I turned with interest to Oliver Kamm's critique (Prospect, November 2005) of the "crude and dishonest arguments" he attributes to me, hoping to learn something. And learn something I did, though not quite what Kamm intended; rather, about the lengths to which some will go to prevent exposure of state crimes and their own complicity in them.
A determination to prevent the exposure of state crimes is, if you are to believe Chomsky, a characteristic of many men far more distinguished than I. Chomsky's accusations of apologetics for state violence, or racism, or Stalinism, are levelled against Vaclav Havel and Abba Eban, Michael Walzer and Jeffrey Isaac, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff. Indeed one of the few public figures who escapes such strictures is a man above all others who genuinely can be called a racist and an apologist for state crimes - because he, Robert Faurisson, is a Holocaust denier. Of this fraudulent crank, Chomsky famously declined judgement, other than the speculation that Faurisson was "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort".
The political issues Chomsky goes on to discuss in his latest piece concern his record over the last decade and a half, from his quietism over the Bosnian war to his writings on and after 9/11. I shall deal with these in a separate post between Christmas and new year. For the moment, in this long post and the two shorter succeeding posts (and possibly in a short letter to the magazine), I shall deal only with Chomsky's dishonesty. These posts slightly repeat each other in the opening; that is because I wish them to stand independently, as I hope one of them at least (the third) will be widely circulated around the Internet and in print. The reason should be obvious when you read it: in responding to a charge of dishonesty in his use of source materials, Chomsky has – in all the absurdly self-defeating places to do it - told an easily-demonstrable fib, and I do not wish him to get away with it.
To demonstrate "a particularly dishonest handling of source material," Kamm alleges that, "[Chomsky] manipulates a self-mocking reference in the memoirs of the then US ambassador to the UN… to yield the conclusion that Moynihan took pride in Nazi-like policies." The topic is Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, condemned by the security council, which ordered Indonesia to withdraw, to no effect. Moynihan explains why: "The US wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The department of state desired that the UN prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." He then refers to reports that within two months 60,000 people had been killed, "10 per cent of the population, almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the second world war"—at the hands of Nazi Germany. His comparison, not mine, as Kamm pretends.
I make no defence of US acquiescence in the annexation of East Timor. In my original article, I commented that this was an issue on which Chomsky's advocacy in the 1970s had been right, and in my book Anti-Totalitarianism I refer to East Timor as an instance where "the pursuit of a stable balance of power [in US Cold War realpolitik] had some horrendous casualties". The casualties of the Indonesian conquest numbered some 50,000 deliberately killed and a similar number dead owing to "resettlement" policies - fewer than Chomsky says, but an appalling historical episode nonetheless. [This estimate, taking account of population statistics, is given by Robert H. Cribb, "How Many Deaths? Problems in the Statistics of Massacre in Indonesia (1965-66) and East Timor (1975-1980)", in Ingrid Wessel and Georgia Wimhofer, eds., Violence in Indonesia, 2001, pp. 82-98.] My political criticism of Chomsky on this issue is not that he condemned the invasion and publicised its consequences - he was right to do so - but that he has ever after used the case of East Timor as one of (in the words of Francis Wheen) "an inexhaustible hoard of analogies and precedents that allow him to avoid the immediate issue" - such as the urgency of Western intervention to stop genocide in the Balkans. My criticism of him in this post, however, concerns his use of source material.
The passage Chomsky quotes by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, US Ambassador to the UN under President Nixon, comes from Moynihan's memoir, A Dangerous Place, 1978, p. 247. Here it is, expanded:
[S]uch was the power of the anticolonial idea that great powers from outside a region had relatively little influence unless they were prepared to use force. China altogether backed Fretilin [a Marxist group that had seized power] in Timor, and lost. In Spanish Sahara, Russia just as completely backed Algeria, and its front, known as Polisario, and lost. In both instances the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.
It is clear from this context what Moynihan is referring to when he says "the United States wished things to turn out as they did": the defeat of Chinese and Soviet clients in, respectively, Timor and Spanish Sahara. Chomsky manipulates the reference in order to suggest that Moynihan is instead boasting about the accomplishment of mass murder. In other places, Chomsky doesn't merely suggest it, but says it explicitly. He does this in, for example, Chronicles of Dissent, 1992, pp. 252-3:
Referring to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, [Moynihan] says that the United States wanted things to turn out as they did and that he had the assignment of making sure that the United Nations could not act in any constructive way to terminate or reverse the Indonesian aggression. He carried out that task with remarkable success. He then in the next sentence goes on to say that he’s aware of the nature of that success. He says that two months later, reports surfaced that the Indonesian invasion had killed off about 10 per cent of the population in East Timor over a period of two months. A proportion of the population which, he then goes on to say, is about the same as the proportion of people in Eastern Europe killed by Hitler. So he’s taking pride in having stopped the United Nations from interfering with an aggression that he himself compares with Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe, and he then drops it at that.
Moynihan does not "in the next sentence" say anything of the kind, because the passage I have quoted marks the end of his reflections on East Timor. The reference to the killing of 10 per cent of the population of East Timor and its comparability to Soviet losses in WW2 does appear in the book, but ruefully, and not in any context related to Moynihan's supposed claims of the effectiveness of the US policy. Moynihan's saying "he’s aware of the nature of that success” is a straight fabrication by Chomsky: no such remark appears anywhere in the book. (In A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West, p. 80, Chomsky embellishes his account further by appending the remark: "A sign of the success, [Moynihan] adds, is that within a year 'the subject disappeared from the press.'" That too is a fabrication: Moynihan merely reports the disappearance of press coverage, and says nothing at all about its being either a desired outcome or a sign of success.)
In my article in Prospect I said that Chomsky manipulates the Moynihan quotation "by running separate passages together as if they are sequential and attributing to Moynihan comments he did not make, to yield the conclusion that Moynihan took pride in Nazi-like policies". I have demonstrated that that is exactly what he does. The example is important, and I choose it deliberately, because it is an instance where Chomsky's indignation was warranted. Yet when you examine his account of this shameless US policy, you find it is simply insupportable. His treatment of source material is dishonest, and his word cannot be trusted. The irony of his reference to Moynihan's book is that a more scrupulous reader (and writer) could have identified in it divisions in US foreign policy that are more than ever with us in current debates. Moynihan (pp. 244-5) holds the UN complicit in the annexation of East Timor because of its increasing indifference to a disinterested concept of human rights:
A theme of our speeches throughout November  had been that to corrupt the language of human rights – the language, that is, of Leo Strauss’s “Modern Project,” the language of “a society consisting of equal nations, each consisting of free and equal men and women” – would soon enough imperil the language of national rights also, and soon enough it did. In December, two fledgling nations were conquered or partitioned by their neighbours, while a third [Angola] was invaded by Communist forces from half a world away. It would be gratifying to report that there were those who made some connection between what we said would happen and what now did happen, but there were none. This perhaps only confirmed our charge that the Charter was being drained of meaning.
It was a theme Moynihan was to return to outside government. My description of US policy in East Timor as shameless is, in fact, Moynihan's. In Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics, 1993, p. 153, Moynihan states:
It happens I was United States representative at the UN when these events occurred. I defended a shameless American policy – Morocco and Indonesia were cold-war allies - with sufficient shamelessness.
He argues that such issues were “too often assessed in terms of cold-war advantage/disadvantage”. If you consider the influence of, say, Paul Wolfowitz on the thinking of the current administration, you find a similar stress on the need to abandon the realist approach of cementing cold-war alliances and to promote global democracy. Chomsky would certainly dismiss this principle of US grand strategy as a mere cover for selfish interests. But if you assume that US diplomacy is a monolith dedicated to the expansion of US material interests at the expense of national independence and human rights, you miss a huge amount of the debates in foreign policy. And Chomsky goes out of his way to obscure these debates by his treatment of sources, and by his habitual comparison of the US to Nazi Germany. The world's top public intellectual, indeed.