Chomsky on The Kurds

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Namo Abdulla

Kurdish Aspect (originally published in Kurdish in Leven magazine), August 11, 2008

Namo: Can the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime be considered watershed in the history of the Kurds especially Iraqi Kurds?

Chomsky: The collapse of Saddam’s regime did not happen in a vacuum, and the implications for the Kurds depend on what the outcome is for Iraq (if it even survives as a cultural and historical entity) and the region. These questions are very much in flux. For these reasons, the question is unanswerable.

Namo: How do you see future of the Kurds in the region?

Chomsky: For the first time, there seems to be a possibility for some degree of autonomy and development for a segment of the Kurdish population, namely in the former Iraq. But that is far from certain. Decent survival of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq depends on relations with its neighbors: including Arab Iraq and, crucially, outside powers, primarily the US but also others in the region and beyond. There is little point in speculation. What is necessary is to act judiciously and thoughtfully to maximize the likelihood of a decent outcome.

Namo: Do you believe the US will remain as a good ally to the Iraqi Kurds after its withdrawing from Iraq?

Chomsky: To begin with, the assumption that the US will withdraw from Iraq is very dubious. The US did not invade in order to withdraw. It is not busily at work building huge military bases around the country and a city-within-a-city called an “Embassy” in order to dismantle them. Rather, the goal has always been to establish a reliable client regime that will serve as a base for US power in what has long been recognized to be “the most strategically important area of the world” (President Eisenhower) and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history” (State Department), and that will open its resources to Western (primarily US) exploitation. There is no longer much need to debate this, since the goals are now stated in official declarations. Perhaps the US will be compelled to withdraw, leaving the richest region of Iraq subject to Iranian influence. But that will be a last resort.

As for whether the US will remain as a good ally, any Kurd should know the answer to that. Simply look at history. No miraculous changes have taken place within the US. Rather, policy choices continue to be guided by the interests of the designers of policy within the narrow state-corporate sector. They may regard support for Iraqi Kurds as beneficial to their interests, in which case they will offer some support. Or they may regard support for Iraqi Kurds as harmful to these interests, in which case Iraqi Kurds will be treated as they were when they were abandoned to Saddam Hussein’s tender mercies in 1975, 1988, and at other crucial moments.

Namo: What would the life be like after Bush? Will the US still involve war or withdraw and deal with terrorism by other (peaceful) means instead?

Chomsky: That depends on whether the US moves towards functioning democracy, in which popular opinion has a significant influence on policy. For the present, both political parties (and the political-intellectual class in general) are well to the right of the population on issues like these, and prefer the threat and use of force to the peaceful means preferred by the public. The substantial and persistent gap between public opinion and public policy on these issues is very well documented, and highly significant.

Namo: Neither McCain nor Obama, in their strategies is talking about the Kurds, to what extent do you believe next US administration pays attention to the Kurds?

Chomsky: As in the past, they will pay attention to the extent that it conforms to the perceived strategic-economic interests of the narrow class of decision makers in the state-corporate sector. In the 1980s, it was in their interest to support the Halabja and al-Anfal massacres, to provide substantial aid and support for their friend Saddam, and to invite nuclear engineers from Iraq to the US in 1989 for advanced training in nuclear weapons production. A few years later, it was in their interest to provide protection for Iraqi Kurds — while at the same time pouring huge amounts of advanced armaments into Turkey to support a monstrous assault against the Kurdish population there. If we open our eyes, we see exactly the same pattern right now. One of the few Western correspondents to have done serious and sympathetic work on the Kurds commented bitterly that Mt. Qandhil how has “freedom fighters on the eastern slopes and terrorists on the western slopes.” Kurds should know why, and should understand what this implies, even if Westerners prefer to keep to official propaganda.

Namo: Your final words?

Chomsky: The powerful and privileged may ignore history and its lessons with impunity. For others, it is not wise to succumb to illusions.