On Shutdown, Waning US Influence, Syrian Showdown

Interview with Noam Chomsky, published on truthout, by Harrison Samphir, Oct 8, 2013 (also on ZNet).

Noam Chomsky gives his perspective on the US government shutdown, the Syrian civil war, capitalist reform in South America and more in a Truthout interview … //

… HS: How do see the shutdown ending?   

  • NC: Well the shutdown itself is bad but not devastating. The real danger will come up in a couple of weeks. There’s legislation which is in fact routine – it’s passed every year – which allows the government to borrow money, otherwise it can’t function. If Congress does not approve this budget request, the government may have to default. That’s never happened. And a default of the US government would not only be very harmful here, it would probably send the country back into deep recession, but it just might crash the international financial system. Now, maybe they’ll find ways around it, but the financial system of the world depends very heavily on the credibility of the US Treasury Department. US Treasury securities are what’s called “good as gold”; they’re the basis of international finance, and if the government can’t uphold them, if they become valueless, the effect on the international financial system could be quite severe. But in order to destroy a limited health-care law, the right-wing Republicans, the reactionary Republicans, are willing to do that.
  • Now there’s a split in the US about how this will be resolved. The main point to look at is the split within the Republican Party. The Republican establishment, and Wall Street, and the bankers, and the corporate executives and so on, they don’t want this. They don’t want it at all. It’s the part of the base that is mobilized that wants it. And they’re finding it hard to control that base. There’s a reason why they have a collection of near crazies as the base. Over the past 30 or 40 years, both political parties have drifted to the right. Same thing’s happened in Canada, incidentally. This is all part of the whole neoliberal shift in the economy. But the parties have shifted to the right. Today’s Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans a generation ago. And the Republicans went so far to the right that they just can’t get votes. They’ve become a dedicated party of the very rich and the corporate sector. And you can’t get votes that way. So they’ve been compelled to mobilize a base of voters and gone to elements of the country that have always been there but were kind of marginal to the political system, for example, religious extremists. The United States is off the international spectrum in religious extremism. I mean half of the population, roughly, thinks the world was created a couple thousand years ago. Two thirds of the country is expecting the second coming of Christ. They’ve also had to turn to nativists. The gun culture in the United States, which is out of control, is party fueled by people who think ‘we’ve got to have our guns to protect ourselves.’ Protect ourselves from whom? From the United Nations? From the federal government? From people from outer space?
  • There are big, extremely irrational parts of the society, and they have now been mobilized politically by the Republican establishment, hoping that these people could be an electoral base to keep them in power, but on the assumption that they’d be able to control them. And that’s turning out not to be easy. You actually saw it in the last primaries if you were watching. The Republican Primaries were quite interesting. The establishment had its candidate, Romney, a kind of a Wall Street lawyer and investor, and they wanted him in. But the base didn’t want him. And every time a candidate came up from the base, that is with popular support, the Republican establishment went into high gear to destroy them with massive propaganda attack ads and so on. It was one after another, each one crazier than the last. And the Republican establishment is afraid of them, they don’t want them. So they were able to keep them under control and get their own candidate in. But they’re losing control of the base, and that’s a deep dilemma for the Republican Party.
  • Actually, I’m sorry to say it has some historical analogs. It’s kind of reminiscent of what happened in Germany in the late Weimar years. German industrialists wanted to use the Nazis, who were a relatively small group, as a battering ram against the labour movement and the left. They thought they control them but it turns out they were wrong. They couldn’t control them. I’m not saying that will happen here, it’s quite a different set of circumstances, but something similar is taking place. The Republican establishment, the mainstream corporate financial wealth, is getting to a point where it can’t control the base it’s mobilized.

HS: Turning now to foreign policy, it seems as though news about Syria has effectively vanished from the mainstream media since the agreement was reached to confiscate Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. Can you comment on this silence? Does it reflect Western apathy vis-à-vis foreign conflicts, which are mostly viewed through sanitized television news programs? … //

… HS: You have recently stated that American power in the world is declining. Will that limit the extent to which the United States might, to borrow your phrase from 1994’s World Orders Old and New, “suppress independent development” in foreign nations? Do you think we live now in a bipolar world, or is that changing? Is the Monroe Doctrine finished completely?

  • NC: Well, that’s not a prediction. It’s already happened. And it’s happened in the [Western] hemisphere very dramatically. What the Monroe Doctrine stated, in effect, is that the US should dominate the hemisphere. For the past century or so that’s actually been true, but it’s declining very significantly. South America has virtually broken away in the last decade. That’s an event of historic significance. South America just doesn’t follow US orders. In fact there isn’t a single US military base left there. South America goes its own way dramatically in international affairs. There was a hemispheric conference I think about two years ago in Colombia. It couldn’t reach a consensus, so there was no declaration that came out, [but] on the crucial issues, Canada and the US were totally isolated. The rest of the hemisphere voted one way, and the US and Canada rejected it. So there couldn’t be a consensus. The two issues were admitting Cuba into the hemispheric system and moving towards decriminalizing some drugs. The rest of the countries are in favor of it; Canada and the U.S. aren’t.
  • The same is true on other issues. You’ll remember a few weeks ago several countries in Europe, [including] France and Italy, blocked the presidential plane of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, and when it was forced to land in Austria, they inspected the plane, all of which is a grotesque violation of diplomatic protocol. The South American countries bitterly condemned this. The Organization of American States, which used to be run by the United States, issued a sharp condemnation, but with a footnote. The US and Canada refused to go along. They are now increasingly isolated in the hemisphere, and sooner or later, I think we’re going to find that the US and Canada are simply excluded from hemispheric affairs. That’s a sharp reversal of what was the case not long ago.

HS: Latin America is the current center of capitalist reform. Ecuador and Peru, for example, are keeping nature’s oil in the ground, while other nations have pursued nationalization programs in an effort to ward off heavy foreign investment and financial manipulation. Will these types of systems eventually gain traction in the West?

  • NC: Well, you’re right. Latin America was the most obedient follower of the neoliberal regime that was instituted by the United States, its allies and the international financial institutions. They followed it most rigorously. Almost everyone who’s followed those rules, including the Western countries, have suffered. And in Latin America they suffered severely. They went through several difficult lost decades. Well, part of the uprising of Latin America, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years, has been a reaction to that, and they have thrown out a lot of these measures and moved in a different direction. In earlier years, the US would have overthrown the governments or, one way or another, curtailed them. Now, it can’t do that.

HS: Very recently, the United States saw its very first climate change refugees [Yup'ik Eskimos] on the southern coastal tip of Alaska. This puts human impact on the ecosphere into morbid perspective. What is your position on a carbon tax, and in your estimation, how popular might such a measure be in the United States and elsewhere? … //

… (full long interview text).

Links:

Fortress Europe: How the EU Turns Its Back on Refugees, on Spiegel Online International, by SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff, October 09, 2013 (Photo Gallery): They come seeking refuge, but when asylum seekers cross into the European Union, they often find little compassion. In Greece, they are held in squalid detention camps, while in Italy they often end up on the street. Here is what they face at entry points across the EU …;

Graphs – Asylum in Europe by the Numbers:

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