Given the perceived success of the US invasion of Iraq, at least in the short-term, what do you think the prospects are for another American military intervention in the Middle East, in Syria or Iran for instance?
Very few prospects, if any, I should think. If the Iranians fulfill the three conditions I mentioned above, the Americans will not bother them about anything at all.
I also believe that the size of the US army does not allow it. The entire size of the US army is one million. When they deployed 250,000 in the Persian Gulf for the Iraqi operation, the North Koreans were waving their nuclear weapons around, and the Americans could not redeploy to East Asia from the Gulf.
It is in the nature of this particular empire that it has in fact begun to model itself on what it calls Al-Qaeda. There is nothing called Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is the blueprint on the basis of which the Pentagon is now remodeling itself. It is a force that is presumed to be omnipotent and can strike at any moment and the Pentagon is using it to reshape itself.
I do not think the US has the military capacity for another massive invasion à la Iraq. First of all the Iranian population is 60 million, the land is infinitely more diversified, and within the Islamic Republic, there is a democratically elected government. If you ask me, Khatemi has more claim to legitimacy as a president than Bush does.
There are a couple of other factors. Democracy, until and unless it emerges from the soil of a culture, is entirely useless. Islamic Revolution was a nightmare of Islamic theocratic forces coming to the fore. In Algeria, in Turkey, we were always afraid of this nightmare coming to pass. In Iran, it came to pass and the country witnessed a decade of sacred, charismatic terror perpetrated by Khomeini.
From the dirt and ashes of that experience, we are beginning to have budding institutions of democracy, full of flaws and problems, but nevertheless, endemic and constitutional and native to that culture. That is the experience that the US is afraid of.
In addition, this thing about nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction is a bit misleading. As you know, biological, chemical and nuclear research have perfectly viable, legitimate, and peaceful uses that can in fact help to diversify these economies away from being entirely oil-based. The catastrophe of Iraq is that economically it is 95 per cent oil-based. In Iran, over the last two decades, they have started to diversify, as a result of which the economy has been reduced to 85 per cent oil-based.
In addition, without having a genuine middle-class and labor class, you cannot institutionalize democratic institutions. How is it possible? It does not make sense. Oil-based economies are capital-intensive. Capital-intensive economies are not conducive to democratic institutions. All you need is a marine battalion in Basra to pump the oil and off they go.
After this catastrophe of the looting of cultural heritage, you realize that for the people in Washington, there is no culture, there is no civilization, there is no heritage, there is no need for domestically cultivated institutions of democracy in Iraq or elsewhere. There are just oilfields with flags on them.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of The Asia Society.