Archive for the ‘Noam Chomsky’ Category

Syria and the Art of Moral Imperialism

August 28, 2013

The conflict in Syria has been going on for over two years now, and President Obama has been doing everything he can to stay out of it, but now there is talk in the media of an attack, possibly this week. Confronted by growing evidence that the Assad government has used poison gas against civilians, President Obama now has to make good on all his talk about red lines. (Barry Crimmins recently said, “If we’re prepared to use force on people who commit chemical warfare, when do we attack Monsanto?”) He is reportedly studying different options that have been presented to him by the military. However, a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, has said, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change.” So what are Obama’s aims then? My guess is that he is going to carry out a one-off attack, similar to Clinton’s missile strike in Khartoum or Reagan’s bombing of Libya. Obama can then say that the U.S. has shown zero tolerance towards the use of chemical weapons, to the applause of his supporters. The attack will increase tensions with Russia and with Iran, but it will be a small price to pay so that the U.S. can maintain its facade of moral high-mindedness.

We have come a long way since the giddy days following the invasion of Iraq, when there was delirious talk about the prospect of U.S. troops marching through the streets of Damascus and Teheran. I argued in an earlier post that the U.S. empire is not in decline, and I still hold that view. What has happened is that the Iraq War and its aftermath has taught the U.S. ruling class to take a more realistic view of what it can and cannot do, as well as to take a more realistic view of the internal politics of other countries. (Contrast Gen. Dempsey’s sober assessment of the Syrian opposition with the neoconservatives’ love affair with the convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi.) In that respect, it can be argued that the U.S. empire is actually in better shape today than it was under George W. Bush.

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

August 4, 2013


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.


December 19, 2011

In my earlier post about Paul Goodman, I pointed out that the only contemporary intellectual who has comparable influence in the U.S. is Noam Chomsky. This led me to a disturbing thought. Chomsky is in his eighties. When he is gone, who will be left? I mean, will there be any really influential intellectuals in this country? Will the deepest thinker that people have heard of be Anderson Cooper? It’s a depressing thought. However, I don’t know of anyone who can take Chomsky’s place. Slavoj Žižek is too European, and, besides, some of his ideas are, well, weird. There is Jared Diamond, of course, but a recent court case could do him irreparable damage. I know people who think that John Bellamy Foster should be as well known as Chomsky. He is certainly one of the more original Marxist thinkers around nowadays. Unfortunately, Foster is not a good public speaker. He tends to be long-winded, and he also tends to use a lot of academic jargon. One of the reasons Chomsky became famous is because he can discuss complex ideas in a clear and succinct manner, using (mostly) everyday English.

I suspect that one of the reasons for the current paucity of famous eggheads is that simply becoming an intellectual in our society is not easy. It requires being able to blot out a lot of noise. Let me give you an example. In one of the few amusing scenes in the otherwise dreary New Age film, I Am, someone asks Chomsky if he has ever seen Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. “Ace who?” says Chomsky, looking completely mystified. Lesson: you can’t be an intellectual if you watch movies like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. I know it sounds elitist of me to say that, but it happens to be true. (Mind you, this bit of wisdom comes from a man who just watched a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I’m not making this up.)

Footnote One: Let give you an idea of how well-known Chomsky is. One night I went to my local Papa John’s to order a pizza. From where I was standing at the counter, I could hear a radio in the kitchen. The voice on the radio sounded strangely familiar. It took me a moment to realize that it was Chomsky’s voice. About what other intellectual could you possibly tell a story like this?

Footnote Two: I meant to write a scathing review of I Am. The problem is that every time I think about that film, my eyelids start feeling heavy. I’m afraid of slumping forward and damaging my computer monitor.