The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive military action is inconsistent with moral truisms, famed linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky said at the Yale Law School Wednesday.
Chomsky spoke about U.S. foreign policy under the administration of President George W. Bush ’68 and compared Bush’s practices with historical precedent, addressing a capacity crowd of undergraduates, law students and professors in the Law School Auditorium. The talk was sponsored by the Yale Middle East Law Forum, an organization that “strives to invigorate campus debate on issues relating to Middle Eastern politics and American foreign policy as it pertains to the region,” according to YMELF member Bryan Leach LAW ’05.
Chomsky premised his talk on three “truisms:” that citizens cannot take seriously “declarations of virtuous intent” by world leaders because the declarations “carry no information;” that nations must apply the same standards to themselves that they apply to other countries; and that norms of international law are “established solely by the actions of the powerful.”
The Bush Doctrine, which declared Bush’s vision of the U.S. responsibility to “rid the world of evil,” was announced while Chomsky was in India. From a non-Western perspective, Chomsky said, the doctrine appeared “characteristic of epics and fairy tales.” Bush’s first corollary, which stated that the United States has the right to use force to “put down challenges to political dominance” actually “elicited unprecedented critique” for its brazenness, he said.
Chomsky demonstrated through examples of historical U.S. foreign policy that the U.S. was itself guilty of violating Bush’s second corollary, “those who harbor terrorists are guilty as the terrorists themselves.” In the past, the U.S. government has sheltered terrorists from Haiti and Cuba, Chomsky said. If the United States keeps to his second truism, Chomsky said, Haiti and Cuba ought to hold the United States to the same standard and attack.
Chomsky also criticized Bush’s vision “to bring democracy and free markets throughout the world.”
“The market aspect is half-true. We have forced market economies onto countries that have proven to be devastating to the nations themselves,” Chomsky said.
Chomsky critiqued this aspect of the doctrine for contributing to the creation of the “Third World.”
As for the “democracy” prong of Bush’s vision, Chomsky pointed out that during the recent war in Iraq, the United States developed the notions of “Old Europe” and “New Europe.” Countries seemed to be classified depending on whether or not the nation’s leader sided with Bush on the war: New Europe’s leaders agreed with Bush, even when the majorities of the countries’ populations dissented; Old Europe’s leaders listened to their populations and did not support Bush, Chomsky said. This seemed to advocate a reversal of democracy, he said.
Reactions to Chomsky’s talk were varied. Ramit Mizrahi, LAW ’04 said she appreciated the opportunity to listen to Chomsky’s views.
“He was so clear and straightforward — a voice saying things that normally get ignored,” Mizrahi said.
Others had mixed opinions.
“While I disagreed with Chomsky in places, I found his intellectual style very refreshing,” Leach said.
Keith Urbahn ’06 said he felt the historical examples Chomsky chose to back up his points were ones with which people could not disagree.
“I respect him, but for someone whose argues against shallow rhetoric, he is a master of it,” Urbahn said.
Chomsky is currently a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught since 1955.