Hegemony or Survival

America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky

by Jennifer Bendery

11 May 2004


Bush's Foreign Policy May Be Scary, But It Isn't New

A tidal wave of books critical of the Bush Administration has submerged those of us who like to think of ourselves as informed citizens, leaving us choking and splashing around in the foam and seaweed trying to keep track of who wrote what and how (or if) each is different from the last. At the center of the latest media blitzkrieg is Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which comes on the heels of Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, Joseph Wilson’s The Politics of Truth, John Dean’s Worse than Watergate, Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country?, Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty and Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling, to name a few.

With these hot political commentaries flying off the book presses faster than you can say “nucular,” one might ask, what makes Noam Chomsky’s latest book stand out from all the others? Easy. Hegemony is the forest; the others are trees.

cover art

Hegemony or Survival

Noam Chomsky

America's Quest for Global Dominance

(Metropolitan Books)

Known as the father of modern linguistics and the world’s foremost intellectual activist, Chomsky centers his newest book on picking apart—in painstaking detail—the last 50 years of U.S. foreign policy to reveal the “imperial grand strategy” of the United States: increased global dominance, even at the expense of human survival. The goal of this strategy is to prevent any challenge to the “power, position, and prestige of the United States,” according to the position indoctrinated into US policy in 1963. The strategy was echoed nearly 40 years later in the official rhetoric of the US National Security Strategy laid out in September 2002: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.”

I remember a couple of years ago when Time magazine slapped that desperate question in huge letters across its cover: “Why do they hate us?” The magazine was, of course, referring to a growing distaste for Americans within the Islamic world. But even though mainstream media poses this question time and time again to the average, befuddled American, Chomsky suggests the question is wrongly put. The Islamic world does not hate Americans, but rather, the policies of the US government; two vastly different things. Unlike easier answers floated in American media suggesting Muslims hate Americans because of “our freedoms,” Chomsky says Islamic bitterness exists because the United States continues supporting repressive regimes that undermine democracy while touting its role in the world as an all-knowing liberator of the oppressed.

Not surprisingly, Chomsky is critical of the Bush administration over the Iraq war. But contrary to prevailing opinion, Chomsky suggests the policies driving this administration are not new or unique. In fact, he says they been driving US foreign policy since the 1950s. The real reason Bush is so intent on controlling Iraq? As one senior Middle East correspondent stated, the goals of the White House are “bolstering the president’s popularity” for short-term political gain and turning a “‘friendly’ Iraq into a private American oil pumping station.” Chomsky couldn’t agree more. Expanding political power and U.S. control of the world’s energy resources are major steps in the “imperial grand strategy” of permanent world domination.

Chomsky certainly does his homework. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, you have to give the guy credit for his exhaustive research, which enables him to cite dates and names and places associated with treaties not signed, government-media propaganda campaigns and dismantled international agreements. He also digs up quotes from former government officials and links them with remarks from present-day White House officials to illustrate the staying power of basic tenets of American foreign policy. For example, one Reagan-Bush official in 1992 described the United Nations as “perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American unilateralism.” This sentiment was echoed ten years later when a White House chief of staff said, “The U.N. can meet and discuss, but we don’t need their permission” to launch a preemptive strike on Iraq. The U.N. remains in this role because, ultimately, the US will “enforce the just demands of the world,” even if the world overwhelmingly objects, according to Chomsky.

If you’re not prepared to take on this book or if you still don’t know what hegemony means, just know that the world did not suddenly become extraordinarily dangerous on September 11, 2001. What has changed since then is the reinterpretation of basic terms now being used to justify US policies. What constitutes terrorism? How does it differ from aggression or resistance? Chomsky explains there is “no sensible definition” of terrorism since 1) the official U.S. Code defines it the same as “counter-terrorism” and 2) official definitions of “terror” point to the US as a leading terrorist state. But what has stayed the same since 9/11 is the basic principle behind US foreign policy: Power takes precedence over survival. As documented in Hegemony, the last 50 years have seen a series of near misses when the US government risked world safety for a shot at more power. An eerie incident during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis left the world “one word away from nuclear war” when a Soviet submarine officer blocked an order to fire nuclear-armed torpedoes when attacked by a US destroyer.

I know, I know, this sounds pretty grim. But Chomsky is shaking your shoulder and trying to wake you from what he calls a “passing nightmare.” There is a simple solution to reducing threats of terror: Stop participating in it. We can’t bomb out of existence the political oppression and economic marginalization that triggered Al Qaeda. Chomsky tries to end on a hopeful note by looking to the gains of the human rights culture among the general population. As illustrated by the recent March on Washington, which drew over one million people concerned about the erosion of abortion rights, Chomsky sees tremendous strength in grassroots alliances. The thought of impacting US foreign policy by plopping Melissa Etheridge on a stage and waving around a sign may be overwhelming. But if a grassroots approach to policy change can FedEx George W. Bush back to Crawford, hell, paint me green and call me a blade!

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