Noam Chomsky on America's 'Yearning for Democracy'

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Ben Cohen
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The always quotable Noam Chomsky speaking to David Barsamian on the United State's supposed love of democracy:

If you look at the record, the yearning for democracy is a bad joke. That's even recognised by leading scholars, though they don't put it this way. One of the major scholars on so-called democracy promotion is Thomas Carothers, who is pretty conservative and highly regarded – a neo-Reaganite, not a flaming liberal. He worked in Reagan's state department and has several books reviewing the course of democracy promotion, which he takes very seriously. He says, yes, this is a deep-seated American ideal, but it has a funny history. The history is that every US administration is "schizophrenic". They support democracy only if it conforms to certain strategic and economic interests. He describes this as a strange pathology, as if the United States needed psychiatric treatment or something. Of course, there's another interpretation, but one that can't come to mind if you're a well-educated, properly behaved intellectual.

I've always found this dichotomy fascinating to watch - the utter sincerity with which intellectuals and politicians speak about commitment to democracy and human rights and the completely contradictory behavior of their government and preferred allies. This seeps down to literally every level of society, where people unconsciously divide the world into good guys and bad guys according to the pronouncements of the government. When Iraq stopped being a useful ally in 1990, the US quickly decided that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who needed driving out of Kuwait. This despite the fact he had been murdering his own people and Iranians for decades with American assistance. Fast forward two decades and Colonel Gaddafi almost overnight goes from being 'an interesting man' (according to John McCain) to the epitome of all evil when no longer useful to US strategic interests. There are certainly instances where US intervention has had a positive impact, and I don't buy into the notion that everything the US does abroad is bad (although the horrors of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq don't do much to bolster that argument), it's just no one seems to be honest about what is going on.

In the current international system, nation states are out for themselves. They will cooperate when mutually beneficial, and use everything at their disposal to increase their power and economic wealth. And that means going to war and taking other country's resources when an opportunity arises. The idea that the US is somehow above all of that is laughable. So when George Bush and the US media attempted to portray the invasion of Iraq as some grand moral intervention to liberate the Iraqi people, anyone with a realistic understanding of politics and history rightly pegged it as a complete joke. As Chomsky said to Barsamian, "To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it's maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in the middle of the major energy-producing region. You're not supposed to say this. It's considered a conspiracy theory."

Both the left and the right have always tried to marginalize Professor Chomsky as a fringe radical. In truth, he's a realist pointing out uncomfortable truths about the use and abuse of US power.