76 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Robert David STEELE Vivas
- Published on Amazon.com
Edit of 15 Jun 09 to correct factual error in original review (nuclear deal with Iran under Gerald Ford, not Ronald Reagan, in 1974).
Chomsky is actually starting to win over the balanced middle with his common sense. I have long respected him, but it took Dick Cheney and his merry band of nakedly amoral and obliviously delusional henchmen to really bring home to America how much his straight talk and logical thinking can help us.
There is virtually no repetition from past works. This series of interviews took place in 2006 and early 2007, and I found a great deal here worth noting.
* In 70 New York Times editorials on Iraq, not once did they mention international law or the United Nations Charter. He uses this and several other examples to show how pallid, how myopic, how unprofessional our mainstream media has become.
* A wonderful section talks about how civil *obedience* of immoral and illegal orders is our biggest challenge in this era, and I agree. The "failure of generalship" in the Pentagon resulted from a well-meaning but profoundly misdirected confusion of loyalty to the civilian chain of command, however lunatic, with the integrity that each of our senior swore to the Constitution and to We the People in their Oath of Office.
* His knowledge of Lebanon, a country I have come to love as representative of all that is good in the Middle East, is most helpful. His many remarks, all documented, make it clear that Israel has been abducting people for decades, and that the Lebanese have quite properly come to equate US "freedom" with the "kiss of death." I am especially impressed with his discussion of Hezbollah as having legitimacy based on providing social services to those ignored by past governments, and as having a significant strategic value to Iran as a flank on Israel. His observations on how the US consistently refuses to recognize honest elections that do not go as the policymakers (not the US public) wish, are valid.
* He reminds us that the US made an enormous strategic mistake in using Saudi Arabian extremist Islam as a counterpoint to Nasser's natural Arab nationalism. As Robert Baer puts it, we see no evil and slept with the devil like a common whore lusting for oil.
* His comments on China and the Shi'ites who sit on most of the reserves (including Saudi reserves in one corner of that country, are provocative. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the USA needs to cede the oil to China and execute a Manhattan Project to leverage solar power from space, tidal power, air power, and--for storage--hydrogen power made with renewable resources.
* Chomsky's comments on Chavez track with my own understanding. Chavez is a serious and well-off revolutionary who is sharing energy with his Latin American brethren, and leading the independence of Latin America from the overbearing and often hypocritical and predatory US government and US multinational corporations.
* He offers compelling thoughts on how India is sacrificing hundreds of thousands of poor rural people who now commit suicide or migrate to cities after losing their lands, for the sake of the high technology investments. I wonder why India is not doing more to teach the poor "one cell call at a time."
* His observations on US electoral fraud are brilliant. He points out that the fact that elections are stolen is much less important than the fact that the entire electoral process in the US is fraudulent, without substance, only posturing and platitudes.
* He discusses how the US public is completely divorced from the policy choices of the dual tyranny of the US (political) government and the US corporate sector.
* At every turn Chomsky offers common sense observations, for instance, Pakistan, not Iran, is vastly more likely to leak nuclear capabilities to jihadists. In passing, he points out that it was the US that gave the Shah of Iran an entire MIT nuclear program and substantive assistance that is now being harvested by Iran, in 1975. Kissinger, Cheney,Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz as well as Gerald Ford are mentioned by name.
* He observes that Israeli influence is vastly larger than the lobbying effort, because the entire US intellectual network has "bought into" the Israeli myths and lies. The American fascists (see American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America), the Christian fundamentalists, are actually anti-Semitic, but support Israel because of their belief in the apocalypse.
* The Internet is having a pernicious effect on dialog and debate and compromise, because it creates little cul-de-sacs for lunatics of like mind to find and reinforce one another, divorced from larger realities.
* Avian flu (and our lack of preparation for it) is vastly more dangerous than a nuclear event. (See my review of the DVD Pandemic).
* Missile "defense" is actually code for allowing a first strike by the US on Russia or China, as a means to moderating their counter-strike. This is the first time I have heard it put this way, and I agree. All Americans should oppose "missile defense."
* State secrecy is about keeping our own citizens ignorant of the crimes being done "in our name" not about keeping secrets from the enemies we a re covertly screwing over time and again.
* Darfur is being dumbed down, at the same time that the *millions* being genocided in the Congo are being ignored.
* He ends on two good notes. Like Thomas Jefferson (A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry") he says that "educating the American people is the main thing to be done," and love of the people is fundamental.
Great book, completely fresh and absolutely worth reading for the mainstream that might have in the past written Chomsky off as a perennial leftist, which he is not. Chomsky is what we must all seek to be: an educated engaged citizen.
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III
Why We Fight
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Thomas W. Sulcer
- Published on Amazon.com
Americans are rarely exposed to serious criticism, particularly from left-leaning thinkers like Mr. Chomsky, and I found this book to be strangely refreshing because it's different. It is a tough critique of American foreign policy from a thinker inside America. A giant bubble of non-thought seems to envelop the United States, a fog hindering serious debate. Serious critics like Mr. Chomsky are labeled as radical, stripped of credibility, outcast as cranks, and kicked out of the stadium of public opinion by an intolerant majority hell bent on enjoying a deluge of commercials with a constant theme of how great America is. And we all suffer as a result because we don't get to have our ideas challenged in the rigor of public debate. We don't get to think. We're dull knives, we Americans, and Mr. Chomsky is an underused wetstone.
Tocqueville wrote how in American democracy the majority is king. It controls the legislature, major offices, media, business. And if it doesn't want to hear something critical, it has the power to not listen. There is no regular forum where the majority can be exposed to serious criticism. And Noam Chomsky is trying to point out that "the majority has no clothes". So when he criticizes the media for excluding serious left-wing criticism of foreign policy, I can understand how his voice is drowned out in the dull roar of the stadium.
I don't agree with many of Mr. Chomsky's views. I'm non-partisan. But what I found striking was that there were points where Mr. Chomsky and I agree. He's a fervent advocate of democracy. So am I. I think American democracy is in a sad, sorry state of dysfunction. He does too. Mr. Chomsky writes "... our electoral system, our political system, has been driven to such a low level that issues are completely marginalized". And I agree that politics today rarely deals with issues, but focuses on style and packaging and sound-bite appeals. Mr. Chomsky sees President Barack Obama as a packaged commodity, avoiding issues, with no discernible position on issues, and this is consistent with my take on the campaign record as well, although I'm sincerely impressed with President Obama's excellent book "The Audacity of Hope". Mr. Chomsky notes that only 5% to 10% of congressional seats are contested each election which is a clear sign for me that the rules have been rigged in favor of incumbents. This is consistent with academics like Benjamin Ginsberg, author of "The American Lie". There is a growing chorus of sharp critics who have pointed out serious flaws with American politics, including Dana Nelson's powerful "Bad for Democracy" in which she argues that Americans have ceded their political influence to merely voting for president, and makes a powerful case that the presidency is, itself, an undemocratic institution.
Mr. Chomsky feels the US is an outlaw state; if Saddam Hussein was wrong to invade Kuwait, the US was even more wrong to invade Iraq in the second Gulf war. He sees the second US invasion of Iraq as violating international law. He sides with the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and criticizes the Bush II administration as hypocritical because it advocated democracy, then changed course when a radical Palestinian faction, Hamas, came to power through democratic means. He decries Israel's sneaky tactics such as assassinations and abductions while criticizing Palestinian responses, such as rocket attacks by Hamas militants; overall, he sides with the Palestinians in the dispute. He feels Israel is "cantonizing" Palestine.
Much of the book addresses US foreign policy towards Latin America. One chapter is titled provocatively "stirrings in the servants quarters". And I think the idea of Latin nations as America's "servants" is rather presumptious, although one could build a case that the interaction between the US and Latin America is somewhat asymetrical in favor of the US. He feels the US is genuinely bothered by the specter of democracy in Latin America since true democracy -- that is, a left-wing workers' rights variant of democracy in his view -- will hurt America's access to South American oil. And there may be some validity to this view. He writes "Democracy is fine as long as you do what we say, but not if you vote for someone we don't like." I think there's a deeper distinction underlying the term "democracy" which doesn't fully emerge in this book -- an ideological division into what I call HAVES and HAVE-NOTS (or what Thomas Sowell might call the "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions) -- so that it's possible to have a capitalist-leaning democracy (what Bush might like) and a socialist-leaning democracy (what Chomsky might like). And Mr. Chomsky is a HAVE-NOT. No doubt about that.
In some respects, Chomsky is a pragmatist, a realist seeing two dominant principles as guiding most foreign policy: first, big countries push around smaller ones; second, merchants and manufacturers must be "attended to", meaning that capitalist considerations drive much of world politics. I think it's more complex than this, but these considerations are definitely factors. This is how a left-leaning partisan might see world politics. He sees American foreign policy as evil; I see it as incompetent, conflicted, confused. He gave credence to Hugo Chavez, the left-leaning Venezuelan president and critic of America, and feels the media didn't cover Chavez fairly in his speeches at the United Nations, and often tags Chavez for being a dictator when, in fact, he was elected peacefully. I think Chomsky doesn't build a solid case for his view that nations which observed the neo-liberal rules (and what are these rules exactly -- it's not clear) stagnated, while nations which broke the supposed rules, such as China and Taiwan, prospered; clearly, I think there's much more to their prosperity than this one dimension. He sees nothing wrong with Venezuela using its oil wealth to help out poor folks in America via the Citgo brand of gasoline -- it's just buying influence. And there's nothing wrong with Cuban doctors fixing the eyesight of blind Jamaicans. These are public relations tools which nations use. He wonders whether Bush's verbal mistakes were faked to endear him to ordinary folks like Texas voters.
Overall, an interesting critique of American foreign policy, particularly towards the Middle East and Latin America, during the Bush II years, from a left-leaning thinker. While I don't agree with many of his positions, I believe Mr. Chomsky deserves a wider audience and more serious attention.
Thomas W. Sulcer
Author of "The Second Constitution of the United States"
(free on web; google title + Sulcer)