A Predator Becomes More Dangerous When Wounded

by Noam Chomsky

In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to
subordinate themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria.
Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important. As was the
norm during the cold war, resort to violence is regularly justified as a
reaction to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest
of pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales
surface of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq - a country
otherwise free from any foreign interference - on the tacit assumption that
Washington rules the world.

In the cold war-like mentality in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the
pinnacle in the so-called Shia crescent that stretches from Iran to
Hizbullah in Lebanon, through Shia southern Iraq and Syria. And again
unsurprisingly, the "surge" in Iraq and escalation of threats and
accusations against Iran is accompanied by grudging willingness to attend a
conference of regional powers, with the agenda limited to Iraq.

Presumably this minimal gesture toward diplomacy is intended to allay the
growing fears and anger elicited by Washington's heightened aggressiveness.
These concerns are given new substance in a detailed study of "the Iraq
effect" by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, revealing
that the Iraq war "has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide". An "Iran
effect" could be even more severe.

For the US, the primary issue in the Middle East has been, and remains,
effective control of its unparalleled energy resources. Access is a
secondary matter. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. Control is
understood to be an instrument of global dominance. Iranian influence in the
"crescent" challenges US control. By an accident of geography, the world's
major oil resources are in largely Shia areas of the Middle East: southern
Iraq, adjacent regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major
reserves of natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a
loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of
the US.

Such a bloc, if it emerges, might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid
based in China. Iran could be a lynchpin. If the Bush planners bring that
about, they will have seriously undermined the US position of power in the

To Washington, Tehran's principal offence has been its defiance, going back
to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the US
embassy. In retribution, Washington turned to support Saddam Hussein's
aggression against Iran, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Then came
murderous sanctions and, under Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic

Last July, Israel invaded Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before,
US support was a critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on
inspection, and the consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among
the reasons for the US-Israel invasion is that Hizbullah's rockets could be
a deterrent to a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Despite the sabre-rattling it
is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran.
Public opinion in the US and around the world is overwhelmingly opposed. It
appears that the US military and intelligence community is also opposed.
Iran cannot defend itself against US attack, but it can respond in other
ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings
that are far more grave, among them the British military historian Corelli
Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch world
war three".

Then again, a predator becomes even more dangerous, and less predictable,
when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might
risk even greater disasters. The Bush administration has created an
unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. It has been unable to establish a reliable
client state within, and cannot withdraw without facing the possible loss of
control of the Middle East's energy resources.

Meanwhile Washington may be seeking to destabilise Iran from within. The
ethnic mix in Iran is complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There
are secessionist tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to
stir them up - in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is
concentrated, a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.

Threat escalation also serves to pressure others to join US efforts to
strangle Iran economically, with predictable success in Europe. Another
predictable consequence, presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian
leadership to be as repressive as possible, fomenting disorder while
undermining reformers.

It is also necessary to demonise the leadership. In the west, any wild
statement by President Ahmadinejad is circulated in headlines, dubiously
translated. But Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in
the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US
media tend to ignore Khamenei's statements, especially if they are
conciliatory. It's widely reported when Ahmadinejad says Israel shouldn't
exist - but there is silence when Khamenei says that Iran supports the Arab
League position on Israel-Palestine, calling for normalisation of relations
with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of a two-state

The US invasion of Iraq virtually instructed Iran to develop a nuclear
deterrent. The message was that the US attacks at will, as long as the
target is defenceless. Now Iran is ringed by US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq,
Turkey and the Persian Gulf, and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and
Israel, the regional superpower, thanks to US support.

In 2003, Iran offered negotiations on all outstanding issues, including
nuclear policies and Israel-Palestine relations. Washington's response was
to censure the Swiss diplomat who brought the offer. The following year, the
EU and Iran reached an agreement that Iran would suspend enriching uranium;
in return the EU would provide "firm guarantees on security issues" - code
for US-Israeli threats to bomb Iran.

Apparently under US pressure, Europe did not live up to the bargain. Iran
then resumed uranium enrichment. A genuine interest in preventing the
development of nuclear weapons in Iran would lead Washington to implement
the EU bargain, agree to meaningful negotiations and join with others to
move toward integrating Iran into the international economic system.

Noam Chomsky is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The
Middle East and US Foreign Policy.

Noam Chomsky, New York Times Syndicate