by Noam Chomsky
The dedicated efforts of the Bush administration to take control of Iraq – by war, military coup or some other means – have elicited various analyses of the guiding motives.
Offering one interpretation, Anatol Lieven, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, observes that the Bush administration's efforts conform to "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism" through fear of external enemies.
The administration's goal, Lieven says, is "unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority", which is why much of the world is so frightened.
But the administration has overlooked a simple alternative to invading Iraq. Let Iran do it. Before elaborating on this modest proposal, it's worthwhile to examine the antecedents of Washington's bellicosity.
Ever since the September 11 attacks, Republicans have used the terrorist threat as a pretext to push a right-wing political agenda. For the congressional elections, the strategy has diverted attention from the economy to war. When the presidential campaign begins, Republicans surely do not want people to be asking questions about their pensions, jobs, healthcare and other matters.
Rather, they should be praising their heroic leader for rescuing them from imminent destruction by a foe of colossal power, and marching on to confront the next powerful force bent on our destruction.
September 11 provided an opportunity and pretext to implement long-standing plans to take control of Iraq's immense oil wealth, a central component of the Persian Gulf resources that the State Department in 1945 described as a "stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history".
Control of energy sources fuels US economic and military might, and "strategic power" translates to a lever of world control. A different interpretation is that the administration believes exactly what it says: Iraq has suddenly become a threat to our very existence and to its neighbors.
So we must ensure that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the means for producing them are destroyed, and Saddam Hussein, the monster himself, eliminated. And quickly. The war must be waged this (northern) winter. Next winter will be too late. By then the mushroom cloud that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice predicts may have already consumed us.
Let us assume that this interpretation is correct. If the powers in the Middle East fear Washington more than Saddam, as they apparently do, that just reveals their limited grasp of reality.
It is only an accident that by next winter the US presidential campaign will be under way. How then can we achieve the announced goals? One simple plan seems to have been ignored, perhaps because it would be regarded as insane, and rightly so. But it is instructive to ask why.
The modest proposal is for the US to encourage Iran to invade Iraq, providing the Iranians with the necessary logistical and military support, from a safe distance (missiles, bombs, bases, etc). As a proxy, one pole of "the axis of evil" would take on another.
The proposal has many advantages over the alternatives. First, Saddam will be overthrown – in fact, torn to shreds along with anyone close to him. His weapons of mass destruction will also be destroyed, along with the means to produce them.
Second, there will be no American casualties. True, many Iraqis and Iranians will die. But that can hardly be a concern. Those in US President George W. Bush's circle – many of them recycled Reaganites – strongly supported Saddam after he attacked Iran in 1980, quite oblivious to the enormous human cost, either then or under the subsequent sanctions regime.
Saddam is likely to use chemical weapons. But the current leadership firmly backed the "Beast of Baghdad" when he used chemical weapons against Iran in the Reagan years, and when he used gas against "his own people", the Iraqi Kurds.
The current Washington planners continued to support the Beast after he had committed by far his worst crimes, even providing him with means to develop weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and biological, right up to the Kuwait invasion.
Third, the UN will be no problem. It will be unnecessary to explain to the world that the UN is relevant when it follows US orders, but irrelevant when it doesn't.
Fourth, Iran surely has far better credentials for war-making, and for running a post-Saddam Iraq, than Washington. Unlike the Bush administration, Iran has no record of support for the murderous Saddam and his program of weapons of mass destruction.
Fifth, the liberation will be greeted with enthusiasm by much of the population, far more so than if Americans invade. People will cheer on the streets of Basra and Karbala, and we can join Iranian journalists in hailing the nobility and just cause of the liberators.
Sixth, Iran can move towards instituting "democracy". The majority of the population is Shi'ite, and Iran would have fewer problems than the US in granting them some say in a successor government. There will be no problem in gaining access to Iraqi oil.
Granted, the modest proposal that Iran liberate Iraq is insane. Its only merit is that it is far more reasonable than the plans now being implemented – or it would be, if the administration's professed goals had any relation to the real ones.
Noam Chomsky is an internationally renowned Professor of Linguistics at MIT, and is America's leading dissident intellectual. He is the author of many books, including most recently 9-11 (Seven Stories Press, 2001), A New Generation Draws the Line (Verso, 2000), The New Military Humanism (Common Courage, 1999), and The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians (South End Press, new edition 1999).