BY MATTHEW HUTCHINS
Even the most radical conservative can agree with Noam Chomsky on at least one thing. “No one in their right mind wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” But to Chomsky, nonproliferation requires reciprocal action, rather than international condemnation. Chomsky’s reputation as a prolific author of books on subjects including linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, political science, and media might lead one to believe that his views stem from esoteric theoretical arguments, but Chomsky takes a pragmatic view of international relations. His conclusion is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons out of a rational fear for its national safety because of the systematically threatening posture of the United States and Israel.
Speaking at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Saturday, March 6th, Chomsky critiqued the foreign policy of President Obama ’91 and explained the historical reasons that Iran would perceive a need to develop nuclear weapons. “If they’re not developing a nuclear deterrent, they are crazy.” The problem, said Chomsky, is the defiant and hypocritical insistence of the United States on holding the constant threat of military action over Iran as a punishment for its noncompliance with United Nations mandates. “Hostile actions of the United States and its Israeli client are a major factor in Iran’s decisions of whether or not to develop a nuclear deterrent.”
In Chomsky’s eyes, Security Council Resolution 1887, which was strongly endorsed by President Obama, calls upon all nations to peacefully participate in the international regimes for nonproliferation. The resolution encourages nations to develop civilian nuclear technology, while stressing the need for conformity to the IAEA’s inspection system, and Chomsky said that the inclusion of language about peaceful action was primarily directed at the United States and its veiled threats that, “We must keep all options open.” Indeed, with its nuclear missile submarines positioned within striking distance of Iran, Chomsky estimates that there is effectively no chance that Iran would ever use a future nuclear weapon for offensive purposes. But he warned, “The threats do have the effect of inducing Iran to develop a deterrent.”
The escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States is entirely absurd to Chomsky in light of the widespread acceptance of the rights of Iranians to develop civilian nuclear technology. He sees the cult of American Empire in the government’s condemnations of Iran for refusing to follow the demands of the international community, because the definition of “international community” used in such rhetoric amounts to little more than the opinion in Washington, D.C. and among its allies. He cited to the hypocrisy of the U.S. position in its historical relationships with the three nations that did not ratify the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty: Israel, India, and Pakistan. These three nations, said Chomsky, have all received nuclear technology from the United States in violation of security council resolutions, but most Americans would not realize this, given the pro-government bias of the media.
Essentially, Chomsky believes that President Obama’s foreign policy has embodied a continuation of the policies of George W. Bush’s second term in office. But he believes we are fortunate to be living in a time when the anti-war movement is much stronger than it was during the 1960’s. He recalled a demonstration he was involved in during 1965, when state police violently dispersed a crowd from Boston Common. The next day, the Boston Globe, one of the most liberal newspapers in the country, denounced the protesters. Just three years later, following the Tet Offensive, public sentiment had moved enough that protests became common, but he ascribed this to a growing sentiment on Wall Street that the country had paid too high a price in Vietnam. Looking back at the lessons of that war, Chomsky said that the United States had essentially achieved its goal of “innoculating” the region from the domino-theory chain reaction by 1970 by installing dictators in neighboring countries and helping Suharto come to power in Indonesia.
Prize-winning journalist Amy Goodman noted in her introduction of Chomsky that he had played a crucial role in bringing the attention of the world to the oppression of the people of East Timor by Indonesia. She recounted the beatings and massacres she witnessed while traveling there as a journalist, as well as the elation when the nation achieved independence. “This nation of survivors had prevailed. They had resisted, and they had won.” Chomsky, when speaking about activism and civil disobedience, stressed the need for determined persistence. “You’re not going to win tomorrow. You are going to have a lot of defeats, but you have to keep at it.”