September 21, 2004


The resort to force (Noam Chomsky , 9/22/04, Asia Times)

The 2002 National Security Strategy and its implementation in Iraq are widely regarded as a watershed in international affairs. "The new approach is revolutionary," Henry Kissinger wrote, approving of the doctrine but with tactical reservations and a crucial qualification: it cannot be "a universal principle available to every nation". The right of aggression is to be reserved for the United States and perhaps its chosen clients. We must reject the most elementary of moral truisms, the principle of universality - a stand usually concealed in professions of virtuous intent and tortured legalisms.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger agreed that the doctrine and implementation were "revolutionary", but from a quite different standpoint. As the first bombs fell on Baghdad, he recalled then-president Franklin Roosevelt's words after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: "a date which will live in infamy". Now it is Americans who live in infamy, he wrote, as their government adopts the policies of imperial Japan. He added that George W Bush had converted a "global wave of sympathy" for the US into a "global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism". A year later, "discontent with America and its policies had intensified rather than diminished". Even in Britain support for the war had declined by a third.

This doesn't seem so complex that such revered intellectuals as Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Schlesinger should have this much trouble understanding it. Aggression is just a means to secure certain ends. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have determined that it is an appropriate means to dispose of illegitimate governments--something that FDR obviously agreed with. They've really just made one change to traditional geopolitics, an all important one, but one that does meet Mr. Chomsky's test of universality: where the legitimacy of a regime used to only require that it exercise sovereignty over a nation, we now require, in keeping with the triumph of Western values and the End of History, in order to be legitimate a government must respect the human rights of its own citizens and organize its society along more or less liberal democratic capitalist protestant lines. Any regime which falls short of this standard is illegitimate and can be, though it won't necessarily be, changed by military force wielded by the world's democracies. Mr. Chomsky may not like the idea of replacing dictatorships, but the argument against it is not the one he offers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 21, 2004 9:09 AM

Ah, the amusing irony of Mr. Chomsky citing a man, Mr. Schlesinger, who among other things said this about Chomsky:

There is no point in trying to deal with all Dr. Chomsky’s misrepresentations; it would make my letter as long and boring as his. His comment, with regard to the exposure of his fake Truman quotations, about Schlesinger’s “elaborate pretense that he couldn’t find the quotes, that I had invented them,” is an easily demonstrable lie.

See here, among other places.

Posted by: John Thacker at September 21, 2004 9:45 AM

Speaking of St. Noam, here's a nice treatment by Englishman Oliver Kamm:

Kamm's is a good site, in general -- he's labour-leaning but with his head screwed on tight.

Posted by: Twn at September 21, 2004 10:54 AM

Nice book-length shootdown of Chimpsky here.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 21, 2004 1:21 PM