Given this argument, it is not surprising that there is considerable overlap between Bricmont’s work and that of Noam Chomsky (although it should be said that Bricmont has a lighter touch in his prose). Readers of the latter are undoubtedly roughly familiar with the many coups the US has engineered, and the numerous crimes committed by the US military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq as it seeks to ‘export democracy’. Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading by people already familiar with Chomsky’s line of thinking. That is because Bricmont focuses much of his energy on fallacies prevalent on the left (including Chomsky’s own tendency to overestimate the capacity of the US to do whatever it wants). For example, Bricmont takes apart the ‘neither/nor’ approach (neither Milosevic nor NATO, neither Saddam nor Bush) for being both unrealistic (not waging war would ultimately strengthen the hand of the relevant foe, however this is a lesser evil the left should forthrightly come to terms with) and for obscuring the enormous power asymmetries involved in these confrontations (now that Saddam has been hanged, and Iraq is in ruins, what equivalent judgment will fall on George W. Bush’s shoulders?). But he also challenges declarations that the left must support some force (the Iraqi resistance, the Zapatistas, Palestinians, etc). Unless people are planning to send money, arms, or themselves to fight alongside of those they support, such declarations are purely rhetorical, and simply obscure and complicate the message of the anti-imperialist forces. He also casts a skeptical eye on the production of proposals to resolve the situation in Iraq, Palestine, or elsewhere. Such proposals can create a false sense that a solution to the conflict is in sight, rather than focusing on shifting the balance of forces that will be necessary before a change in the situation will occur (I would add that focusing on this balance of forces question — asking what groups [churches, unions, portions of the population, etc.] can be brought over to our side, and how our strength could be best mobilized, would be a valuable alternative to the opiate of thunderous, but repetitious denunciations of the Democratic leadership).
Bricmont also revitalizes several arguments of the ‘old left’, to good effect. For example, he reminds us that the third world socialism of the twentieth century was largely authoritarian in good part because US intervention repeatedly destroyed more democratic attempts at reform.
Rethinking the slogan of the World Social Forum, he asks what sort of world might have been possible if Arbenz, Mossadegh, Allende, et al. had not been overthrown. Bricmont also questions why political and civil rights are now held in such high esteem, while questions of social and economic rights are declared irrelevant. Is it so self evident that the free transmission of
literature is more important than people having enough to eat? Is there nothing to be said for governments such as Cuba that have made real progress on the latter, particularly when compared with various democracies in the region that have not?
Bricmont has one strategic suggestion for the left that should be taken very seriously. Given the failure of existing human rights organizations to take issues of war and economic bullying seriously, he calls for the formation of an ‘imperialism watch’ that would focus on all the different expressions of US/Western imperialism. Such an organization could denounce not only military invasions, but also intervention in elections, the production of new military bases, high handed economic behavior, etc. Not unlike current human rights campaigns, it might help to produce campaigns around several of these issues at once, although, unlike the human rights groups, there would of course be no hint that intervention by the West might be a relevant last resort. I can see several advantages such an organization would have over the current expressions of the peace movement. It would not hinge its existence on stopping or ending one particular war. It would not invest messianic hopes either in those who are militarily opposing the US, or in those who are electorally opposing the current regime within the US. To the extent that such an imperialism watch was successful, another world might truly be possible.