TCS Daily

Noam Alone

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - June 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Now that the United States is involved in a new and wide-ranging war on terrorism, the traditional opponents of any kind of American military action have come out in force. They denounce the war, and other aspects of American foreign policy. They argue that somehow, someway, America's actions around the world spurred the attacks of September 11th against us. And they attribute dark and malicious motives to just about each and every American action, especially the war on terrorism.

Chief among the critics of American foreign policy is Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistic studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ever since the Vietnam War, Chomsky has been one of the most virulent and outspoken critics of American foreign policy. His relentless and scathing attacks have made him the favorite of the hard left, and a much-desired speaker in leftist gatherings. Chomsky's admirers praise him as being consistently hardheaded about American motives, and laud his supposed championing of those "oppressed" by American foreign policy.

However, in examining Chomsky's "scholarship" in American foreign policy, one easily finds numerous examples of distortions, errors, factual misstatements, and laughably illogical analysis. One also finds statements and assertions that are not only historically false, but morally daft and reprehensible.

Much of Chomsky's notoriety stems from his analysis of the horrendous calamity that occurred in Cambodia-the "autogenocide" perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million of their own countrymen. Inexplicably, Chomsky chose to apologize for the Khmer Rouge, and sought to either dismiss allegations of their brutality, or claim that it was somehow traceable to the actions of the United States in southeast Asia.

An important and thorough paper written by historian Sophal Ear, exposes Chomsky's poor analysis of the Cambodia crisis. In one portion of the paper, Ear discusses Chomsky's and co-author Edward Herman's analysis of the forced evacuation of the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh:

"Chomsky and Herman accuse the U.S. government of war-induced famine, but hypocritically assert that Khmer Rouge quick thinking in evacuating Phnom Penh served to rescue the population from starvation. Chomsky and Herman want to have their cake and eat it too. For instance, after dwelling on the several allegedly faked photographs of a man being murdered by the Khmer Rouge, and another pulling plows, they conclude that 'Even if the photograph had been authentic, we might ask why people should be pulling plows in Cambodia. The reason is clear, if unmentioned. The savage American assault on Cambodia did not spare the animal population.' Their logic is . . . appalling . . ." (Emphasis added).

To argue, as Chomsky does, that the Cambodian people were forced to pull plows by the vicious and barbaric Khmer Rouge simply because of a "savage American assault" on the Cambodian "animal population," would be comic if the subject matter were not so serious and morbid.

Chomsky engages in more sophistry, as Ear points out. Speaking about refugee accounts of the Khmer Rouge slaughter, Chomsky and Herman said that "refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter will fail to take into account." Chomsky and Herman further wrote that "allegations of genocide are being used to whitewash Western imperialism, to distract attention from the 'institutionalized violence' of the expanding system of subfascism and to lay the ideological basis for further intervention and oppression."

As if this were not enough, Chomsky and Herman then proceeded to blatantly misrepresent the nature of the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Cambodians into the countryside, stating that "the evacuation of Phnom Penh, widely denounced at the time and since for its undoubted brutality, may actually have saved many lives." (Emphasis added). Ear scrutinizes this demented statement as follows:

"[Chomsky and Herman] forget that [the evacuation] was because of the Khmer Rouge's two month long siege of Phnom Penh that made the city a living hell for the 2 million refugees who now flooded her streets. Having it both ways, Chomsky and Herman argue in a self-contradictory logic that: (1) had there been starvation, it was due to American aggression and savagery; (2) that there may not have been starvation, or at least not as much as there could have been thanks to the brilliant Khmer Rouge evacuation strategy."

Given this history, it's little wonder that Chomsky preposterous assertions continue in analyzing the war on terrorism. One of Chomsky's more notable comments regarding the then-impending U.S. military action in Afghanistan, was the following statement he made in a speech:

"According to the New York Times there are 7-8 million people in Afghanistan on the verge of starvation. That was true actually before September 11th. They were surviving on international aid. On September 16th, the Times reported, I'm quoting, that the United States demanded from Pakistan the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population. As far as I could determine there was no reaction in the United States or for that matter in Europe."

In the event that readers/listeners wouldn't understand the charge he was making against the United States, Chomsky spelled matters out more forcefully in the next paragraph:

"Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide. It also gives a good deal of insight into the elite culture, the culture we are part of. It indicates that whatever, what will happen we don't know, but plans are being made and programs implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next few months very casually with no comment, no particular thought about it, that's just kind of normal, here and in a good part of Europe." (Emphasis added).

To flatly say, without any evidence whatsoever, without any logical reasoning at all, that the United States was making plans "on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next few months," is the worst possible kind of cheap demagoguery. And as it turns out, not only were Chomsky's comments utterly outrageous and despicable, they were also completely wrong. As pointed out by Matt Welch, "[t]he Associated Press, Reuters and other organizations conducted their own inquiries into civilian deaths, arriving at numbers between 600 and 1,500," a far cry from the Hitlerian holocaust that Chomsky accused the United States of preparing to perpetrate.

This then, is the eminence that leads the intellectual campaign against the war on terrorism. Chomsky's foolish and demonstrably false past statements make him a poor spokesman for the antiwar Left. If the antiwar movement wishes to have any vibrancy and relevance in current debates, it would do well to abandon Chomsky's fossilized rhetoric, and his unthinking, Pavlovian philosophy of automatically blaming America for the evils that confront it.



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