Monday, January 21, 2008

Action, Motive, Distraction, and Nukes in Politics. An Interview With the Iranian Press.

The following is the text of an e-mail interview with Iranian Press TV (

(UPDATE NOTE, Jan. 29, 2008: Contrary to my insistence that this e-mail interview be published in full, if at all, Iranian Press TV published a version that cut all my criticisms of the Iranian rulers.)

Questions by Press TV. Answers by Allan Nairn.

1- Press TV (Iran) : The US troops say they have resorted to ‘precision bombing’ in Iraq. What exactly is precision bombing? Could you please elaborate?

Allan Nairn: Precision bombing is more accurate bombing that purports to kill fewer civilians. The Washington Post (January 17, 2008) paraphrases US Air Force General Gary L. North as saying that US forces in Iraq are doing precision bombing, "using 250-pound GBU-39 small-diameter bombs to make blasts safer for civilians." But in fact, precision bombing probably ultimately increases the civilian death toll because by making each bomb-drop more legitimate back home (eg. some US human rights people defend it) it increases the likelihood that there will be more bomb-drops, and even the most ardent precision bombers admit that their 250-pound weapons do kill civilians.

2- Press TV (Iran): The so-called US war on terror has turned Iraq into a graveyard. Why is it that the international community has done nothing to stop quixotic Mr Bush?

Allan Nairn: The US government bears prime responsibility for the illegal invasion of Iraq and the mass killing that that invasion helped touch off, but the government of Iran has blood on its hands as well. By backing militias that kill civilians in Iraq, the Tehran regime is also committing murder.

I wouldn't call Bush quixotic. Don Quixote was an idealist who wanted to help people, but had delusions. Bush is a cynical ruler -- like so many -- who acts above the murder laws.

Today's world is still so lawless and uncivilized that the international community tends to only stop or punish minor and/or defeated murdering powers. The US, as the biggest power, is the least constrained, but many others also get away with murder. The International Criminal Court, for example, has had to start by going after isolated killer forces like the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda. When they recently tried to do prosecutions re. Darfur -- and Sudan is hardly a major power -- they were stopped from doing so by Russia and China, which invest in Sudan.

There are many practical reasons for the world's failure to enforce the murder laws on high officials. One is that many regular people have yet to assimilate the idea that their rulers have no more right to commit murder than they do. Another, on a political-mechanical level is the UN Security Council. The original holders of the atom bomb have veto power, so, naturally, they block UN action against themselves and their clients. A more democratic UN structure -- based on criteria other than bomb-holding -- would be a step in the right direction

3- Press TV (Iran): What do you think is the main motivation of US troops to stay on in Iraq? Is it only because they intend to expropriate the Iraqi national wealth or is there some other grand plan?

Allan Nairn: In politics, motive is almost always a secondary or tertiary question. What matters most is what you do, not why you do it. Figuring out motivation can, in theory, be useful for planning effective political action, but it is often very difficult and speculative, and the US in Iraq is an example.

The different players in the US decision to invade and stay probably had a mix of motivations. I think that primary among them was that, after Afghanistan, Bush wanted to keep the war excitement going. His father, remember, lost his reelection bid after his politically popular victory in the so-called First Gulf War, but by the time the US election came around people had already essentially forgotten about it. (It is an ancient tactic for rulers to distract their people with war or war-talk; I think Ahmadinejad blusters and provokes so much in part to distract Iran's poor from economic suffering).

So I think Bush and Cheney wanted to invade somewhere new -- they just had to decide which country -- and since the broad rationale with the US public was still 9-11 revenge it essentially had to be a Muslim country. (See the posting on my blog , News and Comment,, for Thomas L. Friedman's revealing comments on this; Wednesday, November 28, 2007, "Thomas L. Friedman and the Bali Bombers. Cold-Blooded Celebrity.").

Even before the Afghan invasion the US actually considered, at the highest level, small-scale, simultaneous invasions of Yemen, Somalia, Malaysia, the Philippines (presumably the southern, Muslim, part), and Indonesia ( See Bob Woodward's Bush At War, 2002, Simon & Schuster, p. 90). It was a bizarre proposal, advanced by White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, since Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia -- particularly the latter two -- were US intelligence/ military associates, and it would have been impossible to choose even remotely plausible targets for attack in either Malaysia or Indonesia. But it just goes to show that some key US officialdom was, at that moment, itching to invade some Muslims. (Over time, US attack policy is cold-blooded and ecumenical, but in that historical moment bin Laden, who was in part apparently seeking to provoke a religious war, in part, temporarily, did have some success).

Why the US chose Iraq as the target is a complex, somewhat mysterious, question, and it was obviously a very bad choice, from the US establishment point of view, and the US establishment, led by figures like Gen. Brent Scowcroft -- Bush I's old right-hand-man, has been giving Bush II grief about it ever since. In choosing to invade Iraq they discarded the formula that the establishment had successfully developed post-Vietnam: if you're going to invade, choose only weak, defenseless targets (eg. Grenada, Panama), use a minimum of US ground troops, and be sure to get them out within weeks, before domestic and international opposition builds.

One factor seems to have been that Bush and Cheney were almost willfully misinformed and deluded about Iraq. They may have thought it would be quick and easy (easy in the ruler's terms, that is -- perhaps thousands dead, but power is seized quickly and the ruler wins), though many in Washington were thinking otherwise.

I don't think oil or expropriating the Iraqui national wealth was a primary factor in the decision to invade or to stay. There were people like Wolfowitz who were saying Iraqui oil will pay for the invasion , which he claimed would be quick and easy. And there were some old-fashioned strategists who thought: lets get the Iraqui oil in order to control it.

But the US oil companies were against the invasion -- they don't like instability in the oil region, and if the Wolfowitz claim of greatly increased Iraqui oil production had come true, that would have dropped the world oil price, which they wouldn't want.

And the seize-the-oil strategists were working on assumptions from an older world. In today's world of global markets your worst enemy will sell you all the oil you want (remember, the whole point of the Bush I - Clinton sanctions against Iraq was that Saddam wanted to sell his oil on the world market, but the US wouldn't let him), at prices set by the world market. Actions like the old OPEC oil embargo would be nearly impossible today given the newer sources of production (eg., the North Sea, Russia -- which wasn't on the world market then, etc.). And the idea that the US could use seized Iraqui oil as leverage against Europe and Japan is also implausible. They could go elsewhere for supply, and the politico/economic disruption caused by such a move would likely outweigh imagined benefits. I think there are many US strategists who recognize these newer realities, so the advice coming up to Bush would have been mixed.

As it turns out, ironically, the invasion has been a boon for the oil companies, sending oil prices skyward. But thats not what they expected.

And, for the US government the invasion has been extremely costly. Whatever wealth they extract from Iraq is outweighed by the vast daily expenditure on the occupation.

I think that, as often, political, even whimsical emotional factors were paramount, not material ones. In fact, if you look back at the list of recent-era US-invaded countries they include some of the world's poorest places: Afghanistan, Haiti, Nicaragua, etc. And Vietnam was no treasure-trove.

So why do they stay in Iraq? My guess is because they're stuck there. It would be embarrassing to pull out, especially if the US-backed Iraqui regime then fell, and cynical rulers are frequently willing to keep on causing death -- even of their own people -- in order to avoid embarrassment.

4- Press TV (Iran): The US government has proved to be a threat to world peace by attacking Iraq and Afghanistan and exacting an inconceivable number of human casualties. Yet, they accuse Iran of jeopardising the security in the region. What is your opinion in this regard?

Allan Nairn: Both the US and Iran are ruled by murderers, its just that those of the US are more powerful and reach around the globe. So the US government is correct when it says Iran is a threat to security and the Iranian government is correct when it says the same re. the US (though both often lie and exaggerate about the details). Just because a person is a murderer, that doesn't mean everything they say is incorrect. Both the US and Iran should get out of Iraq militarily and stop backing foreign killer forces.

5- Press TV (Iran): Do you think there is any possibility of any US attack on Iran?

Allan Nairn: Who knows? I doubt that Bush himself has decided. But you probably can't completely rule out the possibility.

There are some in Washington openly agitating for an attack (and I suspect that Ahmadinejad and Khameni want it too), but the bulk of the US establishment is against it. They reasonably argue that it could trigger problems comparable to or worse than Iraq, but Bush isn't required to listen to them.

If it looks like Bush's party -- the US Republicans -- are heading for a bad defeat in November, 2008 -- ie. the election of a Democratic party president and Democratic House and Senate chambers with sufficient majorities to pass Democratic legislation and subpoena, investigate, and maybe even charge with corruption (charging them with murder is politically inconceivable) people from the Bush administration -- then I think Bush and Cheney could be cynical enough to consider invading some country at the last minute to salvage the election (since invasions are usually popular in their early stages).

But Iran would be a foolish target to choose. A tiny, weak, country would make more sense, by their standards. But they already made a foolish choice re. Iraq, so you never know.

I think Iran's leadership is being deeply cynical and irresponsible on the whole nuclear issue. If they are developing or keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons they should stop. And even if they are merely developing nuclear energy, they should stop that too.

Each new nuclear weapon makes the world a more dangerous place. Nuclear deterrence theory -- developed by the US Dr. Strangeloves at MIT, the Rand Corporation, the Hudson Institute, and elsewhere -- says that having the bomb discourages other countries from attacking you, and though that is probably true in the short-term, micro sense, over time as the weapons build up and proliferate it becomes all but inevitable that control, discipline, and/or rational calculation will at some point fail (it almost happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis, back when only a few countries had the bomb) and nuclear bombs will start going off, including in countries that ostensibly were merely seeking protection.

Nuclear energy is also a bad idea. Iran's leadership is foolish -- or worse -- to follow in the footsteps of countries like the US -- and , especially, France -- which have developed complexes of nuclear plants that generate endless, eternal, toxic byproducts, expose citizens to the risk of catastrophic accident (see Chernobyl, Three Mile Island), to the risk of catastrophic military or terrorist attack (you're voluntarily, stupidly, creating devastating targets for your enemies to hit), which require totalitarian levels of security and secrecy that have a bad effect on politics, and that make energy production still more dependent on vast infusions of concentrated capital, often foreign.

If the reports that say Iran is doing nuclear energy for prestige are true, that is a pathetic reason. It would seem far better for the people and perhaps, in the long run, maybe even more prestigious, to invest the country's brainpower in developing safer, more rational alternative energy sources, especially since given oil prices and geological oil supply questions there's a fast-rising world market demand for such alternative technologies. How would Iran look -- and profit -- if it made breakthroughs in solar energy?

Even on a more mundane, immediate level, if Iran wants to address energy problems, it would seem to economically make more sense to address its gasoline refining bottlenecks rather than wastefully and dangerously diving into the nuclear morass.

But, of course, if Iran did that it would make it harder for Bush and Ahmadinejad to trade bluster, and that would be less fun for both rulers, though better for both peoples.

(Parenthetically, its worth noting that though the US still has a lot of nuclear energy, US nuclear plant expansion was essentially stopped in the 1970s [and has only recently started to revive] in part by a US popular movement that included mass demonstrations against government and corporate policy. Such freedom of speech and assembly [though some are now trying to cut it back] is a very good aspect of the current US system -- hard-won by centuries of popular struggle. I think Iranians will be better off when they succeed in winning similar rights, and Americans will be better off when they start using theirs more again.)

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