US grip of the world weakening

US grip on the world weakening

By Tapani Lausti

Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek, On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare. Pluto Press 2013.

Noam Chomsky has thought about world politics all his life. Andre Vltchek has spent years travelling around the world reporting from conflict areas. Thus it is not surprising that their conversations create an interesting if depressing overview of the world as it is today. Both Chomsky and Vltchek are also painfully aware of the failure of the Western intellectual classes to see how their governments contribute to the misery of much of the world population.

A sophisticated propaganda system, perpetuated willingly by the media, keep Western-inflicted horrors mostly out of sight. The constant fake emphasis on Western democratic values hides ugly facts of Western geopolitical interests, corporate greed and naked exploitation of other people's resources. (We live on a planet where 10 corporations control almost everything you buy.) Chomsky quotes The Lancet according to which six million children die every year from lack of elementary medical procedures, which could be provided at virtually no cost.

Chomsky talks about the deep roots of “an intellectual and moral colonization as well as political and economic colonization.” The subtle nature of this colonization often makes it difficult to see who are the real enemies of oppressed people: “The main achievement of hierarchy and oppression is to get the un-people to accept that it's natural.” (p.17)

Chomsky and Vltchek in their own ways spend all their time fighting these injustices. Vltchek writes: “The way I saw it, we were fighting for the same cause, for the right of self-determination and real freedom for all people around the world. And we were fighting against colonialism and fascism, in whichever form it came.” (p. ix)

As if the state of world politics and economy wasn't bad enough, Chomsky adds that “we are moving toward what may in fact be the ultimate genocide — the destruction of the environment.”(p. 2)

However, Chomsky often seems surprisingly optimistic about the possibility of change for the better. Take Egypt. Although the conversation took place in June 2012 and the events in Egypt have since turned from one disaster to the next, Chomsky's forecast of new uprisings still rings plausible. Whoever is in power in Egypt has to cope with the legacy of destructive neo-liberal economic policies. Losing credibility is hard-wired into the scenario, even if the pace of events is impossible to guess. But as Robert Fisk noted recently, writing about the latest “Beloved and Sublime General” called Abdul Fattah al-Sisi: “Being an Egyptian leader, however (…) is a rather dodgy profession.” The masses are watching you. Millions of people are suffering economically.

An interesting feature of the book's discussion of the world propaganda system is the information spread about the Communist countries. Chomsky is well-known for his negative view of the Soviet system. Vltchek didn't like the Stalinist system either but praises some “lofty” goals of the Soviet Union. He has some positive things to say about the country's role in helping the decolonization process in many poor countries. He adds that in some ex-Communist countries many people feel nostalgia for the old system. Dreams of a better life under capitalism became true for only very few people.

Vltchek has a surprisingly positive view of today's China. He emphazises the huge progress made in environmental issues (even so, some reports of massive pollution are alarming), infrastructure, education and health services. He says: “Many people who go to China with an open mind are very impressed. I am also very encouraged by the optimism of their people.” (p. 89)

Richard Falk, an American international law and international relations scholar, who reviewed Chomsky and Vltchek's book in Foreign Policy Journal was surprised by Vltchek's praise of China. However Falk adds: “I also experienced during a visit a year ago, that young university students in China seem fearless, raising sensitive controversial issues in public venues.”

When Chomsky and Vltchek discuss the US's status in today's world, some disagreement emerges. Vltchek agrees that the US now controls a smaller chunk of the global economy but argues that with allies like Europe and Japan its hegemony is pretty much intact. Chomsky, on the other hand, points out that “by 1970 American share of world wealth was down to about 25 percent, which is enormous but not 50 percent, as it was in 1945.” He adds: “In the last ten years, the loss of South America is very significant, for that was considered completely safe.” (p.158) Later he comments: “The imperial mentality remains very much in place, but the capacity to implement the policies is sharply reduced. You see it all over the world.” (p. 163)

Chomsky says that we have only two choices: to give up or keep on trying to make things better. Vltchek quotes the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: "The worst thing you can do to the poor is to take away their hope."

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