March 28, 2006

Herd of independent minds?

Here's Noam Chomsky in Znet writing, briefly, actually quite casually, on the Israel Lobby article. M-W deserve credit for taking a position that is sure to elicit tantrums and fanatical lies and denunciations, but it's worth noting that there is nothing unusual about that.
Take any topic that has risen to the level of Holy Writ among "the herd of independent minds" (to borrow Harold Rosenberg's famous description of intellectuals): for example, anything having to do with the Balkan wars, which played a huge role in the extraordinary campaigns of self-adulation that disfigured intellectual discourse towards the end of the millennium, going well beyond even historical precedents, which are ugly enough. Naturally, it is of extraordinary importance to the herd to protect that self-image, much of it based on deceit and fabrication. Therefore, any attempt even to bring up plain (undisputed, surely relevant) facts is either ignored (M-W can't be ignored), or sets off most impressive tantrums, slanders, fabrications and deceit, and the other standard reactions. Very easy to demonstrate, and by no means limited to these cases. Those without experience in critical analysis of conventional doctrine can be very seriously misled by the particular case of the Middle East(ME).

But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion. I've reviewed elsewhere what the record (historical and documentary) seems to me to show about the main sources of US ME policy, in books and articles for the past 40 years, and can't try to repeat here. M-W make as good a case as one can, I suppose, for the power of the Lobby, but I don't think it provides any reason to modify what has always seemed to me a more plausible interpretation. Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.

The M-W thesis is that (B) overwhelmingly predominates. To evaluate the thesis, we have to distinguish between two quite different matters, which they tend to conflate: (1) the alleged failures of US ME policy; (2) the role of The Lobby in bringing about these consequences. Insofar as the stands of the Lobby conform to (A), the two factors are very difficult to disentagle. And there is plenty of conformity.
So Chomsky's not impressed either but he, like Massad, avoids abusing the AS word.

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