Iraq and US Foreign Policy: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Peshawa Abdulkhaliq Muhammed
Kurdistani Nwe Newspaper, December 25, 2006
When we are talking about regime change in Iraq, you believe that the US did this for oil. But at the same as you know the US gets oil from other Gulf countries, South American countries, and Norway. How do you explain that?
The primary issue is not access but rather control. That is clear both from internal documentation and from the historical record. The US followed the same Middle East policies for decades when it was not using a drop of Middle East oil, and even now, intelligence projects that while controlling the Middle East for the traditional reasons, the US should rely on more secure Atlantic Basin reserves: West Africa and the Western hemisphere. Hence the kinds of considerations you raise are of only limited significance.
Over 60 years ago, the State Department described the oil reserves of the Gulf as “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Iraq is at the heart of the region, and is itself estimated to have the second largest reserves in the world (after Saudi Arabia). Iraqi sources are also very cheap to extract: no deep sea drilling, extraction from tar sands, etc. Establishment of a US client state in Iraq, and a base for long-term military deployment (as is now being implemented), would greatly enhance US dominance over this “stupendous source of strategic power” and ensure that the wealth from this great “material prize” would flow into the preferred hands. That is understood by the more astute policy analysts and planners. One of them, Zbigniew Brzezinski, pointed out that if the invasion of Iraq succeeded, the US would gain “critical leverage” over its industrial rivals in Europe and Asia. He was reiterating the observations of one of the most important of the early post-war planners, George Kennan, who advised that control over Middle East oil would provide the US with “veto power” over industrial rivals. The same factors enter into the conflicts over pipelines from Central Asia: US planners want to ensure that they go to the West, not the East, and that the pipelines should follow a complicated path to avoid Russia and Iran, so as to ensure US control. China, Russia, and other participants in the Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council naturally have different ideas. Vice-President Dick Cheney, the most influential foreign policy figure in the Bush Administration, observed that control over pipelines can serve as a “tool of intimidation.” He was referring of course to control by others, but understands perfectly well that the same is true of US control.
These matters, though obvious, are largely excluded from Western discourse. Doctrinal managers would like us to believe that the US and UK would have “liberated” Iraq even if its major exports were lettuce and pickles and the major energy resources of the world were in the South Pacific. It takes really impressive discipline “not to see” the obvious.
Failing to prove the previous justifications to invade Iraq, the US then used democracy concerns to justify the war. This is your viewpoint stated in an interview. But as you know in the agenda of post- 9/11 New World Order spreading democracy is a key objective. So why do you doubt this democracy? While it is obvious that Saddam had and used chemical weapons against the Kurds?
To be more accurate, I was citing reports in the mainstream press and scholarship, which reviewed these very clear changes as they occurred. Interviews do not have footnotes, but the sources are cited in my books Hegemony or Survival (2004) and Failed States (2006). Bush, Blair, Powell and others stressed insistently that the “single question” is whether Saddam will abandon his programs of weapons of mass destruction. It was only after the failure to discover WMD that government rhetoric shifted to the President’s “messianic mission” to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East. Very quickly, journalism and much of scholarship shifted and commentators “jumped on the bandwagon,” as the prominent Middle East specialist Augustus John Norton accurately wrote. The “messianic mission” was proclaimed in Washington in November 2003 with great fanfare, and since then has become a staple of commentary, as reviewed in Failed States.
True, there were also the ritual phrases about bringing democracy, but they were marginal, and are routine no matter what policies are being undertaken. These conclusions, clear from the factual record, are now underscored by recently released secret documents, including the Presidential Directive of Aug. 29, 2002, called “Iraq Goals, Objectives and Strategy.” The proimary goal is “to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” and to prevent Iraq from “becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond,” and to cut Iraq’s “links to and sponsorship of international terrorism.” Scattered through, again, are the routine and meaningless phrases about “moderation, pluralism and democracy,” which no one takes seriously because they accompany every plan, and always have. Not only is all of this familiar from long before, but it is also quite similar to the rhetoric of other powers, including the worst monsters. Even Stalin proclaimed the mission of establishing democracy. These are among the reasons why no one should pay attention to the exalted rhetoric of political leaders: it is predictable, and therefore carries no information.
I might add that of all the people in the world, Kurds should be the first to recognize these elementary truths, after their long history of betrayal on the part of pretended benefactors.
There have also been strenuous efforts to create the myth that the post-9/11 agenda was spreading democracy. That is dramatically false. 9/11 was followed by a remarkable display of contempt for democracy, both in words and in deeds, perhaps unique in history. I have reviewed the record in the books mentioned, and will not repeat here, but it is unmistakable.
The truth of the matter is recognized by the most prominent scholar/advocates of “democracy promotion.” The most respected of them is Thomas Carothers, head of the Democracy and Law project of the Carnegie Endowment, who describes himself as a neo-Reaganite. He writes in part from an insider’s perspective, having served in Reagan’s State Department programs of “democracy enhancement.” He is an honest scholar, and recognizes that these programs were a failure, in fact, a highly systematic failure. In the regions where US influence was least, there was progress in democracy, despite strenuous efforts of the Reagan administration to prevent it. The worst record was in the regions where the US had the most influence. He also explains the reasons: Washington would permit only “top-down forms” of democracy in which traditional elites, linked to the US, would retain power in deeply undemocratic societies.
Carothers has also reviewed the record since the end of the Cold War, including the Bush II administration up to 2004. He finds a “strong line of continuity” through every administration: Washington supports democracy if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic interests. He regards this as a puzzle: US leaders are “schizophrenic.” There is a much simpler explanation, but it conflicts with standard doctrine about well-intentioned leaders who sometimes make unfortunate errors — another stance that is close to a historical universal. The record in Iraq follows the pattern very closely. There is a mountain of evidence supporting Carothers’s conclusion, in the Middle East and elsewhere. I have reviewed it in detail in print, in the books mentioned and earlier. The only evidence supporting the belief in the “messianic mission” is the rhetoric of leaders. It takes real discipline to jump on the bandwagon, as is routinely done in deeply indoctrinated Western societies. These delusions are safe enough for the powerful. For the victims to succumb to them has always led to disaster, as Kurds should not have to be reminded. The “strong line of continuity” persists without a break to the present moment, dramatically so, in fact. Merely to take one crucial example, last January Palestinians had an election, closely monitored and recognized to be free and fair. But they committed a serious crime: they voted “the wrong way.” Instantly, the US and Israel, with the support of Europe, moved to punish them severely for this intolerable act. Harsh sanctions were imposed, Israel withheld tax and custom duties that it is legally required to provide to the Palestinian Authority and stepped up its military attacks and expansion into the occupied territories, and even cut off water to the water-starved Gaza region — always with direct US support, and European tolerance and participation. Nothing could show more clearly the accuracy of Carothers’s conclusion, and the bitterness of the contempt for democracy among those who proclaim their “messianic mission” most passionately. Again, it takes real discipline to miss what is before our eyes, an unwise stance for the weak.
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