09/06/2006 24 min #1188

Noam Chomsky: Why it's over for America

Noam Chomsky: Why it's over for America

Le 2 juin 06 à 09:03, Laurence a écrit :

As in the past, rights are not likely to be granted by

benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions - attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in the

personalised quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as

"democratic politics". As always in the past, the tasks

require dedicated day-by-day engagement to create - in part

recreate - the basis for a functioning democratic culture in

which the public plays some role in determining policies,

not only in the political arena, from which it is largely

excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which

it is excluded in principle.

-------------------------------------------------------- Original source URL:


Noam Chomsky: Why it's over for America

An inability to protect its citizens. The belief that it is

above the law. A lack of democracy. Three defining

characteristics of the 'failed state'. And that, says Noam

Chomsky, is exactly what the US is becoming. In an exclusive

extract from his devastating new book, America's leading

thinker explains how his country lost its way

Published: 30 May 2006

The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for

human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a

few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the

prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear

war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's

leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these

catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the

population, not surprisingly, does not agree.

That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the

world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the

reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar

Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, "the American 'system' as a

whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the

end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful


The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to

adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to

states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as

needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal

threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognised to be, according to

the journal Foreign Affairs, "frustratingly imprecise", some of the primary

characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability

or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even

destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the

reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out

aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from

a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic

institutions of real substance.

Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most

important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do

so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of

"failed states" right at home.

No one familiar with history should be surprised that the growing democratic

deficit in the United States is accompanied by declaration of messianic

missions to bring democracy to a suffering world. Declarations of noble

intent by systems of power are rarely complete fabrication, and the same is

true in this case. Under some conditions, forms of democracy are indeed

acceptable. Abroad, as the leading scholar-advocate of "democracy promotion"

concludes, we find a "strong line of continuity": democracy is acceptable if

and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests (Thomas

Carothers). In modified form, the doctrine holds at home as well.

The basic dilemma facing policymakers is sometimes candidly recognised at the

dovish liberal extreme of the spectrum, for example, by Robert Pastor,

President Carter's national security adviser for Latin America. He explained

why the administration had to support the murderous and corrupt Somoza

regime in Nicaragua, and, when that proved impossible, to try at least to

maintain the US-trained National Guard even as it was massacring the

population "with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy",

killing some 40,000 people. The reason was the familiar one: "The United

States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region,

but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted

Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect US

interests adversely."

Similar dilemmas faced Bush administration planners after their invasion of

Iraq. They want Iraqis "to act independently, except when doing so would

affect US interests adversely". Iraq must therefore be sovereign and

democratic, but within limits. It must somehow be constructed as an obedient

client state, much in the manner of the traditional order in Central

America. At a general level, the pattern is familiar, reaching to the

opposite extreme of institutional structures. The Kremlin was able to

maintain satellites that were run by domestic political and military forces,

with the iron fist poised. Germany was able to do much the same in occupied

Europe even while it was at war, as did fascist Japan in Man-churia (its

Manchukuo). Fascist Italy achieved similar results in North Africa while

carrying out virtual genocide that in no way harmed its favourable image in

the West and possibly inspired Hitler. Traditional imperial and neocolonial

systems illustrate many variations on similar themes.

To achieve the traditional goals in Iraq has proven to be surprisingly

difficult, despite unusually favourable circumstances. The dilemma of

combining a measure of independence with firm control arose in a stark form

not long after the invasion, as mass non-violent resistance compelled the

invaders to accept far more Iraqi initiative than they had anticipated. The

outcome even evoked the nightmarish prospect of a more or less democratic

and sovereign Iraq taking its place in a loose Shiite alliance comprising

Iran, Shiite Iraq, and possibly the nearby Shiite-dominated regions of Saudi

Arabia, controlling most of the world's oil and independent of Washington.

The situation could get worse. Iran might give up on hopes that Europe could

become independent of the United States, and turn eastward. Highly relevant

background is discussed by Selig Harrison, a leading specialist on these

topics. "The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union were

based on a bargain that the EU, held back by the US, has failed to honour,"

Harrison observes.

"The bargain was that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment, and the EU would

undertake security guarantees. The language of the joint declaration was

"unambiguous. 'A mutually acceptable agreement,' it said, would not only

provide 'objective guarantees' that Iran's nuclear programme is 'exclusively

for peaceful purposes' but would 'equally provide firm commitments on

security issues.'"

The phrase "security issues" is a thinly veiled reference to the threats by

the United States and Israel to bomb Iran, and preparations to do so. The

model regularly adduced is Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor in

1981, which appears to have initiated Saddam's nuclear weapons programs,

another demonstration that violence tends to elicit violence. Any attempt to

execute similar plans against Iran could lead to immediate violence, as is

surely understood in Washington. During a visit to Tehran, the influential

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned that his militia would defend Iran in

the case of any attack, "one of the strongest signs yet", the Washington

Post reported, "that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western

conflict with Iran, raising the spectre of Iraqi Shiite militias - or

perhaps even the US-trained Shiite-dominated military - taking on American

troops here in sympathy with Iran." The Sadrist bloc, which registered

substantial gains in the December 2005 elections, may soon become the most

powerful single political force in Iraq. It is consciously pursuing the

model of other successful Islamist groups, such as Hamas in Palestine,

combining strong resistance to military occupation with grassroots social

organising and service to the poor.

Washington's unwillingness to allow regional security issues to be considered

is nothing new. It has also arisen repeatedly in the confrontation with

Iraq. In the background is the matter of Israeli nuclear weapons, a topic

that Washington bars from international consideration. Beyond that lurks

what Harrison rightly describes as "the central problem facing the global

non-proliferation regime": the failure of the nuclear states to live up to

their nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligation "to phase out their

own nuclear weapons" - and, in Washington's case, formal rejection of the


Unlike Europe, China refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary

reason for the growing fear of China on the part of US planners. Much of

Iran's oil already goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons,

presumably considered a deterrent to US threats. Still more uncomfortable

for Washington is the fact that, according to the Financial Times, "the

Sino-Saudi relationship has developed dramatically", including Chinese

military aid to Saudi Arabia and gas exploration rights for China. By 2005,

Saudi Arabia provided about 17 per cent of China's oil imports. Chinese and

Saudi oil companies have signed deals for drilling and construction of a

huge refinery (with Exxon Mobil as a partner). A January 2006 visit by Saudi

king Abdullah to Beijing was expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of

understanding calling for "increased cooperation and investment between the

two countries in oil, natural gas, and minerals".

Indian analyst Aijaz Ahmad observes that Iran could "emerge as the virtual

linchpin in the making, over the next decade or so, of what China and Russia

have come to regard as an absolutely indispensable Asian Energy Security

Grid, for breaking Western control of the world's energy supplies and

securing the great industrial revolution of Asia". South Korea and southeast

Asian countries are likely to join, possibly Japan as well. A crucial

question is how India will react. It rejected US pressures to withdraw from

an oil pipeline deal with Iran. On the other hand, India joined the United

States and the EU in voting for an anti-Iranian resolution at the IAEA,

joining also in their hypocrisy, since India rejects the NPT regime to which

Iran, so far, appears to be largely conforming. Ahmad reports that India may

have secretly reversed its stand under Iranian threats to terminate a $20bn

gas deal. Washington later warned India that its "nuclear deal with the US

could be ditched" if India did not go along with US demands, eliciting a

sharp rejoinder from the Indian foreign ministry and an evasive tempering of

the warning by the US embassy.

The prospect that Europe and Asia might move toward greater independence has

seriously troubled US planners since World War II, and concerns have

significantly increased as the tripolar order has continued to evolve, along

with new south-south interactions and rapidly growing EU engagement with


US intelligence has projected that the United States, while controlling

Middle East oil for the traditional reasons, will itself rely mainly on more

stable Atlantic Basin resources (West Africa, western hemisphere). Control

of Middle East oil is now far from a sure thing, and these expectations are

also threatened by developments in the western hemisphere, accelerated by

Bush administration policies that have left the United States remarkably

isolated in the global arena. The Bush administration has even succeeded in

alienating Canada, an impressive feat.

Canada's minister of natural resources said that within a few years one

quarter of the oil that Canada now sends to the United States may go to

China instead. In a further blow to Washington's energy policies, the

leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, Venezuela, has forged probably the

closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning

to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce

dependence on the openly hostile US government. Latin America as a whole is

increasing trade and other relations with China, with some setbacks, but

likely expansion, in particular for raw materials exporters like Brazil and


Meanwhile, Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming very close, each relying on

its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil while in

return Cuba organises literacy and health programs, sending thousands of

highly skilled professionals, teachers, and doctors, who work in the poorest

and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the Third World.

Cuba-Venezuela projects are extending to the Caribbean countries, where

Cuban doctors are providing healthcare to thousands of people with

Venezuelan funding. Operation Miracle, as it is called, is described by

Jamaica's ambassador to Cuba as "an example of integration and south-south

cooperation", and is generating great enthusiasm among the poor majority.

Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most

horrendous tragedies of recent years was the October 2005 earthquake in

Pakistan. In addition to the huge toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to

face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food, or medical assistance.

One has to turn to the South Asian press to read that "Cuba has provided the

largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan", paying all the

costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), and that President Musharraf

expressed his "deep gratitude" for the "spirit and compassion" of the Cuban

medical teams.

Some analysts have suggested that Cuba and Venezuela might even unite, a step

towards further integration of Latin America in a bloc that is more

independent from the United States. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South

American customs union, a move described by Argentine president Nestor

Kirchner as "a milestone" in the development of this trading bloc, and

welcomed as opening "a new chapter in our integration" by Brazilian

president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Independent experts say that "adding

Venezuela to the bloc furthers its geopolitical vision of eventually

spreading Mercosur to the rest of the region".

At a meeting to mark Venezuela's entry into Mercosur, Venezuelan president

Hugo Chavez said, "We cannot allow this to be purely an economic project,

one for the elites and for the transnational companies," a not very oblique

reference to the US-sponsored "Free Trade Agreement for the Americas", which

has aroused strong public opposition. Venezuela also supplied Argentina with

fuel oil to help stave off an energy crisis, and bought almost a third of

Argentine debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free

the countries from the control of the US-dominated IMF after two decades of

disastrous effects of conformity to its rules. The IMF has "acted towards

our country as a promoter and a vehicle of policies that caused poverty and

pain among the Argentine people", President Kirchner said in announcing his

decision to pay almost $1 trillion to rid itself of the IMF forever.

Radically violating IMF rules, Argentina enjoyed a substantial recovery from

the disaster left by IMF policies.

Steps toward independent regional integration advanced further with the

election of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005, the first president

from the indigenous majority. Morales moved quickly to reach energy accords

with Venezuela.

Though Central America was largely disciplined by Reaganite violence and

terror, the rest of the hemisphere is falling out of control, particularly

from Venezuela to Argentina, which was the poster child of the IMF and the

Treasury Department until its economy collapsed under the policies they

imposed. Much of the region has left-centre governments. The indigenous

populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in

Bolivia and Ecuador, both major energy producers, where they either want oil

and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production

altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why

their lives, societies, and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so

that New Yorkers can sit in SUVs in traffic gridlock. Some are even calling

for an "Indian nation" in South America. Meanwhile the economic integration

that is under way is reversing patterns that trace back to the Spanish

conquests, with Latin American elites and economies linked to the imperial

powers but not to one another. Along with growing south-south interaction on

a broader scale, these developments are strongly influenced by popular

organisations that are coming together in the unprecedented international

global justice movements, ludicrously called "anti-globalisation" because

they favour globalisation that privileges the interests of people, not

investors and financial institutions. For many reasons, the system of US

global dominance is fragile, even apart from the damage inflicted by Bush


One consequence is that the Bush administration's pursuit of the traditional

policies of deterring democracy faces new obstacles. It is no longer as easy

as before to resort to military coups and international terrorism to

overthrow democratically elected governments, as Bush planners learnt

ruefully in 2002 in Venezuela. The "strong line of continuity" must be

pursued in other ways, for the most part. In Iraq, as we have seen, mass

nonviolent resistance compelled Washington and London to permit the

elections they had sought to evade. The subsequent effort to subvert the

elections by providing substantial advantages to the administration's

favourite candidate, and expelling the independent media, also failed.

Washington faces further problems. The Iraqi labor movement is making

considerable progress despite the opposition of the occupation authorities.

The situation is rather like Europe and Japan after World War II, when a

primary goal of the United States and United Kingdom was to undermine

independent labour movements - as at home, for similar reasons: organised

labour contributes in essential ways to functioning democracy with popular

engagement. Many of the measures adopted at that time - withholding food,

supporting fascist police - are no longer available. Nor is it possible

today to rely on the labour bureaucracy of the American Institute for Free

Labor Development to help undermine unions. Today, some American unions are

supporting Iraqi workers, just as they do in Colombia, where more union

activists are murdered than anywhere in the world. At least the unions now

receive support from the United Steelworkers of America and others, while

Washington continues to provide enormous funding for the government, which

bears a large part of the responsibility.

The problem of elections arose in Palestine much in the way it did in Iraq.

As already discussed, the Bush administration refused to permit elections

until the death of Yasser Arafat, aware that the wrong man would win. After

his death, the administration agreed to permit elections, expecting the

victory of its favoured Palestinian Authority candidates. To promote this

outcome, Washington resorted to much the same modes of subversion as in

Iraq, and often before. Washington used the US Agency for International

Development as an "invisible conduit" in an effort to "increase the

popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in

which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic

group Hamas" (Washington Post), spending almost $2m "on dozens of quick

projects before elections this week to bolster the governing Fatah faction's

image with voters" (New York Times). In the United States, or any Western

country, even a hint of such foreign interference would destroy a candidate,

but deeply rooted imperial mentality legitimates such routine measures

elsewhere. However, the attempt to subvert the elections again resoundingly


The US and Israeli governments now have to adjust to dealing somehow with a

radical Islamic party that approaches their traditional rejectionist stance,

though not entirely, at least if Hamas really does mean to agree to an

indefinite truce on the international border as its leaders state. The US

and Israel, in contrast, insist that Israel must take over substantial parts

of the West Bank (and the forgotten Golan Heights). Hamas's refusal to

accept Israel's "right to exist" mirrors the refusal of Washington and

Jerusalem to accept Palestine's "right to exist" - a concept unknown in

international affairs; Mexico accepts the existence of the United States but

not its abstract "right to exist" on almost half of Mexico, acquired by

conquest. Hamas's formal commitment to "destroy Israel" places it on a par

with the United States and Israel, which vowed formally that there could be

no "additional Palestinian state" (in addition to Jordan) until they relaxed

their extreme rejectionist stand partially in the past few years, in the

manner already reviewed. Although Hamas has not said so, it would come as no

great surprise if Hamas were to agree that Jews may remain in scattered

areas in the present Israel, while Palestine constructs huge settlement and

infrastructure projects to take over the valuable land and resources,

effectively breaking Israel up into unviable cantons, virtually separated

from one another and from some small part of Jerusalem where Jews would also

be allowed to remain. And they might agree to call the fragments "a state".

If such proposals were made, we would - rightly - regard them as virtually a

reversion to Nazism, a fact that might elicit some thoughts. If such

proposals were made, Hamas's position would be essentially like that of the

United States and Israel for the past five years, after they came to

tolerate some impoverished form of "statehood". It is fair to describe Hamas

as radical, extremist, and violent, and as a serious threat to peace and a

just political settlement. But the organisation is hardly alone in this


Elsewhere traditional means of undermining democracy have succeeded. In

Haiti, the Bush administration's favourite "democracy-building group, the

International Republican Institute", worked assiduously to promote the

opposition to President Aristide, helped by the withholding of desperately

needed aid on grounds that were dubious at best. When it seemed that

Aristide would probably win any genuine election, Washington and the

opposition chose to withdraw, a standard device to discredit elections that

are going to come out the wrong way: Nicaragua in 1984 and Venezuela in

December 2005 are examples that should be familiar. Then followed a military

coup, expulsion of the president, and a reign of terror and violence vastly

exceeding anything under the elected government.

The persistence of the strong line of continuity to the present again reveals

that the United States is very much like other powerful states. It pursues

the strategic and economic interests of dominant sectors of the domestic

population, to the accompaniment of rhetorical flourishes about its

dedication to the highest values. That is practically a historical

universal, and the reason why sensible people pay scant attention to

declarations of noble intent by leaders, or accolades by their followers.

One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do

not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge:

"They present solutions, but I don't like them." In addition to the

proposals that should be familiar about dealing with the crises that reach

to the level of survival, a few simple suggestions for the United States

have already been mentioned: 1) accept the jurisdiction of the International

Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto

protocols; 3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on

diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting

terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; 6) give

up the Security Council veto and have "a decent respect for the opinion of

mankind," as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centres

disagree; 7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase

social spending. For people who believe in democracy, these are very

conservative suggestions: they appear to be the opinions of the majority of

the US population, in most cases the overwhelming majority. They are in

radical opposition to public policy. To be sure, we cannot be very confident

about the state of public opinion on such matters because of another feature

of the democratic deficit: the topics scarcely enter into public discussion

and the basic facts are little known. In a highly atomised society, the

public is therefore largely deprived of the opportunity to form considered


Another conservative suggestion is that facts, logic, and elementary moral

principles should matter. Those who take the trouble to adhere to that

suggestion will soon be led to abandon a good part of familiar doctrine,

though it is surely much easier to repeat self-serving mantras. Such simple

truths carry us some distance toward developing more specific and detailed

answers. More important, they open the way to implement them, opportun- ities that are readily within our grasp if we can free ourselves from the

shackles of doctrine and imposed illusion.

Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism,

hopelessness, and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial

progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years,

leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than

before. Opportunities for education and organising abound. As in the past,

rights are not likely to be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by

intermittent actions - attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in

the personalised quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic

politics". As always in the past, the tasks require dedicated day-by-day

engagement to create - in part recreate - the basis for a functioning

democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining

policies, not only in the political arena, from which it is largely

excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded

in principle. There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it

to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is

likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and

for future generations.

This is an edited extract from Failed States by Noam Chomsky (Hamish

Hamilton), £16.99. To buy it for £15.50 (inc p&p), call Independent Books

Direct on 0870 079 8897. --