Chomsky on Iran

IssueApril 2007
Comment by Michael Shank, Noam Chomsky
  • Shank: With similar nuclear developments in North Korea and Iran, why has the United States pursued direct diplomacy with North Korea but refuses to do so with Iran?

  • Chomsky: To say that the United States has pursued diplomacy with North Korea is a little bit misleading. It did under the Clinton administration, though neither side completely lived up to their obligations. The Iranian issue I don't think has much to do with nuclear weapons frankly.

    Nobody is saying Iran should have nuclear weapons - nor should anybody else. But the point in the Middle East, as distinct from North Korea, is that this is the centre of the world's energy resources. It is not a matter of access as people often say. If the United States used no Middle East oil, it'd have the same policies. If we went on solar energy tomorrow, it'd keep the same policies. The issue has always been control.

    There are several issues in the case of Iran. One is simply that it is independent and independence is not tolerated. The United States, as we know, overthrew the parliamentary government [in Iran], installed a brutal tyrant, was helping him develop nuclear power, in fact the very same programs that are now considered a threat were being sponsored by the US government, by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kissinger, and others, in the 1970s, as long as the Shah was in power.

    But then the Iranians overthrew him, and they kept US hostages for several hundred days. And the United States immediately turned to supporting Saddam Hussein and his war against Iran as a way of punishing Iran. The United States is going to continue to punish Iran because of its defiance. So that's a separate factor.

  • 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.

    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.

    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... If you could carry that off, you could just bomb the rest of the country to dust.

    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. 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 democratise Iran. Since it's an obvious consequence you have to assume it's the purpose.

    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.

    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.

  • Shank: In the 2008 [US] presidential election, how will the candidates approach Iran? Do you think Iran will be a deciding factor in the elections?

  • Chomsky: What they're saying so far is not encouraging. I still think, despite everything, that the US is very unlikely to attack Iran. It could be a huge catastrophe; nobody knows what the consequences would be.

    I imagine that only an administration that's really desperate would resort to that. But if the Democratic candidates are on the verge of winning the election, the administration is going to be desperate. It still has the problem of Iraq: can't stay in, and can't get out.

Topics: Iran