Outside the West no one is much concerned about Iran’s nuclear policies threat – Chomsky
Doubt that there will be any significant changes from the past four years. John Kerry’s nomination hearings for the Secretary of State indicated I think with the reasonable clarity that the positions he will be advocating and implementing are those that have been in place, there don’t seem to be any dramatic innovations inside.
However, some experts are telling me that perhaps Mr. Obama would be rather more focused on domestic policies somehow leaving aside the international issues which have been so controversial during his first presidency. But is this an accurate assessment?
Well, actually I think that’s even been true of the first four years, he began to retract US global involvement. There was a surge in Afghanistan, so called, but then the idea was to withdraw from Afghanistan and that’s apparently happening. He completed the withdrawal from Iraq. In the case of Libya, the policy was called Leading from Behind, which meant that the British and the French were basically functioning as the air force of the rebels and generally in violation of the Security Council resolution. And the US was providing the muscle, the force that was required for them to do it, but it didn’t take a leading role.
And I think in general the major focus of the first administration was on domestic policy after all. Obama came into office in the midst of quite a severe recession and various moves had to be undertaken to deal with that, and there were other major domestic issues. But I would assume that that would continue to be the case in the coming years.
Now, there is one glaring possible exception and that has to do with Iran. He, Kerry and in fact every member of the Administration have emphasized, they claimed at least, that they will do essentially anything, meaning up to direct military action, to prevent Iran from crossing a certain red line with regard to nuclear weapons.
Now, where the red line is, it is sort of debatable. Is it what is called obtaining nuclear weapons, or is it gaining the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Nuclear capability, as it is sometimes called, which many countries in the world have, dozens of countries have nuclear capability. And will the Administration take that to be a red line that can’t be crossed – that was in fact practically the only major disagreement between Romney and Obama in the final presidential debate which was on foreign policy. Romney claimed that we should not permit Iran to reach capability and Obama appeared to be saying we should not permit them to reach possession of nuclear weapons.
As far as anyone knows they not even tried to develop nuclear weapons, but that’s what the West, the US and its allies, claim that they are, though their intelligence services don’t say so. And that could be a serious issue. It should be observed and never is that even the threat of war which is perfectly open, which makes us to say all options are open, even the threat of war is in violation of the UN Charter which explicitly bars the threat or use of force in the international affairs, but that’s disregarded.
Also crucially disregarded is something else, something much more significant. There is a very plausible way to deal with whatever threat one thinks Iran’s nuclear policies pose. And I should mention incidentally that that’s the Western obsession. Outside the West nobody doesn’t seem to be much concerned about the threat, and particularly in the Arab world. But whatever threat it is, the obvious way to try to deal with it is to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the region.
Now, that’s not a utopian objective, practically the whole world is in support of that. And the Arab world is strongly in support of that, for years they’ve been trying to get the Western powers to agree to back them in this endeavor. And Obama, like Clinton has before, not Bush, has said yes, that’s an objective we want to achieve.
Well, there was supposed to be an international conference that was to be held in Helsinki, in Finland last month, in December, which was to carry this forward. That would be a very reasonable way to proceed, to at least mitigate whatever threat there is. Israel indicated that it wouldn’t attend. However, Iran earlier in November said they would attend the conference. And within a few days Obama had cancelled the conference, so it didn’t take place.
The Arab states said that they would proceed somehow anyway, but nothing can happen very much unless the US participates in fact actively. And certainly none of this is discussed in the US. I don’t think there is a word about it in the press. But if there is real concern, as they claim, with the Iranian nuclear program, if it is the gravest threat to peace, as the Administration and the Republican Party, and the media claim – well, that’s a way to proceed.
Of course we all know the reason why they are holding back. The reason is Israeli nuclear weapons. The US Administration does not want them to be discussed in any way, that’s a holy territory. But that’s the background for what could be a very serious international crisis.
Sir, do I get it right that Mr. Hagel who has been nominated for the position of Secretary of Defense has been somewhat against military solution to the Iranian crisis? Is my understanding correct?
That’s correct. And the same is true of the Pentagon and the US intelligence, as far as we know, to the extent that they’ve taken open and public positions they are opposed to a military action as well. And I should say in Israel as well, there has been quite an unusual outpouring of objections, sometimes very strong objections to any resort to war on the part of former high military and intelligence figures, who usually don’t say much, but they’ve broken out of the usual silence this time to warn against it. Some, like Erdogan, in very strong terms said it would be almost madness.
So, it is pretty clear that both in the US and in Israel military, the military and the intelligence communities are opposed to this. And Chuck Hagel expresses apparently the views of the mainstream US military and intelligence. And I presume that Obama selecting him indicates the fact that he probably shares these views. But whether that will overcome the pressures to live up to their rhetoric about blocking any Iranian developments – we don’t know.
I should say that in December there was a conference which was not an important conference. It was held by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and which is actually an offshoot of the Israeli lobby, though it is regarded here as a neutral scholarly institute. They had a meeting in which several high former officials participated – Dennis Ross, Elliott Abrams and other advisors to Obama and Bush before him on the ME issues.
And though I saw no report of the meeting in the US, there were reports in the Israeli press, and what they reported is that there was an atmosphere of excitement, almost euphoria in which the former advisors, people like Abrams, Ross and so on trumpeted the view that is diplomacy fails within the next few months, meaning if negotiations don’t get anywhere in the next few months, then the US will move onto bombing Iran. And they’ve seemed pretty excited about that prospect. How accurate, I can’t verify the accuracy of the report or of how significant their judgments are, but that should be kept in mind too.
Judging by the nomination of John Brannan, I suppose this is a man with a heavy-handed approach, isn’t he?
Probably pretty similar to what appears to be the Pentagon’s and intelligence’s position, Hagel’s position. I mean I don’t think he said anything very definite about Iran other than to backup what Obama has said. But Brannan is one of the main enthusiasts and planners of the global assassination program, the drone program, which in my view, unfortunately, is not discussed, it is taken for granted as this is a legitimate program. I don’t think it is.
Well, it doesn’t look so.
Yes, actually it is interesting that it was announced that the UN Human Rights Commission has appointed a prominent British lawyer to carry out investigation of the legitimacy of targeted assassination, essentially drone strikes. And he appears to be pretty critical of it, but whether this will have any effect on Administration policy, I don’t know. Almost unfortunately there is very little debate about it in the US.
But this kind of investigation is supposed to take quite a long time, isn’t it?
This is the first major UN enquiry into the principles behind it, I mean there are laws about targeted assassination, namely it is illegal, it is in violation of international law. But this enquiry is an effort to first of all determine more clearly what’s happened and then to move onto the goal to produce some kind of resolution for the UN General Assembly on these devices, drone warfare, targeted assassination and so on. That can’t go to the Security Council because there’d be an immediate US and probably British veto, but the General Assembly could pass a resolution.
But Sir, on the other hand do I get it right that Mr. Obama is now somewhat drifting to more sophisticated methods of warfare, like you have mentioned the drones and we know that there’s been a US cyber command organized. Do you think that they would really focus on those hi-tech warfare methods, particularly in the ME where the general turmoil seems to be really spilling over borders?
Well, this has been going on for years. For example, the US has quite openly, publicly in fact, boasting about carrying out the sophisticated cyber war against Iran. And it is worth mentioning that the Pentagon, meaning the US Government, regards cyber war directed at the US as an act of war that justifies military force in retaliation. So, according to their own principles Iran would be justified, in say carrying out terrorist attacks inside the US. Of course they don’t say that but it follows.
But the cyber war has been open, the drone war of course is quite public and how it proceeds has been discussed on some detail and I’m sure you saw that long article in the New York Times which was probably mostly leaks from the White House by Scott Shane on the mechanisms of the drone warfare, how President Obama and his advisor John Brannan sit down in the morning and discuss who is going to be killed today.
It certainly creates an alarming picture, I’d say. But if the US might consider that it has been attacked through the Internet, I just wonder if that generally makes a pretext for launching war against another nation somewhat too easy?
A pretext for a war is very easy to construct, we know that from history. When Hitler invaded Poland for example he was defending Germany against the wild terror of the Poles. When the Japanese invaded North China in 1931, this was in reaction to the Mukden incident, which in fact they had staged. Pretexts for going to war are all too easy to construct.
But Sir, talking about the Japanese and China, it looks like with the shifting of the focus of the international policy of the US to the Asian-Pacific tensions have been growing in that region. And now we see an openly belligerent rhetoric coming from Japan towards China and vice versa. So, what is your forecast? What do we need to expect?
That’s very serious. There are mounting tensions in the region on many things, crucially over the islands in the South China Sea which are disputed. So, right now there is a serious tension between Japan and China over a group of tiny islands. The Japanese call them the Senkaku, the Chinese call them Diaoyu Islands, which are very far from Japan and pretty close to Taiwan. And Japan claims an enormous area of Pacific territory as its own. It has almost invisible islands way out in the Pacific and so on.
All of these are kind of a residue of the Japanese imperial system in the pre-World War II which was extended vastly. And China throughout that period was suffering what they call their century of humiliation, they were being beaten back. China and Japan have roughly the same coastline, approximately. But Japan has far more ocean territory that it claims, than China does. And right now the tension is mounting over these tiny islands which Japan has actually possessed physically and China claims, and it is mounting, I mean the jetfighters scrambled several times and a potential conflict could develop, it could turn into a major war. And it is not the only case, there are also tensions about islands in the region that are claimed by the Philippines, by Vietnam and also China. And at stake are very serious issues.
If only think for China, these are their transit lands to the ME and Europe, that’s their shipping land basically. And also there are supposedly substantial resources there, mostly hydrocarbons. The Obama Administration has taken what’s called its pivot to Asia, it’s shifted military forces to that region of the world, from Australia to Korea and Japan where it has many military bases and is building new ones, and sending more troops and aircraft carriers and so on. It has treaty obligations Japan, the Philippines which would presumably be invoked if there was any conflict. And we could be on the verge of a major war there.
If we look at similar policy creating military bases and increasing its military presence in the ME, that policy seems to have left a trail of destruction. Do you think that those experts who claim that the essence of this policy would be divide and rule? How correct are they in their assessment that perhaps the controlled chaos is the ultimate goal?
Well, you know, a lot of this has to do with control of the world’s energy system. Of course that’s true in the ME, but it is also true in the Pacific. And in fact the pivot to Asia, the efforts to control the Pacific region are connected to the ME, as I mentioned those are transit zones. China in the ME is pressing towards the West in a different way, they are essentially trying to reconstruct the old Silk Road with high speed trains to Kazakhstan and pipelines, and all the extending towards Central Asia maybe as far as Turkey, maybe as far as Europe. That’s the kind of anther passage. And the Western corporations are also using those means of communication rather than sea lands for exporting their Chinese assembly plans to the West.
But the core problem is controlling the world’s energy resources and it’s been understood for a long time, back to the World War II, even explicitly in some US plans, that if we can control the world’s energy – we can control the world. And this is usually put in a different way. Every state that I’ve ever heard of presents its aggressive policies in defensive terms. So, everything is always defensive, not aggression. It is almost universal in state’s rhetoric and policy formation. And the same in this case.
What you read in the major foreign policy journals, actually you can read it this month in one of the leading ME policy journals, is that we have to make sure that no one else controls, say ME oil, because then they would do all sorts of terrible things, take control of the world. That’s another way of saying – we have to control it. And then the kind of tacit assumption is – well, if we control it, it is for the benefit of the world. But every great power says that. These are very serious longstanding factors that do open the way to quite threatening developments.
When you said that it is all about the struggle for resources, my country is extremely rich in resources. So, do we need to expect a similar policy towards Russia from the US, an attempt to control our resources?
Well, you know, the US is not in a position to control Russian resources. It would like to ensure that Russia’s resources are not used by Russia to expand its influence into Europe and elsewhere. So, yes, that’s a latent conflict but it is less likely to explode into a real military action I think than the others we’ve been speaking about.