Untitled interview

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Thordur Sveinsson, Campaign Against Militarism in Iceland

E-mail correspondence, August 1, 2008

SVEINSSON: Do you think that American foreign policy might change after the presidential elections in November, and does it matter in that respect whether McCain or Obama will be elected?

CHOMSKY: The political spectrum is quite narrow, and it is of some significance that on a host of major issues, both political parties are well to the right of the general population. Nevertheless, there are differences, and in a system of huge power, small differences can have large effects. The Bush administration is far to the radical ultranationalist extreme of the spectrum, and it has caused so much damage to the interests of state-corporate power that there is likely to be a shift towards the center, less so with McCain than with Obama, who will probably be a Clinton-style centrist Democrat.

SVEINSSON: Do you think that threats against Iran are grounded in the possibility of that country acquiring nuclear weapons or some other reasons – and if so, then what do you think really motivates US policy towards Iran?

CHOMSKY: The powerful and privileged regard history as bunk. The victims do not have that luxury. Even if Westerners prefer to live in a comfortable state of denial, Iranians are well aware that for over half a century, the US has been torturing Iran. In 1953, the US-UK overthrew the Iranian parliamentary system and installed a tyrant, the Shah, who ruled with extreme brutality and with enthusiastic US support until he was overthrown in 1979. It is worth remembering that the current uranium enrichment programs in Iran, as far as is known, are similar to those strongly supported by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Wolfowitz and others like them while Iran was ruled by the US-backed tyrant. Immediately after the overthrow of the Shah, the US turned to efforts to subvert the regime from within. Reagan backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, with ample aid and crucial military and diplomatic support. Bush I went so far as to invite Iraqi nuclear engineers to the US in 1989 for advanced training in weapons design. After US intervention virtually compelled Iran to capitulate, the US imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. Bush II rejected efforts by Iran to negotiate all outstanding issues. The US not only rejects meaningful diplomacy, but both political parties issue regular threats of destruction of Iran, of course in violation of the UN Charter, but also in violation of the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans, who are as irrelevant to policy-making as the rest of the world. It is unmentionable in the US that most of the world, including most Americans, support Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and still more significant, that a large majority of Americans call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. If the US were a functioning democracy, in which public opinion mattered, this confrontation could probably be settled amicably.

The history of US-Iran relations strongly indicates that fear of nuclear weapons is not driving policy. If it were, Washington could join Iran, the Arab States, and the large majority of American citizens in working to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons. Even though US intelligence concluded “with high confidence” that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, it is possible that Iran does have such a program, and if so, the reasons are pretty clear: as pointed out by Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, after the invasion of Iraq, if Iran is not developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the US, they are “crazy.” The Iranian regime should be harshly criticized on many counts, but the Nazi-style Iranian threat that is conjured up by propaganda is hardly more than a cry of desperation by those who claim the right to rule the world and regard any sign of disobedience or independence, particularly in a region so significant for world control, as criminal aggression.

SVEINSSON: Which countries do you think might possibly support military action against Iran?

CHOMSKY: Israel. Probably Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. It’s hard to imagine that even Britain would go along, though there is enough fear of the US so that reactions might be muted.

SVEINSSON: What do you think is the purpose of the proposed missile defense system which the US plans to deploy in Eastern Europe? Is it meant to protect Western countries against “rogue states” or might the purpose be somewhat else?

CHOMSKY: I’ll simply quote myself, from another op-ed distributed by the NYT syndicate:

Ballistic missile defense programs are understood on all sides to be a first-strike weapon, perhaps capable of nullifying a retaliatory strike and thus undermining deterrent capacity. The quasi-governmental Rand corporation describes BMD as “not simply a shield but an enabler of U.S. action.”

In journals across the political spectrum, military analysts write approvingly of BMD. In the conservative National Interest, Andrew Bacevich writes, “Missile defense isn’t really meant to protect America. It’s a tool for global dominance.” To Lawrence Kaplan in the liberal New Republic, BMD is “about preserving America’s ability to wield power abroad. It’s not about defense. It’s about offense. And that’s exactly why we need it.”

Russian strategists draw the same conclusion. They can hardly fail to regard U.S. BMD installations in northern Poland and the Czech Republic as serious potential threats to their security, conclude U.S. analysts George Louis and Theodore Postol.

And the Russians of course are reacting accordingly, just as the US would if Russia placed such systems in Canada and Mexico, a very ominous development.

The chances of “rogue states” attacking the West with missiles are too slight to consider seriously. One reason is that they would be instantly vaporized. It is possible, as van Creveld observed, that they might develop missiles and nuclear weapons as a deterrent against US attack, and BMD could conceivably undermine their deterrent, thus freeing to US to attack at will.

SVEINSSON: What do you think is the purpose of the military alliance NATO, and why was that alliance not dissolved following the Cold War like the Warsaw Pact?

CHOMSKY: If NATO had been developed to defend the West against the USSR, it would have been dissolved when the USSR collapsed. If, on the other hand, the goal was to extend the dominance of the US and its allies and clients, it would not only remain but would expand its membership and range of actions — exactly as has happened.

SVEINSSON: In what aspects do you think US foreign policy might change in the light of diminishing oil resources?

CHOMSKY: Probably a more intense effort to control energy resources, old and new.