Sunday, October 25, 2009

That Unipolar Moment

Noam Chomsky recently wrote the following.


Every powerful state relies on specialists whose task is to show that what the strong do is noble and just and, if the weak suffer, it is their fault.

In the West, these specialists are called "intellectuals" and, with marginal exceptions, they fulfill their task with skill and self-righteousness, however outlandish the claims, in this practice that traces back to the origins of recorded history.

You will recall how many of our leading politicians demanded that the people of Iraq stand up for themselves despite years of crippling sanctions sandwiched between two savage assaults the last firmly establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq after destroying the infrastructure, causing the death of over one million Iraqi, and millions more sent into exile. None of that mattered in the least for it was obviously the fault of the Iraqi people for not taking responsibility after all we had done for them. Or when Israel attacked Gaza at the beginning of the year it was the Palestinian’s fault for objecting to the loss of their land and rights as human beings under a brutal Israeli occupation. The truth was of course quite different than the official story. The attack on Gaza was just part – though one of the more brutal – of the ongoing practice of ejecting Palestinians from their land yet what we heard was Israel had a right to protect itself.

Not only does this idea of the strong being moral and just apply to how our government views our treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan it also applies to how the American public perceives itself and is perceived by our own government. Recall how just recently the military was disturbed by a lack of enthusiasm for the Afghan War by the American public and it was implied that if the military lost (whatever that means) it would be the fault of the American public. Then there is the housing bubble for who was blamed for that? Why those shiftless and no good losers who bought houses they could not afford. It certainly couldn’t have been the fault of predatory lending schemes cooked up by the banksters after Bill Clinton helped deregulate banking practices or the fault of Alan Greenspan who helped create the bubble.

Most Americans think in terms of winners and losers. Indeed the very idea that the strong are noble and the weak are mere human detritus strewn along the wayside left in the dust as the winners win is germane to the very essence of U.S. philosophy if it can be dignified as such. There is little doubt that many Americans feel superior to the peoples we subjugate by virtue of our wealth, sciences, and technology even if there is any empathy for the people we slaughter and murder on a daily basis. So we see people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama constantly call for other nations to live up to our standards with “or else” always tacitly in the background and very few bat an eye or wonder at the arrogance of it all because this state of mind is so ingrained into our world view.

It is interesting as more and more of the wealth is acquired by the top one percent (notice how I describe the winners as top, culture is hard to escape) that there are now so many losers that you would think that people might begin to question the value of this preposterous and dangerous philosophy. Don’t hold your breath. Some things take time. Lots and lots of time.

Quite frankly I don’t believe that any change of the status quo in foreign policy will be achieved from within the United States for more than one reason and not the least being the state of our world view as described above. However there is still cause for hope that things can change despite our militarized culture, economy, and philosophy because America’s unipolar moment as an economic power is likely coming to an end. How quickly this will occur I don’t know but as Chomsky points out other economic powers are rising which could pressure the U.S. to curb perhaps some of its more aggressive actions or as Chomsky puts it…

Though the world is unipolar militarily, since the 1970s it has become economically "tripolar," with comparable centers in North America, Europe and northeast Asia. The global economy is becoming more diverse, particularly with the growth of Asian economies.

A world becoming truly multipolar, politically as well as economically, despite the resistance of the sole superpower, marks a progressive change in history.

So this is a progressive change that is occurring despite U.S. foreign policy not because of it. And when someone says that it is your fault that wars are failing or that it is your fault that the government has been pandering to corporate America I would view such statements with much skepticism. Americans are victims, victims of their own government who clearly only represent corporate interests. This is the reason for the ongoing wars, people are getting rich off them like so many bloated ticks. I’m not saying the public is blameless but most of the ills result from the machinations of our own government and the corporations whose only real export is war.

I believe it is often the case that the public really gets a lot of things right as in not supporting the Afghan War or wanting a real single payer health plan not whatever garbage congress will churn out. People know when they are being screwed even if they cannot always define the particulars. National leaders endlessly infer that they know better than the public yet time and again the public has shown a much more realistic view of the world than our political leaders have. You know I almost believe that if America really had a democracy it might actually work rather well.

You should read Chomsky’s essay in its entirety but I would like to include one more important point Chomsky makes which is that Obama has merely continued with W. Bush’s policies albeit in a kinder and gentler delivery.

As Barack Obama came into office, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted he would follow the policies of Bush's second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style that seems to have charmed much of the world.

Even some of Obama’s staunchest defenders will fall silent under the above criticism because it is true. Obama is essentially carrying on with Bush policy which to my way of thinking makes Obama worse than Bush in that he can pursue the same policies with a good deal less criticism. Once W. Bush left office all the opposition to his policies fell silent for the most part.

So that’s where we are today pursuing the same policies with the same disregard for what it does to our victims and ourselves yet there is still cause for hope as other nations around the world move slowly towards more progressive societies in spite of the destabilizing influence of U.S. military adventurism.


At October 25, 2009 10:12 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I haven't read the Chomsky piece yet but I will when I have some time-- it sounds excellent.

(And as far as blaming the weaker party goes, don't forget all those annoying people without health insurance who just want to wait until they're sick to buy some.

Even the heroic Obama used this canard in his big healthcare speech to congress. Needless to say I was shocked-- well, as shocked as you think I was...)

At October 28, 2009 2:42 PM, Anonymous micah holmquist said...

I tend to agree with you that I don’t see any significant change forthcoming. However, I do have a little bit of hope because I have to firmly believe that, for the most part, I do not understand what motivates people in the United States to do what they do in the realm of politics anymore than I understand the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy.

At October 28, 2009 8:28 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Hi Micah,

There's always hope. Are you speaking of people in general or people who go into politics? If its the latter than greed and power is the motivation. Pretty much.

At October 29, 2009 5:37 PM, Anonymous micah holmquist said...

I was speaking of people in general.

I could buy that they just pretend that something like the occupation of Iraq is not happening, except I am reminded about it roughly once a day by some message that I should support the troops.


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