Rogue States: the Rule of Force in World Affairs by Noam Chomsky. Pub: Pluto Press, London, 2000. Pp: 252. Pbk: UK£10.99.
If enough people tell the same lies often enough, they become indistinguishable from the truth, and are widely accepted as such despite any amount of evidence to the contrary. Equally, if different people tell enough different lies on any issue, the truth is effectively obscured, however obvious it may be. These two phenomena are fundamental to the complex facade of false images that the west has established in order to project itself as a champion of ‘democracy’ and morality in the world, and a defender of the rights and interests of ordinary people. Such is the west’s skill, moreover, that much of this ludicrous self-projection is accepted even by its enemies and victims.
Noam Chomsky’s political analysis works on a similar basis: if he tells the same truths often enough, sooner or later some people will hear him. His books are often criticised as being repetitive, which they sometimes are; but this is largely because the truths that he enunciates are constant and unchanging, unlike many of the lies of those he exposes. His problem is that his is virtually the only voice of truth in the west’s clamorous din of lies. Thus it is seldom heard, and even when it is heard, his message is all too often quickly forgotten.
In his latest book Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, published by the Pluto Press, a radical publishing house in London, Chomsky examines the record of the US in world affairs. The term ‘rogue state’ was coined by the US state department in the 1980s to characterise states that refuse to work within the west’s hegemonic framework for international affairs, or — as the west prefers to put it — refuse to accept international laws and norms.
Countries that have been branded as ‘rogue states’ include the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. As the utility of this term as a convenient and delegitimising label has decreased with time, the State Department recently stopped using it officially; however, it has entered the general lexicon of western journalism and political analysis, along with the similarly-loaded phrase “outlaw nation”, and seems unlikely to fade away any time soon.
In this book, Chomsky’s approach is, broadly speaking, to apply the standards of the international laws and norms that the west claims to promote and uphold to the premier western power, the US, and see how it performs. In truth this approach appears only sporadically as, like many of Chomsky’s recent books, this one is in fact a thinly re-worked collection of smaller articles, essays and speeches previously published elsewhere (many of them in the radical Z Magazine). The book is perhaps better read as a collection of essays than as a single volume.
The first two papers in the book, called ‘Rogues’ Gallery: Who Qualifies?’ and ‘Rogue States’, lay out the background of the term and analyses the US’s usage of it in order to delegitimise its enemies, focusing specifically on Iraq. In this chapter, Chomsky points out the there was nothing inherent in Iraq’s behaviour that brought the West’s wrath on its head, for the West itself was guilty of all the same offences in Latin America and elsewhere, and that it had been happy enough to deal with Iraq before its invasion of Kuwait. He also highlights the fact that the US assault on Iraq a few months later was far from unavoidable; on the contrary, it was clearly something that the US was determined to do, despite numerous Iraqi attempts to settle the issue by negotiation. He also analyses the west’s policies towards Iraq in the subsequent decade, again highlighting the contradictions between its words and its actions, and its apparent determination to maintain the conflict despite the huge cost in Iraqi lives.
Chomsky also points out that the US is happy to support far worse regimes elsewhere in the world — such as various right-wing Latin American dictatorships, and Algeria and Indonesia, among others in the Muslim world — which are guilty of precisely the same behaviour as that for which the ‘rogue states’ are condemned, simply because they are pro-western rather than anti-western; in other words, they put the west’s interests ahead of their own or their peoples’.
The rest of the book can be divided into two categories of paper: those which focus on individual countries, regions or episodes, and those that examine the US’s behaviour thematically. The areas specifically covered are the Balkans, East Timor, Columbia, Cuba, and Latin America. In all these cases he amply exposes the west’s hypocrisy and self-serving brutality.
The same is also true of the seven papers that make up the second half of the book. These are thematic essays broadly covering three major themes. Chapters 8 to 10 — the first two of which are very brief— look at the US’s direct and indirect abuses of human rights, both in the US and around the world, and contrast these with its claim to be the global champion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also go past simple double standards to show how the US actively uses human rights rhetoric for its own purposes, again to promote its own supporters and interests, and to condemn its enemies, even though their conduct may be far better than its own.
The second major theme covered is the US’s record of brutality in war and the bloody results of its support of pro-western regimes, however dictatorial and repressive they may be. This theme is covered in chapters 11 and, more briefly, 12. Chapter 11, ‘The Legacy of War’, looks at the wars that the US fought during the 20th century, pointing out that their crimes were by an large are far greater than those of their enemies. Chapter 12, ‘Millennium Greetings’, compares the US’s record with those of the Nazis and the Soviets, whom the west holds up as symbols of evil.
The third major theme is the the extent to which the interests and dictates of economic capital and major corporations define US policy in the US (chapter 13, ‘Power in the Domestic Arena’) and abroad (chapter 14, ‘Socioeconomic Sovereignty’). In these sections in particular, Chomsky looks at how the rhetoric and supposed ideals of western democracy and human rights discourse, as well as liberal ‘free market’ economics, are fronts for the power and interests of a small elite.
Much of the material in this book will read familiarly to readers of Chomsky’s works, or indeed of radical magazines such as Crescent International. Even the most clear-minded person, however, would be hard-pressed to recall the details and be clear on the issues in the face of the relentless propaganda of the western establishment. Where Chomsky excels is in his command over sources, and the thorough referencing of his works above all else that makes them invaluable for others trying to expose the same truths through their own work. This book is invaluable for this purpose.