In May 1969, the critic Lionel Abel published an essay in COMMENTARY taking forceful issue with a new book, American Power and the New Mandarins, by Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at MIT who was then only beginning to make a name for himself as an influential left-wing scourge of American “imperialism.” The immediate subject of Chomsky’s book was the American intervention in Vietnam, but his intent was to place this conflict within a much broader context—namely, the supposedly uninterrupted history of American malefaction on the world scene. (Chomsky did not spare his own kind, either: he attacked American intellectuals, the “new mandarins” of his title, for what he saw as their shameful, passive complicity in their government’s evil deeds.)
Abel’s essay, entitled “The Position of Noam Chomsky,” focused devastatingly on the chief moral underpinning of Chomsky’s argument: namely, that America’s wanton and self-interested resort to force in foreign lands robbed it of any standing or credibility in the struggle it professed to be waging against Communist totalitarianism. Along the way, Abel also dealt in passing with Chomsky’s distorted version of a speech given by President Harry Truman at Baylor College linking economic freedom with political freedom, a speech interpreted by Chomsky in his book as a thinly veiled justification for the global spread of American-style capitalism by any and all means.
Was Valerie Plame under oath today when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger? “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.
Does this contradict an exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq, which looked closely at the genesis of the Wilson visit?
The report, issued in 2004, notes that some officials at the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) of the CIA “could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador [Wilson].” But it states unequivocally that “interviews and documents provided to the committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip.” In particular, the CPD reports-officer told the Senate committee “that the former ambassador’s wife ‘offered up his name.’”
It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of Europeans who lived in the great age of discovery—when bold explorers set out across the oceans in pursuit of unknown lands, and those fortunate enough to survive brought back word of vast swaths of terra nova. Again and again it turned out that the world was larger, more varied, and more mysterious than anyone imagined. The “new” continents had always been there; they had simply been unknown to the West.
We generally think that this age is over, and that, even if there still is a great deal we don’t understand about how nature works, we at least have a pretty good catalogue of what there is to examine in our world. We tend to assume that any truly new ground to discover will come from humanity’s exploration of space.
Time and again, the Bush administration has tried to hammer home the message: Iraq is not a sideshow but a central front in the jihad being waged against the West. This message, however, does not resonate. Iraq still seems to many Americans to be a pointless detour.
Since Bush and Cheney are so unconvincing on this score, perhaps someone will listen to Hizballah, which openly argues that defeating America in Iraq is the key to Israel’s destruction. This clip, translated by the indispensable MEMRI-TV, is a must-watch.