What Chomsky gets right
America's record is actually pretty bad, especially in the Middle East.
This is the second in a series of posts on Chomsky, American foreign policy, and the question of hypocrisy. Read the introductory post here. Subscribe to receive future posts.
To go back to the beginning of my own political coming-of-age, the Iraq war exposed just how hollow our rhetoric about freedom and democracy actually was, particularly in the Middle East, where nearly every country was a dictatorship. All of a sudden, to justify an unprovoked invasion, we now believed in Arab democracy? But the Iraq War—clothed as it was in the deceptions of moral rightness—wasn’t unique. It was in keeping with a long foreign policy tradition of a kind of pretend innocence that hid darker impulses.
This is what Chomsky and other leftist critics skewered, and rightly so. In one especially memorable example during a debate over Vietnam, Henry Kissinger complained that what bothered him most was that his critics questioned not just his judgment but his motives, as if nothing could be so outrageous.
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Chomsky also cites the ludicrous claim of Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor McGeorge Bundy that “American democracy has no enduring taste for imperialism… [T]aken as a whole, the stock of American experience, understanding, sympathy, and simple knowledge is now much the most impressive in the world.” Bundy said this precisely as the U.S. was escalating its bombing of Vietnam, which took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, including in infamous mass killings such as the My Lai massacre.
In his book Kill Anything That Moves, the journalist Nick Turse concludes based on interviews with veterans and declassified documents that he stumbled upon in the National Archives that the high body count “stemmed from deliberate policies that were dictated at the highest levels of the U.S. military.” For Chomsky, this feigned innocence “becomes increasingly distasteful as the power it serves grows more dominant in world affairs.” I tend to agree.
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