This past Thursday, Noam Chomsky participated in a short interview with World Net Daily, an extremist right-wing media outlet — or, put more bluntly, a “tabloid for radical right-wingers” — which once referred to Chomsky as an “unhinged nitwit.”
Nonetheless, the interview was typical Chomsky: The interviewer, Jerome Corsi in this case, asks a short question, and Chomsky responds at length.
(Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski posted the relevant clip and commented on the interview in a video here, and it’s worth watching.)
One of the interesting points he touched upon, as he does often, was the United States’ drone campaign, which, Chomsky contends, has done away with the key principle of presumption of innocence, and which he has also referred to as the world’s largest terrorist operation.
The drone assassination campaign officially treats people as guilty if the White House decides that they might someday want to harm us…
If any other country were doing this — say, Iran — we would consider it justification for nuclear war.
The latter point is essential.
What if Iranian officials decided, as they probably already have, and with good reason, that there are individuals residing within the United States who could potentially threaten Iran in the future?
Well, it is perfectly obvious to even the casual observer that there are people within the United States who, if they came to power, would pose a military threat to Iran by way of their policy decisions. Okay, so what if Iran decided to carry out drone strikes within the United States to “protect” themselves from any future attack? Anticipatory self-defense, right?
No one would consider this to be acceptable, because of course it wouldn’t be. But, then, why is it acceptable for the United States to impose this assassination campaign on others, killing and maiming innocents in the process?
The answer is simple: The United States does what it wants, because it has the power to do so. International law and other such restraints are irrelevant if they stand in the way of the United States imposing its will.
There is no doubt that there are individuals and groups who would harm the United States if they got the opportunity, and there is no doubt that this is a serious problem that should be dealt with in some way. The question, then, is how?
With the recent debates over mass data collection and surveillance, it is clear that much the population is uncomfortable with the violation of civil liberties in response to terrorism. So cracking down on the domestic population to prevent terrorism has been deemed inappropriate.
However, some polling data suggests that a significant majority of the population are in favor of drone strikes against terrorist groups overseas, but participants “were not asked whether civilian casualties affected their approval.”
I’m speculating, but I would guess that much of the support for drone strikes can be linked to how they are presented in the mainstream media, when they are discussed at all. We are told that they are accurate, and we are ensured that terrorists are being killed, therefore drone strikes are a good idea.
But I would guess — again, I’m speculating — that if all of the respondents were informed of the way in which terrorists are designated, how imprecise drone strikes are, and the role they play in perpetuating terrorism, the poll results might be a bit different.
Overall, we need more discussion of drone strikes, on the level of recent debates on mass surveillance and data collection. And this discussion needs to take place constantly, not just after Westerners are killed by mistake.
As Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic:
A country doing all it could to minimize ‘collateral damage’ would acknowledge all instances of drone strikes killing innocents [not just Westerners] and compensate their families.
The problem currently is that there’s zero accountability.
President Obama is carrying out a global assassination campaign, and he is not required to present evidence to a court showing why these individuals should be targeted. This is undemocratic and unlawful, and going back to Chomsky’s thought experiment, we would not tolerate this if another country, especially an official enemy, were doing the same.