(My review on goodreads)
This book is a series of 5 lectures given by Chomsky in Managua, Nicaragua in 1987, just after the height of the contra atrocities sponsored by the US government. In these lectures Chomsky examines the foundations of US foreign policy, primarily focusing on the small-scale terrorist wars that the US has sponsored in the third-world. He also devotes one lecture to the large-scale interaction with the other superpower of the time, the Soviet Union.
In this book, as in many others, Chomsky deconstructs the official explanations for US foreign policy decisions. As elsewhere, he identifies two key ingredients: corporate interest in gaining and keeping control of ‘our’ resources that just happen to exist in other countries; and management of ‘rotten apples’ that might infect the surrounding region. Nicaragua was representative of both ingredients, but primarily the second. The ‘rotten apple’ or ‘domino’ theory is that it is imperative to prevent the spread of regimes that will refuse to be part of the US imperial system. Nicaragua has fallen into that category at multiple times in its history, and has suffered the horrible consequences. The first time was in 1912 when the the Zelaya government, a mildly liberal capitalist democracy, made the mistake of deciding that it should avoid being entirely under US control, and so decided to shift its debt from US to European banks. The result, hardly predictable at the time but blazingly obvious today, was that the US recruited a Nicaraguan general to overthrow the democratic government, and sent in the Marines to ensure success. The result was some 65 years of brutal dictatorship. Eventually, in 1979, the last dictator lost power thanks to brave and persistent popular movements that resulted in a democratic government dedicated to instituting social reforms to counter the terrible poverty and privation that had resulted from foreign control. This was, naturally, unacceptable to the US. Despite the fact that Nicaragua was, in 1984, a democracy surrounded by brutal and violent dictatorships (all sponsored and supported by the US), Reagan initiated the ‘contra’ war to combat the ‘internal aggression’ represented by the Sandinistas. The stated aim of the war (in internal memoranda in the State Department) was to slow or eliminate the social programs that had been so effectively applied during the previous 5 years. The fear was that successful social programs in Nicaragua might ‘infect’ the surrounding countries, leading to popular movements that would be inimicable to US corporate interests. The result was, as usual, that democracy was replaced by repression in which tens of thousands died, many tortured, and the country left in a state of disarray.
Chomsky also talks a good deal about Viet Nam, referring to the war as an attack on South Viet Nam, a concept that is foreign to most US-based analysis of the war, which is generally portrayed as the US ‘helping’ our ally, the south, against aggression by the north. In this analysis, emphasis is always given to the US air-based attacks on the north, which did indeed cause great destruction and loss of (civilian) life. But this analysis leaves out the basic facts that most of us know, which is that the US forces were based in the south; that hundreds of thousands of south Vietnamese civilians were rounded up into concentration camps (called ‘strategic hamlets’ in the official history); villages and entire regions destroyed, burnt to the ground and poisoned with agent orange. Chomsky uses this history as a springboard to talk about the effectiveness of ‘thought control’ in the US, in which many subjects are simply unthinkable, and debate is always constrained to lie within the acceptable range that can pose no threat to the established institutions. And this, in turn, serves as a means of talking about the nature of democracy within the US; a democracy in which the great mass of people are simply expected to ratify this or that candidate, and in which popular ratification is not even needed for specific policies, many of which are opposed by the great majority of ordinary people.
He also talks about the costs of being an imperialist nation. It is expensive to invade and occupy other countries, so in those cases where there is no direct commercial advantage - specifically, the ‘rotten apple’ cases - one might wonder why the US would take on the expense. Chomsky’s answer is that the costs are borne by ordinary people, but the gains, if any, go to the wealthy elite. This fact can come as no surprise today since the process has been made ‘transparent’ under the Bush administration, which has taken no pains to hide the flow of money from ordinary taxpayers to large corporations, especially corporations with direct ties to members of the Bush administration. But the general process has been in effect for a century, and is essentially unchanged no matter which party or individual is in power.