CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – In a wide-ranging interview at his MIT office, liberal icon Noam Chomsky expressed no enthusiasm for Barack Obama or the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, dismissing Obama as "an opportunist" and characterizing Clinton as much the same, "only more militant."
Born to immigrant Jewish parents in Philadelphia in 1928, Chomsky explained his political views were formed growing up during the Great Depression, and he rejected any attempt to tie his academic work in linguistics to his decades of anti-war protest and leftist criticism of the United States.
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The "father of modern linguistics," as he often is described, told WND he had "no interest whatever" in the fact that Osama bin Laden at the time of his death had two Chomsky books at his compound, "Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies" and "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance."
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"Why do I care what books Osama bin Laden was reading?" asked Chomsky, author of more than 100 books.
He noted that the recent disclosure of documents seized at the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed showed the al-Qaida leader had a variety of reading material, including publications written by the CIA.
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Chomsky, who was voted the "world's top intellectual" in a 2005 poll, said he was not disappointed in Obama, because he "didn't expect anything."
"So, I'm not one of those who was disillusioned," he said.
"I wrote about him before the primaries in 2008, simply using his webpage – the way he was presenting himself – and he seemed to me like an opportunist," said Chomsky.
"His portrayed idealism could not be taken seriously. The policies he was proudest of I thought were awful."
With Obama nearing the end of his presidency, WND asked Chomsky for his assessment of the impact of Obama's administration.
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"It's a mixed story, like most presidents," he said. "What the administration regards as their major achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is a small step toward dealing with what's, in fact, an international scandal.
"The U.S. health-care system is outrageous," said Chomsky. "It has about twice the cost of comparable societies, at least per capita, and some of the worst outcomes."
He said he supports a nationalized, government-paid health-care system.
The Affordable Care Act is "a small step toward remedying that, not the step the public wanted," he stressed.
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"Almost two-thirds of the public was in favor of including a public option, essentially national health care. That was thrown out without discussion. But it is a step forward. Better than it was."
'Rescinding the Magna Carta'
Chomsky was extremely critical of Obama's use of drones against jihadist leaders in the Middle East, charging the president "has essentially rescinded the principle that was established in the Magna Carta 800 years ago."
"A principal element of the Magna Carta was the establishment of the presumption of innocence – that a person is innocent until proven guilty through due process in a trial before their peers," he said.
"With the drone assassination campaign, Obama has essentially rescinded this principle by officially designating a person as guilty if the White House decides that they might some day want to harm us," he said.
"If any other country were doing this, like Iran, we would consider it justification for a nuclear war," he contended.
Chomsky was also very critical of Obama's expansion of National Security Administration policies to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens.
"The whistleblower revelations have demonstrated that the state has gone to pretty extreme levels of surveillance in the effort to control the population," he said. "I think all of that is unconscionable."
WND asked Chomsky if he was optimistic about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, or if he saw any difference in comparison to Obama.
"[Hillary would be] maybe a little more militant," he said.
Chomsky pinned the blame for the threat to Israel's security on the Jewish state itself.
"To the extent that Israel is threatened, it's Israel's own choice," he asserted.
"For the past 40 years, Israel has pursued a policy very consciously of preferring expansion rather than security."
He insisted Israel could have had almost complete security 40 years ago, if it so chose.
"In 1971, Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty, just in return for the occupied Egyptian territories. Israel refused, preferring to expand," he said.
In 1976, Chomsky argued, the major Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Syria brought a resolution to the U.N. Security Council calling for the establishment of two states using the internationally recognized border, the so-called "Green Line." The deal, he said, included guarantees for the right of an Israeli and a Palestinian state to exist within secure and recognized borders.
"Accepting that would have radically reduced the security problem," he contended. "The U.S. vetoed it. Israel was furious, refused even to attend the session. Didn't want to hear about it. And it continues like that. As Israel continues to take over the occupied territories, we're not going to have peace."
WND asked Chomsky if he has any enduring commitment to Israel, having personally lived through the Holocaust of World War II.
"I thought 40 years ago and I think today that people who call themselves supporters of Israel are, in fact, supporting its moral degeneration, its increased international isolation and possibly its ultimate destruction," he said. "I think these policies are suicidal and immoral."
WND asked Chomsky his opinion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Obama administration is currently attempting to "fast-track" through Congress, with the assistance of GOP establishment leaders.
"It's called a free-trade agreement, but it's not," Chomsky replied. "We don't have the details, because it is essentially kept secret. But from all indications, it's like all the other agreements that are not free-trade agreements. They are investor-rights agreements. The idea is that the Obama administration wants to ram the deal through without public discussion. The idea is called 'fast-track authority.'"
Chomsky said his parents sent him to an experimental private school run by Temple University and the Department of Education that was influenced by famed, progressive thinker John Dewey.
Chomsky's political views were influenced by "the suffering and misery you could see right around you in the depths of the Depression."
"In the family, it was the unemployment," he said. "Also the atmosphere in the 1930s was quite different from today."
During the Depression of the 1930s, Chomsky explained he felt optimism about the future, fueled by the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"In absolute terms, it was much poorer; the problems were much greater," he observed. "But there was a sense of hopefulness. There was a sense things would be better; there were things we could do; the future was in our hands. Lots of political activism; there were radical politics, engagement, the growth of the labor movement that was spectacular.
"The New Deal measures were changing society," Chomsky said.
He also acknowledged the concern he shared as the 1930s unfolded about the rise of Nazism in Europe.
In reflecting on World War II, Chomsky commented "the kinds of massive atrocities that became second nature during the Second World that had been considered almost unthinkable on the eve of the war – the horrors that were going on in Nazi Germany were unanticipated; but also the brutality and violence of the Western conquest was shocking."
"By 1944, it was pretty clear to internal and outside observers that the Allies had won the war," he said.
"But the next year was one of massive atrocities – the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo were carried out with a kind of blood-thirsty fanaticism, and then the atom bomb."
He said that what "fundamentally changed politics is that the United States emerged from World War II in a position of power and wealth that had no historical precedent."
"The U.S. economy actually bloomed during the war as manufacturing and production virtually quadrupled," he said.
"At the end of the Depression, the other industrial economies were either devastated or severely damaged, and by the end of the war the U.S. had literally half the world's wealth," he said. "That was unheard of – incomparable security with control over both oceans and the ultimate weapon."
He said the "planners right through the war understood something like this would happen."
"Plans were laid to govern the world, and they were implemented to some significant extent."
Chomsky called President John F. Kennedy "one of the most dangerous figures in American politics."
"The most severe case, and here I disagree with most analysts, is the Cuban missile crisis, where I thought Kennedy's handling of the crisis was foolhardy and totally irresponsible," he said.
"At the peak moment of the crisis, there was a proposal from Khrushchev to end the crisis by withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba, with the simultaneous withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey, and Kennedy turned it down," Chomsky continued.
"Kennedy was willing to withdraw the missiles secretly from Turkey, but not publicly. And remember, those were obsolete missiles for which a withdrawal order had already been given, because they were being replaced by much more lethal Polaris submarines," he said.
"So the choice Kennedy had to make was, 'Do we demonstrate to the world that we have a right to threaten the destruction of Russia by surrounding them by lethal missiles, but they don't have a right to have missiles in Cuba that were minor in comparison?'"
Chomsky said Kennedy's "own subjective estimate was the probability of war as between one-third and one-half."
"I think this was one of the most atrocious decisions in human history," he said.
Chomsky discounted the possibility Kennedy was planning to pull out of Vietnam after the 1964 election.
"If Kennedy had any intention of getting out of Vietnam, he had a perfect opportunity to do it a couple of months before the assassination," he argued.
"The U.S. intelligence discovered the U.S. client regime, the Diem regime, was secretly negotiating with the north to end the conflict. That would have been a perfect time to say, 'Fine, you guys get together and end the conflict. Then we pull out without political cost,'" he said.
"Instead, the Kennedy administration organized a military coup to overthrow the Diem regime, in the course of which Diem was assassinated and replaced with a more hawkish general to keep the war going," he said.
"If you look at the record, Kennedy was willing to accept the proposals that came from [Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara that a withdrawal come after victory. Crucially, right to the day of his death, Kennedy said, 'Yes, we can withdraw, but it will come after victory, not before.'"
Chomsky said the U.S. has reached a point at which the majority of the population is "effectively disenfranchised."
"If you look at mainstream, academic political science, it shows pretty convincingly that the lower roughly three-quarters on the income scale have no impact whatsoever on policy," he said. "What they want is disregarded. Move up the scale and you get a little more influence. Policy is basically set at the top."
He said elections and policies are predictable on the basis of campaign spending.
"That's been true for some extent for some time, but it's gone way beyond by now. And I think the public is probably aware of this," he said.
"If you take a look at the last election, November 2014, voting participation was about at the level of the early 19th century when the franchise was limited to propertied white males," he said.
"I presume, as the political scientists who have analyzed it have concluded, that it simply means abandonment of belief in any kind of a democratic system," he said.
Chomsky said his interest in linguistics fits with his interest in politics "only in a very abstract way."
"There's a kind of connection that goes back to the Enlightenment and earlier, when there was the beginnings of an understanding that that was pretty significant, (that) language is at the core of human nature and its fundamental element is a kind of instinct for freedom, that we have the capacity for free, creative action not under control of external events. And that's just the core of our nature, and language is the clearest illustration of it," he said.
"That relates, not logically, but loosely, to the conception that this should be true of all institutional structures."
He dismissed the idea that Hebrew or any other language is an archetypical language fundamentally at the base of all language.
"Language is probably 75,000 years old," he said, "and the linguistic capacity hasn't changed since then. Each language is part of a cultural system that has a certain approach to the world."
Asked what he would like to be the legacy of his life's work, he said the answer was clear.
"The human species is racing toward disaster," he answered. "On the one hand, there's the nuclear threat, which is significant and growing. On the other is environmental catastrophe. Unless all of us, including me, dedicate ourselves to saving ourselves from our own insanity, we are doomed."
He said it would take "a sharp reversal of policies."
"We have to move toward sustainable energy very quickly," he said. "We have to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.
"It's all within range and achievable, but with a lot of effort."