There was unprecedented élite condemnation of the plans to invade Iraq. Sensible analysts were able to perceive that the enterprise carried significant risks for US interests, however conceived. Phrases thrown in by the official Presidential Directive from the standard boilerplate about freedom that accompany every action, and are close to a historical universal, were dismissed as meaningless by reasonable people. Global opposition was utterly overwhelming, and the likely costs to the US were apparent, though the catastrophe created by the invasion went far beyond anyone's worst expectations. It's amusing to watch the lying as the strongest supporters of the war try to deny what they very clearly said.
On the US motives for staying in Iraq, I can only repeat what I've been saying for years. A sovereign Iraq, partially democratic, could well be a disaster for US planners. With a Shia majority, it is likely to continue improving relations with Iran. There is a Shia population right across the border in Saudi Arabia, bitterly oppressed by the US-backed tyranny. Any step towards sovereignty in Iraq encourages activism there for human rights and a degree of autonomy - and that happens to be where most of Saudi oil is.
Sovereignty in Iraq might well lead to a loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's petroleum resources and independent of the US, undermining a primary goal of US foreign policy since it became the world-dominant power after the Second World War. Worse yet, though the US can intimidate Europe, it cannot intimidate China, which blithely goes its own way, even in Saudi Arabia, the jewel in the crown - the primary reason why China is considered a leading threat. An independent energy bloc in the Gulf area is likely to link up with the China-based Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council, with Russia (which has its own huge resources) as an integral part, and with the Central Asian states (already members), possibly India. Iran is already associated with them, and a Shia-dominated bloc in the Arab states might well go along. All of that would be a nightmare for US planners and their Western allies.
There are, then, very powerful reasons why the US and UK are likely to try in every possible way to maintain effective control over Iraq. The US is not constructing a palatial embassy, by far the largest in the world and virtually a separate city within Baghdad, and pouring money into military bases, with the intention of leaving Iraq to Iraqis. All of this is quite separate from the expectations that matters can be arranged so that US corporations profit from the vast riches of Iraq.
These topics, though high on the agenda of planners, are not within the realm of discussion, as can easily be determined. That is only to be expected. These considerations violate the fundamental doctrine that state power has noble objectives, and while it may make terrible blunders, it can have no crass motives and is not influenced by domestic concentrations of private power. Any questioning of these Higher Truths is either ignored or bitterly denounced, also for good reasons: allowing them to be discussed could undermine power and privilege.
There is another issue: even the most dedicated scholar/advocates of " democracy promotion" recognise that there is a "strong line of continuity" in US efforts to promote democracy going back as far as you like and reaching the present: democracy is supported if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic objectives. For example, supporting the brutal punishment of people who committed the crime of voting "the wrong way" in a free election, as in Palestine right now, with pretexts that would inspire ridicule in a free society. As for democracy in the US, élite opinion has generally considered it a dangerous threat which must be resisted. But some Iraqis agreed with Bush's mission to bring democracy to the world: 1 per cent in a poll in Baghdad just as the noble vision was declared in Washington.
On withdrawal proposals from élite circles, however, I think one should be cautious. Some may be so deeply indoctrinated that they cannot allow themselves to think about the reasons for the invasion or the insistence on maintaining the occupation, in one or another form. Others may have in mind more effective techniques of control by redeploying US military forces in bases in Iraq and in the region, making sure to control logistics and support for client forces in Iraq, air power in the style of the destruction of much of Indochina after the business community turned against the war, and so on.
As to the consequences of a US withdrawal, we are entitled to have our personal judgements, all of them as uninformed and dubious as those of US intelligence. But they do not matter. What matters is what Iraqis think. Or rather, that is what should matter, and we learn a lot about the character and moral level of the reigning intellectual culture from the fact that the question of what the victims want barely even arises.
The Baker-Hamilton report dismisses partition proposals, even the more limited proposals for a high level of independence within a loosely federal structure. Though it's not really our business, or our right to decide, their scepticism is probably warranted. Neighbouring countries would be very hostile to an independent Kurdistan, which is landlocked, and Turkey might even invade, which would also threaten the long-standing and critical US-Turkey-Israel alliance. Kurds strongly favour independence, but appear to regard it as not feasible - for now, at least. The Sunni states might invade to protect the Sunni areas, which lack resources. The Shia region might improve ties with Iran. It could set off a regional war. My own view is that federal arrangements make good sense, not only in Iraq. But these do not seem realistic prospects for the near-term future.
US policy should be that of all aggressors: (1) pay reparations; (2) attend to the will of the victims; (3) hold the guilty parties accountable, in accord with the Nuremberg principles, the UN Charter, and other international instruments. A more practical proposal is to work to change the domestic society and culture substantially enough so that what should be done can at least become a topic for discussion. That is a large task, not only on this issue, though I think élite opposition is far more ferocious than that of the general public.
Adapted from an interview for Z Net with Michael Albert, published tomorrow in 'The Drawbridge' ( www.thedrawbridge.org.uk). Noam Chomsky's latest book is 'Failed States' (Hamish Hamilton, June 2006; Penguin Books, March 2007)
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies