Socialist Worker

Noam Chomsky writes

Issue No. 1819

'Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. The US wants to restore this enormous prize to its control'

'Saddam Hussein ranks with former Indonesian president Suharto and other monsters of the modern era. No one would want to be within his reach. Fortunately his reach does not extend very far. His worst crimes have been domestic, including a slaughter of Kurds in the 1980s, barbaric torture, and every other ugly crime you can imagine.

'The crimes were well known, but were of no particular concern to the West. The Reaganites and George Bush Sr continued to welcome him as an ally and valued trading partner right throughout the 1980s. Bush authorised loan guarantees and sale of advanced technology with clear applications for weapons of mass destruction right up to the day of the Kuwait invasion.

'Britain was still authorising export of military equipment and radioactive materials a few days after the invasion. Saddam had even been able to get away with attacking a US naval vessel, the USS Stark, killing several dozen crewmen. That is a mark of real esteem. The only other country to have been granted that privilege was Israel in 1967. Saddam now can't be anywhere near as dangerous as he was when the US and Britain were supporting him.

'The 1991 war was extremely destructive, and since then Iraq has been devastated by a decade of sanctions. They probably strengthened Saddam himself by weakening possible resistance in a shattered society, but reduced very significantly his capacity for warmaking or support for terror. The events of 11 September weakened him still further. If there were any links between Saddam and Al Qaida, they would be far more difficult to maintain now because of the sharply intensified surveillance and controls. Despite enormous efforts to tie Saddam to the 11 September attacks, nothing has been found.

'If Saddam is such a threat to the survival of civilisation today that the global enforcer has to resort to war, why wasn't that true a year ago and in early 1990? The main Security Council resolution concerning Iraq (number 687 in 1991) calls for eliminating weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems from the Middle East, and working towards a global ban on chemical weapons.

'Good advice. Iraq is nowhere near the lead in holding weapons of mass destruction. We might recall the warning of General Lee Butler, head of Clinton's Strategic Command in the early 1990s: 'It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and inspires other nations to do so.' He's talking about Israel of course.

'The Israeli military authorities claim to have air and armoured forces that are larger and more advanced than those of any European NATO power. Israel is virtually an offshore US military base. The rest of the area is armed to the teeth.

'If Iraq were governed by the most Gandhi-like of leaders it would be developing weapons systems if it could. That would very likely continue if the US takes control of Iraq. India and Pakistan are US allies, but are marching forward with the development of weapons of mass destruction and have come agonisingly close to using nuclear weapons. The same is true of other US allies and clients. That is likely to continue unless there is a general reduction of armaments in the area. Would Saddam agree to that? We don't know.

'In early January 1991 Iraq apparently offered to withdraw from Kuwait in the context of regional negotiations on reduction of armaments, an offer that State Department officials described as serious and negotiable. The US rejected it without response, and the press reported virtually nothing. The invasion of Kuwait is not very different from one of the footnotes to US crimes - the invasion of Panama a few months earlier.

'The US could veto Security Council resolutions condemning its invasion. The US could probably get UN Security Council authorisation for an invasion of Iraq. The 'international community' in practice means the US and whoever will go along with it.

'Weapons inspectors in Iraq can be fooled. However, the weapons inspections were vastly more effective than bombing in destroying Iraq's military capacities, and appear to have been largely successful. And when was the last time there was a meaningful (or any) international inspection of Israel's nuclear and (probably) chemical weapons facilities? Or those of the US? Inspection regimes should be established and universalised.

'The inspections in the 1990s were used as a cover for spying on Iraq, with the open intent of overthrowing the regime. In 1998 Clinton withdrew the inspectors in preparation for bombing - acts that have been reconstructed in propaganda as Iraqi expulsion of the inspectors. Since then Washington has been insisting that even if Iraq accepts the most intrusive inspections by US spies seeking to prepare the ground for invasion it will not make any difference.

'One reason why Washington forced out the highly respected director of the UN Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Jose Bustani, was that he was seeking to arrange inspections of chemical weapons in Iraq, thus interfering with Washington's efforts to prevent weapons inspections.

'The hypocrisy was particularly stunning after the Bush administration undermined the chemical and biological weapons conventions by refusing at the last minute to ratify enforcement procedures. The planned invasion of Iraq will strike another blow at the structure of international law and treaties.

'An invasion is likely to encourage other countries to develop weapons of mass destruction and to lower the barriers against resort to force by others to achieve their objectives, including Russia, India and China. No one has a clue how the people of Iraq will react to an invasion. One can imagine a delightful scenario. A few bombs fall. The Republican Guard rebel and overthrow Saddam. Crowds cheer as US soldiers march in while the band plays 'God Bless America'.

'The people hail the liberator, who proceeds to turn Iraq into an image of US democracy and a modernising centre for the entire region - one that produces just enough oil to keep the price within the range that the US prefers. And Santa Claus smiles benignly from his sleigh. One can easily imagine rather more grim outcomes.

'There are longstanding background reasons propelling this war. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. It has always been likely that the US would try to restore this enormous prize to Western control, meaning US control. Then 11 September offered new opportunities to pursue these goals under the pretext of a 'war on terror'. The planned war can serve immediate domestic needs as well. The Bush administration is carrying out an assault against the general population and future generations in the interest of narrow sectors of wealth and power.

'Under those circumstances it is surely advisable to divert attention away from healthcare, social security, destruction of the environment, development of new weapons systems that may threaten survival, and a long list of other unwelcome topics. The traditional device is to terrify the population. It doesn't take much skill to evoke an image of Saddam Hussein as the ultimate force of evil about to destroy the world.

'The small group running the US state believe they have such overwhelming force at their command that it doesn't really matter much what others think. When Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited the US in April a top US official explained that 'if he thought we were strong in Desert Storm, we're ten times as strong today. This was to give him some idea what Afghanistan demonstrated about our capabilities.' Resort to large-scale violence has highly unpredictable consequences, as history reveals and common sense should tell us anyway. That's why sane people avoid it.'

This is an edited version of an interview with the anti-capitalist magazine Zmag. The full interview will appear in the near future on


Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge Said Aburish - £7.99
The End of the Peace Process Edward Said - New edition £9.99
Rogue State William Blum - £9.99
Israel: The Hijack State John Rose - £2
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Sat 28 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1819
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