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Noam Chomsky: What danger are we in, even if Iran does get a nuclear weapon?

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In our final excerpt from the critically acclaimed book 'Targeting Iran', author David Barsamian interviews MIT professor Noam Chomsky on his views about U.S aggression towards Iran. Chomsky is perhaps the most recognised voice of the true left, and his analysis of International affairs are widely regarded as some of the most important in modern history.


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Click to read part 1 and 2 of the excerpts.

DB: A report in late January 2006 in the Los Angeles Times, titled “57% Back a Hit on Iran if Defiance Persists,” shows that support for military action against Iran has increased over the last year even though public sentiment is running against the war in Iraq. Is that a paradox?

NC: No, it’s not a paradox. In fact, there are figures and polls that look like paradoxes. So, for example, take Iraq. I’ve forgotten the exact numbers, but a fairly large percentage, maybe two-thirds of the population, thinks it would have been wrong to invade Iraq if it had no weapons of mass destruction; and even if it had an intention to do so, it would have been wrong to invade. On the other hand, about half thought it was right to invade Iraq even though the fact that they had no weapons of mass destruction had been officially conceded long before and the public knows it. That looks like a direct contradiction. But Steven Kull, the director of the institute that runs the polls—the Program on International Policy Attitudes which is the major one—pointed out that it’s not really a contradiction. People still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, even though it’s been officially conceded that they don’t.
What does that mean? He didn’t go into it, but what it means is that the government–media propaganda campaign was extremely effective in instilling fear. People think they’re defending themselves. Even if it’s already been conceded that the threat was not there, and maybe concocted, the fear still remains. And it’s the same with Iran. If you read enough of those articles you cited, you will think we’re in mortal danger if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. What danger are we in, even if Iran does get a nuclear weapon? They’re not going to use it except as a deterrent. If there were even an indication that they were planning to use it, the country would be vaporized. So it’s there for a deterrent. But people can be frightened by massive propaganda. It’s not a surprise.....

Take a classic example, Germany. Under the Weimar Republic, Germany was the most civilized country in the world, the leader in the sciences and the arts. Within two or three years it had been turned into a country of raving maniacs by extensive propaganda—which, incidentally, was explicitly borrowed from Anglo-American commercial propaganda. And it worked. It frightened Germans. They thought they were defending themselves against the Jews, against the Bolsheviks. And you know what happened next. It can be done. And it was done to an extent in the U.S., as well, by very effective propaganda.
You’re seeing it again today. So, for example, just do a media search and find out how often it has even been mentioned that when Iran began enriching uranium again, it was after the Europeans had rejected their side of the bargain, namely, to provide firm guarantees on security issues. That means no guarantees that Iran will not be attacked, which is no trivial matter. Of course, when one partner to a bargain backs down, we expect the other to back down in reaction. Ask if that has been mentioned once in the media in the U.S. anywhere. It’s not that the press doesn’t know it. Of course they know it. At least, if they read the international business press they know it. For example, in mid-January [2006] there was a very good article about it by Selig Harrison in the Financial Times, the leading business paper of the world. You think they didn’t read it at the New York Times news desk or editorial board? Sure they read it. But that’s not the kind of thing you report. I don’t have the facilities to do a search, but I’d be willing to bet that that’s not even been mentioned in the mainstream in the United States.

DB: Or that Iran is virtually surrounded by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf.

NC: If that were mentioned, which it may be, it’s because we’re defending ourselves, just like Hitler was defending himself against the Jews.

DB: Has anyone ever done research on the real cost of oil to the U.S. when you factor in Pentagon spending, the ground troops, the naval and air bases in the Middle East, and the stockpiles of WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] and conventional weapons?

NC: I know of only one attempt to do it. It was by Alfred Cavallo, an energy consultant. He did a study—I don’t want to quote the figures from memory, but it was something like, if you count in the military, it amounts to a subsidy of 30 percent of the market price of oil. But it’s not the full story. Military spending and bases may be costly to the American taxpayer, but policy is not designed for the benefit of the population, it’s designed for the benefit of power sectors. And for them it’s useful to dominate the world, by force if necessary. And also don’t forget that Pentagon spending, though it’s a cost to the taxpayer, is profit for the corporations. It depends what you think the country is. If you think the country is its population, yes, it’s a big cost. If you think the country is the people who own the country, no, it’s a gain.
I should say, the same is true of other things, like a lot of concern about the enormous U.S. trade deficit. How we are going to deal with it? Economists tear their hair out. It’s a catastrophe. If you assume that the U.S. consists of its people, yes, there is a huge trade deficit. On the other hand, if you assume that the U.S. consists of the people who own the country, which is more reasonable, the trade deficit goes way down. Then, for example, if Dell is exporting computers from China to the United States, it would be considered U.S. exports, not U.S. imports. And it is from the point of view of the Dell management. Then the trade deficit shoots way down. You can read about that in the Wall Street Journal. It’s not a big secret. The business world understands it. And they don’t say it, of course, but they act, and the New York Times acts, and the government acts, as if the country is the people who own it. And that’s not surprising. They’re among the people who own it, so why shouldn’t they look at it that way? Simply ask yourself how many pages are there in the press devoted to business affairs and how many are devoted to labor? Most of the people in the country are labor, not owners of stock. The ownership of stock is very highly concentrated: the top 1 percent owns maybe half of it, and most people own essentially nothing. The stock market and business affairs are huge issues. But labor affairs doesn’t even have a reporter covering it. That expresses the same comprehension of what the country is.

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