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The world laughed at U.S. President Donald Trump at the United Nations, but the imperial declarations he issued are no laughing matter. Trump may come off as a buffoon, but his global agenda is consistent with the bipartisan empire machine that runs the United States. This week on Intercepted: Famed dissident Noam Chomsky breaks down the Trump presidency; the defeat of the U.S. in Afghanistan; what he believes is a just position on Syria’s civil war; and the agenda of Vladimir Putin and Russia. He also discusses the impact of big social media companies and explains why a life of resisting and fighting is worth it. Jeremy Scahill analyzes Trump’s U.N. speech and gives context to the seldom-discussed bipartisan support for much of Trump’s global agenda. Dallas hip-hop artist Bobby Sessions talks about police killings and this political moment. We also hear music from his new EP, “RVLTN (Chapter 1): The Divided States of AmeriKKKa.”
Martha MacCallum: Today the controversy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh reaches an all-time high. The judge got a call from the president himself.
Donald J. Trump: The wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.
Martha MacCallum: He is about to describe what this whole thing has been like.
Brett Kavanaugh: In America we have fairness. I want a fair process. America is about fairness. I want a fair process.
Mitch McConnell: A smear campaign — pure and simple.
We’re going to plow right through it and do our job.
BK: Fair process means hearing from both sides. Have a fair process. A fair process. I just want a fair process. I just want a fair process where I can be heard.
Lindsey Graham: What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation.
BK: I am looking for a fair process. All I’m asking for is fairness. All I’m asking for is a fair process.
Orrin Hatch: I think she’s mistaken. I just think she’s mistaken something.
BK: Again, just asking for a fair process. Again, I’m just asking for a fair process. Fair process. Let me be heard. Fair process hear from both sides.
DJT: She said well might not be him and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated and she was all messed up and she doesn’t know if it was him, but it might have been him. Oh gee, let’s not make him a Supreme Court judge. This is a con game being played by the Democrats.
Martha MacCallum: Through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin?
BK: That’s correct. I’m not going anywhere.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 67 of Intercepted.
DJT: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America’s — so true. [Laughter.] Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.
JS: There is one level where I believe the presidency of Donald Trump has actually brought a positive development to the discourse in our society — the discourse around the world. He has united many nations in openly laughing at the hubris and bravado of the United States. Yeah, I know, that they were specifically laughing at Donald Trump at the UN. But I also thought it was pretty funny. But as I’ve said over and over, Trump is a product of the American political system. When you strip down or strip away the buffoonery, and the arrogance, and the lies, and you look at the U.S. position in the world on foreign policy, Trump is basically in line with the political strategy of the empire politicians, of the elite.
The world has long watched in horror as the United States has pursued its imperial march. Trump has made it OK to openly mock it. And while Trump does, indeed, lie about anything and everything, he simultaneously engages in the big lies. The big lies that unite Democrats and Republicans.
DJT: That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live, or work, or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.
JS: You see right there, this is a big lie. It’s a lie that has been told throughout the history of the United States. The U.S. has never honored the right of nations to pursue their own customs and beliefs. The U.S. invades countries, sanctions them, bombs them, overthrows governments, interferes in elections, assassinates people across the globe. This nation was founded on violating the sovereignty of indigenous people and then forcing enslaved Africans to build its infrastructure. These are the lies that bind Trump to his predecessors. These are the permanent lies of the ruling elite of this country.
DJT: We have secured record funding for our military, $700 billion this year and $716 billion next year. Our military will soon be more powerful than it has ever been before.
JS: This is a horrifying declaration. It’s an abomination. It’s an abomination that it’s true. But is it because of the dangerous, deviousness of Trump? Did Donald Trump undemocratically seize public monies to build his unaccountable war machine? Let’s look at the vote tally on this whopping military bill: More than 2/3 of House Democrats voted for it and 85% of Democrats in the Senate voted to give Trump this massive military budget. And to drive home the passion for militarism and empire, this bill was ceremoniously titled the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. How is this justifiable to these Democrats who tell us every day about the unique danger that Donald Trump poses? The same could be asked of all those powerful Democrats who voted to give Trump widespread surveillance powers and capabilities. Now what they’ll tell you is: The military needs it; that we’re supporting the troops; the CIA and NSA, they need it — they are keeping the homeland safe. You know what, that’s bullshit. This is all about the politics of empire, imperialism, and in some ways crowd control.
Here we have yet another example — Trump bragging about pulling out of the UN human rights council because he was enraged that nations actually voted to condemn Israel or that they refuse to be a mouthpiece for Washington.
DJT: So the United States took the only responsible course, we withdrew from the human rights council and we will not return until real reform is enacted. For similar reasons, the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.
JS: All of this sounds like crazy, unhinged nationalism, authoritarianism, laws for thee but not for me. And that is what it is. Trump is brazenly attacking the notion that international law applies to the United States. But this wasn’t Trump’s idea and it wasn’t John Bolton’s idea. This was a bipartisan position going back decades. In fact, in 2002, when the U.S. Senate voted on a bill that would authorize the U.S. military to invade the Netherlands if any U.S. personnel were arrested on war crimes charges, it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. As we said in an earlier episode of this show, it was known as the Hague Invasion Act. You know who voted for it? Joe Biden did. Hillary Clinton did. Chuck Schumer did. Dianne Feinstein did.
In fact, 44 Democratic senators voted for a bill that would literally authorize the U.S. military to invade another NATO country to stop a war crimes prosecution of U.S. personnel. Yes, Trump’s declaration about international law is disgusting, but let’s be honest: In that vote, just 26 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting yes. And the Democrats controlled the Senate at the time. And this was a bill sponsored by lifelong racist and bigot, Senator Jesse Helms. And the Democrats supported it. This isn’t Donald Trump extremism. This is the politics of empire and so-called American exceptionalism.
I am deeply concerned that we are really losing our minds in this country with so many people falling victim to this notion that the U.S. was somehow this bastion of justice, and freedom, and democracy in the world until the orange-hued monster took power. It’s just not true. And when the dust settles on this moment in history, this narrative is going to ricochet into the future. Trump’s presidency will be like a ship that, if sunk, would place all the blame for the rot of this empire onboard with it. We say a lot on this show that history matters, context matters, facts matter. And they do. But it does a disservice to those who believe in justice, and truth, and peace to pretend like Trump is somehow a great anathema. In some ways, he is. But not when it comes to the politics of empire. It’s important that we work hard to make those distinctions, no matter how widespread and group-thinky the flashy story is about Trump ruining America’s greatness. If we want to change this country, confront its injustices, we have to always return to history and context to understand how we got here.
JS: Today on the show, we have a special guest for an extended conversation on a wide range of issues, from the war in Afghanistan to North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia and the election, big tech companies and the role they play in our lives, propaganda, and beyond. Our guest is the legendary American dissident and scholar, Noam Chomsky. I’m sure that pretty much every single one of our listeners is familiar with Chomsky, but you will almost never see him on major TV networks in the United States. Globally, yes. Chomsky is on TV all the time around the world. But here in his home country, nope. And if I am not mistaken, he has never been on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox. He did a few interviews over the years on PBS, on the Charlie Rose show. And I believe he was on CNN for a couple of minutes once. Such is the fate of dissidents in the home of the brave. Here is one of the few times that Noam Chomsky was actually allowed on U.S. TV. It was way back on April 3, 1969, where Chomsky debated the famed conservative William F. Buckley. The show was broadcast under the title “Vietnam and the Intellectuals,” and it was part of Buckley’s show, “Firing Line.”
Noam Chomsky (1969): What seems to me a very, in a sense, terrifying aspect of our society and other societies is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler, or LeMay, or other that crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for the this apathy and equanimity and; therefore, I think that it’s in some sense the sane, and reasonable, and tolerant people who should share a very serious burden of guilt that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent.
William F. Buckley: Oh, I agree but, but —
JS: Noam Chomsky is one of the most popular and influential political thinkers in the world, yet in the United States you will only find him on independent, alternative media outlets. Look at all of the pundits and well, criminals who are constantly on TV today. The people with long public career in mass killing or mass lying. This is part of the problem. It’s a big part of the problem in this country. How different would this country be, would the world be, if Noam Chomsky and other principled dissidents were regularly featured on major news broadcasts?
Chomsky is currently a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. He is professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. Chomsky’s 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 is also the co-author, with the late Ed Herman, of the classic book, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
JS: Noam Chomsky, welcome Intercepted.
NC: Very glad to be with you.
JS: If you watch, and I know you are not a fan of television news, but if you watch particularly MSNBC or CNN right now or you read the major newspapers in the United States, you can come away with the impression that Donald Trump and his administration, his presidency, represent this grand departure from the way things are done in the United States historically.
How much of a departure is the Trump presidency from the bipartisan Washington empire consensus — the way that the U.S. has been governed throughout its history?
NC: There are some differences and many continuities. On the domestic scene, Trump is, very effectively, managing both of his constituencies.
There’s an authentic constituency of corporate power and private wealth and they’re being served magnificently by the executive orders, legislative programs that are being pushed through which represent the more savage wing of the traditional Republican policies — catering to private interests, private wealth, and dismissing the rest as irrelevant and easily disposed of.
At the same time, he’s managing to maintain the voting constituency by pretending, very effectively, to be the one person in the world who stands up for them against the hated elites. And this is quite an impressive con job. How long he can carry it off? I don’t know. On the international scene, it’s actually more interesting.
He’s being lambasted for taking positions which, in my view, are pretty reasonable. So, for example, in the case of Korea: The two Koreas, last April 27th came out with a historic declaration, in which they laid out fairly explicit plans for moving towards reconciliation, integration, and denuclearization of the peninsula.
Newscaster: Kim Jong-un made history today becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War began in 1950. He promised a new beginning as he met with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The meeting marks the first summit between the Koreas in more than a decade.
NC: They pretty much pleaded with outsiders, that means the United States to permit them to proceed, as they put it, on their own accord. And so far Trump has not interfered with this very much, calling off temporarily at least the military exercises, which has he correctly said are highly provocative. He’s been lambasted for that, but it’s exactly the right position I think. Right now, the president Moon is in North Korea if they can make positive moves on their own accord as they’ve requested that should be beneficial.
In the case of Russia, it’s more complexes. His policies have, in fact, been two-fold his administration has continued the policies of building up military forces on the Russian border, carrying out military maneuvers, increasing the tensions in extremely dangerous parts of the world.
On the other hand, he has also taken somewhat conciliatory steps towards reducing tensions. And for that again, he’s been lambasted. Though, I think it’s the right thing to do. On other issue matters, he’s torn up important international agreements, the most significant was the Iran nuclear agreement.
DJT: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction.
NC: That’s in isolation from the entire world, in this case. And that’s very serious and the most serious of all, by far overshadowing everything else, is his pulling out of the Paris negotiations.
DJT: The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries. Leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production. Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.
NC: Leaves the United States as the only country in the world which is refusing officially to take even small steps towards dealing with the true existential crisis, and that’s combined with the domestic programs of rapidly increasing the use of the most dangerous fossil fuels, cutting back regulations on economy for automobiles, eliminating safety protections for workers, and so on. All of that is just a race to disaster and that’s by far the most serious of the initiatives to undermine what’s loosely called the international order.
Raising questions about NATO, for example, is quite a reasonable thing to do. One might certainly ask why NATO even exists after the collapse of the Soviet Union — not that there weren’t questioned before, there were — but the official story was that NATO was in place to defend the West against the Russian hordes, which, putting aside the validity of that claim, that was the official stand
Newsreel: The Russian cynical blockade of Berlin had brought Europe to the brink of War. It was at last clear that only a strong alliance could deter them from further adventures. On 4, April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Canada, and the United States. This union of 12 Nations became known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or more simply: NATO.
NC: After the Soviet Union collapsed, a fair question arose as to why NATO should survive. And what it did was, in fact, expand. Expanded all the way to the Russian border, initially under the first Bush, then extensively under Clinton, then by 2008 even offering to have Ukraine join NATO, that’s an attack on Russian geostrategic interests that no Russian leader could easily accept. All of this increases threats, tensions quite unnecessarily, at the same time NATO changed its official mission to say what they call “safeguard control” of the international energy system, pipelines, and sea lanes, and though it’s unmentioned to serve as essentially an intervention force for the United States. We have a good indication of how the world saw that international order. The Gallup polling agency takes international polls of international opinion every year — in 2013, for the first time, they asked an interesting question.
They asked the question, which country is the greatest threat to World Peace. The United States was in first place. No other country was even close — far behind in second place was Pakistan that was doubtless inflated by the Indian vote. The countries that are called the greatest threat to World Peace here the United States like Iran were barely even mentioned. Interestingly, Gallop never asked that polling question again, and it was — the answer was not reported in the mainstream press.
JS: You bring up the issue of NATO and, of course, right now in the United States when Vladimir Putin is discussed, there is a lot of resurrection of, kind of, Cold War imagery. There are books being published with backward “Rs” on them, which isn’t even in Cyrillic, it’s not even actually the letter “R,” but there’s this sort of portrayal of Putin as, sort of, the Bolsheviks rising and this idea that Russia is seeking to take over the United States, and Russia is responsible for Donald Trump being president because they quote-unquote hacked our election. What is true and what is hyperbole/propaganda/exaggeration about Russia and Putin, specifically, taking into account the U.S. posture toward Ukraine, NATO, but also the issue of electoral interference?
NC: What is true is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990,1991, there was a period under Yeltsin in which the United States pretty much dominated what was happening in Russia and the region around Russia. NATO was expanded. The Russian economy totally collapsed under the imposed harsh market reforms. There was a radical collapse of the economy, sharp increase in the mortality rate. Russia was really devastated. When Putin came in––he’s not a nice guy. I would not like to have dinner with him, but you can understand his policies. His policies were to try to restore some role for Russia at least in its own region of the world, which we might recall happened to be the traditional invasion routes through which Russia was attacked virtually destroyed several times in the last century.
So, this is not a small question. And yes, Putin is trying to restore some degree of Russian power in the world, some degree of Russian authority. One extension of that and, in fact, the only one is the Russian position in Syria. All of this encroaches on the global domination of the United States and secondarily, its allies, which is, kind of, taken to be the norm. The norm is, “we rule everything,” and if someone else tries to control their own area that’s disruptive of the international system. Which, from a certain point of view, it is.
If you take a look at Russian power as compared with the United States, it’s derisory. Just one indication: Trump’s increase in defense budget practically reaches the entire Russian military budget. So, the idea of Russia taking over the world is ludicrous. What it means is that they are trying, often in ways that merit condemnation, but nevertheless, trying to restore some degree of Russian influence in the region surrounding Russia plus Syria, their one Mediterranean base. And to try to establish a place for Russia in the world system, far weaker than the United States, weaker than China. In fact, one of Russia’s International problems is to keep from being overwhelmed by Chinese power. That’s the kind of disruption of the international order that is attributed to Russia.
JS: You raise this issue of Russia in Syria. Of course, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, the list of countries involved actively in the just generically, let’s call it the Syrian War, right now. You do have a debate on the left in the United States about what a just position looks like toward the conflict in Syria. And, of course, you have isolationists, or Libertarians, or anti-imperialists who take the position of, “There should be total hands-off Syria that this is a civil war.” I think the honest among us would say that of course, Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal. He is a mass murderer, but he is in a conflict with a lot of mass murderers and a lot of war criminals.
What Noam Chomsky do you believe is a just position to take on the war in Syria? Is it that people should defend Bashar al-Assad with the idea that it’s the least bad option, or that this is a matter that should be handled by the Syrians, or is there any international involvement that you think makes any sense, or could be justified under both moral principles and legal principles?
NC: Well, the first point to bear in mind, which you already mentioned is that Assad is a horrible war criminal. The bulk of the atrocities, which are enormous, are his responsibility. There’s no justifying Assad. On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that he is essentially pretty much in control of Syria now, thanks largely to Russian partially Iranian support.
The Russians actually entered Syria extensively after the CIA had provided the rebel forces, which are mostly run by jihadi elements, provided them with advanced antitank missiles which were stymieing the Syrian Army at which point the Russians came in with air power and overwhelmed the opposition. The current situation is that Assad has pretty much won the war. Like it or not. There was in the early stages a Democratic secular, quite respectable opposition, but they were very quickly overwhelmed by the jihadi elements, supported from the outside — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and others. There’s a pending humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, the province where the jihadis have been — the place to which they’ve been expelled or fled. If there’s a Syrian Russian attack on that it could be a total humanitarian catastrophe. There is some indication that the Russians and the Turks may have been provided a safe area to which maybe some civilians can flee but that looks like a monstrosity developing. If there’s a way of countering that attack, it should be pursued by diplomatic means.
The other crucial question is the status of the Kurdish areas — Rojava. In my opinion, it makes sense for the United States to maintain a presence which would deter an attack on the Kurdish areas. They have the one part of Syria which is succeeded in sustaining a functioning society with many decent elements. And the idea that they should be subjected to an attack by their bitter enemies the Turks, or by the murderous Assad regime I think is anything should be done to try to prevent that.
JS: Let me ask you about that point because you are one of the leading people in the world that is consistently reminding the world that the United States has always adopted a posture of certain Kurds are good Kurds certain Kurds are bad Kurds and the United States has poured money and weapons into the coffers of for instance the Turkish military explicitly to be used for an ongoing attempt at genocide against the Kurds. So, I’m curious how you reconcile that with a position that the United States would, in essence, be the protector of the Kurds in the context of the Syrian War.
NC: The United States, like other great powers, does not pursue humanitarian objectives. It pursues objectives determined by power considerations, and they lead to different positions with regard to the Kurds or others at different times.
So, for example, in the 1970s there was a time when the United States supported Kurds against Saddam Hussein. Shortly after a deal was made in which they sacrificed the Kurds to Saddam Hussein. That led to Henry Kissinger’s famous comment that we shouldn’t confuse foreign policy with missionary activity.
It’s entirely true that especially in the 1990s Clinton was pouring arms into Turkey for the purpose of carrying out massive, murderous, destructive attacks against the Kurdish population of Turkey in the Southeast — enormously destructive. That does not change the fact that now the United States could, with a relatively small presence, deter attacks against the Kurds in Syria, which could destroy the one part of Syria that is actually functioning at a decent fashion. We don’t expect consistency in humanitarian terms from a great power because those are not the guiding principles.
JS: Regarding Afghanistan, were now 17 plus years in Afghanistan in the context of 9/11, shouldn’t we be talking about Afghanistan as A, Obviously a war that the United States should have never started, and secondarily, that the United States has actually been militarily and politically defeated in Afghanistan?
NC: Well my own view as you may recall back at the time was that the use of military force in Afghanistan was inappropriate and illegitimate. There were diplomatic options — they could have been pursued but the United States wanted to use force. I think the perhaps the most accurate description of what the United States did was by Abdul Haq — one of the most respected and honored of the Afghan anti-Taliban activists who in fact was killed in Afghanistan — who strongly opposed the U.S. bombing as most of the Afghan dissidents did, and argued that the United States was bombing just because it wanted to show its muscle and intimidate everyone else and it was undermining the efforts of the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance to solve the problem on their own.
Newscaster: Working their way through the rush hour that morning two men were about to offer the U.S. government the chance to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to expel Al-Qaeda from its terrorist bases, and to capture Osama bin Laden. This plan had been put together by Abdul Haq one of Afghanistan’s most respected leaders and was the culmination of Haq’s lifetime struggle to save his country.
NC: I think his analysis was correct. We’ve now gone through 17 years of failed attempts to impose a U.S. dominated system. There is an Afghan peace movement. It’s not enormous, but it’s significant. It’s been there for several years. We should be doing what we can to support it, to lead them to find a solution internal to Afghanistan, reconciling to the extent possible the conflicting warring factions, there ethnically divided, divided in other terms.
It’s an extraordinary problem. The most we can do is to try to facilitate efforts among the Afghans. I don’t think there’s much that the United States can hope to do beyond that, and the idea of imposing a military solution looks out of the question.
JS: Do you believe it’s accurate to say that the United States has been militarily defeated in Afghanistan?
NC: Well, certainly it has not achieved any of its objectives after a huge expenditure. So, give it whatever name you like. I mean, a great power like the United States never really gets defeated. It may not achieve its maximal objectives.
So, for example, let’s take Vietnam. It’s almost universally described as a U.S. defeat. But if you look back at the original planning this goes back to the early 50s, for why the United States became involved in Vietnam turns out it wasn’t a complete defeat. The U.S. did not achieve its maximal objectives of turning Vietnam into something like the Philippines, but it did achieve its major objective of preventing an independent South Vietnam from becoming a model that might be followed by others towards a successful independent development. Perhaps eroding the whole Southeast Asia East Asia order, which is what the planners were concerned with in the early 1950s. And that was in fact stopped. Power like the United States is unlikely to face anything like a real defeat, a failure perhaps.
JS: I wanted to also make sure to ask you about this ongoing slaughter in Yemen. Recently CNN and some of the other networks have started showing images of U.S. missile parts from munitions that for instance killed an entire bus full of school children recently.
Newscaster: This video of shrapnel was filmed in the aftermath of the attack and sent to CNN by a contact and saddle a cameraman working for CNN subsequently filmed these images for us. Munitions experts tell CNN this was a U.S. made Mark MK 82 bomb weighing in at 500 pounds. The first five digits there are the cage number, the commercial and government entity number. This number here denotes Lockheed Martin one of the top U.S. defense contractors.
JS: But there was a dearth of that kind of reporting when Obama was waging what started as a secret deniable bombing campaign. He kicked it off in December of 2009 with a cluster bomb attack that killed three dozen women and children in the village of al-Majala in Yemen. And then regularly was hitting Yemen with drone strikes, but it also is often portrayed as kind of Trump supporting the Saudis, when in reality the U.S. first bombed Yemen in November of 2002. This has been going on for a quite a long time. What is the U.S. motivation for this mass slaughter in Yemen right now that is primarily being carried out by Saudi war planes that were given to the Saudis by the United States? And, of course, the U.S. is doing all the intelligence assistance, the refueling and the providing of munitions. But what is the U.S. agenda in Yemen as you can see?
NC: The U.S., and you’re quite right in tracing this back to Obama, in fact, even earlier. The United States wants to ensure that Yemen will be incorporated within the system of reactionary Arab states that the U.S. dominates and largely controls that’s Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, which is a quite a significant military power by the standards of the region and quite vicious and brutal. The Houthi presumably get some degree of Iranian support. To regard that as the Iran as the major threat in the region is ridiculous. The U.S. and secondarily Britain have been arming and developing, supporting the military forces and actions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the consequences that you describe. It’s becoming one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world, the attack on the port, the Hodeida port
Newscaster: Coalition forces are closing in and the fighting around the airport has blocked a key exit out of the city making it harder to transport much-needed food aid from Hodeida, the country’s largest port, to the rest of the country. 8.4 million Yemenis are already at risk of starvation. The war has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
NC: We can trace this back much farther if you like. So back in the early 1960s, there was a there was a war — a proxy war — going on in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. At that point, Egypt was the center of secular Arab nationalism under Nasser and regarded as the main enemy by the United States. Saudi Arabia was the center of radical Islam and very much like the British before us, the United States tended systematically to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That war was raging right through the 60s. It was a significant war. Israel settled that problem for the United States and Saudi Arabia by smashing secular Arab nationalism in 1967. And that, in fact, is the major turning point in U.S. Israeli relations. Israel performed a great service to the United States and its Saudi Arabian ally and the radical Islamism that centered there by eliminating the secular nationalist alternative. And since then U.S. relations with Israel have been kind of unique, even historically but certainly in the modern world. And this is now another continuation of it with different cast of characters slightly. But Yemen has been regarded as it’s the poorest of Arab states the most miserable in many ways, torn by all sorts of internal conflicts. And the U.S. continues to be committed to trying to ensure that its close allies, the radical Islamist states — Saudi Arabia, UAE — maintain control against any adversary. Egypt at that time, Iran, which is a very minor participant in fact, not like Egypt which had a major army there, very minor participant in this case.
JS: I’m sure that you paid attention to the reporting around national security adviser John Bolton’s speech at the Federalist Society in which he launched this blistering attack on the international criminal court, the ICC.
And, of course, John Bolton has always been against international law and its application to the United States. But Bolton did point something out in that speech that I think is important for people to understand and it’s accurate. Bolton described how in 2002 the U.S. Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, passed legislation that was known in human rights circles as the Hague Invasion Act.
John Bolton: This law which enjoyed broad bipartisan support authorizes the president to use all means necessary and appropriate, including force, to shield our service members and the armed forces of our allies from ICC prosecution. It also prohibits several forms of cooperation between the United States and the court.
JS: And such radical right-wingers as Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, and many powerful Democratic senators, they actually voted for that legislation. And yet when Bolton does his attack on the ICC. It was portrayed as “Oh, my God, look at how these Trump people are so outside of the norm.” But the reality, isn’t it true, is that this has been the bipartisan power consensus from the very beginning? That no international law should actually apply to the United States and both Republicans and Democrats including the Democrat’s nominee in 2016 believe that the United States would have a right to militarily intervene to prevent a war crimes prosecution of any of its personnel.
NC: You’re absolutely correct. In Europe, as you say, it’s called the Netherlands Invasion Act — authorizes the president to use military force as they put it to rescue any American who might be brought to trial anywhere. So you’re quite correct. It’s unfair to blame this position on Trump and Bolton it goes way back and it goes much farther back than that.
So, for example, let’s go back to 1984, the United States in 1984 was, by the World Court, was ordered to terminate what was called unlawful use of force, which means international terrorism against the state of Nicaragua and to pay very substantial reparations.
Newscaster: Docking the world court on the questioned drew barbs too on the house floor.
House: Mr. Speaker many of us have known for some time that the Reagan Administration Central America policies couldn’t stand the light of day but now the administration is admitting as much by refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the international court of justice over the CIA’s mining of Nicaraguan ports, the Administration has demonstrated that it knows that its policies can’t withstand an inquiry by an impartial objective international body.
NC: The U.S. rejected the authorization of the world court and did so with the strong support of liberal America. So, the New York Times, for example, had an editorial condemning the court as what it called a hostel forum and therefore illegitimate.
It was a hostile forum because it condemned the United States. Three years earlier, the New York Times had lauded the World Court as a marvelous forum because it supported the United States in a claim against Iran, but now it was a hostile forum and therefore illegitimate. So, the U.S. had no need to pay any attention to its orders.
In fact, the U.S. even went so far as to veto a Security Council resolution basically calling on states to observe international law — didn’t mention the United States but was obvious with the intent was. All of this with the support of liberal opinion across the board. Now at that time, the United States was not alone in defying the World Court.
I think, Libya and Albania had also rejected World Court decisions, but they later accepted them. So, the United States is far as I’m aware, is now in splendid isolation and having rejected decision to the world court that’s entirely consistent with the 2002 legislation authorizing the executive to use military force to block any act against Americans by the International Criminal Court, if that’s even conceivable.
JS: Well just parenthetically and I don’t want to get into this but I do think it’s worth just mentioning it: that when victims of the U.S. torture program — the so-called extraordinary rendition program, or people that were taken to Guantanamo or to black sites — filed lawsuits in the United States against Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or other officials for the torture that they endured, or the kidnapping that they endured, the justice department intervened in those cases using something called the Westfall Act, which actually has to do with U.S. labor law, and even Attorney General Eric Holder under Obama filed briefs in these lawsuits against Bush-era accused war criminals saying that even if they had committed genocide, that it was within the official scope of their duties. And therefore, they were removed as defendants in those cases and replaced by the U.S. government which has sovereign immunity and, therefore they were dismissed.
So, it’s not just on a level of international war or conflict. It’s also on an individual level with U.S. officials, the position of the justice department, including under Obama was that even if Donald Rumsfeld was involved with genocide, it would have been within the official scope of his duties and therefore he cannot be held individually responsible for it.
NC: Yeah, that’s a kind of a counterpart to the fact that the U.S. did add a reservation to the genocide convention when it signed it, finally, saying we’re immune. Incidentally, on the torture program, there’s more to be said. There’s good studies of this by Alfred McCoy — outstanding historian who did some of the major work, among other things, on the history of torture —
JS: He’s a great friend of this show, and has been on several times. He also was my professor when I was briefly an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin.
NC: OK, so I don’t have to laud him to you. Done excellent work.
But, on torture, he pointed out that when the United States signed the international torture convention, I think it was 1984 or so, the Senate rewrote the convention to exclude the modes of torture that were carried out by the CIA, and that was then instituted into law under Clinton. So you could argue that much of the torture carried out under the Bush Administration was actually not in violation of U.S. law as McCoy also points out, the significant difference between the Guantanamo/Bagram/Abu Ghraib torture and earlier periods, was that in earlier periods, the U.S. supervised the torture and trained the torturers in Latin America, Southeast Asia, but for this time, the U.S. personnel were actually involved, directly, in the torture instead of supervising it, and training the torturers. So that’s a slight change but from a moral point of view, not a very significant one.
JS: I do want to make sure to get your sense of what’s happening right now regarding the United States and Venezuela. Of course, you had Nicolas Maduro supposedly surviving a drone strike. Also, these generals, mutinous generals it appears meeting with the Trump Administration to plot a coup, coordinate? It’s unclear exactly what’s happening, but it does seem as though the United States is trying to, once again, foment either a coup or a removal of Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor.
NC: My sense of this is that the United States would support a coup, but not that it’s really trying to instigate it. After all, in the year 2002, there was a military coup in Venezuela, which briefly overthrew the government eliminated Parliament, Supreme Court, it was reversed by a popular uprising. But during the time of the coup, the United States openly and quite publicly supported the military coup as did the liberal press. There was a time back in the 1960s, 1970s when the U.S. was, in fact, in a position to implement, and strongly support military coups right throughout the continent this traces back to the decision by John F Kennedy in 1962 to change the mission of the Latin American military from what was called “hemispheric defense” — that was a holdover from World War II anachronistic — from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security.” And in the Latin American context “internal security” means war by the military and paramilitaries against the civilian population.
Now in 1962 the U.S. was in a position to change, to shift, the mission of the Latin American military and, in fact, essentially to prepare what became the first major military coup, 1964 in Brazil, then others, one country after another — Chile, Uruguay, finally Argentina, the worst of them, strongly supported by Kissinger and Reagan than onto Central America — but the U.S. just doesn’t have that power anymore.
One thing that’s happened in recent years is that Latin America has, to a certain extent, extricated itself from imperial, meaning recently U.S. control, this shows in many ways like largely expelling the IMF which for Latin America is a branch of the Treasury Department, eliminating the formal U.S. military bases.
So, the U.S. is doubtless involved and it will continue to support the traditional policies, but not with the degree of power it once had. In the case of Venezuela, if there were to be a military coup, I don’t doubt that the U.S. would support it may be the with some clicking of tongues about how it’s not a nice thing but short of that I think the U.S. Is likely to continue with subversion and sabotage and support for the right-wing elements. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that Venezuela is a major disaster at this point. Partly for external reasons, but considerably for internal reasons.
JS: This year’s 30 years since you and the great late Ed Herman published “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” and I wanted to get your thoughts on the role that huge social media companies play in our society, given that they are replacing a lot of news organizations, or the way that people — changing the way people consume information Google, Facebook, Twitter, ttc. There’s a lot of talk about this there’s hearings on Capitol Hill. There’s a lot of pleading with the billionaires to kick certain people off of social media, remove their accounts.
What about the way that these entities the — Facebook’s, Google’s, Twitter’s of the world have changed us as people, and our society, and the way we process, disseminate, absorb information?
NC: Well your words process, and disseminate and absorb are correct. But not produce. The source of information remains the major media, the correspondence on the ground — who often do excellent and courageous and very valuable work. Facebook and the rest may filter information that they get from those sources and present it in ways which much of the public finds it is easier to digest. I don’t think that’s a healthy development, but it is happening. And that means essentially, dividing much of the population of much discussion of this into cocoons, into bubbles, into which they receive the information conducive to their own interests and commitments.
If you read a major newspaper say the New York Times you get a certain range of opinion. It’s narrow. It’s basically centrist to far right, but at least it’s a range of opinion. Those who are more addicted to social media tend to turn directly to what supports their own views not to hear other things, that’s not a good thing. Google Facebook and the rest, those are commercial institutions. Their constituency is basically advertisers and they would like to establish the kinds of controls over their consumers that will be beneficial to their business model that enabled them to get advertising. That has very serious distorting effects. And we know that they provide massive information to the corporate system, which they use in their own efforts to try to shape and control behavior and opinion. All of this is a dangerous development that the power of these private corporations to direct people, in particular, directions and so on, that’s a serious problem which requires considerable thought and attention.
JS: In all of the decades of debating these issues, and campaigning for human rights, and against U.S. wars: Have things changed? And is it worth it to spend a lifetime doing what you’ve done? For young people that are listening.
NC: I think if we look over the years, we can see that there have been considerable achievements in changing public attitudes with regard to aggression, human rights, civil rights, and so on. I don’t take credit for that — plenty of people are involved, plenty of activists, many of them young but the changes are very significant.
Let’s go back to the 1960s. In the 1960s the Kennedy escalated the war in 1961 and 62. Now that’s when Kennedy authorized the U.S. Air Force to begin directly bombing rural South Vietnam, authorized Napalm, chemical warfare to destroy crops and livestock, organized mass programs to drive much of the peasantry into what amounted to concentration camps, strategic hamlets, huge escalation. What was the public reaction? Zero.
I, at the time, if I wanted to give a talk about it, I’d talk in somebody’s living room, or something like that. That was no protest. In fact, for years, it was difficult, or even impossible, to have public meetings. In Boston, which is a liberal city, public meetings were violently broken up with the support of the press, churches were attacked, and so on.
In fact, it wasn’t until about 1967 that a large-scale opposition to the war developed, and by that time South Vietnam had been practically destroyed and the war had expanded the rest of Indochina. Well, finally there was a public reaction.
NC: In, 198, the Reagan Administration came in and attempted to duplicate what Kennedy had done in the early 60s. Almost step by step. They intended to essentially invade Central America, white paper, blaming the international communists, huge propaganda campaign, and so on. It was almost instantly aborted by popular opposition.
There was such massive popular opposition from popular groups, from the churches, and others, that they had to back off. What happened was awful enough, but it wasn’t Vietnam. They had to turn to bringing in other states like Taiwan, Israel, the Argentine neo-Nazis to try to carry out the atrocities. U.S. couldn’t do it directly. That’s very significant.
Let’s go on to 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The worst crime of this century. That’s the first war in the history of imperialism in which the war was massively protested before it was officially launched. That’s never happened before.
Protest chants: No war! No war!
NC: Now, it’s commonly said that the opposition failed, but I don’t agree.
That restricted the kinds of military actions that the U.S. was able to carry out. Again horrible enough, but nothing like Vietnam. Well, all of these are indications of — and there are many others — of shifts of popular attitudes towards aggression, intervention, human rights violations, and so on, which make a difference. They haven’t gone far enough, but there’s a considerable improvement.
JS: Well, Noam Chomsky. Thank you very much for being so generous with your time. We really appreciate you being with us on Intercepted.
NC: Good. Glad to be with you.
JS: Noam Chomsky is one of the leading dissidents in the United States. He is currently a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
JS: There is a fierce battle underway for a U.S. Senate seat, in Texas between the incumbent and Zodiac Killer, Ted Cruz, [laughs] major right-winger tea party figure, and Beto O’Rourke who is a member of Congress that’s been getting a lot of attention now. And they recently held a debate where Ted Cruz actually blasted Beto O’Rourke for calling for justice in the case of an African-American man who was killed in his own home by a Dallas police officer.
Ted Cruz: Now the officer, as I understand it, has contended that it was a tragic mistake. It was a case where she thought she was in her own apartment. She thought he was an intruder. right now today, I don’t know what happened that evening. Congressman O’Rourke doesn’t know what happened that evening, but he immediately called for firing the officer. I think that’s a mistake. Look we have a criminal justice system, a criminal justice system that will determine what happened that night.
JS: Cruz then followed up that ridiculous despicable attack on Beto O’Rourke’s position by tweeting a video of Beto O’Rourke addressing a black church. And well, here’s what better O’Rourke had to say there.
Beto O’Rourke: How can it be, in this day and age, in this very year, in this community.
That a young man, African-American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer? And when we all want justice, and the fact, and the information to make an informed decision — what is released to the public? That he had a small amount of marijuana in his kitchen. How can that be just in this country?
How can we continue to lose the lives of unarmed black men in the United States of America at the hands of white police officers?
JS: What Beto O’Rourke just said there, I think most normal, sane people in this country would agree with. But somehow Ted Cruz put this out there thinking, “Oh, this is an attack. This is a hit on Beto O’Rourke.” And you know, the sad thing is that for the very kinds of people that Ted Cruz is targeting, the kinds of people that support Trump’s political agenda and Cruz’s political agenda: It probably will work.
The fact that Beto O’Rourke was in a black church, the fact that he was saying this about the killing of unarmed African Americans including in their own home, the calls for accountability for police officers who engage in this kind of conduct. And in, Texas, 67 people have been shot and killed by police officers this year alone. That is according to data collected by the Washington Post. Now add to that number one more person: Botham Shem Jean, an unarmed black man who, as I said, was killed in his own apartment by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger.
Guyger claims that she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, and she fired her gun at him after he did not follow her commands — mind you, Jean was in his own apartment, sitting on his own couch, watching football on his own TV. Guyger does live in the same apartment complex — one floor below — but whatever the actual story is, it’s a common one in Dallas and across this country: Police brutality, police killing against men and women of color is an everyday possibility, whether you’re walking while black, driving while black — and now it seems — even sitting in your own home while black.
As these crimes become more visible, more and more people are using their platforms to speak out. Bobby Sessions, an up and coming Hip Hop artist from Dallas, TX, is one of them. His latest record, “Revolution: The Divided States of AmeriKKKa,” is a ruthless examination of the reality of police violence and racial inequality in this country.
But not only has Bobby Sessions put his convictions on the mic, but he’s done the work in real life, too. He recently participating with the organization, A Million Hoodies at Tuskegee University where he worked with Samira Rice — the mother of Tamir Rice — and others to help find solutions to the injustices facing communities of color. Here is Bobby Sessions.
Bobby Sessions: I’m Bobby Sessions, the legend from Dallas, Texas. I’m an artist signed to High Standardz and Def Jam records.
[“Politics” by Bobby Sessions]
Pleasant Grove is in Southeast Dallas and in an area called Buckner Terrace, an all black neighborhood. It was home. That was my start for 12 years. And then we moved to a suburb in Dallas County. My parents saw that the school district that I was in wasn’t providing the best education possible for me and my little brother, so they worked really hard and got us to Rowlett. And it was traumatic, honestly, because of the culture shock, a predominantly white neighborhood on like on a golf course in there’s nobody that looks like me or understands my culture. The first rappers I remember hearing was Tupac and Will Smith — the oddest first impressions ever.
[“Holler If Ya’ Hear Me” by 2pac.]
Start to study. Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube, and Biggie Smalls, and Eminem, and Jay-Z — and my love for hip-hop runs pretty deep.
[“Holler If Ya’ Hear Me” by 2pac.]
I graduated from high school early and then I got admitted into the University of North Texas. At this time, I never had the self-image of a rapper. I used to freestyle my whole life and I would write. I was in like creative writing honors classes and stuff like that in high school, but I used to write more short stories and poetry. When I went to UNT, every Tuesday they had something called Poetic Justice and it was poets, rappers, singers, instrumentalists, they would stand in a huddle at this gazebo and display their talent.
Poetic Justice: Imma ask ya’ll one more time. What’s the number one rule here at Poetic Justice? Respect the mic!
BS: I go and recite some poetry. And the place went crazy. [Clapping.]
And at the end, they would have a freestyle cipher and I’m watching the reaction at the guys are getting from wrapping in the cipher and I still have the competitive switch up and I felt like I was better than those guys, so I went home. I wrote a rap. I came back the next Tuesday, which was November 16, 2010, and I recited a rap and people went crazy and I knew that was gonna be my career from that day moving forward.
[“Politics” by Bobby Sessions.]
My academics was good my first semester in college, but I knew that I had to pick one. I was going to be OK at music and OK at school for me. I felt like I had to pick one to be great at to master. And I knew that next semester I needed to drop out so I didn’t go to none of my classes. I started recording about 30 minutes away from Denton in a city in Dallas called Garland, Texas and I just started pursuing the dream like, and I felt I was so good that I was gonna get a record deal right after dropping out of school.
And I found out that life doesn’t work that way. It was just a super rude awakening. So I started bouncing from like job to job. I rolled back into school at one point, I was a full-time student. I was doing music full-time and I was working two jobs, and I was just average at everything. And after doing that I finally got some stability as an adult, but I’m still not happy because moving boxes it’s not what I’m was destined to do. I felt that in my being I’m supposed to rap and put words together.
So, December 31st, 2014. I left my 9 to 5 job with fifty dollars in my bank account to pursue music full-time again. And it worked out this time.
[“Black Neighborhood” by Bobby Sessions.]
January 2nd two days later, the article came out from the local newspaper called the Dallas Observer and it said five Dallas rappers to watch for in 2015, and Mark Cuban retweeted it on Twitter, or whatever, and I was like, “See this is a sign from the universe everything’s gonna work out.” And I was just riding, like, the energy of that and then I put out a song called “Black America.”
[“Black America” by Bobby Sessions.]
2014-2015 was a crazy year for us as a country watching police brutality on film. It’s finally like documented. There’s proof of it, people getting killed on Facebook live, like all these number of different things. My cousin had got killed by law enforcement back in 2012.
I was working at Walmart at the time. I was on Twitter during a work break and I saw that it was a riot in South Dallas and that some guy got shot and killed by the police and I just saw like a lot of people talking about it, but I never saw the name or anything like that.
And this was earlier in the day.
Newscaster: Hundreds of protesters — they’re taking to the streets. This after an officer shot and killed a suspect that was reportedly unarmed.
BS: And then around eight o’clock at night, I got a text from my mom. I think she said like “you free?” Or something like that and I knew something bad had happened.
So I went into the bathroom and called her and she was like, “it’s some bad news” and like I said started connecting the dots and then she told me that my cousin got killed and I was like in South Dallas? She was like, yeah, like was there a riot? She’s like, yeah —
Newscaster: According to police the victim James Harper was shot after leading police on a chase. The officer claims he was fearing for his life when he shot Harper dead, but the victim’s families and hundreds of protesters aren’t buying it.
BS: That’s the weirdest thing to find out on Twitter. You see things like this happen all the time on Twitter, on social media, on the news, but since it’s not what your family, we’ve been, kind of, desensitized — like it’s just an everyday thing. It’s normal now.
He got killed in July 2012. The last time I saw him was Christmas the year before. He was at my parents’ house and we’re all eating and just having good family time, and then you find out that he’s gone. And that the officer felt like he was reaching in his pocket for a weapon, and then after he’s already dead, you go in his pockets and there’s nothing there.
It was disturbing news, to say the least, and I feel like, again, I have a responsibility to keep his name alive because most of the time, when tragedies like this happen, there’s nobody in the family that has a platform to speak out about it and it get heard. So, I wanted to make sure that I’m using my platform properly.
[“Like Me” by Bobby Sessions.]
In the song “like me” I’m drawing a correlation between police brutality and slave patrol. Like the first cops in the South, we’re literally slave Patrol, which is why black people get offended today when we go on the news and we see these stories reported as isolated incidents.
This has been consistent behavior for a long time.
[“Like Me” by Bobby Sessions.]
BS: I foresee it being a time where me, and people that look like me when we see a police officer. We feel safe and we feel protected like they’re there to serve and protect. For most of us, it feels like they’re here to controlling and harass and I think having uncomfortable conversations with each other holding each other accountable. And we need some justice for these murders. We can’t go shoot and kill somebody and get away with it. And there’s some code to protect us like it needs to work both sides the police officers that’s your job and the people that are focused on serving and protecting the community those are the people that need to have those jobs and I’m willing to have those conversations with them and hear from them what better ways I can be to help them do their job, but we got to be honest about what’s happening. We can’t turn away from people getting murdered and think that because you have a difficult job that’s okay. That’s never okay, and it’s been happening for too long and it needs to stop and I feel like our generation is going to make sure that it stops.
JS: That was Bobby Sessions speaking to producer Jack D’Isidoro. His latest album is Revolution: The Divided States of AmeriKKKa
JS: That does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log on to theintercept.com/join. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept [We are distributed by Panoply]. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.