This interview of TCBH! founder and collective member Dave Lindorff was published in the Tehran Times on Jan. 9, 2013
Q: In one of your recent articles, you criticized Washington for imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran that deprive millions of Iranian patients of medicines. How does the U.S. government really justify these sanctions? What’s the general attitude of the American public toward the sanctions?
A: The U.S. does not justify this kind of thing. It simply doesn’t acknowledge it. The admission by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that U.S. sanctions caused the untimely deaths of some 500,000 children in Iraq was an exception, caused by her being asked the question by a reporter on a live program (mostly the US media just ignore these kinds of horror stories). As for the American people, they mostly don’t know what is happening in their name, and for many who learn of this, while perhaps it upsets them a little, it is seen as “necessary” because Iran is portrayed rather absurdly as a “dangerous” enemy of the U.S.
Q: In your article Democracies Don’t Start Wars, But Fake Democracies Sure Do, you have pointed at the numerous military expeditions of the United States in the recent decade. The U.S. government sees itself capable and righteous in launching these attacks, but what about the American people? Do they share the same feeling with the government or are really opposed to their government’s militarism?
A: Again, I’m sorry to say that most Americans, if they think about America’s outsized expenditure on war and the military, just assume it is necessary. The propaganda that has been warning about the dangers of Islamic terrorism has been so pervasive that many people are actually scared that they will someday be victims of a terror attack. It’s crazy. When the 9/11 attacks happened, most school districts in the country cancelled all class trips to museums, parks, etc., for fear that terrorists would be attacking school buses! For a whole year, our school district in my town had no school trips! I think Americans would like to see spending on the military cut, and polls show a majority would like the wars ended and troops pulled back to the U.S. from abroad, but it’s not high on their list of concerns. In part they are lied to about the size of the military budget, which they think is much smaller.
Q: It’s more than 7 years that the United States and Israel have been threatening Iran with airstrikes. Do they really want to attack Iran? And what will be the consequences for the U.S. and Israel?
A: I wish I knew the answer to that. I’m sure Israel’s government would love to bomb Iran, but its leaders, and especially its military and intelligence leaders, know that would be a disaster and also not very effective, unless the U.S. were part of the attack. I do not believe that Obama wants such an attack, but he is being sorely pressed by the right-wing Zionist lobby, specifically AIPAC. I would guess an attack would not happen.
Q: Some people like Prof. Bruce Ackerman have warned that simply issuing threats of a possible military strike against Iran or an attack itself when there’s no imminent threat on Iran’s side are acts of aggression that violate the UN charter. The UN Security Council has never condemned Israel’s or America’s war rhetoric. Why is it so?
A: The U.S. is immune from charges of war crimes, because it is too powerful, and the US protects Israel from them. It has a veto in the UN Security Council, and would be backed in any case by Britain and France and Germany, so I don’t see how there could ever be those kinds of charges brought. Only the losers in conflicts have ever been brought up on war crimes charges.
Q: Leon Panetta and many other high-ranking officials in the Obama administration and the Israeli regime have admitted that there’s no hard evidence confirming that Iran is after developing nuclear weapons. So what are all these hostilities and animosities, economic sanctions, assassinations of nuclear scientists and war threats for?
A: There is obviously a fear that Iran will at some point have the material and the know-how to secretly or suddenly produce a bomb. I don’t believe anyone in a real position of authority in the U.S., and maybe even in Israel, believes that Iran would use such a weapon if it got it. While they don’t say it, what they fear is that Israel will lose its monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and that it could no longer bully its way around in the region.
Q: The U.S. presidential elections have just taken place. A big question which many people pose is that why the independent candidates of the presidential elections never receive that public attention, media coverage and funding which the Democrat and Republican nominees benefit from? Is there something wrong with the U.S. electoral system, or something else?
A: The simple answer is yes. The whole system is structured to neutralize and diminish third parties. The standard for getting public funding is that a party has to have received 5% of the vote in the prior election, and that is hard to do if you have no funding, so it rarely happens. When it has, it has been kind of fake “parties” structured around a candidate, i.e. Ralph Nader, Rep. John Anderson, Gov. George Wallace, Ross Perot, etc., so when the candidate leaves the scene, the “party” withers away. Televised national debates, which would allow third party candidates to become known, are run by the two main parties, and they make rules that keep third party candidates out. State election boards are also dominated by the two main parties, and they set unreasonable requirements for getting a candidate or a party’s slate of candidates listed on the ballot. It’s all a rigged game to keep it just between the two main parties.
Q: Your comparison of the Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler and former U.S. President George W. Bush in a 2003 article received widespread attention and the late Counterpunch editor Alexander Cockburn defended your viewpoint in the Nation magazine. Would you please give us an insight of what similarities you see between Hitler and Bush? Why did Mr. Cockburn come to support you after you wrote that famous article?
A: I don’t believe George W. Bush is like Hitler. He certainly didn’t try to send millions of Americans to concentration camps and kill them, but he did start two wars, and he, together with Vice President Dick Cheney, did push through rules that undermined legal protections against arrest without charge, indefinite detention, torture, and extra-judicial execution, as well as setting up a vast network of domestic spies and surveillance. In these ways he was a lot like Hitler. He just didn’t get to go as far. And as I wrote, he had the disadvantage of not being the mesmerizing orator that Hitler was! Alex defended me because he thought I was largely right, and he was a man of great courage, who is sorely missed.
Q: And finally; in several articles, you called President Obama and his predecessor “war criminals” for waging wars and planning for starting new war. Is it practically possible to hold these war criminals accountable for their actions? Nearly all the international organizations are either run by the U.S. or spearheaded by the U.S. allies. So, how should one administer justice on them?
A: The only hope would be for some country to be brave enough to allow these men to be arrested when they travel abroad, and to risk the wrath of the U.S. government. Clearly a country like Germany, or Japan, or even maybe Brazil, could do this, and stand up to the U.S., but I really don’t see it happening. As I said, generally, only the losers in conflicts have their leaders charged and tried for war crimes. Winners get a free pass. Even when low-level people get charged with war crimes on the winning side, as was the case with Lt. Calley in the My Lai massacre, there is no real punishment. His imprisonment was reduced by President Nixon first to house arrest, and then even that was waived, though he had ordered the senseless slaughter of perhaps 200 women, babies and old people.
NOTE: This interview was conducted months ago. I do not claim to be prescient, but I’m happy to have been right so far about Obama not wanting to attack Iran, and do believe that his nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as war secretary, given Hagel’s stated opposition to such a war, and support for negotiations, is further evidence that such an attack is, hopefully, unlikely.