First Published: 2006-12-26

Noam Chomsky Comments on the Iraq Study Group Report

What matters is the opinion of Iraqis. If there is remaining doubt, the question of withdrawal should be submitted to a referendum, conducted under international supervision to minimize coercion by the occupying forces and their Iraqi clients, says Noam Chomsky .


Middle East Online

[Interview by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi]

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: What is your reaction to the Iraq Study Group's Report?.

Noam Chomsky: One notable feature of the Report is its lack of concern for the will of the Iraqi people. The authors surely are aware of the polls that reveal that 2/3 of the population of Baghdad want US troops to be withdrawn immediately, that 70% of all Iraqis want a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less, that 80% believe that the US presence increases violence, and that almost the same percentage believe that the US intends to keep permanent military bases. But the implicit assumption is that policy should be designed for US government interests, not those of Iraqis; or Americans, also ignored. There is also no inquiry into those guiding interests, or why the US invaded, or why it fears to allow a sovereign and more or less democratic Iraq, though the answers are not hard to find.

The proposals are in part a wish list (Wouldn't it be convenient if Syria and Iran would help us?), and in part limited by crucial qualifications -- for example, withdrawal of combat troops "not needed for force protection," though they will be needed, if only because US trainers embedded in Iraqi units will be at risk in a country where 60% approve of attacks on US soldiers. The US will also retain control over logistics, and deployments in and around Iraq as well as air power will permit force projection on White House orders. President Bush is urged to declare that the US does not intend to keep military bases, but there is no call for their construction to cease, so such a declaration is not likely to be taken seriously by Iraqis, just as they dismiss fashionable Western claims about "democracy promotion." The Report recommends reorganizing "the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise," but does not elaborate on what this implies, presumably to deflect obvious questions about the goals of the invasion. In general, the Report adopts standard imperial doctrine; the interests of the victims are at best secondary; tactical adjustments are designed to enhance the goals of the conquerors.

KA: Do you concur with the report's conclusion that sectarian conflict is the principal cause of violence in Iraq?

NC: The claim begs the most important question: What is the source of the sectarian conflict? There is a good reason why the Nuremberg Tribunal determined that aggression is "the supreme international crime," differing from others in that it encompasses all of the evil that follows.

KA: The report points at the connectedness of the Iraq crisis with the Arab-Israeli conflict, recommending a more spirited US role regarding the latter. What are the chances that this will happen?

NC: The Report refers to Bush's "commitment to a two-state solution," failing to mention that Bush rejects this long-standing international consensus even more strongly than his predecessors, who, with only occasional departures, have blocked it (with Israel) for 30 years. In Bush's version, Israel will annex valuable lands and major resources (particularly water), leaving the remnants dismembered by infrastructure project and other modalities, and imprisoned as Israel takes over the Jordan valley.

The Report calls for direct talks for Palestinians who "accept Israel's right to exist" (an absurd demand) but does not restrict Israelis to those who accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist, which would, for example, exclude Israel's Prime Minister Olmert, who received a rousing ovation in Congress when he declared that Israel's historic right to the land from Jordan to the sea is beyond question.

The proposals offer little hope for a reversal of long-standing US-Israeli rejectionism, which in fact reached its peak with Baker's endorsement of the Shamir-Peres rejection of any "additional" Palestinian state in 1989 (Jordan by implication being a Palestinian state), in response to the formal endorsement by the PLO of the international consensus.

KA: In your opinion, do the sum of report's 79 recommendations muster to the point of causing a "change in the primary mission" of US forces in Iraq, as claimed in the report?

NC: That would be an exaggeration, I think.

KA: Do you agree with the report's call for engaging Iran and Syria on Iraq?

NC: That makes sense, but the primary commitment should be to engage the people of Iraq on Iraq's future.

KA: What steps are necessary by the United States to address the "Iraq crisis" in light of experts' warning that an immediate US pullout will exacerbate instability in Iraq to the point of a full-fledged civil war and the country's disintegration?

NC: We are all entitled to our uninformed speculations, including those whose "expertise" is demonstrated by the catastrophic military failure in Iraq. But what matters is the opinion of Iraqis. If there is remaining doubt, the question of withdrawal should be submitted to a referendum, conducted under international supervision to minimize coercion by the occupying forces and their Iraqi clients. There are no mechanical formulas in human affairs, but this should certainly be a guiding principle in cases of aggression.

KA: Is Iraq's break-up inevitable at this point?

NC: Nothing is inevitable. However, whatever one thinks of its desirability, this outcome would probably not be tolerated by the occupying power or the states of the region, and might lead to regional war.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi is the director of Global Interfaith Peace.

Copyright ©2006 Kaveh Afrasiabi


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