Interventions - Noam Chomsky

Hamish Hamilton, 2007, 231pp, HB,

Bite Size : Chomsky in bite size.

Avram Noam Chomsky, as has often been said, is one of the top ten sourced authors in humanities essays in the Western world, up there with Shakespeare and the Bible. Whatever else he is, he is not ignored. On the contrary, he usually elicits extreme reactions in one direction or the other. Some on the left revere him as a lodestone, a kind of radicalism incarnate. Virtually all on the right demonise him as a devious, extremist monster, distorting the facts to his twisted ends. Yet the overall impression taken from Interventions, a series of short articles and essays on world political events written between 2002 and the present day, is one of a cautious moderate.

Moderate? How can Chomsky, an anarchist in the proper sense of that much misused word, give such an impression? Because world events have become more extreme while he has stayed the same. Because the tragedies being played out on the world stage have often surpassed his own worst predictions. Articles appearing here from 2002 and 2003 cast doubt on the US and UK government's claims of Saddam Hussein possessing WMD, and predict that Iraq would become a chaotic bloodbath rather than a model democracy after the invasion. Radical at the time, now simply sad received wisdom, almost a truism. He believes the US government's perception of itself as a uniquely virtuous power, whose military strength would be used only for noble events (a view held previously by Spain, the UK, Germany) as leading to even more atrocity and disaster. This is no longer a novel view, and nor is it confined to the left.

Elsewhere, Chomksy defies the stereotype of the Year Zero absolutist saddled upon him. On the issue of Israel/Palestine he reveals himself to be a supporter of the two-state solution, not the destruction of Israel as an entity. His denunciations of Israel's 2005 invasion of Lebanon, and in the disgraceful "security wall" the Israelis erected to hem in the Palestinians still further, are, once again, simply in keeping with mainstream international opinion. Elsewhere, Chomsky takes on governmental promotion of "intelligent design" in the US, and encourages nuclear engagement with Iran rather than invasion. Once again, we must ask, who is in the "extreme" here? In Interventions' later, most optimistic pieces, those that focus on the growing opposition in South and Central America to the neo-liberal economic hegemony of the USA, Chomsky is careful to praise both the mild reformists Lula and Bachelet in Brazil and Chile, as well as the more radical Chavez and Morales in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Chomsky brings his usual level of forensic examination of sources and statistics to bear in his argument, and is adept at finding figures to back up his stance whom you would not usually expect, most notably mainstream US foreign policy organisations and groups (ie the Baker-Hamilton Commission), not radical in the least, but who are still conveniently ignored by the Bush gang in their struggle for total global supremacy. Equally, he can home on a quote from a vital yet overlooked figure such as Lawrence Summer, the 1991 chief economist of the World Bank, to get to what he sees as the chilling truth. "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that." In this rare and dangerous moment of candour, the real face of US foreign policy is out. Critics accuse Chomsky of distortion and selection, but when he unearths such unambiguous horrors as this, the onus is on the powers that be to deny, which they cannot. It's Chomsky's job to scour the world for murky gems like that, and he does it well.

I have by no means been in agreement with everything Chomsky has written in the past, but I find nothing to disagree with in these pithy meditations on some of the most destructive corporate and governmental forces in the world today. This however, is not in itself an advantage, and shows the somewhat brief and scanty nature of the tome on offer. Given the brief length of the essays in this book, this is, comparatively speaking, Chomsky-lite (don't be fooled by the page number - the pages are small.) Those looking for a more in depth (and controversial) look into his insights on the world should go for Understanding Power instead. But as both an introduction to his work and a well-paced overview of the dark ways the world is ruled today, this is a worthwhile buy.

Any cop?

A relatively minor work in the Chomsky canon, but still packed with much more insight, cutting facts and observations than the average critique of Bush and co. Those apt to dismiss him should read it to find out if they're arguing against the real man, or a mirage.

[First published on Bookmunch, 2007]