Response to Williams

Ian Williams angrily denied that “NATO air raids on Serbia [beginning March 24 1999] actually precipitated the worst atrocities in Kosovo” and charged that it is deeply immoral for me to say so, “like claiming that the British air raids on Germany precipitated the Nazi gas chambers.”

In response, I asked the obvious question: Why does he issue this quite serious charge against NATO Commander General Wesley Clark and the White House, comparing them to Nazi apologists? The question is quite apt. I quoted Clark’s statement, made to the press a few days after the bombing began, that Serbian atrocities in reaction to the bombing were “entirely predictable,” “fully anticipated,” and “not in any way a concern of the political leadership”; and several weeks earlier to the White House, that if NATO attacked, “almost certainly [Serbia] will attack the civilian population” and NATO will be able to do nothing about it. Thus Clark very explicitly predicted, and the White House recognized, that NATO bombing would precipitate Serbian atrocities — exactly what happened, as the voluminous Western record demonstrates.

In responding, Williams ignores all of this completely and instead haughtily affirms exactly what I wrote: that the Serbian crimes followed the bombing. Throughout, he pretends not to understand the difference between “perpetrate” and “precipitate” (my accurate paraphrase of Clark’s warning). He writes that the bombing provided “an opportunity” for which Milosevic had been waiting. Perhaps true, but if so that clearly reinforces the conclusion of General Clark and the White House that the NATO bombing would precipitate these crimes, as it did. (I’ll put it aside here because it is irrelevant, but there is a good deal more to say about the nature and timing of the Serbian buildup to which he refers, matters I’ve reviewed elsewhere, relying on the Western records). He writes further that NATO “had every reason to fear the worst in Kosovo,” because of what had happened in Bosnia. It is quite true that NATO had “every reason to fear” the atrocities it regarded as an “entirely predictable” consequence of its bombing — a small fact that Williams omits.

I can only interpret the bluster and evasions as his way of admitting that his charges are groundless, mere slander, and that he recognizes, at some level, his own complicity.

Much more shocking are Williams’ continued efforts to deny U.S.-UK crimes in East Timor. His reference to Bosnia as a justification for bombing Serbia illustrates again the depth of his commitment to denial of Western crimes. As I wrote, the crimes in East Timor — carried out with decisive U.S.-UK support throughout — were vastly greater than anything charged in Bosnia, coming as close to authentic genocide as anything in the modern period. If he means what he is saying, Williams should have been calling for the bombing of Jakarta, Washington, and London as the crimes in East Timor escalated again in 1999, to a level far beyond Kosovo before the NATO bombing, always with firm U.S.-UK support. And as I also pointed out in the article to which Williams is responding, East Timor is only one of many such cases as NATO prepared to bomb Serbia, facts that tell us a lot about the orgy of self-congratulation that accompanied the bombing, part of the hypocrisy about R2P that continues dramatically to the present, one of the topics of the paper of mine to which Williams responds in his curious way.

Williams writes that the United States was “certainly wrong” in failing to intervene to prevent the horrendous Indonesian crimes. That has been the standard line of apologists: We “looked away” instead of intervening to stop the crimes. But as Williams and others who resort to this evasion know very well, the United States and United Kingdom most definitely did not fail to intervene during the quarter-century of Indonesian aggression and atrocities. Rather, they did intervene, and massively: By providing decisive support for these crimes, continuing to do so as the crimes accelerated again in 1999, even after the destruction of Dili in September, which elicited from Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger the statement that “I don’t think anybody ever articulated a doctrine which said that we ought to intervene wherever there’s a humanitarian problem” — so therefore the United States and United Kingdom continued their crucial participation.

Even more remarkably, Williams writes that “Chomsky points out that it was Clinton’s intervention that persuaded the Indonesian generals that the game was up in East Timor. Yes it was long overdue, but it was an American intervention, which deserves some grudging credit.”

The intervention Williams praises was Clinton’s termination of U.S. participation in the aggression and atrocities. By Williams’ logic, he should praise Russia for intervening in Afghanistan by withdrawing its troops in 1989. It would be instructive to see if even the most extreme Communist Party loyalist stooped to that.

The nature of his apologetics becomes even clearer when we consider the statement of mine to which he is responding:

To end the atrocities in [East Timor] would not have required bombing, or sanctions, or indeed any act beyond withdrawal of participation. That was demonstrated shortly after Berger’s reaffirmation of Western policy, when, under strong domestic and international pressure, Clinton formally ended US participation. The invaders immediately withdrew, and a UN peacekeeping force was able to enter facing no army. That could have been done any time in the preceding quarter-century. Astonishingly, this horrendous story was soon reinterpreted as vindication of R2P, a reaction so shameful that words fail.

Williams’ reiteration of this shameful stance leaves one truly speechless.

In responding to Williams’ praise for Clinton’s “intervention,” I wrote: “Since Williams favors Holocaust analogies, it would be like raising the question why the Nazis did not intervene to stop the slaughter of Jews by local forces in the regions they occupied.” Williams claims falsely that I was implying a comparison of the United States to the Nazis (the reference, explicitly, is to his stance), and omits the phrase in boldface, which shows that I was borrowing the resort to Nazi analogies from him — and I agree with him that his resort to this practice is objectionable. The analogy referring to his stance is, however, quite accurate, unlike his slanderous Holocaust analogy, which was flatly and unequivocally false.

The rest is an effort to blow smoke that merits no comment. Along with his evasion of everything relevant, it merely underscores the fact that, as I wrote, the blood on his hands is not easy to wish or wash away.

Noam Chomsky is a noted linguist, author, foreign policy expert, and contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.