Saturday, June 13, 2009

Failed States, Part One

Failed States by Noam Chomsky is definitely not summer reading.
This book is taking me a very long time to read, and the reason for this is that I underline and bracket about fifteen things per page. This book is so hyper-informative that I fear that if I don't underline and draw arrows and write things like "We are the terrorists," in the margins, I'll never be able to keep all of this straight in my head. Similarly, I have chosen to break this very short work (only about 250 pages) into two blog entries because there is just so much to deal with. In fact, there is so much to deal with, that I think the best way to do this is to save all the editorializing and summation and moral guidelines about how we should think about ourselves as Americans and our government, for another time. For now, I just want to present you with a quick breakdown of the text itself in order to provide context.
Side note: If you choose to read this book, and about twenty pages through you find that you are having the urge to hide under your kitchen table, that is completely natural.
  • In 1955 Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell said that the world had two options: "Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?" Chomsky begins the book with this information, I think, to put it in pretty black and white terms. Einstein said war will lead to the end of the human race, our government continuously goes to and funds wars.
  • Our government is constantly breaking international deals without repercussion. In 2002 Bush promised $10 billion in African aid, and by 2005 almost none of it was dispersed. This was because Bush cut back on funding as justification for cutting unpayable African debt (that is, debt that Africa has accumulated since colonization ended, more on that in Colonization Part Two.) This loss of aid was "a death sentence for more than six million Africans a year." - Jeffrey Sachs, economist.
  • A double standard exists in our foreign policy, or rather a single standard, according to Chomsky. The war is always about their terror against us, and never are we guilty of committing acts of terror. In the 1980s Washington was involved in what Chomsky calls a "terrorist" war on Nicaragua, during which US forces were authorized to attack defenseless civilian targets.
I think I should mention at this point that I have only gotten as far as page 5. I'll try to speed things up.
  • While the US fights the "War on Terror," it routinely refuses to extradite suspected terrorists to other countries, which means that Washington routinely harbors terrorists.
  • According to a recent international poll, most countries consider France to have the most positive influence in the world, alongside Europe and China, while the US and Russia are thought to have the most negative influence. This leads me to the point of Chomsky's first chapter: nuclear holocaust.
  • As of 2005, top military officials told congress that Washington is developing outer space weaponry that could allow for instantaneous engagement anywhere on the face of the planet, subjecting everyone to constant threat of destruction. In 2004, the US accounted for 95% of space weaponization expenditures, but Russia and China have since increased their own efforts in order to defend themselves.
  • The vast increase of nuclear arms under Bush have prompted many other countries to increase their nuclear capacities, putting the US at the mercy of faulty equipment in other countries, such as Pakistan, whose nuclear facilities are anything but up-to-date. We also stand a risk of terrorist hijackings in Russia, where nukes are constantly on the move through the countryside.
  • As recently as 2005, Bush claimed that we did not know enough about global warming, despite the annual AAAS meeting which determined both human responsibility and catastrophic consequences.
  • Radicalization of the civilian population, increase in support for radical militant political Islam, the creation of a live-action urban training center for terrorists, the creation of a breeding-ground for hate, and the increase in support for Al-Quieda, and basically anyone who isn't the US, was widely predicted yet ignored before the invasion of Iraq. Most of the fighters in Iraq are not former terrorists, but became radicalized by the extreme injustice of the war itself.
  • "Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world." - Michael Scheur, senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking Bin Laden.
  • In the 1980s the US and Britain supplied Iraq with aid that included materials for nuclear weapons and strains of anthrax and biotoxins (which is a breach of international law, but the US does that all the time so whatever.) These materials were submitted as a reason to invade Iraq, then UN inspectors secured the sites at which they were located, and then they left them unguarded. As many as 109 were looted and 85% of the materials were taken. It was reported in 2005 that as many as one in eight trucks crossing from Iraq into Jordan contained nuclear materials. Donald Rumsfeld responded by saying "Stuff happens." Seriously.
  • Actually, the entire Iraq war demonstrates how low fighting terror actually ranks on the US list of priorities. Not only did Bush attack a country that was completely uninvolved in 9/11, but the Bush administration ignored over 50% of the 9/11 Commission's suggestions on how to better prepare for terrorist attacks.
  • The US Senate sharply cut rail and mass transit security in 2005, shortly before the London train and bus bombings. It was cited by Joe Biden that "as many as 100,000 people in a densely populated area could die in thirty minutes if a single, 90-ton freight car carrying chlorine were punctured." This kind of thing is indicative of the government's inability and at times refusal to actually protect people against the threat of "terror."
All of these facts are within the first chapter, and they are meant to prove this point: A failed state is one that does not protect its citizens from violence and is at the same time a danger to the world at large. I know this blog is already getting on the long side, but I think I can wrap it up with just a few more points of interest.
  • The Bush administration repeatedly committed war crimes. I know that sounds like buzz words and the kind of thing Rage Against the Machine would say, but it is a simple fact, so pervasive that it's difficult to select an appropriate example, so I'll select a couple:
  • Bush rescinded Geneva Conventions in order to alter the definition of torture despite the fact that they are the "supreme law of the land. If broken by other leaders or countries the consequences can be as severe as death if death was the result of the torture victim.
  • In 2004, US troops sealed off the exits of Falluja and bombed it to hell, killing entire families of innocent civilians. Troops then invaded and promptly overtook a hospital, despite the fact that Geneva Conventions state: "fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical service may in no circumstances be attacked."
  • Half a year later, water and food deprivations were in place in order to flush enemy troops from the civilian population, another flagrant Geneva Convention violation.
  • In May of 2005, approximately 400,000 Iraqi children were suffering from "wasting" due to insufficient food because the UN World Food program could not meet the needs of the Iraqi people.
You know, I could just go on and on, but I think I'd rather stop. The real point here is that under the Bush administration, a lot of really fantastic progress was undone, one of which being a slow crawl towards international safety and security. All of a sudden, the US decided it could just do anything it wanted to, including torture and war crimes, violating Geneva Conventions, UN Charter agreements, former treaties, and even Nuremberg Trial Precedents from way back in 1945. As a matter of fact, the very invasion of Iraq in the first place was a war crime, as it was unprompted and acted out under "preemptive self-defense," a term that is 100% complete and utter bullshit.
Next week I'll finish this up, we can see what Chomsky was really getting at, and I'll even throw in a hilarious cartoon as reward for those of you who were good and patient enough to read all of this.

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