Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Noam Chomsky's Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part I

I'm not usually a huge fan of Chomsky but his new collection of essays Hopes and Prospects is really good. The first part of the book deals with Latin America. Chomsky outlines the colonial past and present of Latin American countries and their valiant efforts to rid themselves of neo-imperialist domination by the United States. He states correctly that today's struggles of Latin American countries (Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela) to oppose the depredations of the US-inspired version of globalization offer hope for the rest of the world.  He is also absolutely right in pointing out that "Latin America is not merely the victim of foreign forces. The region is notorious for the rapacity of its wealthy classes and their freedom from social responsibility." Here, Chomsky echoes Eduardo Galeano's classic work Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent that decades ago offered a brilliant analysis of how Latin American power elites sold out their own countries to the predatory forces of the US neo-liberalism. Chomsky states that the drive to imitate their Northern neighbors in ostensible consumption of Westernized goods and services has been the main cause of Latin American failure to achieve real as opposed to formal independence from colonial domination. Today, Chomsky points out "Latin America has real choices, for the first time in its history." And this is great news for the entire planet.

In the second part of the book, Chomsky analyzes the influence that the imperialist mentality in the US exercises over the discussions of the US military presence in Iraq. I was particularly pleased to see that Chomsky decided not to follow in the footsteps of most liberal commentators in their refusal to see that Russian imperialism is in no way "better" or more justified than the US imperialism. Chomsky qualifies Putin's actions in Chechnya as "murderous", which they most definitely are. I only wish that more progressive analysts dared to depart from the tendency to praise everybody who opposes the US regardless of the atrocities they perpetrate. It is definitely right that the US imperialism and Russian imperialism should be discussed together since there are glaring similarities between them.

Chomsky then segues into what I consider the weakest part of the book: the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As usual, Chomsky's analysis of the issue is one-sided and biased. Israelis are all villainous nationalists and religious fanatics, while the Palestinians are without an exception languishing and tolerant victims. While Chomsky is right in suggesting that the Israelis do everything they can to make sure the conflict continues, he forgets to say that so do the Palestinians. When he describes the Israeli "information campaigns to instruct the world on its errors and misunderstanding, arrogant self-righteousness, circling the wagons, defiance . . .  and paranoia," he avoids mentioning that this exactly the pattern adopted by every single nation-state with a very weak and diluted national identity (Russia is a great example of precisely this kind of paranoid nation building. Closer to home, so is the US.)

Chomsky's discussion of nuclear proliferation is powerful and convincing, and I believe everybody should read it because it touches on some of the most important issues we confront today. The only objection I have to this part of his discussion is Chomsky's insistence that there is no need to fear a nuclear attack from Iran because that would be suicidal and self-destructive. Chomsky forgets that these same statements were made about Germany 70 years ago: "Germany would not start a war, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." And then a few years later: "Germany will not open up a second front, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." We all know how those predictions went. Countries often act in completely self-destructive ways, which should be well-known  to Chomsky.

Starting from Chapter 9 of Part II, Chomsky offers a brilliant analysis of the 2008 presidential elections and the job Obama's presidency has done since then. He points out correctly that both Democrats and Republicans are considerably to the right of the American population on many major issues, both international and domestic. Hence, it is not surprising that Obama's tepid efforts to defend his intentions to introduce some kind of change don't convince Americans any longer. Chomsky talks about how the American people have been brilliantly manipulated into being suspicious of public welfare programs that would be of invaluable use to themselves while supporting the "nanny state for the rich."

12 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

I am a bit puzzled...sixty years ago, in 1950, Germany had been soundly defeated and most definitely did NOT start a(nother) war.

Clarissa said...

I'm sorry, of course I meant 70 years ago. Believe it or not, I actually counted the number of decades with the help of my gingers, and this was the sorry result. No wonder than when I calculate grades for my students with the help of a calculator I often end up with grades like 976% or 2398%.

Anonymous said...

"Israelis are all villainous nationalists and religious fanatics"

Come on, get real - this is a caricature. He doesnt say that. Does he say that about Uri Avnery, Israel Shahak, and countless other Jewish Israelis? No of course not.

"the Palestinians are without an exception languishing and tolerant victims."

More of the same caricature. Chomsky has harshly criticized the PLO from time to time, eg it was Chomsky who pointed out some years ago that the PLO had failed to establish a solidarity movement in the US when even the North Korean regime had done that.

"The only objection I have to this part of his discussion is Chomsky's insistence that there is no need to fear a nuclear attack from Iran because that would be suicidal and self-destructive."

Entirely reasonable point of view. Even Hitler would have baulked at attacking the Soviet Union had it been the 50s and Stalin was well stocked with nukes.

"I only wish that more progressive analysts dared to depart from the tendency to praise everybody who opposes the US regardless of the atrocities they perpetrate."

This is another caricature. I really dont know anyone who thinks like this, but then I tend to read people like Chomsky and those of like mind.

You've said some nice words about Chomsky but you sound like a Zionist who hasnt come to terms with all your illusions yet.

Clarissa said...

"Entirely reasonable point of view. Even Hitler would have baulked at attacking the Soviet Union had it been the 50s and Stalin was well stocked with nukes."

-In the late 1930ies there was hardly a news outlet in the world that did not discuss in the same terminology as Chomsky how Germany would never attack/open up a second front because it would be suicidal. Look where this kind of thinking led the world.

Today, many people including Chomsky insist that unless we start paying attention, an ecological catastrophe or a nuclear self-immolation are imminent. Once again, nobody is paying attention.

This is why I believe that the argument "Iran will not behave in a suicidal way" cannot be taken seriously. Human societies behave in suicidal ways more often than can be listed here.

"This is another caricature. I really dont know anyone who thinks like this, but then I tend to read people like Chomsky and those of like mind"

-Alexander Cockburn (a brilliant journalist who writes for "The Nation") is one example. He praising Russia and disregarding all the racism, neo-nazism and the horrible human rights violations there.

The point of the review is not to say "nice" or "not nice" words about Chomsky but to analyze. I do not find his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict convincing. I find it veru one-sided and weak.

geo said...

I find your words related to the "balance" or lack thereof between Palestinian and Israeli leadership seriously troubling.

I would suggest looking at a variety of sources to get more balance in your understanding of the issues and situations of the Palestinians such as:

www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org

http://www.juancole.com/

http://www.ramikhouri.com/

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/


as a good starting point. I don't have to agree with Chomsky 100% to see how his antipathy towards Israeli leadership and how the Palestinians are hurt by it are most understandable.

Watching any of the excellent You Tube Series: "Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem" despite its obvious pro-Palestinian biases portrays a devastating picture of increasing apartheid and brutality.

The Palestinians are weak and divided and their leaderships has made plenty of major mistakes.

At the same time where moderation has been attempted over and over again it has failed because of Israeli intransigence.

King Hussein (the younger) speaks a lot of truth in his talking about peace and how it can be possible.

Most of the key issues aren't really difficult IF Israel will give up the West Bank and Gaza and not pieces of land as it proposes.

Obviously the status of Jerusalem and the areas near it and the rights of Palestinian refugees (probably to a slightly lesser degree) are serious, tough issues.

As Israel makes more and more grabs of land and laws and similar weakening Palestinian (including Israeli citizens) rights, as some on the Left have noted it builds a future likelihood - perhaps 20-30 years from now into inevitably being a Single State solution - which would evolve into being eventually a Palestinian State ruling over a Jewish Minority, hardly what most Jews and Israelis want.

Excuse my emotion in this! While I know you are sincere in what you say, words such as yours from the Left - help continue the status quo making necessary change more and more difficult over time when understanding and "real balance" is necessary.
http://www.ramikhouri.com/

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/

Clarissa said...

geo: thank you for this very informative comment.

I have a question for you: what do you think will happen if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and Gaza? I believe that this will be followed by an immediate spike in anti-Israeli terrorism and in all probability some acts of aggression from Israel's neighbors.

Another question that I have is how asking Israel to give up West Bank and Gaza can be more fair and reasonable than asking the US to return the territories it took away from Mexico? Those are the very same territories in which Mexicans today are persecuted and marginalized.

geo said...

- My guess, and it's only a guess is that 60-80% of the Palestinians really want peace with some justice - and likely it's generally closer to the 80%. IF Palestinians wanted violence (now) in substantial numbers, there would be far, far more violence than there is now.

Given that a significant majority of the violence now is clearly coming from religious Jewish "settlers" in the West Bank at least, it would seem logical to me - IF the West Bank were a Palestinian State, there would be much Less of a desire for violence than exists now.

I think that you need to be more specific as to who the "enemies" of Israel are and will be. The Palestinians have been a source of middle class - educated "labor" for other Middle Eastern countries besides Israel where they've been the source of cheap labor.

As it is now - Anyone in the Middle East besides the Jewish population of Israel can easily unite Only when it is Anti-Occupation/Israel.

If Peace Breaks Out, it would seem logical that the "losers" in some cases might have some anger towards Israel, however it seems likely it might not be more than already exists.

I'm totally unclear Why there would be Anti-Israeli violence with a semi-just-peace, except among a disgruntled small minority.

I think that it's amazing that there's been as little anti-Israeli violence as there has been.

IF you were a Palestinian born in Israel living in Israel you would be part of 20% of the population who could legally be discriminated against related to jobs, housing, ability to travel freely, education etc., yet violence from them is rare.

The violence that exists now I suspect is most comparable to how oppressed White People were in the South by Black folks circa 1900-50.

UN Peace Keepers - could control the rare possible violence issues.

C - how asking Israel to give up West Bank and Gaza can be more fair and reasonable than asking the US to return the territories it took away from Mexico? G - I think that your question is problematic. IF - Israel were to say - "we are a pluralistic nation who accepts all" perhaps one could make such an argument.

IF - Israel were to annex The West Bank and Gaza, quite soon the Jewish population would be a minority in its "own country". Israel is declared as a "Jewish State" and there are Clear deliniations where Jews have "more rights" than others.

Any Jew has a right to emigrate to Israel. While there is obviously discrimination in Texas, I can't imagine it being "legal" to deny any US citizens the rights to live, own property or travel in "White towns".

It was clearly unfair that the US annexed the Southwest and West Coast Areas! Two wrongs don't make a right! It is a huge necessary compromise to acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

Most Palestinians accept the reality of Israel's existence. Neighboring Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties which have been honored for decades.

The U.S. will have much less of a "terrorism" problem without Israel and the U.S. as its apologist as "the enemy" as they are seen now in much of the world.

I think a better comparison than what you spoke of would be a US invasion of Cuba, returning it as a puppet of the U.S.

Thanks!

geo said...

I do not understand why a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians should result in increased violence. It should make violence much less attractive and marginalize radical forces opposed to peace.

Current violence is overwhelmingly coming from the Israelis in any case. The number of Israelis killed by Gazan rockets over a several year period was at the most around 15. The truce between Hamas and Israel was broken by Israel, NOT Hamas. Then Gazan’s were subsequently killed at a ratio of close to 100/1 vs. Israelis in the ensuing “war”.

Violence on the West Bank oft times comes from Jewish Settlers who are rabidly anti-Palestinian. Other violence comes from the conflicts between the occupation army and the native population who strangely feel upset as their rights diminish and they have less and less access to and possession of what has been their land.

It’s unclear to me who is going to be violent? Egypt and Jordan have had long-standing, solid peace treaties for decades. There is no Palestinian “army” to seriously confront the Israeli army.

The only thing which unites Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians and other Moslems is the common feelings against the Israeli occupation (and the US related to this). Terrorism would be much less potent, without “the enemy”.

20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinians who were born in Israel. Anyone who might claim that they have “equal rights” is seriously deluded. Israel is self-defined as a “Jewish State”. It is amazing how little violence comes from Israeli Palestinians.

Certainly there is violence directed at Israeli Jews because they are Israeli Jews, however it almost certainly is less than the violence perpetrated by Israeli Jews against Palestinians.

You ask why The West Bank and Gaza should be given up, while Texas, the Southwest and Northwest remain in U.S. hands. I would ask whether you would similarly support a U.S. invasion today of Cuba to return it to it’s “proper status”. While the efforts in Arizona and elsewhere have been despicable, we’re not quite yet at a point where Chicanos born in the U.S. can legally: 1.) Not live in “White” towns, 2.) Not own property in “White” towns, 3.) Be not hired because of their “nationality”, 4.) Have monies for education and other areas be legally less related solely to their nationality.

A greater Israel annexing the West Bank and Gaza will be majority non-Jewish relatively soon. Expelling Palestinians because of their nationality seems harsh.

I have a legal right to emigrate to Israel because I am Jewish. Many Israeli citizens have greatly limited rights because they are not Jewish.

It seems evident that you’ve read relatively little about Israel and the Palestinians which isn’t “party line” related. I hope that you will educate yourself in such areas. I’m similarly open to education in areas I know little about.

We might strangely find that “terrorism” is less of a problem in many places were we in the U.S. no longer to be the prime force helping perpetrate the increasing apartheid Palestinians face.

Thanks!

profacero said...

Liberal commentators actually excuse Putin?! I don't read enough mainstream news sources so I didn't know this, but it's a ridiculous stance to take from any but an imperialist point of view.

Anonymous said...

"-In the late 1930ies there was hardly a news outlet in the world that did not discuss in the same terminology as Chomsky how Germany would never attack/open up a second front because it would be suicidal. Look where this kind of thinking led the world."

That was the 1940s. This is now, the age of nuclear ICBMS that can devastate a country in a matter of hours. It took the Soviet Union and the West years and millions of casualties to advance on Berlin, the clerics in Iran know that everything they value can be obliterated in a few hours. Evidence of Iran's risk/value assessment can be derived from the Iran/Iraq war; when it became too costly to cut out Saddam's heart, the Iranian clerics called it quits and backed off. Tehran is not suicidal and its behaviour (not rhetoric) over the past 30 years backs up that observation.

Rodius said...

Very nice comment on the book, thanks! I am looking forward to read it.

Just wanted to give my 2 cents by saying that "Chomsky's insistence that there is no need to fear a nuclear attack from Iran because that would be suicidal and self-destructive" is not that silly (if we may put it this way. I agree with you in that by logic it doesn't follows the shameful typical human actions, but what it is interesting and Chomsky has pointed out several times when addressing that (or similar) statement, is that even the military analysts don't seem to believe the problem is the actual use of a nuclear weapon, but the balance of power as a result of having the weapon. Iran doesnt need to use it to cause tremendous harm (from the US point of view). For me the idea its hard to digest, but I trust Chomsky's notion after reading US military magazines that analyze Iran's threat (look for may-june 2010 issue of Military Review --> here is a link http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20100630_art016.pdf)

Very interesting article and even more interesting to see how the option of attacking civilian targets (bridges and railroad stations) are considered as less damaging than attacking the actual nuclear plants.

How sick is our world? sigh...

Anonymous said...

"Chomsky forgets that these same statements were made about Germany 70 years ago: "Germany would not start a war, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." And then a few years later: "Germany will not open up a second front, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." We all know how those predictions went"

Not quite sure your analogy between Germany and Iran works. Germany was, unlike Iran, a powerful and developed (militarily, economically and educationally) country with strong resources to wage war against most opposition. Iran is a completely different proposition which, in its current position, will not be able to develop the resources needed to wage war. A WMD is its only weapon and I agree with Chomsky when he states that this is a deterrent rather that a first strike option - i.e. its lack of resources would make it suicidal. You analogy is therefore not entirely relevant.