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Chomsky on Iran, Iraq, and the Rest of the World
February 23, 2007 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Chomsky on Iran, Iraq, and the Rest of the World.
posted by chunking express (73 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, fuck Chomsky.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seriously, no matter how many smart things he has to say they're so intertwined with jerkyness and crap that I don't understand why anyone cares what he has to say. I certainly don't understand why he's highly regarded enough that anyone would give him a one-line MetaFilter post.
posted by phearlez at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2007


He just wants to get Ahmadinejad to hold his next book up in the UN.
posted by smackfu at 11:51 AM on February 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


I certainly don't understand why he's highly regarded enough that anyone would give him a one-line MetaFilter post.

Should I have added links to Wikipedia? Do people not know who Noam Chomsky is? Do people not know anything about Iran or Iraq? I thought the interview was interesting, and it's quite recent, hence the link.

:O :O :O
posted by chunking express at 11:52 AM on February 23, 2007


This was pretty good... I much prefer Chomsky talking to Chomsky writing. I find the language in his books sort of hard to penetrate, but I learned a lot from him about critical thinking. You don't have to agree with everything he says to appreciate his work. Understanding Power is a really great book. It is a series of transcripts of talks and interviews he has given, very well structured and edited.
posted by newton at 12:04 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Related.
posted by gimonca at 12:04 PM on February 23, 2007


Great article... thanks for posting.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2007


It is a good article, and spot on here:

We’re supposed to believe that oil had nothing to do with it, that if Iraq were exporting pickles or jelly and the center of world oil production were in the South Pacific that the United States would’ve liberated them anyway. It has nothing to do with the oil, what a crass idea. Anyone with their head screwed on knows that that can’t be true. Allowing an independent and sovereign Iraq could be a nightmare for the United States. It would mean that it would be Shi’ite-dominated, at least if it’s minimally democratic. It would continue to improve relations with Iran, just what the United States doesn’t want to see. And beyond that, right across the border in Saudi Arabia where most of Saudi oil is, there happens to be a large Shi’ite population, probably a majority.

...And much worse, although Europe can be intimidated by the United States, China can’t. It’s one of the reasons, the main reasons, why China is considered a threat. ... It does not get intimidated when Uncle Sam shakes his fist. That’s scary. In particular, it’s dangerous in the case of the Middle East. China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.

posted by kgasmart at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


A single link to a 5,000 word article, with only a pasted title, no summary, and no guidance as to why you think it's anything more than just further Chomskyness is wanting as an FPP, for further reference.
meaning it blows
posted by nj_subgenius at 12:13 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Very interesting. I don't understand why he's so villified; everything I've read from him regarding foreign policy has been spot-on.

Maybe that's why.
posted by malocchio at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


nj_subgenius, it's an interview with Noam Chomsky where he discuses Iran and Iraq. Could you not get that from the title? I thought we had MetaTalk for people to gripe about how horrible posts were?
posted by chunking express at 12:16 PM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


You asked.
posted by nj_subgenius at 12:18 PM on February 23, 2007


They have created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. This should’ve been one of the easiest military occupations in history and they succeeded in turning it into one of the worst military disasters in history

Um, what? "One of the easiest military occupations in history"? What is the basis for that statement? It's a different culture, different religion, pre-existing animosity to the US even if they shared our animosity for Saddam, and add to that that we bombed their country into the third world. What precisely should have made it easy?

By saying that, Chomsky's unwittingly supporting the wolfowitz line that "they'll greet us with flowers as liberators". Is Chomsky today thinks the occupation should have been easy, were Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld wrong for thinking it should have been easy before the war?

No one at any point should have assumed this was going to be easy. The Arab and Muslim world has hated the US for decades - we were walking into a wasp's nest and all of these people, Rumsfeld through Chomsky, should have known it.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2007


It all changed when Chomsky pointed out that it was all about the oil
posted by dhartung at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2007


Very interesting theory: I think it has to do with a feature of world affairs that is insufficiently appreciated. International affairs is very much run like the mafia. The godfather does not accept disobedience, even from a small storekeeper who doesn’t pay his protection money. You have to have obedience otherwise the idea can spread that you don’t have to listen to the orders and it can spread to important places.
posted by caddis at 12:24 PM on February 23, 2007


I once knew someone whose girlfriend worked in a store near MIT in Cambridge. The store she worked in was called The Door Store. But they didn't sell doors. They sold furniture. As she tells it, one day Chomsky walked in, took a stroll around, and with a deeply disappointed look on his face, left. She figured that he was shopping for a door, and well, figured that a store named ...
posted by R. Mutt at 12:24 PM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Is Prof Chomsky on Pearson's payroll now? I made three shout-outs for the FT in that.
posted by Abiezer at 12:26 PM on February 23, 2007


She figured that he was shopping for a door, and well, figured that a store named ...

Well, he did get his start as a linguistic philosopher.
posted by generichuman at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2007


And he's at times contradictory:

And again, the will of the U.S. population and even US business is considered mostly irrelevant...We don’t have polls from the business world, but it’s pretty clear that the energy corporations would be quite happy to be given authorization to go back into Iran instead of leaving all that to their rivals. But the state won’t allow it.

And then later:

Again, there’s overwhelming popular support for signing, in fact it’s so strong that a majority of Bush voters in 2004 thought that he was in favor of the Kyoto Protocol, it’s such an obvious thing to support. Popular support for alternative energy has been very high for years. But it harms corporate profits. After all, that’s the Administration’s constituency.

Well, which is it? Either the energy industry dominates the adminstration, or it doesn't.

Chomsky is confusing his value judgments (the administrations deep irrationality) with his assessment of reality - the United States has to force Iran to fall in line and simultaneously has to avoid buckling to international pressure because in both cases it perceives itself to be the leader of the free world. That's the consistent theme in everything they are doing.

The administration's problem is that they are leading not by example or diplomacy but with force, which is simply not as effective.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:30 PM on February 23, 2007


I hadn't realized that Chomsky wasn't liked much around here. The reasons don't seem to be mine, though. I think Chomsky's political observations are boring because he's so consistently wrong, and always for the same reason: he's a doctrinaire realist. He believes that international affairs are best explained as a contest amongst states for power and status. This is a ridiculous position to take most of the time, and as an explanation of this administration's behavior is clearly laughable. He never stops to think of the relative status of Rove vs Rice/Powel/Rumsfeld. He doesn't reflect on the energy applied to marketing the Iraq war versus that applied to it's execution. He's a throwback.

For example:


Take Cuba. A very large majority of the U.S. population is in favor of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and has been for a long time with some fluctuations. And even part of the business world is in favor of it too. But the government won’t allow it. It’s attributed to the Florida vote but I don’t think that’s much of an explanation. I think it has to do with a feature of world affairs that is insufficiently appreciated. International affairs is very much run like the mafia. The godfather does not accept disobedience, even from a small storekeeper who doesn’t pay his protection money. You have to have obedience otherwise the idea can spread that you don’t have to listen to the orders and it can spread to important places.


Nope. It's the Florida vote thing.
posted by bonecrusher at 12:31 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Chomsky makes the mistake that Iranian conservatives make-- he assumes that stupid stuff the US is doing is part of a well-considered evil plot. (He hypothesises that the surge is calculated to lead to Iranian domestic unrest).

Occam's Razor compels the conclusion that the Bush administration is incompetent and incapable of sound strategic or tactical decisions, rather than that it is a brilliant puppetmaster.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:34 PM on February 23, 2007


Very interesting theory: I think it has to do with a feature of world affairs that is insufficiently appreciated. International affairs is very much run like the mafia. The godfather does not accept disobedience, even from a small storekeeper who doesn’t pay his protection money. You have to have obedience otherwise the idea can spread that you don’t have to listen to the orders and it can spread to important places.
posted by caddis at 3:24 PM EST on February 23


Isn't this simply a natural result of international relations as Hobbes's jungle? I don't see this as any great insight, except perhaps rhetorically via the mafia analogy.

And where Chomsky again misses the ultimate conclusion is with Iran. No one in Iran looks at the situation in Iraq and says, "See the US can be beaten, we can beat them too" because that isn't the lesson. The lesson in Iraq is that defiance of the US could result in the defiant country being cast into the abyss of anarchy and civil war. The US may not win, but no one else will either.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2007


Pastabagel:

Reality, not Chomsky, is contradictory. On the one hand, the Bush administration (well, the whole US government) is a standing committee for the interests of the large corporations; that's the nature of the game. However, the US's long-term power gambit in the Middle East doesn't have a place for the Iranian state as it is currently constituted, because it's powerful and large and wealthy enough and has its own constituency, through whatever means, and can therefore stand independently of the United States. This gives it the freedom to act contrary to what the US (government and corporations) wants and needs. Essentially, the US view of this is as a negative that overrides the desire of the energy companies to invest in Iran. It's not reducible to "the energy companies want X, therefore the Bush administration gives it to them."
posted by graymouser at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2007


Exactly, ibmmcginty. I've read him elsewhere claim that the US really *won* in Vietnam, since Vietnam is now open to US investment.
posted by bonecrusher at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2007


Chomsky makes the mistake that Iranian conservatives make...

Bingo. The man is a step away from conspiracy theorist, and it drives me insane because he'd be a far more effective critic if he weren't so convinced everything is the result of an evil plan.
posted by aramaic at 12:42 PM on February 23, 2007


It would be nice if the people bashing chompsky could point out something spesific he said that bothered them, rather then just bashing. I mean it's strange, like people attack him for being chompsky because other people bashed him for being chompsky and repeat. I've never heard him say anything that seemed untrue.

Perhaps you could enlighten us? Or should we just assume that you're bashing him reflexively for no reason at all?
posted by delmoi at 12:44 PM on February 23, 2007


It would be nice if the people bashing chompsky could point out something spesific he said that bothered them

It'd be nice if you could read the thread.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:46 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


he'd be a far more effective critic if he weren't so convinced everything is the result of an evil plan.

Yeah, but just because you're a paranoid conspiracy theorist doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Again, I think Chomsky's exactly right on two counts: Oil, or rather control of strategic energy reserves, indeed played a role in our decision to invade Iraq, and is pretty much the answer to the question: Why would we negotiate with North Korea but won't negotiate with Iran/

But - the second count - this is the Great Thing Which Must Not Be Mentioned in the public discourse regarding these wars. So we argue over the best way to spread democracy, and come on - that's complete and utter bullshit, and everyone on this thread (and pretty much everywhere else) realizes it. But we pretend the realist reasons behind these wars are too crass to even mention, that it's all about altruism. Puh-lease.
posted by kgasmart at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2007


I'm in the middle of watching the recent BBC documentary on Iran. It's fascinating, though not as indepth as I would like (trying to fit a great deal in, and there are limitations to film), nor is it as revealing of the culture inside the country as the recent Dispatches by Iraqi journalists (professional and amateur).

But what we do need is more articles and documentaries that get inside the issues, that research them, that teach us things we didn't know before. Not more punditry.
posted by jb at 12:54 PM on February 23, 2007


ibmcginty:

The US is the most powerful country in the world. Each and every administration in American history has acted decisively in the interest of major US corporations. Just because the Bush administration is doing so at least as brazenly as anyone since the government of Guatemala was overthrown at the behest of United Fruit, and more incompetently than any predecessor, does not mean that they aren't acting in these fundamental interests. One can do reprehensible things badly.

And the other thing that's ironic about the "conspiracy" dismissal is that it's not a conspiracy. Chomsky, and others like him, are saying that the rich and powerful people who run the US and the world do so for their own benefit. What's conspiratorial about that?
posted by graymouser at 12:55 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


We negotiated with NK because there were no military options. It's clear that Bushco still see military force as a possibility with Iran.
posted by caddis at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2007


Oh, fuck Chomsky.

While I sympathize with that view, especially since I despise his egotistic, unscientific sabotaging of the formerly lively and open field of American linguistics, I try to remind myself that he's one of the few voices in the American mediasphere that have knowledge, outrage, and the ability to be heard (though not, of course, as widely as he'd like), and he's usually worth reading if you can sort of skim past the boilerplate denunciations. This, for example, is a good, succinct assessment of our Iranian policy:
Again, I would be amazed if there aren’t efforts to sponsor secessionist movements elsewhere, among the Azeri population for example. It’s a very complex ethnic mix in Iran; much of the population isn’t Persian. There are secessionist tendencies anyway and almost certainly, without knowing any of the facts, the United States is trying to stir them up, to break the country internally if possible. The strategy appears to be: try to break the country up internally, try to impel the leadership to be as harsh and brutal as possible.

That’s the immediate consequence of constant threats. Everyone knows that. That’s one of the reasons the reformists, Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji and others, are bitterly complaining about the U.S. threats, that it’s undermining their efforts to reform and democratize Iran. But that’s presumably its purpose.
What precisely should have made it easy?

The fact that everyone in Iraq hated Saddam and was glad to see him go. With a halfway sensible policy that would have preserved order and restored power, water, hospitals, and so on and respected local culture, the occupation would have been a piece of cake. Is that so hard to figure out?

A single link to a 5,000 word article, with only a pasted title, no summary, and no guidance as to why you think it's anything more than just further Chomskyness is wanting as an FPP, for further reference.


That is very, very wrong. Single link = good, 5,000-word article = good, no guidance = good (when it's somebody the crowd can be presumed to have heard of, like Chomsky). If you need your hand held and lots of links to dazzle you, that's your problem.
posted by languagehat at 12:57 PM on February 23, 2007 [6 favorites]


Languagehat: I was just drafting something to that effect but you said it much better. I find the negative reaction to Chomksy here rather surprising.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2007


Graymouser: Your comment is not responsive to mine.

Chomsky wrote:
It’s a very complex ethnic mix in Iran; much of the population isn’t Persian. There are secessionist tendencies anyway and almost certainly, without knowing any of the facts, the United States is trying to stir them up, to break the country internally if possible. The strategy appears to be: try to break the country up internally, try to impel the leadership to be as harsh and brutal as possible.

That’s the immediate consequence of constant threats. Everyone knows that. That’s one of the reasons the reformists, Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji and others, are bitterly complaining about the U.S. threats, that it’s undermining their efforts to reform and democratize Iran. But that’s presumably its purpose. Since it’s an obvious consequence you have to assume it’s the purpose. Just like in law, anticipated consequences are taken as the evidence for intention. And here’s it so obvious you can’t seriously doubt it.
He is imbuing the US leadership with nefarious craftiness. He's looking at the worst possible result from Iran's point of view, and offering conjecture that it's the US's goal.

It's a mode of analysis akin to Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine." Fantasize the absolute worst thing that could happen, then assume that's what your rivals are doing on purpose. Then flip out.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:03 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nice, the passage I selected as the worst of the article is the same one that languagehat picked out as the best.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:05 PM on February 23, 2007


Chompsky is a very good example of why I don't ask my lawyer for medical advice. Being a genius in one field doesn't mean that you're going to have much of value to say about another. Chompsky is certainly articulate - that's never been at issue, and his ability to tap into a deep-seated suspicion and resentment toward United States' policy is what's made him so popular.

But none of that is to say that at the end, his ideas have any more legitimacy than anyone else with an opinion.
posted by awenner at 1:08 PM on February 23, 2007


The man is a step away from conspiracy theorist

This comes through in the interview with "But if part of the concentration of corporate capital that basically runs the country -- another thing we’re not allowed to say but it’s obvious"

But of course you can say it. He just did. What he's complaining about is that we're not obliged to listen.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2007


ibmcginty:

Sorry, I thought your comment was more general than on this particular issue. But it's not particularly difficult to see the US as doing just what Chomsky describes, especially if you have an understanding of how it has actually handled the Iraq situation domestically. It has pitted ethnic groups against each other for power, with terrible results. It's not a particularly new or nefarious strategy; it's called divide et impera, divide and conquer, and is pretty much ABC for empire-building. You don't need to be an evil genius to think it up.
posted by graymouser at 1:16 PM on February 23, 2007


All administrations everywhere act decisively in the interest of their members (note: members, not constituents). Do you honestly think China, for example, is acting in the best interests of the Sudanese? No, they're doing what CNOOC and the Party thinks would be best for them. Did France oppose the Iraq war on principle, or because they had billions of dollars in business deals with Saddam, which they'd now never be paid for?

Name any government, anywhere in the world, and you'll find the same behavior if you care to look for it. If you really care, you can even look backwards through history -- and you'll find the same thing.

The thing that bugs me about Chomsky is that he's acting as though any of this were new, or uniquely american. "GASP! Look! The skies over the US are BLUE!! OMG, it's a crypto-syndicalist plot!!"

...it gets real old, real quick. Does that mean he's wrong? No, it just means he's tiresome. I noticed the skies were blue a long time ago, and so did everyone else who's been paying any attention.
posted by aramaic at 1:16 PM on February 23, 2007


Mmmmmmmmmmm, chompsky.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:17 PM on February 23, 2007


You little bitches are just jealous because you're not a tenured MIT professor who is allowed to rail against his own employer if he feels like it.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:18 PM on February 23, 2007


The fact that everyone in Iraq hated Saddam and was glad to see him go. With a halfway sensible policy that would have preserved order and restored power, water, hospitals, and so on and respected local culture, the occupation would have been a piece of cake. Is that so hard to figure out?

Yes, it is.

No occupation in history every worked out this way unless it was preceded by a prolonged seige or massive indiscriminate bombing that left the citizenry with no choice but to capitulate. This was not the case in Iraq. As I said, just because they shared our dislike of Saddam does not mean that they wanted us there.

Furthermore, the "halfway sensible" policy you mention implies a lot more troops. A lot more troops on the ground means a lot more are visible, which aggravates any feelings of humiliation the Iraqis may have felt, and elevates the number of potential targets for any lingering hostile elements. The notion that any situation involving U.S. soldiers trotting around Baghdad would ever be a "cakewalk" or a "piece of cake" is dangerously short-sighted .
posted by Pastabagel at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2007


hoverboards:

The problem isn't that you get locked up if you point out that the US is run by corporate interests. It's that, if you don't choose out of a range of relatively predictable options, all of which pretty well serve the establishment, then you are marginalized in the larger political discourse. It's not as if Chomsky hasn't written extensively on the subject of how the media is run in democratic societies.
posted by graymouser at 1:20 PM on February 23, 2007


The man is a step away from conspiracy theorist, and it drives me insane because he'd be a far more effective critic if he weren't so convinced everything is the result of an evil plan.

This is more or less how I feel about Gore Vidal to some degree as well... but when he speaks I do sometimes pause to thing: hey, well maybe everything is the result of an evil plan. Then I self-medicate with a couple of martinis and the question goes away.
posted by psmealey at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2007


graymouser, I'm sure I'm on your side (and possibly even Chomsky's) when it comes to lamenting the status quo bias of the media, but for Chomsky to frame it as some kind of conspiracy of censorship is just hyperbole designed to get his interviews FPP'd.

(Yes, he's conquered the academic journals, now he's coming for MetaFilter).
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:35 PM on February 23, 2007


Graymouser-- your point to hoverboards is a fair one. It's a pretty narrow, right-leaning band of acceptable discourse in this country. I made that same point in a dicussion about Glenn Beck once. And Joe Klein, the far-left pole of "respectability" in major newsweeklies, dismissed Chomsky as an "America-hater" while defending Bill Kristol the other day, much to the consternation of his commentors, pretty much all of whom hate his guts.

As to our discussion about the surge, I don't think that the Bush administration is adept at empire-building. I don't think they encouraged the sectarian violence in Iraq. I think they fantasized that it wouldn't happen, because Saddam was bad and we're good, and Iraqis yearned to breathe free, so everything would just be peachy.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:35 PM on February 23, 2007


From the Chomsky interview:
Chomsky: ...By accident of geography, the world’s major oil resources are in Shi’ite-dominated areas. Iran’s oil is concentrated right near the gulf, which happens to be an Arab area, not Persian. Khuzestan is Arab, has been loyal to Iran, fought with Iran not Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. This is a potential source of dissension. I would be amazed if there isn’t an attempt going on to stir up secessionist elements in Khuzestan. U.S. forces right across the border in Iraq, including the surge, are available potentially to “defend” an independent Khuzestan against Iran, which is the way it would be put, if they can carry it off.

Shank: Do you think that’s what the surge was for?

Chomsky: That’s one possibility. There was a release of a Pentagon war-gaming report, in December 2004, with Gardiner leading it. It was released and published in the Atlantic Monthly. They couldn’t come up with a proposal that didn’t lead to disaster, but one of the things they considered was maintaining troop presence in Iraq beyond what’s to be used in Iraq for troop replacement and so on, and use them for a potential land move in Iran -- presumably Khuzestan where the oil is. If you could carry that off, you could just bomb the rest of the country to dust.
From Global Security.Org, OPLAN 1002 Defense of the Arabian Peninsula — OPLAN 1002-04 - The Khuzestan Gambit?:
The term gambit comes from the Italian word gambetto, which was used for a tricky manoeuvre in wrestling. A chess gambit is a exotic way to enjoy a chess game -- there is a touch of recklessness necessarily to become a gambiteer. The term gambit applies to the opening of the game, involving an early sacrifice to achieve later superior attacking chances. The sacrifice is usually speculative, but hard to refuse.

During the Cold War there was speculation that the Soviet Union's war planning included the Hamburg Gambit, in which the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany would seize the port city of Hamburg, and then use this hostage in war-termination negotiations.

OPLAN 1002-04 has probably been revised to reflect the American occupation of Iraq, and the power projection opportunities this provides against Iran. The Zagros Mountains form a natural pallisade defending Iran from incursions from Iraq. The Iranian province of Khuzestan is the one large piece of flat Iranian terrain to the west of the Zagros Mountains. American heavy forces could swiftly occupy Khuzestan, and in doing so seize control of most of Iran's oil resources, and non-trivial portions of the country's water supply and electrical generating capacity.
Map here (with "Khuzestan" at the center.)

From Reuters, Feb. 14, 2007, Iran hangs three men for 2005 bombings:
Iran executed three men on Wednesday convicted of taking part in a series of deadly blasts in the southwest oil city of Ahvaz in 2005, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

Ahvaz is the capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province with a large ethnic Arab population which has been simmering with anti-government unrest since 2005.

The men hanged on Wednesday in Ahvaz prison were the last in a group of 10 to be executed in recent months after being convicted of participating in the bomb attacks and acting against the country's security.

Five people were killed in several days of anti-government protests in Khuzestan in April 2005. In the months that followed, bomb attacks killed more than 20 people.
Sounds like a plan.
posted by cenoxo at 1:37 PM on February 23, 2007


I think they fantasized that it wouldn't happen, because Saddam was bad and we're good, and Iraqis yearned to breathe free, so everything would just be peachy.

I frankly don't think they gave a shit one way or the other about this. Conspiracy theorist that I am, I think this whole thing was about setting up permanent military bases in the MidEast to protect US strategic (oil) interests in the region long-term. They have been wildly successful in achieving this objective.

Even if Dennis Kucinich is elected President, I imagine you'll see some reduction of force of the US military in Iraq, but those bases ain't going away; ever.
posted by psmealey at 1:39 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nice, the passage I selected as the worst of the article is the same one that languagehat picked out as the best.

Heh. But I didn't necessarily think it was "the best" (and I don't necessarily disagree with you that the US might just be dicking around without any clear, organized policy), I just thought it was a good example of how his knowledge of the region combined with a healthy skepticism about US intentions can produce ideas that more mainstream types wouldn't come up with. Yeah, he frequently goes over the top into conspiracy theorizing, but it's easier to discount for that than to see past the wall of bland groupthink presented by the major media. And, as greymouser says, Chomsky's writings on the subject of how the media is run in democratic societies are one of his more valuable contributions to public discourse.

I can't stand the man in many ways, but I own four of his books (none of them, I hasten to add, on linguistics, a subject where reading him actually decreases your knowledge).
posted by languagehat at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2007


>...it gets real old, real quick. Does that mean he's wrong? No, it just means he's tiresome. I noticed the skies were blue a long time ago, and so did everyone else who's been paying any attention.

Just because governments act in the best interests of their "members" doesn't mean that it should be "tiresome" when someone points out that what they're doing only really benefits a vanishingly small percentage of the population.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2007


ibmcginty:

Fair enough. I think that Chomsky's point makes sense because the Bush administration's singular incompetence has tended to be on the execution side. When it comes to plans, they've got a brain trust that can tell them pretty much anything they want to hear, and the plan that Chomsky lays out doesn't make any requirements of current competence in the execution of the Iraq War. Remember, Chomsky's not saying they're going to succeed at this.
posted by graymouser at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2007


bonecrusher: I hadn't realized that Chomsky wasn't liked much around here.

I'd say opinion is divided. There's quite a few Chomsky fans here; there's also quite a few people who disagree strongly with Chomsky. (I'm in the latter group.)

languagehat: I can't stand the man in many ways, but I own four of his books (none of them, I hasten to add, on linguistics, a subject where reading him actually decreases your knowledge).

Interesting. My view of Chomsky is almost exactly reversed. (I was under the impression he'd made a huge contribution to linguistics, while in politics and history, reading Chomsky makes you less well informed--as Stanley Hoffmann puts it, Chomsky has a tendency "to draw from an author's statements inferences that correspond neither to the author's intentions nor to the statements' meaning".) What do you think of Steven Pinker's presentation of Chomsky's ideas in "The Language Instinct"?
posted by russilwvong at 1:51 PM on February 23, 2007


Knee-jerk is knee-jerk, whether it's left or right.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:11 PM on February 23, 2007


The Card Cheat: maybe I'm just tired, but complaining about elitist control is like complaining about gravity, or that the sky is blue. It's pointless, it achieves nothing, and it says nothing that hasn't already been said in a thousand ways before dating as far back as the invention of writing.

You pick one group to focus on, you hold them up to the spotlight and you miss a hundred others sneaking around behind your back, murdering millions. So yay Chomsky, I celebrate your identifying a killer. Great. Meanwhile, the same people are dying, it's just that someone else is killing them for the exact same reason as the first guy was. Yay?
posted by aramaic at 2:18 PM on February 23, 2007


mr_crash_davis: "Oh, fuck Chomsky."

That was posted at 5:45AM AEST, a mere 3 minutes after the original post was made. Crash, I'm glad to see that you gave the article a considered, reasoned response. Clearly, you're a fucking amazing speed reader.

I liked the article. I have always liked Chomsky, and despite the fact that I have moved a little away from him in my views as I became older and engaged with the political process on a more detailed and professional level, I still respect him more than most other commentators out there in the mainstream sanctioned media at the moment.

phearlez: "Seriously, no matter how many smart things he has to say they're so intertwined with jerkyness and crap that I don't understand why anyone cares what he has to say. I certainly don't understand why he's highly regarded enough that anyone would give him a one-line MetaFilter post."

I'll tell you why. Because he's still smarter than you, me, or dare I say it, most anyone here in this thread. Metafilter is a site where I believe that some of the smartest slackers on the web come to talk shit, but its missing a MeFite on the scale of Chomsky and we are all the poorer for it. If we can fill that gap with the occasional Chomsky post (seriously, when was the last time we had a Chomsky post?), then single line or not I'm all fucking for it.

Chomsky has, unfortunately, fallen afoul of the same fate that many of the Left's greatest thinkers have met since Bush came to power. They have suffered some of the greatest, most coordinated character assassinations that I have ever seen in my nearly 30 years on this planet. Chomsky, Vidal, Zinn... hell, even Richard Clarke, who isn't exactly Left but still talked out against the evils of Bush and his cadre of demons, have all been routinely and savagely destroyed by the sanctioned media in the United States and, to a much lesser degree, in many other Western countries as well. That's because they're not out and out offering wholehearted praise of every little thing that Bush, Cheney et al are doing. And when they criticize it, and actually get a chance to air their opinions in some kind of public forum, the problem is that they speak in such smart and intelligent terms that the average person raised on a diet of FOX & Friends and the crazy squawkings of Coulter and whoever else just switch off. It's above them, I'm sad to say. Then you get people saying "Oh fuck Chomsky" because its easier to be crass and dismiss the higher thoughts of a Leftist intellectual who was achieving great things years before you were even born or before Bush first picked his nose in office and won high praise for that.

Now, if you actually read the article (and I know many in this thread have, and for that I say good on you, sir), I would ask you to refute some of the very good points that Chomsky makes. Explain to me why the US isn't talking with Cuba. The Cold War is over and The Bay of Pigs happened a long, long time ago. They don't harbor terrorists like some countries the US is working with still do. And we're actively working with communist countries like China, so that's not the reason either. So why not maintain some sort of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The truth is that there's probably a dozen good reasons for it, and Chomsky offers at least one in the article. He's spot on when he says that the US doesn't like countries who don't kowtow to their whims. This was true under many previous administrations, not just Bush, but it's been, if anything, truer since Bush Jnr came along. Cuba refuses to lay down and do what its big neighbor wants it to do, and for that its punished. Meanwhile, the newly installed Iraqi Government puts up the merest facade of a democracy, does everything it's told to, and gets all the help the US thinks it needs. The proof in the pudding? Saddam was the United State's friend before he started doing his own thing. The minute he did, all the evils he had perpetrated both before and during his friendship with the US suddenly became reasons to invade his ass.

And that is but one point in the article where I agree with Chomsky. His views on the possible invasion of Iran, Kyoto and the US' attitude towards Venezuela are pretty accurate too. And the man still helps me think about things differently. His linking the troop surge in Iraq as a possible easier way to invade Iran, while easily refuted, is an interesting thought that makes some sense.

He's still smarter than me, and probably smarter than you, and for that reason I'm still going to respect him and give his thoughts some thought of my own. Fuck Chomsky? Fuck you.

Thanks for the post, chunking express. I liked it.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:21 PM on February 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


I was under the impression he'd made a huge contribution to linguistics

A lot of people are under that impression. The Chomsky Hype Machine is almost as successful as the Big Business/Government one. I don't feel like going into my Chomsky Rant today, but you can read this LH post and follow the link to Pedantry (scroll down a bit) for more on the subject.

Since I despise transformational/generative grammar and all its works, I'm afraid I have not read Pinker's book. But if he presents Chomsky's ideas as brilliant, seminal, etc., I don't think much of it.
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on February 23, 2007


But of course you can say it. He just did. What he's complaining about is that we're not obliged to listen.

He means you can't say it without being called a kook by people like you. I mean honestly the idea that you can have a reasonable discourse when you take as an axiom the idea that the U.S. is acting in a benevolent manner in all actions. It's obviously not. (nor would I expect it too, I'd just like them to act in a competent manner)

No occupation in history every worked out this way unless it was preceded by a prolonged seige or massive indiscriminate bombing that left the citizenry with no choice but to capitulate.

Well, obviously it depends on how you define "occupation" Most of the colonial occupation before the 20th century didn't involve anything like that. I don't remember the "siege of India" before the British took over. I don't remember Napoleon doing much of that.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on February 23, 2007


Thanks, languagehat.

Effigy2000: Chomsky has, unfortunately, fallen afoul of the same fate that many of the Left's greatest thinkers have met since Bush came to power. They have suffered some of the greatest, most coordinated character assassinations that I have ever seen in my nearly 30 years on this planet.

Chomsky was marginalized long before Bush came to power.
posted by russilwvong at 2:44 PM on February 23, 2007


...And much worse, although Europe can be intimidated by the United States, China can’t. It’s one of the reasons, the main reasons, why China is considered a threat. ... It does not get intimidated when Uncle Sam shakes his fist. That’s scary. In particular, it’s dangerous in the case of the Middle East. China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.

Thank you for excerpting that, kgasmart.

Chomsky has made a better case for the war in Iraq than anyone in the Bush administration ever has.

This is a consistent feature of his writing about politics, and this example nicely displays the fundamental contradiction which keeps people from taking him more seriously. He is criticizing nation states for acting in their own interests as he, Chomsky, sees those interests.

What the hell else does he expect them to do? I have never been able to get any idea of how nation-states should act from any of his work, even by trying to look at the ground rather than the figure he paints in such colors of indignation. And much worse, Chomsky appears to be blithely (blindly) unaware of this limitation.

Languagehat's post has made me think that this parallels his work in linguistics. I welcomed and applauded his destruction of the incredibly silly and self-contradictory behaviorist project to understand language (The Case Against B. F. Skinner is one of the great polemics written by an American in the 20th century, I think), but after bulldozing that edifice to the ground, he put up very elaborate scaffolding, but could never build anything, and his followers-- he never had students-- have now resorted to claiming that the scaffolding is the building.
posted by jamjam at 2:49 PM on February 23, 2007


Chompsky is a very good example of why I don't ask my lawyer for medical advice. Being a genius in one field doesn't mean that you're going to have much of value to say about another.

Good thing we mefites are here being experts in all fields. ;)

Your statement is my basic philosophy of why customer service in nearly any incarnation sucks. Everyone knows how they want to be treated, but they don't want to treat anyone that way.
posted by smallerdemon at 2:52 PM on February 23, 2007


Fairly cogent, save for the pejorative “Mafia complex.” The pursuit of such policies has a rational basis beyond some sort of psycho-criminal mindset or fixation (whether one agrees with that reasoning is another matter). Indeed, even within the Mafia, what seems like irrationality is in fact very much a survival trait. Lacking a more real-world common ground talking point (I know a thing or two about the outfit, I suspect most people outside of law enforcement or academia or indeed, the mob, don’t) - consider an episode of the Sopranos. Tony hires a bodyguard. Later, he invents some reason to beat the crap out of the bodyguard in front of his crew. Anyone witnessing those events without knowledge of Tony Soprano’s motivation would consider him entirely irrational. However his authority had been openly questioned on several occasions. He had spent some time in the hospital. All the tacit implications were that they thought he was weaker. So he showed them he wasn’t. The fairness in the method is irrelevant. The bodyguard is replaceable.

So too, Chomsky ignores the realpolitick of the situation - in this case force by implication to avoid resorting to direct use of force which would waste resources. Tony would not beat the crap out of one of his lieutenants, it would demonstrate his strength, but it would destroy the loyalty and unity he’s trying to create. So he cracks the head of some kid off the street. Which is better than risking an internal dissension leading to a war.
Of course, it’s debatable whether the - in Chomsky’s words - horrendous - loss of lives and other sundry injustices are ultimately worth keeping a lid on those pressures. And indeed whether the control is worth it.
But other than the pejorative terminology which is no real rebuttal of the practicality or effectiveness of the policy (beyond the humane considerations and ‘fair play’ etc), fairly astute analysis.
On this level, it becomes similar to surgery or a criminal investigation. You have to maintain some emotional distance such that all those things become factors to be weighed. I’m not saying one should ignore the injustices of some farmer getting his foot blown off by a mine laid shortly before a cease-fire was implemented. Merely that it is not a large enough consideration to be a major factor in policy consideration. And I’m not making an argument for cold-bloodedness. My assertion is that if one is performing surgery and one thinks “My God, I’m cutting this person open” rather than focusing on technique and the objective of, say, removing a tumor, that empathy can destroy the operation. Similarly, if a child is murdered somewhere, you can’t think “Little girl in a pink dress, looks just like my kid” you have to focus the goal of justice and methods of achieving that. Otherwise you’re going to break down.
In the same way, you have to consider policy in terms of effectiveness and the achievement of goals. And he contradicts himself (as Pastabagel pointed out) “it’s pretty clear that the energy corporations would be quite happy to be given authorization to go back into Iran instead of leaving all that to their rivals. But the state won’t allow it.” vs. “corporate capital that basically runs the country...if part of that sector becomes in favor then the issue moves onto the political agenda” and so forth. Granted the drivers for engagement in Iran are more complex, but the corporate agendas are not (bottom line). So obviously there are more than corporate considerations running the country. It is not that he’s wrong exactly, it’s that the focus of his argument shifts to serve the point at hand rather than maintaining a core assertion. Although this is just an interview, not a formal paper or something. Still...

And of course that does not rebut Chomsky’s analysis. I’m criticizing the execution of his implication that “it’s not worth all this.”
WHY it isn’t is not a matter of let’s all be nice and fair and good. It’s not enough to radically alter global strategy because some farmers get blown up. Sounds horrible, but it’s the same cold equations which govern whether there are recalls on cars. At some level safety considerations reaches a cost line that is unattainable. Debatable where the cold equations should be set of course. But that’s behind every ‘noble’ decision. And certainly that’s the party line (“It’s a principle that anything our leaders do is for noble reasons”) it’s any party’s line. And indeed, there is a schism in what is stated policy and actual policy.
But again, that’s the focus, not how well or how poorly those policies are ultimately serving us. Is empire so bad? Implicitly it is, but there’s no real support for it beyond “they’re bad.”
Which I think is the flaw in those terms. (Not saying there is no ground upon which to attack policy, merely that he hasn’t. One might argue that terror attacks are up worldwide - so the security policy hasn’t worked, or that the divide between rich and poor in the U.S. is up - ergo economic policy is flawed, etc. and all these things are tied to empire)

Although that is escapable, perhaps, by his (also implied) assertion that being lied to is enough to desire a change in policy: “We may decide to hide our heads in the sand and pretend we can’t think it through because we cannot allow the question of why the United States invaded to open, but that’s very self-destructive.”

Hell, for me, even if Iraq went swimmingly, the fact that we were lied to in the first place queers the entire deal. It’s supposed to be will of the people and the people can’t make a reasonable decision about their own destiny without accurate information and a transparent government. They do, after all, work for us. And much of that process has been subverted.

He’s good on how, not so much on the why’s and wherefores, but additionally - what bonecrusher and phearlez sed: jerkyness and crap.

“With a halfway sensible policy that would have preserved order and restored power, water, hospitals, and so on and respected local culture, the occupation would have been a piece of cake. Is that so hard to figure out?”

Yikes, gotta disagree with you there Languagehat. For the reasons outlined above. And beyond the lies - it’s still nation building. And it would have been a morass either way without real, practical, realistic goals beyond regime change. There would have been a civil war there no matter how well we maintained the infrastructure. Now I grant we may have been able, given a winning of hearts and minds, to maintain order. But that would have still cost us blood and money. And indeed, in those terms even this current engagement has been a piece of cake - 3-4000 lives? In comparison with our manpower? That’s negligible. And the cost isn’t anything we can’t afford. But all that brings us back to - why invade in the first place?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:57 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Chomsky is a threat to other peoples wordviews, and as I have yet to meet anyone as knowledgeable about the world as him, I think he has a pretty good understanding of how the world operates. Is he divine and flawless in his opinions? Of course not, but the world is controlled by and large by an elite class of special interest groups. And the Iraq war is about oil. I always knew that if Iraq (or Kuwait) didn't have oil and the region had no interest to the U.S., Iraq wouldn't even be on the radar. I can't think of anything more absurd than Dick Cheney wanting to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam.
posted by disgruntled at 3:05 PM on February 23, 2007


Mike Shank has certainly gotten his act together. link to youtube
posted by sswiller at 3:10 PM on February 23, 2007


For illumination, I've always found M. Foucault's smackdown of Mr. Chompsky particularly enjoyable.
posted by docgonzo at 3:14 PM on February 23, 2007


disgruntled: as I have yet to meet anyone as knowledgeable about the world as him--

Meet William Pfaff. I'd cite George Kennan (self-link) or Hans Morgenthau, but they're dead. Or perhaps Bill Richardson, who's negotiated with North Korea and Iraq. To lump them all together, they might be described as ethical realists.

Chomsky, being an economic determinist, suffers from "they're-all-the-same" syndrome. (He endorsed Nader in 2000.) He claims that the US objective of dominating the Middle East goes back to the Truman administration, for example. Thus he fails to focus on the ways in which the Bush administration really is different, and worse than past administrations: compare Chomsky's analysis with, for example, the outrage with which commentators like Glenn Greenwald, or Mark Danner, or Andrew Northrup condemn the fact that the US is now torturing people and imprisoning them without trial.
posted by russilwvong at 3:48 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Effigy2000: "Chomsky has, unfortunately, fallen afoul of the same fate that many of the Left's greatest thinkers have met since Bush came to power. They have suffered some of the greatest, most coordinated character assassinations that I have ever seen in my nearly 30 years on this planet."

This is, in fact, a perfect illustration of the worst thing about Chomsky's theories about the interests of nation-states. He assumes-- as you are-- that those who are proponents of a certain theory or opponents of a certain theory, whether these proponents or opponents be people or nations, are moved by forces of pure class, political expediency, and economy. Whether he realizes it or not, this notion is a direct descendant of Marx and his famous proclamation: "The history of humanity thus far has been the history of class struggle." This reductionism of all things to economy has been shown again and again to be false in the last century.

I don't point out Mr. Chomsky's unconscious Marxist influences in order to point a finger at him. Marx made some very good points in his very complex writings. However, this was not one of them; and this reductionism is part and parcel with the reductionism that made institutional Marxism so silly.

That's why Chomsky's approach-- which seems to be to point out that, behind every apparently evil or apparently good motive, there is actually money-- is a bad one, I think.

Also, there might be a few reporters in Washington who are in the pay of Bush's cronies, but I sure as hell am not. Neither is anybody I know. And a fair chunk of them agree with me that Noam Chomsky is a pretentious windbag.
posted by koeselitz at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


On non-preview: russilvwong did this better than me.
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 PM on February 23, 2007


Seriously, no matter how many smart things he has to say they're so intertwined with jerkyness and crap that I don't understand why anyone cares what he has to say. I certainly don't understand why he's highly regarded enough that anyone would give him a one-line MetaFilter post.

You could pretty much apply this to any pundit or author you wanted. I always hope that statements like this will be followed with with cites, but perhaps I am expecting too much.
posted by davejay at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2007


everytime I read or hear from this guy, I just picture Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in "Superman Returns:"

WRONG!!!!!

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2007


jamjam

What the hell else does he expect them to do? I have never been able to get any idea of how nation-states should act from any of his work, even by trying to look at the ground rather than the figure he paints in such colors of indignation. And much worse, Chomsky appears to be blithely (blindly) unaware of this limitation.

Chomsky is a self-avowed anarchist: the problem is in the nature of nation-states.

My problem with Chomsky is he is acting out this middle-European idea of the intellectual-as-political actor which was always a fantasy but is absurdly mismatched with the nature of US politics. But, I find his analysis of US policy ideas clear, it's just politically irrelevant and always will be.

I think very few average Americans have any idea what passes for a good idea in Foreign Policy circles. The reason Chomsky cites these polls is to point out that what most Americans believe should be our policy is diametrically opposed to what the people who actually make US foreign policy believe. What is even sadder is that what most Americans believe is our foreign policy is at odds with what those who make that policy think e.g. most American voters thought Bush supported the Kyoto Treaty.
posted by geos at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2007


I found this passage particularly cryptic and annoying:


China is the center of the Asian energy security grid, which includes the Central Asian states and Russia. India is also hovering around the edge, South Korea is involved, and Iran is an associate member of some kind. If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power. A lot is at stake in not withdrawing from Iraq.


I mean, WTF? At best, Chomsky is starting to ramble on in his old age. At worst, he's starting to sound some like the crazy old guy who lives in the handicapped washroom stall in the campus library.

And it's all conjecture!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on February 23, 2007


Aces! Another Chomsky thread!

What do mean, it's over already? Damn it, come back here!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:49 PM on February 24, 2007


Are U.S. Oil Companies Going to "Win" the Iraq War?
posted by homunculus at 8:49 PM on March 1, 2007


« Older Want to increase your energy efficiency and use mo...  |  Tea Birds... Newer »


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