Interventions by Noam Chomsky

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Interventions by Noam Chomsky

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: This collection of op-ed columns by one of the most important political thinkers of our time and the leading voice of dissent in the US presents facts, explains consequences and calls to action on the main issues of foreign policy in a forthright, lucid and convincing way. Required reading for all Americans, and recommended for everybody else.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
ISBN: 978-0241143865

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Interventions is a collection of op-ed columns by Noam Chomsky that New York Times' Syndicate distributed. Despite being distributed by the Syndicate, the columns did not appear in the NYT itself, and in fact have not appeared in any of the major US newspapers (they have been picked by a few regional and local media).

A gifted scientist who single-handedly revolutionised linguistics in the 1950's Chomsky has since become an anarcho-syndicalist prophet and an intellectual powerhouse among thinkers of the left. He's been given more voice in the European (and non-European) media than in his native US, where the mainstream media (including newspapers) are dominated by the conservative paradigm. It's as if the essays collected in Interventions are addressed directly to the American readers: to the citizens of the US, who, are fortunate in that they can do more then anyone else to shape the future.

Most of the over 30 texts that span the period between 2002 and 2007 are to do with the Iraq war, but there are also columns relating to other Middle-Eastern issues (especially incisive and persuasive are the ones on the Palestine-Israel conflict about which Chomsky has been outspoken for a long time) and a few others, from US health insurance to the hurricane Katrina, Hugo Chavez (in fact, the excursions to the field of Latin American politics are particularly interesting) and the mechanics of the US elections.

It's pure politics: refreshingly so, in some ways, in the era when the lifestyle choices and the identity politics of personal is political seem to dominate even the activists' mindsets, Chomsky writes about the old fashioned, eternal, ever-important but sometimes forgotten, seemingly dry and yet affecting everybody's life politics, and specifically, the foreign policy of the United States of America, which, under the presidency of George W. Bush have entered a particularly dangerous path of striving for global dominance, with the belief that they are entitled to unilateral action (including aggression against other states) in any situation that is deemed advantageous to the US interest. This policy is not only illegal in the light of international law, not only results in a massive toll of human suffering but is also dangerous and leads to a destabilised world in which the dangers of both terrorism and probability of nuclear conflict resulting in the destruction of humanity vastly increase.

Chomsky's arguments are clear, well reasoned and usually unemotional (though he did allow himself occasional sarcasm towards certain figures, particularly Wolfowitz). His writing is more than usually accessible, though the long-word quotient is still probably on the high side (but none of the words are particularly threatening and he uses them with precision and in a lucid manner). There is repetition, which is expected in a collection of what would originally be dispersed writings, but as the repetition emphasises the most important points, it's actually quite welcome.

For a reader, probably more so a British one, that tends to read left-leaning press; or for anybody who uses independent media accounts and commentaries available online, what Interventions contains is largely preaching to the converted: especially the earlier columns state the blindingly obvious. And yet still, even for somebody who pretty much knows the facts and agrees with the interpretations, the overall picture that emerges is so breathtaking in its reality that it can be nothing but a powerful call to action because faced with the reality of the world in which the US government has openly declared its intentions to rule by force, where "stability" is a codename for subordination to the US interests, the American people, as well as citizens of other countries that support the US policies, need to make a choice - perhaps while they still can. Chomsky's voice is vital and authoritative and the clear picture it presents might make this choice easier.

His diagnosis of the global play for power is clear, his perception of the dangers based on solid understanding, but neither are pessimistic. His faith in the ability of people to want to and to effect the change for the better is unwavering, his belief in democracy complete (welcome here where the political process seems to regress to pseudo-participation and increasingly autocratic social control via the micro-management of individuals) and he picks examples from Brazil to the US itself that show that it is possible. The agenda begins with trying out what is happening in the world (...) Few share our privilege, power and freedom - hence responsibility.

Thank to the good people at Hamish Hamilton for publishing this collection and for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a more centrist (while still very critical of current policies) look at the Iraq war, read Robert J Jackson's Temptations of Power.

For an impassioned look at real-life, on-the-ground effects of the imperial will and the current state of world power balance read John Pilger's Freedom Next Time. You might also appreciate Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant.

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