Refuting Brad DeLong’s Smear Job on Chomsky


In his “Thoughts” on Chomsky, under the title “My Very,Very Allergic Reaction to Noam Chomsky: Khmer Rouge, Faurisson, Milosevic,” Brad DeLong is long on name calling, smears by selective choice of decontextualized words and sentences, straightforward misrepresentation, and numerous assertions unsupported by evidence. He is short on tolerance of viewpoints that he doesn’t like and very short on just plain intellectual integrity. His preening self-regard and pomposity in straightening out Chomsky and his misguided “surprising number” of “followers” is also impressive.

In his first two paragraphs he makes the point that Chomsky’s admirers “form a kind of cult,” but no evidence is given supporting this insult, which is a familiar form of smear to denigrate people admiring someone with whom one disagrees. He then compares teaching such folks to teaching Plato to pigs. So his opening is pure name-calling.

In his next paragraph he tries to engage in substance, and this effort is worth a close look. He says: “Consider Chomsky’s claim that: ‘In the early 1990s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the U.S. selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients’ On its face this is ludicrous. When the United States selects clients for cynical great power reasons it selects strong clients-not ones whose unarmed men are rounded up and shot by the thousands. And Bosnian Muslims as a key to U.S. politico-military strategy in Europe? As Bismarck said more than a century ago, ‘There is nothing in the Balkans that is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.’ It holds true today as well: the U.S, has no strategic or security interest in the Balkans that is worth the death of a single Carolinian fire-control technician. U.S. intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s was ‘humanitarian’ in origin and intention (even if we can argue about its effect). Only a nut-boy loon would argue otherwise.”

The first substantive statement in this paragraph, that the United States always selects strong clients, is truly “ludicrous”: the United States supported the Nicaraguan contras, Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, the little rag-tag forces in Nicaragua that it organized to invade Guatemala in 1954, Somoza’s Nicaragua, the Florida and Nicaragua-based invasion force for the Bay of Pigs, the remnants of Chiang Kai Shek’s defeated army in northern Burma following the victory of the communists in China in 1949, Chiang’s Taiwan from 1949, the Persian Gulf Emirates, and many other similarly “strong clients.” The implication that because the Bosnian Muslims were shot in large numbers they couldn’t have been U.S. clients is not only a non sequitur, it also flies in the face of massive evidence that they were U.S. clients, as any serious book on the subject makes clear (e.g., Lord David Owen’s Balkan Odyssey, Susan Woodward’s Balkan Tragedy, or Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade). This client status is not even controversial. DeLong’s ignorance of this subject area is apparently close to complete, as he fails to note that our Bosnian clients also shot a lot of unarmed men, and that we, in collaboration with the Saudis and Bin Laden , ferried massive supplies and mujahadin troops into Bosnia (as described in detail in the Dutch report on Srebrenica) and bombed the Serbs on behalf of our Bosnian Muslim client in the lead-up to the Dayton agreement.

His next sentence about the Bosnian Muslims as “a key to U.S. politico-military strategy in Europe” misrepresents and therefore lies about Chomsky’s language-Chomsky didn’t say “key…in Europe,” he said merely that the U.S. selected the Bosnian Muslims as clients in the Balkans, a narrower statement. DeLong then gives his quote from Bismarck, a phony parade of “learning” as we can’t know whether Bismarck was correct or whether he even believed what he said, and what was true a century back might not be true now.

DeLong then goes on to say that it is true today that the United States has no strategic or security interest in the Balkans. It goes without saying that he doesn’t offer evidence on this point or discuss contrary facts and views. Many analysts have pointed to:

(1) the huge U.S. military base built in Kosovo, which must have some security interest function;

(2) the fact that the NATO intervention destroyed the one independent political body in Europe not integrated into the Western political economy–Yugoslavia–and facilitated that integration;

(3) the importance of the Caspian oil area and the interest of Western oil companies in possible Balkans transport routes;

(4) the link between the Kosovo War and the April 1999 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of NATO with an imminent NATO military triumph;

(5) the possible interest of the United States in reasserting its domination of NATO by taking the lead in the Balkans struggles; and

(6) the admissions by Clinton, Blair, and Defense Secretary Cohen that the “credibility of NATO” was a prime reason for the bombing.

But DeLong knows that all this is irrelevant because the U.S. intervention was based on “humanitarian” motives! This is one of those higher patriotic truths that DeLong grasps by intuition. But although Clinton and Blair were proceeding on the basis of humanitarian motives, you can be sure DeLong will not stop to explain why both of these humanitarians were consistent supporters of, and arms suppliers to, both Suharto and the Turkish regime that was ethnic-cleansing Kurds throughout the 1990s. The same Blair who fought for humanitarian ends with Clinton in 1999 also claims to have been fighting for humanitarian ends with Bush in Iraq in 2003. I wonder if DeLong buys that patriotic line now, or is it only a highly moral Democrat like Clinton who will pursue humanitarian ends? I should mention that Andrew Bacevich’s recent book, American Empire, highly praised in the mainstream, asserts strongly that the United States had no humanitarian concerns at all in its Balkans war-making and that Clinton’s resort to force was merely to establish “the cohesion of NATO and the credibility of American power.”

So who is the “nut-boy”-Chomsky, or the man who misrepresents his target’s language, regurgitates foolish patriotic truths, displays abysmal ignorance on matters on which he writes as if an authority, and rules out evidence and rational discourse on these matters?

After this proof of Chomsky as a nut-boy, DeLong has a few lines on what Chomsky admirers say when he presents them with that nut-boy phrase on Bosnia. No quotes from the admirers, just alleged paraphrases, with words like “Oil pipelines!” with an exclamation point, but no serious analyses or answers-just cute little putdowns.

One paraphrased reply mentions Chomsky’s “insights.” DeLong then goes on as follows: “Insights? Like his writing a preface for a book by Robert Faurisson,” which he follows up with selective partial quotes like that Chomsky said that Faurisson seemed to be “a relatively apolitical liberal” and that Chomsky admitted to “no special knowledge” of the topic Faurisson dealt with and hadn’t read anything by Faurisson “that suggests that the man was pro-Nazi.”

Neither Chomsky nor his “followers” ever claimed these phrases were “insights”-that is the trick of a smear artist, who searches for vulnerable language in the target, takes the words out of context, and elevates them to supposed “insights.” Note too the illogic-it was an alleged “insight” to write a “preface.” Note also the dishonesty in not mentioning that the preface was only written as an independent avis and inserted in the book as a preface without Chomsky’s prior approval (see Chomsky’s “The Right to Say It,” The Nation, Feb. 28, 1981.

Most important in this phase of the smear enterprise is DeLong’s refusal to recognize that the avis was solely a defense of the right of free speech and that from beginning to end that was all the struggle was about for Chomsky. It was certainly not about Faurisson’s views or in any way a defense of those views, and DeLong fails to mention that Faurisson was dismissed from his job teaching French literature because the authorities claimed they couldn’t defend him against his enemies, and he was brought to court not for his political views but for “Falsification of History” (in the matter of gas chambers) and for “allowing others” to use his work for nefarious ends. This was a major civil liberties case in which, for perhaps the first time in the West, a court decided that the state has a right to determine historical truth.

DeLong wants to deflect attention from this important issue to Faurisson’s views, which he presents in an unattributed quote which refers to Faurisson as “a guy whose thesis seems to be” (and then comes a rhetorical statement about a big lie). DeLong latches on to Chomsky phrases in the avis that Faurisson seemed to be a “relatively apolitical liberal,” and was not necessarily pro-Nazi–a view Chomsky arrived at after talking with several of Faurisson’s leading critics in France, who were unable to provide any credible evidence of anti-Semitism or neo-Naziism–but DeLong fails to note Chomsky’s statement in the avis that Faurisson might indeed be an anti-Semite or Nazi as claimed, but that that would have no bearing on the issue of freedom of speech. DeLong also fails to mention Chomsky’s repeated expressions of horror at the Holocaust as “the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history” and his statement that we “lose our humanity” if we even enter into debate with those who deny or try to diminish Nazi crimes. Note also the dishonesty in suppressing Chomsky’s repeated statements that he has signed free speech petitions for numerous Soviet bloc victims without knowing their views, or even with an awareness of their obnoxiousness–which he didn’t mention– but never suffered criticism, or DeLong-type smear jobs, for not having researched the exact beliefs of these civil liberties victims.

DeLong says, “Would it be better not to misrepresent Faurisson’s beliefs? Not to claim that he is a relatively apolitical liberal? Not to say that you have seen no evidence that Faurisson is pro-Nazi? It is, after all, a much stronger defense of free speech to say that you are defending a loathsome Holocaust-denier’s right to free speech because free speech is absolute, then to say that poor Faurisson-a relatively apolitical liberal-is being persecuted for no reason other than that some object to his (unspecified) ‘conclusions’.” As noted, DeLong’s statement that Chomsky “misrepresents Faurisson’s beliefs” is false. His second point is also false, because if the free speech issue involves protection of a man accused of “loathsome” views, who is being attacked for those views, both the nature of those views and the fact that he is being attacked for them are of some importance, even if they are not central. But Chomsky made it clear that he thought the views of civil liberties victims-loathsome or not-were irrelevant in decisions as to whether they should be defended, a point that every civil libertarian takes for granted. DeLong’s smear objective compels him to skirt around this principled position.

DeLong’s last line is an obscurantist masterpiece in which he stumbles over his own rhetorical effusion: Faurisson was being “persecuted”–this is irony, suggesting that he got what was coming to him, although DeLong is of course a believer in free speech! And “some object to his (unspecified) ‘conclusions'”-again, heavy-handed irony in which Faurisson’s evil views, that people like Chomsky are unwilling to openly acknowledge or deny, are opposed by good people who have been allegedly “persecuting” him. When he says that the bad folks are complaining that Faurisson was persecuted “for no other reason” than objections to his unspecified conclusions, does he mean that there was another reason to go after him, or is that just reinforcing the point that the “(unspecified) conclusions” were quite enough?

As with Bosnia, DeLong gives a list of three straw-person answers on Faurisson from Chomsky “supporters,” again without citation or quotes, but with much sarcasm and sneers, as he continues his hit-and-run smear job.

DeLong then takes up Chomsky’s crimes in treating Cambodia. He starts with a quote from our 1979 book After the Cataclysm (ATC):

“If a serious study…is someday undertaken, it may well be discoveredthat the Khmer Rouge programs elicited a positive responsebecause they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system.Such a study, however, has yet to be undertaken.”

DeLong comments: “Reflect that it was published three full years after the Cambodian Holocaust of the Year Zero. Ask yourself whether this is an uncovering or a covering of the crimes of an abominable regime.” The answer is that a single stripped-down quote taken out of context and that speculates about what may come from a future study tells nothing to an honest person. DeLong naturally fails to acknowledge that our stated aim in the book was not to uncover crimes but to see how the “facts have been interpreted, filtered, distorted or modified by the ideological institutions of the West” (ATC, vii). For DeLong, as for the mainstream, this was an illegitimate objective.

DeLong seems to think that the “holocaust” occurred instantaneously upon the takeover of the KR in 1975. He pretends that full data on this closed regime were readily available for a book published three years later. He fails to mention that in speculating here Chomsky (and this writer, his co-author) also raised the possibility that the worst charges might also turn out to be true when all the facts are in, and that we were drawing no conclusions about where the truth lies in this range of descriptions (ATC, 293). He suppresses the fact that our reference to the “positive response” was taken mainly from Francois Ponchaud’s Cambodge annee zero, where Ponchaud speaks of the “genuine egalitarian revolution,” the “new pride” of miserably oppressed peasants in constructive work, and first time women’s participation. Ponchaud’s book was widely cited as an authoritative source as well as a condemnation of the KR, so citing it and acknowledging its finding of positive features in the KR revolution wouldn’t suit DeLong’s purpose; nor would Long attack Ponchaud as an apologist for the “crimes of this abominable regime” although Ponchaud’s positive statements are unqualified, whereas DeLong goes into a tantrum about a speculation of ours saying that these explicit conclusions may turn out to be correct. We quoted similar material from David Chandler and Richard Dudman, highly respected analysts of Cambodia. DeLong suppresses our use of these sources as well in order to make it appear that any positive notions were unique to his smear target. He suppresses the fact that Ponchaud himself complimented Chomsky for his “responsible attitude and precision of thought” in his writings on Cambodia.

DeLong continues: “But it gets worse. Go back to your Nation of 1977, and consider the paragraph”-then quoting us that “Space limitations preclude a comprehensive view,” but that specialists writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Economist, and Melbourne Journal of Politics have studied the evidence and concluded “that executions have numbered at most in the thousands” DeLong then quotes at length an ally attacking these source references, and DeLong himself says he looked through the Economist and couldn’t find anything written by the Economist staff on the subject. “So why does Chomsky lie about these ‘highly qualified specialists’? The claim that it is ‘space limitations’ rather than ‘non-existence’ that prevents their being named cannot be a claim in good faith, can it? And why would anyone lie for Pol Pot, unless they were either a nut-boy loon or were being mendacious and malevolent in search of some sinister and secret purpose?”

DeLong’s statement that Chomsky lied here is itself a plain lie. Our references were exactly correct. DeLong couldn’t find anything written by the Economist “staff,” but he knows full well that the reference was to a letter to the editor, published in and therefore provided by, the paper, by Cambodia demographer W. J. Sampson, an economist-statistician who was living in Phnom Penh and worked in close contact with the government’s central statistics office. Sampson’s work is cited with respect by Nayan Chanda, at the time the most highly respected journalist in Southeast Asia, writing for the Far Eastern Economic Review (ATC, 231f). Sampson was at least as “highly qualified [a] specialist” as anybody on the staff of the Economist. DeLong knows that we cited many other “highly qualified specialists” just one year later in After the Cataclysm, so his sneer about the “non-existence” of these sources is another dishonest suppression and shows that his own “good faith” and intellectual integrity are non-existent.

DeLong and his ally claim that Chomsky said that Khmer Rouge killings were “at most in the thousands,” and that Chomsky had implied that this was “a conclusion of an article[by Nayan Chanda in] the Far Eastern Economic Review.” DeLong and friend also note that the author Chanda says “the numbers killed are impossible to calculate.” DeLong’s ally asserts that “Chomsky presented the Far Eastern Economic Review as confidently denying the possibility that killings were vastly higher, but Chanda specifically denies such knowledge and confidence.” First of all, we did not attribute the “at most in the thousands” statement to Chanda, but to Sampson. Second, we ourselves quoted Chanda’s statement that “the numbers killed are impossible to calculate,” that DeLong implies we neglected (ATC, 229). Third, we quote Chanda saying that the testimony from refugees and others “leaves no doubt: the number of deaths has been terribly high” (229), so the statement that Chomsky denied “the possibility that killings were vastly higher” is another lie.

DeLong ends on Cambodia asserting that “Chomsky not only said that there wasn’t conclusive evidence that the Khmer Rouge were genocidal butchers, he wrote-falsely-that there was reliable evidence that they weren’t genocidal butchers.” This is one more flat, outright lie. We never said, or hinted, anything like this. We cited every serious source available at the time on the KR killings, including Ben Kiernan, Michael Vickery, Stephen Heder, David Chandler, Chanda, Ponchaud, and State department Cambodia experts Charles Twining and Timothy Carney. We quoted Twining’s estimate of killings–in the “thousands or hundreds of thousands,” but with admitted difficulty in getting valid numbers. We quoted Twining’s superior Richard Holbrooke’s estimate of “tens if not hundreds of thousands ” for “deaths” from all causes. The State Department’s Timothy Carney estimated the deaths from “brutal, rapid change” (explicitly not “mass genocide”) as in the hundreds of thousands (ATC, 159-160). We took no position on the accuracy of these numbers, but did note that they were far below the widespread mainstream claims of two million massacred. On DeLong principles, the State Department analysts and Holbrooke are liars and apologists for Pol Pot, downplaying the “conclusive evidence” that he was a genocidal butcher.

DeLong never mentions that our book was explicitly aimed at countering the huge and lie-rich propaganda barrage on Cambodia that began upon the KR entry into Phnom Penh in April 1975, a barrage and lies which only served a political and ideological purpose and did not help the Cambodians in any way whatsoever. DeLong of course ignores our comparative analysis of the difference in treatment of Indonesia in East Timor and Pol Pot in Cambodia. A larger fraction of the population of East Timor died in the wake of the Indonesian aggression than died in Cambodia under Pol Pot (where many of the deaths were residuals of the starvation conditions facing the KR in April 1975). The East Timorese mass killings were positively supported by the U.S. government, and in contrast with Pol Pot’s killings those in East Timor were readily subject to U.S. influence and control. Brad DeLong does not condemn these killings as genocide and assail its perpetrators and apologists for practical support of genocide. Doesn’t this make him an apologist for genocidal butchers?

DeLong never mentions that estimates of the numbers killed by the U.S. Air Force in its bombing of Cambodia from 1969 to 1975 run into the hundreds of thousands, which on his terms should make Nixon and Kissinger into “genocidal butchers.” He has never so described them, nor assailed those who neglect this “genocide.” He never mentions that the United States defended and supplied the KR after its ouster by the Vietnamese in 1978, which allowed the KR to continue to attack Cambodians; this doesn’t elicit his indignation over support for genocidal butchers. With a turn in U.S. policy toward China and the Khmer Rouge in 1977-1978, we find Douglas Pike, former U.S. government specialist on Vietnam, and later head of the University of California Indochina Archives, writing in November 1979 about the “charismatic leader” Pol Pot, leader of a “bloody but successful peasant revolution with a substantial residue of popular support” and where most of them “did not experience much in the way of brutality.” This great warmth toward the genocidal butchers, long after the facts were in, and after the escalated KR killings in 1977 and 1978, has produced no allergic reaction in Brad DeLong.

In his book The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, in a chapter entitled “Science: Handmaiden of Inspired Truth,” Robert A. Brady noted how often scientists carelessly “assume that the attempt to think rigorously in one field automatically implies thinking rigorously whenever one thinks about anything at all.” When he does this “he is merely allowing himself to abandon rational criteria in favor of uncritical belief.” Brady pointed out that such “uncritical belief” is often the conventional wisdom, in which God and country rank high. Could it be that just as Brad DeLong, by an act of patriotic faith, explains Clinton’s wars in the Balkans as based on humanitarian motives, so also he offers implicit apologetics for U.S. policy in Cambodia and East Timor based on the same deep-seated chauvinistic biases? Could these underpin his “allergic reaction” and intellectually degraded and dishonest smear job on Chomsky?

EDWARD S. HERMAN is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, an economist and media analyst. He is author of numerous books, including Corporate Control, Corporate Power (1981), The Real Terror Network (1982), Manufacturing Consent (1988, with Noam Chomsky), Triumph of the Market (1995), and The Myth of The Liberal Media: an Edward Herman Reader (1999).