2 On Iran
2a Q: Just to refer back to your “Iran effect,” there’s been recent speculation both politically and in the media about Iran. Given its status in the Middle East and the power that it yields compared to Afghanistan or Iraq for example, how honestly realistic do you think a military strike against Iran by the US is likely to happen?
Chomsky: Well, we have no idea what planning is going on within the small one--by now pretty desperate--clique that is barely holing onto power in Washington. And if history is any guide, they have not informed British intelligence or their favorite allies about what they’re planning if they even know. We really don’t know. I mean one of the reasons for government-- its main reasons for government secrecy: you look through studied declassified documents and you do learn that there is a security interest all the way through. But primarily, it’s security against the domestic enemy. They don’t want their own population to know what they are up to because if people did know what they were up to, the chances are that they’d act and act in a dedicated fashion to prevent it. So, therefore you have to keep planning secret from the population, the domestic enemy. And that’s what’s happening now: we do not know the plans.
They are certainly issuing threats very publicly and openly, not only the words but even the actions. So, for example, the last couple of years, the United States has provided to Israel over a hundred advanced jet bombers openly advertised as capable of bombing Iran and returning. I don’t think a word about that has been published in the United States. But it’s public information, you can read it in the Israeli press and you can read it in military journals. Certainly Iranian intelligence knows it. Israel already has, according to its own estimate, air and armored forces that are larger and technologically more advanced than any NATO power other than the United States. It’s not because Israel is capable of doing that but it’s because by now it’s virtually the offshoot of the United States, particularly a military and high tech offshoot. That’s a serious warning to Iran. Furthermore, deploying major naval forces in the Gulf, right off shore from Iran is an obvious threat. I mean if Iran was deploying major naval forces in the English Channel or the Caribbean, you can bet that the United States and London would be pretty upset about it. In fact they’d go to war.
Capturing Iranian officials in northern Iraq, now that’s provocation. The United States is almost certainly --- we can’t prove it but the evidence is pretty strong --- carrying out, is supporting secessionist groups, the terrorist groups, in fact. In Iran recently, there was an attack from Baluchi based, Pakistani-based terrorists (…) groups are being supported and others, all that is very provocative. That’s all over and above the overt threat. I should say, if anyone cares, the overt threats to Iran are a crime. They are a major violation of the United Nations Charter, which outlaws the threat or use of force in international affairs. Threat of force is a violation of the Charter. It’s a violation of law. In outlaw states, like the United States and Britain where law doesn’t matter much. There is very little comment on that but definitely the threats are there and all of this could lead to just an accidental war.
The case of the captured British sailors is an example. There are no territorial boundaries in the Gulf that mean anything. You have naval forces there right next door to Iran. Yeah, you are likely to have an accident. And an accident can easily escalate and explode. So yes, there is a threat of war.
The question that we really should be asking, I think is “Is there a way to avert it?” Actually there is, a very simple way. You can’t prove that it will work but it’s certainly a good start: turn the United States and Iran into functioning democratic societies. You can tell me about Britain where I don’t know the details but I know them about the United States and Iran. You can find them out too.
Public opinion in the United States and Iran is very carefully monitored by the leading institution in the world that monitors public opinion: Program on International Policy Attitudes at University of Maryland. Find it on the Internet.
They did a careful study of Iranian and US opinion on nuclear issues. And very interestingly, they’re virtually identical.
In both countries, there’s the overwhelming majority --- in the United States, it’s 82% --- that think that all nuclear weapons should be abolished. What that means is that the nuclear states, like the United States and Britain, should observe their legal responsibility. And it is a legal responsibility determined by the World Court to take good faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and not to increase their nuclear capacities as the US and Britain are now doing but to move to eliminate them.
Well, that’s supported by 82% of the population in the United States and comparable figures in Iran. If that can’t be achieved, very large majorities in both countries think that the Middle East, the entire Middle East should be turned into a nuclear weapons free zone. That means Iran, Israel and US and perhaps British forces deployed in the region should not have any nuclear weapons capacity whatsoever. OK, that would be a step forward. 75% of the Americans think that all threats against Iran should be dropped and the United States should enter into diplomatic relations with Iran.
Incidentally, they think the same thing about Cuba. Again an overwhelming majority of the Iranians and the Americans think that Iran should have the right to produce nuclear energy just as every signer of the Non Proliferation Treaty does, but should not have nuclear weapons.
Well, you know, that’s the framework for an agreement. All that would be necessary is to turn these countries and I suspect the same is to Britain, you can figure that out, change these two countries so that they become functioning democracies. That is societies in which an overwhelming majority of public opinion can have an influence on policy.
Well, let’s even take something weaker: countries in which an overwhelming majority of public opinion can be reported in the media. So far as I’m aware none of this has even been reported though it’s obviously highly pertinent. In real democratic societies, it would be very significant. It’s there. You can find it on the Internet. You can find it in dissident – I’ve written about it, I give talks about it and other people do, but that’s kind of on the margins. Try to find it in the mainstream press. Do internet search. I don’t think you will, but try to find it. We certainly ought to be able to do something to make our own societies functioning democracies. The claim that we can’t do that is absurd.
Can we do anything to help Iran become a functioning democracy? The answer is yes, we can. We could listen to the pleas of the very courageous Iranian reformers and democracy activists who are pleading with the United States to call off the threats. That’s people like Akbar Ganji or Shirin Ebadi and the labor activists, people you don’t hear about, but some of the most important and courageous of them. They are saying drop the threats for a good reason which we can all figure out.
When you threaten a government, it’s going to react. If you threaten a government with attack and destruction, which is called politely “regime change,” what are they going to do? Especially when the threat is credible, I mean it’s not like say, Luxembourg issuing the threat. This is the world’s super superpower acting to make the threat very visible, like the naval deployments in the Gulf. How did they react? We know. We know how our own governments react when there are much more mild threats. You react with repression. And in the reactionary theocracy that dominates Iran they react with severer repression.
That’s why people are recently being jailed. I mean the West bitterly protests the imprisonment. Rightly I protested too, but I wish we recognized it as complete hypocrisy. Imprisonment is a predictable result of the actions that the US is taking with the approval of its allies to threaten Iran. It’s a predictable result and they keep telling us, if we want to hear. So yes, they reacted in the way and that’s the predictable consequence of our threats, illegal threats.
We can improve the circumstances for democracy promotion in Iran by doing what the overwhelming majority of Americans want: withdraw the threats. That will all leave some space for reformists and activists in Iran. And that’s what they are pleading for and that’s what we can do. No better source. So yes, we can act to improve the prospects for democracy in Iran so the Iranian public opinion will have an influence on public policy and we can certainly do in our own countries. OK, that leads out our steps towards alleviation of this crisis which could be a very severe one. If war breaks out either planned or accidental, it could be extremely severe.
Just recently, one well-known British military historian, Corelli Barnett said simply it’s going to be World War Three. Well, maybe, certainly it could have an enormous “Iran effect.” It could lead to indescribable consequences in Iraq and in the region. We might incidentally ask how people in the region feel. That’s also being studied.
In the Sunni states near Iran, the polls were taken, I think in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where they don’t like Iran very much. Nevertheless, a large majority of the population favors a nuclear armed Iran over any military action. Certainly we can know what Iranians think. So if public opinion made any difference to policy, whether in the region, in the United States, anywhere, there would be no steps towards war, no threats of war. Rather there would be steps towards improving the possibilities for peace. I don’t know if you want me to go into it, there’s not a lot of time but there have been recent revelations of options for negotiation. They’re quite serious. They were simply rejected by the United States and incidentally by the European Union.
Just to mention briefly in 2003, we now know that Iran approached the United States with proposals to negotiate all outstanding issues. Nuclear issues, a two state settlement for Israel/Palestine, which incidentally Iran supports contrary to what you read, everything. The US reaction was to censure the Swiss ambassador who brought the proposal. The end of that.
The following year, the European Union entered into negotiations with Iran and actually reached an agreement, a bargain. The agreement was that Iran would suspend the uranium enrichment which it is legally entitled to carry out, that’s agreed on all sides, but it was suspended. And in return, the European Union would provide “firm guarantees on security issues.”
Now the “security issues” is -- the term is well understood-- that refers to US-Israeli threats to attack Iran, which are of course illegal. So European Union, its side of the bargain was to provide those guarantees. Well, Europe didn’t live up to its side of the bargain probably under US pressure or so US experts on the topic argue. Anyway they didn’t live up to it. After that Iran withdrew from its side of the bargain. It’s not the way it was described in the West as Iran broke the agreement. Not exactly true. That continues.
The West adores President Ahmadinejad. Every crazy phrase comes out with big publicity. Ahmadinejad has nothing to do with foreign policy. That’s in the hands of his superior, Ayatolla Khamenei, who has—you don’t read his statements very often: for example, his statement that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine, namely a full normalization of relations with Israel within the framework of the international consensus on a two-state settlement, but the US and Israel have blocked for the last 30 years. I haven’t seen that reported. Actually you have a little bit, a couple of reports on the Financial Times, London Financial Times but it’s not on everyone’s lips.
And internal to Iran, if you read specialists on the topic, there’s plenty of controversy and openings. We could assist in positive developments if that were the goal. Just as actions could be taken to reduce the threat of terrorism, if that were the goal. If that was not the goal, of course you proceed with aggressive militarism which is very likely to heighten the tensions and the consequences which could be awesome.