Noam Chomsky decries what he calls the torture of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He also critiques the Biden administration’s reckless foreign policy. “The trajectory is not optimistic,” Chomsky says. “The worst case is the increasing provocative actions towards China. That’s very dangerous.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re continuing our discussion with Noam Chomsky. Nermeen Shaikh and I recently spoke to him from his home in Tucson, Arizona. We talked to him shortly before a British court ruled in favor of the U.S. government’s appeal to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face criminal charges in the United States. I asked Noam about Julian’s treatment and ongoing detention.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this is a pretty incredible situation. Julian Assange has been subjected to years of torture. Actually, his years in the Ecuadorian Embassy, which is actually not an embassy, it’s an apartment house, those were years of torture. I visited him there. Others did. Being stuck in an apartment without any — even the ability to go out and look at the sky, that’s, in many ways, even worse than being in prison. Prisoners at least have a couple hours when they can go out and be in a courtyard. Under guard by the British — sensitive British forces, finally forced into a top-security prison, it’s essentially torture — in fact, the U.N. rapporteur on torture called it torture — for years, all for the crime of having exposed to the American people and the people the world things that they should know, things that it’s their right to know.
That’s supposedly the role of journalism. And, in fact, leading journals did make use of his exposés to reveal a fair amount of material. But he’s at the heart of it, started the project, continued the project of revealing to the public things that they should be aware of. So, for that, he has been subjected to years of torture, false charges, now the threat of extradition, in which he will face possible lifetime of imprisonment. And the press is not coming to his defense, with a few exceptions. Not enough people are elsewhere.
But again, it’s the same story as always, just like Glasgow. It’s those the voices in the street which can end this tragedy of the Assange torture and persecution, like everything else, like the civil rights movement, like the social democratic initiatives in the 1930s, the New Deal measures, like the antiwar movement, like the women’s movement, everything, always the same answer. It’s the activism of individuals joining together, working against often very severe odds but for a cause that is obligatory — in the current case, necessary for survival; in Assange’s case, necessary to save an individual from unspeakable torture for the crime of performing the honorable work of a journalist.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Professor Chomsky, lastly, on the question of the U.S. — on U.S. foreign policy under Biden, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the defense pact with Australia and the U.K., what do you see as the trajectory of American foreign policy in the coming years?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the trajectory is not optimistic. Biden has pretty much picked up Trump’s foreign policy. He has eliminated some of the more gratuitously savage elements. Like in the case of Palestine, for example, Trump was not satisfied with just giving everything away to Israeli right-wing power — “do what you want” — and offering nothing to the Palestinians, just kicking them in the face; he even had to go beyond that to truly gratuitous savagery, like cutting off the lifeline, the UNRWA lifeline, for Palestinians to be able to have at least minimal bare survival in the Gaza — in the Israeli punching bag in Gaza. Even that, well, Biden removed those things. Other than that, pretty much followed the same policies.
On Iran, he made some verbal moves towards overcoming the crime of U.S. withdrawal from the joint agreement, but he’s insisting on perpetuating Trump’s position that it’s the responsibility of Iran, the victim, to move towards harsher agreement because the United States pulled out of an agreement that was working perfectly well.
The worst case is the increasing provocative actions towards China. That’s very dangerous. By now there’s constant talk about what’s called the China threat. You even read it in sober, reasonable — usually reasonable — journals, about the terrible China threat. Well, what is — and we have to move expeditiously to contain and limit the China threat.
What exactly is the China threat? Actually, that question is rarely raised here. It is discussed in Australia, the country that’s right in the claws of the dragon. So, recently, the distinguished statesman, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, did have an essay in the Australian press about the China threat. He finally concluded, realistically, that the China threat is China’s existence. The U.S. will not tolerate the existence of a state that cannot be intimidated the way Europe can be, that does not follow U.S. orders the way Europe does, but pursues its own course. That’s the threat.
When we talk about the threat of China, we’re talking about alleged threats at China’s borders. China does plenty of wrong things, terrible things. You can make many criticisms. But are they a threat? Is the U.S. support for Israel’s terrorist war against 2 million people in Gaza, where children are being poisoned because — a million children are facing poisoning because there’s no drinkable water, is that a threat to China? It’s a horrible crime, but it’s not a threat to China. While serious abuses that China is carrying out are wrong, you can condemn them, they’re not a threat.
Right at the same time as Keating’s article, Australia’s leading military correspondent, Brian Toohey, highly knowledgeable, did an assessment of the relative military power of China, and in their own region of China, and the United States and its allies, Japan and Australia. It’s laughable. One U.S. submarine, Trident submarine, now being replaced by even more lethal ones — one U.S. submarine can destroy almost 200 cities anywhere in the world with its nuclear weapons. China in the South China Sea has four old, noisy submarines, which can’t even get out because they’re contained by superior U.S. and allied force.
And in the face of this, the United States is sending a fleet of nuclear submarines to Australia. That’s the AUKUS deal — Australia, U.K., United States — which have no strategic purpose whatsoever. They will not even be in operation for 15 years. But they do incite China almost certainly to build up its lagging military forces, increasing the level of confrontation. There are problems in the South China Sea. They can be met with diplomacy and negotiations, the regional powers taking the lead — could go into the details.
But the right measure is not increasing provocation, increasing the threat of an accidental development, which could lead to devastating, even virtually terminal nuclear war. But that’s the direction the Biden administration is following: expansion of the Trump programs. That’s the core of their foreign policy programs.
There are others that are mixed on Iran. I mentioned I think it’s outrageous that the United States is imposing severe, destructive sanctions on Iran, which, as usual, harm the population, don’t harm the leadership — that’s what sanctions do — for torturing Iran because of our withdrawal from a treaty that was working, over the strong objections of all other participants. All of Europe strongly objected, but the U.S. throws its weight around the way it likes. That’s what it means to be the mafia don, the global godfather. If Europe doesn’t like it, tough. They have to follow it, or the United States threatens to throw them out of the international financial system. Same with anybody else.
Torture of Cuba has been going on for 60 years, because — we know why. State Department, back in the ’60s, explained that the crime of Castro is his successful defiance of U.S. policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine, which declared the U.S. right to dominate the hemisphere.
You can’t tolerate successful defiance, whether it’s a small island offshore or whether it’s a major power with an economy, an enormous economy, and potential power and which refuses to be intimidated, and which is carrying out such crimes as setting up a thousand vocational schools around the world where they’re training people in Central Asia, in Africa, in Thailand, training them in the use of Chinese technology so they will be able to spread Chinese technological developments to their own countries, cutting out the United States, which can’t counter that. We can only use bombs and sanctions. Well, it’s another crime.
Again, plenty to criticize, but these are the crimes that are causing the United States to pose the threat of China as the leading problem in world affairs, the greatest danger in world affairs. Again, we have to counter that. And we can. There’s no reason to allow this to persist. And at this point, it’s not just people who worship Trump. It’s the Democratic leadership, Biden’s foreign policy team, the major liberal press.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up and celebrate your 93rd birthday, let’s end with that question: What gives you hope?
NOAM CHOMSKY: What do I hope? I hope that the young people who are demonstrating in the streets of Glasgow, the mine workers who are — in the United States, who are agreeing to a transition program to sustainable energy, many others like them, I hope that they will be in the ascendancy and can take the measures that are feasible and available to create a much better world than the one we have, and the one that the people of the world deserve.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the 93-year-old world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, joining us from his home in Tucson, where he teaches at the University of Arizona. To see all of our interviews over the years with Noam Chomsky, you can go to democracynow.org.
And that does it for today’s show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick.
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