Join Date: Apr 2006
Are Chavez and Chomsky Right About American "Empire"?
Friday, September 22, 2006
When a foreign leader comes to the UN General Assembly and identifies the President of the United States as "the devil" (not A devil, but THE big guy himself) then it's hard to pay serious attention to the rest of his speech.
But the address by Hugo Chavez deserves more substantive attention than it's received because it so precisely echoes the common attacks on this country regularly launched by the international left, including numerous academics, bloggers, activists and other opinion leaders in the USA itself.
The essence of this criticism (elucidated in Noam Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United States," the book recommended so relentlessly by Chavez in his speech) involves the charge that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has become the world's dominant, all-powerful Empire. It's not only lefties who believe this: in 1999, the notorious non-Leftist Pat Buchanan wrote a bestselling book called "A Republic, Not an Empire" that also discerned imperialist aspirations in American foreign policy. Pitchfork Pat might have even found some sympathy for some of the ardent words by Mr. Chavez in his speech to the United Nations. In addressing the absent President Bush, the President of Venezuela declared: "I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations."
And how, exactly, has America, demonstrated lack of respect, or disregarded the sovereignty of nations? Where have we set up this elusive "American Empire" that America-haters everywhere love to decry?
A dictionary definition might prove helpful at this point-- enabling us to discover that the word "empire" signifies "supreme rule, absolute power or authority; domination" or "government by an emperor or empress" or "a group of states or territories under one sovereign power." Which of these descriptions fits America's current situation?
Recent history actually provides a far better definition of "empire" or "imperialism" than any dictionary: the old Soviet Union constituted an unquestionably imperialistic power and had indeed assembled an "Evil Empire." One of the characteristics of that empire involved the "absolute power and authority" over neighboring states, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, and so many more. As part of the empire, these components couldn't possible defy the "supreme rule" in Moscow. If they did, they got tanks in the streets, as in Budapest in 1956, or Prague in 1968.
Has the United States subjugated any nation, anywhere, in this imperialist manner? Even Cuba, a mere 90 miles away from our shores, has defied and conspired against the United States, without provoking the easy military response that would unequivocally crush that resistance were we a genuine imperialist power.
In fact, no imperialist power would allow the emergence of numerous hostile, but democratically elected governments in our own hemisphere, including the current rulers of Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and, in Venezuela, the irrepressible Mr. Chavez himself. The United States may enjoy economic, even cultural influence in many (if not all) of these countries but the political control normally associated with Empire simply doesn't exist -- a fact that's more obvious today, with the recent leftist sweep in the hemisphere, than it was a decade ago. And concerning the "economic exploitation" that allegedly characterizes our business relations with developing nations, that's also a far cry from imperialism's exploitaiton of colonies. According to mercantile principles, the mother country is supposed to enrich herself through the colonies; in America's case, developing nations enrich themselves (and often to our detriment) by selling us stuff, or taking our aid. Wouldn't a true imperial power drive down the price of a commodity as essential to itself as oil, rather than allowing a capricious cartel led by Saudia Arabia to set the cost of energy according to its own whims and interests?
The only two nations on earth that the US may be said to "dominate" and "rule" through force are, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan -- both special cases in which the United States clearly wants to establish governments strong enough to excercise true independence and even to defy us -- allowing our troops to withdraw as soon as possible. No one looking at the balance sheet behind the present and recent past can plausibly argue that our current, lavishly costly efforts to strengthen struggling democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq can enrich our coffers in any way.
Despite the comments of Hugo Chavez regarding the speech by President Bush ("I think we should call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the President of the United States"), the address to the UN by the Leader of the Free World remains persuasive and compelling in portraying our true goals. "Every civilized nation, incluing those in the Muslim world, must support those in the region who are offering a more hopeful alternative," President Bush declared. "We know that when people have a voice in their future, they are less likely to blow themselves up in suicide attacks... Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed -- it must be chosen."
He's right, of course -- and a nation that refuses to impose freedom, or any other governmental or economic structure, on even our closest neighbors, can hardly justify the title of "Empire," whatever the scale of its economic and cultural influence.