With the recent insertion of Russian military power into Syria and the continued use of American air power in the region, the situation in Syria has gotten tenser than ever, especially since the allegedly accidental September 17, 2016, attack on a Syrian military position that killed dozens, followed by the dismissive comments about the incident that US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power made at a UN press conference on September 17. Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell recently said, “The Russians and Iranians need to pay a little price for their actions in support of Assad.”
In light of these developments, New York City teachers Saul Isaacson and Daniel Falcone recently sat down with Professor Noam Chomsky in his MIT office to discuss Syria and US foreign policy.
Saul Isaacson: In light of recent developments in the media propaganda blitz against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are you concerned that a Clinton presidency would seek to confront Russia, on Syrian soil — are we now seeing the opening salvos?
Noam Chomsky: I pretty much doubt it. The Russians have an impregnable position. What they’re doing is pretty horrible, but there’s no way to impede it except by a nuclear war, which no one’s going to do. So I think the West will watch.
You don’t see Syria as the next place to install a democracy or seek “regime change,” as they call it?
Only if you want to destroy the world. There is a major Russian military presence, and you can’t confront that.
So it’s the old Cold War doctrine: when the Russians move one step forward, American policy must be prepared to move one step back, and vice versa. There is a great deal of concern among progressive writers that this doctrine will lead to a confrontation with the Russians.
There is, but I think it’s misplaced. I mean, I don’t like Clinton at all, but I think she’s really being demonized. She’s no worse than the European leaders, for example. So, for example, in Libya she was terrible, but [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and [former UK Prime Minister David] Cameron were worse. And on some things, she’s surprisingly dovish…. There’s a leak of a private discussion that she had with a couple of anti-nuke people, national security specialists who were critical of the nuclear buildup — not [defense secretary for President Bill Clinton] William Perry, but [former Defense Department official] Andrew C. Weber — and she was probably accommodating to them, but the statements that she made were not bad — if you hold her feet to the fire and make her pursue that, it would make sense.
So she expressed some skepticism about Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear modernization plan. She came out in opposition to the most dangerous part of it — the development of smaller nuclear-tip missiles, which can be adapted, scaled down for battlefield usage. She opposed that and made a couple of other reasonable comments, which were probably in reaction to her audience, since politicians say what people want to hear, but it’s something that she could be pressed on by popular movements — “OK, you’re on the record for this, so stop this.”