15 September 2016 **** Front Page

Chomsky: "Are we destroying the prospects for decent existence?"

By Tapani Lausti

Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World?: Reframings. Kindle Edition 2016.

The US, in Ronald Reagan’s words, is “a shining city on the hill.” In this imagined world there is a US-led part of the planet adhering to “democracy, rule of law and individual freedom,” not to speak of “international law.” This image has lasted amazingly well in view of all the wars and violence against governments which don’t follow the demands of the world’s most powerful country.

Reagan was celebrated by many governing elites of the Western world as a “great statesman”. The horrors that he inflicted on huge numbers of innocent people around the world have been airbrushed from history. In this new book Noam Chomsky describes Reagan more accurately as “that savage murderer and torturer.” Reagan orchestrated “some of the more ghastly crimes of his years in office, notoriously in Central America but elsewhere as well.”

The contrast between Washington’s propaganda and reality is striking. One of the examples which Chomsky uses is Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Clinton administration followed the American Grand Area doctrines which license military intervention at will. Thus Chomsky: “That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the United States has the right to use military force to ensure ‘uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources’ and must maintain huge military forces ‘forward deployed’ in Europe and Asia ‘in order to shape people’s opinions about us’ and ‘to shape events that will affect our livelihood and security.’”

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought in a period of euphoria. Chomsky describes how there were excited tales about “the end of history” and awed acclaim for Clinton’s foreign policy, which had entered a “noble phase” with a “saintly glow,” as for the first time in history a nation would be guided by “altruism” and dedicated to “principles and values.” Nothing now stood in the way of an “idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity” which could at last carry forward, unhindered, the emerging international norm of humanitarian intervention. Chomsky notes: “And that’s to sample just a few of the impassioned accolades of prominent intellectuals at the time.”

What makes it possible to pronounce such incredible distortions of the reality of US foreign policy without becoming a laughing stock, is the near-collapse of critical intellectual culture in the US. The uncritical mass media is one aspect of this inability to look at world affairs in a realistic way. It is easy – and benefical to one’s career – to go along with the self-serving propaganda of the powerful. Going against it brings punishment in one form or another. The latest manifestation of the lack of independent analysis is the near-uniform hatred of everything Russian. Again, facts are irrelevant for juicy stories about Vladimir Putin’s evil and aggressive plans. Moscow is seen as a purveyor of lies and propaganda. There is little awareness of Western distortions since they have been internalized.

This Washington consensus is incapable of understanding Russian fears of being a target in a new military escalation. Chomsky writes about NATO’s expansion right to the borders of Russia. The general mission of NATO was officially changed to a mandate to protect “crucial infrastructure” of the global energy system, sea lanes and pipelines, giving it a global area of operations. The UN is being sidelined as NATO may now serve as an intervention force under US comand. Chomsky notes how plans to expand NATO to Ukraine are of particular concern to Russia. He considers the takeover of Crimea to be a criminal act but in the context of the Ukrainian crisis Russia had a more understandable case than many American aggressions. Russian reactions can be described as lamentable, but this is the way states, especially big ones, behave. Washington has no moral case to present against Moscow. The US would not tolerate military activities close to its borders by an enemy state.

The inability to see evil aspects in US foreign policy is deeply ingrained in a part of American intellectual culture. As the US forces have been destroying whole countries and creating utter misery for millions of ordinary people, not to speak of causing of millions of deaths, there are intellectuals who, in spite of all the evidence, rhapsodize about Washington’s laudable motives. Chomsky uses as an example Jessica Mathews’s article in a March 2015 article in the New York Review of Books. Mathews is the former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Chomsky uses this lengthy and revealing quote from the article: “American contributions to international security, global economic growth, freedom, and human well-being have been so self-evidently unique and have been so clearly directed to others’ benefit that Americans have long believed that the US amounts to a different kind of country. Where others push their national interests, the US tries to advance universal principles.”

In the real world the US is destablising large parts of the world while pursuing its own interests, especially in the Middle East. Chomsky points out, that the United States and its Western allies “are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world.” He adds that if local populations had any say, “the United States not only would not control the region but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.”

Chomsky writes wryly: “Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm.”

By its wreckless and dangerous policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, the US with its allies has created violent chaos and caused a huge influx of refugees fleeing to Europe, and by its murderous attacks and torture programs the US has caused an increase in anti-West terror attacks, The fear of war, even a nuclear war, is haunting the world. At the same time climate change has created another cloud over the chances of the human race ro survive.

Here again, the role of the US is far from helpful. On the contrary, Chomsky notes that “the United States (…) is the only nation among perhaps a hundred relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.”

Chomsky draws attention to the fact that the least developed societies are more aware of the dangers of climate change. He writes: “So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most poweful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.” Chomsky points out, though, that American public is much more inclined to tackle the problem. Chomsky’s conclusion: “The disparity between public opinion and policy, in this case, has significant implications for the fate of the world.”

The dangers of nuclear war and climate disaster run through the book. Chomsky’s warning runs like this: “For the first time in history, we face the possibility of destroying the prospects for decent existence – and not in the distant future. For this reason alone, it is imperative to sweep away the ideological clouds and face honestly and realistically the question of how policy decisions are made, and what we can do to alter them before it is too late.”


Archive: Noam Chomsky, United States, Russia and Ukraine, Middle East, Marjorie Cohn, Henry A. Giroux, Edward S. Herman, Diana Johnstone, Ann Jones, Naomi Klein, Gabriel Kolko, Robert Parry


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