- Noam Chomskyworld-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years.
In this web-only exclusive, MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky talks about the past 60 years of U.S.-Iranian relations since the 1953 coup organized by the CIA. “The crucial fact about Iran, which we should begin with, is that for the past 60 years not a day has passed in which the U.S. has not been torturing Iranians,” Chomsky says. “It began with a military coup which overthrew the parliamentary regime in 1953.”
See the full interview with Chomsky today:
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AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest is Noam Chomsky. Noam, if you could talk about Iran now and what the conflict in Syria means for Iran and what the U.S. could do to, overall, change the dynamics of the Middle East?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, what’s the crucial fact about Iran, which we should begin with, is that for the past 60 years, not a day has passed in which the U.S. has not been torturing Iranians. That’s 60 years, right now. Began with a military coup, which overthrew the parliamentary regime in 1953, installed the Shah, a brutal dictator. Amnesty International described him as one of the worst, most extreme torturers in the world, year after year. When he was overthrown in 1979, the U.S. almost immediately turned to supporting Saddam Hussein in an assault against Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, used extensive use of chemical weapons. Of course, at the same time, Saddam attacked his Kurdish population with horrible chemical weapons attacks. The U.S. supported all of that. The Reagan administration even tried to—succeeded in preventing a censure of Iraq. The United States essentially won the war against Iran by its support for Iraq. It immediately—Saddam Hussein was a favorite of the Reagan and first Bush administration, to such an extent that George H.W. Bush, the first Bush, right after the war, 1989, invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production. That’s the country that had devastated Iran, horrifying attack and war. Right after that, Iran was subjected to harsh sanctions. And it continues right until the moment. So we now have a 60-year record of torturing Iranians. We don’t pay attention to it, but you can be sure that they do, with good reason. That’s point number one.
Why the assault against Iran? We’re back to the Mafia principle. In 1979, Iranians carried out an illegitimate act: They overthrew a tyrant that the United States had imposed and supported, and moved on an independent path, not following U.S. orders. That conflicts with the Mafia doctrine, by which the world is pretty much ruled. Credibility must be maintained. The godfather cannot permit independence and successful defiances, in the case of Cuba. So, Iran has to be punished for that.
The current pretext is that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Well, as The New York Times reports that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, U.S. intelligence, on the other hand, doesn’t know. They say maybe they are. If—and according to U.S. intelligence, its regular reports to Congress, if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, it would be part of their deterrence strategy—that is, part of their strategy to defend themselves from external attack. As U.S. intelligence points out, Iran has very little ability to deploy force. It’s low military expenditures even by regional standards, but it does have a deterrence strategy—and with good reason. It’s surrounded by nuclear powers, which are backed by the United States and have refused to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty, the three of them. Israel, India and Pakistan all developed nuclear weapons with U.S. assistance. India and Israel continue to maintain—have a substantial U.S. support for their nuclear weapons programs and other programs, such as the occupation of part of Syria in violation of Security Council orders. And Iran is constantly threatened. The United States and Israel, two major nuclear powers—I mean, one a superpower, the other a regional superpower—are constantly threatening Iran with attack, threatening Iran with attack every day. Again, that’s a violation of the U.N. Charter, which bans the threat or use of force, but the U.S. is self-immunized from international law, and its clients inherit that right. So Iran is under constant threat. It’s surrounded by hostile nuclear states. It—and maybe is developing a deterrent capacity. We don’t know. New York Times knows, but intelligence doesn’t. That’s the pretext.
Is there anything you can do? And we might ask ourselves who—the United States regards Iran as what’s called “the gravest threat to world peace.” That was the press report after the presidential debate, the final presidential debate on foreign policy, and pretty accurately describing the consensus, the agreement between Obama and Romney on the threats in the Middle East: Iran’s is the greatest threat to world peace, greatest threat in the region, because of its nuclear programs. That’s the U.S. position. What is the position of the world? Well, it’s easy to find out. Most of the countries of the world belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, which had in fact just had its regular meeting in Tehran, in Iran. And once again, it vigorously supported—vigorously supported—Iran’s right to enrich uranium as a signer of the Nonproliferation Treaty, unlike Israel and India. That’s the Non-Aligned Movement.
Now, what about the Arab world? Well, in the Arab world, Iran is disliked, very severely disliked. Tensions go back many centuries. But it’s not regarded as a threat. They don’t like it, but they don’t regard it as a threat. A very small percentage in the Arab world regard Iran as a threat, let alone the gravest threat to world peace. In the Arab world, they do recognize threats, serious threats: the United States and Israel. That’s shown by poll after poll, polls taken by the leading Western polling agencies. Here, the reporting is that the Arabs support the United States on Iran. But the reference is not to the Arab populations, which are considered irrelevant, but to the dictators. One of the most extreme dictatorships, and the most important one from the U.S. point of view, is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world. It’s also a missionary state. It’s expending huge efforts—has been for many years—to disseminate its extremist Wahhabi-Salafi version of Islam, all with U.S. backing. It’s a dictatorship, no Arab Spring there. And the dictators, there and in other Arab emirates, probably do support U.S. policy on Iran. And for the U.S. and U.S. media and U.S. commentary, it’s enough for the dictators to support us. It doesn’t matter what the population thinks. Well, that’s the Arab world. And the same is true in the rest of the world. The obsession with Iran is a U.S. obsession, maybe draws in some of its allies.
Final question about Iran is: What can you do about the alleged threat? Well, there are things that can be done. So, for example, in 2010, there was a solution reached to the problem of Iranian nuclear programs. There was an agreement between Iran, Turkey and Brazil for Iran to ship its—all of its uranium resources to another country, to Turkey, for storage. It wouldn’t develop—enrich uranium further. And in return, the West would provide Iran with the isotopes it needs for its nuclear—for its medical reactors. OK, that was the deal. As soon as that deal was announced, it was bitterly condemned by President Obama, by the press, by Congress—harsh condemnations of Brazil, particularly, and Turkey for agreeing to this. And Obama quickly rushed through harsher sanctions. The Brazilian foreign minister was rather irritated by this, and he released to the press a letter from President Obama in which Obama had suggested exactly this program to Brazil. He obviously had suggested it on the assumption that Iran would never accept it, and then there would be another propaganda point. Well, Iran did accept it, so therefore Brazil had to be and Turkey had to be partially condemned, and threatened, in fact, for implementing the policy that Obama had suggested. That could be reinstituted, maybe—maybe some modification of that. That would be one way to approach it.
There’s a much broader way. For years, since 1974—
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we have two minutes.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. There has been a proposal since 1974 to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. That would be the best way to mitigate, maybe end, whatever threat Iran is alleged to pose. And that has enormous international support, such enormous support that the U.S. has been compelled to formally agree, but to add that it just can’t be done. That is a very live issue right now. Last December, there was to be a conference in Helsinki, Finland, an international conference to carry this proposal forward. Israel announced it would not attend. Iran announced early November that it would attend the conference, with no conditions. At that point, Obama called off the conference. No Helsinki conference. The reason that the U.S. gave was, verbatim almost, the Israeli reason: We cannot have a nuclear weapons agreement until there is a general regional peace settlement. And that’s not going to happen as long as the U.S. continues to block a diplomatic settlement in Israel-Palestine, as it’s been doing for 35 years. So that’s where we stand.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we want to thank you so much for spending this time with us on this very important day, today, September 11th. There have been a number of September 11ths—the horror of September 11, 2001, of course, 12 years ago, and September 11, 1973, in Chile, as Noam Chomsky pointed, as we have been broadcasting about over the last few days and years. And you can go to our website for our special page on this 40th anniversary of the coup against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende.