Reviewing Noam Chomsky’s New Book: “Interventions”

Noam Chomsky is MIT Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics and has been a leading political and social critic of US imperial policy for over 40 years.  He’s also one of the world’s most influential and widely cited intellectuals on the Left.  He’s the author of many hundreds of articles and publications as well as dozens of books including his latest one and subject of this review – “Interventions.”


The introductory Editor’s Note explains that post-9/11 Chomsky began writing short, roughly 1000 word, concise articles distributed by The New York Times Syndicate as op-eds.  They were widely picked up overseas but rarely in the US and only in smaller regional or local papers.  They never appeared in the New York Times that circulated them worldwide but not to its own readers.  It shows how the Times and all the corporate media suppress views contrary to dominant mainstream thinking.  They’re verboten in a nation where A.J Liebling once said “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”


Imperfect as the European press is, Chomsky’s essays appeared in the International Herald Tribune and London Guardian and Independent among others. Even one of Mexico‘s leading national newspapers, La Jornada in Mexico City, frequently publishes Chomsky’s articles.


“Interventions” is a collection of 44 op-ed pieces, post-9/11, from September, 2002 through March, 2007.  Included is one written specifically for the New York Times in February, 2004 titled “A Wall is a Weapon.”  Chomsky added notes at the end of each one briefly expanding on and updating what he wrote earlier up to the book’s recent publication.  In all his political writings, including the op-eds in “Interventions,” Chomsky has always been a fierce critic of US foreign and domestic policy and the dominant US media’s practice of “manufacturing consent” for it assuring criticism never exceeds what political elites allow.  It means there’s never enough of it, what’s most needed, or anything diverging from general consensus views corporate America and Washington-based rulers of the world agree on. 


Chomsky confronts these rulers in “Interventions” as he’s always done in his writings and public appearances.  As the Editor’s Note says: “Chomsky believes that the freedom to challenge power is not just an opportunity, it’s a responsibility.”  He does it as effectively in concise essays on selected issues as in expanded versions in more extended articles and books.  Chomsky is also an optimist believing people can change things saying “One of the clearest lessons of history….is that rights are not granted; they are won” but not by being passive or timid.  On the broad range of issues in “Interventions,” Chomsky isn’t timid, and that’s why his views aren’t allowed in the dominant corporate-controlled media because speaking truth to power and the public just might catch on.


“Interventions” – 44 Op-Ed Essays Critical of Bush Administration Foreign and Domestic Policies


This review covers a healthy sampling of Chomsky’s book dealing mostly with foreign policies but also some domestic ones in a post-9/11 world. It’s under an administration former President Jimmy Carter recently called “the worst in history (because we) endorsed the concept of pre-emptive (in fact, preventive meaning illegal aggression) war….even though our own security is not directly threatened.”  In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Carter elaborated further, like no other former president ever did.  He almost sounded like Noam Chomsky from what he said about George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The UK leader’s equally culpable and shortly leaving office in disgrace with a public approval rating lower than George Bush’s.


Chomsky’s first essay is titled “9/11: Lessons Unlearned” in which he addresses George Bush’s question: “Why do they (Arabs/Muslims) hate us?”  Fifty years ago Dwight Eisenhower’s National Security Council explained it’s because we support Middle East despots and “oppos(e) political or economic progress” wanting only control of the region’s vast oil reserves.  It’s no different today with people everywhere respecting our freedoms but hating our policies, especially toward them.  With good reason, they view the US as a “terrorist regime,” which it is. 


Feelings on the Arab street stem for Washington‘s longtime one-sided support for Israel‘s repressive policies toward Palestinians.  It fueled a six-decade conflict because Israel, with US backing, wants it kept unresolved until it achieves the goal noted Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, and other courageous observers explain – to ethnically cleanse, by any means, all parts of Palestine Israelis want for themselves leaving Palestinians the right to move elsewhere or live only on cantonized worthless scrub land Israel doesn’t value.


Twelve horrendous years of harsh Iraqi economic and political sanctions also fueled extreme Arab and Muslim anti-US sentiment now far worse since March, 2003.  It boils over daily in the country and around the world reflected in Canadian General Andrew Leslie’s comment made in summer, 2005.  Explaining why the Afghan war will be long, he said: (because) “every time you kill an angry young man (or his family), you’re creating 15 more who will come after you.”  He might have finished his thought that the way to stop them killing us is stop killing them.


Before the March, 2003 invasion alone, the toll on Iraqis was horrific.  Twelve years of inhumane, unjustifiable sanctions caused the deaths of as many as 1.5 million victims of US genocidal policy and likely close to another million since then.  They were aimed at removing Saddam it took an illegal aggression and occupation to achieve.  It proved a recruiting bonanza for all sorts of resistance evident throughout Iraq today and around the world targeting America and our allies.  It won’t stop till repressive policies do beginning with the illegal occupations of Iraq and Palestine.  Until then, the worst may be yet to come.


It proves what what former Israeli military intelligence chief, Yesoshaphat Harkabi, said 25 years ago on how to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It’s as true today in Israel and applies to Iraq and everywhere else. “To offer an honorable solution to the Palestinians (or other repressed peoples) respecting their right to self-determination: That is the solution of the problem of terrorism.  When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitos.”  It goes without saying respecting peoples’ human and civil rights everywhere is a good way to end wars, too, and justifiable resistance they and illegal occupations spawn.


The current Iraq war dominates much of the book including the early March, 2003 article before it began titled “The Case Against the War in Iraq.”  In it, Chomsky explained the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy’s belligerent “imperial grand strategy” intentions to control the world by force and reign supreme through a policy of “preventive war.”  The Nuremberg Tribunal called that “the supreme international crime” against peace with guilty Nazis convicted of it hanged.  Warnings this agenda could lead to terrorist attacks far worse than 9/11 weren’t allowed to interfere with the administration’s imperial ambitions.  That was their policy in 2003.  It remains unchanged now, whatever the consequences.


Chomsky continued his analysis in his late March, 2003 essay “Now That the War Has Begun.”  In it, he explained what’s evident now – that “There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgment that the war in Iraq will only increase the threat of terror and development and possible use of weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or deterrence.”  With the US now an international pariah, hated and condemned by ordinary people nearly everywhere, it may only be a matter of time before the WMD threat, in fact, happens.  It won’t be pleasant when it does if it takes the form of a “dirty bomb” making a large US city uninhabitable forever from radiation contamination.


Chomsky continues saying “the stakes of the war and its aftermath almost couldn’t be higher (with one possibility being) destabilization in Pakistan (making) ‘loose nukes’ (available) to the global network of terrorist groups (and) other possibilities, no less grim.”  But he notes a promising sign from the unprecendented world opposition to war in Iraq before it began that’s continued since but not with enough intensity to stop the horrific conflict now in its fifth year.  It’s longer in duration than WW II with no signs it’s ending after the pathetic Democrat-led Congress surrendered to the Bush administration’s demands.  Defying growing public sentiment, it passed the largest ever supplemental funding bill ($120 billion) in the nation’s history with more assured for the asking – at least so far.


Chomsky noted in March, 2003 what’s still true today – that the US is pursuing “new and dangerous paths over near-unanimous world opposition.”  Instead of responding to threats by addressing legitimate grievances, the Bush administration chose permanent aggressive wars and a policy of constructing “even more awesome instruments of destruction and domination.” It guarantees responses to them, if used, will be unpleasant at least and awesome and horrific if worst case predictions come true.


In his August, 2003 “Road Map to Nowhere” piece, Chomsky addresses the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He quoted Oxford University Middle East scholar Hussein Agha and former Clinton administration Arab-Israeli affairs special assistant Robert Malley saying “the outlines of a solution have been basically understood for some time now” and entail “a territorial divide on the international border, now with a 1 – 1 land swap.”  Chomsky explains it never happened nor will it because Israel, with US backing, rejects it even in modest form. 


Rhetoric aside, “road maps” and other past peace initiatives have all been cruel hoaxes going nowhere nor will any now barring a huge change in policy only mass world condemnation and forceful action with teeth can achieve.  In deference to Chomsky’s contrary view, it must include boycotts, divestment, political and economic sanctions, and isolation of Israel from the community of civilized states.  It’s not a fit member of them as long as it continues pursuing barbaric policies best characterized as slow-motion genocide with the US equally culpable in Iraq and Afghanistan and for providing Israel unlimited aid.


Chomsky notes “a just peace could come” citing Northern Ireland as a recent example and South Africa another, although no one should assume those countries now resemble paradise as facts on the ground prove otherwise.  It’s especially true in South Africa where noted journalist John Pilger’s new book “Freedom Next Time” explains how life there today is harder than under apartheid.  It’s because “Thatcherism” and New World Order Washington Consensus neoliberalism moved in making things worse.  It happened under Nelson Mandela’s presidency who signed on to it telling Pilger “You can put any label on it you like….but, for this country, privatization (deregulation and free market capitalism) is the fundamental policy.”


In October, 2003, Chomsky wrote about “The United States and the United Nations,” that’s little more than a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nation where it’s been headquartered on Manhattan‘s east side since 1952.  Whenever the US can’t bully or co-opt the world body, it just ignores it doing what it wants like waging illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Only the Security Council can authorize them or Article 51 of the UN Charter allowing the “right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member….until the Security Council (acts) to maintain international peace and security.” 


The Bush administration has contempt for international law using it only when it serves its imperial interests and condemning or ignoring it otherwise as “quaint and obsolete.”  At an early March, 2003 news conference, George Bush made his position clear saying “when it comes to security (meaning US imperial interests) we really don’t need anyone’s permission.”  So when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington‘s position is unbending – “The United States must end up in effective control (of these countries using) some facade of democracy if that proves feasible.” It means  “democratic” elections can go ahead as long as the lord and master of the universe controls things no matter how they turn out. 


And that’s exactly how it is now in Iraq and Afghanistan from US-orchestrated “demonstration elections.” They installed puppet governments having no say over their own affairs except what Washington allows.  As Chomsky puts it: “Washington must be in charge, not the United Nations, not the Iraqi (or Afghan) people,” and that’s the way, in fact, it is today in both countries.


Indeed, it will be in Iraq if the puppet parliament passes the US-drafted new “Hydrocarbon Law.”  It’s a blueprint for plunder, giving foreign investors (US and UK Big Oil mainly) a bonanza of resources, leaving Iraqis a sliver for themselves.  Oil giants, like Exxon-Mobil and BP Amoco, will get exclusive control of 63 of the country’s 80 known oil fields plus all newly discovered deposits.  Even worse, Big Oil will get long-term contracts up to 35 years and be free to expropriate all revenues, investing none of them in Iraq‘s economy.  Foreign investors will also have no obligation to partner with Iraqi companies, hire local workers, respect union rights, or share new technologies.  Iraqis only get the right to take it, or else.


Iraqi oil workers aren’t taking it. They went on strike for three days over a range of issues.  Prime Minister al-Maliki then shamelessly issued arrest warrants for Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) leaders sending his military to surround the workers.  He then had to back down June 8 when an Iraqi general in charge disobeyed his orders, demanded his government “sort it all out,” or he’d resign and join the strikers.  In response, IFOU suspended the strike saying it will be resumed and expanded in a week unless an agreement is reached.  Washington and Big Oil aren’t happy, but this issue is far from resolved.


In November, 2003, Chomsky wrote about “Dilemmas of Dominance” noting in George Bush’s “axis of evil” North Korea and Iran (unlike Iraq since 1991) aren’t defenseless.  It’s a lesson to all other potential US-targeted nations.  “If you want to defend yourself from us, you had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible military threat” because the Kim Jong-il regime may have nuclear weapons while Iran does not, claims no intent to develop them, but no one in the West knows for sure. 



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