Chomsky's "A Modest Proposal" (reformatted)

Stuart Lawrence stuartwl at
Fri Dec 6 20:58:04 MST 2002

A Modest Proposal

By Noam Chomsky

CounterPunch, November 18, 2002

An extended version is at:

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, D.C., observes that the
Bush 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

The administration has overlooked a simple alternative to invading Iraq,
however. Let Iran do it. Before elaborating on this modest proposal, it's
worthwhile to examine the antecedents of Washington's bellicosity.

Ever since the Sept. 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, health care and other

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.

The Sept. 11 atrocities 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
U.S. 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

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 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 U.S. 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 United States 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. The Bush circles -- 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": Kurds, who
were his own people in the sense that Cherokees were Andrew Jackson's

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
invasion of Kuwait.

Bush No. 1 and Cheney also effectively authorized Saddam's slaughter of
Shi'ites in March 1991, in the interests of "stability," as was soberly
explained at the time. They withdrew their support for his attack on the
Kurds only under great international and domestic pressure.

Third, the U.N. will be no problem. It will be unnecessary to explain to the
world that the U.N. is relevant when it follows U.S. orders, otherwise not.

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.

One might object, correctly, that we cannot trust the Iranian leadership,
but surely that is even more true of those who continued to aid Saddam well
after his worst crimes.

Furthermore, we will be spared the embarrassment of professing blind faith
in our leaders in the manner that we justly ridicule in totalitarian states.

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 toward instituting "democracy." The majority of the
population is Shi'ite, and Iran would have fewer problems than the U.S. in
granting them some say in a successor government.

There will be no problem in gaining access to Iraqi oil, just as U.S.
companies could easily exploit Iranian energy resources right now, if
Washington would permit it.

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.

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