Noam Chomsky is considered the father of modern linguistics. In this richly detailed criticism of American foreign policy, he seeks to redefine many of the terms commonly used in the ongoing American war on terrorism. Surveying U.S. actions in Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkey, the Far East and elsewhere over the past half a century along with the modern American war in Iraq, Chomsky indicates that America is just as much a terrorist state as any other government or rogue organization. George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq drew worldwide criticism, in part because it seemed to present a new philosophy of pre-emptive war and an appearance of global empire building. But according to Chomsky, such has been the operating philosophy of American foreign policy for decades. Opponents of the Bush administration’s tactics consistently point out how the American government supported Saddam Hussein for many years prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait (pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand are easy to come by) as a means of pointing out how the United States is happy to fund despots when it’s in American interests. But Chomsky, armed with extensive historical notation, takes this notion further, arguing how the repression of other nations’ citizenry is, in fact, the very reason Americans support certain foreign leaders. The charges made throughout the book are severe, as are the dire consequences he posits if current trends are not reversed, and Chomsky is no more likely to make friends or gain supporters from the mainstream now than he’s ever been. But Hegemony or Survival is relatively dispassionate. Instead of relying on camp or shock value or personal attacks as some of his contemporaries have done, Chomsky drives his well-supported points steadily forward in an earnest and highly readable style.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of ‘Hegemony Or Survival’:
Priorities and Prospects
A few years ago, one of the great figures of contemporary biology, Ernst Mayr, published some reflections on the likelihood of success in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He considered the prospects very low. His reasoning had to do with the adaptive value of what we call “higher intelligence,” meaning the particular human form of intellectual organization. Mayr estimated the number of species since the origin of life at about fifty billion, only one of which “achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization.” It did so very recently, perhaps 100,000 years ago. It is generally assumed that only one small breeding group survived, of which we are all descendants.
Mayr speculated that the human form of intellectual organization may not be favored by selection. The history of life on Earth, he wrote, refutes the claim that “it is better to be smart than to be stupid,” at least judging by biological success: beetles and bacteria, for example, are vastly more successful than humans in terms of survival. He also made the rather somber observation that “the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years.”
We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of “biological error,” using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else.
The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and a hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might well conclude that humans have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that sustains life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well.
The year 2003 opened with many indications that concerns about human survival are all too realistic. To mention just a few examples, in the early fall of 2002 it was learned that a possibly terminal nuclear war was barely avoided forty years earlier. Immediately after this startling discovery, the Bush administration blocked UN efforts to ban the militarization of space, a serious threat to survival. The administration also terminated international negotiations to prevent biological warfare and moved to ensure the inevitability of an attack on Iraq, despite popular opposition that was without historical precedent.
Aid organizations with extensive experience in Iraq and studies by respected medical organizations warned that the planned invasion might precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe. The warnings were ignored by Washington and evoked little media interest. A high-level US task force concluded that attacks with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) within the United States are “likely,” and would become more so in the event of war with Iraq. Numerous specialists and intelligence agencies issued similar warnings, adding that Washington’s belligerence, not only with regard to Iraq, was increasing the long-term threat of international terrorism and proliferation of WMD. These warnings too were dismissed.
In September 2002 the Bush administration announced its National Security Strategy, which declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent. The new grand strategy aroused deep concern worldwide, even within the foreign policy elite at home. Also in September, a propaganda campaign was launched to depict Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the United States and to insinuate that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities and was planning others. The campaign, timed to the onset of the midterm congressional elections, was highly successful in shifting attitudes. It soon drove American public opinion off the global spectrum and helped the administration achieve electoral aims and establish Iraq as a proper test case for the newly announced doctrine of resort to force at will.[…]