Noam Chomsky: American Power Under Pressure

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By Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival and Failed States.

This piece, the first of two parts, is excerpted from his new book, Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books).  Part 2 will be posted on Tuesday morning. Originally published at TomDispatch

When we ask “Who rules the world?” we commonly adopt the standard convention that the actors in world affairs are states, primarily the great powers, and we consider their decisions and the relations among them. That is not wrong. But we would do well to keep in mind that this level of abstraction can also be highly misleading.

States of course have complex internal structures, and the choices and decisions of the political leadership are heavily influenced by internal concentrations of power, while the general population is often marginalized. That is true even for the more democratic societies, and obviously for others. We cannot gain a realistic understanding of who rules the world while ignoring the “masters of mankind,” as Adam Smith called them: in his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England; in ours, multinational conglomerates, huge financial institutions, retail empires, and the like. Still following Smith, it is also wise to attend to the “vile maxim” to which the “masters of mankind” are dedicated: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people” — a doctrine known otherwise as bitter and incessant class war, often one-sided, much to the detriment of the people of the home country and the world.

In the contemporary global order, the institutions of the masters hold enormous power, not only in the international arena but also within their home states, on which they rely to protect their power and to provide economic support by a wide variety of means. When we consider the role of the masters of mankind, we turn to such state policy priorities of the moment as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the investor-rights agreements mislabeled “free-trade agreements” in propaganda and commentary. They are negotiated in secret, apart from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists writing the crucial details. The intention is to have them adopted in good Stalinist style with “fast track” procedures designed to block discussion and allow only the choice of yes or no (hence yes). The designers regularly do quite well, not surprisingly. People are incidental, with the consequences one might anticipate.

The Second Superpower

The neoliberal programs of the past generation have concentrated wealth and power in far fewer hands while undermining functioning democracy, but they have aroused opposition as well, most prominently in Latin America but also in the centers of global power. The European Union (EU), one of the more promising developments of the post-World War II period, has been tottering because of the harsh effect of the policies of austerity during recession, condemned even by the economists of the International Monetary Fund (if not the IMF’s political actors). Democracy has been undermined as decision making shifted to the Brussels bureaucracy, with the northern banks casting their shadow over their proceedings.

Mainstream parties have been rapidly losing members to left and to right. The executive director of the Paris-based research group EuropaNova attributes the general disenchantment to “a mood of angry impotence as the real power to shape events largely shifted from national political leaders [who, in principle at least, are subject to democratic politics] to the market, the institutions of the European Union and corporations,” quite in accord with neoliberal doctrine. Very similar processes are under way in the United States, for somewhat similar reasons, a matter of significance and concern not just for the country but, because of U.S. power, for the world.

The rising opposition to the neoliberal assault highlights another crucial aspect of the standard convention: it sets aside the public, which often fails to accept the approved role of “spectators” (rather than “participants”) assigned to it in liberal democratic theory. Such disobedience has always been of concern to the dominant classes. Just keeping to American history, George Washington regarded the common people who formed the militias that he was to command as “an exceedingly dirty and nasty people [evincing] an unaccountable kind of stupidity in the lower class of these people.”

In Violent Politics, his masterful review of insurgencies from “the American insurgency” to contemporary Afghanistan and Iraq, William Polk concludes that General Washington “was so anxious to sideline [the fighters he despised] that he came close to losing the Revolution.” Indeed, he “might have actually done so” had France not massively intervened and “saved the Revolution,” which until then had been won by guerrillas — whom we would now call “terrorists” — while Washington’s British-style army “was defeated time after time and almost lost the war.”

A common feature of successful insurgencies, Polk records, is that once popular support dissolves after victory, the leadership suppresses the “dirty and nasty people” who actually won the war with guerrilla tactics and terror, for fear that they might challenge class privilege. The elites’ contempt for “the lower class of these people” has taken various forms throughout the years. In recent times one expression of this contempt is the call for passivity and obedience (“moderation in democracy”) by liberal internationalists reacting to the dangerous democratizing effects of the popular movements of the 1960s.

Sometimes states do choose to follow public opinion, eliciting much fury in centers of power. One dramatic case was in 2003, when the Bush administration called on Turkey to join its invasion of Iraq. Ninety-five percent of Turks opposed that course of action and, to the amazement and horror of Washington, the Turkish government adhered to their views. Turkey was bitterly condemned for this departure from responsible behavior. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, designated by the press as the “idealist-in-chief” of the administration, berated the Turkish military for permitting the malfeasance of the government and demanded an apology. Unperturbed by these and innumerable other illustrations of our fabled “yearning for democracy,” respectable commentary continued to laud President George W. Bush for his dedication to “democracy promotion,” or sometimes criticized him for his naïveté in thinking that an outside power could impose its democratic yearnings on others.

The Turkish public was not alone. Global opposition to U.S.-UK aggression was overwhelming. Support for Washington’s war plans scarcely reached 10% almost anywhere, according to international polls. Opposition sparked huge worldwide protests, in the United States as well, probably the first time in history that imperial aggression was strongly protested even before it was officially launched. On the front page of the New York Times, journalist Patrick Tyler reported that “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”

Unprecedented protest in the United States was a manifestation of the opposition to aggression that began decades earlier in the condemnation of the U.S. wars in Indochina, reaching a scale that was substantial and influential, even if far too late. By 1967, when the antiwar movement was becoming a significant force, military historian and Vietnam specialist Bernard Fall warned that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction… [as] the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.”

But the antiwar movement did become a force that could not be ignored. Nor could it be ignored when Ronald Reagan came into office determined to launch an assault on Central America. His administration mimicked closely the steps John F. Kennedy had taken 20 years earlier in launching the war against South Vietnam, but had to back off because of the kind of vigorous public protest that had been lacking in the early 1960s. The assault was awful enough. The victims have yet to recover. But what happened to South Vietnam and later all of Indochina, where “the second superpower” imposed its impediments only much later in the conflict, was incomparably worse.

It is often argued that the enormous public opposition to the invasion of Iraq had no effect. That seems incorrect to me. Again, the invasion was horrifying enough, and its aftermath is utterly grotesque. Nevertheless, it could have been far worse. Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of Bush’s top officials could never even contemplate the sort of measures that President Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson adopted 40 years earlier largely without protest.

Western Power Under Pressure

There is far more to say, of course, about the factors in determining state policy that are put to the side when we adopt the standard convention that states are the actors in international affairs. But with such nontrivial caveats as these, let us nevertheless adopt the convention, at least as a first approximation to reality. Then the question of who rules the world leads at once to such concerns as China’s rise to power and its challenge to the United States and “world order,” the new cold war simmering in eastern Europe, the Global War on Terror, American hegemony and American decline, and a range of similar considerations.

The challenges faced by Western power at the outset of 2016 are usefully summarized within the conventional framework by Gideon Rachman, chief foreign-affairs columnist for the London Financial Times. He begins by reviewing the Western picture of world order: “Ever since the end of the Cold War, the overwhelming power of the U.S. military has been the central fact of international politics.” This is particularly crucial in three regions: East Asia, where “the U.S. Navy has become used to treating the Pacific as an ‘American lake’”; Europe, where NATO — meaning the United States, which “accounts for a staggering three-quarters of NATO’s military spending” — “guarantees the territorial integrity of its member states”; and the Middle East, where giant U.S. naval and air bases “exist to reassure friends and to intimidate rivals.”

The problem of world order today, Rachman continues, is that “these security orders are now under challenge in all three regions” because of Russian intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and because of China turning its nearby seas from an American lake to “clearly contested water.” The fundamental question of international relations, then, is whether the United States should “accept that other major powers should have some kind of zone of influence in their neighborhoods.” Rachman thinks it should, for reasons of “diffusion of economic power around the world — combined with simple common sense.”

There are, to be sure, ways of looking at the world from different standpoints. But let us keep to these three regions, surely critically important ones.

The Challenges Today: East Asia

Beginning with the “American lake,” some eyebrows might be raised over the report in mid-December 2015 that “an American B-52 bomber on a routine mission over the South China Sea unintentionally flew within two nautical miles of an artificial island built by China, senior defense officials said, exacerbating a hotly divisive issue for Washington and Beijing.” Those familiar with the grim record of the 70 years of the nuclear weapons era will be all too aware that this is the kind of incident that has often come perilously close to igniting terminal nuclear war. One need not be a supporter of China’s provocative and aggressive actions in the South China Sea to notice that the incident did not involve a Chinese nuclear-capable bomber in the Caribbean, or off the coast of California, where China has no pretensions of establishing a “Chinese lake.” Luckily for the world.

Chinese leaders understand very well that their country’s maritime trade routes are ringed with hostile powers from Japan through the Malacca Straits and beyond, backed by overwhelming U.S. military force. Accordingly, China is proceeding to expand westward with extensive investments and careful moves toward integration. In part, these developments are within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes the Central Asian states and Russia, and soon India and Pakistan with Iran as one of the observers — a status that was denied to the United States, which was also called on to close all military bases in the region. China is constructing a modernized version of the old silk roads, with the intent not only of integrating the region under Chinese influence, but also of reaching Europe and the Middle Eastern oil-producing regions. It is pouring huge sums into creating an integrated Asian energy and commercial system, with extensive high-speed rail lines and pipelines.

One element of the program is a highway through some of the world’s tallest mountains to the new Chinese-developed port of Gwadar in Pakistan, which will protect oil shipments from potential U.S. interference. The program may also, China and Pakistan hope, spur industrial development in Pakistan, which the United States has not undertaken despite massive military aid, and might also provide an incentive for Pakistan to clamp down on domestic terrorism, a serious issue for China in western Xinjiang Province. Gwadar will be part of China’s “string of pearls,” bases being constructed in the Indian Ocean for commercial purposes but potentially also for military use, with the expectation that China might someday be able to project power as far as the Persian Gulf for the first time in the modern era.

All of these moves remain immune to Washington’s overwhelming military power, short of annihilation by nuclear war, which would destroy the United States as well.

In 2015, China also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), with itself as the main shareholder. Fifty-six nations participated in the opening in Beijing in June, including U.S. allies Australia, Britain, and others which joined in defiance of Washington’s wishes. The United States and Japan were absent. Some analysts believe that the new bank might turn out to be a competitor to the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and the World Bank), in which the United States holds veto power. There are also some expectations that the SCO might eventually become a counterpart to NATO.

The Challenges Today: Eastern Europe

Turning to the second region, Eastern Europe, there is a crisis brewing at the NATO-Russian border. It is no small matter. In his illuminating and judicious scholarly study of the region, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, Richard Sakwa writes — all too plausibly — that the “Russo-Georgian war of August 2008 was in effect the first of the ‘wars to stop NATO enlargement’; the Ukraine crisis of 2014 is the second. It is not clear whether humanity would survive a third.”

The West sees NATO enlargement as benign. Not surprisingly, Russia, along with much of the Global South, has a different opinion, as do some prominent Western voices. George Kennan warned early on that NATO enlargement is a “tragic mistake,” and he was joined by senior American statesmen in an open letter to the White House describing it as a “policy error of historic proportions.”

The present crisis has its origins in 1991, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were then two contrasting visions of a new security system and political economy in Eurasia. In Sakwa’s words, one vision was of a “‘Wider Europe,’ with the EU at its heart but increasingly coterminous with the Euro-Atlantic security and political community; and on the other side there [was] the idea of ‘Greater Europe,’ a vision of a continental Europe, stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, that has multiple centers, including Brussels, Moscow and Ankara, but with a common purpose in overcoming the divisions that have traditionally plagued the continent.”

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was the major proponent of Greater Europe, a concept that also had European roots in Gaullism and other initiatives. However, as Russia collapsed under the devastating market reforms of the 1990s, the vision faded, only to be renewed as Russia began to recover and seek a place on the world stage under Vladimir Putin who, along with his associate Dmitry Medvedev, has repeatedly “called for the geopolitical unification of all of ‘Greater Europe’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok, to create a genuine ‘strategic partnership.’”

These initiatives were “greeted with polite contempt,” Sakwa writes, regarded as “little more than a cover for the establishment of a ‘Greater Russia’ by stealth” and an effort to “drive a wedge” between North America and Western Europe. Such concerns trace back to earlier Cold War fears that Europe might become a “third force” independent of both the great and minor superpowers and moving toward closer links to the latter (as can be seen in Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and other initiatives).

The Western response to Russia’s collapse was triumphalist. It was hailed as signaling “the end of history,” the final victory of Western capitalist democracy, almost as if Russia were being instructed to revert to its pre-World War I status as a virtual economic colony of the West. NATO enlargement began at once, in violation of verbal assurances to Gorbachev that NATO forces would not move “one inch to the east” after he agreed that a unified Germany could become a NATO member — a remarkable concession, in the light of history. That discussion kept to East Germany. The possibility that NATO might expand beyond Germany was not discussed with Gorbachev, even if privately considered.

Soon, NATO did begin to move beyond, right to the borders of Russia. The general mission of NATO was officially changed to a mandate to protect “crucial infrastructure” of the global energy system, sea lanes and pipelines, giving it a global area of operations. Furthermore, under a crucial Western revision of the now widely heralded doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” sharply different from the official U.N. version, NATO may now also serve as an intervention force under U.S. command.

Of particular concern to Russia are plans to expand NATO to Ukraine. These plans were articulated explicitly at the Bucharest NATO summit of April 2008, when Georgia and Ukraine were promised eventual membership in NATO. The wording was unambiguous: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” With the “Orange Revolution” victory of pro-Western candidates in Ukraine in 2004, State Department representative Daniel Fried rushed there and “emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine’s NATO and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” as a WikiLeaks report revealed.

Russia’s concerns are easily understandable. They are outlined by international relations scholar John Mearsheimer in the leading U.S. establishment journal, Foreign Affairs. He writes that “the taproot of the current crisis [over Ukraine] is NATO expansion and Washington’s commitment to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrate it into the West,” which Putin viewed as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests.”

“Who can blame him?” Mearsheimer asks, pointing out that “Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it.” That should not be too difficult. After all, as everyone knows, “The United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders.”

In fact, the U.S. stand is far stronger. It does not tolerate what is officially called “successful defiance” of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which declared (but could not yet implement) U.S. control of the hemisphere. And a small country that carries out such successful defiance may be subjected to “the terrors of the earth” and a crushing embargo — as happened to Cuba. We need not ask how the United States would have reacted had the countries of Latin America joined the Warsaw Pact, with plans for Mexico and Canada to join as well. The merest hint of the first tentative steps in that direction would have been “terminated with extreme prejudice,” to adopt CIA lingo.

As in the case of China, one does not have to regard Putin’s moves and motives favorably to understand the logic behind them, nor to grasp the importance of understanding that logic instead of issuing imprecations against it. As in the case of China, a great deal is at stake, reaching as far — literally — as questions of survival.

The Challenges Today: The Islamic World

Let us turn to the third region of major concern, the (largely) Islamic world, also the scene of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) that George W. Bush declared in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attack. To be more accurate, re-declared. The GWOT was declared by the Reagan administration when it took office, with fevered rhetoric about a “plague spread by depraved opponents of civilization itself” (as Reagan put it) and a “return to barbarism in the modern age” (the words of George Shultz, his secretary of state). The original GWOT has been quietly removed from history. It very quickly turned into a murderous and destructive terrorist war afflicting Central America, southern Africa, and the Middle East, with grim repercussions to the present, even leading to condemnation of the United States by the World Court (which Washington dismissed). In any event, it is not the right story for history, so it is gone.

The success of the Bush-Obama version of GWOT can readily be evaluated on direct inspection. When the war was declared, the terrorist targets were confined to a small corner of tribal Afghanistan. They were protected by Afghans, who mostly disliked or despised them, under the tribal code of hospitality — which baffled Americans when poor peasants refused “to turn over Osama bin Laden for the, to them, astronomical sum of $25 million.”

There are good reasons to believe that a well-constructed police action, or even serious diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban, might have placed those suspected of the 9/11 crimes in American hands for trial and sentencing. But such options were off the table. Instead, the reflexive choice was large-scale violence — not with the goal of overthrowing the Taliban (that came later) but to make clear U.S. contempt for tentative Taliban offers of the possible extradition of bin Laden. How serious these offers were we do not know, since the possibility of exploring them was never entertained. Or perhaps the United States was just intent on “trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world. They don’t care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose.”

That was the judgment of the highly respected anti-Taliban leader Abdul Haq, one of the many oppositionists who condemned the American bombing campaign launched in October 2001 as “a big setback” for their efforts to overthrow the Taliban from within, a goal they considered within their reach. His judgment is confirmed by Richard A. Clarke, who was chairman of the Counterterrorism Security Group at the White House under President George W. Bush when the plans to attack Afghanistan were made. As Clarke describes the meeting, when informed that the attack would violate international law, “the President yelled in the narrow conference room, ‘I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.'” The attack was also bitterly opposed by the major aid organizations working in Afghanistan, who warned that millions were on the verge of starvation and that the consequences might be horrendous.

The consequences for poor Afghanistan years later need hardly be reviewed.

The next target of the sledgehammer was Iraq. The U.S.-UK invasion, utterly without credible pretext, is the major crime of the twenty-first century. The invasion led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people in a country where the civilian society had already been devastated by American and British sanctions that were regarded as “genocidal” by the two distinguished international diplomats who administered them, and resigned in protest for this reason. The invasion also generated millions of refugees, largely destroyed the country, and instigated a sectarian conflict that is now tearing apart Iraq and the entire region. It is an astonishing fact about our intellectual and moral culture that in informed and enlightened circles it can be called, blandly, “the liberation of Iraq.”

Pentagon and British Ministry of Defense polls found that only 3% of Iraqis regarded the U.S. security role in their neighborhood as legitimate, less than 1% believed that “coalition” (U.S.-UK) forces were good for their security, 80% opposed the presence of coalition forces in the country, and a majority supported attacks on coalition troops. Afghanistan has been destroyed beyond the possibility of reliable polling, but there are indications that something similar may be true there as well. Particularly in Iraq the United States suffered a severe defeat, abandoning its official war aims, and leaving the country under the influence of the sole victor, Iran.

The sledgehammer was also wielded elsewhere, notably in Libya, where the three traditional imperial powers (Britain, France, and the United States) procured Security Council resolution 1973 and instantly violated it, becoming the air force of the rebels. The effect was to undercut the possibility of a peaceful, negotiated settlement; sharply increase casualties (by at least a factor of 10, according to political scientist Alan Kuperman); leave Libya in ruins, in the hands of warring militias; and, more recently, to provide the Islamic State with a base that it can use to spread terror beyond. Quite sensible diplomatic proposals by the African Union, accepted in principle by Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, were ignored by the imperial triumvirate, as Africa specialist Alex de Waal reviews. A huge flow of weapons and jihadis has spread terror and violence from West Africa (now the champion for terrorist murders) to the Levant, while the NATO attack also sent a flood of refugees from Africa to Europe.

Yet another triumph of “humanitarian intervention,” and, as the long and often ghastly record reveals, not an unusual one, going back to its modern origins four centuries ago.

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  1. EndOfTheWorld

    Chomsky brings up the increase in tension between the US and China, which is more or less ignored by the msm. These persons who they put in charge of our foreign policy (eg Victoria Nuland and the Susan Rice) went to colleges that preached that American supremacy was a given. I think the disastrous Iraq invasion by us changed all that precipitously. We can’t fight the whole world at the same time, carrying on our ongoing absurdities in the Muddle East while simultaneously shaking a stick at Russia and China. Not to mention our national debt, which our “foreign policy experts” conveniently ignore while making their calculations.

    1. tongorad

      Not to mention our national debt, which our “foreign policy experts” conveniently ignore while making their calculations.

      What about our so-called national debt?

    2. Praedor

      “We can’t fight the whole world at the same time…” and yet that is what is on tap. If Hillary wins she WILL go all out in Syria, Asia, Africa, Latin America. Obama, as horrible as he’s been in this regard, was resistant to MORE and broader conflict but ended up caving in to Hillary’s war push in many areas. Hillary has no internal governor and will immediately set the US towards hot conflict with all who resist US pressure to conform.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Uh…red line Obama hasn’t been resistant. He lost popular support for his positions, and it’s likely the Pentagon told Obama Syria wouldn’t turn into a “Democratic smart war.” Syrian missiles would retaliate against U.S. ships as well as shoot down planes.

        Americans opposition to American actions in Ukraine was directly correlated to whether one knew where Ukraine was. Obama cant sell his wars.

        1. Praedor

          NOT saying innocent by any means, nor that he isn’t a typical warmonger. I am saying that Hillary is worse. The inside scoop with regards to Libya was that Obama was skeptical but Hillary won the day. I also suspect Hillary pushed for boots on the ground in Syria in large way but Obama more reluctant. Hillary did want direct confrontation with Russia over Georgia but didn’t win, nor did she win or in Ukraine. Obama goes”small” while Hillary wants to push envelope, at least further than Obama was willing to go.

          Obama sucks and is simply a lite version of Hillary. Hillary is much worse.

        2. AnEducatedFool

          Syria could not shoot down American planes. They were unable to do this until Russia was directly involved in the conflict. I have no idea about their ability to attack ships.

          Take a look at MoonofAlabama to get an excellent run down of Syria and Russia’s role in that region.

          1. RabidGandhi

            I think you’re right to bring up Russia as the key here. The US has a long track record of attacking minnows who will have no significant power to fight back– and Syria would qualify as one were it not for her allies. The last time there was a real danger of a third party medium-power intervention was Korea, and the US got burned. Since then the policy has been to attack countries without significant armies or allies: South Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq…. The attack Syria option fell fully off the table once the Russian airforce came on the scene.

            Then again, with this latest batch of Bud Turgidsons in power, of whom HRC is one in a pantsuit, who knows.

      2. JTMcPhee

        Is the contention here that poor mostly innocent little Obama, yielded to the warlike impulses of Madame Clinton? No agency on his and his cadre’s widdle part at all — no institutionalization of the ignoring of national sovereignties militarily, diplomatically, TPP-ily; no “surges” here there and everywhere, no advancing the interests of the Very Few at the expense of the many… Yah, let him take his hundreds of millions, billions maybe, payday, go off to his Library and his foundations with his corporate-lawyer Lady and Very Special Daughters, unscathed by what ought to be said and done about him and his cadres and what they have done to the Real Political Economy that us mopes have to live in… Gotta protect the Legacy (TM)! Because it’s all tied up with Identity!

        As I recall the bidding on just one “expansion of the Great Global Networkcentric Interoperable Battlespace”,, that our elites have reductio’d the whole planet, ad absurdam, into, referring now to the first shot at the invasion of Syria on account of “chemical weapons responsibility to protect,” that one idiocy among the others that have actually been power-projected forward was curbed by a smart political diplomatic move by the Russian government.

        Let us not forget that Obama has Victoria Nuland doing her stuff at “the front” in NATOland and elsewhere, that Petraeus and McChrystal were darling if idiotic and incompetent favored militarists until little oopsies that the Beltway Bubble itself could not tolerate, that the drones, privatized ever more, fly daily, armed and “loaded for Bear.” And wait! There’s so much more! Obama and his cadre have “an internal governor?” One wonders what it’s calibrated to…

        1. Praedor

          Obama is NOT peaceful or unwilling to do illegal warts, he’s just less willing and gung-ho about it vs Hillary. She was the devil on his shoulder whispering sweet war into his left ear, probably no one on his right shoulder playing the angel on his right shoulder except whatever restraint he had himself (in comparison to Hillary).

          Yes, Nuland had to ultimately get approval from Obama but she was pulled out specifically by Hillary.

          Hillary is FULL BLOODED neocon. Obama is neocon lite, but still a neocon (and equal neoliberal to Hillary and the rest of BOTH parties).

          1. sgt_doom

            Neocon lite? So you still have yet to read his NDAA of 2012 he signed into law?

            You have yet to become aware of all the uber neocon appointments of his?

            What exactly do you know?

            Recommended Reading:

            Listen, Liberal — by Thomas Frank

            Buyer’s Remorse — by Bill Press

            Wealth, Power, and the Crisis of Laissez Faire Capitalism — by Donald Gibson

            1. Praedor

              It’s a relative thing. You can use Bush/Cheney as neocon at full 1.0. Hillary falls around 0.9-0.8, only slightly less outrageously belligerent. At least Obama HAS resisted some of the calls for full escalations. He DID step back from the “Red Line” that many neocon 0.9 and aboves REALLY wanted him to blow up over. He h had “only” increased US boys in Iraq by an amount much less than neocon 0.80 and above wanted. He is simply NOT as actively and openly war lordy as Hillary and all the other common neocons. Don’t go thinking that I’m saying he’s fucking gandhi.

              1. cassandra

                To the extent that this scale correlates with a empathy deficit ED, and they have so little, maybe a log scale should be used, you know, like the kind you see for upscale audio equipment. Setting normal empathy at 0 db, you might find social volunteers at maybe +6db, twice normal. Then you could rate Obama at -20, Nuland at -30, but Hillary would be down somewhere at -60, about a thousandth of normal (extra points for giggling at Qaddafi’s death). And just by changing the sign you’d have an automatic badness index BI. Not sure about Trump, but he looks like he might be a -10 to -20, judging from some of his less savory business dealings, but preferable to H on the face of it. It would be interesting to apply this scale in the economics arena, like how many points you lose going to economics school, and how far down vulture fund managers have fallen. Just wondering.

            2. Praedor

              I believe it was Seymour Hersch (?) who has the dope on who pushed Libya hardest (Hillary) vs Obama’s mild resistance. He also puts the pick of Nuland first and foremost for Ukraine on Hillary (Nuland does fall under State’s sphere). Hillary was not simply following orders from above, she was pushing the full neocon agenda to a degree beyond Obama’s comfort zone. That is not to say Obama is a saint by any means. It is NOT binary here. There are shades of black in the neocon world.

    3. ambrit

      The “foreign policy experts” you mention ignore the American national debt because they have, by and large, been converted to MMT, (Military Money Theory.) The American military budget is “exceptional” in more ways than one.

      1. Lumpenproletariat

        Imagine if the MMT economics espoused by the military were picked up by useful governmental departments. Print the money and actually provide needed infrastructure, housing, education, medicine, etc. It will engender loyalty at home, stop the slaughter of foreign victims, and foreigners will actually respect us for doing the right thing.

        Right now, the MMT military expenditures allow us to crush some tin pot dictators but we still eventually lose. Even the CIA/NED linked Color Revolutions are only adept at taking out already failed states. It’s still just wasted resources.

        Then again, the current system makes a lot of earnings for defense contractors and pads the politicians with campaign contributions.

        1. ambrit

          I echo your sentiments. One small first step could be a ‘joint effort’ between the DoD and the EPA to clean up all of the toxic waste sites linked to the MIC. Imagine the extent of the work needed at the Hanford Nuclear Site alone! Or the underground trash dump fire outside of Saint Louis Missouri, nearing the old buried dump of radioactive waste from the Oak Ridge complex. Or all the ‘decommissioned’ munitions production factories scattered far and wide. We will need more than simple ‘ready shovels’ to sort out that lot. [I sense a ‘business plan’ coalescing out of the ether…]

      2. sgt_doom

        Thanks and to put things in a more detailed perspective:

        National Debt = $19 trillion

        Unaccounted for DoD funds = over $12 trillion

        (which is part of that national debt)

        1. Praedor

          The National debt, in actual reality, is nonsense. MMT is the reality and on top of that, most of that debt is the US government owing itself money. An impossibility. You CANNOT owe money to yourself anymore than you can borrow from yourself. The US military part of the debt, in particular, can simply be deleted on the same computer it was created on.

      3. Ignacio

        In a recent presentation of the latest Bill Mitchell’s book in Spain somebody asked him if he really believes that a country that retains sovereignity on currency can issue unlimited amounts of money. In that moment I thougth that US military spending was a good example…

  2. JTMcPhee

    Interesting. Chomsky critiques the “convention” of describing and discussing and analyzing the complexities of global interactions in terms of “state actors,” then jumps right in with analysis based on that grossly misleading and simplifying and perverting form.

    Maybe the “convention” has momentum that just can’t be overcome, fed by the real actors who are sucking the rest of us dry and putting us mopes who underwrite their Game of Risk (TM) bullshittery in moment-to-moment danger of annihilation. Maybe it’s just that for the rest of us politically aware, and especially for those who don’t even know where to look for openings into “reality” thanks to generations of manufactured consent, our education and heavy exposure to tropes like “the US national interests” and “Russia did so-and-so (the evil little sneaks, who the hell does that backward nation think it is, anyway?)” and “China plots to expand into OUR SPHERE” blinds us to the real elements at play, behind the Parker Brothers “now a division of Hasbro, Inc., a multinational corporation…”

    So us mopes, thanks to the wiring of our lambic systems (affinity, tribalism, violence all mixed up with sex and other pleasures), the fortuitous of where we were born, and the blandishments and reinforcements constantly served up by the REAL actors in their combinations, happily divide ourselves up into manageable mouthfuls, willing to accept the pay of Jay Gould who knew (as did Henry Ford and the European elite industrialists (the Krupps sold weapons to all sides, just like General Atomic and General Electric do today) that he “could pay half the working class to kill the other half.”

    What I don’t see much of is attempts to figure out what it is in the fraction of the population that so confidently and consistently preys on us mopes, that drives to the accumulation of terminal wealth and power. Is it just or mostly pleasure-seeking, on a massive, insatiable scale? (Snark)The influence of the lizard aliens who “plan to take over a disfigured planet?” (/snark off)

    Lots of studies showing hierarchy and bureaucracy seem to be end-states of political economies, with “something” driving the structures that lead to a very few in our “civilized world” (post-city-state) always ending up in palaces housing massive armies and treasure vaults and dungeons, with sycophants and special pleaders and priests surrounding, protecting and confirming the Rightness and Inevitablilty of their Ascension. And Sheriffs of Nottingham keeping the rabble in line. With a few ineffectual voices, well aware that from their standpoint, “something is terribly wrong,” but unable to see forest or trees from the ditches they dig to drain the Commons to complete its enclosure…

    One thought on the point:

    And another, for the bitter fun of it:

    No answers, just questions. And No Exit, maybe, given the reality that 99.9% of species have gone extinct right here on Earth, many by demolishing their niches or eating all their specialized prey or food stocks…

    1. sgt_doom

      Excellent point and were to you go back and review all the suggested propaganda techniques of the father of American advertising and propaganda, Sigmund Freud’s nephew and half-brother, Edward Bernays (quite the inbreeding, that!), you would find how remarkably Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman follow his dictates on public talks and speeches.

      (In Seattle recently, Amy said again and again, “movements matter” — “movements matter” — then she proceeded to show how all the movements flubbed it!)

      With their meandering talking strategy one tends to forget their major contradictions by the end of their tedious talks!

  3. EndOfTheWorld

    The Donald is a wild card and nobody (including him) knows what he’ll do in office. Which is good—our opponents can’t predict his actions. Hillary OTOH has been disastrous in foreign policy and that’s something Trump will beat her up with—-in addition to just being a horrible excuse for a human being in every way, shape and form. That’s assuming she’s not indicted next month.

    1. EoinW

      Opponents of Washington are the good guys. This mindset that America and the western world have opponents who given free reign would do us great harm is a way of thinking ingrained in most westerners and the greatest obstacle to the West ever reforming itself. One can’t help but marvel at the power of social conditioning and how patriotism dictates how we think – rather than thinking for ourselves. Let’s be honest, if a shooting war breaks out with Russia how many western citizens will be cheering for the Russians? Doesn’t matter if NATO is in the wrong, we will rally around the flag. This is the “ace up the sleeve” the neoCons know they can play when the need arises. I fear we are so brainwashed that we are beyond saving ourselves.

    2. Praedor

      We can hope that Donald will go off on Hillary in disciplined fashion for her many ethical and foreign policy failings but The Donald, thus far, has not been disciplined on anything. For every biting and accurate attack he makes, he launches a huge cloud of chaff nonsense that ruins his targeting. He won’t succeed in attacking Hillary if he keeps nullifying a solid attack on a real Hillary failing by switching to a tone deaf sexist attack followup. The solid hits get ignored and forgotten by the hoards that turn around and chew him to pieces for going off on how ugly she is, or fat, or how shapeless her cankles are, etc. Self sabotage. THAT ends up being the focus of the raging hoards and media rather than the red meat he served up.

    3. sgt_doom

      The trump card?

      Thomas Frank the other day on his book tour stated something I’ve been attempting to convey for years now:

      The Clintons are the New Deal killers!

      You can’t blame that on Trump or Bernie!

  4. ke

    If you understand the as is abutment, always a psychological prison on the edge of a financial cliff with sociopaths representing the majority avoiding change themselves by pointing at others, this is the best time in history to have children. The majority always accelerates demographics with an actuarial ponzi, to liquidate natural resources, and then subjects itself to demographic deceleration, unable to change its habits, resulting in a get them before they get you competition for artificially scarce resources in a competition among peer pressure groups. Spray and pray sex doesn’t work, with or without birth control.

    Politics is just religion made more efficient, with the gods removed and the experts asserting that they are God, in an artificial world of humans chasing machines, subjugation always with a bait and swap. You need O2, clean rainwater, soil with minerals and a population density capable of delivering wage/rent increases, and the majority has immobilized itself globally in unison with dc technology driving RE inflation, an addiction.

    Do your 20 hours per week, vote, whatever, to maintain the counterweight, which exists for a reason, but keep in mind its not life. The punishment for work in the empire is severe, so keep your own counsel. Any rock can increase CO2 relative to O2.

    That plant is producing rocket fuel and using it to grow the R chain, an equilibrium with oscillating frequencies separated by vortices in a multiplexer. Plants will be here long after each animal species has been replaced by methylation, which is why effective farmers position themselves on the fulcrum, where only a slight perturbation changes form.

    Net time zero to see the motor and VFD.

    1. ke

      The borders are a permeable membrane in time, and you have populations increasingly methylizing themselves. Plants bud according to form, not according to any group`s perception of the future, looking from the vantage point of mature leaf, which knows only itself, and conveniently ignores most to of that to bias, judging others accordingly, largely what they are not, to get the self desired transmission in a positive feedback loop.

      All bets on China the Myth have been wrong, on the assumption that as the reserve bank rotated with each new culture, you can bet red every time and win over time. That kind of subsidy, repeating past behavior in a new environment, doesn’t end well.

  5. rusti

    However, as Russia collapsed under the devastating market reforms of the 1990s, the vision faded

    Can anyone recommend some good books to learn more about this subject? I see it referenced all the time here (usually when people are singing Larry Summers’ praises) but it’s something I’m terribly ignorant about and was too young to understand at the time.

    1. financial matters

      Naomi Klein does a good job in Shock Doctrine which is available as a free online PDF.

      from page 253

      “”This liberation from all constraints is, in essence, Chicago School economics (otherwise known as neoliberalism or, in the U.S., neoconservatism): not some new invention but capitalism stripped of its Keynesian appendages, capitalism in its monopoly phase, a system that has let itself go—that no longer has to work to keep us as customers, that can be as antisocial, antidemocratic and boorish as it wants. As long as Communism was a threat, the gentlemen’s agreement that was Keynesianism would live on; once that system lost ground, all traces of compromise could finally be eradicated, thereby fulfilling the purist goal Friedman had set out for his movement a half century earlier.

      So while Sachs saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as a liberation from authoritarian rule and was ready to roll up his sleeves and start helping, his Chicago School colleagues saw it as a freedom of a different sort—as the final liberation from Keynesianism and the do-gooder ideas of men like Jeffrey Sachs. Seen in that light, the do-nothing attitude that so infuriated Sachs when it came to Russia was not “sheer laziness” but laissez-faire in action: let it go, do nothing. By not lifting a finger to help, all the men charged with Russian policy—from Dick Cheney, as Bush Sr.’s defense secretary, to Lawrence Summers, Treasury undersecretary, to Stanley Fischer at the IMF—were indeed doing something: they were practicing pure Chicago School ideology, letting the market do its worst. Russia, even more than Chile, was what this ideology looked like in practice, a foreshadowing of the get-rich-or-die-trying dystopia that many of these same players would create a decade later in Iraq.””

    2. JTMcPhee

      A couple of sources (not books):, and another interesting view,, and more mainstream stuff on parallel activity in the US,

      And then there’s this:

      All depends on who you ask, where you look, what the prescription for your lenses reads…

    3. rkka

      Janine Wedell “Collision and Collusion”

      After 8 years of FreeMarketDemocraticReform to implement “the Washington Consensus,” deaths in Russia were exceeding births by a million a year. Putin gave them the boot, and Russia is recovering.

      The Baltic States, Ukraine, and much of Eastern Europe is still collapsing demographically because their economies are still being run under the parameters of “the Washington Consensus.”

      1. Lumpenproletariat

        Sadly Eastern Europe is still being manipulated by historical and ethnic enmity and increasingly implausible yet officially parroted concepts of freedom and democracy, they’re stuck with no foreseeable hope. They were promised a higher standard of living and consumer goods. They got migrant laborer jobs in Western Europe, military jobs, and prostitution job opportunities for over qualified candidates.

        We’re seeing the same economic and social collapse in North America. Luckily we’re starting from a far higher level.

      2. Lumpenproletariat

        Sadly Eastern Europe is still being manipulated by historical and ethnic enmity and increasingly implausible yet officially parroted concepts of freedom and democracy, they’re stuck with no foreseeable hope.

        We’re seeing the same economic and social collapse in North America. Luckily we’re starting from a far higher level.

    4. sgt_doom

      The truth is (as more enlightened economists have stated) the USA also technically would have collapsed had it not been for two items: (1) the US dollar used as the world reserve currency — oil traded in US dollars; and, (2) the adoption of fantasy finance constructs such as credit derivatives (which only work when, like the audience of Peter Pan, everyone believes in them?!).

  6. ckimball

    They manufacture hell on earth for all life.
    How can people who work so hard and whose families even sacrificed life and limb to “defend our way of life” have any concept of the contempt and hatred they are held by TPTB.
    I bet this is the source of much disbelief in the culpability of “our political class” as they call themselves in the home of the free and the brave.
    I have some Russian friends on this little island where I live that have told me that they knew their government did not represent them and that their sociability and friendships are what supported their lives while their circumstances were more meager than many of us can imagine.

    1. Lumpenproletariat

      The propaganda system here is a lot more insidious?
      There’s still a patina of prosperity.
      We’re taught to believe our system is the one, true,most effective one?
      We’re taught to believe that foreigners/minorities/poor people are the ones we should fear?

      1. sgt_doom

        Outstanding point, Lumpenproletariat!

        Propaganda, USA

        Last week I was in a bad way so I happened to turn on NPR on five separate occasions, and “coincidentally” (I guess???) just happened to hear five different people talk on the same exact subject:

        Why wages have remained flat or lowered, while prices have risen?

        This should take all of two minutes to explain, yet each and every time the NPR stooges — beginning with Jim Zarroli — went all murky and obfuscatory on the audience, claiming it’s somehow all mysterious and too complicated for us mere mortals!

        The fifth time I thought for sure they would actually explain it as they had on a “senior economist” from Zillow in Seattle, which is the picture perfect example of what’s transpiring.

        Instead, Skylar Olson from Zillow goes all blah, blah and murky and may just be cognitively dysfunctional or something (???) and she too was at a loss to explain this very simple situation. (Why housing prices have risen while wages have remained flat, etc.?)

        OK, real simple when one is not spewing pure propaganda at NPR: jobs and employment have been globalized, as have real estate.

        So in Seattle, where the middle class has all but disappeared and there has been much offshoring of jobs, insourcing of foreign visa workers and undocumented workers — at the same time over 50% homes over $500,000 (although since I last heard this I believe it is now over $600,000) are being purchased by mainland Chinese, i.e., buyers from China!

        When jobs are globalized and an almost limitless number of workers are able to compete for finite jobs, wages stay flat or drop — when real estate is globalized and an almost limitless number of buyers are now available for a finite number of homes and real estate, prices rise!

        Real, real simple! Evidently too simple for everyone at NPR, and the senior economist at Zillow!

        Increase labor while decreasing jobs — what every so-called “free trade” agreement has been about — with NAFTA being the template (verbiage in that legislation allowed foreign ownership of Mexican banks for the first time, and within one year of passage, 90% of their banks were foreign owned, which allowed in Big Agra which, together with corrupt Mexican politicians, worked to privatize the farmlands of subsistence farmers in Mexico, throwing said farmers off their lands, with pressure to make the trek north to the USA — so 42,000 factories shut down after NAFTA, leaving plenty of unemployed American workers, and then undocumented workers from Mexico increasing those numbers — increase labor while decreasing jobs!

        What the money masters or elites have done is globalize those portions of the economy which optimize their profits while screwing the 90%, at the same time keeping local (by various means) those portions of the economy which optimize the profits and curtail economic freedom for the rest of us — screwing the 90%.

        Globalizing jobs and real estate, localizing insurance (especially health insurance) and biopharmaceutical pricing, etc.!

  7. ckimball

    Just an anecdote regarding a childhood experience with propaganda which
    I’ve reflected on for years. It was in my third grade class (1952) that our
    teacher told us about propaganda. We were told how fortunate we were to live in
    America where we did not have it but that in Russia, all the newspapers were
    propaganda. That in fact there was a Russian newspaper in our country called
    the Daily Worker. I had the idea that if I took our newspaper at home and layed
    it out next to a Daily Worker newspaper I would see propaganda. I expected it
    would be article for article. That evening I asked my father if could get me a
    copy of the Daily Worker. When he came home the next evening I heard him
    say softly to my mother “Billie, I carried it under my coat”. He gave me the paper. There was no discussion with me. I was excited to bring it to school
    and share my idea. I can still see my teacher sitting at her big oak desk.
    She had blond shoulder length hair that came up in a little flip of curl.
    I gave her the paper. She took it, opened her pencil drawer and in it went.
    That was it. No more discussion. Ironically though, it did open up more undisclosed questions.

  8. Russell

    Chomsky mentions John C. Mearsheimer as he points out it isn’t hard to understand Russian motives. In “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” Mearsheimer recommends all nations get nukes to play War by Threat saying “I told you so.” to the Ukrainians.
    We can work all we want to fix laws that run our financial bondage, but what difference will it make if more nations get nukes. We are in the same sort of power structure as prior to WWI.
    It is like when I thought I’d just get a hip replaced and go on okay, but the doctor says, well no point in that, “look here you’ll still be paralyzed.”
    -So they cut into my neck and put in the bridge to keep me from being paralyzed. First.
    Crisis Overload was one of the predictions coming as the Vatican squashed any population control, which meant simply equality & education for women.
    Getting things done in order is harder than it ought be.
    We are distracted.
    The Beats knew one thing, the atom bomb changed everything.
    I keep saying that there would be war enough banning the bomb myself. Of course the UN can’t do it, the one we have anyway.
    Andre` Lewin put forth the best Reinvention plans for the UN, but it gets clear we need another one. The population has doubled since the first one, the one subsumed to Zionism and war on the Korean Peninsula.
    Armies were volunteered for that. Charter principals were betrayed.
    Another UN with an army working at banning the bomb, and an army that just gets triggered to use force when there are clear triggers is called for.
    Meantime Chris Hedges calls for Revolt & Revolution.
    We can get that worked out, but then we’ll all be poisoned when the plastic is so filling the oceans that the food chain just stops.
    Always fun to read Chomsky, so dry & matter of fact.

  9. Rod

    Just wanted to thank NC and all the commentators on this fine and timely treatise by Chomsky. I won’t speak directly because although I am at the ‘big game’ I’m in the bleachers(by choice and capacity).
    I am also in Eastern Europe right now enjoying my birthday present. The past few days I have been watching local farmers prepare their fields with horse drawn single bottom plows-a very appropriate and efficient method for the hilly terrain and reminding me of the Peruvian highlanders I watched a couple of years back chaffing and winnowing their grain by ox and basket. Their gardens more meticulous than their abodes speak of real priorities. Boy is there a lot of diversity in this big world.
    And despite the language barriers everyone wants to communicate that they know “somethings going on” environmentally and politically. Articulation be damned it’s the bottom line. Everyone is aware of the current POTUS and the race for his replacement. And they talk frankly in the international language of wanting fairness not favoritism. Maybe that’s why there are too many cornflakes in my bowl this morning. The sense is palatable with everyone I’ve interacted with.

    One last thing–an anecdote like ckimble for Sgt. Doom–
    I am away from the house and jonesed to keep up over the last month so NPR -ATC-is convenient for this time frame and my nocturnal tendencies. However an interview several months ago by the WE host with her Editor on the topic of Truth in Reporting keeps spinning in my brain like someone has stuffed a Dremel tool through my ear.
    The Question at hand on Truth in Reporting put to her Editor was what to when the simple presentation of facts fail to move the Public’s Opinion to the understanding the Truth.(of course Trump and his policies or lack thereof were the Subject). Her Editors straightforward answer: Then Present the Facts in such a fashion that you frame the Truth in a manner you need to move the Publics Opinion to the understanding you think they should have.
    Honest to God they said it out loud. My momma told me 50 years ago when the Commies did that it was called PROPAGANDA and that is still my working definition.
    That’s it from me in Budapest where you can see the Internationals money looking for that return.
    Thanks all for today’s fine meal.

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