Interventions is a set of editorials written by Noam Chomsky for the New York Times syndication service. The editorials were not actually published in the Times, of course, nor were they published in US newspapers, with rare exceptions. They were, however, picked up by the international press. This is unsurprising: Chomsky talks about a reality that the US corporate media strives very hard to ignore or misrepresent. He has been consistently right about the reasons and results of the war in Iraq, and about the goals and accomplishments of US foreign policy generally.
The editorials in this collection focus primarily on the Middle East, but also include a few commentaries on Latin America, particularly Venezuela. The main themes of the book are: 1) US foreign policy has as its primary aim the expansion and consolidation of US corporate power, especially in the realm of energy resources; 2) in pursuit of that foreign policy agenda the US has been the largest and most effective terrorist organization in the world in the post WWII era; 3) the rest of the world actually perceives the US as the most dangerous and erratic nation on earth; 4) US actions are a major determinant in the policies of other governments and organizations, and if we want to see those governments and organizations adopt different policies, then we need to change our own policies. As is usual with Chomsky’s books, he supports these themes with well-documented facts and clear argument and analysis.
One of the two editorial reviews of Interventions on Amazon is by Jonathan Rauch. It is worthwhile to analyze Rauch’s review in some detail.
Rauch says, ‘the Iraq War… , however, does not fit well into Chomsky’s template. “The United States cannot tolerate a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq,” Chomsky claims. Just imagine, he says, the policies that such an Iraq would be likely to pursue: “The Shiite population in the south, where most of Iraq’s oil is, would have a predominant influence.” … The United States tolerates a sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq whose Shiite government is friendly toward Iran. If Bush is pursuing imperialism in Baghdad, it is of a very curious sort.’
A very curious sort, indeed. Chomsky points out in at least 2 of the editorials that the US ‘toleration’ was forced upon it by the mass protests that led to the elections. The US and Britain had been working tirelessly to prevent elections from occurring, and had to make an abrupt about-face only when it became clear that further delays would provoke even more chaos and violence.
As for sovereignty, it was recently reported (following a Friday-night State Department press conference) that the US is threatening to withhold $50 billion of Iraqi assets if the Iraqi parliament does not accede to the US demand for up to 50 permanent military bases in Iraq. Continued presence of the foreign occupiers in Iraq is consistently opposed by 80% of the Iraqi population, and less than 10% believe that the US forces contribute to stability. So the US ‘tolerates’ the Iraq puppet government by use of blackmail and by insisting that the elected government ignore the wishes of the people - a position that is also adopted here in the US, where a large majority of the people do not want permanent bases in Iraq.
Of course, the US has not allowed the Iraqi government to be sovereign. A sovereign government would as a matter of course prosecute crimes committed within its borders. But the Iraqi government is not allowed to prosecute even murder, if the murder is committed by the US military or its mercenary forces.
The US continues to exert continuous pressure on the Iraqi parliament to pass the US-written oil resources law - a law that would effectively hand over Iraqi oil wealth to US corporations. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis oppose this bill, naturally, and a majority of the Iraqi parliament opposes it. Presumably the political and financial blackmail being applied to gain permanent military bases has also been applied for the oil bill - a ‘prerequisite’ for further withdrawal of US forces from the country.
So it is unclear in what way Chomsky’s ‘template’ ‘does not fit well’ with the Iraq war.
On the subject of Afghanistan, Rauch says ‘In Chomsky’s universe, the 2001 U.S. attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban “was undertaken with the expectation that it might drive several million people over the edge of starvation.”’. Rauch characterizes this as ‘(Chomsky’s flight) to a separate reality’. But in the editorial in question, Chomsky cites the pre-war information that was available to the US government that would give rise to that expectation. And in the event, millions of people were driven to near-starvation by the US bombing in Afghanistan. Where is the ‘separate reality’?
He says ‘For all his celebrity on the academic and activist left, Noam Chomsky, the linguist turned gadfly, goes all but unnoticed inside the Capital Beltway.’ This, in a review in the Washington Post, one of the leading mouthpieces for the war in Iraq, before the war, and, along with the Times, the leading proponent of the very US imperialist policies that Chomsky decries. No surprises there.
To gain a better appreciation of Rauch’s own views of the Iraq war, to compare those views with Chomsky’s during the relevant period of 2002-2006 I visited his website. But although he wrote many articles, the Iraq war did not seem to be a subject of interest to him. This may explain his misunderstandings of the reality in Iraq.
Rauch is not the right person to take on Chomsky. He is far too illinformed and, apparently, misinformed to do more than make a fool of himself. I would hope that Amazon would pull the review and replace it with one written by somebody with actual knowledge of the events and history that Chomsky was writing about.