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Noam Chomsky
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Wednesday 6 February 2013
Washington’s dilemma on a “lost” planet.

The Paranoia of the Superrich and Superpowerful

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[This piece is adapted from “Uprisings,” a chapter in Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire, Noam Chomsky’s new interview book with David Barsamian (with thanks to the publisher, Metropolitan Books).  The questions are Barsamian’s, the answers Chomsky’s.]

Does the United States still have the same level of control over the energy resources of theMiddle East as it once had?

The major energy-producing countries are still firmly under the control of the Western-backed dictatorships. So, actually, the progress made by the Arab Spring is limited, but it’s not insignificant. The Western-controlled dictatorial system is eroding. In fact, it’s been eroding for some time. So, for example, if you go back 50 years, the energy resources -- the main concern of U.S. planners -- have been mostly nationalized. There are constantly attempts to reverse that, but they have not succeeded.

Take the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example. To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it’s maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in the middle of the major energy-producing region. You’re not supposed to say this. It’s considered a conspiracy theory.

The United States was seriously defeated in Iraq by Iraqi nationalism -- mostly by nonviolent resistance. The United States could kill the insurgents, but they couldn’t deal with half a million people demonstrating in the streets. Step by step, Iraq was able to dismantle the controls put in place by the occupying forces. By November 2007, it was becoming pretty clear that it was going to be very hard to reach U.S. goals. And at that point, interestingly, those goals were explicitly stated. So in November 2007 the Bush II administration came out with an official declaration about what any future arrangement with Iraq would have to be. It had two major requirements: one, that the United States must be free to carry out combat operations from its military bases, which it will retain; and two, “encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments.” In January 2008, Bush made this clear in one of his signing statements. A couple of months later, in the face of Iraqi resistance, the United States had to give that up. Control of Iraq is now disappearing before their eyes.

Iraq was an attempt to reinstitute by force something like the old system of control, but it was beaten back. In general, I think, U.S. policies remain constant, going back to the Second World War. But the capacity to implement them is declining.

Declining because of economic weakness?

Partly because the world is just becoming more diverse. It has more diverse power centers. At the end of the Second World War, the United States was absolutely at the peak of its power. It had half the world’s wealth and every one of its competitors was seriously damaged or destroyed. It had a position of unimaginable security and developed plans to essentially run the world -- not unrealistically at the time.

This was called “Grand Area” planning?

Yes. Right after the Second World War, George Kennan, head of the U.S. State Department policy planning staff, and others sketched out the details, and then they were implemented. What’s happening now in the Middle East and North Africa, to an extent, and in South America substantially goes all the way back to the late 1940s. The first major successful resistance to U.S. hegemony was in 1949. That’s when an event took place, which, interestingly, is called “the loss of China.” It’s a very interesting phrase, never challenged. There was a lot of discussion about who is responsible for the loss of China. It became a huge domestic issue. But it’s a very interesting phrase. You can only lose something if you own it. It was just taken for granted: we possess China -- and if they move toward independence, we’ve lost China. Later came concerns about “the loss of Latin America,” “the loss of the Middle East,” “the loss of” certain countries, all based on the premise that we own the world and anything that weakens our control is a loss to us and we wonder how to recover it.

Today, if you read, say, foreign policy journals or, in a farcical form, listen to the Republican debates, they’re asking, “How do we prevent further losses?”

On the other hand, the capacity to preserve control has sharply declined. By 1970, the world was already what was called tripolar economically, with a U.S.-based North American industrial center, a German-based European center, roughly comparable in size, and a Japan-based East Asian center, which was then the most dynamic growth region in the world. Since then, the global economic order has become much more diverse. So it’s harder to carry out our policies, but the underlying principles have not changed much.

Take the Clinton doctrine. The Clinton doctrine was that the United States is entitled to resort to unilateral force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.” That goes beyond anything that George W. Bush said. But it was quiet and it wasn’t arrogant and abrasive, so it didn’t cause much of an uproar. The belief in that entitlement continues right to the present. It’s also part of the intellectual culture.

Right after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, amid all the cheers and applause, there were a few critical comments questioning the legality of the act. Centuries ago, there used to be something called presumption of innocence. If you apprehend a suspect, he’s a suspect until proven guilty. He should be brought to trial. It’s a core part of American law. You can trace it back to Magna Carta. So there were a couple of voices saying maybe we shouldn’t throw out the whole basis of Anglo-American law. That led to a lot of very angry and infuriated reactions, but the most interesting ones were, as usual, on the left liberal end of the spectrum. Matthew Yglesias, a well-known and highly respected left liberal commentator, wrote an article in which he ridiculed these views. He said they’re “amazingly naive,” silly. Then he expressed the reason. He said that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers.” Of course, he didn’t mean Norway. He meant the United States. So the principle on which the international system is based is that the United States is entitled to use force at will. To talk about the United States violating international law or something like that is amazingly naive, completely silly. Incidentally, I was the target of those remarks, and I’m happy to confess my guilt. I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some attention to.

I merely mention that to illustrate that in the intellectual culture, even at what’s called the left liberal end of the political spectrum, the core principles haven’t changed very much. But the capacity to implement them has been sharply reduced. That’s why you get all this talk about American decline. Take a look at the year-end issue of Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal. Its big front-page cover asks, in bold face, “Is America Over?” It’s a standard complaint of those who believe they should have everything. If you believe you should have everything and anything gets away from you, it’s a tragedy, the world is collapsing. So is America over? A long time ago we “lost” China, we’ve lost Southeast Asia, we’ve lost South America. Maybe we’ll lose the Middle East and North African countries. Is America over? It’s a kind of paranoia, but it’s the paranoia of the superrich and the superpowerful. If you don’t have everything, it’s a disaster.

The New York Times describes the “defining policy quandary of the Arab Spring: how to square contradictory American impulses that include support for democratic change, a desire for stability, and wariness of Islamists who have become a potent political force.” The Times identifies three U.S. goals. What do you make of them?

Two of them are accurate. The United States is in favor of stability. But you have to remember what stability means. Stability means conformity to U.S. orders. So, for example, one of the charges against Iran, the big foreign policy threat, is that it is destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. How? By trying to expand its influence into neighboring countries. On the other hand, we “stabilize” countries when we invade them and destroy them.

I’ve occasionally quoted one of my favorite illustrations of this, which is from a well-known, very good liberal foreign policy analyst, James Chace, a former editor of Foreign Affairs. Writing about the overthrow of the Salvador Allende regime and the imposition of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1973, he said that we had to “destabilize” Chile in the interests of “stability.” That’s not perceived to be a contradiction -- and it isn’t. We had to destroy the parliamentary system in order to gain stability, meaning that they do what we say. So yes, we are in favor of stability in this technical sense.

Concern about political Islam is just like concern about any independent development. Anything that’s independent you have to have concern about because it might undermine you. In fact, it’s a little ironic, because traditionally the United States and Britain have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism, not political Islam, as a force to block secular nationalism, the real concern. So, for example, Saudi Arabia is the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world, a radical Islamic state. It has a missionary zeal, is spreading radical Islam to Pakistan, funding terror. But it’s the bastion of U.S. and British policy. They’ve consistently supported it against the threat of secular nationalism from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Abd al-Karim Qasim’s Iraq, among many others. But they don’t like political Islam because it might become independent.

The first of the three points, our yearning for democracy, that’s about on the level of Joseph Stalin talking about the Russian commitment to freedom, democracy, and liberty for the world. It’s the kind of statement you laugh about when you hear it from commissars or Iranian clerics, but you nod politely and maybe even with awe when you hear it from their Western counterparts.

If you look at the record, the yearning for democracy is a bad joke. That’s even recognized by leading scholars, though they don’t put it this way. One of the major scholars on so-called democracy promotion is Thomas Carothers, who is pretty conservative and highly regarded -- a neo-Reaganite, not a flaming liberal. He worked in Reagan’s State Department and has several books reviewing the course of democracy promotion, which he takes very seriously. He says, yes, this is a deep-seated American ideal, but it has a funny history. The history is that every U.S. administration is “schizophrenic.” They support democracy only if it conforms to certain strategic and economic interests. He describes this as a strange pathology, as if the United States needed psychiatric treatment or something. Of course, there’s another interpretation, but one that can’t come to mind if you’re a well-educated, properly behaved intellectual.

Within several months of the toppling of [President Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt, he was in the dock facing criminal charges and prosecution. It’s inconceivable that U.S. leaders will ever be held to account for their crimes in Iraq or beyond. Is that going to change anytime soon?

That’s basically the Yglesias principle: the very foundation of the international order is that the United States has the right to use violence at will. So how can you charge anybody?

And no one else has that right.

Of course not. Well, maybe our clients do. If Israel invades Lebanon and kills a thousand people and destroys half the country, okay, that’s all right. It’s interesting. Barack Obama was a senator before he was president. He didn’t do much as a senator, but he did a couple of things, including one he was particularly proud of. In fact, if you looked at his website before the primaries, he highlighted the fact that, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, he cosponsored a Senate resolution demanding that the United States do nothing to impede Israel’s military actions until they had achieved their objectives and censuring Iran and Syria because they were supporting resistance to Israel’s destruction of southern Lebanon, incidentally, for the fifth time in 25 years. So they inherit the right. Other clients do, too.

But the rights really reside in Washington. That’s what it means to own the world. It’s like the air you breathe. You can’t question it. The main founder of contemporary IR [international relations] theory, Hans Morgenthau, was really quite a decent person, one of the very few political scientists and international affairs specialists to criticize the Vietnam War on moral, not tactical, grounds. Very rare. He wrote a book called The Purpose of American Politics. You already know what’s coming. Other countries don’t have purposes. The purpose of America, on the other hand, is “transcendent”: to bring freedom and justice to the rest of the world. But he’s a good scholar, like Carothers. So he went through the record. He said, when you study the record, it looks as if the United States hasn’t lived up to its transcendent purpose. But then he says, to criticize our transcendent purpose “is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds” -- which is a good comparison. It’s a deeply entrenched religious belief. It’s so deep that it’s going to be hard to disentangle it. And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and often to charges of anti-Americanism or “hating America” -- interesting concepts that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and here, where they’re just taken for granted.

© The New York Times Company
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ABOUT Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and pressor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Techonology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific communities as one of the fathers of modern linguistics, and a major figure of analytic philosophy. Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books and has received worldwide attention for his views.

Boris Badenov's picture

The sinews of war are

The sinews of war are infinite money.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

The biggest problem with Noam

The biggest problem with Noam Chomsky is that he risks of becoming an alibi, a fig leaf for this fake system which, increasingly, is an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy. But big money is the lifeblood of the system, and how can you defeat that? You need a second American revolution. Some say it's coming, you can hear it coming. It's a matter of time until the critical mass of this terrible system which is destroying the country will be reached. Wishful thinking? I am not sure. You have to throw the rascals out, there's no other solution.

While Chomsky always gives

While Chomsky always gives some great insights in a broader sense, his inability to acknowledge and deal with the "deep state" as Peter Dale calls it, and the persons that run it are starting to date his approach and writings.

With the knowledge that Chomsky rebukes the questions raised by, and the hard data evidence presented by many scientists and engineers from around the world at a Toronto symposium in 2011 to deal with deriving a truth about 9/11 leaves one with a dreaded sense of why he steadfastly clings to his position and opinion on this topic. This will tarnish his reputation. I now look for omissions, gaps or unfinished threads in his works which point to incomplete analysis.

While Zinn side stepped the issue as to the value or practicality of ever prosecuting a resulting truth on 9/11, he did not out right reject scientific evidences independent of and entirely rejecting of the official government sponsored theories.

Peter Dale, who has been studying what he calls the "deep state" and it's actors most of his professional life, has called the uncovering of 9/11 truth the quickest road to restoring sanity to the governance of the nation.

My thoughts are the sooner the truth is laid bare and confronted by the nation the sooner the larger truth Chomsky is waxing the surface about here will be exposed to the light of day.

ps: thanks to sis for cluing me in...again

I agree--Chomsky's outright

I agree--Chomsky's outright denial of alternate theories for 9/11 is incongruous with his statements about US totalitarianism (for example). His argument supporting the official story is predicated on the fallacious "somebody would have said something" line of reaoning--glaringly inconsistent with his other, logically rooted arguments.

Maybe he's tired of being called a conspiracy theorist. (A conspiracy theory, by the way, is a theory in which the actions of a single person are attributed to a group of people.)

Excellent point. People need

Excellent point. People need to realize that these egomaniacs do not think like the rest of us. The worlds economy is nothing but a toy to them. It's their egos that drive them to compete with other CEO's (the Steve Balmer and Larry Ellison yacht feud) at our expense. It's nothing but one big fraternity party for these people at and we're paying for it.

The criminals are running the nation and they're turning this entire country into our prison. And once in their prison system, they make us work building their products for .24 cents a day. It's the new slavery people - WAKE UP!

I think Professor Chomsky

I think Professor Chomsky might have misunderstood Matthew Yglesias. As I read Yglesias, I believe he is merely stating that this is the way the world runs. It doesn't sound, to me, as though he is supporting this way, or advocating the US application of force. His article sounded very much like something Chomsky himself might have penned.

The main article and all of

The main article and all of the comments, are very good , everyone should read and take them to heart.

I take my cue from William

I take my cue from William Burroughs..... What is the compulsion to acquire more once someone has say $250M. What does the next $1M do for a person? This compulsion to acquire ever more is one of the defining characteristics of junkies. And like the junkies we know, these money junkies have lost most of their ability to relate to the rest of humanity, they have little or no regard for anything or anyone that is not useful for the next "fix". And like the junkies we know, their behavior and there callousness is a liability for society.

We need to help these people. We need to tax 100% of their wealth at some logical cut-off point. We need to stop reinforcing this anti-social behavior.

The US doesn't spread

The US doesn't spread "liberty and justice for all' -- it spreads dictatorial corruption and tyranny for the purpose of stabilizing foreign countries for raping, plundering, and pillaging by corporate Amerika.

Amen , Amen, it is clear what

Amen , Amen, it is clear what "America The Greedy Capitalistic " is up to doing when it invade another Nation !!! When will this insanity of killing the innocent for materiel stop ???

Amen , Amen, it is clear what

Amen , Amen, it is clear what "America The Greedy Capitalistic " is up to doing when it invade another Nation !!! When will this insanity of killing the innocent for material stop ???

Paranoia of the denser

Paranoia of the denser segment of the 1% is very justifiable because aside from the people who get paid by them, no one ever cares about them. If those whom the 1% injure in the process of destroying everything for profit and self-aggrandizement, they would get even with them. To the 1%, the world is a dog eat dog world. They created and are creating a world in their own image. The dog eat dog world projection is very true for them... People will not forgive those who abuse them 24/7.... Hopefully, some day the 1% will have hoarded enough money to feel they do not need any more and they can spare the rest for the 99%.....I am not holding my breath, though....

I'm not holding my breath

I'm not holding my breath either. The so-called "1%" (probably somewhat larger of a percentage than 1%) should enter a hoarder's anonymous program for what this group has is an addiction just like any other addiction and just as destructive.

Paranoia of the ruling class

Paranoia of the ruling class is the only explanation I've been able to find for why, having the biggest military and most nuclear bombs on the planet, we must never consider cutting the defense budget, even if it means taking food out of the mouths of our babes or medicine away from the sick, or kicking grandma out on the street. Paranoia is also the explanation for why we have had most of our constitutional protections stripped from us since 9/11/2001, and why the police depts in this nation are being given the same weapons of mass destruction we use on civilians overseas - the rulers fear an uprising of the people, even a non-violent one, and will do anything to supress dissent. I'm sure Mr Chomsky knows he's "a person of interest" for calling attention to the elephant in the room, and so, probably, am I now. We are occupied, and won't be allowed to Occupy.

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