Noam Chomsky: First Reaction

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Noam Chomsky gives his first thoughts on hearing of the US/British bomb attacks on Afghanistan.

So far, the US-UK response is about what had been expected. What has been reported is attacks by cruise missiles and high-altitude bombers, accompanied by some food drops outside of Taliban-controlled areas (most of the country), such a transparent PR gesture that there is no attempt even to conceal it. The attacks appear to have been based entirely outside the Muslim world, presumably because of fear of protests. It is far too early, and we have much too little information, to say anything with confidence, but it is not unlikely that the mood is captured by story from Cairo in the Boston Globe with the headline "Protests, horror greet US assault," quoting an Egyptian waiter as saying "I give you food and I kill you? It makes me crazy to think about that."

I was rather surprised to see how thin the evidence was that the US presented, transmitted via Tony Blair. After what must be the most intensive international investigative effort in history, they were able to find very little -- much less than I speculated on my own, without resources -- to link bin Laden to the Sept. 11 crimes. That tends to support the conclusion of many specialists that the perpetrators come from decentralized networks, probably with limited communication, and very hard to penetrate. Charges against the Taliban were virtually non-existent: if harboring suspected terrorists is a crime that merits bombing, then much of the world, including the US, should be instantly attacked. That should be too obvious even for comment. And we do not know whether Taliban offers of negotiation and transfer of bin Laden were serious because the West simply dismissed them, preferring to bomb -- a traditional stance, though it is obscured in the rewriting of history. The systematic falsification of the past is deplorable in itself, but has serious human consequences, as we see once again.

There still remain the lawful means that have been pursued by other states, which have been subjected to far more destructive terrorist attacks even than those of Sept. 11. It is rather striking that these are not even under consideration, and I have not even seen any mention, in the mainstream, of precedents that are appropriate and entirely uncontroversial, because of the judgment of the International Court of Justice and the Security Council Resolution (which the US vetoed), all apparently unknown; a success of historical revisionism that would have left Orwell open-mouthed in astonishment, and an ideological achievement of no slight significance, as we see in today's headlines.

It is impossible to estimate how many miserable and innocent Afghans have already died as an immediate consequence of the threat of bombing and the closing of the Pakistan border that the US demanded at once (if we can believe the NY Times), and the failure to provide food, as could have been done from the first day, not only by air drops -- nothing has hindered that -- but also by truck convoy, as the international relief efforts demonstrated when they began. I dearly wish there had been some surprises, some deviation from traditional patterns of behavior. Unless that happens, the immediate future looks very grim for the people of Aghanistan, and the cycle of violence may be escalated in a familiar manner, with consequences that are not pleasant to contemplate.