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Noam Chomsky Discusses American Narcissism at SOAS

By Eesa Japal, BA History & Politics

On 19 November 2021, Chomsky virtually conversed with participants of the Policy Forum Society at SOAS regarding American hegemonic narcissism.

Before the US entered the war, high-level planners and analysts concluded that in the post-war world the United States would seek to hold unquestioned power, to ensure the ‘limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with its global designs.’ Chomsky describes this in his discussion about ‘Imperial Grand Strategy’ from his book ‘Hegemony or Survival.’ One may be confused about what a ‘post-war’ world means – for U.S. foreign policy has continuously enacted wars since World War II.

Chomsky is a revolutionary linguist, astute dissident political commentator and according to the Observer, ‘the world’s greatest public intellectual.’ Since WWII, US hegemony has imposed itself across the world, overthrowing Iran in 1953 and the DRC in 1961, conducting the Vietnam War and invading Iraq and Afghanistan at the dawn of the 21st century. This has led to political tyranny, death and misery in favour of US ‘global designs.’ However, internal social decay, the Vietnam-rooftop reminiscent withdrawal from Afghanistan, and China’s rise, raise questions of America’s place in the world.

On 19 November 2021, Chomsky virtually conversed with participants of the Policy Forum Society at SOAS regarding American hegemonic narcissism. The event was greatly anticipated. He is 92 years old and has been a major political voice since the 1960s. In the hour he mentioned the history of US and Israeli relations, Vietnam, the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Iraq, and much more.

Responding to one audience question: ‘How has US foreign policy become insulated from (domestic) politics?’ Chomsky answered that the ‘US has been long described as a one-party state, the business party, which has two factions, Democrats and Republicans.’ While domestic politics seem to diverge, there is constant continuity in US foreign policy between either faction, suggesting foreign policy politics holds differently.

He eloquently provides an accurate framework for understanding America’s place in world affairs, a prerequisite for hypothesising America’s future global role. He likens geopolitics to the ‘mafia.’ He enunciated this previously. Interviewed by Former Labour Party’s strategy & communications director Seumas Milne, Chomsky explains the ‘Godfather principle,’ straight out of the mafia: that defiance cannot be tolerated. He explains that ‘It’s a major feature of state policy.’ This means ‘successful defiance has to be punished, even where it damages business interests, as in the economic blockade of Cuba – in case “the contagion spreads” further.’ Incidentally, the Church Committee report: Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973 states ‘Castro’s presence spurred a new United States hemispheric policy’ (The Alliance for Progress) aimed to deal with ‘the alarming threat that Castro was seen to represent.’

America is the Godfather; nations only act within the scope of US interests. The Godfather can explicitly share ambitions – what will anyone do about it? Others must ‘workaround, undermine, contain and retaliate against US power’ if they dare procure their own interests. Chomsky quotes internationalist affairs specialist John Ikenberry in Hegemony or Survival: ‘a fundamental commitment to maintaining a unipolar world in which the United States has no peer competitor.’ However, this ‘unipolar’ world is teased by a new competitor to be mentioned shortly…

19 years prior, the US endeavoured to implement ‘preventive war;’ ‘the use of military force to eliminate an imagined or invented threat,’ which does not ‘fall under a reasonable interpretation of the UN charter.’ Of course, the Godfather does not adhere to international law, whether dismissing ‘the (World) court order to terminate its crimes’ in Nicaragua or openly announcing ‘it would ignore the UN Security Council’ regarding Iraq. Here the Godfather’s rule of force supersedes the rule of law.

Now we understand the operations of the Godfather, what is the next move?

One recent development is the AUKUS pact. The UK, US and Australia agreed to supply the latter with nuclear-powered submarines so that the ‘anti-hegemonic coalition’ maintains Indo-Pacific maritime security. Incidentally, ‘Chinese national oil company CNOOC has started producing oil from Lufeng offshore oil fields in the South China Sea, as the Offshore Engineer magazine reports. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, states have ‘the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles from baselines.’ Such platforms work around international law superficially, technically oil drilling is confined to territorial waters, but not of the natural borders of competing nations. The Godfather cannot have China work its trade; this teasing runs roughshod of America’s ‘global designs’ which should be ‘worked around.’

Although it is perhaps too early to accurately predict US intentions, it is evident the seeds have been sowed but the fruits to bear are unclear. Is this another chapter to become or has the Godfather’s time come?

Caption: Photo of Speaker (credit: SOAS Policy Forum Society)

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