What is the best way forward in Iraq?

Noam Chomsky: When Russia invaded Afghanistan we didn’t ask, “What’s the best option for Russia?” The best option for them is to get out. They have no right being there. So the best option is to get out.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, we didn’t ask, “What’s the best option?” Like, “How should he deal with it?”

But when the west invades another country, all the values shift. The only question that arises is, “What’s best for the aggressors?” Well that’s an interesting sign of the deeply rooted imperial mentality, which of course goes back centuries and virtually dominates the intellectual and moral cultures.

But in the case of Iraq, we should recognize principles that we automatically accept when someone else is guilty of a crime. Aggressors simply have no rights. They have responsibilities, but no rights.

The primary responsibility, which is also written in the United States, is to pay massive reparations for the crimes that they have committed. That includes the invasion of course, includes the military sanctioned regime, the directors of the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program, distinguished international diplomats, both resigned, because they regarded it as genocidal. It includes support for Saddam Hussein through his worst atrocities, long after the end of the war with Iran, in fact even after the first Gulf War when President Bush the first [George W. H. Bush] authorized Saddam to crush the internal rebellions that probably would have overthrown him. Massive reparations are certainly called for.

Second responsibility is to hold the guilty accountable.

And the third responsibility is pay attention to the voices of the victims. And we have a pretty good sense of what they are; doesn’t enter into debate. So, if you look at the Presidential debates or the discussions or the options, one voice is missing--Iraqis.

And it’s not that the voice is not heard. The Pentagon in December [2007] released its latest study of focus groups all around Iraq, and it presented its report, as an optimistic report, said “There’s good news. Iraqis have shared beliefs. So, there is hope for reconciliation, contrary to what is said by people who think that the sectarian violence is out of control.”

And look down and see what the shared beliefs are. The shared beliefs are that the United States is responsible for the sectarian violence, and the other crimes, and that the invaders ought to pull out and leave the country for the Iraqis. That’s the shared believes. That’s the good news.

Well that position does not enter into discussion in the West. It’s reported, but it’s forgotten, because it doesn’t matter. We run the world. We own the world. We decide what’s best.

I can have my own opinion of what we have to do. Others can have their own equally uninformed opinions, including the CIA and military intelligence, but what matters is, what do Iraqis want? And we should give them the opportunity to construct policy.

By “Iraqis” I do not mean the government that is established in the highly protected, heavily protected U.S.-run Green Zone. It’s there, but that’s not the voice of Iraqis, anymore than the government that the Russians were protecting in Kabul in the 1980s was the voice of Afghans.

Those are the responsibilities. From then on, we have to follow those obligations.

I don’t think there is any good solution for Iraq at this point. The United States; it’s interesting to see that, although Americans and Europeans do not accept the principles that they profess, Iraqis do. When Iraqis attribute responsibility to the invaders for the military sectarian violence, they are simply following the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. The Nuremberg Tribunal quite explicitly defined “aggression” in terms, which of course trivially apply to the U.S./British invasion of Iraq, and went on to say that aggression is the supreme international crime, diferring from other war crimes, in that it encompasses all of the evil that follows.

Well, in case of Iraq, that means it encompasses the murderous sectarian warfare, the ethnic cleansing, and so on, and Iraqis accept that. They accept the Nuremberg principles as the Pentagon study shows.

Americans and Europeans don’t accept that. We don’t accept that we, the aggressors, are responsible for all the evil that follows. And that again as a reflection of the imperial mentality. We can profess principles, but they only apply to others, not to us. We should live up to those principles.

We should mention finally that the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert [H.] Jackson, American prosecutor, had some eloquent words that he addressed to the tribunal. This is of course the tribunal that tried the worst Nazi war criminals. He said, we are handing these defendants of poison chalice, and if we sip from it, if we are ever guilty of similar crimes, we must accept the same judgment, or else we are declaring the trial to be false.

Well, European and American opinion, tacitly, is that the trails were a farce. It’s not the first time. Iraqis appear--maybe, probably don’t know it--they in fact are accepting the Nuremberg principles.

We should think about the possibility of living up to our own professed ideals, which means applying them to ourselves. Could be a very different world if we did that.

With regard to Iraq, Iraqis dispend knowledgeable correspondence like, say, Nir Rosen who has followed it very closely from the beginning, they often describe the American/British invasion as comparable to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

It is not clear there is any solution for Iraq. The only question is what’s the least worst solution at this point that. Nobody has a positive proposal as to what to do. But it’s up to Iraqis to be determine it.

The next major potential conflict with Iran could be more serious. If [George W.] Bush, [Dick] Cheney, maybe their successors, go on to attack Iran, or to permit Israel or a client state to attack Iran, that could be extremely serious. [IB] might be correct.

And it’s interesting to notice that, of course, Iranian opinion doesn’t matter, world opinion doesn’t matter, the world is appalled by the prospect. But it’s striking to see that American opinion doesn’t matter either. There have been careful studies of American and Iranian opinion on the outstanding issues between Iran and the United States, carried out by the most prestigious polling agencies. And the results are quite striking. Americans and Iranians fundamentally agree on the core issues, the nuclear issues. Large majorities, very large majorities in both countries agree that Iran has the same rights as other signers of the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is, the right to nuclear energy, but not nuclear power.

The U.S. government rejects that, but the large majority of Americans accept it. More interestingly, large majorities agree that the entire region (including Iran, Israel) American forces deployed there should be declared a nuclear weapons free zone. That’s quite significant. If that happened, the crisis would significantly mitigate.

It might be overcome.

A very large majority of Americans, it’s about three to one, think that the United States should end threats against Iran and move towards normal diplomatic relations.

The opinions of Americans, shared by Iranians, is so remote from policy that these polls aren’t even reported. And of course the results never enter into political debate or discussion. Every viable political candidate, now every surviving candidate, believes that we must--as they put it, “keep all options on the table,” including threat of military actions against Iran. Even the threat happens to be a violation of international law. But it’s quite striking that they are all quite willing to take a position violation of international law and overwhelmingly opposed by the American population.

This is not the only case I should say. Take, say, the U. S. policy, now 45 years, of first, large-scale terror then economic strangulation of Cuba. Ever since polls have been taken, which is several decade, large majority of the Americans think that the United States should enter into normal relations with Cuba and end confrontation. But this just doesn’t enter policy.

Going back to Iran, if Iran and the United States were functioning democracies, meaning democracies in which popular opinion plays a significant role in determining public policy, then the confrontation would surely be mitigated and might be overcome.

That’s another serious problem in the West, internal. Are we going to be functioning democracies in which public opinion matters or not? It doesn’t only show up on international affairs.

Let’s take say the United States. Take domestic issues, for decades one of the leading domestic issues for the population has been the healthcare system, which is catastrophic, has twice per capital cost of other industrial societies and some of the worst outcomes, often third world standards, besides from 47 million people with no insurance and the many millions who are under insured.

So, the population doesn’t like this, naturally. And they have a preference, namely for a healthcare system, maybe something like extending Medicare for the whole population.

It’s very interesting to see how that’s handled in the intellectual culture and the media and the political system. As late as 2004, last election, this was occasionally mentioned, but it was regarded as politically impossible or lacking political support. Those are the words that are used. Only had the support of the large majority of the population, but that’s not political support.

In this election for the first time, 2008, it has become an issue, the Democratic candidates, at least, have put forth proposals which approach what the general population wants.

What has changed between 2004 and 2008, not public opinion? It’s the same. What has changed is that a major sector of the corporate system is now objecting to the irrationality, expense, inefficiency of the privatized healthcare system, namely manufacturing industry. General Motors says it cost them over $1000 more to produce a car in Detroit than it does across the border in Canada, where they have a functioning healthcare system.

When a major sector of corporate power enters the game, then it becomes politically possible. It tells us a lot about American democracy, as does the fact that there is no reporting on it. Try to find some mention of the reason for the change.

Well these are all internal problems in the West, serious ones. There are enormous problems, much more serious problems of functioning democracy elsewhere in the world of course, but even in the industrial West, there is plenty to be concerned about. These are also matters of significance. It’s a matter of significance, for example, that the poorest country in South America, namely Bolivia, had an election, which reached a level of authentic democratic participation that we can’t even dream of. The population was engaged. Majority issues were serious. People know what the issues were. They had been struggling about for years, not just on voting day. They elected someone from the own ranks who was committed to significant issues that the majority of the population decided were their own. That really doesn’t happen in Western election, certainly not in U.S. elections. Those are the things we should be concerned about too.


Recorded on: March 21, 2008

The West, as aggressors in the region, have responsibilities, but not rights, Chomsky says.

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