Noam Chomsky

2005 02 07
Osirak revisited

Last year I got a bit worked up about Noam Chomsky’s view of the consequences of Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear power plant at Osirak. Recently, I’ve seen two interesting arguments in favour of Chomsky’s view, and against my own. For anyone who didn’t get enough of this issue the last time around, Eric Umansky has a brief post on the subject worth reading.

Howls of outrage (4)

2004 09 26
Cobban on Kaplan

Helena Cobban has some harsh words for Robert Kaplan today. One point I would like to make – again, cause you know this blog is all about repetition – is that Kaplan says X, Y, and Z about American foreign policy, where X, Y, and Z would be rejected as preposterous slanders if they came from, oh, say, Noam Chomsky. (Read Cobban’s post to see what I mean.) Now, lots of people might disagree with Kaplan about X, Y, and Z. But I don’t imagine that when many of these same people encounter X, Y, and Z on the editorial page of Wall Street Journal they find the propositions preposterous or slanderous or worthy of unconditional rejection.

This is not to say that Chomsky or Kaplan is right about any particular aspect of American foreign policy. Just that when Noam gets on his soapbox, a lot of people plug up their ears and run screaming at the first hint of propositions they would give a polite hearing to in a different context. I would love to know just exactly what the mix is here of deliberate deception and self-deception.

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2004 08 02
Can’t get enough of that Chomsky debate!

Not me this time. Rather, him. I disagree, but I’m not sure how much more of this I can inflict on my readers. Perhaps I’ll try to make a few modest points within the next few days. Gotta run now.

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2004 08 01
A response

Good lord. It took Chomsky 10 minutes to respond to my email (see previous post) – and substantively too, not just with a brush-off. Alas, he doesn’t like people sharing the contents of his emails – which I will respect, as painful as that is to do. But I can say that he has apparently addressed this issue at some length in his book Hegemony or Survival.

I found the email itself thoroughly unconvincing, and I doubt the longer version in his book will help matters, though I would be curious to check it out. But I imagine I’ve already written enough on this subject to frighten away most of my readers. So I’ll stop now.

UPDATE: No, I lied about stopping. I went for a walk and communed with nature a little bit. That led to the desire to round things out with a concluding paragraph. Here goes:

The story of Iraq’s drive to develop nuclear weapons is an extremely complicated one, involving all kinds of regional, international, domestic and psychological causes. The remark of Chomsky’s which touched off this little debate was only an aside, but that aside was an allusion to a well-considered view. That view attempts to reduce this complicated story to a single cause: Israel’s strike on Osirak (and to perhaps Israel more generally). That’s really simplistic, and – worse – simplistic about an extremely important subject. So, in my view, we have an example of a very prominent spokesperson for the left making a serious error of historical analysis. If that isn’t an occasion for criticism and debate, then we should just give up on the entire notion of self-scrutiny and substantive debate altogether.

Howls of outrage (7)

2004 08 01
An email to Chomsky

Right then. I’ve written to Saint Noam himself to inquire about his view of the Osirak raid. If you have a bottomless appetite for repetition, you can read the email below the fold:
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2004 07 30
Chomsky on Osirak, again

Peter and I are still going back and forth on the Osirak strike. I think it might be time to call in Chomsky to explain himself, but in the meantime let me explain why I think Peter and Chomsky are just wrong about the main causes of Iraq’s nuclear program. Peter writes:
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A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 07 29
Chomsky hits home run!

Commentator, friend, and former roommate, Peter, has been savaging me in the comments section for pooping on Chomsky. In order to placate him, let me say that this post seems to me a perfectly cogent analysis of the situation in Iraq. The only quibble I have is that Chomsky appears to think that a full-scale civil war is less probable than I do. I reproduce the entire post below the fold. Let the Chomsky-lovin’ begin.
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Howls of outrage (7)

2004 07 28
Chomsky bashing clarified

Since I had a go at old Noam yesterday, I thought I would clarify the spirit in which I intended my criticism. For the record, I actually think that many Israeli policies are morally repugnant and deeply counterproductive. I’ve also learned quite a bit from reading Noam Chomsky. I just also happen to think that Chomsky gets it wrong sometimes. One thing he gets wrong is a kind of inconsistency in tone and language when describing different actors in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. [Update: Obviously, I should have written “Middle East,” since the original target of my comments was Israeli’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. My bad.] I learned to watch for that sort of thing . . . by reading Noam Chomsky.

But, as I’ve noted before, it is a mystery to me why Chomsky is regarded as somehow beyond the pale within American politics. There is something deeply wrong about a political culture that sees, for example, Charles Krauthammer as fit for an editorial page, but refuses, without debate, to consider a point because Noam Chomsky makes it.

I criticize the Bush administration a lot on this site because I think it’s important to dissent from very bad policies. But frankly, while there is room to quibble about details, an intellectually serious defence of the Bush administration is no longer possible, and hasn’t been for some time. We’re no longer having a real debate anymore. And so these days the more interesting project, as far as I’m concerned, is to mark out those areas in which I disagree with people who are in many respects in ideological sympathy with me. Look out, Noam et. al. I’ma comin’ to getcha!

That’s the spirit in which I intend my Noam bashing below. I hope that distinguishes me from that brand of liberal who tries to score “reasonable points” by bashing Noam Chomsky whenever he can.

Howls of outrage (3)

2004 07 27
Chomsky on the Osirak raid

Noam Chomsky writes:

Not reported but quite important is the dispatch to Israel of 100 F16-I’s, advanced jet bombers, with the very specific announcement that they can reach Iran and return, are updated versions of the F-16s that Israel used to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 (thereby setting off Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, though that part of the story, though pretty well confirmed, is avoided), and are equipped with “special weapons” (according to the Israeli Hebrew press).

Uhhhhhh, pardon? I’ve read a bit about the Israeli strike against that nuclear reactor and this is the first time I’ve seen anyone claim that the strike set off Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

Chomsky is new to the blogging game, so I’ll forgive him for failing to link to confirmation. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he is basically wrong about this. Reason: If I was a nutty dictator living in a dangerous part of the world and locked in a vicious war with a stronger rival to my East, I would be pretty darn interested in nuclear weapons. And Chomsky has to know that the history of nuclear proliferation is essentially a long story of one country after another developing nuclear weapons programs under the cover of peaceful nuclear power generation – until it is too late to do anything about it.

Now, I’m actually a big fan of the idea that you can make crazy people crazier than they already are by provoking them. (E.g., it wouldn’t surprise me much to discover that North Korea stepped up its nuclear weapons program after Bush made his “Axis of Evil” speech. On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that it hadn’t.) So it’s possible that the Israeli strike convinced Saddam Hussein to get a move on with the whole nuclear weapons project. But the main effect appears to be that it convinced Iraq that it needed to be a lot more savvy about hiding its nuclear program than anything else.

Does anyone know otherwise? I would be delighted to hear from you.

And by the way, note the neutral language: “setting off Iraq’s nuclear weapons program,” which almost manages to transform the Israelis into the main actors in the story of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. Reader challenge: Find me one instance in which Chomsky describes the Arab states as “setting off” Israel’s nuclear weapons program. If you can do it, you win . . . I don’t know, 15 smug points to be redeemed in the comments section of any post.*

*Offer valid only until Dec. 31st, 2004. Some restrictions may apply.

Howls of outrage (6)