Monday, June 29, 2009

Failed States, Part Two

Man, how funny is that? I don't know, maybe it's better for me because I've read one of his books, but I laugh every time. This hilarious cartoon is used with consent and comes courtesy of, by which I mean that I don't think the guy would mind me using his comic.

Now, without further ado, on to the horrifying and sad truth about our country. That truth being, as Chomsky so painstakingly demonstrates, that the US is not interested in democracy.

"Democracy Promotion Abroad."
Chomsky repeats throughout the closing half of the book that the US supports democracy "if and only if" it serves the interests of the US. So, as the US goes out into the world in order to spread democracy under the guise of a "messianic message" of bringing enlightenment to backwards people, the truth actually couldn't be further from the stated purpose. As Chomsky puts it "aggression and terror must be portrayed as self-defense and dedication to inspiring visions...The history of international crimes overflows with similar sentiments." And it most surely does. I believe I failed to mention this in my colonization blog, but all of the popular images of a tribal, primitive Africa before the Europeans arrived are the products of European justification for invasion. By making the African population seem savage and backwards (which they absolutely were not) the Europeans had an easier time explaining to themselves and their populations why it was necessary to "conquer and destroy them for their own benefit."
Historian Arno Mayer reported after 9/11 that since 1947, "America has been the chief perpetrator of 'preemptive' state terror...always in the name of democracy, liberty and justice." Such was the case in Iraq, and such has been the case in Latin America.
In fact, in an odd and sort of morbid coincidence, there is a date known as "the first 9/11" in Latin America: September 11, 1973. It was a Tuesday, if that helps. Basically what happened was that Chile happened to be "Latin America's oldest and most vibrant democracy," operating successfully under democratic socialism. The US feared that Chile's success and independence would become a "contagious example" among the rest of Latin America, all of which the US sought to control and regulate for its own gain. So, on the first 9/11, General Augusto Pinochet attacked the Chilean presidential palace in a military coup with full support of the US. The death toll, reported at 3,200 but estimated to be double that in reality, would be equivalent in population to an attack within the US that resulted in between 50,000 and 100,000 dead, according to Chomsky. General Pinochet "soon moved to integrate other US-backed Latin American military dictatorships into an international state terrorist program called Operation Condor." This was a program that killed and tortured as routine and without mercy, and while they did so, "Pinochet was greatly honored--by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in particular."
This kind of thing is pretty routine for ruling powers, actually. For the US, the goal is not a peaceful and civilized world, the goal is to run the planet like a business that serves US interests almost exclusively. Fear of democracy comes logically when "successful independent development and steps toward democracy, out of US control, might well have a domino effect, inspiring others who face similar problems to pursue the same course, thus eroding the global system of domination." This kind of thinking led Washington to back the installation of "Europe's first postwar fascist government in Greece in 1967, continuing its support until the dictatorship was overthrown in 1974." The same logic followed with Vietnam and the destruction of Indochina.
As recently as 2002, the US supported a military coup in Venezuela, in which the incredibly popular president Hugo Chavez was overthrown, but reinstated by a popular uprising. The US media later condemned his criticisms of US militarism and capitalism at the UN Summit (which received the loudest applause of the night.)
Similarly, elections in 2004 El Salvador were rigged with US support, the US denies that elections even took place in 1984 Nicaragua, Islam Karimov, the ruthless dictator of Uzbekistan, maintained US support even after a 2005 massacre in which he reportedly boiled people to death, and so on and so on.
Chomsky then asks the reader to consider the situation in Iraq, and really question whether there was ever an exit strategy involved.
"We are therefore being asked to believe that the United States will stand by quietly watching a serious challenge to Israel, its primary regional client, as well as the takeover of the world's largest energy reserves by a Muslim bloc free from US control," he says. I think it's obvious from the atrocities that the US has committed and continues to commit, that this can never happen.

"Democracy Promotion at Home"
Turning away from the slew of crimes that the US commits in the name of democracy throughout the rest of the world, Chomsky uses the final chapter of his book to discuss the way that democracy works within our own country. The simplest observation is: poorly.
Chomsky first discusses the fact that democracy, by definition, is set up to protect the rich from the poor. James Madison (the fourth president of the US) "held that power should be in the hands of the 'wealth of the nation...the more capable set of men." Madison was concerned for the rich because the majority of the population was and will probably always be less than extremely wealthy, and through Madison's logic, the majority could theoretically vote to redistribute the wealth of the nation. So, "civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor," according to Adam Smith. What's interesting is that in ancient Greece, Aristotle saw the same problems inherent in democracy. However, "Madison's solution was to restrict democracy, while Aristotle's was to reduce inequality." And inequality abounds.
In fact, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, "most men are servants of corporations" and America is "no longer a scene of individual enterprise...individual opportunity, and individual achievement." In a kind of echo of the way that the government exploited the country's fear after 9/11 (like the Patriot Act, for example) Wilson also refers to things like World War I wartime patriotism and the Red Scare as things that were used to "regiment the lower class."
And while people are afraid of terrorism and worried about their financial woes as our economy and the worth of the dollar stagnates and then declines, it's particularly difficult to care about politics, it would seem.
Chomsky points out that political campaigns are run by public relations personnel, men and women that would otherwise be making their living off of selling laundry soap and deodorant. So, as they are basically in the business of misrepresentation and lying, it only makes sense that this is how our elections are presented to the public. As is meticulously documented within the final chapter of Failed States, the general population is generally ignorant of the actual issues involved in an election because of the way the candidates are judged on a "moral image," such as the way that Bush was presented as a fiercely devout Christian. So people make assumptions. Bush supporters imagined that he would agree with them on major issues, when really his policies reflected a very slim margin of the population (hint: they were the ones paying him.) I'm not trying to pick on just Bush, all politics work this way. Think about Obama supporters, myself included. It's easy to think that your candidate will support all of your decisions, despite the fact that Obama shirks gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
Opinion polls show that, actually, America is pretty on top of its game as far as what it would like to see happen to the nation's budget. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to sharply decrease military spending and institute national health care. They would also like to see more social spending, more money into education, more taxes for the super rich, and an extraordinary 1090% increase in renewable energy research. The overwhelming majority also thinks that the UN should take the lead in Iraq, as well as all foreign disputes. Unfortunately, public opinion is never discussed this way in the elections, is not covered by our free media, and just overall doesn't matter to the government. A fully functioning democratic society is "a community of people who interact in forming opinions and policies." Instead, we live in a country where, on a scale of 0 to 10, most people rate the will of the people at 4.5 in affecting governmental decisions.
Lastly, Chomsky focuses on the social security fiasco, in which we were all told that Social Security will collapse in our lifetime because the baby boomers are going to retire. Chomsky points out that all of the baby boomers were once children, and if society supported them then, then society can certainly afford to support them now, but this logic is lost. He argues that it makes sense that we lack national health care while our social security is being dismantled, because the super rich experience the benefits of the current health care system but are totally unaffected by social security, which only helps the poor, so it makes sense that it would be "dispatched to the flames."

Chomsky's afterword shows the world of today in the aftermath of the decades of US tyranny, and it's no surprise that many countries are moving away from us. Latin America is beginning to ally itself with China, to move away from their dependence on us, and it is worth noting that Cuba and Venezuela were the chief contributors of doctors and aid to Pakistan after a savage earthquake in 2005. The US has even managed to alienate Canada, who is expected to transfer a quarter of its oil to China after anti-Canadian policies during the Bush administration. Asia appears to be reconsolidating. Iran and China are already allies, exchanging oil for weapons, and Russia and India will most likely take their places in an Asian effort to control the majority of the world's oil. When I think of America during this afterword, I see George Bush standing on a mountain of smoking rubble against a blackened sky, alone, wondering where everyone went.
I will leave you with one of the final paragraphs of the book.
"Another conservative suggestion is that facts, logic, and elementary moral principles should matter. Those who take the trouble to adhere to that suggestion will soon be led to abandon a good part of familiar doctrine, though it is surely much easier to repeat self-serving mantras. Such simple truths carry us some distance toward developing more specific and detailed answers. More important, they open the way to implement them, opportunities that are readily within our grasp if we can free ourselves from the shackles of doctrine and imposed illusion," - Noam Chomsky.

I hear that, brother.

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