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Noam Chomsky, Failed States; The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 311pp.Noam Chomsky, Failed States; The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 311pp.

           What is a failed state? A failed state, according to the MIT linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky, is a state that doesn't protect its citizens. A rogue or outlaw state flaunts the core principles of international law and places itself above and beyond those laws; it plays by a double standard and changes the rules of the game when that serves its own interests. And how should we describe a country's leader who orders a massive bombing campaign with the chilling words, "anything that flies on anything that moves?" That, says Chomsky, is a "monstrous war crime" and "virtual genocide," even if the directive did come from Richard Nixon to Henry Kissinger. And so as he has said in many other places, in this book Chomsky argues that America is the worst failed, rogue, and terrorist state.

           Chomsky is openly subversive, unapologetically strident, and unnecessarily sarcastic. Don't expect any nuance here. He gives scant attention to the responsibilities of other state actors that fail to provide much at all for their citizens, or to jihadists who behead people. He ignores the genuinely good and good faith aspects of American policy, however occasional and compromised. In his view virtually all public discourse is little more than a propaganda charade. His long, dense, heavily-quoted paragraphs make the reader work hard.

           Still, reading this book might make you a better citizen. It's sobering to read a 300-page jeremiad that details our flagrant disregard for the International Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions, the latter of which our Attorney General wanted to rescind as "quaint," our insistence that we alone have the right to nuclear proliferation because our motives are noble, prisoner torture that by normal standards constitutes crimes against humanity, overwhelming military force whose main purpose is uninhibited economic exploitation any and everywhere in the world, monster tyrants we have supported and vulnerable states we've ignored, democracies we have overthrown, the weaponization of space, and rationalizing it all a sanctimonious civic rhetoric. It's bizarre that we exempt ourselves from principles of universality and then wonder why other nations resent us, or why they might choose to act like we do (eg, in "anticipatory self-defense" against us). Extreme, yes, but not partisan. Chomsky is critical of the entire system and not just Bush. And those who question his conclusions can wade through his 500 footnotes that document his claims. There's one glimmer of hope here; Chomsky argues that there exists a deep divide between the public opinions of normal citizens and the public policies of America's rogue state.

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