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Comparing and Contrasting Political Ideologies: Robert Kaplan vs. Noam Chomsky Essay

1. Chomsky Thesis Outline:

The main points within Noam Chomsky’s thesis revolve around his idealistic values and his concept of ”Elemental Morality”. When describing his concept of ”Elemental Morality” Chomsky explains that if people cannot rise to the level that has them apply the same standards to themselves that they apply to others, they have no right to talk about what’s right and wrong. A common example of this hypocrisy has been executed by the United States-whom Chomsky claims to be a ” leading terrorist state”- in an attempt to justify their country’s terrorist acts. In other words, when they do it it’s terrorism, but when we do it its counterterrorism. When looking at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the war aims were claimed to be to overthrow the country’s brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, in which they succeeded. The U.S. has a history of using the fight for democracy as a justification for overthrowing regimes.

However, Chomsky argues that the best way to overthrow power centers and brutal regimes is to do so from within with support of internal democratic organizations. Ironically the very regimes that are being fought against have commonly been found to have support from the U.S.: South Eastern Turkey (the Kurds), Nicaragua in the 1980s, Israel, and Afghanistan during the 1980s to name a few. In Chomsky’s eyes all of these atrocities are all equally immoral simply because they are all atrocities. Chomsky explains that if we want to stop comparing atrocities, the easiest way is to stop participating in them and try to find other ways to deal with them. As a result, as long as people are able to think for themselves and free themselves from ‘the right wing imperialists’, then they can pose the same elementary morality, levels of violence and turmoil will globally decrease.

Kaplan Thesis Outline:

Robert Kaplan has been known for his right-wing views on foreign policy, his concept of ”Pagan Ethos”, and his Hobbsian outlook on human nature and society. Kaplan believes that Judeo-Christian values have no place in politics (Pagan Ethos) and defies Chomsky’s concept of “Elemental Morality” by claiming that we need to accept the necessary evil for the greater good. However this is not to say that there is no line to be crossed morally when accepting such evil, for if more evil is used than ‘necessary’, those committing it will lose their credibility and virtuousness. In Kaplan’s opinion, humanity is not enough of a reason for the U.S. to intervene in a country’s conflict. He feels that in order for the Americans to justifiably enter a crisis they need to have interest in it as well. In a nation’s time of crisis where time is of the essence, Kaplan infers that it’s all about the short-term decisions the country makes. In terms of domestic policy versus foreign policy Kaplan believes that internationally the world is a lawless place (Hobbsian), and that we should enforce ‘Soft American Imperialism’. This concept suggests that foreign policy should be run by self-interest, which leads into Kaplan’s aspiration of the United States becoming the world’s ‘Organizing Hegemon’. Kaplan concurs that the United States is the only country whose power and force capable of properly executing a small amount of evil for the greater good.

2. Similarity:

In terms of the application of morals in foreign policy, Kaplan has given some leeway towards Chomsky’s concept of ‘Elemental Morality.’ Kaplan acknowledges that there are certain situations where we should act on morality, and that it would be unacceptable to maintain total realistic values. Genocide might be an example; he cites Darfur, and Bosnia where the U.S. should have intervened on humanitarian grounds alone. Kaplan recognizes “without an idealistic component to our foreign policy, there would be nothing to distinguish us from our competitors,” and “Pure realism—without a hint of idealism—would immobilize our mass immigrant democracy, which has always seen itself as an agent of change.” This is concurrent with Chomsky’s assertion in which he states that he is “guided by moral principles” and elaborates that “the main reason for my concern with U.S. foreign policy are that I find it, in general, horrifying,” and “the foreign policy of other states is also in general horrifying”


1)Where Chomsky feels that all atrocities are equal simply because they are atrocities, Kaplan claims that ‘adult choice in foreign policy is based on distinction’ and that some atrocities were necessary in order to contribute to the greater good. As an example to prove his point Kaplan uses Winston Churchill, whom during WWII had to make the decision to either warn Coventry of oncoming German bombers and risk the Germans discovering the British had cracked the Enigma Code, or allow Coventry to be bombed and have the upper hand against the Germans when intercepting their messages. In the end Churchill chose the latter, knowing full well that although his decision cost thousands of lives, the information the British obtained would potentially save hundreds of thousands-if not millions (the ends justify the means).

2)In terms of how Kaplan and Chomsky believe international feuds should be dealt with, Kaplan argues that humanity alone is not enough of a reason for the United States to intervene in a crisis; they need to have interest in the country itself to make their efforts worthwhile. However, Chomsky feels that if we want to stop atrocities we need to stop participating in them and try finding a more alternative and peaceful approaches to a solution. As long as people are able to think for themselves and free themselves from the mindset of ‘the right wing imperialists’ they can impose ‘Elemental Morality’ and therefore progress to peaceful solutions in a more productive manner than simply invading a country.

3. Opinion on Chomsky:

I agree with Chomsky’s theory that the United States is a leading terrorist state, and that the government is hypocritical in the context of defining which nations are committing acts of terrorism as opposed to their own state’s actions. Post 9/11 the Bush Administration was quoted saying, “As we stated previously there is no middle ground between those who oppose terrorism and those who support it.” Yet, the U.S. has had alliances with Israel, Turkey (the Kurds), Russia, China, Indonesia, Egypt, and Algeria “all of whom are delighted to see an international system develop sponsored by the U.S. which will authorize them to carry out their own terrorist atrocities…” The U.S. was also “…the only country that was condemned for international terrorism by the World Court and that rejected a Security Council resolution calling on states to observe international law.”

So why is it that the U.S. has failed to acknowledge themselves as a terrorist state? Perhaps they are too ignorant, or they simply do recognize it but choose to glaze over the facts in order to try preserving their image as a nation ‘fighting against terrorism’. As for Chomsky’s concept of “Elementary Morality”, I do consider the idea of people having no double standards when criticizing others for their actions to be a decent ideal to strive for. However, realistically the idea of getting the entire world to one day obtain this mindset is very far fetched. I feel that I side more with Kaplan when I say that the world will always have evil people in it, and they will find a way to inflict inhumane actions upon others.

Opinion on Kaplan:

From a practical perspective, Kaplan’s theories on foreign policy have more relevancies. Take the example of Syria for instance, and compare Chomsky’s standpoint on statehood and overthrowing regimes in relation to Kaplan’s more measured approach on intervening in other countries. Both Chomsky and Kaplan might agree that the atrocities undertaken by the Assad regime in Syria are just that: immoral and atrocious. However, where Chomsky professes a role of non-intervention for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, and would see a benefit rather than a tragedy in the dissolution of statehood, Kaplan would have us ask: “What is the cost of waiting for internal resolution?” and, indeed, “When are the costs—both economic and human—too high?” To date, in Syria, the U.S. has chosen a ‘non-imperialist’ standpoint more in line with Chomsky’s model of foreign policy for Syria, and what has been the result: “more than 120,000 deaths; approximately two million refugees; four million internally displaced; a proxy war between Sunni-dominated countries and Shiah-dominated countries in the region; the largest use of chemical weapons against civilian populations in 25 years.”

Mounting humanitarian and economic consequences, in my view, are grounds for considering action rather than inaction in foreign affairs. As Errol Mendes, Professor of International Law at University of Ottawa and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School writes: “What the failure to act early and especially in the face of the worst forms of violation of international criminal law by the Assad regime has shown is that sometimes the failure to act in such a situation is in fact acting by omission with devastating consequences for the country, the region and the entire global community.”

4. Benefit of Comparing:

Having an open mind to both Chomsky and Kaplan’s views is simply a good way to extend our knowledge on different theories regarding foreign policy. Moreover, the benefit of comparing Chomsky and Kaplan’s ideologies is that it allows us to recognize there are different, and simultaneously compelling ways to respond to global conflict. Knowing the similarities and differences of both extreme idealism and realism, and weighing options in a time of national or potentially international crisis, can help lead to policy that is based on an informed choice. The importance of well-informed and carefully considered policy in international relations is the consequences. As Chomsky, himself stresses: “The impact of U.S. foreign policy on millions of people throughout the world is enormous, and furthermore these policies substantially increase the probability of superpower conflict and global catastrophe.”


Chomsky, Noam. 9-11. New York: Seven Stories, 2001. 40-55. Print.

Kaplan, Robert D. “Interventionism’s Realistic Future.” Washington Post (2006): 1-2. Print

Mendes, Errol. “The Cost of Non-intervention in Syria.” The Cost of Non-intervention in Syria. Ottawa Citizen, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

“”The Reasons for My Concern”” Interview by Celia Jakubowicz. Noam Chomsky and U.S. Foreign Policy. Third World Traveller, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. .

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