Talha asks: “Well if you do continue to engage on this, Prof. Wolff, would be interesting to see your reaction to the following from Chomsky - will it also meet the incomprehending straw man treatment you've given to Chris et al. here?”
I followed the link and found this text of a radio interview. It is long, but I give it in full so that there can be no question of selective quotation:
“AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour, Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I’d like to ask you about something that’s been in the news a lot lately. Obviously, all the cable channels, that’s all they talk about these days, is the whole situation of Russia’s supposed intervention in American elections. For a country that’s intervened in so many governments and so many elections around the world, that’s kind of a strange topic. But I know you’ve referred to this as a joke. Could you give us your view on what’s happening and why there’s so much emphasis on this particular issue?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact that—first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships. Simply in the case of Russia alone—it’s the least of it—the U.S. government, under Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways. So, this, as I say, it’s considered—it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.
So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia? That’s—the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed. Just a couple of days ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, came out and said he just can’t believe that so much attention is being paid to apparent efforts by the incoming administration to establish connections with Russia. He said, "Sure, that’s just what they ought to be doing."
So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful. So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly. And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, that the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, because the Democrats feel that that’s the reason, somehow, that they lost the election. Interesting that James Comey this week said he is investigating Trump campaign collusion with Russia, when it was Comey himself who could have—might well have been partly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, when he said that he was investigating her, while, we now have learned, at the same time he was investigating Donald Trump, but never actually said that.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies, and meanwhile focus on one thing that could become a step forward, if it was adjusted to move towards serious efforts to reduce growing and dangerous tensions right on the Russian border, where they could blow up. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, adding—the U.S. is—one thing that the Russians are very much concerned about is the so-called anti-ballistic missile installation that the U.S. is establishing near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles. Nobody seriously believes that. This is understood to be a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse. That’s really serious. And efforts to try to calm that down would be very welcome. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There’s no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico. And that’s a border that the Russians are quite reasonably sensitive about. They’ve practically been destroyed several times the last century right through that region.”
Not surprisingly, I agree with a good deal that Noam has to say here, although in a bit I shall register an important disagreement. But I do not understand the thrust of Talha’s comment. My first thought is an old joke from my childhood, about The Lone Ranger and Tonto: “The Lone Ranger and Tonto are watching a horde of Indian braves bear down on them in full battle fury. “Looks like we’re in trouble, Tonto,” says the Lone Ranger to his pal. “What you mean ‘we,’ white man?” Tonto responds...”
The world may be laughing at the leaders of the Democratic Party or at TV pundits or at Republicans or at American foreign policy experts, but they are not laughing at me. I have been speaking publicly against America’s interference in and overthrowing of foreign governments since 1960, which is seven years before Noam spoke publicly about the subject. I humbly acknowledge that I made no public statements in 1953 about the CIA’s overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran and America’s installation of the Puppet Shah Pahlevi, but I was only nineteen at the time and worried about finishing my undergraduate honors thesis. Have my protests had any measurable effect on American policy? Of course not, but then neither have Noam’s, and he is world-famous, perhaps the best know public intellectual in the world today. We do what we can do.
Is Russian interference in our election a really big deal? Nope, considering the fact that they probably had relatively little effect. Why then do I have so much to say about it, and about the possible collusion of the Trump campaign in that effort? For two reasons: First, because Trump is vulnerable on that point, and I am delighted to exploit any vulnerability he may exhibit, even including his penny-ante self-enrichment, which probably amounts to less than the cost of one stealth bomber; and Second, because I really believe that our only hope of making this a marginally less terrible country is through the ballot box, and anything that interferes with that process is anathema to me. Is Russian meddling then more serious than voter suppression? Good God, no. The former possibly had some hard to measure effect on the recent election. The latter has transformed parts of this country, and we can count in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps the millions the number of votes it has cost progressives.
Is Noam correct about the reasons why the Democratic Party has focused so heavily on this story line? Probably so, but again I would ask Talha: “What do you mean ‘we’, White Man?”
Noam is just wrong, by the way, about one thing that is actually important. He says, “So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful.” The implication is that Democrats have been focusing on the Russia thing while ignoring really harmful policies being put in place by the Trump Administration. But that just isn’t so. Trump has thus far done so many bad things that it is difficult to keep up with them, but the two most immediately terrible, the immigration ban and the health care bill, have triggered an astonishing level of public protest on the left, protest fully covered in the media and supported by many, many elected Democrats. I say “most immediately” because Trump’s attack on the environment is in the long run arguably even worse, and though it has had a fair amount of negative coverage, it has not as yet provoked the same level of public outcry.
I come finally to the point on which I disagree with Noam most strongly, a point that he himself seems to emphasize more than any other in the interview quoted above – Trump’s efforts to seek a rapprochement with Putin. Very early in the interview, Noam says this: “So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia?” He goes on to detail some of the serious dangers posed by Russian/American conflict, dangers that have in part been exacerbated by American/NATO actions.
I agree completely on the dangers, and on America’s role in the exacerbation of the tensions between Russia and America, but I think Noam allows himself to be misled into characterizing what Trump appears to be doing as “trying to reduce tensions with Russia.” That description presupposes that Trump is operating, indeed is mentally capable of operating, with some familiar version of the world view that has characterized America’s global military and foreign policy since the end of World War Two. Over that seventy year period, Democratic and Republican Presidents alike [as well as the extended community of military and foreign policy “experts”] have operated on the assumption that America and Russia are engaged in a full-scale competition for imperial hegemony on the world stage. Confronting one another with world-destroying arsenals of nuclear weapons, the two imperial powers have jockeyed for competitive advantage, now one, now the other approaching closer to the edge of mutual disaster with provocative actions and reactions. Noam seems to have construed Trump’s connections with Russia, his statements about Putin, and the connections of members of his inner circle with Russia as evidence that he has made a considered decision to de-escalate the conflict, and since that is clearly desirable, he characterizes it as “the one ray of light in this gloom.” But I am more and more convinced that Trump is cozying up to Russia [I do not know how else to describe it] for financial and other reasons that have no grounding at all either in a conventional conception of world affairs or in any alternative conception. I leave to one side Steve Bannon’s conception of world affairs, which really does seem to be a coherent alternative view, and one that is, if anything, more malign than the one that has shaped American policy for three quarters of a century.
Because I view the situation in this fashion, I am fearful of miscalculations on the part of both Trump and Putin that could lead to an increase, not a decrease, in the risk of nuclear war, which would be a world-ending catastrophe.