Noam Chomsky: U.S. Must Improve Relations with Russia and Challenge the Expansion of NATO

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited President Trump to Moscow, just days after the White House postponed a planned meeting between the two leaders in Washington until after the midterm elections. The invitation to Moscow comes after Trump and Putin met for a summit in Helsinki, Finland, earlier this month. For more about U.S.-Russian relations, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, author and linguist Noam Chomsky. He is a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited President Trump to Moscow, just days after the White House postponed a planned summit between the two leaders in Washington until after the midterm elections. Well, to talk more about U.S.-Russian relations and much more, we’re spending the hour with the world-renowned political dissident, author and linguist Noam Chomsky. He is now laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years. His recent books include Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. He joined us from Tucson, Arizona, last week. I asked him about the recent Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki and played for him a short pinwheel of U.S. media coverage of the summit.

ANDERSON COOPER: You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, certainly that I’ve ever seen.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: All of you who are watching today will be able to tell your friends, family, your children, your grandchildren you were watching a moment of history. It may not be for the right reasons.

NORAH O’DONNELL: This Helsinki summit was one for the history books. President Trump’s refusal to challenge the Russian strongman drew widespread condemnation from members of his own party and administration. This summit, that might have been about U.S. condemnation, instead ended with President Putin giving President Trump a soccer ball from the World Cup, and Mr. Trump handing Putin a gift of absolution.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, reporting after the July 16 joint press conference with Trump and Putin. I asked Noam Chomsky for his response to the Helsinki summit.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Trump has basically one principle: me first. That’s almost all of his policies, and wild statements and so on are perfectly well explicable within—under the assumption that that’s what’s driving him. Now, that—crucially, for him, he has to ensure that the Mueller investigation is discredited. Whatever they come up with, if it implicates him in any way, the way the media and political culture function, that will be considered of enormous significance, much more significance than his pursuing policies on the environment which may destroy human civilization. But given that, those highly skewed circumstances, he has to make sure that the Mueller investigation is discredited. And that was the main core part of his interview with Trump. Putting aside the way he behaved, you know, the soccer ball, which apparently had a listening device embedded in it and so on, yes, that was strange and unpleasant and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, actually, that World—that soccer ball, that particular ball has that little device in it, and that’s how it’s sold. It was a World Cup soccer ball, and that’s what it—that’s one of its attributes that people like, that they can put their iPhone next to it and get information.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, well, Putin was plainly treating Trump, more or less, with contempt. So, whatever you think about that, nevertheless his—the main concern—his main concern was pretty obvious. And that was the center part—central part of the Putin-Trump interviews. And so, yeah, I think—I just don’t see the great significance of his acting in a silly and childish way in an interview. OK, let’s—he did. Now let’s go to the important issues which are not being discussed. The issue of improving relations with Russia is of overwhelming significance as compared with the remarks saying, “Well, I don’t know whether to trust my own intelligence agencies,” for—saying that for perfectly obvious reasons: to discredit the Mueller investigation and to ensure that his fervently loyal base stays supportive. That’s not an attractive policy, but we can understand very easily what he’s doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Those intelligence agencies—former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Again, the former CIA Director John Brennan’s tweet. Noam?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, his remarks were certainly incorrect. Whatever you think of Trump’s behavior, it has nothing to do with high crimes and misdemeanors or treason. That’s just not true. But again, the same point I’ve been trying to make throughout, we are focusing on issues of minor significance and putting aside problems of enormous importance and significance, whether we’re thinking of how to deal with immigration or whether we’re dealing with the question of survival of organized human life on Earth. Those are the topics we should be thinking about, not whether Trump misbehaved in a press conference.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you about NATO. President Trump has questioned a key provision of the NATO military alliance: the mutual defense of NATO member countries. He made this remark during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson just a week ago.

TUCKER CARLSON: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

TUCKER CARLSON: Yeah, I’m not against Montenegro.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right.

TUCKER CARLSON: Or Albania.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, by the way, they’re very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and, congratulations, you’re in World War III.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s President Trump, questioning the whole idea of NATO. Well, if you could specifically address this? Interesting he chose Montenegro, where, well, many months ago, when he was with the G7, the G8, he pushed aside the prime minister of Montenegro. But the bigger point about—well, he wasn’t making this point, but I’d like to ask you about whether you feel NATO should exist.

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s the crucial question, not whether Trump made an ugly and demeaning comment about a tiny country. But what is NATO for? For from the beginning, from its origins, we had drilled into our heads that the purpose of NATO was to defend us from the Russian hordes. We can put aside for the moment the question whether that was accurate. But let’s—in any event, that was the dominant theme, overwhelming, in fact, unique theme. OK, 1991, no more Russian hordes. So, the question is: Why NATO?

Well, what happened was very interesting. There were negotiations, between George Bush, the first; James Baker, secretary of state; Mikhail Gorbachev; Genscher and Kohl, the Germans, on how to deal with the—this was after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev made an astonishing concession. Astonishing. He agreed to allow Germany, now unified, to join NATO—a hostile military alliance. Just look at the history of the preceding years. Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia, at an extraordinary cost, several times during the preceding century. But he agreed to allow Germany to—a rearmed Germany to join NATO, a military alliance that was set up to counter Russia. There was a quid pro quo, namely that NATO not—meaning NATO means basically U.S. forces—not expand to East Berlin, to East Germany. Nobody talked about anything beyond that. Baker and Bush verbally agreed to that. They didn’t put it in writing, but they essentially said, “Yeah, we will”—in fact, the phrase that was used was “not one inch to the east.” Well, what happened? NATO immediately moved to East Germany. Under Clinton, other countries, former Russian satellites, were introduced into NATO. Finally, NATO went so far, as I mentioned before, 2008, again in 2013, to suggest that even Ukraine, right at the heartland of Russian strategic concerns—any Russian president, no matter who it was, any Russian leader—that they join NATO.

So, what’s NATO doing altogether? Well, actually, its mission was changed. The official mission of NATO was changed to become to be—to control and safeguard the global energy system, sea lanes, pipelines and so on. And, of course, on the side, it’s acting as a intervention force for the United States. Is that a legitimate reason for us to maintain NATO, to be an instrument for U.S. global domination? I think that’s a rather serious question. That’s not the question that’s asked. The question that’s asked is whether NATO made—whether Trump made some demeaning comment about Montenegro. It’s another example of what I was talking about before: the focus of the media and the political class, and the intellectual community in general, on marginalia, overlooking critical and crucial issues, issues which do literally have to do with human survival.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, now linguistics professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Coming up, we’ll talk to him about climate change, nuclear weapons, Israel, Gaza and more.

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