Chomsky Replies re Kosovo
From the ZNet Forum System


Chomsky was asked first about support among progressives for the position that "military intervention is needed to stop Milosevic from committing genocide, regardless of whether NATO's motivations are pure," with comparisons about "WWII being necessary to stop Hitler, even if the U.S. did not have truly humanitarian objectives." As well as, "Is the Yugoslavian government genocidal" and "Will the NATO intervention have the effect of stopping Milosevic and/or saving the people of Kosovo from extermination?"

I don't want to say anything about the people you are referring to, because I don't know, but it seems to me reasonably clear that if we think the matter through, the arguments you report are untenable, so untenable as to raise some rather serious questions.

First, let's consider Milosovec's "genocide" in the period preceding the NATO bombings. According to NATO, 2000 people had been killed, mostly by Serb military, which by summer 1998 began to react (with retaliation against civilians) to guerrilla (KLA) attacks on police stations and civilians, based from and funded from abroad. And several hundred thousands of refugees were generated. (We might ask, incidentally, how the US would respond to attacks on police stations and civilians in New York by armed guerrillas supported from and based in Libya). That's a humanitarian crisis, but one of a scale that is matched or exceeded substantially all over the world right now, quite commonly with decisive support from Clinton. The numbers happen to be almost exactly what the State Department has just reported for Colombia in the same year, with roughly the same distribution of atrocities (and a far greater refugee population, since the 300,000 resulting from last year's atrocities are added to over a million from before). And it's a fraction of the atrocities that Clinton dedicated substantial efforts to escalating in Turkey in the same years, in the ethnic cleansing of Kurds. And on, and on. So if Milosovic is "genocidal," so are a lot of others -- pretty close to home. That doesn't say he's a nice guy: he's a monstrous thug. But the term "genocidal" is being waved as a propaganda device to mobilize the public for Clinton's wars.

Second, the US ("NATO") intervention, as predicted, radically escalated the atrocities, maybe even approaching the level of Turkey, or of Palestine in 1948, to take another example. I wouldn't use the term "genocide" for such operations -- that's a kind of ultra-right "revisionism," an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, in my opinion. But it's very bad, and it suffices to undermine the claim that "military intervention is needed to stop Milosevic from committing genocide," on elementary logical grounds.

About "WWII being necessary to stop Hitler," that's not what happened at all. The US/UK were rather sympathetic to Hitler (and absolutely adored Mussolini). That went on to the late '30s, with varying defections in the latter stages (much the same was true of Japanese fascism). When Hitler invaded Poland, Britain and France went to war -- called "a phony war," because they didn't do much. When Hitler attacked them, it became a real war. When Germany declared war on the US, after Japan had attacked mainly US military facilities in US colonies that had been conquered (in one case, with extraordinary violence) half a century before, the US went to war. No one went to war "to stop Hitler."

There's always more to say: history is too complex to summarize in a few lines. But the basic assumptions you describe are so far off the mark that discussion is hardly even possible.


Chomsky was also asked: "To what extent could US resort to military force in the Balkans be related to Caspian Sea oil and concerns over declining reserves, uncertainty about Russia and its former empire, the threat to Western interests of increasing conflict in the Balkans, the desire to increase the Pentagon budget, or maybe other factors, since the professed humanitarian concerns seem `dubious.'"

On the last, "dubious" is too kind. If a Mafia don who runs the local branch of Murder Inc. shows some kindness to children, the humanitarian concerns don't rise to the level of "dubious" -- and that's even more so if he shows his humanitarian concerns by kicking the kid in the face. We can put that aside, as sheer hypocrisy.
More plausible, in my view, is just what Clinton, Blair, etc., have been saying from the start. It's necessary to ensure the "credibility of NATO." But that phrase has to be translated from Newspeak.

The US is not concerned with the "credibility" of Italy or Holland: rather, with the US (and its British attack dog). And what does "credibility" mean?

Here we can return to the Mafia don. If someone doesn't pay protection money, the don has to establish "credibility," to make sure others don't get funny ideas about disobeying orders. So what Clinton, et al., are saying is that it's necessary to ensure that everyone has proper fear of the global enforcer. I think it is also useful to bear in mind the Clinton strategic document called "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence" that's quoted in an article of mine in Z a year ago on "Rogue States," the same one Steve Shalom reviewed in more detail in a recent post. It advocates that the US portray itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked," "part of the national persona we project to all adversaries": "It hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed," and surely not subordinate to treaty obligations or conditions of world order. "The fact that some elements" of the US government "may appear to be potentially `out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers."
That makes sense for a rogue superpower, with a near monopoly on means of violence. The "humanitarian cover" has been used by violent states throughout history: we'd probably find it was true of Genghis Khan, if we had records. It was surely true of the Crusaders who left a hideous trail of death and destruction. In fact, about the only clear exceptions I know are in the Biblical tales, which call for outright genocide -- the Carthaginian solution -- with no credible motive.

In the background is the dedicated US assault against any institution of international order: the UN, the World Court, even the WTO when it gets out of hand. That's been going on for almost 40 years, for reasons that are explained very clearly and would be taught in every school in the country and headlined in every newspaper and journal, under conditions of authentic freedom: they don't follow our orders, so they can get lost. That's why the US, in this case, compelled its more reluctant NATO allies to reject even "authorization" from the UN.

A very important observation leaked through the NY Times on April 8, in one of the last paragraphs of a story on an inside page by Steven Erlanger, their Belgrade correspondent, who has a record of reliability. Possibly the most important bit of information about what has been happening. He writes that "just before the bombing, when [the Serbian Parliament] rejected NATO troops in Kosovo, it also supported the idea of a United Nations force to monitor a political settlement there." If Erlanger's report is true, then it provides very dramatic evidence of US intentions: like the bombing of Iraq in December, it is another brazen attack against the institutions of world order, since the Serbian Parliament would be right, and Washington wrong, on the alternatives of a UN vs. a NATO force. If the report is true, then the last shreds of legitimacy for the US/NATO operation disappear. I hadn't seen this reported before; maybe others have. It surely merited a front-page headline, the day before the bombings began, not a hidden phrase two weeks later -- though that's better than nothing.

I'd be intrigued to know if others have come across similar reports.

The other factors you mention could be real, but I think they are secondary. The US (NATO) operation is likely to exacerbate most of the problems. And expanding the Pentagon budget is not a value in itself. The kind of expansion that will follow this episode is largely a waste, from the point of view of the Pentagon and the large sectors of the "private" economy that rely on it for R&D.

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