Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. On February 9, Michael Shank interviewed him on the latest developments in US policy toward Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Venezuela. This is Part III of a four-part series.
Shank: How can the US government think an attack on Iran is feasible given troop availability, troop capacity, and public sentiment?
Chomsky: As far as I’m aware, the military in the United States thinks it’s crazy. And from whatever leaks we have from intelligence, the intelligence community thinks it’s outlandish, but not impossible. If you look at people who have really been involved in the Pentagon’s strategic planning for years, people like Sam Gardiner, they point out that there are things that possibly could be done.
I don’t think any of the outside commentators at least as far as I’m aware have taken very seriously the idea of bombing nuclear facilities. They say if there will be bombing it’ll be carpet bombing. So get the nuclear facilities but get the rest of the country too, with an exception.
By accident of geography, the world’s major oil resources are in Shia-dominated areas. Iran’s oil is concentrated right near the gulf, which happens to be an Arab area, not Persian. Khuzestan is Arab, has been loyal to Iran, fought with Iran not Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. This is a potential source of dissension. I would be amazed if there isn’t an attempt going on to stir up secessionist elements in Khuzestan. US forces right across the border in Iraq, including the surge, are available potentially to “defend an independent Khuzestan against Iran, which is the way it would be put, if they can carry it off.
Shank: Do you think that’s what the surge was for?
Chomsky: That’s one possibility. There was a release of a Pentagon war-gaming report, in December 2004, with Gardiner leading it. It was released and published in the Atlantic Monthly. They couldn’t come up with a proposal that didn’t lead to disaster, but one of the things they considered was maintaining troop presence in Iraq beyond what’s to be used in Iraq for troop replacement and so on, and use them for a potential land move in Iran – presumably Khuzestan where the oil is. If you could carry that off, you could just bomb the rest of the country to dust.
Again, I would be amazed if there aren’t efforts to sponsor secessionist movements elsewhere, among the Azeri population for example. It’s a very complex ethnic mix in Iran; much of the population isn’t Persian. There are secessionist tendencies anyway and almost certainly, without knowing any of the facts, the United States is trying to stir them up, to break the country internally if possible. The strategy appears to be: try to break the country up internally, try to impel the leadership to be as harsh and brutal as possible.
That’s the immediate consequence of constant threats. Everyone knows that. That’s one of the reasons the reformists, Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji and others, are bitterly complaining about the US threats, that it’s undermining their efforts to reform and democratize Iran. But that’s presumably its purpose. Since it’s an obvious consequence you have to assume it’s the purpose. Just like in law, anticipated consequences are taken as the evidence for intention. And here it’s so obvious you can’t seriously doubt it.
So it could be that one strain of the policy is to stir up secessionist movements, particularly in the oil rich regions, the Arab regions near the Gulf, also the Azeri regions and others. Second is to try to get the leadership to be as brutal and harsh and repressive as possible, to stir up internal disorder and maybe resistance. And a third is to try to pressure other countries, and Europe is the most amenable, to join efforts to strangle Iran economically. Europe is kind of dragging its feet but they usually go along with the United States.
The efforts to intensify the harshness of the regime show up in many ways. For example, the West absolutely adores Ahmadinejad. Any wild statement that he comes out with immediately gets circulated in headlines and mistranslated. They love him. But anybody who knows anything about Iran, presumably the editorial offices, knows that he doesn’t have anything to do with foreign policy.
Foreign policy is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Khamenei. But they don’t report his statements, particularly when his statements are pretty conciliatory. For example, they love when Ahmadinejad says that Israel shouldn’t exist, but they don’t like it when Khamenei right afterwards says that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine. As far as I’m aware, it never got reported. Actually you could find Khamenei’s more conciliatory positions in the Financial Times, but not here. And it’s repeated by Iranian diplomats but that’s no good.
The Arab League proposal calls for normalization of relations with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of the two-state settlement which has been blocked by the United States and Israel for thirty years. And that’s not a good story, so it’s either not mentioned or it’s hidden somewhere.
It’s very hard to predict the Bush administration today because they’re deeply irrational. They were irrational to start with but now they’re desperate. They have created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. This should’ve been one of the easiest military occupations in history and they succeeded in turning it into one of the worst military disasters in history. They can’t control it and it’s almost impossible for them to get out for reasons you can’t discuss in the United States because to discuss the reasons why they can’t get out would be to concede the reasons why they invaded.
We’re supposed to believe that oil had nothing to do with it, that if Iraq were exporting pickles or jelly and the center of world oil production were in the South Pacific that the United States would’ve liberated them anyway. It has nothing to do with the oil, what a crass idea. Anyone with their head screwed on knows that that can’t be true. Allowing an independent and sovereign Iraq could be a nightmare for the United States. It would mean that it would be Shia-dominated, at least if it’s minimally democratic. It would continue to improve relations with Iran, just what the United States doesn’t want to see. And beyond that, right across the border in Saudi Arabia where most of Saudi oil is, there happens to be a large Shia population, probably a majority.
Moves toward sovereignty in Iraq stimulate pressures first for human rights among the bitterly repressed Shia population but also toward some degree of autonomy. You can imagine a kind of a loose Shia alliance in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, controlling most of the world’s oil and independent of the United States. And much worse, although Europe can be intimidated by the United States, China can’t. It’s one of the reasons, the main reasons, why China is considered a threat. We’re back to the Mafia principle.
China has been there for 3,000 years, has contempt for the barbarians, is overcoming a century of domination, and simply moves on its own. It does not get intimidated when Uncle Sam shakes his fist. That’s scary. In particular, it’s dangerous in the case of the Middle East. China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.
I’m sure that these issues are discussed in internal planning. It’s inconceivable that they can’t think of this. But it’s out of public discussion, it’s not in the media, it’s not in the journals, it’s not in the Baker-Hamilton report. And I think you can understand the reason. To bring up these issues would open the question why the United States and Britain inv
aded. And that question is taboo.
It’s a principle that anything our leaders do is for noble reasons. It may be mistaken, it may be ugly, but basically noble. And if you bring in normal moderate, conservative, strategic, economic objectives you’re threatening that principle. It’s remarkable the extent to which it’s held.
So the original pretexts for the invasion were weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al-Qaeda that nobody but maybe Wolfowitz or Cheney took seriously. The single question, as they kept reiterating in the leadership, was: will Saddam give up his programs of weapons of mass destruction? The single question was answered a couple of months later, the wrong way. And quickly the party line shifted. In November 2003, Bush announced his freedom agenda: our real goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, to transform the Middle East. That became the party line, instantly.
But it’s a mistake to pick out individuals because it’s close to universal, even in scholarship. In fact you can even find scholarly articles that begin by giving the evidence that it’s complete farce but nevertheless accept it. There was a pretty good study of the freedom agenda in Current History by two scholars and they give the facts. They point out that the freedom agenda was announced on November 2003 after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, but the freedom agenda is real even if there’s no evidence for it.
In fact, if you look at our policies they’re the opposite. Take Palestine. There was a free election in Palestine, but it came out the wrong way. So instantly, the United States and Israel with Europe tagging along, moved to punish the Palestinian people, and punish them harshly, because they voted the wrong way in a free election.
That’s accepted here in the West as perfectly normal. That illustrates the deep hatred and contempt for democracy among western elites, so deep-seated they can’t even perceive it when it’s in front of their eyes. You punish people severely if they vote the wrong way in a free election. There’s a pretext for that too, repeated every day: Hamas must agree to first recognize Israel, second to end all violence, third to accept past agreements. Try to find a mention of the fact that the United States and Israel reject all three of those. They obviously don’t recognize Palestine, they certainly don’t withdraw the use of violence or the threat of it – in fact they insist on it – and they don’t accept past agreements, including the road map.
I suspect one of the reasons why Jimmy Carter’s book has come under such fierce attack is because it’s the first time, I think, in the mainstream, that one can find the truth about the road map. I have never seen anything in the mainstream that discusses the fact that Israel instantly rejected the road map with US support. They formally accepted it but added 14 reservations that totally eviscerated it. It was done instantly. It’s public knowledge, I’ve written about it, talked about it, so have others, but I’ve never seen it mentioned in the mainstream before.
And obviously they don’t accept the Arab League proposal or any other serious proposal. In fact they’ve been blocking the international consensus on the two-state solution for decades. But Hamas has to accept them.
It really makes no sense. Hamas is a political party and political parties don’t recognize other countries. And Hamas itself has made it very clear, they actually carried out a truce for a year and a half, didn’t respond to Israeli attacks, and have called for a long-term truce, during which it’d be possible to negotiate a settlement along the lines of the international consensus and the Arab League proposal.
All of this is obvious, it’s right on the surface, and that’s just one example of the deep hatred of democracy on the part of western elites. It’s a striking example but you can add case after case. Yet, the president announced the freedom agenda and if the dear leader said something, it’s got to be true, kind of North Korean style. Therefore there’s a freedom agenda even if there’s a mountain of evidence against it, the only evidence for it is in words, even apart from the timing.
Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Michael Shank is the policy director for the 3D Security Initiative.