Noam on Iraq

Iraq: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael Albert
December 27, 2006

1. Why did the U.S. invade Iraq? (And why did important sectors of the political elite, like Scowcroft, oppose doing so?) What are the U.S.motives for staying?

The official reason was what Bush, Powell, and others called “the single question”: will Saddam end his development of Weapons of Mass Destruction? The official Presidential Directive states the primary goal as to: “Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and associated programs, to prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond.” That was the basis for congressional support for the invasion. The Directive goes on with the goal of cutting “Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism,” etc. A few phrases are thrown in from the standard boilerplate about freedom that accompanies every action, and is close to a historical universal, hence dismissed as meaningless by reasonable people, but there to be dredged up by the doctrinal system when needed.

When the “single question” was answered the wrong way, and the claims about internationational terrorism became too much of an embarrassment to repeat (though not for Cheney and a few others), the goal was changed to “democracy promotion.” The media and journals, along with almost all scholarship, quickly jumped on that bandwagon, relieved to discover that this is the most “noble war” in history, pursuing Bush’s “messianic mission” to bring freedom and democracy to the world. Some Iraqis agreed: 1% in a poll in Baghdad just as the noble vision was declared in Washington. In the West, in contrast, it doesn’t matter that there is a mountain of evidence refuting the claim, and even apart from the timing — which should elicit ridicule — the evidence for the “mission” is that our Dear Leader so declared. I’ve reviewed the disgraceful record in print. It continues with scarcely a break to the present, so consistently that I’ve stopped collecting the absurd repetitions of the dogma.

The real reason for the invasion, surely, is that Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, very cheap to exploit, and lies right at the heart of the world’s major hydrocarbon resources, what the State Department 60 years ago described as “a stupendous source of strategic power.” The issue is not access, but rather control (and for the energy corporations, profit). Control over these resources gives the US “critical leverage” over industrial rivals, to borrow Zbigniew Brezinski’s phrase, echoing George Kennan when he was a leading planner and recognized that such control would give the US “veto power” over others. Dick Cheney observed that control over energy resources provides “tools of intimidation or blackmail” — when in the hands of others, that is. We are too pure and noble for those considerations to apply to us, so true believers declare — or more accurately, just presuppose, taking the point to be too obvious to articulate.

There was unprecedented elite condemnation of the plans to invade Iraq, even articles in the major foreign policy journals, a publication of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and others. Sensible analysts were able to perceive that the enterprise carried significant risks for US interests, however conceived. 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. There is a good review of the “mendacity” of neocon intellectuals (Ledeen, Krauthammer, and others) in The American Conservative, Jan. 07. But they are not alone.

On the US motives for staying, I can only repeat what I’ve been writing for years. A sovereign Iraq, partially democratic, could well be a disaster for US planners. With a Shi’ite majority, it is likely to continue improving relations with Iran. There is a Shi’ite 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 Shi’ite alliance controlling most of the world’s hydrocarbon resources and independent of the US, undermining a primary goal of US foreign policy since it became the world-dominant power after World War II. 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, along with the Central Asian states (already members), possibly India. Iran is already associated with them, and a Shi’ite dominated bloc in the Arab states might well go along. All of that would be a nightmare for US planners, and its Western allies.

There are, then, very powerful reasons why the US-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 surely 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. I don’t, incidentally, suggest that commentators have much awareness of this. In our society, intellectual elites are deeply indoctrinated, a point that Orwell noted in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm on how self-censorship works in free societies. A large part of the reason, he plausibly concluded, is a good education, which instills the understanding that there are certain things “it wouldn’t do to say” — or more accurately, even to think.

Read all of the interview here.

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