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Millennial Visions and Selective Vision Part Two


Noam Chomsky

In

fairness, it should be mentioned that the chorus of self-adulation that closed

the millennium was disrupted by some discordant notes. Questions were raised

about the consistency of our adherence to the guiding principles: the "new

doctrine" that "universal standards of human rights were putting at

least some limits on sovereignty," as illustrated by Kosovo and East Timor

– the latter an interesting example, since there was no issue of sovereignty

except for those who accord Indonesia the right of conquest authorized by the

guardian of international morality.

These

topics were brought forth in the major think piece in the New York Times Week in

Review, a front-page article by Craig Whitney (Dec. 12). He concluded that the

"new doctrine" may be failing its "harshest test": the

Russian assault on Grozny.

Apparently

Whitney is not convinced by the explanation offered by President Clinton four

days earlier: our hands are tied because "a sanctions regime has to be

imposed by the United Nations," where it would be blocked by the Russian

veto. Clinton’s dilemma was illustrated shortly before, when, by a vote of 155-2

(US, Israel), the UN once again called for an end to Washington’s sanctions

against Cuba: the harshest in the world, in force since 1962, but becoming much

more severe, with a brutal human toll, when the "monolithic and ruthless

conspiracy" finally faded away. These are not a "sanctions

regime," however. They are "strictly a matter of bilateral trade

policy and not a matter appropriate for consideration by the UN General

Assembly," the State Department responded. So there is no contradiction.

And furthermore, the UN vote was yet another non-event, at least for those who

receive their information from the national press, which did not report it.

Let’s

defer the two convincing illustrations of the "new doctrine" and turn

to other tests of our dedication to the high ideals proclaimed, more instructive

ones than the Russian assault in Chechnya, which does not pose "the

harshest test" for the "new doctrine" or in fact any test at all

– perhaps the reason why it is constantly adduced, in preference to serious

tests. However outrageous the Russian crimes, it is understood that very little

can be done about them, just as little could be done to deter the US terrorist

wars in Central America in the 1980s or its destruction of South Vietnam, then

all Indochina, in earlier years. When a military superpower goes on the rampage,

the costs of interference are too high to contemplate: deterrence must largely

come from within. Such efforts had some success in the case of Indochina and

Central America, though only very limited success as the fate of the victims

clearly reveals — or would, if it were conceivable to look at the consequences

honestly and draw the appropriate conclusions.

Let’s

turn, then, to more serious tests of the "new doctrine": the reaction

to atrocities that are easily ended, not by intervention but simply by

withdrawing participation, surely the clearest and most informative case. The

end of the year provided several such tests of the noble ideals. One, which

requires separate treatment, is the move to escalate US-backed terror in

Colombia, with ominous prospects. Several others illustrate with much clarity

the content of the "new doctrine," as interpreted in practice.

In

December, there were many articles on the death of Croatian president Franjo

Tudjman, a Milosevic clone who enjoyed generally warm relations with the West,

though his authoritarian style and corruption "drew scathing criticism from

American and Western European officials." Nevertheless, he will be

remembered as "the father of independent Croatia," whose

"crowning achievement came in military operations in May and August

1995" when his armies succeeded in recapturing Croatian territory held by

Serbs, "sparking a mass exodus of Croatian Serbs to Serbia" (Michael

Jordan, Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 13, fairly typical). The "crowning

achievement" also received a few words in a lengthy NY Times story (Dec.

11) by David Binder, who has reported on the region with much distinction for

many years: Tudjman reluctantly agreed to take part in the US-run Dayton

negotiations in late 1995, after "he had all but accomplished his goal of

driving ethnic Serbs from what he viewed as purely Croatian land" (Krajina).

The

August phase of the military campaign, Operation Storm, was the largest single

ethnic cleansing operation of those years. The UN reports that

"approximately 200,000 Serbs fled their homes in Croatia during and

immediately after the fighting," while "the few that remained were

subjected to violent abuse." A few weeks afterwards, Richard Holbrooke, who

directed Clinton’s diplomacy, "told Tudjman that the [Croatian] offensive

had great value to the negotiations" and "urged Tudjman" to

extend it, he writes in his memoir _To End a War_, driving out another 90,000

Serbs. Secretary of State Warren Christopher explained that "We did not

think that kind of attack could do anything other than create a lot of refugees

and cause a humanitarian problem. On the other hand, it always had the prospect

of simplifying matters," in preparation for Dayton. Clinton commented that

the Croatia’s ethnic cleansing operation could prove helpful in resolving the

Balkan conflict, though it was problematic because of the risk of Serbian

retaliation. As reported at the time, Clinton approved a "yellow-light

approach" or "an amber light tinted green," which Tudjman took to

be tacit encouragement for the "crowning achievement." The massive

ethnic cleansing was unproblematic, merely a "humanitarian problem,"

apart from the risk of reaction.

Reviewing

the Croatian operations in a scholarly journal, Binder observes that "what

struck me again and again…was the almost total lack of interest in the U.S.

press and in the U.S. Congress" about the U.S. involvement: "Nobody,

it appears, wanted even a partial accounting" of the role of "MPRI

mercenaries" (retired U.S. generals sent to train and advise the Croatian

army under State Department contract) or "the participation of U.S.

military and intelligence components" ("The Role of the United States

in the Krajina Issue," _Mediterranean Quarterly_, 1997). Direct

participation included bombardment of Krajina Serbian surface-to-air missile

sites by U.S. naval aircraft to eliminate any threat to Croatian attack planes

and helicopters, supply of sophisticated U.S. technology and intelligence, a

"key role" in arranging transfer to Croatia of 30% of the Iranian

weapons secretly sent to Bosnia, and apparently the planning of the entire

operation.

The

International War Crimes Panel did investigate the much-admired offensive,

producing a 150-page report with a section headed: "The Indictment.

Operation Storm, A Prima Facie Case" (Ray Bonner, NY Times, March 21,

1999). The tribunal concluded that the "Croatian Army carried out summary

executions, indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations and `ethnic

cleansing’," but the inquiry was hampered by Washington’s "refusal to

provide critical evidence requested by the tribunal," and appears to have

languished. The "almost total lack of interest" in ethnic cleansing

and other atrocities committed by the right hands persists, illustrated once

again at Tudjman’s death as the Times Week in Review pondered the problem of our

consistency in upholding the "new doctrine," revealed by the Chechnya

quandary.

A

still "harsher test" of the doctrine was the reaction to the

acceptance of Turkey as a candidate for membership in the European Union in

December. The ample coverage succeeded in overlooking the obvious issue: the

huge terror operations, including massive ethnic cleansing, conducted with

decisive U.S. aid and training, increasing under Clinton as atrocities peaked to

a level far beyond the crimes that allegedly provoked the NATO bombing of

Serbia. True, some questions were raised: a New York Times headline read:

"First Question for Europe: Is Turkey Really European?" (Stephen

Kinzer, Dec. 9). The U.S.-backed atrocities merit a phrase: Turkey’s "war

against Kurdish rebels has subsided," just as Serbia’s far lesser "war

against Albanian rebels" would have "subsided" had the U.S.

provided Belgrade with a flood of high-tech weapons and diplomatic support while

the press looked the other way. Shortly before, Kinzer had described how

"Clinton Charm Was on Display in Turkey" (headline) as he visited

earthquake victims, staring soulfully into the eyes of an infant he held

tenderly, and demonstrating in other ways too his "legendary ability to

connect with people" — revealed so graphically in the huge terror

operations that continue to elicit "almost total lack of interest"

while we admire ourselves for dedication to human rights that is unique in

history.

An

explanatory footnote was added quietly in mid-December, as Turkish and Israeli

naval forces, accompanied by a U.S. warship, undertook maneuvers in the Eastern

Mediterranean, a none-too-subtle warning to "prod Syria to negotiate with

Israel" under U.S. auspices, AP reported; or else.

Another

test of the doctrine was offered in mid-November, the tenth anniversary of the

murder of 6 leading Latin American intellectuals among many others, including

the rector of the country’s leading university, in the course of yet another

rampage by an elite battalion of the U.S.-run terrorist forces (called "the

Salvadoran army"), fresh from another training session by Green Berets,

capping a decade of horrendous atrocities. The names of the murdered Jesuit

intellectuals did not appear in the U.S. press. Few would even recall their

names, or would have read a word they had written, in sharp contrast to

dissidents in the domains of the monstrous enemy, who suffered severe

repression, but in the post-Stalin era, nothing remotely like that meted out

regularly under U.S. control. Like the events themselves, the contrast raises

questions of no slight import, but off the agenda.

Little

need be said about the two examples offered as the conclusive demonstration of

our commitment to high principles: East Timor and Kosovo. As for the

Portuguese-administered territory of East Timor, there was no

"intervention"; rather, dispatch of an Australian-led UN force after

Washington at last agreed to signal to the Indonesian generals that the game was

over, having supported them through 24 years of slaughter and repression,

continuing even after major massacres in early 1999 and reports from credible

Church sources that the death toll of a few months had reached 3-5000, about

twice the level of Kosovo before the NATO bombing. After finally withdrawing his

support for Indonesian atrocities, under mounting domestic and international

(mainly Australian) pressure, Clinton continued to stand aside. There were no

air-drops of food to hundreds of thousands of refugees starving in the

mountains, nor anything more than occasional rebukes to the Indonesian military

who continued to hold hundreds of thousands more in captivity in Indonesian

territory, where many still remain. Clinton also refuses to provide meaningful

aid, let alone the huge reparations that would be called for if the fine

principles were meant at all seriously.

The

performance is now presented as one of Clinton’s great moments and a prime

example of the stirring "new doctrine" of intervention in defense of

human rights, ignoring sovereignty (which did not exist). Here amnesia is not

really selective: "total" would be closer to accurate.

On

Kosovo, the current version is that "Serbia assaulted Kosovo to squash a

separatist Albanian guerrilla movement, but killed 10,000 civilians and drove

700,000 people into refuge in Macedonia and Albania. NATO attacked Serbia from

the air in the name of protecting the Albanians from ethnic cleansing [but]

killed hundreds of Serb civilians and provoked an exodus of tens of thousands

from cities into the countryside" (Daniel Williams, Washington Post). Well,

not quite: the timing has been crucially reversed in a manner that has by now

become routine. In a detailed year-end review, the lead story of the Wall St.

Journal (Dec. 31) dismisses the stories of "killing fields" that were

crafted to prevent "a fatigued press corps [from] drifting toward the

contrarian story [of] civilians killed by NATO’s bombs," for example by

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, who provided atrocity stories based on KLA radio

broadcasts, the Journal reports. But the report concludes nonetheless that the

expulsions and other atrocities that did take place "may well be enough to

justify the [NATO] bombing campaign" that precipitated them, as

anticipated.

The

reasoning is by now standard: the U.S. and its allies had to abandon the

diplomatic options that remained available (and were later pursued) and bomb,

with the expectation, quickly fulfilled, that the result would be a major

humanitarian catastrophe, which retrospectively justifies the bombing. A further

justification is that if NATO hadn’t bombed maybe something similar would have

happened anyway. That is the "new doctrine" in its purest form,

perhaps the most exotic justification for state violence on record — even

putting aside other consequences, including the effects of the bombardment of

civilian targets in Serbia and the "cleansing" of Kosovo under the

eyes of the NATO occupying forces, with worse to come, very possibly.

The

record does seem to reveal remarkable consistency, as one might expect. Why

should we expect inconsistency when the institutional factors that undergird

policy remain intact and unchanged, to bring up the forbidden question? Talk of

a "double standard" is simply evasion, in fact cowardly evasion when

we consider what is omitted under the principle of selective amnesia, and what

is offered as evidence that the high standards proclaimed are at least sometimes

operative.

 

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