Sunday, February 19, 2017

Military Humanism: Heart of Neoliberal Darkness

There are some silver linings in the American political crisis that began in earnest on January 20, 2017. More Americans, as well as other inhabitants of this planet, are looking beyond domestic politics and identity politics and grasping that the crisis has its roots in the role America has played in the world in the modern era. One could go back to the founding of the American colonies to find evidence of when the errant path was chosen, but there were pivotal moments in every era since then that shed light on how America took successive steps deeper into the quagmires that come with being an imperial power.
One of these pivotal times was in the late 1990s when America and NATO promoted the concept of “humanitarian intervention” and “right to protect” as a rationale for ensuring that the post-Soviet world would adhere to Western forms of economic and military domination. This policy may have been propelled partially by what was understood to be a failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The standard narrative tells that President Clinton was tragically “distracted” during that time by a sexual dalliance, and thus the delay in recognizing the genocide and responding quickly could have been prevented if the West had just been more attentive to its destined role to maintain order and use its military strength to prevent atrocities. This narrative conveniently overlooks the roles played by France and the United States in arming both sides of the Rwandan conflict in previous years as they vied for influence in Central Africa. An intervention against France, the United States, or both of them a couple of years earlier could have prevented the genocide, but even today the role of the France-American/British conflict for dominance in the region is rarely mentioned as a causal factor.[1] [2] Thus the false narrative of Rwanda begat another about the former Yugoslavia. As the decade of wars ground on, the US and NATO formulated a conception of who the bad guys were and decided to intervene.
These actions did much to create the problems of the present. “Humanitarian” intervention became a bad habit, as evidenced in the subsequent aggressions against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, among other smaller actions in dozens of countries. The attack on Serbia also inflamed tensions with Russia which had a history of cultural and political ties to Serbia.
Boris Yeltsin had been the West’s obedient poodle during the 1990s, going along with all the reforms that impoverished Russians while opening up the country to be exploited by domestic oligarchs and the global free market.
At the time of 1996 elections, Yeltsin was less popular than Stalin, but with a mix of election fraud, and American financial support and election interference (in the form of American campaign consultants and PR experts), he was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. However, when the West intervened in Serbia he finally understood the perfidy of who they had been dealing with. And the natural question was, “Are we next?” By the end of 1998, hope for financial reforms was finally crushed by the massive “ruble crisis” which had bankrupted Russia and left it so unstable that there were serious worries that it would go through a second shock of disintegration, echoing the collapse of the Soviet Union eight years earlier. Yeltsin was sick and brain-muddled from years of alcoholism, but he must have understood that the country needed a different kind of leader who would take the country on a more independent path.
While the US and NATO countries now all decry Putin’s authoritarian rule, they fail to realize that modern Russia was made in the USA during the Yeltsin years. Clinton backed Yeltsin when Yeltsin brought out tanks to fire on the parliament that was about to impeach him. Just try to imagine, now as Trump’s political support is evaporating and he is threatened with impeachment, that he would find a few generals to back him in a coup against Congress, and then he would bring out heavy artillery to fire on the congressmen who were heavily armed and locked inside the Capitol building. Imagine he succeeded and rewarded the loyal generals with powerful posts in the new government—a government which was bestowed with a new constitution that concentrated more power in the executive branch. Imagine all of this was supported and financed by Russia, both at the time and three years later when Trump was desperate to get re-elected. This scenario happened in Russia in the 1990s with American support. After Yeltsin consolidated his power, Clinton backed him again when he enriched the oligarchs further to steal the 1996 election.[3]
After all this, when the hopes for a vibrant democracy had been extinguished, Yeltsin chose his successor, Vladimir Putin. In spite of the deficiencies of Russian democracy, Putin never needed American help in getting re-elected. He was never, like Yeltsin, less popular than Stalin. To some extent his victories are due to the deficiencies of democracy in Russia, but one reason for the lack of democracy is that the government is determined to crack down on any party or organization that takes assistance from foreigner entities. Can you imagine that? After the experiences of the 1990s, they don’t like foreigners meddling in their elections. Yet in spite of constant interference, Putin won elections and managed to stop communists and extreme nationalists from coming to power. In spite of American fantasies that a neoliberal, pro-Western party could be elected, the only viable rivals are more extremely anti-American than Putin.[4] Putin’s biggest sin in American eyes was that he was sober, intelligent and competent enough to have reigned in the oligarchs, improved tax collection, stopped further disintegration of the country, and improved the lives of Russians.[5] These are, no doubt, the very reasons he is vilified in the West. Russians all know the score now: they love us when we are weak, hate us when we are strong.
All of this history underscores the importance of understanding the 1990s as the time when the neoliberal world order and faith in humanitarian intervention became firmly established. The interview below between Serbian journalist Danilo Mandic and Noam Chomsky covers in detail the propaganda campaign that preceded the bombing of Serbia in 1999. At the time of the interview, in 2006, well before the attacks on Libya and Syria, Chomsky pointed out, “You cannot find anywhere in the mainstream a suggestion that it is wrong to invade another country, that if you have invaded another country, you have to pay reparations, you have to withdraw and the leadership has to be punished.” 

I found a transcript of this interview on another website, cleaned up several errors and created an improved English subtitle file for the video, which should compensate for the degraded audio quality.

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Danilo Mandic
RTS (Radio Televizija Srbije) Online, April 25, 2006

Danilo Mandic: Professor Noam Chomsky, in your, if I am not mistaken, first TV media appearance for Serbian media, thank you very much for being with us.

Noam Chomsky: I am glad to be with you. 

DM: Last month marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the bombing of Yugoslavia. Why did NATO wage that war? Or I should say why did the United States wage that war?

NC: Actually, we have for the first time a very authoritative comment on that from the highest level of the Clinton administration, which is something that one could have surmised before, but now it is asserted. This is from Strobe Talbott who was in charge of the Pentagon/State Department intelligence Joint Committee on the diplomacy during the whole affair including the bombing, so that’s the very top of Clinton administration. He just wrote the forward to a book [Collision Course: NATO, Russia and Kosovo, published in 2005] by his Director of Communications, John Norris, and in the forward he says if you really want to understand what the thinking was of the top of Clinton administration this is the book you should read. Take a look at John Norris’s book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That’s from the highest level. Again, we could have guessed it, but I’ve never seen it said before: that it wasn’t because of the Kosovo Albanians, that we know.

Strobe Talbott's quote, p.xxiii of the foreword to John Norris's book Collision Course: NATO, Russia and Kosovo:

As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction … It was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO's war.

And this is a point of religious fanaticism in the West. You can’t talk about it, for interesting reasons having to do with Western culture, but there is just overwhelming documentation, impeccable documentation: two big compilations of the State Department trying to justify the war, the OSCE records, NATO records, KIM Monitor records, a long British Parliamentary inquiry which led into it. They all showed the same thing–and sort of what we knew. It was an ugly place. There were atrocities there.

DM: Given this clear documentary record, I want to ask you about the elite intellectual opinion, what you call in the United States and in the West in general, because reviewing it, you would get the impression–you would be forgiven for imagining that every critic of the NATO intervention was one of two things: either a “Milosevic sympathizer” or someone who doesn’t care about genocide. What does this mean?

NC: First of all that’s a common feature of intellectual culture. One good U.S. critic, Harold Rosenberg, once described intellectuals as the “herd of independent minds.” They think they are very independent, but they stampede in a herd, which is true. When there is a party line, you have to adhere to it, and the party line is systematic. The party line is subordination to state power and to state violence.

Now you are allowed to criticize it, but on very narrow grounds. You can criticize it because it is not working, or for some mistake or benign intentions that went astray or something, like you see right now in the Iraq war, a ton of debate about the Iraq war, but take a look at it–it’s very similar to the debate in Pravda during the invasion of Afghanistan. Actually, I brought this up to a Polish reporter recently and I asked him if he had been reading Pravda. He just laughed and said yeah it’s the same. Now you read Pravda in the 1980s, it’s: “The travail of the Russian soldiers. Too many are getting killed, and now there are these terrorists who prevent us from bringing justice and peace to the Afghans. We of course did not invade them. We intervened to help them at the request of the legitimate government. The terrorists are preventing us from doing all the good things we wanted to do etc.” I have read Japanese counter-insurgency documents from the Second World War, from the 1930s–it was the same: “…We're trying to bring them an earthly paradise, but the Chinese bandits are preventing it.” In fact, I don’t know of any exception in history.” If you go back to British imperialism it's the same. Even people of the highest moral integrity like John Stewart Mill were talking about how we have to intervene in India and conquer India because the barbarians can’t control themselves. There are atrocities. We are to bring them the benefits of British rule and civilization and so on.

Now in the United States it’s the same. Now take the bombing of Kosovo. That was a critically important event for American intellectuals and the reason had to do with what was going on during the 1990s. And the 90s are for the West, not just the U.S. France and England were worse. It's probably the low point in intellectual history for the West, I think. It was like a comic strip mimicking a satire of Stalinism, literally. You take a look at The New York Times, the French press, the British press. It was all full of talk about how there is a “normative revolution” that has swept through the West, for the first time in history, a state, namely the United States, “the leader of the free world,” is acting from “pure altruism.” Clinton’s policy has entered into a “noble phase,” with a “saintly glow,” and on and on. I am quoting from the liberals.

DM: Now, this particular humanitarian charade was...

NC: That’s pre Kosovo.

DM: Right. And it was specific in a sense because it was based on the claim that it was preventing genocide. Let me just read something that you said in an interview around the time of the bombing. You said, “the term ‘genocide’ as applied to Kosovo is an insult to the victims of Hitler. In fact, it’s revisionist to an extreme.” What did you mean by that?

NC: First of all let me just fix the timing. The things you've been quoting are from the late 90s. Before Kosovo. Now, they needed some event to justify this massive self-adulation, OK? Along came Kosovo, fortunately, and so now they had to “stop genocide.” What was the genocide in Kosovo? We know from the Western documentation what it was. In the year prior to the bombing, according to just the Western sources, about 2,000 people were killed. The killings were distributed. A lot of them were coming, in fact, according to the British government (which was the most hawkish element of the alliance)… up until January 1999, the majority of the killings were by the KLA guerrillas who were coming in, as they said, to try to incite a harsh Serbian response, which they got, in order to appeal to Western humanitarians to bomb. We know from the Western records that nothing changed between January and March. In fact up until March 20th they indicate nothing. March 20th they indicate an increase in KLA attacks. But, though it was ugly, by international standards it was almost invisible unfortunately, and it was very distributed. If the British are correct, the majority [of attacks] was coming from the KLA guerillas.

DM: And as it later turned out, the KLA was also receiving financial and military support.

NC: They were being supported by CIA in those months. And to call that genocide is really to insult the victims of the holocaust.  Western intellectuals were praising themselves for their magnificent humanitarianism, while much worse atrocities were going on right across the border, in Turkey. That’s inside NATO, not at the borders of NATO. They were saying, “How can we allow this at the borders of NATO,” but how about inside NATO where Turkey had driven probably several million Kurds out of their homes, destroyed about 3,500 villages, laid waste the whole place, every conceivable form of torture and massacre you can imagine, killed nobody knows how many people. We don’t count our victims, tens of thousands of people. How were they able to do that? The reason is because they were getting 80% of their arms from Clinton, and as the atrocities increased, the arms flow increased. In fact, in one single year, 1997, Clinton sent more arms to Turkey than in the entire Cold War period combined! Up until the counter-insurgency. That was not reported in the West. You do not report your own crimes. That’s critical.

And right in the midst of all of this: “How can we tolerate a couple of thousand people being killed in Kosovo, mixed guerrillas and...? In fact, the 50th Anniversary of NATO took place right in the middle of all of this. And there were lamentations about what was going on right across NATO’s border. Not a word about the much worse things going on inside NATO’s borders, thanks to the massive flow of arms from the United States. Now that’s only one case.

Comparable things were going on all over with the US and Britain supporting them, much worse, but you had to focus on this. That was the topic for “the herd of independent minds.” It played a crucial role in their self-image because they had been going through a period of praising themselves for their magnificence in their “normative revolution” and their “noble phase,” and so on and so forth, so it was a godsend, and therefore you couldn’t ask any questions about it.

Incidentally, the same happened in the earlier phase of the Balkan wars. It was awful, and so on and so forth. However, if you look at the coverage... For example, there was one famous incident which just completely reshaped the Western opinion, and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barbed wire.

DM: A fraudulent photograph.

NC: You remember. The thin man behind the barbed wire. So that was Auschwitz and “we can’t have Auschwitz again.” The intellectuals went crazy and the French were posturing on television and doing the usual antics. Well, it was investigated, and carefully investigated.  In fact, it was investigated by the leading Western specialist on the topic, Philip Knightly, who is a highly-respected media analyst and his specialty is photo journalism. He’s probably the most famous Western and most respected Western analyst in this. He did a detailed analysis of it. And he determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barbed wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp. People could leave if they wanted, and near the thin man was a fat man, and so on. Well, there was one tiny newspaper in England, probably three people, called LM, which ran a critique of this, and the British (who haven’t the slightest concept of freedom of speech), ran this total fraud... A major corporation, ITN, a big media corporation, had publicized these, so the corporation sued the tiny newspaper for libel.

Now the British libel laws are absolutely atrocious. The person accused has to prove that what he’s reporting was not done with malice, and he can’t prove that. So, and, in fact, when you have a huge corporation with batteries of lawyers and so on carrying out a suit against the three people in an office, who probably don’t have the pocket-money, it’s obvious what is going to happen, especially under these grotesque libel laws. So yes, the little newspaper couldn’t prove it wasn’t done out of malice. They were put out of business. There was just euphoria in the left liberal British press. After they had put the newspaper out of business, under this utterly grotesque legal case of the British laws, the left liberal newspapers, like The Guardian, were just in a state of euphoria about this wonderful achievement. They had managed to destroy a tiny newspaper because it questioned some image that they had presented and they were very proud of themselves for it, which was probably misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Well, Philip Knightly, wrote a very harsh critique of the British media for behaving in this way, and tried to teach them an elementary lesson about freedom of speech. He also added that probably the photograph was misinterpreted. He couldn’t get it published. Well, that’s when Kosovo came along. It was the same thing—that you cannot tell the truth about it.

I’ve gone through a ton of reporting on this, and almost invariably they inverted the chronology. There were atrocities, but after the bombing. The way it’s presented is: the atrocities took place, and then we had to bomb to prevent genocide—just inverted.

DM: Let me ask you about the conduct of the actual war. You mentioned The Guardian. It’s interesting because you yourself had recently had an unpleasant experience where The Guardian misquoted you.. over Srebrenica. It misquoted you to make it appear as if you were questioning the Srebrenica massacre. But let me bring you back to the conduct of the actual war. That was another... the 1999 bombing.  The bombing, which was also overlooked, or selectively covered by the Western media in general. Now, Amnesty International, among others, reported that “NATO committed serious violations of the rules of war during its campaign,” numerous human rights groups concur and document various war crimes. One of them had its anniversary two days ago, when the Radio Television Serbia was bombed, the national television, its headquarters, killing sixteen people. First of all, why were these crimes completely unreported, and secondly, are there any prospects for there being any responsibility taken for these crimes?

NC: I’d say the crimes were reported but they were cheered. It’s not that they were unknown. The bombing of the radio station: yes, it was reported, and the TV station, but it’s fine because the TV station was described as a propaganda outlet, so therefore we have the right to bomb it. That happens all the time. It just happened last year, in November 2004. One of the worst war crimes in Iraq was the invasion of Fallujah. That's one thing, but there was worse. The invasion of Fallujah was kind of similar to Srebrenica, if you look, but... They invaded Fallujah. The first thing the invading troops did, U.S. troops, was to take over the general hospital and throw the patients on the floor. They were taken out their beds, put on the floor, hands tied behind their backs, doctors thrown on the floor, hands behind their backs. There was a picture of it on the front page of The New York Times. They said it was wonderful.

DM: The Geneva Convention forbids hospitals to be...

NC: It was a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and George Bush should be facing the death penalty for that, even under the U.S. law. But it was presented with no mention of the Geneva Conventions, and it was presented as a wonderful thing because the Fallujah general hospital was a “propaganda center,” namely it was releasing casualty figures, so therefore it was correct to carry out a massive war crime.

Well, the bombing of the TV station was presented the same way. In fact, as I’m sure you recall, there was an offer from NATO that they wouldn't bomb it, if they agreed to broadcast six hours of NATO propaganda. Well, this is considered quite right. How can it be dealt with? A group of international lawyers did appeal to the International Tribunal on Yugoslavia. They presented a brief, saying they should look into NATO war crimes. What they cited was reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and admissions by the NATO command. That was what they presented, the.... I think it was Karla Del Ponte at the time. She said she would not look at it, in violation of the laws of the tribunal, because she “had faith in NATO.” And that was the answer. Well, something else interesting happened after that: Yugoslavia did bring a case to the World Court...

DM: .... which also rejected it.

NC: The Court accepted it, and in fact it deliberated for a couple of years. It may still be being deliberated, but what is interesting is that the U.S. excused itself from the case and the Court accepted the excuse. Why? Because Yugoslavia had mentioned the Genocide Convention and the U.S. did sign the Genocide Convention, after forty years. It ratified it, but it ratified it with a reservation, saying “inapplicable to the United States.” So in other words, the United States is entitled to commit genocide, therefore, and that was the case that the U.S. Justice Department of President Clinton brought to the World Court and the Court had to agree. If a country does not accept World Court jurisdiction, it has to be excluded, so the U.S. was excluded from the trial, on the grounds that it grants itself the right to commit genocide. Do you think this was reported here?

DM: The World Court, though, excused itself from hearing the case trying the illegality of the war, on the grounds that Yugoslavia was not a full member of the United Nations at the time when the case was brought to the...

NC: For several years they were deliberating but that’s the sequence. Does any of this get reported? You can ask your friends at Princeton. Ask the faculty. They sort of probably remember the bombing, the capture of the General Hospital in Fallujah, but was there any comment saying that was a war crime?

DM: What struck me was that you compared the Srebrenica massacre with the Fallujah invasion. Why is that?

NC: Because there are similarities. In the case of Srebrenica, women and children were trucked out and then came, the massacre. In the case of Fallujah, the women and children were ordered out. They weren’t trucked out. They were ordered out, but the men weren’t allowed to leave, and then came the attack. In fact, it turned out that the roads out were blocked. Well, not all things. It’s not the same story, but that part is similar.

I actually mentioned that a couple of times. Storms of protest, hysteria. Incidentally this Guardian affair–part of it which was total fraud, on the part of the editors, not the reporter. They blamed it on the reporter, but it was the editors. One of the things that they were infuriated about was that she asked me about the thin man behind the barbed wire, “Isn’t that a horrible atrocity?” I said, “Well, it’s not certain that it was correct.” OK, that led to the hysteria. That’s when Philip Knightly tried to intervene to present once again his analysis, and once again his critique of the media, but couldn’t. He is a very prominent, prestigious person. You just cannot break ranks. That’s not tolerated. We are lucky. We don't have censorship. It’s a free society, but the self-censorship is overwhelming.

Actually, Orwell once wrote about this, in something that nobody has read. Everyone has read Animal Farm and almost nobody has read the introduction to Animal Farm…

DM: Unpublished.

NC: It came out in his unpublished papers, thirty years later. In it what he said is, Animal Farm is a satire of a totalitarian state, but he said free England is not very different. In free England, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force, and he gave examples. It’s very similar here. And it does not matter how extreme they are. The Iraq invasion is a perfect example. You cannot find anywhere in the mainstream a suggestion that it is wrong to invade another country, that if you have invaded another country, you have to pay reparations, you have to withdraw and the leadership has to be punished. I don’t know if you ever read the Nuremberg Judgments, but after the Nuremberg Judgments, Justice Jackson, Chief of Council for the Prosecution, U.S. Justice, made very, very eloquent statements. He said we are sentencing these people to death for the crimes which they committed. They are crimes which are punishable when anybody commits them, including when we commit them. We have to live up to that. He said we are handing the defendants a poisoned chalice, and if we sip from this poisoned chalice, we must be treated the same way. One can’t be more explicit!

They also defined aggression. Aggression was defined in terms which just apply absolutely and without exception, not only to the invasion of Iraq but to all sorts of other invasions, in Vietnam and many others. Actually, even the terrorist war against Nicaragua technically falls under the crime of aggression as defined in Nuremberg.

DM: Does the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia?

NC: Yes. And that’s not even questioned. In fact, there was a so-called, Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Kosovo bombing led by a very respected South African jurist–Justice Goldstone–and they concluded that the bombing was, in their words “illegal but legitimate.” Illegal makes it a war crime, but they said it was legitimate because it was necessary to stop genocide. And then comes the usual inversion of the history. Actually, Justice Goldstone, who is a respectable person, later recognized that the atrocities came after the bombing, and that they were, furthermore, the anticipated consequences of the bombing. He did recognize that in a lecture, a Morgenthau Lecture in New York a couple of years ago. He said, “Well, nevertheless we can take some comfort in the fact that Serbia was planning it anyway,” and the proof that they were planning it is—guess what–“Operation Horseshoe,” a probable intelligence fabrication that was publicized after the bombing. So even if it was true, it wouldn’t matter. And furthermore, even if that was true, it was a contingency plan. Israel has a contingency plans to drive all the Palestinians out of the West Bank if there is a conflict, so does that mean that Iran has the right to bomb Israel? The U.S. has contingency plans to invade Canada. OK, so does that mean that everybody has a right to bomb the United States? That’s the last straw of justification on the part of a respectable person. But for the “herd of independent minds” it just doesn't matter. The bombing was because of their “high values,” and our “nobility” and was to stop genocide. If you say anything else, a torrent of vilification and abuse comes.

But it’s not just on this issue. It’s on every issue. So try to bring up the idea... Take, say, the Vietnam War. A lot of time has passed, a huge amount of scholarship, tons of documentation. The US blew up the country...

DM: Let me just interrupt. I’m sorry, we won’t have time to go into that. I want to ask you about some of the present developments that are being used again to fabricate a lot of these issues. Slobodan Milosevic died last month. What is the significance of his death in your view?

NC: Milosevic was... he committed many crimes, not a nice person, terrible person, but the charges against him would never have held up. He was originally indicted on the Kosovo charges. The indictment was issued right in the middle of bombing, which already nullifies it. They admittedly used British and U.S. intelligence right in the middle of bombing. You can’t possibly take it seriously. However, if you look at the indictment, it was for crimes committed after the bombing. There was one exception: Racak. Let’s even grant that the claims are true. Let’s put that aside. So, there was one exception. No evidence that he was involved or it took place, but almost the entire indictment was for after the bombing. How are those charges going to stand up unless you put Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the dock alongside him? Then they realized that it was a weak case, so they added the early Balkan wars. OK, a lot of horrible things happened there. But the worst crime, the one for which they were really going to charge him for genocide, was Srebrenica. Now, there is a little problem with that: namely there was an extensive, detailed inquiry into it by the Dutch Government, which was the responsible government. There were Dutch forces there. That’s a big hundreds-of-pages inquiry, and their conclusion is that Milosevic did not know anything about that, and that when it was discovered in Belgrade, they were horrified. Well, suppose that had entered into the testimony.

DM: Does this mean that you are a “Milosevic sympathizer”?

NC: No, he was terrible. In fact he should have been thrown out. In fact, he probably would have been thrown out in the early 90s, if the Albanians had voted. It was pretty close. He did all sorts of terrible things, but it wasn’t a totalitarian state. There were elections. There was an opposition. There were a lot of rotten things, but there are rotten things everywhere, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have dinner with him or talk to him. And yes, he deserves to be tried for crimes, but this trial was never going to hold up, if it was even semi-honest. It was a farce. In fact, they were lucky that he died.

DM: In what sense?

NC: Because they didn't have to go through with the trial. Now they can build up an image about how he would have been convicted as another Hitler, had he lived. But now they don’t have to do it.

DM: I just want to bring you back to the bombing of the RTS. Some have argued that this particular act of NATO’s in 1999 set precedents for targeting of media by the United States afterward–notably in Afghanistan and Iraq–that it set a precedent for legitimizing media houses and labeling them as propaganda in order to bomb them in U.S. invasions. Do you make any connection there?

NC: Well, the chronology is correct, but I don’t think they need excuses. The point is: you bomb anybody you want to. Let’s take 1998, so it was before. Now in 1998, here’s another thing you’re not allowed to say in the United States or the West. It leads to hysteria, but I’ll say it. In 1998, Clinton bombed the major pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, OK? That was the plant that was producing most of the pharmaceuticals and veterinary medicines for a poor African country that’s under embargo. They can’t replace them. What’s that going to do? Obviously, it's going to kill unknown numbers of people. In fact, the U.S. barred an investigation by the UN, so we don’t know, and of course you don’t want to investigate your own crimes, but there was some evidence. So the German Ambassador to Sudan, who is a fellow at Harvard University, wrote an article in Harvard International Review in which he estimated the casualties in the tens of thousands of deaths. The Near East Foundation, a very respectable foundation, their regional director had done field work in Sudan, did a study. He came out with the same conclusions: probably tens of thousands of dead. Right after the bombing, within weeks, Human Rights Watch issued a warning that there was going to be a humanitarian catastrophe and gave examples of aid workers being pulled out from areas where people were dying at a vast rate and so on. You cannot mention this. Any mention of this brings the same hysteria as criticizing the bombing of the TV station. So it’s unmentionable. It is a Western crime and therefore it was legitimate.

Let’s just suppose that Al Qaeda blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the U.S., or England, or Israel, or any country in which "people" lived, "human beings," not "ants," "people." Fine. Can you imagine the reaction? We’d probably have a nuclear war, but when we do it to a poor African country, it didn’t happen! Not discussed. In fact, the only issue that is discussed. There is discussion. It is whether the intelligence was correct when it claimed that it was also producing chemical weapons. That is the only question. If you mention anything else, the usual hysteria, and tirades.

Western intellectual culture is extremely disciplined, and rigid. You cannot go beyond fixed bounds. It’s not censored. It’s all voluntary, but it’s true, and, incidentally, not every society is like this. In fact, the Third World countries are different. So take, say, Turkey, half Third World. In Turkey, the intellectuals, the leading intellectuals, best-known writers, academics, journalists, artists. They not only protest atrocities like the Kurdish massacres, but they protest them constantly, but they are also constantly carrying out civil disobedience against them. I’ve also participated with them sometimes. And they will publish banned writings which they report and present to the Prosecutor’s Office, demanding to be prosecuted. That’s not a joke. Sometimes they are sent to prison. That’s no joke. There’s nothing like that in the West. Inconceivable. When I am in Western Europe and I hear them telling me Turkey isn't civilized enough to enter the European Union, I burst out laughing! It’s the other way around.

DM: You mentioned the democratic movements in various countries. There was, of course a promising democratic movement in Serbia before and, of course, during the bombing. And people like Wesley Clark had claimed that this bombing would be of benefit to the anti-Milosevic forces, when it, of course, turned out to be a disaster. Was this a sincere evaluation on behalf of NATO?

NC: Well, I can’t look into their minds. When you commit a crime it is extremely easy to find a justification for it. That’s true of personal life. It’s true of international affairs. So yes, maybe they believed it. I think there’s convincing evidence that the Japanese fascists believed that they were doing good when they carried out their war. John Stewart Mill surely believed he was being honorable and noble when he was calling for the conquest of India right after some of the worst atrocities, which he didn’t mention. You can easily believe you are noble. To me it’s obvious that it was going to harm the democratic movement. I wrote about it, and I couldn’t get much information, but it was obvious that it was going to happen. It is happening right now in Iran. There is a democratic movement in Iran. They are pleading with the United States not to maintain a harsh embargo, certainly not to attack. It is harming them, and it strengthens the most reactionary violent elements in the society, of course.

DM: Let me ask you one final question about the future. Negotiations over Kosovo’s final status are under way right now. The United States is backing Agim Ceku, who was someone involved in ethnic cleansing not only in...

NC: He was a war criminal himself. What about the Krajina expulsion, which he was...

DM: First of all, what do you see as an appropriate, realistic solution for the final status of Kosovo, and how does that differ from what the United States is now promoting?

NC: My feeling has been for a long time that the only realistic solution is one which in fact was offered by the president of Serbia, I think, back round 1993, namely some kind of partition, with the Serbian—by now very there are very few Serbs left, but with what were the Serbian areas being part of Serbia, and the rest being what they call “independent,” which means they’ll join Albania. I didn’t see any other feasible solution ten years ago. I still don't see any other.

DM: Shall we wrap up? Professor Chomsky, thank you very much.


[1] Chris McGreal, “France’s Shame?The Guardian, January 11, 2007.
[2] Therese LeClerc, “Who is responsible for the genocide in Rwanda?World Socialist Website, April 29, 1998.
[4] Stephen Cohen, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (Columbia University Press, 2011), 186-187.
[5] Catherine Brown, “Deconstructing Russophobia,” June 6, 2014.
[6] Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (Pluto Press, 1999).

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