24 May 2006

The US is a failed state

By Tapani Lausti

Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Metropolitan Books 2006.

Many Finnish politicians and commentators have recently expressed worries about the Finns' negative view of the United States. They constantly preach about the importance of good Finnish-US relations. The US is seen as the ultimate guarantor of security. The supporters of this view lament the bad behaviour by the current US administration in many parts of the world but will not draw the same conclusion as most ordinary Finns, i.e. that the US is a danger to world peace.

Many members of the pro-Washington elite in Finland would probably choke on reading Noam Chomsky's books, although I doubt that many do. Even if Finnish commentators can take some distance from Washington's policies in the world, their criticism most often is mild indeed in view of the horrors inflicted by the current US government. They still cling to the idea that deep down the US elites are benign and well-meaning, even if they make mistakes. Whilst visiting Finland recently, Bill Clinton got warm praise in the media. The ex-president, however, had to speak to a half-empty hall.

In a big feature article on Clinton, the leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat (monthly supplement, May 2006) had a lot to say about Monica Lewinsky and what a clever guy Bill is. Clinton's foreign policy got scant mention and was given a positive spin. Not many Finns would know from reading their newspapers that this is a man who speeded up a dangerous militarisation of space and adopted a doctrine that the United States is entitled to resort to "unilateral use of military power" to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources," as Chomsky quotes official sources. (p. 10)

Chomsky's book has a lot of material placing Clinton firmly in the gallery of dangerous war criminals of recent times. By his aggressive policies, he is responsible for a huge number of deaths. Somehow these facts don't appear in mainstream commentaries. Attempts to bring them out for public inspection are deemed to be the work of fanatics who cannot understand the subtleties of the "real world". In the eyes of comfortably living journalists, the victims of US aggressions are "unpeople", a phrase Chomsky borrows from the British historian Mark Curtis. (p. 82)

Chomsky has a lot to say about how real issues are not allowed to enter into focused public debate: "Washington's aggressive militarism is not the only factor driving the race to 'apocalypse soon,' but it is surely a significant one. The plans and policies fall within a much broader context, with roots going back to the Clinton years and beyond. All of this is at the fringe of public discourse, and does not enter even marginally into electoral choices, another illustration of the decline of functioning democracy and its portent." (p. 16)

Failed states are said to suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance. (p. 2). Thus, there is no doubt that the US democracy is in crisis. The range of allowed opinions is very narrow. Ordinary Americans cannot find any political or mainstream media channels to represent their views on current issues.

Public polls are not reported in the press, probably because they go too wildly against allowed perceptions. Yet, they tell a story which people both in the US and outside should be aware of. Here is Chomsky again: "A large majority of the public believe that the United States should accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the World Court, sign the Kyoto protocols, allow the United Nations to take the lead in international crises, and rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the 'war on terror.' Similar majorities believe that the United States should resort to force only if there is 'strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked'..." (p. 228-229)

Similar discrepancies exist on domestic issues: "... overwhelming majorities favor expansion of government programs: primarily health care (80 percent), but also funding for education and Social Security." And: "... large majorities support guaranteed health care, even if it would raise taxes." (p. 229) In the last elections, these issues, once again, were not debated. The campaigns concentrated on trivial matters about the candidates' personal characteristics. All this serve to hide the fact that what the public wants on most issues is the opposite to what is on offer or is allowed to de described as feasible. People want more social security, less military spending.

The latter is, as we know, sky-rocketing. At the same time, Washington is leading the rest of the world by the nose to a "war on terrorism". This "war" is based on massive deceit. Chomsky quotes a scholarly enquiry into Islamic militancy by Fawaz Gerges who concludes that after 9/11, "the dominant response to Al Qaeda in the Muslim world was very hostile," specifically among jihadis, who regarded it as a dangerous extremist fringe. Instead of recognizing that opposition to Al Qaeda offered Washington "the most effective way to drive a nail into its coffin" by finding "intelligent means to nourish and support the internal forces that were opposed to militant ideologies like the bin Laden network," the Bush administration did exactly what bin Laden hoped it would do: resort to violence. (p. 22)

And it gets scarier. Chomsky quotes former NATO planner Michael MccGwire who writes that under current policies, largely driven by Washington, "a nuclear exchange is ultimately inevitable," following the "dreadful logic" that should be familiar to anyone concerned with the fate of the species. "If present tends persist," he argues, "we are virtually certain to see a return to nuclear arms racing, involving intercontinental ballistic systems and space-based assets (offensive and defensive), reactivating the danger of inadvertent nuclear war," with a probability that "will be extremely high." (p. 69)

At the same time, the international scene is changing. As much of the world observes with horror Washington's behaviour, many governments are looking for new alignments. Much of Latin America has turned against Washington and is looking towards Asia, especially China, which refuses to be intimidated by the US. Iran is turning eastward. A crucial question is how India will react, Chomsky writes quoting an Indian analyst. India can either become a client state for the US or approach China. An Asian oil market trading in euros would be another sign of a changing world. (p. 254-255)

Chomsky ends on an optimistic note: "There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before." What is required is "dedicated day-by-day engagement to create — in part re-create — the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena, from which it is largely excluded, but also on the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded in principle". (p. 263)

Visit the archive: Noam Chomsky, US policies, Hannu Reime, Finland's foreign and security policy

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