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Noam Chomsky on Iraq--2/11/07

Noam Chomsky: The US says it is fighting for democracy - but is deaf
 to the cries of the Iraqis


   They are not building a palatial embassy with the intention of going


       Published: 11 February 2007

There was unprecedented élite condemnation of the plans to invade Iraq.
Sensible analysts were able to perceive that the enterprise carried
significant risks for US interests, however conceived. Phrases thrown in
by the official Presidential Directive from the standard boilerplate
about freedom that accompany every action, and are close to a historical
universal, were dismissed as meaningless by reasonable people. Global
opposition was utterly overwhelming, and the likely costs to the US were
apparent, though the catastrophe created by the invasion went far beyond
anyone's worst expectations. It's amusing to watch the lying as the
strongest supporters of the war try to deny what they very clearly said.

On the US motives for staying in Iraq, I can only repeat what I've been
saying for years. A sovereign Iraq, partially democratic, could well be
a disaster for US planners. With a Shia majority, it is likely to
continue improving relations with Iran. There is a Shia population right
across the border in Saudi Arabia, bitterly oppressed by the US-backed
tyranny. Any step towards sovereignty in Iraq encourages activism there
for human rights and a degree of autonomy - and that happens to be where
most of Saudi oil is.

Sovereignty in Iraq might well lead to a loose Shia alliance controlling
most of the world's petroleum resources and independent of the US,
undermining a primary goal of US foreign policy since it became the
world-dominant power after the Second World War. Worse yet, though the
US can intimidate Europe, it cannot intimidate China, which blithely
goes its own way, even in Saudi Arabia, the jewel in the crown - the
primary reason why China is considered a leading threat. An independent
energy bloc in the Gulf area is likely to link up with the China-based
Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council, with Russia
(which has its own huge resources) as an integral part, and with the
Central Asian states (already members), possibly India. Iran is already
associated with them, and a Shia-dominated bloc in the Arab states might
well go along. All of that would be a nightmare for US planners and
their Western allies.

There are, then, very powerful reasons why the US and UK are likely to
try in every possible way to maintain effective control over Iraq. The
US is not constructing a palatial embassy, by far the largest in the
world and virtually a separate city within Baghdad, and pouring money
into military bases, with the intention of leaving Iraq to Iraqis. All
of this is quite separate from the expectations that matters can be
arranged so that US corporations profit from the vast riches of Iraq.

These topics, though high on the agenda of planners, are not within the
realm of discussion, as can easily be determined. That is only to be
expected. These considerations violate the fundamental doctrine that
state power has noble objectives, and while it may make terrible
blunders, it can have no crass motives and is not influenced by domestic
concentrations of private power. Any questioning of these Higher Truths
is either ignored or bitterly denounced, also for good reasons: allowing
them to be discussed could undermine power and privilege.

There is another issue: even the most dedicated scholar/advocates of
"democracy promotion" recognise that there is a "strong line of
continuity" in US efforts to promote democracy going back as far as you
like and reaching the present: democracy is supported if and only if it
conforms to strategic and economic objectives. For example, supporting
the brutal punishment of people who committed the crime of voting "the
wrong way" in a free election, as in Palestine right now, with pretexts
that would inspire ridicule in a free society. As for democracy in the
US, élite opinion has generally considered it a dangerous threat which
must be resisted. But some Iraqis agreed with Bush's mission to bring
democracy to the world: 1 per cent in a poll in Baghdad just as the
noble vision was declared in Washington.

On withdrawal proposals from élite circles, however, I think one should
be cautious. Some may be so deeply indoctrinated that they cannot allow
themselves to think about the reasons for the invasion or the insistence
on maintaining the occupation, in one or another form. Others may have
in mind more effective techniques of control by redeploying US military
forces in bases in Iraq and in the region, making sure to control
logistics and support for client forces in Iraq, air power in the style
of the destruction of much of Indochina after the business community
turned against the war, and so on.

As to the consequences of a US withdrawal, we are entitled to have our
personal judgements, all of them as uninformed and dubious as those of
US intelligence. But they do not matter. What matters is what Iraqis
think. Or rather, that is what should matter, and we learn a lot about
the character and moral level of the reigning intellectual culture from
the fact that the question of what the victims want barely even arises.

The Baker-Hamilton report dismisses partition proposals, even the more
limited proposals for a high level of independence within a loosely
federal structure. Though it's not really our business, or our right to
decide, their scepticism is probably warranted. Neighbouring countries
would be very hostile to an independent Kurdistan, which is landlocked,
and Turkey might even invade, which would also threaten the
long-standing and critical US-Turkey-Israel alliance. Kurds strongly
favour independence, but appear to regard it as not feasible - for now,
at least. The Sunni states might invade to protect the Sunni areas,
which lack resources. The Shia region might improve ties with Iran. It
could set off a regional war. My own view is that federal arrangements
make good sense, not only in Iraq. But these do not seem realistic
prospects for the near-term future.

US policy should be that of all aggressors: (1) pay reparations; (2)
attend to the will of the victims; (3) hold the guilty parties
accountable, in accord with the Nuremberg principles, the UN Charter,
and other international instruments. A more practical proposal is to
work to change the domestic society and culture substantially enough so
that what should be done can at least become a topic for discussion.
That is a large task, not only on this issue, though I think élite
opposition is far more ferocious than that of the general public.

/Adapted from an interview for Z Net with Michael Albert, published
tomorrow in 'The Drawbridge'. Noam Chomsky's latest book is 'Failed
States' (Hamish Hamilton, June 2006; Penguin Books, March 2007)/
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