Noam Chomsky is
a noted linguist, author and foreign policy
expert. On February 9, Michael Shank
interviewed him on the latest developments in US
policy toward Iran, Iraq, North Korea and
Shank: With similar nuclear developments
in North Korea and Iran, why has the United States
pursued direct diplomacy with North Korea but
refuses to do so with Iran?
Chomsky: To say that the United States has
pursued diplomacy with North Korea is a little bit
misleading. It did under
[Bill] Clinton administration, though neither side
completely lived up to their obligations. Clinton
didn't do what was promised, nor did North Korea,
but they were making progress. So when [George W]
Bush came into the presidency, North Korea had
enough uranium or plutonium for maybe one or two
bombs, but then very limited missile capacity.
During the Bush years it's exploded. The reason
is, he immediately canceled the diplomacy and he's
pretty much blocked it ever since.
made a very substantial agreement in September
2005 in which North Korea agreed to eliminate its
nuclear programs and nuclear development
completely. In return, the United States agreed to
terminate the threats of attack and to begin
moving toward the planning for the provision of a
light-water reactor, which had been promised under
the framework agreement. But the Bush
administration instantly undermined it.
Right away, it canceled the international
consortium that was managing the the
light-water-reactor project, which was a way of
saying we're not going to agree to this agreement.
A couple of days later they started attacking the
financial transactions of various banks. It was
timed in such a way to make it clear that the
United States was not going to move toward its
commitment to improve relations. And of course it
never withdrew the threats. So that was the end of
the September 2005 agreement.
That one is
now coming back, just in the last few days. The
way it's portrayed in the US media is, as usual
with the government's party line, that North Korea
is now perhaps a little more amenable to accept
the September 2005 proposal. So there's some
optimism. If you go across the Atlantic, to The
Financial Times, to review the same events they
point out that an "embattled George W Bush
administration", it's their phrase, needs some
kind of victory, so maybe it'll be willing to move
toward diplomacy. It's a little more accurate, I
think, if you look at the background.
there is some minimal sense of optimism about it.
If you look back over the record - and North Korea
is a horrible place, nobody is arguing about that
- on this issue they've been pretty rational. It's
been a kind of tit-for-tat history. If the United
States is accommodating, the North Koreans become
accommodating. If the United States is hostile,
they become hostile. That's reviewed pretty well
by Leon Sigal, who's one of the leading
specialists on this, in a recent issue of Current
History. But that's been the general picture, and
we're now at a place where there could be a
settlement on North Korea.
less significant for the United States than Iran.
The Iranian issue I don't think has much to do
with nuclear weapons, frankly. Nobody is saying
Iran should have nuclear weapons - nor should
anybody else. But the point in the Middle East, as
distinct from North Korea, is that this is center
of the world's energy resources. Originally the
British and secondarily the French had dominated
it, but after World War II, it's been a US
That's been an axiom of US
foreign policy, that it must control Middle East
energy resources. It is not a matter of access, as
people often say. Once the oil is on the seas, it
goes anywhere. In fact if the United States used
no Middle East oil, it'd have the same policies.
If we went on solar energy tomorrow, it'd keep the
same policies. Just look at the internal record,
or the logic of it: the issue has always been
control. Control is the source of strategic power.
[Vice President] Dick Cheney declared in
Kazakhstan or somewhere that control over a
pipeline is a "tool of intimidation and
blackmail". When we have control over the
pipelines it's a tool of benevolence. If other
countries have control over the sources of energy
and the distribution of energy, then it is a tool
of intimidation and blackmail, exactly as Cheney
said. And that's been understood as far back as
[late US adviser, diplomat, political scientist
and historian] George Kennan and the early postwar
days when he pointed out that if the United States
controls Middle East resources, it'll have veto
power over its industrial rivals. He was speaking
particularly of Japan, but the point generalizes.
So Iran is a different situation. It's
part of the major energy system of the world.
Shank: So when the United
States considers a potential invasion you think
it's under the premise of gaining control? That is
what the United States will gain from attacking
Chomsky: There are
several issues in the case of Iran. One is simply
that it is independent and independence is not
tolerated. Sometimes it's called successful
defiance in the internal record. Take Cuba. A very
large majority of the US population is in favor of
establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and
has been for a long time, with some fluctuations.
And even part of the business world is in favor of
But the government won't allow it.
It's attributed to the Florida vote, but I don't
think that's much of an explanation. I think it
has to do with a feature of world affairs that is
insufficiently appreciated. International affairs
is very much run like the mafia. The godfather
does not accept disobedience, even from a small
storekeeper who doesn't pay his protection money.
You have to have obedience, otherwise the idea can
spread that you don't have to listen to the
orders, and it can spread to important places.
If you look back at the record, what was
the main reason for the US attack on Vietnam?
Independent development can be a virus that can
infect others. That's the way it's been put,
[former secretary of state Henry] Kissinger in
this case, referring to [Salvador] Allende in
Chile. And with Cuba it's explicit in the internal
record. Arthur Schlesinger, presenting the report
of the Latin American Study Group to incoming
president [John] Kennedy, wrote that the danger is
the spread of the [Fidel] Castro idea of taking
matters into your own hands, which has a lot of
appeal to others in the same region that suffer
from the same problems. Later internal documents
charged Cuba with successful defiance of US
policies going back 150 years - to the Monroe
Doctrine - and that can't be tolerated. So there's
kind of a state commitment to ensuring obedience.
Going back to Iran, it's not only that it
has substantial resources and that it's part of
the world's major energy system, but it also
defied the United States. The United States, as we
know, overthrew the parliamentary government,
installed a brutal tyrant, was helping him develop
nuclear power. In fact the very same programs that
are now considered a threat were being sponsored
by the US government, by Cheney, [Paul] Wolfowitz,
Kissinger and others in the 1970s, as long as the
shah was in power. But then the Iranians overthrew
him, and they kept US hostages for several hundred
days. And the United States immediately turned to
supporting Saddam Hussein and his war against Iran
as a way of punishing Iran. The United States is
going to continue to punish Iran because of its
defiance. So that's a separate factor.
again, the will of the US population and even US
business is considered mostly irrelevant.
Seventy-five percent of the population here favors
improving relations with Iran, instead of threats.
But this is disregarded. We don't have polls from
the business world, but it's pretty clear that the
energy corporations would be quite happy to be
given authorization to go back into Iran instead
of leaving all that to their rivals. But the state