On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White
House Rose Garden, the president responded
to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto
opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government
to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when,
in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled
reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.
That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported
that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani
tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler,"
which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions
involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on
video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S.
relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding
to the group, which would require an official presidential order or 'finding'
as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising
if the group doing the encouraging and advising wasn't the Central Intelligence
Agency, which has a long, sordid
record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour
Hersh has been reporting since
2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime,
heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale
air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)
The president also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed
waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizure… is indefensible by the
Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British
sailors, who were dramatically freed
by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in
Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off
the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on
his sudden release, Alissa
J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of
the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain
who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those
responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with
the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in
Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing
operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.
And don't forget the botched
Bush administration attempt to capture two high Iranian security officials and
the actual kidnapping of five Iranian diplomats-cum-Revolutionary-Guards in
Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan over two months ago – they disappeared into the black
hole of an American prison system in Iraq that now holds perhaps
17,000 Iraqis (as well as those Iranians) and is still growing. As Juan
Cole has pointed
out, most such acts, and the rhetoric that goes with them, represent so
many favors to "an unpopular and isolated Iranian government attempting to rally
support and strengthen itself."
In addition, just this week, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other
ships in its battle group left San Diego for the Persian Gulf. Two carrier battle
groups are already there, promising an almost unprecedented show of strength.
As the ship left port, U.S. military officials explained
the mission of the carriers in the Gulf this way: They are intended to demonstrate
U.S. "resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the
And stability in the region, it seems, means promoting instability in Iran
by any means possible. So, the president's Global War on Terror also turns out
to be the Global War of Terror. No one has dealt with the way "state sponsorship
of terror" works, when it comes to our own country, more
strikingly than Noam Chomsky, who considers the larger Iranian crisis below.
His latest book, Failed
States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, is just out
in paperback and couldn't be more to the point at the present moment. Right
now, if the U.S. isn't already a failing state, it's certainly a flailing one.
What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?
Putting the Iran Crisis in Context
By Noam Chomsky
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
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.
Noam Chomsky is the author of Failed
States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan Books),
just published in paperback, among many other works.
Copyright 2007 Noam Chomsky