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Getting On : All My Politics

Noam Chomsky: What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?

from Oddman - Thursday, April 19, 2007
accessed 897 times

Another cut and paste.

Unsurprisingly, George W. Bush's announcement of a "surge" in Iraq came despite the firm opposition to any such move of Americans and the even stronger opposition of the (thoroughly irrelevant) Iraqis. It was accompanied by ominous official leaks and statements -- from Washington and Baghdad -- about how Iranian intervention in Iraq was aimed at disrupting our mission to gain victory, an aim which is (by definition) noble. What then followed was a solemn debate about whether serial numbers on advanced roadside bombs (IEDs) were really traceable to Iran; and, if so, to that country's Revolutionary Guards or to some even higher authority.

This "debate" is a typical illustration of a primary principle of sophisticated propaganda. In crude and brutal societies, the Party Line is publicly proclaimed and must be obeyed -- or else. What you actually believe is your own business and of far less concern. In societies where the state has lost the capacity to control by force, the Party Line is simply presupposed; then, vigorous debate is encouraged within the limits imposed by unstated doctrinal orthodoxy. The cruder of the two systems leads, naturally enough, to disbelief; the sophisticated variant gives an impression of openness and freedom, and so far more effectively serves to instill the Party Line. It becomes beyond question, beyond thought itself, like the air we breathe.

The debate over Iranian interference in Iraq proceeds without ridicule on the assumption that the United States owns the world. We did not, for example, engage in a similar debate in the 1980s about whether the U.S. was interfering in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, and I doubt that Pravda, probably recognizing the absurdity of the situation, sank to outrage about that fact (which American officials and our media, in any case, made no effort to conceal). Perhaps the official Nazi press also featured solemn debates about whether the Allies were interfering in sovereign Vichy France, though if so, sane people would then have collapsed in ridicule.

In this case, however, even ridicule -- notably absent -- would not suffice, because the charges against Iran are part of a drumbeat of pronouncements meant to mobilize support for escalation in Iraq and for an attack on Iran, the "source of the problem." The world is aghast at the possibility. Even in neighboring Sunni states, no friends of Iran, majorities, when asked, favor a nuclear-armed Iran over any military action against that country. From what limited information we have, it appears that significant parts of the U.S. military and intelligence communities are opposed to such an attack, along with almost the entire world, even more so than when the Bush administration and Tony Blair's Britain invaded Iraq, defying enormous popular opposition worldwide.

"The Iran Effect"

The results of an attack on Iran could be horrendous. After all, according to a recent study of "the Iraq effect" by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, using government and Rand Corporation data, the Iraq invasion has already led to a seven-fold increase in terror. The "Iran effect" would probably be far more severe and long-lasting. British military historian Corelli Barnett speaks for many when he warns that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch World War III."

What are the plans of the increasingly desperate clique that narrowly holds political power in the U.S.? We cannot know. Such state planning is, of course, kept secret in the interests of "security." Review of the declassified record reveals that there is considerable merit in that claim -- though only if we understand "security" to mean the security of the Bush administration against their domestic enemy, the population in whose name they act.

Even if the White House clique is not planning war, naval deployments, support for secessionist movements and acts of terror within Iran, and other provocations could easily lead to an accidental war. Congressional resolutions would not provide much of a barrier. They invariably permit "national security" exemptions, opening holes wide enough for the several aircraft-carrier battle groups soon to be in the Persian Gulf to pass through -- as long as an unscrupulous leadership issues proclamations of doom (as Condoleezza Rice did with those "mushroom clouds" over American cities back in 2002). And the concocting of the sorts of incidents that "justify" such attacks is a familiar practice. Even the worst monsters feel the need for such justification and adopt the device: Hitler's defense of innocent Germany from the "wild terror" of the Poles in 1939, after they had rejected his wise and generous proposals for peace, is but one example.

The most effective barrier to a White House decision to launch a war is the kind of organized popular opposition that frightened the political-military leadership enough in 1968 that they were reluctant to send more troops to Vietnam -- fearing, we learned from the Pentagon Papers, that they might need them for civil-disorder control.

Doubtless Iran's government merits harsh condemnation, including for its recent actions that have inflamed the crisis. It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?

It is easy to understand an observation by one of Israel's leading military historians, Martin van Creveld. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, knowing it to be defenseless, he noted, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy."

Surely no sane person wants Iran (or any nation) to develop nuclear weapons. A reasonable resolution of the present crisis would permit Iran to develop nuclear energy, in accord with its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but not nuclear weapons. Is that outcome feasible? It would be, given one condition: that the U.S. and Iran were functioning democratic societies in which public opinion had a significant impact on public policy.

As it happens, this solution has overwhelming support among Iranians and Americans, who generally are in agreement on nuclear issues. The Iranian-American consensus includes the complete elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere (82% of Americans); if that cannot yet be achieved because of elite opposition, then at least a "nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel" (71% of Americans). Seventy-five percent of Americans prefer building better relations with Iran to threats of force. In brief, if public opinion were to have a significant influence on state policy in the U.S. and Iran, resolution of the crisis might be at hand, along with much more far-reaching solutions to the global nuclear conundrum.

Promoting Democracy -- at Home

These facts suggest a possible way to prevent the current crisis from exploding, perhaps even into some version of World War III. That awesome threat might be averted by pursuing a familiar proposal: democracy promotion -- this time at home, where it is badly needed. Democracy promotion at home is certainly feasible and, although we cannot carry out such a project directly in Iran, we could act to improve the prospects of the courageous reformers and oppositionists who are seeking to achieve just that. Among such figures who are, or should be, well-known, would be Saeed Hajjarian, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, and Akbar Ganji, as well as those who, as usual, remain nameless, among them labor activists about whom we hear very little; those who publish the Iranian Workers Bulletin may be a case in point.

We can best improve the prospects for democracy promotion in Iran by sharply reversing state policy here so that it reflects popular opinion. That would entail ceasing to make the regular threats that are a gift to Iranian hardliners. These are bitterly condemned by Iranians truly concerned with democracy promotion (unlike those "supporters" who flaunt democracy slogans in the West and are lauded as grand "idealists" despite their clear record of visceral hatred for democracy).

Democracy promotion in the United States could have far broader consequences. In Iraq, for instance, a firm timetable for withdrawal would be initiated at once, or very soon, in accord with the will of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis and a significant majority of Americans. Federal budget priorities would be virtually reversed. Where spending is rising, as in military supplemental bills to conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would sharply decline. Where spending is steady or declining (health, education, job training, the promotion of energy conservation and renewable energy sources, veterans benefits, funding for the UN and UN peacekeeping operations, and so on), it would sharply increase. Bush's tax cuts for people with incomes over $200,000 a year would be immediately rescinded.

The U.S. would have adopted a national health-care system long ago, rejecting the privatized system that sports twice the per-capita costs found in similar societies and some of the worst outcomes in the industrial world. It would have rejected what is widely regarded by those who pay attention as a "fiscal train wreck" in-the-making. The U.S. would have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and undertaken still stronger measures to protect the environment. It would allow the UN to take the lead in international crises, including in Iraq. After all, according to opinion polls, since shortly after the 2003 invasion, a large majority of Americans have wanted the UN to take charge of political transformation, economic reconstruction, and civil order in that land.

If public opinion mattered, the U.S. would accept UN Charter restrictions on the use of force, contrary to a bipartisan consensus that this country, alone, has the right to resort to violence in response to potential threats, real or imagined, including threats to our access to markets and resources. The U.S. (along with others) would abandon the Security Council veto and accept majority opinion even when in opposition to it. The UN would be allowed to regulate arms sales; while the U.S. would cut back on such sales and urge other countries to do so, which would be a major contribution to reducing large-scale violence in the world. Terror would be dealt with through diplomatic and economic measures, not force, in accord with the judgment of most specialists on the topic but again in diametric opposition to present-day policy.

Furthermore, if public opinion influenced policy, the U.S. would have diplomatic relations with Cuba, benefiting the people of both countries (and, incidentally, U.S. agribusiness, energy corporations, and others), instead of standing virtually alone in the world in imposing an embargo (joined only by Israel, the Republic of Palau, and the Marshall Islands). Washington would join the broad international consensus on a two-state settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which (with Israel) it has blocked for 30 years -- with scattered and temporary exceptions -- and which it still blocks in word, and more importantly in deed, despite fraudulent claims of its commitment to diplomacy. The U.S. would also equalize aid to Israel and Palestine, cutting off aid to either party that rejected the international consensus.

Evidence on these matters is reviewed in my book Failed States as well as in The Foreign Policy Disconnect by Benjamin Page (with Marshall Bouton), which also provides extensive evidence that public opinion on foreign (and probably domestic) policy issues tends to be coherent and consistent over long periods. Studies of public opinion have to be regarded with caution, but they are certainly highly suggestive.

Democracy promotion at home, while no panacea, would be a useful step towards helping our own country become a "responsible stakeholder" in the international order (to adopt the term used for adversaries), instead of being an object of fear and dislike throughout much of the world. Apart from being a value in itself, functioning democracy at home holds real promise for dealing constructively with many current problems, international and domestic, including those that literally threaten the survival of our species.

Reader's comments on this article

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from steam
Saturday, April 21, 2007 - 17:40

The writer of this piece chooses to ignore many factors and makes crazy comparisions. In fact first Iraq is Mexico being invaded by Iran (the U.S.), and then because it doesn't sound as good to say Iran had backed Mexico invading the U.S. (Iran Iraq war) he just arbitrarily changes Mexico (Iraq) to Russia (Iraq) without mentioning this total change in hopes that people won't notice the switcheroo and his point will seem stronger. This shows the intelectual dishonesty of the left wing writer, that in my experiance is more common with the the heavily right wing commentators but clearly any side can be guilty of.
(reply to this comment)
from sar
Saturday, April 21, 2007 - 11:58

Was this written by a journalist? If increasing democracy in the US would bring about the consequences s/he suggests, I would be fundamentally opposed to an increase of democracy in the US.
(reply to this comment)
from vacuous
Saturday, April 21, 2007 - 11:01


Most of the world feels uncomfortable with the occasional sabre rattling from the US and the brinkmanship game being played by Iran and the situation just gets more volatile as time passes.

The USA used to accept an Iran with peaceful nuclear capacity and initially stood by Iran when it began to develop a nuclear program in the 1970s.

However, the US (and most of the world) do not wish to see nuclear weapons fall into the hands of an extremist regime who cannot be trusted.

Allowing Iran to continue to develop a nuclear program that, prima facie, will only be used for peaceful purposes; still gives extremists the know-how and ability to quickly construct nuclear weapons.

The last thing world stablity needs is a religiously motivated, middle-eastern cold war and nuclear arms race.

The problem is compounded when the ordinary Iranian's view is considered. Iranians themselves might be discontent with their regimes' extremist stance; but they have shown solidarity with their government in one issue...that of their right to aquire a "peaceful" nuclear capacity.

The difficulty is that if action is delayed, Iran may aquire nuclear capability under an unpredictable, extremist regime.

If action is taken, it may be seen by the Iranians as being against the Iranian people and have the effect of driving them towards the extremism of their mullah-led government.

Either the Iranian regime or their nuclear capacity must go...but how to separate the two...
(reply to this comment)

From sar
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 12:29


"The last thing world stability needs is a religiously motivated, middle-eastern cold war and nuclear arms race". If Iran was had nuclear weapons, it could be beneficial to world peace. The US would be forced to show constraint in their dealings. If Iran had the ability to defend themself, the US would think twice about attacking.

"However, the US (and most of the world) do not wish to see nuclear weapons fall into the hands of an extremist regime who cannot be trusted." The US can equally be considered an extremist regime with nuclear weapons. There is pretty much universal consensus on the use of nuclear weapons (it falls within the same criteria as any other act of force), but there is no consensus on developing nuclear weapons. Iran is perfectly entitled to do so, should they wish to do so. There is nothing to suggest that any country could lawfully be prevented from obtaining nuclear power in the absence of an express agreement with another country that they would not do so.

It is not for the US to "allow" or forbid Iran to make nuclear weapons. They could only do that if there was a treaty between them where Iran gave the US that power. I do not believe such a treaty exists.

The problem is that the US has too much power when compared with the rest of the world, so they feel safe using force and acting in violation of international customary law even breaching their own treaties, knowing that the countries they invade do not have allies powerful enough to strike back. If this were to change I believe they would be showing constraint.

Relations between the US and Russia and the US and China seemed to clear up a bit once China and Russia developed nuclear weapons.(reply to this comment

From vacuous
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 13:13


A brief history recap.

As you can see, the US are far from acting unilaterally. What can also be seen is willingness by the international community to allow Iran to aquire nuclear power provided it remains transparant to the IAEA and commits to its NPT safeguards.

(reply to this comment

From Lithium
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 12:11

In one sentence you say the USA used to accept Iran with peaceful nuclear capacity and initially stood by them when they began developing it. Then you say that the US does not wish to see nuclear weapons fall into the hands of an extremist regime who cannot be trusted.
But Iran has always been what it is. It is not as if they are nowadays any more extremist than they have always been. So isn't America, in effect, contradicting own views where and when it suits their purposes?(reply to this comment
From vacuous
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 12:38


Iran hasn't always "been what it is"...a religious-extremist state. There was a time when Iranian power wasn't in the hands of hard-line clericks who want to annihilate Israel.

Iran started its civilian nuclear energy program with assistance from the United States in the 1970s. This was before the islamic revolution of 1979. Iran did not have a "wipe Israel off the map" sentiment back then.

Its also important to note that sentiment against Iran aquiring nuclear weapons is more-or-less world-felt, the USA isn't alone on this.

(reply to this comment

From sar
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 13:05


Hey vac

Have you read any conventions, official state statements, advisory opinions, or even academic articles, saying that Iran should not be allowed to develop nulcear weapons, under international law as it exists now? The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons Case, Advisory Opinion seems to suggest that even the threat or use of nuclear weapons is lawful, provided it meets certain requirements. If the threat or use may be lawful and every state has the right to self defence, I do not see how the US can have a valid claim against Iran in this. I'm expecting a question on the US-Iran scenario in my exams, so if you know of any authority suggesting states think Iran should not be allowed to make nuclear weapons, I should be ever so grateful. I'm not just arguing for the sake of it this time.(reply to this comment

From vacuous
Saturday, April 21, 2007, 13:15


See link I posted...(reply to this comment

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