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Noam Chomsky: The Decline of American Empire (Part 2)

The principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, but the capacity to implement them has markedly declined.

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Apart from such elementary considerations of great power politics as these, there are cultural factors that should not be ignored.  Christian Zionism in Britain and the U.S. long preceded Jewish Zionism, and has been a significant elite phenomenon with clear policy implications (including the Balfour Declaration, which drew from it).  When General Allenby conquered Jerusalem during World War I, he was hailed in the American press as Richard the Lion-Hearted, who had at last won the Crusades and driven the pagans out of the Holy Land.

The next step was for the Chosen People to return to the land promised to them by the Lord.  Articulating a common elite view, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race.” Such attitudes find their place easily within the Providentialist doctrines that have been a strong element in popular and elite culture since the country’s origins: the belief that God has a plan for the world and the U.S. is carrying it forward under divine guidance, as articulated by a long list of leading figures.

Moreover, evangelical Christianity is a major popular force in the U.S.  Further toward the extremes, End Times evangelical Christianity also has enormous popular outreach, invigorated by the establishment of Israel in 1948, revitalized even more by the conquest of the rest of Palestine in 1967 -- all signs that End Times and the Second Coming are approaching.

These forces have become particularly significant since the Reagan years, as the Republicans have abandoned the pretense of being a political party in the traditional sense, while devoting themselves in virtual lockstep uniformity to servicing a tiny percentage of the super-rich and the corporate sector.  However, the small constituency that is primarily served by the reconstructed party cannot provide votes, so they have to turn elsewhere. 

The only choice is to mobilize tendencies that have always been present, though rarely as an organized political force: primarily nativists trembling in fear and hatred, and religious elements that are extremists by international standards but not in the U.S.  One outcome is reverence for alleged Biblical prophecies, hence not only support for Israel and its conquests and expansion, but passionate love for Israel, another core part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates -- with Democrats, again, not too far behind.

These factors aside, it should not be forgotten that the “Anglosphere” -- Britain and its offshoots -- consists of settler-colonial societies, which rose on the ashes of indigenous populations, suppressed or virtually exterminated.  Past practices must have been basically correct, in the U.S. case even ordained by Divine Providence.  Accordingly there is often an intuitive sympathy for the children of Israel when they follow a similar course.  But primarily, geostrategic and economic interests prevail, and policy is not graven in stone.

The Iranian “Threat” and the Nuclear Issue

Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issues addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the “threat of Iran.” Among elites and the political class this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order -- though not among populations.  In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace.  In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the U.S., to the extent that in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80% felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons.  The same polls found that only 10% regard Iran as a threat -- unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.

 
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