April 04, 2006

Chats With Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has just published a new book, Failed States. Here are some excerpts from a recent radio chat about Iraq Troop Withdrawal, Haiti, Democracy in Latin America and the Israeli Elections:
The U.S. does not have elections in a serious sense. It has advertising campaigns, run by the same industries that sell toothpaste...

Now, take the war in Iraq. When you talk about the government propaganda system we have to recognize that that includes the media... There is virtually no criticism of the war in Iraq. Now, that will surprise journalists, I suppose. They think they’re being very critical, but they’re not... it’s about at the level of a high school newspaper cheering the local football team. You don't ask, “Should they win?” You ask, “How are we doing?” You know, “Did the coaches make a mistake? Should we try something else?” That's called criticism.

But there’s a critical question: What right does the U.S. have to invade another country, in gross violation of international law, understanding that it’s probably going to increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation? ... the issue isn't how they are going to win, it’s “What are they doing there in the first place?”
So does Chomsky think that the troops should withdraw immediately?
The principle is that invading armies have no rights whatsoever. They have responsibilities. The prime responsibility is to heed the will of the victims and to pay massive reparations to the victims for the crimes they’ve committed... Overwhelming majorities want the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw and adhere to it. Britain and the United States refuse. Reparations, we can’t even talk about; that's so far from consciousness in the doctrinal system. Well, I think that answers the question. Doesn’t really matter what I think. What matters is what Iraqis think, and I think we know that pretty well.
What about the failure of the Democrats and other groups to channel public anti-war sentiment?
You cannot expect power centers ... to stimulate popular movements that will be critical of power and try to erode power. In fact, their task is the opposite. So, yes, this has to be done by a popular movement. I mean, that's the way every constructive change has taken place in the past...

Power centers cannot ignore public protests and, even worse from their point of view, continuing organization. You know, a demonstration now and then, okay, you can live with it. If it continues and becomes real grassroots organization, developing a functioning political system, in which people actually participate in forming and shaping policy and electing their own candidates, if it gets to that stage, they’re in trouble. And we’re far from that.
See the rest of the interview for his thoughts on Latin American and Israeli elections.

Chomsky is also featured in a welcome WaPo discussion of the new academic report by Walt and Mearsheimer, which argues that US policy has been overly - and negatively - influenced by pro-Israeli policy.
Their critique has drawn applause from some liberal Jewish critics. But left-wing Jewish intellectual Noam Chomsky -- a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- wrote that the professors took a naive view of U.S. foreign policy. Although he applauded their courage in standing up to "anticipated hysterical reaction," Chomsky wrote that throughout the 20th century a broad swath of the political intellectual class has favored a muscular and illegal exercise of imperial power, in the Middle East and worldwide.

"Has it been a failure for U.S. grand strategy based on control of . . . middle eastern oil and the immense wealth from this unparalleled material prize? Hardly," Chomsky wrote.
That's a bit misleading, I think: it makes it sound like Chomsky is opposed to what Walt and Mearsheimer have said. What he is really saying is not that they are wrong, but that the pro-Israeli lobby is just one aspect of broader US imperialist war-mongering tendencies.

But that's always the story with Chomsky, isn't it? He takes such a broad, high-level view of things, and from such a radically independent viewpoint, that most people cannot even understand what he is talking about.

UPDATE: It's interesting to follow up Chomsky's thoughts above with this recent post from Josh Marshall:
The president, his key advisors and their public defenders keep looking over the horizon to history's more positive verdict on their gamble. But there's little reason -- either from what we know of this war or the evolving view of past wars -- to think this adventure will be remembered as anything but a disaster...

Even though public opinion has turned fairly decisively against the war, our whole public life today -- not just related to this war, but centered on it -- is awash in a sea of disinformation, official lies and denial. Indeed, lies and bad-faith obfuscation still set the terms of the public debate. We've barely scraped the surface in understanding how we got into this war -- largely because there's been no serious or independent investigation. And the dominant voices in the media are still willing to indulge the voices of liars on a par with those who are at least trying to grapple with what's happening.

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