May 24, 2008
Based on an interview with Noam Chomsky conducted by Gabriel Matthew Schivone via telephone and e-mail at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, November 27, 2007 through February 11, 2008. Parts of the text have been expanded by the author.
A State of Insecurity in the Post-9/11 World
GMS: In a recent interview, Abdel Bari Atwan, author and editor of the London-based Arabic daily newspaper Al-Quds Al Arabi, said that President Bush is not ending terrorism nor is he weakening it, as is one of his strongest assertions in his so-called “War on Terror”, but that now Al-Qa’ida has powerfully developed into more of an ideology than an organization, as Atwan describes, expanding like Kentucky Fried Chicken, opening franchises all over the world. “That’s the problem,” he says. “The Americans are no safer. Their country is a fortress now, the United States of Security.” Is this accurate?
CHOMSKY: Except for the last sentence, it’s accurate. There’s good reason to think that the United States is very vulnerable to terrorist attacks. That’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion of US intelligence, of specialists of nuclear terror like Harvard professor Graham Allison, and former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and others, who have warned that the probability of even a nuclear attack in the United States is not trivial. So, it’s not a fortress.
One of the things that Bush hasn’t been doing is improving security. So, for example, if you look at the government commission after 9-11, one of its recommendations—which is a natural one—is to improve security of the US-Canadian border. I mean, if you look at that border, it’s very porous. You or I could walk across it somewhere with a suitcase holding components of a nuclear bomb. The Bush administration did not follow that recommendation. What it did instead was fortify the Mexican border, which was not regarded as a serious source of potential terrorism. They in fact slowed the rate of growth of border guards on the Canadian Border.
But quite apart from that, the major part of Atwan’s comment is quite correct. Bush Administration programs have not been designed to reduce terror. In fact, they’ve been designed in a way—as was anticipated by intelligence analysts and others—to increase terror.
So take, say, the invasion of Iraq. It was expected that that would probably have the effect of increasing terror—and it did, though far more than was anticipated. There was a recent study by two leading terrorism experts (using RAND Corporation government data) which concluded that what they called the “Iraq effect” — meaning, the effect of the Iraq invasion on incidents of terror in the world — was huge. In fact, they found that terror increased about seven-fold after the invasion of Iraq. That’s quite an increase—a lot more than was anticipated.
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