by Noam Chomsky
November 5, 2013
During the latest episode of the Washington farce that has astonished a
bemused world, a Chinese commentator wrote that if the United States
cannot be a responsible member of the world system, perhaps the world
should become "de-Americanized" - and separate itself from the rogue state
that is the reigning military power but is losing credibility in other
The Washington debacle's immediate source was the sharp shift to the right
among the political class. In the past, the U.S. has sometimes been
described sardonically - but not inaccurately - as a one-party state: the
business party, with two factions called Democrats and Republicans.
That is no longer true. The U.S. is still a one-party state, the business
party. But it only has one faction: moderate Republicans, now called New
Democrats (as the U.S. Congressional coalition styles itself).
There is still a Republican organization, but it long ago abandoned any
pretense of being a normal parliamentary party.
Conservative commentator Norman Ornstein
of the American Enterprise Institute describes today's Republicans as,
"a radical insurgency - ideologically
extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of the legitimacy
of its political opposition": a serious danger to the society.
The party is in lock-step service to the very
rich and the corporate sector.
Since votes cannot be obtained on that platform,
the party has been compelled to mobilize sectors of the society that are
extremist by world standards. Crazy is the new norm among Tea Party members
and a host of others beyond the mainstream.
The Republican establishment and its business sponsors had expected to use
them as a battering ram in the neoliberal assault against the population -
to privatize, to deregulate and to limit government, while retaining those
parts that serve wealth and power, like the military.
The Republican establishment has had some success, but now finds that it can
no longer control its base, much to its dismay. The impact on American
society thus becomes even more severe.
A case in point:
the virulent reaction against the
Affordable Care Act and the
near-shutdown of the government.
The Chinese commentator's observation is not
In 1999, political analyst Samuel P.
Huntington warned that for much of the world, the U.S. is,
"becoming the rogue superpower," seen as
"the single greatest external threat to their societies."
A few months into
Bush term, Robert Jervis, president of the American
Political Science Association, warned that,
"In the eyes of much of the world, in fact,
the prime rogue state today is the United States."
Both Huntington and Jervis warned that such a
course is unwise. The consequences for the U.S. could be harmful.
In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment journal,
David Kaye reviews one aspect of Washington's departure from the
rejection of multilateral treaties "as if it
He explains that some treaties are rejected
outright, as when the U.S. Senate,
"voted against the Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities in 2012 and the Comprehensive
Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999."
Others are dismissed by inaction, including,
"such subjects as labor, economic and
cultural rights, endangered species, pollution, armed conflict,
peacekeeping, nuclear weapons, the law of the sea, and discrimination
Rejection of international obligations "has
grown so entrenched," Kaye writes,
"that foreign governments no longer expect
Washington's ratification or its full participation in the institutions
treaties create. The world is moving on; laws get made elsewhere, with
limited (if any) American involvement."
While not new, the practice has indeed become
more entrenched in recent years, along with quiet acceptance at home of the
doctrine that the U.S. has every right to act as a rogue state.
To take a typical example, a few weeks ago U.S. special operations forces
snatched a suspect,
Abu Anas al-Libi, from the streets of the
Libyan capital Tripoli, bringing him to a naval vessel for interrogation
without counsel or rights.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
informed the press that the actions are legal because they comply with
American law, eliciting no particular comment.
Principles are valid only if they are universal. Reactions would be a bit
different, needless to say, if Cuban special forces kidnapped the prominent
Luis Posada Carriles in Miami, bringing
him to Cuba for interrogation and trial in accordance with Cuban law.
Such actions are restricted to rogue states. More accurately, to the one
rogue state that is powerful enough to act with impunity: in recent years,
to carry out aggression at will, to terrorize large regions of the world
with drone attacks, and much else.
And to defy the world in other ways, for example by persisting in its
embargo against Cuba despite the long-term opposition of the entire world,
apart from Israel, which voted with its protector when
United Nations again condemned the embargo (188-2) in
Whatever the world may think, U.S. actions are legitimate because we say so.
The principle was enunciated by the eminent
statesman Dean Acheson in 1962, when he instructed the American
Society of International Law that no legal issue arises when the United
States responds to a challenge to its "power, position, and prestige."
Cuba committed that crime when it beat back a U.S. invasion and then had the
audacity to survive an assault designed to bring "the terrors of the earth"
to Cuba, in the words of Kennedy adviser and historian Arthur Schlesinger.
When the U.S. gained independence, it sought to join the international
community of the day. That is why the Declaration of Independence opens by
expressing concern for the "decent respect to the opinions of mankind."
A crucial element was evolution from a disorderly confederacy to a unified
"treaty-worthy nation," in diplomatic historian Eliga H. Gould's
phrase, that observed the conventions of the European order.
By achieving this status, the new nation also
gained the right to act as it wished internally.
It could thus proceed to rid itself of the indigenous population and to
expand slavery, an institution so "odious" that it could not be tolerated in
England, as the distinguished jurist William Murray, Earl of
Mansfield, ruled in 1772. Evolving English law was a factor impelling the
slave-owning society to escape its reach.
Becoming a treaty-worthy nation thus conferred multiple advantages: foreign
recognition, and the freedom to act at home without interference.
Hegemonic power offers the opportunity to become
a rogue state, freely defying international law and norms, while facing
increased resistance abroad and contributing to its own decline through