By Donald Paneth

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.,–“Do you think the United States will attack Iran?” I asked.

Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT who has been described by the New York Times as “the most important intellectual alive,” replied: “There’s pretty good evidence the Pentagon is against it. U.S. intelligence is against it. But the quasi-fascist element in the administration – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice – might decide to do it. They might just decide to hit the whole system with a sledge hammer and see what happens.”

Chomsky answered questions from the U.N. press corps for more than two hours Monday afternoon, from 1 to 3:15 p.m. The occasion was the publication of his new book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

He displayed a remarkable depth of knowledge about world affairs and access to a wide array of popular and academic sources. He spoke in detail and his memory went back many years. His replies also reflected his travels, for example, to southeast Turkey where Turkish troops have victimized the Kurdish population.

“The species is gonna blow itself up,” Chomsky said, in a general observation unrelated to the U.S.-Iranian impasse, “if nuclear materials aren’t brought under international control.”

He urged the adoption of vigorous and positive climate policies. “It’s possible that we’re past the tipping point. But the longer you wait, the worse the impact is gonna be.”

He was critical of U.S. and Israeli steps with relation to the Palestinian territories, saying that the building of a separation wall was not only a violation of international law as determined by the World Court but part of Israeli annexation policy.

“The Congo is the worst on-going atrocity in the world,” he continued. “I can’t think of a sensible way to do anything about it,” and he added, “Any intervention has to be very carefully evaluated, has to work out the consequences of that.”

“Corporations are illegitimate, created by judicial intervention 80, 90 years ago, with the rights of individuals,” he observed. “Conservatives of the period condemned their establishment as a return to feudalism.”

Recent developments in Latin America are “very important,” he said. “They significantly threaten U.S. control. For the first time, Latin America is moving towards independence.”

On the subject of newspapers, Chomsky declared that “The Financial Times may be the best paper in the world. It’s the first paper I look at in the morning.” He was thinking of its coverage of events, its editing, its special reports, its thoughtful expression of opinions.

About 60 U.N. correspondents attended. Each received a review copy of Chomsky’s book, published by Henry Holt and Co. It considers world affairs, beginning with the nuclear dilemma. “The world has not renounced war,” he writes. Quite the contrary ,,, The risk of nuclear destruction highlighted by [Bertrand] Russell and [Albert] Einstein is not abstract….”

He offers as solutions 1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; 3) let the U.N. take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the U.N. charter; 6) give up the Security Council veto; and 7) cut back sharply on military spending and increase social spending.

Donald Paneth began covering the United Nations in 1946. He is a frequent contributor to The Indypendent (

"Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy"