Archive for July 2011
By Stephen Gowans
One day last November, assassins on motorbikes drove up to the cars of two of Iran’s nuclear scientists as they were leaving for work and attached bombs to their vehicles. The bombs detonated in seconds, killing Majid Shahriari, a member of the engineering faculty at a Tehran university, and Fereydoon Abbasi, a professor at Shahid Besheshti University.
Last week, in an eerie reprise, Darioush Rezaei, a physics professor working in the field of nuclear chain reactions, was killed in his car. This time by a pair of gunmen on a motorcycle.
Suspicion immediately fell upon the United States, and for good reason. The CIA is running a program to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program by eliminating its nuclear scientists. Until recently, the program has sought to create a brain drain by luring physicists and engineers out of the country.(1) But now it appears that the nuclear scientists who won’t or can’t be lured away are being targeted for elimination – either by assassination or abduction.
Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, was abducted while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and “spirited quickly to the United States.” (2)
It should be recalled that while the United States and its possible partner in the assassinations, Israel, are working to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, both have their own civilian nuclear power industries plus more than a few nuclear weapons.
So why are they adamant about denying Iran what they, themselves, already have?
And just to be clear, what Washington and the Israelis don’t want Iran to have is the capability of processing nuclear fuel at home. While this would allow the Iranians to convert Iran’s vast supplies of uranium into fuel to power a civilian nuclear energy industry, it would also furnish Iran with the means to quickly develop nuclear weapons, something it might want to do if, say, the United States threatened to attack (hardly an improbable scenario).
Denying Iran its own nuclear fuel processing industry has obvious advantages to rich countries.
- They derive profits from the sale of nuclear fuel.
- With their hands on the nuclear fuel spigot, they acquire political leverage over Tehran.
- Iran’s ability to resist US pressure by developing nuclear arms is severely crimped.
The official story on why Iran mustn’t have its own nuclear fuel processing capability is that if Iran can process uranium it can secretly develop nuclear arms. And the country must not be allowed to go nuclear because its president is a Judeophobic madman who, if he gets the chance, will send a barrage of nuclear-tipped missiles hurtling toward Israel to complete what Hitler had left undone.
This view is utter nonsense.
First, the United States would incinerate Iran in a second if Tehran used nuclear weapons against Israel. And if Washington couldn’t do the job, the Israelis, with their own formidable nuclear arsenal, surely would. At best, Iran’s possession of nuclear arms (and it doesn’t have them now and it’s not clear it seeks them) would provide a deterrent against attacks on its own territory.
What’s more, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never promised to “wipe Israel off the map,” as some Western and Israeli political leaders demagogically claim. Instead, he predicted that Israel as a Jewish state would dissolve, as the Soviet Union once did. Hardly the same.
Another view is that Ahmadinejad intends to attack Israel in order to return Palestine to the Palestinians. Except this would turn Palestine into a nuclear wasteland, not what the Palestinians want. And why would Ahmadinejad risk Iran’s nuclear annihilation to advance the Palestinian cause? Sure, Iran is a big booster of the Palestinians, but not to the point of imperilling its own existence.
No, the real reason Washington seeks to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program is to deny the country a means by which it can resist efforts to bring it within the US imperial orbit, that is, to eliminate the threat of Iranian self-defense.
Iran is charting its own course. Its economic policies, which emphasize state-ownership of key sectors of the economy, and the sheltering of manufacturing behind high tariff walls, are an anathema to the ultra-wealthy bankers and investors who dominate US foreign policy and insist that profit-making opportunities be made available to them just as much beyond US borders as within.
As an example of the opportunities that Iran’s nationalist policies deny investors and corporations of rich countries, consider the country’s automobile industry. It operates behind steep tariff walls which allow two domestic firms, both partly government-owned, to absorb 97 percent of all automobile sales in the country. Sales reached 1.6 million units last year. (3) Were Iran’s high tariff barriers toppled, US, European and East Asian automobile manufacturers could add handsomely to their bottom lines.
But a nuclear-armed Iran—even one which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, but has the knowledge and means to quickly develop them—could strongly resist demands made at gunpoint that it turn over its markets, natural resources and enterprises to foreign capital.
Of course, US sophistry holds that that’s not what Washington wants. It’s not seeking economic domination, only a level playing field. The trouble is, asking a Third World country to compete with rich countries on a level playing field is like asking high school football teams to compete in the NFL – without assistance.
Since US foreign policy is all about opening doors to US investors and exporters, and Iranian policy is focussed on using state-ownership, subsidies and tariffs to develop the country’s economy, Washington and Tehran are in conflict. Washington wants Tehran’s economic policy to accommodate the profit-making interests of US banks, corporations and investors, while Tehran fashions its economic policy to accommodate the interests of Iranians.
For Washington, the route to resolving the conflict lies in ushering in a new regime in Tehran, one more attentive to the needs of US capital. It would be pro-foreign investment and committed to free markets, free trade and free enterprise.
Since Iranians don’t seem to be heading in this direction as rapidly as Wall Street would like, Washington hopes to change their minds through sanctions, threats of war, financial isolation, and destabilization, centred on demonization of Iran’s political leadership.
Oh, and abduction and assassination too.
1. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.
2. David E. Sanger, “Scientist heads home, Iran says”, The New York Times, July 14, 2010; Alan Cowell, “Pakistan says Iran scientists in U.S.flees to its embassy”, The New York Times, July 13, 2010.
3. “Iranian car lines keep rolling despite sanctions”, Reuters, June 29, 2011.
By Stephen Gowans
An article by reporter Rory Carroll in last Sunday’s Observer titled “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” has set off a storm of controversy among Chomsky and Chavez supporters.
Some, angry at the leftist intellectual for criticizing the Venezuelan president, demanded an explanation. Chomsky replied that Carroll’s article was “dishonest” and “deceptive.”
But a transcript of the interview—which Chomsky told one blogger did not exist—suggests it is Chomsky, not Carroll, who is dishonest and deceptive.
“Let’s begin with the headline: complete deception,” Chomsky replies to one blogger.
Here’s what Chomsky told the Observer reporter.
Carroll. Finally, professor, the concerns about the concentration of executive power in Venezuela: to what extent might that be undermining democracy in Venezuela?
Chomsky: Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary, and for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two, it’s an assault on democracy (my emphasis).
Carroll: And so in the case of Venezuela is that what’s happening or at risk of happening?
Chomsky: As I said you can debate whether circumstances require it—both internal circumstances and the external threat of attack and so on, so that’s a legitimate debate—but my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.
Earlier in the interview Chomsky told Carroll that, “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure but I think perhaps it is” (my emphasis).
So, Chomsky tells Carroll that concentration of executive power is an assault on democracy, that there’s a tendency toward concentration in Venezuela, and that in his judgment the circumstances don’t require it.
So how is it that the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” is deceptive and dishonest? Granted, Chavez might not be an old friend, at least not in the literal sense, but the Observer headline hardly seems to misrepresent Chomsky’s words.
Now, we can go around in circles about whether Carroll fairly or dishonestly recounted his conversation with Chomsky (though it looks like the dishonesty here isn’t Carroll’s), but anyone who insists that Chomsky didn’t criticize Chavez is going to have to do a fair amount of straw clutching. Yes, the leftist intellectual did criticize Washington in his interview with Carroll, and he did point out all the good that has happened in Venezuela (which Carroll acknowledges in his article.) But so what? That doesn’t negate Chomsky’s open criticism of Chavez — which is what a number of Chavez partisans are agitated about.
The occasion for the interview was Chomsky’s open letter criticizing the detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Affiuni. Affiuni had freed banker Eligio Cedeno in 2009. Cedeno, who had faced corruption charges, immediately fled the country. Chavez denounced the judge as a criminal and demanded that she be jailed for 30 years.
We can debate whether Chavez’s treatment of Affiuni is heavy-handed, but it doesn’t take a high-profile intellectual of Chomsky’s caliber to figure out that the establishment press will use all the ammunition it can lay its hands on to vilify Chavez, and the best ammunition of all is that which comes from the Left. It’s one thing for a US state official to raise concerns about Chavez. You expect it. It’s quite another for a leftist intellectual to do the same.
It might be said that Chomsky didn’t know the Observer would use his criticism to blacken Chavez’s reputation, but that would be dishonest and deceptive. It’s hard to swallow the canard that poor old Noam–whose understanding of the media is second to none–blindly stumbled into an ambush. “I should know by now that I should insist on a transcript with the Guardian, unless it’s a writer I know and trust,” Chomsky lamented.
Media Lens, springing to Chomsky’s defense, noted perspicaciously that ‘the Guardian (the Observer’s sister newspaper) is normally happy to ignore (Chomsky) and his views. But when Chomsky expresses criticism of an official enemy of the West, he suddenly does exist and matter for the Guardian.”
But hadn’t the co-author of Manufacturing Consent figured this out long ago?
I think it would be fair to suppose he has. That he went ahead anyway, and allowed the press to add his criticisms of Chavez to what he himself calls the “vicious, unremitting attack by the United States and the west generally” on Venezuela, could mean one of two things.
Either Chomsky is a press-hound.
Or he’s not as much of a friend of Chavez as Carroll–and a good number of leftists-think.
By Stephen Gowans
Wars have almost always been highly devastating affairs, with dire consequences in ruined and destroyed lives, as well as in the destruction of economies, farms, factories, housing and public infrastructure. While it cannot be said that all people at all times have considered wars to be best avoided, it is safe to say that the humanitarian case against war is overwhelming.
This essay is concerned, not with war in general, but with military interventions. To be sure, military interventions are often inseparable from wars, since they are often the causes of them. But not always. Some occur in the context of wars that are already underway. And some happen without provoking major resistance.
Today, on the left—and even the right—there are many activists who are committed to an anti-war position, but who are more properly said to oppose military intervention. Opposition to war implies, not only opposition to one country initiating a war against another (aggression), but also to using military means to repel an attack (self-defence.) Yet it is highly unlikely that people who say they are against war mean that they are against self-defence. It is more likely that they mean that a military response to a conflict must only occur for valid reasons, and that self-defence is the only valid one.
However, those who have adopted an anti-war position often stress other reasons for opposing military interventions. These include the ideas that:
• Democracy is senior to other considerations and that people should be allowed to resolve internal conflicts free from the meddling of outside forces.
• Institutions and ideologies cannot be successfully imposed on other people and interventions that seek to do so (e.g., bring democracy to another country) are bound to fail.
• International law is a legitimate basis for determining the validity of military interventions and countries ought to abide by it.
In this essay, the arguments will be made that: none of these principles are grounds to oppose military intervention; one of them is empirically insupportable as an absolute statement; the idea that military force ought to be used only in self-defence is indefensible; and that had these principles been adopted as inviolable, a number of interventions that are now widely regarded as progressive and desirable would never have occurred. A case will be made, instead, that some military interventions are valid and that validity depends on whose interests the intervention serves and whether the long-run effects are progressive. By these criteria, NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are not valid, while France’s intervention on the side of the United States in the American Revolution and the Union government’s intervention in the states of the Confederacy in the American Civil War were valid. Also valid were the interventions of the Comintern on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) interventions in Korea (1950) and Tibet (1959), Cuba’s intervention in Angola (1975), and the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan (1979).
Full essay in PDF format: Military Interventions Progressive vs Imperialist