Sins of Chomsky

A propos of Seymour Hersh’s newest controversy, I recently had the chance to engage The Policy Tensor in an exchange about the credibility of sources. On Hersh, the Policy Tensor’s position is clear: given his long career, he should be heard by the mainstream media. As the Tensor sees it, either mainstream journalists disprove Hersh’s allegations, or they must give them credibility. The Westphalian Post respectfully disagrees. It is not that Hersh should not be heard but that he offers precious little evidence other than sources, other journalists cannot verify. This is also not the first time Hersh makes incredible allegations: last year, scepticism followed his “uncovering” of a massive Turkish conspiracy to provide Syrian rebels with Sarin gas in a false flag operation against the Assad regime. This latest episode has not contributed to reestablishing faith in him… This is akin to Woodward and Bernstein exposing Nixon without the White House recordings…

Discussing Hersh eventually led our discussion with the Tensor to the realm of Chomskyland. Because of Chomsky’s almost obsessive concern with footnotes, the Tensor sees him as a rich source of knowledge. Once again, not only do I disagree, but I must offee the exact opposite verdict: Chomsky is fabulously unreliable. This is both because Chomsky has been proven wrong before but mostly because he has a strident – and pathetic – ideological agenda: he’s an anarchist.

I have abstained from even mentioning him in this weblog because I think he is too ridiculous to be paid any attention whatsoever but when even intelligent people like the Tensor fall for his arguments, I see that the problem is greater than I thought.

Let me put it in simple terms: when looking for credible foreign policy analysis, I can certainly understand that someone minimally smart will steer away from mainstream media. But if the simplistic and biased approach of the big media is to be derided, then so is Chomsky’s. The best argument I can offer is simple: any serious analyst will inevitably find himself on both sides of the ideological divide, because no one side is absolutely right about every policy. Chomsky doesn’t. Somehow, his analysis always puts him on the left of the spectrum. This should be a big hint that something is wrong with his analysis.

Chomsky first came to my attention during discussions about Israel/Palestine and I quickly realised that the man had no notion of what national interest is. Having read more of his work, at first I had the impression that he was a liberal humanitarian, only concerned with human rights. I was wrong, as I came to find that the bulk of his political writing was dedicated to violent criticism of the USA and Israel.

Now, I certainly encourage criticism of both states in policy matters but I stop short of thinking that they are the worst offenders on the planet.  I do believe the US to be responsible for much of the world’s ideological crusading but this is the objective product of American culture, not because I am anti-American or in any other way biased against America.

If anyone were serious about human rights activism, the most heavy criticism should be hurled at the Third World, where the most egregious violations take place. As will demonstrate below, reading Chomsky, one would get the opposite idea.

Finally, over the years Chomsky has lent his support to a number of causes which were ultimately proven to be idiotic: he tried to argue against the first reports of mass genocide in Cambodia – only to be seen as bizarre, questioning the exact numbers but then admitting that the genocide had actually taken place… – he spoke very favourably about the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela – the same country where now supermarket shelves are empty even of the most basic goods such as toilet paper – he most recently joined the international left in criticising the policies of austerity in Europe – one can only imagine where Ireland, Portugal and Spain would be, if they had followed the marvelous policies of Greece’s Syriza party…

The man is slave to an ideological agenda and thus, in my opinion, absolutely worthless as a source but the Tensor asked me to comment this Chomsky article so we could achieve common ground. What follows are excerpts from the text and my comments on them:

  • “having suppressed information on the planned invasion, in “the national interest,” as this term was defined by the group of arrogant and deluded men of whom Schlesinger gives such a flattering portrait in his recent account of the Kennedy Administration.”

 Subversive remark. If ‘national interest’ is not defined by anyone, then there would never be state secrecy & a normal state could not function. If one does not accept the government’s definition in regards to security matters, then when does national security or national interest apply in regards to secrecy? This is a pure anarchist statement.

  • “the power of the government’s propaganda apparatus is such that the citizen who does not undertake a research project on the subject can hardly hope to confront government pronouncements with fact.”

 This is true but it is universally true for all regimes, not just America. By the same token, one could extrapolate this to democracy itself: the wide majority of citizens of liberal democracies are too ignorant and stupid to qualify to vote, yet they vote nonetheless. Question is, what is Chomsky’s alternative? The reality is that most democracies are oligarchic and there is nothing wrong because that is a historical constant for all political regimes.

  • “the bombing of North Vietnam and the massive escalation of military commitment in early 1965 as based on a “perfectly rational argument”: so long as the Vietcong thought they were going to win the war, they obviously would not be interested in any kind of negotiated settlement.”

 If what the NV/USSR initiatives were meant to accomplish was US withdrawal & the abandoning of SV, then why should the US negotiate? Yes, it is rational to look for a better political settlement through the force of arms… isn’t that what the armed forces are meant to do? This does not however preclude criticism if the policy ends up as ineffective. Again, Chomsky is simply unaware of what national interest is.

  • Hanoi initiated the guerrilla war against South Vietnam in 1958”

His point about anti-communist alarmism in US is well taken, especially considering how much Stalin had destroyed the Marxist-Leninist internationalist model. That said, lets not be naïve: the USSR was actively sponsoring numerous left-wing forces throughout the world, including communist parties in the West. Even under Stalin, the USSR was still completely a revisionist superpower. The US was not, which was why it was in fact so easy to build a cordon sanitaire around the USSR and in the world, because everyone was afraid of Moscow, not just the West. As much as it pains Chomsky, it was NV that initiated the conflict and the US reacted – even overreacted – logically by seeking to preserve an ally.

  • the hypocritical moralism of the past”

 Yes, the burden of the white man was indeed objectionable. But Chomsky’s problem is that he does not want to see when those policies benefit the US. He basically takes the political propagandists at their word, checks it against reality and is shocked that it is not true. Well but is this any different in any other country? It is one thing to criticize US exceptionalism – like I do – it is another – and here is where he becomes a loony – to precisely defend that the moralist propaganda be carried out as advertised. This is an important point: he is not saying that US actions don’t benefit Americans, he is saying they SHOULDN’T benefit Americans, because not only does he think the government should not lie but in fact, he IS himself an exceptionalist who does see as America’s moral duty, liberating oppressed peoples and help them thrive.

  • “what disturbs [Henry Kissinger] most is that others question not our judgment, but our motives (…)The long tradition of naiveté and self-righteousness that disfigures our intellectual history, however, must serve as a warning to the third world”

This is precisely what I’m getting at. It is one thing to disagree with government policy, it is another to claim the government is not patriotic. As true as it may be that politicians disregard the national interest, criticism should follow only when the interests of the nation are not taken into account at all. What Chomsky wants though, is a socialist utopia where countries mutually help each other. Only this would please him, which is why his concern is always for the 3rd WORLD. Why must the 3rd world be the main object of his concerns? For a simple reason: the poor are always right, the downtrodden possess moral superiority. His bias is fundamentally a Marxist one.

Now, he is an American citizen but even if he wanted to ideologically argue against his own interests, any serious analyst would have to consider that, as ‘unfair’ as US actions may be, they do on occasion serve the national self-interest. Chomsky’s radical bias is thus revealed: not only does HE himself not care about his own interest as a citizen, but he expects the US government to not do so either… In a pure Marxist fashion, he believes it to be the duty of developed countries, to help underdeveloped ones progress. This is the ultimate utopia and it is this tremendous ideological bias that transpires in everything he writes, it is this which also reveals him to be a true American exceptionalist: because he truly believes that the US is better than all societies, that this advanced system has been corrupted and that once it is made pure again, it is to be put to the service of world progress.

  • “The basic assumptions of the “New Frontiersmen” should be pondered carefully by those who look forward to the involvement of academic intellectuals in politics. For example, I have referred above to Arthur Schlesinger’s objections to the Bay of Pigs invasion, but the reference was imprecise. True, he felt that it was a “terrible idea,” but “not because the notion of sponsoring an exile attempt to overthrow Castro seemed intolerable in itself.” Such a reaction would be the merest sentimentality, unthinkable to a tough-minded realist. The difficulty, rather, was that it seemed unlikely that the deception could succeed. The operation, in his view, was ill-conceived but not otherwise objectionable.[13] In a similar vein, Schlesinger quotes with approval Kennedy’s “realistic” assessment of the situation resulting from Trujillo’s assassination:

There are three possibilities in descending order of preference: a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime or a Castro regime. We ought to aim at the first, but we really can’t renounce the second until we are sure that we can avoid the third [p. 769].

The reason why the third possibility is so intolerable is explained a few pages later (p. 774): “Communist success in Latin America would deal a much harder blow to the power and influence of the United States.” Of course, we can never really be sure of avoiding the third possibility; therefore, in practice, we will always settle for the second, as we are now doing in Brazil and Argentina, for example.”

This is an excellent example of what I mean: I can’t see how Schlesinger is wrong here… Can you? Chomsky is clearly NOT arguing that the US does not further its interests, he is arguing that it DOES!… How is this minimally serious as analysis?… Why would anyone rely on him?

Worse still, he himself admits it, which is why I cannot see why you could possibly turn to him for reasonable analysis:

  • A distinction of this sort seems to be what Irving Kristol, for example, has in mind in his analysis of the protest over Vietnam policy (Encounter, August, 1965). He contrasts the responsible critics, such as Walter Lippmann, the Times, and Senator Fulbright, with the “teach-in movement.” “Unlike the university protesters,” he points out, “Mr. Lippmann engages in no presumptuous suppositions as to ‘what the Vietnamese people really want’—he obviously doesn’t much care—or in legalistic exegesis as to whether, or to what extent, there is ‘aggression’ or ‘revolution’ in South Vietnam. His is a realpolitik point of view”

As Chomsky himself confesses, it is not important whether Kristol is right…

  • “Kristol turns to the question of what motivates [the protest movement] —more generally, what has made students and junior faculty “go left,” as he sees it, amid general prosperity and under liberal, Welfare State administrations. This, he notes, “is a riddle to which no sociologist has as yet come up with an answer.” Since these young people are well-off, have good futures, etc., their protest must be irrational. It must be the result of boredom, of too much security, or something of this sort.

Other possibilities come to mind. It may be, for example, that as honest men the students and junior faculty are attempting to find out the truth for themselves rather than ceding the responsibility to “experts” or to government”

It doesn’t occur to Chomsky to even counter Kristol’s argument: he obviously does not contend that Americans live very well trusting in their government…

  • “Anyone can be a moral individual, concerned with human rights and problems; but only a college professor, a trained expert, can solve technical problems by “sophisticated” methods. Ergo, it is only problems of the latter sort that are important or real. Responsible, non-ideological experts will give advice on tactical questions; irresponsible, “ideological types” will “harangue” about principle and trouble themselves over moral issues and human rights, or over the traditional problems of man and society, concerning which “social and behavioral science” has nothing to offer beyond trivialities.”

As I have said before, if human rights is the beginning and end of one’s analysis, then one is an activist, not an analyst.  In Chomsky’s case, this is particularly intellectually bankrupt, because most human rights violations occur in the 3rd world, yet he spends most of his time violently criticizing the West.

Far from being a fan of Kristol, I think he is right here as well: most people without scientific knowledge of political science, will try to use politics to promote a cause. Governmental Policy however, is not meant to promote one cause or another – in 1 million people, you’ll find 1 million causes – but rather to improve the well-being of the citizens and the survival of the state.

A perfect example of what Kristol is talking about, to me, is WWII: if the primary goal of public policy is to promote a cause and American exceptionalism is so wonderful, then the USSR should have never been an ally because Stalin was just as bad as Hitler, yet all Realists would not have hesitated. This is why it is irresponsible to listen to people like Chomsky.

  • “To anyone who has any familiarity with the social and behavioral sciences (or the “policy sciences”), the claim that there are certain considerations and principles too deep for the outsider to comprehend is simply an absurdity, unworthy of comment.”

Right, so if the experts – those most familiar with the issues – are not supposed to come up with solutions… who is? All of us? Ah, I smell anarchism… Don’t believe me, here he is again:

  • “Whereas one might conceive, at least in principle, of a solution within national boundaries, a sensible idea of transforming international society to cope with vast and perhaps increasing human misery is hardly likely to develop within the framework of the intellectual consensus that Bell describes.”

So basically what Chomsky argues for is a system where ALL the world’s individuals come together to solve ALL the world’s problems… How is this not utopian to an extreme, not to mention intellectually stupid?…

  • “The backward countries have incredible, perhaps insurmountable problems, and few available options; the United States has a wide range of options, and has the economic and technological resources, though, evidently, neither the intellectual nor moral resources, to confront at least some of these problems.”

Like I said…

I will also be adding a new link for the blog ‘Chomsky Watch‘.

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