A Reply to Noam Chomsky: America’s Imperial Power Is Not in Decline


Aletnet has posted an article by Noam Chomsky entitled America’s Imperial Power Is Showing Real Signs of Decline. Chomsky cites as proof of his claim the fact that the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) has passed a resolution condemning the countries that refused to allow Evo Morales’s plane to enter their airspace last month. However, I doubt that this resolution will have any concrete results. What is of greater significance is the incident that led to this resolution in the first place. The U.S. apparently pressured four countries – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – into denying passage through their airspace to the President of Bolivia, in the belief that Edward Snowden might be on his plane. In doing so, these countries not only violated international law, they insulted the leader of a resource-rich nation. So, the U.S. got four governments to act against their own best interests. That’s a pretty impressive display of political power, if you ask me.

Chomsky argues that the U.S. no longer wields as much influence over Latin America as it once did. This is true, but a major reason for this is that since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. foreign policy has shifted its focus to the Middle East and southern Asia. The U.S. now wields greater power in that region of the world than ever before. The U.S. carries out drone attacks in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen with impunity. The U.S. now has military bases set up throughout the region. The Arab Spring was a setback, but the U.S. has since been able to reassert its influence in the countries involved.

Empires don’t always get what they want. When the British empire was at its height, the British suffered a military defeat in Afghanistan. A resolution passed by Latin American countries is no proof that the U.S. empire is in decline. Neither is Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden.

Chomsky wants to believe the U.S. is in decline when it really isn’t.

14 Responses to “A Reply to Noam Chomsky: America’s Imperial Power Is Not in Decline”

  1. digger666 Says:

    Thoughtful and provocative piece, and I’m not sure I entirely agree, although much of what you write is valid. While the US remains in position to act with apparent impunity in large parts of the world, the political price it pays rises almost daily. With the rise of China, India, Brazil and, to some extent, Russia, the unipolar international settlement which emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War is fading and cannot be reestablished. The mountains of US dollar reserves which China currently holds (some might say ‘is stuck with’) severely constricts US economic policy as much as domestic economic crisis.

    And while your assessment of the impact US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan had on its influence throughout Latin America strikes me as largely correct; that’s not to say a reorientation of US focus and priorities toward that region would facilitate restoration of the old way of treating with Latin American countries.

    • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

      You make some good points. Still, I think it is premature to say that the US empire is in decline at this moment. The US still has far and away the largest military in the world. And it’s worth remembering that after the defeat in Vietnam many people claimed that the US was now in decline. The fortunes of empires tend to ebb and flow.

    • Robert A. Vella Says:

      I agree with digger666. The size and capability of the U.S. military, as well as America’s shifting geopolitical influence, are near-term tactical considerations. A successful long-term strategy is more dependent upon the strength of a nation’s domestic situation. The demise of empires typically results from internal rot rather than from external threats.

      In my 58 years, I’ve never seen America so culturally divided. Fissures are widening over public policy, the value of government, religion, ethnicity, civil liberties, and foreign relations. As a consequence, political paralysis has set in causing an increasing reliance on authoritarianism and corporatism. Americans’ distrust of their social institutions is at an all-time high, and more and more people are giving up on the democratic process.

      These are not the signs of a healthy nation. If this trend is not reversed, two things are certain to happen. The U.S. government will be forced into totalitarianism in order to maintain its power. Sometime after that transition has been completed, will come America’s final decline on the world stage.

      • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

        I agree with most of what you say about the political situation here in the US. I wonder, though, if the US became totalitarian, would that necessarily lead to its decline on the world stage?

        • Robert A. Vella Says:

          Well, let’s look at the history of totalitarian regimes. Nazi Germany lasted a mere 12 years and fascist Italy just 21. Francisco Franco and the Falange movement endured for 39 years in Spain, but its ruling ideology steadily declined after the mid-1950’s. Communist China has held power for 64 years now, but its totalitarian practices have receded since Mao’s death in 1976 from great internal pressure. The Soviet Union lasted the longest at 69 years, but finally collapsed when the Russian people’s screams of “nyet!” reached a crescendo.

          The lesson here is pretty clear. Totalitarianism presented by a charismatic leader is attractive in times of great social unrest, but is an innately unstable form of government because it does not offer long-term solutions. People will inevitably reject absolute power when they realize it is not relieving their misery.

  2. curi56 Says:

    Reblogged this on http://www.HumansinShadow.wordpress.com.

  3. JF Owen Says:

    Mr. Vella,
    In your comments you said, “In my 58 years, I’ve never seen America so culturally divided.”

    I’m also 58 years old and while I was young then, I remember the sixty’s well. The plethora of examples for a divided culture during that decade and most of the seventies too easily matches what we see today.

    • Robert A. Vella Says:

      The Sixties were actually more turbulent and far more violent. I attended a few of the later protests and saw firsthand a level of police brutality that wouldn’t be tolerated today.

      That said, there’s a big difference between then and now. The Sixties was a counterculture movement against an entrenched establishment that coalesced around an opposition to the Vietnam War, and the promotion of civil rights and sexual equality. The movement was successful in changing popular opinion, to which the political class was largely forced to accept. Even to this day, anti-war sentiment and equal rights are mainstream concerns.

      The nature of the conflict now is not between a grassroots populist movement and a ruling establishment, but between the establishment itself split along sharp cultural lines. One side is progressive, egalitarian, and mostly secular. The other side is conservative, hierarchical, and strongly fundamentalist. Not since the Civil War has America experienced this kind of division – and frankly – it scares me.

      • JF Owen Says:

        Point taken on the differences between the two eras, but not on your assessment of the current political conflict. You are describing the basic political and philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals. Those differences have existed for decades, if not centuries. The problem today is not the difference between conservatives and liberals; it’s the sharp divide between ultra right wing conservatives in the Republican party and the more moderate conservative Republican core that has evolved over time.

        It is that sharp divide in the Republican party that has been the catalyst for the political gridlock we are seeing in congress. That gridlock is caused because the ultra conservatives believe they have a mandate not to compromise. Compromise is the essence of a democratic society. Without it, we must as well live under a benevolent dictatorship; it would be more productive and stable.

        Grassroots support for the hard right is eroding rapidly as evidenced by the drop in approval ratings for the “Tea Party” and the number of people who identify themselves as agreeing with those ideals. The 2014 mid-terms will tell the tale. If the Tea Party/Libraterians continues to lose seats, Congress will slowly start to pull itself out of the quagmire it’s been mired in. I suspect that’s the way it will go.

        Having said that, if I’m wrong and ultra-conservative factions gain ground, then there is reason for concern. It may not mean a second civil war, but it damn well will be a bumpy ride.

        • Robert A. Vella Says:

          I concur with all of your points, except that I wasn’t “describing the basic political and philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals.” Rather, I was describing the cultural impact on the current political dynamic which you addressed quite well. In that respect, history does show a level of polarization that is rivaling that of the Civil War era.

          Let’s look again at the Sixties. The opposition in Congress to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 was fairly evenly divided between the Democratic and Republican Parties. The opposition today would be almost exclusively within the GOP. That’s a huge shift.

          A slightly less pronounced shift has also occurred on religious fundamentalism. Both parties have always had strong secular components, but not anymore. Since the Moral Majority movement, secularists in the GOP are few and far between, and science has become an anathema.

          Even during the Reagan/Bush-41 presidencies, the parties still worked together. But Ayn Rand libertarians, who have recovered mightily since their John Birch Society debacle, have put an end to that. With their grassroots organization and gerrymandered districts, they have committed the GOP to an anarchist anti-government ideology. When was the last time a major political party was so afflicted? The Civil War era Democrats which persevered into the Gilded Age.

          You are absolutely correct that the 2014 midterms will “tell the tale.” I’m hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

          • JF Owen Says:

            It appears that we basically agree on the current political status. We differ in our respective beliefs about how we got here. As for where we go now, time will tell.

  4. What would the U.S. look like if it split into two nations? | The Secular Jurist Says:

    […] For a thoughtful discussion on how and why culture affects the current political climate in America, see the comment section of:  A Reply to Noam Chomsky: America’s Imperial Power Is Not in Decline from The Spanish Prisoner. […]

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