Noam Chomsky, 'Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy'

IssueJuly to August 2006
Review by Milan Rai

Another unmissable book. If you're not keeping current with Chomsky, you're not keeping current with reality. In Failed States, Chomsky once again delivers an exhilarating/ depressing panorama view of the contemporary scene, inside and outside the United States, at dizzying speed.

He begins with the theme of his last book, Hegemony or Survival - the increasing threat to human survival posed by US military and energy policies - and ends with the contradiction between (generally liberal) public opinion in the US and (extremely reactionary) government policies there.

Topics that the average author would take a book to explore, Chomsky deals with in paragraphs. And a paragraph of Chomsky continues to be worth more than the average book.

Take the section on Israel. It is commonly said that peace has not had a chance since the Palestinians walked away from negotiations at Camp David in mid-2000, after being offered everything they had asked for.

In fact, Chomsky cites Israeli scholars Ron Pundak and Shaul Arieli who point out that at Camp David the Israeli position at the end of negotiations was that 12 per cent of the West Bank should remain in Israeli hands, in two long strips dividing the West Bank into three sections, and cutting off all three fragments from East Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian life and institutions. Completely unacceptable to the Palestinians.

Camp David wasn't the end of the road, either. At subsequent negotiations in Taba in January 2001, Israeli negotiators reduced their demands by half. Then it was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak who called off the talks, not the Palestinians.

260 pages of “what they don't want you to know” end with unusually optimistic observations on the erosion of US power, and the growth of new forces, including Venezuela in Latin America.

The final paragraphs contain suggestions for US policy: (1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; (2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; (3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; (4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; (5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; (6) give up the Security Council veto and have “a decent respect for the opinion of [hu]mankind”; (7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending.

According to polls, all these policies are favoured by the majority of people in the US.

Topics: Foreign policy
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