Can Solidarity and Sustainability Prevail? Two Books about the US by Josef Joffe and Noam Chomsky expressing Gratitude and Accusation
[This article published in: Freitag 03, 1/19/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2007/03/07031501.php.]
by Ludwig Watzal
These two books could not be more different. The United States of America is the theme in both. However the authors seem to be writing about different countries. With Noam Chomsky, one imagines oneself in the “evil empire.” In contrast, Josef Joffe seeks to reactivate the cliché of the “kindly hegemon.” He shows great appreciation for the US. Happily he doesn’t use the belligerent anti-Islam rhetoric as in some articles of ZEIT. Both authors are differentiated or one-sided in their own way. They do education work with different emphases.
Chomsky emphasizes the shady sides of the imperial policy of his country. Joffe describes the sunny sides of the empire and shows much understanding for the “hyper-power.” But why did Joffe choose for his book title the term “hyper-power” coined by the former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine that critically describes the hegemony of the US at the turn of the millennium?
Chomsky, one of the most famous professors of linguistics of the US, presents another political book with the characteristic title “Failed State.” Readers imagine countries like Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq or “banana republics” classified by US analysts as “failed states.” On the other hand, Chomsky regards his own land as “failed.” This has much to do with the disastrous policy of president George W. Bush. However the author also criticizes the foreign policy of the US presidents since the Second World War.
How could the author classify the US as a “failed state”? He only applied the criteria with which the diverse US “think tanks” rate other states as “failed.” These states could not protect their citizens from violence because their decision-makers subordinated these questions since they were primarily interested in their own material advantage. Their rulers did not observe international law and other international agreements. All this is true for the US, Chomsky argues.
Joffe is much more state supporting. The US is the pivot of world politics. Only the US can ensure an ambivalent “order” in the international system. No other superpower can play this ordering function for the foreseeable future. Don’t Iraq, Afghanistan and relations with the Middle East conflict contradict Joffe’s assumption?
Or is the chaos only due to the missionary zealot George W. Bush? The author takes great pains to show Bill Clinton’s policy as Bush-light, packaged more tastefully in his rhetoric for Europeans.
Chomsky points to the contradictions and double standards of US foreign policy. The Bush administration tramples on the Geneva Convention and international law in the prisoner camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, withdrew President Bill Clinton’s signature from the statute of the International Criminal Court and torpedoes the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In 2000 the US was committed to concrete disarmament measures. Bush unilaterally canceled these measures. Israel violates what was demanded of the Saddam regime, the exact observance of UN resolutions. Therefore the US is the greatest threat to world peace. This thesis is corroborated by the fact that the world public increasingly sets the US in this “top” position.
Joffe’s theses on “anti-Americanism” and “Americanism” are bizarre and reflect ideological bias. He dismissed the polls of the Pew Research Center and those of the German Marshall Fund of the United States together with the Council on Foreign relations in Chicago with the argument that they only evaluated US policy. Their negative result doesn’t surprise empirically oriented contemporaries. Joffe imputes a “hidden agenda” to “Americanism” and sets out on a conspiracy theory terrain that he ascribes to “anti-Americanists.” However anti-American clichés and stereotypes in the Arab world cannot be denied. The pictures from the demonstrations at the World Economic Forum in Davos show that some Europeans are not immune from this stereotyping. Still there is also a great admiration for America. His abrasive thesis of “anti-Americanism” as a “substitute nationalism” of Europeans reveals his assumptions. A common European identity is defined in opposition to the US. Has Joffe forgotten the letter of the ten European “willing” who acted more papal than the pope toward Bush?
Whether Joffe’s analyses will last in 30 years is unclear. His US-American sympathy seems to be an expression of gratitude for the gratis security in the Cold War and the indirect assistance when the wall fell. The author certainly knows Germany paid a high equalization of war burdens in all the years. In contrast, whoever reads Chomsky’s analysis of US-Middle East policy for the first time in the book “Fateful Triangle” published in 1983 and reprinted in 1999 discovers that practically nothing has changed in the conduct of the US in relation to the Middle East conflict.
His critics accuse Chomsky of “anti-Americanism.” With the same right, Joffe could be criticized for “Americanism.” Both allegations are just as sensible as reproaching Jewish citizens of being “self-hating Jews” for criticizing Israel’s oppressive policy toward the Palestinians. Why can’t German opinion and political elite deal with the criticism of politics in other states? Where criticism is necessary as in the case of the US under George W. Bush or Israel’s politics, it must be delivered without being reproached for “anti-Americanism” or “anti-Semitism.” Chomsky’s very critical, realistic book has nothing anti-American but argues only on the basis of facts that question US policy. Readers will have to decide whether the US can really be made responsible for all the “evil” in the world as Chomsky’s massive criticism suggests. His book is always exciting. Whoever sees too much “anti-Americanism” here could take up Joffe’s Hyper-Power. In this way, both sides of German society will be served, the “anti-American” and the “pro-American.”
Noam Chomsky, Failed State, 2006
Josef Joffe, Die Hypermacht. Warum die USA die Welt beherrschen, 2006, 21 EUR