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Saturday, January 26, 2008

U.S. government’s belief in its ownership of the world

Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. On January 15, Michael Shank interviewed him on the latest developments in U.S. policy toward Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. In the first part of this two-part interview, Chomsky also discussed how the U.S. government’s belief in its ownership of the world shapes its foreign policy.

Michael Shank: Is the leading Democrats’ policy vis-Ă -vis Iraq at all different from the Bush administration’s policy?

Noam Chomsky: It’s somewhat different. The situation is very similar to Vietnam. The opposition to the war today in elite sectors, including every viable candidate, is pure cynicism, completely unprincipled: “If we can get away with it, it’s fine. If it costs us too much, it’s bad.” That’s the way the Vietnam opposition was in the elite sectors.

Take, say, Anthony Lewis, who’s about as far to the critical extreme as you can find in the media. In his final words evaluating the war in The New York Times in 1975, he said the war began with “blundering efforts to do good” but by 1969, namely a year after the American business community had turned against the war, it was clear that the United States “could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself,” so therefore it was a “disastrous mistake.” Nazi generals could have said the same thing after Stalingrad and probably did. That’s the extreme position in the left liberal spectrum. Or take the distinguished historian and Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger. When the war was going sour under LBJ, he wrote that “we all pray” that the hawks are right and that more troops will lead to victory. And he knew what victory meant. He said we’re leaving “a land of ruin and wreck,” but “we all pray” that escalation will succeed and if it does “we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government.” But probably the hawks are wrong, so escalation is a bad idea.

You can translate the rhetoric almost word by word into the elite, including political elite, opposition to the Iraq war.

It’s based on two principles. The first principle is: “we totally reject American ideals.” The only people who accept American ideals are Iraqis. The United States totally rejects them. What American ideals? The principles of the Nuremburg decision. The Nuremburg tribunal, which is basically American, expressed high ideals, which we profess. Namely, of all the war crimes, aggression is the supreme international crime, which encompasses within it all of the evil that follows. It’s obvious that the Iraq invasion is a pure case of aggression and therefore, according to our ideals, it encompasses all the evil that follows, like sectarian warfare, al-Qaeda Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and everything else.

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