This is the second (and final) part of my response to Berube's characterisation ("pack of lies") of Chomsky's writing on the NATO attack on Yugoslavia. You can read Part 1 by following this link.
Here again is Berube quoting Chomsky (this is the text that Berube calls a pack of lies):
Remember, the Milosevic Tribunal began with Kosovo, right in the middle of the US-British bombing in late '99 . . . Now if you take a look at that indictment, with a single exception, every charge was for crimes after the bombing.
There's a reason for that. The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit [that] it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did. Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings. In fact, if you look at the British parliamentary inquiry, they actually reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.
So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn't going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible their troops were there and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick.
My original response dealt with the purely logical/analytical aspect of Berube's response to the above and how this response did not constitute a refutation. Here I want to go a bit further and read into Chomsky (which if done carefully, is not an unfair thing to do, given that we do not communicate in formal languages).
There are two angles from which we can approach Chomsky. One of them is what I recommend based on his voluminous writing and his own words. In this reading, Chomsky concentrates his criticism on the powerful: state and corporate action. He documents historical record, standard sources, and offers fairly straightforward reasoning to derive his conclusions. He has explicitly stated, many times over, the reasons for his concentration on certain things (U.S action, for instance) as opposed to others (say the actions of Cory Smith, the school bully at PS 132). Not only can he say more about his country of residence (for what should be obvious reasons) and effect change, but also it coincidentally happens to be the most powerful one in the world today (and therefore impacts the world in a larger scale for the same bad behaviour). The context, therefore in which to read (the quoted text) is this: if some entity exercises its power, what are the facts, the stated reasons and justifications, the result, and how do these match up. This I will call either the parsimonious or sceptical attitude.
The second angle, employed consistently by the right, and now by these segments of the left, is one which starts with the question of Chomsky's motives. The next step is a shortcut to examine his record and conclude that he is "anti-American". It follows then that what Chomsky writes serves this interest (or some similar ideological commitment) and one has to do no more than wait for his commitment to trip up his reasoning.
With the latter attitude, the quoted text reads so: given we believe that Chomsky thinks America is always wrong, Chomsky is clutching at whatever he can get, even to the extent of defending Milosevic (let us set aside how such reasoning is peppered with all sorts of assumptions of mental states). Chomsky uses this or that evidence to show that Milosevic was guiltless and the U.S and allies had no justification.
The analysis here is at best naive in that it looks for a coincidence between the state of the world (Kosovo) and the U.S-NATO story and once found (in one way or another) derides anyone who questions U.S action. The coincidence, it should be obvious (but isn't!), does not imply any justification. This we can charitably call the naive attitude.
By the parsimonious attitude things look significantly different: the U.S/NATO acted in a particular manner, and justified the action with some claims. The claim was not just that atrocities were afoot in Kosovo, but that they knew (in the sense of having a record) of such atrocities. Chomsky asks the simple question, giving them the benefit of the doubt, after the end of the NATO action: where is that record? One good place to look for that record is the charges filed. So there he looks. And he finds (and is not refuted on that point by Berube) that the evidence/record is events that happened after the event! What is worse, Chomsky rationally suggests, is that it should have been known that these events would occur as a consequence of the attack. Then Chomsky wonders: could this then be one of the reasons for the attack: to produce the necessary data? ("There is a reason for that").
He then points out that the charges against Milosevic reach back into earlier history. Once again, he asks, what of the events implied in these charges? Are they documented? He offers one fairly official source (the Danish government) and finds that they found a different conclusion than what the charges imply.
Chomsky's argument can be posed as a call to judgement of NATO action:
- Can you, at least now (after the invasion), offer evidence of atrocities in Kosovo, your stated reason for attacking Yugoslavia?
- Is such evidence included in the charges against Milosevic? If not, why not?
- In fact, the evidence you offer is mostly from after the attack! What is the reason for this?
- What have your own governments concluded after investigation on the ground?
- Why is there a need for non-Kosovo evidence if you had enough evidence about Kosovo to justify something as extreme as a war?
- Does your non-Kosovo evidence hold up against Milosevic? What do your own governments find about that question?
Let us give all the leeway possible to the naive attitude:
There is one point where Chomsky seems to make a statement:
Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings.
How do we read this? Is Chomsky saying that irrespective of the US/NATO story and their justifications/evidence, there was in his opinion no atrocities committed by Milosevic and Yugoslavia in Kosovo? This would be the harshest reading of Chomsky but even here Chomsky does not wave his hands in the air. He goes back to those he is questioning and their own findings: the British parliamentary report that found most of the crimes to be attributable to the KLA.
Note that in all of this, to call Chomsky incorrect (let alone a liar) one has to show that his reasoning of that time was wrong i.e., his justification for his point is either factually or logically wrong, or there were other facts he had in possession (or could have easily obtained) that should have led him to the opposite conclusion. But this harsh reading doesn't gel with Chomsky's general style (which I think he has stated many times): doesn't matter much what I think, what can we conclude from what we know?
Let us go down that path, nonetheless. What else has Chomsky written on Kosovo? Here is him quoting the WSJ:
A rare exception was the Wall Street Journal, which devoted its lead story on December 31 to an in-depth analysis of what had taken place. The headline reads: War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn't.
Despite the intensive efforts, the results of "the mass-grave obsession," as the WSJ analysts call it, were disappointingly thin. Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect, .. the pattern is of scattered killings," a form of "ethnic cleansing light." "Most killings and burnings [were] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA-UCK] had been active" or could infiltrate, some human-rights researchers reported, an attempt "to clear out areas of KLA support, using selective terror, robberies and sporadic killings." These conclusions gain some support from the detailed OSCE review released in December, which "suggests a kind of military rationale for the expulsions, which were concentrated in areas controlled by the insurgents and along likely invasion routes."
It is clear from this that Chomsky does not suppress the notion that the war in Kosovo was cruel. Rather, the line below makes it clear (as I have stated above) that he is concerned with the NATO justification:
For understanding of NATO’s resort to war, the most important period…
Finally, it is utterly childish to ask that Chomsky speak to every issue and to every aspect of each issue. There is no real "A-Ha" moment in turning on him with the question: what do you say of the poor Albanians? Nothing! Shame!
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