to capitulate on this, why should they be trusted on anything else?
AARON MATÉ: And the irony, two of them blocking José Bustani, who 18 years ago was ousted under pressure from the [George W.] Bush administration because he stood in the way of the Iraq War.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Exactly. Some more power plays. Pompeo has carried it to new heights in what he just carried off at the Security Council. But it’s not new, you’re right. It goes far back in US policy.
AARON MATÉ: Noam Chomsky, I really appreciate your time, as always. Thank you so much.
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