Noam Chomsky, a hero to many of the Left, has been predictably skeptical of the Obama administration’s position on Syria. In an interview with Ceasefire Magzine, Chomsky stated that both the US and Syria don’t want an outcome in Syria – they are entirely happy to see the civil war rage on as Syrian infighting is beneficial to them.
Chomsky generally analyzes international relations from a geopolitical power point of view – he sees states as self interested actors doing their best to improve their position, and has little time for political rhetoric designed to obfuscate that self interest. It’s a useful tool to use when analyzing politics, but I’ve increasingly felt that it has its limits. A reader, Laurin Suiter, left the following comment on Chomsky on our Facebook page that I think provides some of the most astute criticism I’ve seen:
As a linguist, he is a genius, on par with Einstein or Hawking in his chosen field. As a political analyst, I outgrew him some 5 years after college. Whatever gifts he has as a linguist only serve him in some kind of quasi-autistic-like capacity in sociopolitical analysis. After awhile, the formula becomes pat – he is a one-note song. You could practically write your own Chomsky Mad Libs based on this formula. It is certainly true that the U.S. is far from the good guys in white hats caricature drawn by most of the Right and the neocons, but he makes a fetish out of his contrarian deconstruction, to the point where the U.S. (and/or Israel) is the only abuser of power, the only hypocrite, the only nation committing human rights abuses. This plays perfectly into the Right-wing lie that all Leftists are knee-jerk anti-Americans or always critical of America. Chomsky is not anti-American, and not always critical of America, but he plys that turf enough to sell books and excite his fan base. His intellect gives him a pass that most would not have the luxury otherwise. To his credit, he is genuinely brilliant, and not a moronic demagogue like Limbaugh or Beck. Still, he is a one-trick pony, no matter how eloquent and pointed his arguments.
Not necessarily intentionally, he inflates the self-importance of the more incoherent factions of the Left/Occupy crowd (the doppelgangers of the incoherent Right/Teabagger crowd). His academic cred as a linguist gives him disproportionate weight as a spokesman for the Left (there is no one who speaks for the Left – it is perpetually torn by the usual factional squabbles – never mind that such a concept is antithetical to much of the Left), and therefore, he is given disproportionate opposition status by the Right for the same reason.
I always welcome his dissenting views to the debate, however, no matter my objections stated above. Dissent is always essential for civic health in a democracy.
I’m not sure I completely agree – Chomsky is incredibly critical of other countries – he just doesn’t write that much about them. Either way, Suiter’s criticism is still incredibly insightful (at least in my opinion) and far more observant than the usual ‘Chomsky hates America’ nonsense people who don’t read him spout whenever his name is mentioned.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.