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Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky

A small side note

A couple of months ago, I was looking at books in a second-hand bookstore with a friend. There are quite a few sizeable second-hand book stores on MG Road in Bangalore, and I go there a few times every year. In the age of Google and e-books, exploring through stacks of books in a rustic bookstore is a slightly offbeat experience. The variety of topics and the unfamiliar authors reminded me of my childhood when I explored book fares and bought thick books, never to read them. In some ways, the Internet has made finding books much more straightforward. Now, I just need to think of a topic, and I can find the best book with a few Google searches. That book is just a few clicks away, and in a few days, I am sitting and reading it.

A couple of months ago, I did not want to return from the book store empty-handed, and I looked around for a book I would be interested in reading, and I came across ‘Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky’. I know Noam Chomsky as an anti-establishment left-wing commentator in the US who has inspired many left-wing views I’ve read online. Here was a book critiquing American Foreign Policy, and since I didn’t know that much on the subject, I believed it would make for an informative read.

The book gave me insight into US foreign policy. Unfortunately, this book required background knowledge of American foreign policy and Foreign policy in general, a domain where my knowledge was lacking. Hence, despite my side readings, my overall understanding of the events is not holistic. I will need to study the proper chronological order of events to understand the issues better.

Thoughts on the Book

This book was written in the 1990s, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the major themes in the book is that the ideals espoused are not the basis of American foreign policy. Instead, they are a means to gaslight the American public into supporting American foreign policy. Hence the foreign military interventions undertaken by the Americans usually aim to install a pro-business, pro-American regime. These regimes are not held to the same standards of human rights, and ‘Democratic values’ as regimes antagonistic to America are. The book supports these conclusions by analysing American Foreign policy, mostly towards Central American Republics.

Many of the Central American republics are either supported by the US or are actively undermined by the US. The US interferes in the elections of unfriendly regimes by supporting insurgent groups both economically and militarily in addition to economic sanctions on the country as a whole. This interference is continued until the pro-American group gain power in the state. Hence one can argue that American foreign policy is used to arm-twist the public into supporting its candidate.

When this does not work, the US uses more active means to bring down the government, such as direct military action. Noam Chomsky highlights these strategies by critiquing events till the 1980s in various Central American republics such as Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

During the cold war, the US took the mantle of combating communist influence globally. Hence any spread of communism was viewed as an existential threat to the American way of life. Pro-labour movements or governments were perceived as communist threats which needed to be neutralised. This policy was especially true of Central and Latin America, where US influence was the largest. The USA also considered procurement of Soviet arms in this region as a military threat to itself. If necessary, under the pretext of a defensive war, any nation in this region taking Soviet assistance needed to be reigned in by military force. These Central or Latin American republics usually sought Soviet assistance after US economic sanctions since this left their economies wrecked.

Towards the end of the cold war, American foreign policy was influenced by another factor: the war on drugs. The book argues that the policies followed due to these threats caused widespread suffering and death in these countries. Western intellectuals never acknowledged this price, much of which is caused by denial of human rights.

In addition to the foreign interventions in Central America, Noam Chomsky also discusses American foreign policy in the Philippines, in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and Iraq during the Gulf war of 1991. He also discusses the Palestine-Israel conflict. Domestic support for American Foreign Policy is usually built on the threat of communism or the drug menace. The Gulf war was a defence of rules-based order, but Noam Chomsky argues that The Americans have themselves violated this rules-based order on various occasions. The Middle East is a critical region for American foreign policy due to the large oil reserves. Its foreign policy is dictated less by principles of democracy and human rights and more by its economic interests.

In my opinion, the ideals may have provided pretence for American self-interest, but it seems as though they have eroded American authority on foreign affairs over the years. Today there seems to be a growing internal debate in the US regarding its past foreign policy and suspicion of its foreign policy posturing recently. Especially after the Iraq and Afghan war, there seems to be much more suspicion of American Intelligence. Similarly, with the advent of individual political thinkers not affiliated with corporate media houses, these views have percolated more and more into the mainstream.

With the rise of countries in Asia, the American point of view is challenged a lot more than before. In an interdependent world with information available at one’s fingertips, it is much easier to access viewpoints from across the globe, which raises uncomfortable questions for all parties involved. Today, there seems to be much more talk about hidden motives behind nations’ foreign policy than before. The views written in this book thirty years ago seem to be much more mainstream today.

2 thoughts on “Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky

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