Noam Chomsky:

"Hegemony or Survival" (Metropolitan, 2003)

(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Noam Chomsky has written better books, but this one sort of summarizes his view of the USA as an imperial project. There is nothing here that is new: one can find the same facts and the same opinions expressed in countless books published all over the world. Chomsky makes the same mistake that others do: omit very relevant details. He comes through not as biased or false, but quite simply as naive. Much of this book is devoted to scathing criticism of George W Bush's policies. Since very few people in the Republican Party itself are fond of those policies, he's preaching to the choir. But he's really making a bigger argument, the same one that he has been making all along: that George W Bush's doctrine of first strike against foes and of continued military supremacy by the USA is nothing but the continuation of an ideology and a plan that date far back into USA history. Where others see a discontinuity between George W Bush and his predecessors, Chomsky sees perfect continuity. Thus he briefly returns to USA's policies in the Middle East and Latin America (Chomsky has a very selective memory, so he omits most of them).

However, Chomsky sounds very naive. A typical example is his version of the Israeli-USA alliance. It was indeed a marriage of convenience, but he misses 90% of the story. The Arabs bear a lot of responsibility for what happened. Iran's Islamic revolution forced the USA to embrace Israel, no matter what (See my article Decolonization and the Islamic civil war). The Arabs were not any nicer to the Palestinians than Israel was. There never was a Palestinian state or even a Palestinian province under the Umayyads, Abbasids, Mameluks, Ottomans that ruled over this land (the Islamic powers that preceded Britain). In 1948 the Arab countries that attacked Israel simply wanted to split the land among themselves (not a single Arab country was talking of the Palestinians as a separate people). Last but not least, many (all?) Arab regimes have killed a lot more people than Israel killed Palestinians. Assad of Syria killed more members of the Muslim Brotherood in one week than Israel killed Palestinians in 50 years. The biggest massacre of Palestinians ("Black September") was carried out by Jordan. (See also my article The population of pre-Israel Palestine). His analysis of whatever the USA and Israel did is therefore incomplete at best.

Every now and then he can't resist the temptation to exaggerate data drawing from anti-USA propaganda. For example, he claims that the 1998 USA strike on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan caused "several tens of thousands of deaths". He doesn't mention any source for such a dramatic statement. It turns out that sentence is what the German ambassador in Sudan wrote at the time: that the factory produced 90% of the medicines of Sudan, and scarcity of medicines such as malaria pills could result in "tens of thousands of deaths". That was just an educated guess. Chomsky does not mention that no humanitarian agency operating in Sudan (such as Oxfam and Medecins sans Frontieres) have ever reported an unusual increase in deaths: are they all part of a CIA cover-up? (There is no doubt that the bombing was a major blunder and totally illegal under international law, but that's another story). Nor does Chomsky mention that Dick Clarke, the anti-terrorism czar fired by George W Bush who is hardly a suspect of USA imperial ambitions given his outspoken criticism of the government, approved the bombing. Chomsky's point is that the bombing was part of a worldwide multi-decade design to impose USA control over other countries. It seems to me that, instead, it was simply bad judgment by some USA bureaucrats who worked for president Bill Clinton (a president who was maybe eager to deflect attention from his sex scandals). Nothing in the dynamics of the decision leads to the conclusion that the bombing was part of a larger imperial ambition. But that's precisely the point that Chomsky wants you to bring home.

Multiply by 100 and you get the purpose of this book.

Chomsky argues that the growing wealth gap caused by globalization will pose a threat to interests of the USA in its puppet states around the world, and this explains the USA's military strategy. Alas, the most dramatic wealth gaps are being created in countries such as China and Russia, that don't quite fit the definition of "USA puppet states". Furthermore, Chomsky does not mention that globalization has dramatically improved the conditions of the vast majority of people in the developing world and greatly reduced the number of wars (the number of people killed in wars has declined dramatically since the end of the Cold War). There might be downsides to globalization, but a few superficial and inaccurate lines do not do justice to the phenomenon.

Chomsky claims that the world is more afraid of USA's unbridled power than of "rogue" states like Iran and North Korea going nuclear. It is true that many in the world view the USA as the main rogue state in the world. The USA calls "terrorists" the groups that carry out individual strikes against civilians, but does not call "terrorist" a superpower that created a regime of terror in many developing countries by supporting either brutal dictatorships or fascist guerrillas. Very few people would argue with this point of view. However, everything is relative: very few people would rather live in North Korea or even China or even Russia than in the USA. There's a reason that seems to have escaped Chomsky's mind since he started writing political pamphlets.

Chomsky is a much better thinker when he examines the dynamics of public opinion. He makes a convincing case that the government of a democracy (in which people are free to vent their dissenting opinions) has a stronger need for propaganda than the government of a dictatorship (in which people are afraid to criticize the official policies). As Edward Bernays wrote in 1947, "The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process".