FAILED STATES, by Noam Chomsky, is frightening. The author, an MIT professor, a speaker on National Public Radio, and a prolific writer of political books, makes the audacious claim that our beloved United States is close to being a "failed state. By asserting its right to intervene militarily against other countries, we have claimed for ourselves a world hegemony (50c word for domination) which we will not allow in any other country. We create "client states," countries which, regardless of political system, are favored in trade relations and even supported against democratic change. In doing this, we pose an increasing danger, likely of nuclear war, at the cost of subduing our citizenry.

This is NOT an anti-Republican book; both political parties come in for criticism. Examples date back 50 years and more, exacerbated since the events of 9/11. By regarding the country as beyond the reach of international law and exempt from world norms, including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter, the United States has become a "rogue." Even worse, Chomsky asserts, because these postures are creations of both major political parties, the system works to stifle political alternatives and genuine democracy is effectively reduced to popularity contests between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Early on, the author discusses breaches of the international norm of war as codified in the Geneva Conventions -- first enacted in 1864 to protect both wounded soldiers and civilian populations. In 2002, then White House counsel (now Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales advised the president on what might constitute torture, advising him to ignore the "quaint and obsolete" provisions of that agreement, once solemnly attested to by our country. He quotes law professor Jordan Paust as follows: "Not since the Nazi era have so many lawyers been so clearly involved in international crimes concerning the ... interrogation of persons detained during war." His assessment of Bush's 2002 memo authorizing what most people would deem "torture" is quoted as follows: "It} is evidence of an unprincipled plan to evade the reach of law ... while seeking to avoid criminal sanctions ... [it] authorized and ordered violations .. which are war crimes."

Other actions, by previous administrations, are also dissected. Reagan's invasion of the sovereign state of Granada, with no congressional approval or even public discussion. Jimmy Carter's training and support of the Somoza troops in Nicaragua as they murdered an estimated 40,000 people. Eisenhower's policy on Cuba, sanctions (which mostly hurt poor people) that remain in place to this day. Bush I's pardon of Elliot Abrams, convicted of lying to congress about the United States' terrorist war in South America. Reagan's destruction of the elected democratic Guatemala, leading to the death of an estimated 200,000 persons. Woodrow Wilson's invasion of Haiti -- because the government there refused to allow U.S. corporations to buy up the land. Thousands died. Bill Clinton's authorization of the U.S. company, Texaco, to supply the Haitian military junta, one which had overthrown the fragile Haitian democracy, founded in 1990. Clinton's military interventions in Bosnia, now generally recognized to have been done, not on humanitarian motives, but to demonstrate NATO's power and establish American domination in Europe. More could be added; read the book. The Bush invasion of Iraq, taken nearly unilaterally, comes in for particular attention.

This is a tough book to read; Chomsky writes for the highly educated and well informed reader; I thought I was possibly one or the other but found some parts of his manuscript too complex to fully understand. If you can stand a book which is 50% comprehensible, it is worth picking up. It may disturb you (it did me) to learn more about our country's history and current political actions.

John W. Burgeson, Rico, Colorado

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