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Unmasking America

Print edition : Jun 01, 2012 T+T-

The essays offer a comprehensive and objective perspective that counter biased accounts of various national and international significance.

A race of which one group exalts one of its masters (Barrs) to the skies because he teaches: We must defend the essential part of ourselves as sectarians', while a neighbouring group acclaims a leader because, when he attacks a defenceless small nation, he says, Necessity knows no law' such a race is ripe for the zoological wars Renan talks about, which, he said, would be like the life and death wars which occur among rodents and among the carnivora.

Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectual, 1927.

KARL ROVE, President George W. Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff, said in an interview in 2004: We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality judiciously, as you will we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Aptly, this forms the epigraph of Noam Chomsky's book Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance, especially because Chomsky aims to dismantle such a posture of extreme confidence and arrogance, of inequality, disenfranchisement and deceit. The functionalist logic of late imperial culture provides a basis to the current debate on this far-reaching issue and focusses on the theoretical, ideological and political assumptions that underpin it. The varied areas of media, theatre, film, photography, emphasise the reproduction of the empire's dominant self-images with the sole purpose of exploiting and oppressing weaker cultures, which continue to pay a huge price.

The hegemonic tenor of Pax Americana is audible in Rove's words ensuring that American authorship remains paramount behind histories of those nations that have experienced American interventions. The words are couched in the language of politics that is exclusionary to the extent that it assaults national sovereignty around the world through vast expansion of its powerful frame of reference and regurgitating abject disinformation. The United States' military and cultural dominance shows how imperial rule involves the control over the internal and external policy of the other', the subordinate periphery. Military dominance sustains a massive capacity to influence the global economy that neither a more efficient Japan nor a united Europe can entirely overcome. To fully grasp this interaction, it is important to come to grips with the vast differences between the inadequacy of the subject and the power of the state. The culture of imperialism is not an event of the past, and much still remains in the legacy of colonial history, culturally, economically and politically.

Chomsky takes upon himself the task of unmasking American foreign policy in the context of the timing of Rove's statement, which is around 2002 when the U.S. was divided into two camps. One of them favoured intervention in Iraq which it said would finally usher in a transformation to a democratic form of government that would spread all over West Asia. Along with this, the motive of gaining from the rich oil reserves also underpinned the argument of adopting an aggressive policy against Saddam Hussein.

The other camp, which included the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), argued against the war as they were sceptical of any success. The discourse underpinned by the theory that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein would culminate in an Armageddon finally lent legitimacy to George Bush entering one of the most disastrous and expensive wars the U.S. has ever fought.

It goes to the credit of Chomsky for standing up against American intervention in Iraq, not merely because it would be costly or achieve no positive results, but because, as he argues, it is in the nature of American foreign policy to be inherently evil and criminal', a feature that defines its imperial ideology. Chomsky writes: The criticism of the Iraq war is on grounds of cost and failure; what are called pragmatic reasons', a stance that is considered hard-headed, serious, moderate in the case of Western crimes.

It is clear that the prevalence of a war-like situation in West Asia is owing to the joint designs of Israel and the U.S. which are not ready to change their policy towards Palestine that can facilitate a solution. Nor has the U.S. played a conciliatory role between India and China or achieved much geopolitically in bringing about a more peaceful Afghanistan. As Chomsky argues: It is an article of faith, almost a part of the national creed, that the United States is righteously unlike other great powers, past and present.

Transnational hegemony

Can we agree with Chomsky that nothing seems to have changed? The 500 years of history since Columbus has been one of subversion, aggression and brutal genocide that was inherent even during the Cold War. With the demise of the Cold War, things stand where they are though now the West is given a free reign in its imperial designs unlike the pre-Gorbachev era. The Third World escaped any interference from the West for many decades until the expiry of the Soviet Union brought about a unilateral world in which America meddles with international politics with its nefarious actions.

The Soviet Union ruled over Eastern Europe, but probably less viciously than the way the U.S. exercised its hegemony over Latin America. For example, it is a revelation to see the American hand in involving erstwhile Nazi generals in the whole exercise of terror and domination in Latin America.

And the world goes on in a state of repressive tolerance, a Marcusian conception that is applied globally. Chomsky is enraged by this remorseless transnational hegemony. His idea of power as violence is deep down an intellectual stance of articulating an appraisal of the existing world order where persecution and carnage have been integral and more so recently in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As generalisations and theory are not sufficient for an understanding of the evolution of imperialism, its impact at various levels of specificity has to be taken up and a painstaking attempt made to create in detail the values, the attitudes and the atmosphere of colonised societies. As societies are juxtaposed and then intermingled, it creates significant and unexpected perspectives, which are the sign of the new problems and complexities of authority and power. Chomsky sets out to deflate the celebratory tone of American self-importance by analysing and resisting the continuing imperial attitude of America with his counter-narratives to the official histories in his essays on the world financial crisis, global warming, the wars in West Asia, about the rise of China, threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea and the shift towards Left politics in Latin America. He has a significant story to tell, a revisionist narrative running through the collection of essays that throw light on decades of lies behind the American foreign policy and thereby facilitating the process of retrieving histories of those who unfortunately suffer a marginalised status. Provocative and firmly written, the 50 commentaries that compose Making the Future appeared in The New York Times Syndicate over the last few years. They bring out the state of U.S. politics between 2007 and 2011, a comprehensive and an objective perspective that rewrites biased accounts of various national and international significance. An understanding and appreciation of these essays will help throw light on the overwhelming majority of the American opinion-makers and their perspectives, replete with forged documents and blatant lies.

Indeed, Chomsky, as usual, strikes a blow at the American Empire. His previous book Intervention, which consisted of similar op-eds critical of the American foreign policy, was banned from the reading material provided to the inmates of Guantanamo. This, as Chomsky says, happens sometimes in totalitarian regimes. For instance, his syndicated op-ed, 9-11: Lessons Unlearned, which labelled America the global hegemon, did not find a place in the mainstream press because of its uncompromising views, though this has never prevented his writings from travelling across borders.

Chomsky has firmly believed that formal imperialism has definitely come to an end with decolonisation, but its firm entrenchment is the next logical step in its evolution. The continued and severe economic crises, the sale of millions of dollars worth of weapons to client regimes, large-scale unemployment, the emergence of fascism in Europe and deep alienation from the new political structures sufficiently demolish the optimism of a New World Order'.

The latest phase of imperialism has facilitated, says Lee Humber in his introduction to Marxism and the New Imperialism, the tempo of class struggle, as economic and political instability spark off working class resistance all over Western Europe. This is visible in the Occupy movement, a subject which Chomsky takes up in one of the essays here. Read together with his essay America in Decline, it argues that the resulting concentration of wealth [since the 1970s] yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 per cent of the population, mainly, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated. The American brand of capitalism comes under scathing criticism in the hands of Chomsky.

Chomsky belongs to the school of anarchism that believes in the struggle to find forms of social organisation that are viable alternatives to organised government and its legal and political institutions that are inherently coercive. He believes in the community of free association where people would act not according to the established hierarchical order but with a sense of creativity and freedom that leads to the development of a free society. In coherence with this ideology, he recommends popular struggles for any progressive legislation and social welfare: Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setbacks. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.

The collection mirrors the patterns of resistance and oppression that have underpinned the growth of powerful nations in the New World Order'. As John Pilger, the internationally acclaimed journalist, wrote in the Foreword to Chomsky's Towards a New Cold War, What Chomsky has made vivid is the truth that Western political leaders, respectable people whose moderation' contains not a hint of totalitarianism, can at great remove in physical and cultural distance, kill and maim people on a scale comparable with the accredited monsters of our time.

Undoubtedly, Chomsky passionately catalogues American hypocrisy and the evil nature of its foreign policy and provides the evidence of America's support for client tyrannies and the inculcation of a dream within America that the world would finally be a duplication of American culture. Use of force in Grenada and Panama, and now in Iraq, violation of international law, engagement in self-promoting geo-economics, and expression of faith in the free market while incessantly keeping foreign governments under a check all these simply go to show the smokescreen of the principle of democracy that the U.S. displays. As Chomsky puts it, as many democratic facades in the period after the Cold War as one found national facades in the aftermath of decolonisation.

The retreat of America from a position of centrality in world politics appears gradually to be a reality after its disastrous interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The political loss of nerve in the U.S. in the post-Iraq debacle and the economic downturn imply possibilities of primary changes and the consequent need to devise new paradigms. With Europe, China and America in a state of disarray, energy prices on the rise and the precarious scenario of rising nuclear threat and global warming, there arises a need to ensure some stability for the future through cooperative communities that just might be the basis for the kinds of lasting organisations necessary to overcome the barriers ahead and the backlash that is already coming. Chomsky sees some hope in the unprecedented Occupy movement and believes that unless it grows into a major force in society and politics around the world, the chances for a decent future are bleak. Education and activism combined with the understanding and experience to formulate and implement ideas and plans as to how to move forward will define future initiatives on a popular and an ever-growing base. For Chomsky, Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.