>Noam Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part II

The fact that the two main candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary were a woman and an African American were a welcome sign, Chomsky acknowledges, that the country has managed to get at least somewhat civilized. Still, we cannot expect the joy from this reality to keep us perennially blind to the numerous ways in which Obama has not been living up to his promise. Chomsky reminds us that “Obama’s message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ offered a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes.” And write we did, only to be disappointed in most of our expectations.

Chomsky points out that we do not elect politicians based on what policies they will promote. Rather, we vote for whomever presents us with the best PR campaign. Of course, we conveniently forget that after our candidate gets elected s/he will have to pay for the expensive campaign by servicing corporate interests and screwing us, the hardworking folks who put them in power. This is precisely why politicians have been working so hard to destroy the education system in the US. If you keep people in a state of permanent ignorance, you can feed them soap operish melodrama instead of real political discussion. Gossiping about Bristol Palin’s engagement and gushing ver the puppy Obama bought for his daughters is much easier than educating oneself on what it is that the Congress does and what the Supreme Court is responsible for. (As I discovered to my complete horror last semester, none of my 80 students had the slightest suspicion of what the role of SCOTUS might be).

The biggest disappointment of the Obama’s presidency has been, of course, his Economic Advisory Board. As Chomsky points out, it was packed by the poeple who engineered the economic crisis and then bled the government dry to compensate themselves for that. Chomsky is right, of course. I remember this sinking feeling I experienced as soon as Obama surrounded himself by criminals like Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers (a vile prick, if there ever was one), Timothy Geithner, Alan Greenspan, etc. It was the best indication we could have received that the only change we could expect would be for the worst. Of course, even Obama’s feeble attempts to rein in the robber bankers immediately resulted in threats to withdraw funds from his future campaigns. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with us, the voters, to educate ourselves about what the candidates actually stand for and insist that they carry out the will of the people. As good as this plan sounds, something tells me we have neither a hope or a prospect of it working out any time soon.

Chomsky offers a very bleak but an undoubtedly correct vision of Obama’s position on warfare and torture. As we all remember, a lot of Obama’s supporters preferred him to Hillary Clinton because of his opposition to the Iraq war. Understandably, we also believed that his position on torture would be in opposition to the barbaric practices adopted by the US starting in the 80ies. Chomsky departs from this hopeful attitude that has blinded many of the American progressives to the sad realities of Obama’s real position on these issues. What Chomsky says in this part of this book is something that no one wants to hear. However, his analysis in this part of the book is unassailable. After all his anti-war and anti-torture rhetoric, Obama has failed to deliver any actual change in these areas.

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>Noam Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part I

>I’m not usually a huge fan of Chomsky but his new collection of essays Hopes and Prospects is really good. The first part of the book deals with Latin America. Chomsky outlines the colonial past and present of Latin American countries and their valiant efforts to rid themselves of neo-imperialist domination by the United States. He states correctly that today’s struggles of Latin American countries (Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela) to oppose the depredations of the US-inspired version of globalization offer hope for the rest of the world.  He is also absolutely right in pointing out that “Latin America is not merely the victim of foreign forces. The region is notorious for the rapacity of its wealthy classes and their freedom from social responsibility.” Here, Chomsky echoes Eduardo Galeano’s classic work Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent that decades ago offered a brilliant analysis of how Latin American power elites sold out their own countries to the predatory forces of the US neo-liberalism.

Chomsky states that the drive to imitate their Northern neighbors in ostensible consumption of Westernized goods and services has been the main cause of Latin American failure to achieve real as opposed to formal independence from colonial domination. Today, Chomsky points out “Latin America has real choices, for the first time in its history.” And this is great news for the entire planet.

In the second part of the book, Chomsky analyzes the influence that the imperialist mentality in the US exercises over the discussions of the US military presence in Iraq. I was particularly pleased to see that Chomsky decided not to follow in the footsteps of most liberal commentators in their refusal to see that Russian imperialism is in no way “better” or more justified than the US imperialism. Chomsky qualifies Putin’s actions in Chechnya as “murderous”, which they most definitely are. I only wish that more progressive analysts dared to depart from the tendency to praise everybody who opposes the US regardless of the atrocities they perpetrate. It is definitely right that the US imperialism and Russian imperialism should be discussed together since there are glaring similarities between them.

Chomsky then segues into what I consider the weakest part of the book: the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As usual, Chomsky’s analysis of the issue is one-sided and biased. Israelis are all villainous nationalists and religious fanatics, while the Palestinians are without an exception languishing and tolerant victims. While Chomsky is right in suggesting that the Israelis do everything they can to make sure the conflict continues, he forgets to say that so do the Palestinians. When he describes the Israeli “information campaigns to instruct the world on its errors and misunderstanding, arrogant self-righteousness, circling the wagons, defiance . . .  and paranoia,” he avoids mentioning that this exactly the pattern adopted by every single nation-state with a very weak and diluted national identity (Russia is a great example of precisely this kind of paranoid nation building. Closer to home, so is the US.)

Chomsky’s discussion of nuclear proliferation is powerful and convincing, and I believe everybody should read it because it touches on some of the most important issues we confront today. The only objection I have to this part of his discussion is Chomsky’s insistence that there is no need to fear a nuclear attack from Iran because that would be suicidal and self-destructive. Chomsky forgets that these same statements were made about Germany 70 years ago: “Germany would not start a war, that would be suicidal and self-destructive.” And then a few years later: “Germany will not open up a second front, that would be suicidal and self-destructive.” We all know how those predictions went. Countries often act in completely self-destructive ways, which should be well-known  to Chomsky.

Starting from Chapter 9 of Part II, Chomsky offers a brilliant analysis of the 2008 presidential elections and the job Obama’s presidency has done since then. He points out correctly that both Democrats and Republicans are considerably to the right of the American population on many major issues, both international and domestic. Hence, it is not surprising that Obama’s tepid efforts to defend his intentions to introduce some kind of change don’t convince Americans any longer. Chomsky talks about how the American people have been brilliantly manipulated into being suspicious of public welfare programs that would be of invaluable use to themselves while supporting the “nanny state for the rich.”