My take on Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post 9/11 World (featuring David Barsamian's interviews with Noam Chomsky)

Once Again "The Heretic" Takes the Empire to Task

As you read these words, I have little doubt that The Grand Inquisitor for the Bush regime is aching for a shot at The Empire’s ultimate heretic. Noam Chomsky has been a consistent intellectual thorn in the collective sides of the Machiavellians comprising the ruling elite in the United States for years. I recently had the pleasure of reading his latest, Imperial Ambitions: Conversation on the Post-9/11 World. Difficult as it is to imagine (if one has read Chomsky), I breezed through the nine chapters in about two hours. Throughout the 201 pages, interviewer David Barsamian poses probing questions, which serve to pry open the burgeoning treasure trove of knowledge and activate the analytical juggernaut comprising Avram Noam Chomsky's brain. With little prompting from Barsamian, Chomsky unleashes an onslaught of profound insights into how the world has changed since 9/11, and on America's role in shaping and effecting that change.

Glad he is only a "part-timer"

Best known for his contributions to the study of linguistics through his theory of generative grammar, this Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been the most intelligent, vehement critic of the US government during the current and the preceding centuries. Consistently writing (and speaking publicly) in a calm, thoughtful manner, for years Professor Chomsky charged America's ruling establishment and its obedient press corps with some of the most heinous crimes against humanity one could imagine. His political activism has spanned decades while his impressive list of books assailing the US government has continued to grow. His perception, insight, and presentation of evidence to support his dissidence are without equal.  And activism is his "hobby". I feel assured that there are many amongst America's ruling elite who count their blessings that Dr. Chomsky has focused so much of his attention on his linguistics studies.

A Dead Civilian a Day Keeps the Terrorists at Bay?

"The new doctrine was not one of preemptive war, which arguably falls within some stretched interpretation of the UN Charter, but rather a doctrine that doesn't begin to have any grounds in international law, namely, preventive war. That is, the United States will rule the world by force, and if there is any challenge to its domination---whether it is perceived in the distance, invented, imagined, or whatever--then the United States will have the right to destroy that challenge before it becomes a threat. That's preventive war, not preemptive war."

Chomsky goes on to dissect the manner in which the Bush regime has implemented its doctrine of preventive war and "normalized it". By virtue of its sheer might and  through the masterful propaganda which convinced its citizenry that invading Iraq was necessary to defend the “homeland”, the United States has established such a war of aggression as "acceptable behavior" for a legitimate government. Essentially, Chomsky concludes that the Bush administration, its collaborating wealthy elite and its supportive corporate leviathans imposed their will to expand the American Empire through instilling the fear in other nations that they could be in the cross-hairs of an incredibly powerful military, and by shamelessly telling unprecedented lies to the American people.

As a result, Chomsky asserts, "George Bush has succeeded within a year in converting the United States to a country that is greatly feared, disliked, and even hated."

What's happening on the home front?

Despite the glowing reports in the mainstream media about the economy's health and the woeful lack of honest coverage of the attack on democracy by the Bush regime, the truths about both the soaring wealth gap and the installation of tyrannical government mechanisms have been widely disseminated on the Internet. Chomsky commented on both at one point in the book when Barsamian asked him how the government could maintain perpetual warfare against multiple nations:

"Meanwhile they will have undermined social programs and diminished democracy---which of course they hate---by transferring decisions out of the public arena into private hands. Internally, the legacy they leave will be painful and hard, but only for a majority of the population. The people they're concerned about are going to be making out like bandits, very much like during the Reagan years. Many of the same people are in power now, after all."

Using the formidable tool of his piercing insight, Dr. Chomsky penetrates deeply into the lie-enshrouded Bush domestic agenda. Continuing to manipulate Americans through fear (a legitimate fear spawned by the actual collapse of the WTC and then elevated to an obscene level by propaganda of Orwellian proportions), the Social Darwinists who hold the reins of the US government continue in their "long term effort to destroy the institutional basis for social support systems, to eliminate the programs such as Social Security that are based on the conception that people have to have some concern for one another. The idea that we should feel sympathy and solidarity, that we should care whether the disabled widow across town is able to eat, has to be driven from our minds." Besides severely minimizing or eliminating social programs, the ruling elites have a more sinister agenda, which Dr. Chomsky unveils. Continued implementation of this agenda will enable the Social Darwinists to strip away social support systems while simultaneously enjoying the consent of many Americans. They are targeting both the programs and the impetus for their existence. Malevolent yet brilliant.

Speaking of terrorism....

Through Barsamian's prompting, Chomsky spends some time dissecting the phenomenon of fear in the United States. As Chomsky notes, America is the most secure nation in history. Readily capable of dominating the rest of the world's combined militaries with its tremendous arsenal while occupying a land mass flanked by vast oceans, America's citizenry has as little to fear as any nation on the globe. Dr. Chomsky notes that crime and drug abuse rates in the United States are about the same as those in other industrialized nations. Yet many Americans feel perpetually frightened and insecure. Chomsky does not reach a definite conclusion on the source of American anxiety, but does note that the US government exploits this potent emotion in a powerful way by employing propaganda through the mainstream media to shepherd its corrupt agenda through America’s “democratic system”.

As is usually the case, Chomsky comments extensively on the numerous acts of state terrorism perpetrated by the US government over the years. He refers to The Fog of War, a documentary in which Robert McNamara agrees with General Curtis LeMay's statement that if the US had lost WW II, they would have been prosecuted as war criminals. Chomsky notes that as McNamara reflected on his role as a key strategist in US imperialist actions which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, he pondered, "But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"

Referring to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, Chomsky illustrates the point that the since the Allies were the victors, they determined what constituted a war crime. "The tribunal had to decide what would be considered a war crime, and they made the operational definition of a war crime anything the enemy did that the Allies didn't do." Blessed with the self-granted freedom to make up their own rules, the Allies determined that bombing urban centers and killing hundreds of thousands of women and children did not qualify as criminal behavior. Thus, the carefully calculated firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima went unpunished, reducing the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals to ludicrous acts of hypocrisy.

Building on the theme of hypocrisy, Chomsky revisits the Bush regime's policy of preventive war. He points out that Henry Kissinger approved of the doctrine so long as it did not become "a universal principle available to every nation." With the illegal Iraqi invasion, the United States has established its perverse right to invade a sovereign nation on a whim, but reserves that right as a privilege granted only unto them.

Coupling with the preventive war policy is the Bush regime's decree that "those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves." Examining this striking statement with his penetrating analysis, Chomsky quickly discards nations that are "harboring heads of state" because "if we include them, the discussion reduces to absurdity in no time." Focusing on "groups or individuals officially regarded as terrorists", Chomsky cites several examples living freely today within the United States. Orlando Bosch, who was involved in destroying a Cuban airliner and killing 73 people, and whom the Justice Department wanted to deport, was the recipient of a presidential pardon at the behest of Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Chomsky also points to Emmanuel Constant as a terrorist finding safe harbor in the United States. Despite his murder of several thousand Haitians, the United States will not extradite him.

Stretching back a bit in history, Chomsky briefly discusses the Cold War. Embedded in this discourse are more valuable nuggets of information. He reveals (based on previously sealed documents in Russian archives) that the Russians knew that the goal of the United States during the Cold War was "to spend them (the Russians) into economic destruction by compelling them to enter an arms race they couldn't survive--remember, their economy was much smaller than ours." As the military industrial complex was gearing up to become a money-making machine for corporate America and its complicit politicians, the United States chose to take the world to the brink of nuclear war rather than attempting to negotiate a treaty with its reluctant opponent in the arms race. How typical of the Empire.

He holds a special place in his heart for our 40th president "When enemies commit crimes, they're crimes. In fact, we can exaggerate and lie about them with complete impunity. When we commit crimes, they didn't happen. And you see that very strikingly in the cult of Reagan worship, which was created through a massive propaganda campaign. Reagan's regime was one of murder, brutality, and violence, which devastated a number of countries and probably left two hundred thousand people dead in Latin America, with hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows. But this can't be mentioned here. It didn't happen."

Professor Chomsky elaborates on the deeply criminal nature of the Reagan administration. One example he provides is John Negroponte, who is currently the Director of National Intelligence for the United States, and who acted as Reagan's "point man" as ambassador to Honduras. According to Chomsky, Negoponte's tasks included supervising "the camps in which the mercenary army was being trained, armed, and organized to carry out the atrocities (in Nicaragua), atrocities for which it was condemned by the World Court." Chomsky also points out Reagan's policy of "constructive engagement" with the government of South Africa, in spite of its Apartheid policies, and the Reagan regime's claim that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress was one of the "more notorious terrorist groups" in the world.

Chomsky arrives at two particularly entertaining conclusions about Reagan: 1. "Again the kindest thing you can say about Reagan is that he probably didn't know what he was saying."

2. "Reagan was an incredible coward."

He also observes that Reagan was not a popular president. He cites Reagan's Gallup poll ratings during his presidency as being "roughly average, below every one of his successors, except for Bush II." Chomsky points out  that "by 1992, Reagan had become the most unpopular living former president apart from Richard Nixon." He uses the atrocities committed under Reagan, the ineptitude of the man, and his lackluster poll results as evidence of the power of the US propaganda machine, which has been able to beatify this miscreant in the minds of many Americans.

Continuing his discussion on the power and the mechanisms of "imperial propaganda", Chomsky arrives at another sparkling conclusion:

"It was well understood, long before George Orwell, that memory must be repressed. Not only memory but consciousness of what's happening right in front of you must be repressed, because if the public comes to understand what's being done in its name, it probably won't permit it."

Erudition, activism, and dissent are his hallmarks

The further I got into Imperial Ambitions, the more I realized how far Chomsky's knowledge base extends, and how much of his criticism of the US government extends beyond foreign policy. For example, he comments briefly on the surprisingly large and dangerous segment of the US population which practices fundamentalist Christianity (the Religious Right, if you will):

"There is nothing like it in any other industrial country. And Bush has to keep throwing these people red meat to keep them in line. While they're getting shafted by Bush's economic and social policies, he's got to make them think he's doing something for them. But throwing red meat to that constituency is very dangerous for the world, because it means violence and aggression, but also for the country, because it means seriously harming civil liberties."

I know from experience that it is virtually inevitable for readers to ask a writer who advocates social justice (and writes in dissent against their government) what people can do to evoke change. Professor Chomsky addresses this issue at several points throughout the book. His resounding theme is perseverance. He urges activists to participate in protests, join groups or movements pushing for social change, educate themselves and others, and employ the Constitutional rights available to them before the Bush regime revokes them. The power of the ruling elite lies in its ability to induce apathy in the population with television and consumerism, to manipulate the under-educated through propaganda, and to divide and conquer with hot-button issues like abortion.

Chomsky states, "The genius of American politics has been to marginalize and isolate people." His suggestion is to take our cue from movements like the Abolitionists. His message is that by working together for the causes of peace and social justice, while persisting in the face of incremental progress and powerful obstacles, we can achieve our goals.

I highly recommend Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post 9/11 World. For those who have not read Chomsky, this book would make an excellent primer. It is much lighter reading than some of his others, and it captures his thoughts on a diverse range of issues. I recommend that you initiate your studies of Chomsky's unique viewpoint by starting with this book. If you have read Chomsky, and you are like me, you can scarcely get enough of his discerning commentary. If that is the case, do not deprive yourself of Imperial Ambitions. This is Chomsky at his finest.

Jason Miller is a 38 year old activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He works in the transportation industry, and is a husband and a father to three boys. His affiliations include Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at or comments on his blog at