Chomsky on US foreign policy in 2008

Well, June 2007, but the article just came out this month. It talks about the unspoken assumptions behind our war in Iraq and our foreign policy in general. Kind of long but worth the read.

An excerpt:

By 1969 around 70 percent of the public felt that the war was not a mistake, but that it was fundamentally wrong and immoral. That was the wording of the polls and that figure remains fairly constant up until the most recent polls just a few years ago. The figures are pretty remarkable because people who say that in a poll almost certainly think, I must be the only person in the world that thinks this. They certainly did not read it anywhere, they did not hear it anywhere. But that was popular opinion.

The same is true with regard to many other issues. But for articulate opinion it’s pretty much the way I’ve described—largely vigorous debate between the hawks and the doves, all on the unexpressed assumption that we own the world. So the only thing that matters is how much is it costing us, or maybe for some more humane types, are we harming too many of them?


However, it would be too strong to say that no high official in Washington called for immediate withdrawal. There were some. The strongest one I know of—when asked what is the solution to the problem in Iraq—said it’s quite obvious, “Withdraw all foreign forces and withdraw all foreign arms.” That official was Condoleeza Rice and she was not referring to U.S. forces, she was referring to Iranian forces and Iranian arms. And that makes sense, too, on the assumption that we own the world because, since we own the world U.S. forces cannot be foreign forces anywhere. So if we invade Iraq or Canada, say, we are the indigenous forces. It’s the Iranians that are foreign forces.

And the kicker:

Is there a possible solution to the U.S./Iran crisis? Well, there are some plausible solutions. One possibility would be an agreement that allows Iran to have nuclear energy, like every signer of the non-proliferation treaty, but not to have nuclear weapons. In addition, it would call for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. That would include Iran, Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and any U.S. or British forces deployed in the region. A third element of a solution would be for the United States and other nuclear states to obey their legal obligation, by unanimous agreement of the World Court, to make good-faith moves to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.

Is this feasible? Well, it’s feasible on one assumption, that the United States and Iran become functioning democratic societies, because what I have just quoted happens to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the populations in Iran and the United States.

So am I the only one here who thinks Chomsky is–and has been–completely correct about the US’s role in the world? I disagree with a lot of the man’s ideas on how things should be, but his facts and his analysis of history are always airtight in everything I’ve ever read and every talk I’ve heard him give.

Chomsky basically says that the US does not support Democracy abroad, and is more often than not a direct enemy of Democracy. He also talks about how corporations are an illigitmate and fundamentally unhelpful form of power consolidation. These things ring so true to me that they’re self evident, but I don’t hear a lot of other people agreeing, or even talking about the question.

What do you guys think about Chomsky, and this article in particular?

I entirely agree, and have for a long time. His insight that the US acts like it owns the world is IMHO spot on. We certainly wouldn’t tolerate a reversal of fortunes.

The problem is that Chomsky is for whatever reason difficult to bring into any sort of debate/discussion. In my experience those who would be swayed by him seem to already have been swayed, while those who don’t like him immediately scoff “Chomsky? what-ever” and stop listening. Immediate thread derail.

I sometimes see some mileage out of trying his arguments without his name attached, but that’s tricky as it’s hard to be as encyclopedic as Chomsky is.

Chompsky is difficult for pro-war advocates to fight directly as his knowledge of the ME situation seems quite robust. If you dig down much deeper, though, he often takes jr. level officer comments as de facto evidence of a larger conspiratorial desire to manipulate global events, or conflates the establishment, the intelligencia, and special interests into a vast, and many tentacled, if not completely coherent, conspiratorial empire. This is what causes his detractors to roll their eyes or fly off into a blind rage at mention of his name.

What Chompsky is best at is unveiling the hypocrisy and misinformation in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which in many ways is a war fought on the level of the individual newspaper editor and where exact knowledge of any particular incident seems mutable if not actually corrupted by ideological forces on the ground. He has shown many cases where what is reported in the US is not what has actually happened; albiet, admittedly this is a problem that has greatly lessened in the post-Gulf War, CNN-instant news, years.

On the most basic level he is basically right, though. The 1st Gulf War, and Tienamen Square were i think halmarks of the United States’ foreign policy based which was around economic self interest and not spreading democratic values.

Chomsky’s hallmark is using plausible, interesting theses to lubricate what can only be described as a poisonous suppository of questionably reasoned beliefs. His gift is language, and his mastery of it as a tool of political manipulation is virtually without comparison. In small doses and on those occasions when America royally screws the pooch he can make for compelling reading. I can’t emphasize enough his importance in discussions where he has taken on political con artists who masquerade as altruists. But he excels at combating those monsters on their own terms because he is one of them.

He is still the same man that can make Pol Pot seem defensible if you ignore that you are talking about POL POT.

Those are terrible cartoons.

Holy shit. You aren’t kidding.

Are you doing that on purpose?

How do you justify that? Where has he ever taken a position that was anything but defending the public interest as he sees it?

Look how precisely you qualify your own statement. That’s how I justify that. And you can look up Chomsky yourself, I gave you one example in his notorious Khmer Rouge period. College is an interesting time, stop dry running all of your bong chats on qt3.

Well, for starters, the part of LizardKing’s post you declined to quote, where he excused the genocidal frenzy of Pol Pot’s Cambodia because, well, America killed a lot of people in Cambodia, so clearly we can’t judge. More recently he decried the focus of attention on al’Qaeda when America clearly is the greater evil.

Which is typical of Chomsky’s approach to politics: hammer on facts that are in his favor (corporate greed is toxic, for example) and uses those as megaphones to distort the argument (ignoring the counterpoints of statist economies being worse), and to distract from that, use wildly offensive hyperbole as lightning rods that critics focus on (thanks to corporate greed America is a global tyranny that must be stopped).

It’s why most people ignore Chomsky-related threads that know of the subject, because the very nature of the argument itself is toxic and unwinnable unless you’re already a true believer.

What the hell?

Distort the argument to what end? What do you think Chomsky is trying to accomplish, if not raising awareness and effecting positive change?

There isn’t likely to be much useful discussion of the person of Chomsky himself. What about his contention, though, that the invasion of Iraq was a fundamentally wrong and immoral enterprise, that 70% of people agree with that position, and that this view is under-represented in the mainstream media?

I’m not sure a career of supporting the most authoritarian and murderous regimes on the planet (Khmer Cambodia, Cultural Revolution-era China) while decrying America in the 1960’s as “the most aggressive power in the world, the greatest threat to peace, to national self-determination, and to international cooperation” qualifies as effecting positive change. Your views may vary and that’s OK, because we don’t live in a leftist-collectivist state like that Chomsky advocated.

I dunno, from what I read in the media that’s not under-represented in the media, it’s taken as a basic assumption, for example in commenting on how the Republican candidates are outside the mainstream on the topic.

I’ll go along with how most mainstream media play along with the current Administration’s conflating of al’Qaeda terror with everything bad that happens in the Middle East (which helped drive the Iraqi invasion in the first place, which isn’t nearly discussed enough), but unfortunately that’s less to do with evil corporate conspiracy and more because most media commentary in America is aimed at six year olds and is loathe to challenge the official narrative.

[QUOTE=Lum]Well, for starters, the part of LizardKing’s post you declined to

(, where he excused the genocidal frenzy of Pol Pot’s Cambodia because, well, America killed a lot of people in Cambodia.

Lum, I followed your link and read the article. He says nothing excusing Pol Pot or the Khmer Rouge that I can see. Can you point out where he actually says that he’s in favour of Pol Pot/The KR?

That isn’t in that article linked, that is more his defending his defense (mainly by repeating how horrible the pre-Khmer Rouge American assault was, and how no one talks about the Vietnam war any more). A more salient quote:

This is a good snippet, because it shows:

  1. Chomsky isn’t outright supporting the Khmer Rouge explicitly, merely implicitly through attacking its critics. (His support for hard left regimes was more explicit in the 60’s). This moral equivocation is consistent - Chomsky will frequently condemn Western nations for taking actions that cause the taking of innocent lives, and later excuse leftist regimes for doing the same thing, using the-ends-justifies-the-means logic.

  2. He admits that there were ‘deaths’, but in the same breath minimizes them as not the result of inexplicable state terror, but explainable things that just happened (which, by the way, is very, very wrong - and to this day not disavowed, as per the first link)

  3. “It’s really America’s fault” - the purposefully outrageous rhetorical garnish that people focus on, thus glossing over the mrrmmh-hrrrmmm minimizing earlier and through its losing focus, being taken as fact.

Chomsky’s good - probably the best at using language to justify his aims (which makes sense, he’s one of the modern era’s best scholars on the forms of language). But he’s also frequently wildly wrong.

Yah, The Khmer Rouge thing. That always gets brought up, and seems really dastardly – in 20/20 hindsight. At the time Chomsky defended that position, it wasn’t so clear. It turns out he was quite wrong, which he has admitted to. I’m curious Lum, what’s the date on your quote?

As always, this gets immediately conflated to “But he’s also frequently wildly wrong!!!”, and a veritable train of baseless and essentially ad hominem attacks.

Anyway, I rest my case. Bringing up Chomsky in a debate simply goes nowhere. There’s a small but fervent group that take the same angle as Lum and Lizard King, typically with arrogant statements like:

It’s why most people ignore Chomsky-related threads that know of the subject, because the very nature of the argument itself is toxic and unwinnable unless you’re already a true believer.

Good luck with that. Notice how the substance of the argument at hand is basically ignored. But the Khmer Rouge!

Where are you reading that 70% of people in the US think the Iraq War is immoral and wrong, in the main stream media? That’s not something I’ve ever seen, nor does Chomsky bring it up. Hell you can’t even get (not quite) that many people to simply agree that Bush sucks.

He was talking about contemporary opinion of the Vietnam War. To be honest, I’d never heard public opinion had polled so strongly against the Vietnam War (i.e. that it was morally wrong, not just too expensive), and that number left me rather skeptical. I’m curious where he got it from.