“Iran and American Foreign Policy: Where Did the US Go Wrong?”— Noam Chomsky and The Leveretts at MIT

by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett (source: Going to Tehran)
Saturday, May 18, 2013

Earlier this week, the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT sponsored an event, “Iran and American Foreign Policy:  Where Did the US Go Wrong?”, featuring Noam Chomsky and the two of us; for a video, see here, or click on the video above.  The event was moderated by Prof. Ali Banuazizi of Boston College.  (For those wanting to cut to the substantive chase, Hillary’s presentation starts 18:20 into the video, Flynt’s starts at 37:00, and Chomsky begins at 54:00, followed by Q&A with the audience.) 

As Hillary notes in her opening remarks, we are especially grateful to Prof. Chomsky, and not just for appearing with us—though we do thank him for that.  More importantly,  

“We thank him for prodding us…In his famous essay, ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals,’ published in the New York Review of Books forty six years ago, Prof. Chomsky pointed out that ‘when we consider the responsibility of intellectuals, our basic concern must be their role in the creation and analysis of ideology.’  For more than half a century, Prof. Chomsky has been both fearless and, it would seem, tireless in rigorously scrutinizing the claims of intellectuals who, in the service of power, ascribe universal validity to what are, in fact, very particular interests.  Above all, he has been unrelenting in his critique of what he sees as the ‘fundamental political axiom’ of American foreign policy—‘namely that the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible.’” 

It was in this critical spirit that we came to MIT.  We left deeply inspired by Prof. Chomsky, an incarnation of that spirit, whose comments were simultaneously powerful, profound, and delightful.  One example: 

“It’s now sixty years since the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government in Iran.  And since that time, not a single day has passed in which the U.S. hasn’t been torturing Iran, constantly.  Jimmy Carter was asked about this, and he said, ‘Well, it didn’t really matter, it’s ancient history.’  Obama’s standard line is, ‘Let’s not look to the past; let’s look to the future.’ 

That’s a very convenient position for criminals.  ‘Let’s forget everything that happened.’  Somehow, victims don’t feel that way.  They have memories.  You see this all over the world.  The victims have memories which the perpetrators don’t know about, or like to forget:  ‘It’s all in the past; let’s forget it.’  I think it’s useful to remember a quip of William Faulkner’s, who said, ‘The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.’  And that’s true in this case.  For victims, the past isn’t past.”         

But, while deeply appreciating the past, Prof. Chomsky is also very much forward looking, telling his audience that Americans have the power to demand different policies from their government.  In that regard, we will always treasure Chomsky’s verdict on our book, Going to Tehran, offered at the beginning of his remarks: 

“The most important thing I can say tonight is actually very brief.  Three words:  Read this book.  That’s good advice.  You’ll find a lot of information that’s not generally available, some that’s not available at all, also very valuable insights and understanding which is sharply different from views in the United States, attitudes in the United States that are so conventional and unchallenged they can fairly be called a ‘party line.’  [You’ll also find] perspectives that may help, if they’re widely enough understood, to halt a very clear drift towards what could be a terrible war.” 

Pray for peace, and thank God for Noam Chomsky.

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