Predator Becomes More Dangerous When Wounded
By Noam Chomsky
11 March, 2007
the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate
themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly
both are enemies, Iran by far the more important. As was the norm during
the cold war, resort to violence is regularly justified as a reaction
to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest of
pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales surface
of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq - a country
otherwise free from any foreign interference - on the tacit assumption
that Washington rules the world.
In the cold war-like mentality
in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the pinnacle in the so-called
Shia crescent that stretches from Iran to Hizbullah in Lebanon, through
Shia southern Iraq and Syria. And again unsurprisingly, the "surge"
in Iraq and escalation of threats and accusations against Iran is accompanied
by grudging willingness to attend a conference of regional powers, with
the agenda limited to Iraq.
Presumably this minimal gesture
toward diplomacy is intended to allay the growing fears and anger elicited
by Washington's heightened aggressiveness. These concerns are given
new substance in a detailed study of "the Iraq effect" by
terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, revealing that
the Iraq war "has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide".
An "Iran effect" could be even more severe.
For the US, the primary issue
in the Middle East has been, and remains, effective control of its unparalleled
energy resources. Access is a secondary matter. Once the oil is on the
seas it goes anywhere. Control is understood to be an instrument of
global dominance. Iranian influence in the "crescent" challenges
US control. By an accident of geography, the world's major oil resources
are in largely Shia areas of the Middle East: southern Iraq, adjacent
regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major reserves of
natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a loose Shia
alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of the
Such a bloc, if it emerges,
might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid based in China. Iran
could be a lynchpin. If the Bush planners bring that about, they will
have seriously undermined the US position of power in the world.
To Washington, Tehran's principal
offence has been its defiance, going back to the overthrow of the Shah
in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the US embassy. In retribution, Washington
turned to support Saddam Hussein's aggression against Iran, which left
hundreds of thousands dead. Then came murderous sanctions and, under
Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic efforts.
Last July, Israel invaded
Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before, US support was a
critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on inspection, and the
consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among the reasons
for the US-Israel invasion is that Hizbullah's rockets could be a deterrent
to a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Despite the sabre-rattling it is, I
suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran. Public
opinion in the US and around the world is overwhelmingly opposed. It
appears that the US military and intelligence community is also opposed.
Iran cannot defend itself against US attack, but it can respond in other
ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings
that are far more grave, among them the British military historian Corelli
Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch
world war three".
Then again, a predator becomes
even more dangerous, and less predictable, when wounded. In desperation
to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters.
The Bush administration has created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq.
It has been unable to establish a reliable client state within, and
cannot withdraw without facing the possible loss of control of the Middle
East's energy resources.
Meanwhile Washington may
be seeking to destabilise Iran from within. The ethnic mix in Iran is
complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There are secessionist
tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to stir them up
- in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is concentrated,
a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.
Threat escalation also serves
to pressure others to join US efforts to strangle Iran economically,
with predictable success in Europe. Another predictable consequence,
presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian leadership to be as repressive
as possible, fomenting disorder while undermining reformers.
It is also necessary to demonise
the leadership. In the west, any wild statement by President Ahmadinejad
is circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But Ahmadinejad has
no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior,
the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US media tend to ignore
Khamenei's statements, especially if they are conciliatory. It's widely
reported when Ahmadinejad says Israel shouldn't exist - but there is
silence when Khamenei says that Iran supports the Arab League position
on Israel-Palestine, calling for normalisation of relations with Israel
if it accepts the international consensus of a two-state settlement.
The US invasion of Iraq virtually
instructed Iran to develop a nuclear deterrent. The message was that
the US attacks at will, as long as the target is defenceless. Now Iran
is ringed by US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Persian
Gulf, and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and Israel, the regional
superpower, thanks to US support.
In 2003, Iran offered negotiations
on all outstanding issues, including nuclear policies and Israel-Palestine
relations. Washington's response was to censure the Swiss diplomat who
brought the offer. The following year, the EU and Iran reached an agreement
that Iran would suspend enriching uranium; in return the EU would provide
"firm guarantees on security issues" - code for US-Israeli
threats to bomb Iran.
Apparently under US pressure,
Europe did not live up to the bargain. Iran then resumed uranium enrichment.
A genuine interest in preventing the development of nuclear weapons
in Iran would lead Washington to implement the EU bargain, agree to
meaningful negotiations and join with others to move toward integrating
Iran into the international economic system.
Noam Chomsky is co-author,
with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign