Saturday, June 03, 2006

Is It Over?

The Independent has an article (not available online), Why it's over for America, an exerpt from Noam Chomsky's new book, which posits that "An inability to protect its citizens. The belief that it is above the law. A lack of democracy. Three defining characteristics of the 'failed state'. And that, says Noam Chomsky, is exactly what the US is becoming." Explaining how the U.S. lost it's way, Chomsky writes:

The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the population, not surprisingly, does not agree.

That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, "the American 'system' as a whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values of "quality, liberty, and meaningful democracy."

The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognised to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs "frustratingly imprecise", some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified.

One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.

Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of "failed states" right at home.

* * * *

One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: "They present solutions, but I don't like them." In addition to the proposals that should be familiar about dealing with the crises that reach to the level of survival, a few simple suggestions for the United States have already been mentioned: 1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; 3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; 6) give up the Security Council veto and have "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind," as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centres disagree; 7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending. For people who believe in democracy, these are very conservative suggestions: they appear to be the opinions of the majority of the US population, in most cases the overwhelming majority. They are in radical opposition to public policy. To be sure, we cannot be very confident about the state of public opinion on such matters because of an other feature of the democratic deficit: the topics scarcely enter into public discussion and the basic facts are little known. In a highly atomised society, the public is therefore largely deprived of the opportunity to form considered opinions.

* * * *

Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism, hopelessness, and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before. . . . There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations.
See also: Stephen Lendman's Comments On Noam Chomsky's New Book - FAILED STATES, for an in depth discussion of the book. As he notes:
Having laid out his premises, Chomsky believes the US today exhibits the very features we cite as characteristics of "failed states" - a term we use for nations seen as potential threats to our security which may require our intervention against in self-defense. But the very notion of what a failed state may be is imprecise at best, he states. It may be their inability to protect their citizens from violence or destruction. It may also be they believe they're beyond the reach of international law and thus free to act as aggressors. Even democracies aren't immune to this problem because they may suffer from a "democratic deficit" that makes their system unable to function properly enough.

Chomsky goes much further saying if we evaluate our own state policies honestly and accurately "we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of 'failed states' right at home." . . . . Chomsky then spends the first half of his book documenting how the US crafts its policies and uses its enormous power to threaten other states with isolation or destruction unless they're subservient to our will. He also explains how we react when they go their own way and how routinely and arrogantly we ignore and violate sacred international law and norms in the process.

Chomsky sees the US as an out of control predatory hegemon reserving for itself alone the right to wage permanent war on the world and justify it under a doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" or preventive war. The Bush administration claims justified in doing so against any nation it sees as a threat to our national security. It doesn't matter if it is, just that we say it is. Sacred international law, treaties and other standard and accepted norms observed by most other nations are just seen as "quaint (and) out of date" and can be ignored. It hardly matters to those in Washington that in the wake of WW II, the most destructive war ever, the UN was established primarily "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and possibility of "ultimate doom." Although it was left unstated at the time, it was clear that language meant the devastation that would result from a nuclear holocaust.
Sound familiar? Now this is something that should make one afraid. Very afraid.

(Full Independent article available here: News From Babylon)

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