All posts by Excerpt of Essay by Noam Chomsky

Imperial Ambition

In the wake of the US war on Iraq] [t]here is growing fear of US power, which is considered to be the greatest threat to peace in much of the world, probably by a large majority. And with the technology of destruction now at hand, rapidly becoming more lethal and ominous, threat to peace means threat to survival.

Fear of the US government is not based solely on this invasion, but on the background from which it arises: An openly-declared determination to rule the world by force, the one dimension in which US power is supreme, and to make sure that there will never be any challenge to that domination. Preventive wars are to be fought at will: Preventive, not Pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might sometimes be, they do not hold for the very different category of preventive war: the use of military force to eliminate an imagined or invented threat. The openly-announced goal is to prevent a challenge to the “power, position, and prestige of the United States.” Such challenge, now or in the future, and any sign that it may emerge, will be met with overwhelming force by the rulers of the country that now apparently outspends the rest of the world combined on means of violence, and is forging new and very dangerous paths over near-unanimous world opposition: development of lethal weaponry in space, for example.

It is worth bearing in mind that the words I quoted above are not those of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or other radical statist extremists now in charge. Rather, they are the words of the respected elder statesman Dean Acheson, 40 years ago, when he was a senior advisor to the Kennedy Administration. He was justifying US actions against Cuba – knowing that the international terrorist campaign aimed at “regime change” had just brought the world close to terminal nuclear war. Nevertheless, he instructed the American Society of International Law, no “legal issue” arises in the case of a US response to a challenge to its “power, position, and prestige,” specifically terrorist attacks and economic warfare against Cuba.

I bring this up as a reminder that the issues are deep-seated. The current administration is at the extremist end of the policy-planning spectrum, and its adventurism and penchant for violence are unusually dangerous. But the spectrum is not that broad, and unless these deeper issues are addressed, we can be confident that other ultrareactionary extremists will gain control of incredible means of devastation and repression.

The “imperial ambition” of the current power holders, as it is frankly called, has aroused shudders throughout the world, including the mainstream of the establishment at home. Elsewhere, of course, the reactions are far more fearful, particularly among the traditional victims. They know too much history, the hard way, to be comforted by exalted rhetoric. They have heard enough of that over the centuries as they were being beaten by the club called “civilization.” Just a few days ago, the head of the non-aligned movement, which includes the governments of most of the world’s population, described the Bush administration as more aggressive than Hitler. He happens to be very pro-American, and right in the middle of Washington’s international economic projects. And there is little doubt that he speaks for many of the traditional victims, and by now even for many of their traditional oppressors.

It is easy to go on, and important to think these matters through, with care and honesty.

Even before the Bush administration sharply escalated these fears in recent months, intelligence and international affairs specialists were informing anyone who wanted to listen that the policies Washington is pursuing are likely to lead to an increase in terror and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or simply deterrence. There are two ways for Washington to respond to the threats engendered by its actions and startling proclamations. One way is to try to alleviate the threats by paying some attention to legitimate grievances, and by agreeing to become a civilized member of a world community, with some respect for world order and its institutions. The other way is to construct even more awesome engines of destruction and domination, so that any perceived challenge, however remote, can be crushed – provoking new and greater challenges. That way poses serious dangers to the people of the US and the world, and may, very possibly, lead to extinction of the species – not an idle speculation.

Terminal nuclear war has been avoided by near miracle in the past; a few months before Acheson’s speech, to mention one case that should be fresh in our minds today. Threats are severe and mounting. The world has good reason to watch what is happening in Washington with fear and trepidation. The people who are best placed to relieve those fears, and to lead the way to a more hopeful and constructive future, are the citizens of the United States, who can shape the future.