Monday, March 30, 2015

What Happens When You Start to Suspect Noam Chomsky Was Right?

What do you do when you start to suspect that Noam Chomsky was right?  I don't mean that he was right about everything.  While I do believe (and believed all along) that US foreign policy is motivated by self-interest, I do not share his assumption that there is anything wicked or illegitimate about that; it is simply how nations operate.  I don't share his assumption that our actions are driven mostly by a desire to improve the climate for US investment.*  I am willing to give our leaders a lot more credit for believing their own propaganda that Chomsky is.  And I don't share his basic assumption that the US is Great Satan and that anyone who opposes Great Satan necessarily deserves our applause.

So what do I mean when I say that Noam Chomsky was right?

I suppose I mean in his assessment of the Cold War.  While most Americans, myself included, saw the Cold War in terms of Soviet aggression and US attempts to contain it (even if the Soviet Union was less aggressive than some of our more paranoid commentators believed and more simply behaving like any Great Power). Chomsky argued that the Cold War should really be seen in terms of US aggression and Soviet attempts to contain it.  The end of the Cold War, he warned, did not mean the end of US aggressiveness, but the end of the only power able to seriously challenge us.

And I have to admit that on that, Chomsky seems spot on.  It has become apparent to me that elite consensus in this country is that the US has the right to worldwide hegemony, and that any opposition to our hegemony is an act of aggression (and an inexplicable and irrational one at that).

Consider:  Since the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact countries have joined NATO.  The Soviet Union has split apart into its constituent republics.  And the three Baltic republics have also joined NATO.  And still this is not enough for some people.  For Russia to seek to exercise any sort of influence on its "near abroad" is an intolerable act of aggression, regardless of provocation.

Consider:  After invading Iraq, we had the unmitigated chutzpah to complaint that Iran was not respecting its neighbor's sovereignty and justify our presence as protecting Iraq from Iranian meddling.  (Even as we kept dropping hints that Iran would be next).

Consider:  The entire doctrine of preemptive/preventive war, which amounts to the assumption that we get to invade any country we want, any time we want, for any reason we want, just because we see it as a potential threat some time in the future.

Consider:  The entire tendency to equate legitimacy in a government with "democracy" and "democracy" with toeing our line.  Basically, it is assumed, not only that no government can legitimately disagree with us, but that any government that disagrees with us cannot possibly be legitimate.

I differ with Chomsky in believing that our leadership genuinely believe it when they speak of our hegemony as benign.  Indeed, our leadership (neocons in particular, but they all share it to some degree), seems to assume that we are the one and only country in the world immune to imperial overreach.  And underlying that assumption is the assumption that our imperial overreach is not truly imperial because everyone welcomes it.  Or at least they would if only we could set aside all those illegitimate politicians who don't and democratically elect the candidate of our choice.

*I do believe that the US acted appallingly in the wake of the Cold War urging the Washington Consensus that governments should be run for the benefit of foreign investors, but I like to think we have moved a little away from that by now, and that it was never our dominant priority except in post-Cold War Eastern Europe.

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