Chomsky on the “New Cold War”

Noam Chomsky has given his take on the whole South Ossetia-Russia-Georgia-US imbroglio.  I haven’t read Chomsky in years.  He rarely says anything he hadn’t already said 20 years ago; and his penchant toward focusing on American hypocrisy is simply stating the obvious.  He has a tendency to overdetermine American power thereby creating a monolithic, well oiled imperial machine controlled and manipulated by a cabal of American capitalists.  Unfortunately things aren’t that simple and after a few reads, that line gets old.  Fast.

Nevertheless, many listen to Chomsky and sometimes, yes, sometimes he has some interesting observations.  Since Russia has moved back onto his analytical radar, I provide a few excerpts from his “Towards a Second Cold War?” to get readers’ thoughts.

After opening with the usual diatribe against American hypocrisy and cynicism, Chomsky writes,

The Russian propaganda system made the mistake of presenting evidence, which was easily refuted. Its Western counterparts, more wisely, keep to authoritative pronouncements, like Levy’s denunciation of the major Western media for ignoring what is “blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers” for whom loyalty to the state suffices to establish The Truth – which, perhaps, is even true, serious analysts might conclude.

The Russians are losing the “propaganda war,” BBC reported, as Washington and its allies have succeeded in “presenting the Russian actions as aggression and playing down the Georgian attack into South Ossetia on  August 7, which triggered the Russian operation,” though “the evidence from South Ossetia about that attack indicates that it was extensive and damaging.” Russia has “not yet learned how to play the media game,” the BBC observes. That is natural. Propaganda has typically become more sophisticated as countries become more free and the state loses the ability to control the population by force. (Emphasis mine)

I think his last statement is key here.  My previous posting of how CNN edited Putin’s interview was to imply exactlty this.  American media is far more sophisticated in crafting a message while Russia’s, as show by Vesti‘s crude parlor tricks, remains hopelessly amateur.  I happen to think CNN‘s editing of Putin’s interview is worse on an ideological level because it falls within acceptable parameters.  Crass manipulation of the message is mystified by the logic of harmless, and more important, practical editing.  To my knowledge the full interview with Putin, as relayed by the transcript, was never aired on CNN in the States.  Even if it was, the main clips of Putin accusing the US of orchestrating the war were repeated endlessly on pretty much every American news outlet, making the content of whole interview superfluous.  Plus, as Yasha Levine notes in his article, CNN viewers on both sides of the pond got different versions.  Levine writes,

Despite the “unprecedented access” hook, for its U.S. feed, CNN reduced the 30-minute interview into a series of sound bites that seized and ridiculed Putin’s crackpot theory that the Republican party started the war to boost McCain’s ratings. CNN’s international audience, enjoying the news from hotel rooms all round the world, got to see a little more of the footage. But most of it had to do with Russia’s ridiculous “non-political” decision to ban some American poultry importers from doing business with Russia because of their poor quality control standards. CNN’s intentions were clear: Putin must come off looking like a fool. And it seemed Putin gave them the perfect material.

But back to Noam.  One of the things I appreciate about his article is that he puts the Clinton Doctrine (“Washington has the right to use military force to defend vital interests such as “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources”) at center stage rather than its heir, the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strike.  But as Chomsky notes, even the Clinton Doctrine was hardly new.

Clinton was breaking no new ground, of course. His doctrine derives from standard principles formulated by high-level planners during World War II, which offered the prospect of global dominance. In the postwar world, they determined, the US should aim “to hold unquestioned power” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. To secure these ends, “the foremost requirement [is] the rapid fulfillment of a program of complete rearmament,” a core element of “an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the United States.” The plans laid during the war were implemented in various ways in the years that followed.

When you throw in America’s self-imposed, messianic mission to spread “freedom” (according to its own definition, by the way) that is quite a mix imperial power politics and ideological fervor.  The fact that not just Sara Palin but Barak Obama, John McCain and almost every other politician weds America’s national interests with freedom (at home and abroad) speaks volumes to how it well it resonates with the American public. The imperial rhetoric of both parties was on open display at their conventions.  The only difference I heard between them was tone.

Finally, even Chomsky, the old lefty Cold Warrior that he is, doubts a new Cold War is in the making.  He writes,

Nonetheless, a new cold war seems unlikely. To evaluate the prospect, we should begin with clarity about the old cold war. Fevered rhetoric aside, in practice the cold war was a tacit compact in which each of the contestants was largely free to resort to violence and subversion to control its own domains: for Russia, its Eastern neighbors; for the global superpower, most of the world. Human society need not endure – and might not survive – a resurrection of anything like that.

I think the abscence of current agreement between theives is important to remember.  It sure makes me think those analysts who are conjuring 19th century metaphors to describe the current world order might be on to something.  Perhaps it time to review, revive and revise Lenin’s and Rosa Luxembourg’s thoeries of imperialist rivalry as inherent to globalist capitalism.