Another piece?

I read Tri's review of Noam Chomsky's short piece On the Bombings published by online political magazine ZMag September 13th 2001 1. Chomsky is, as many know, an industrious writer and probably the most reverred of dissident writers (e.g. Michael Moore, Gore Vidal). Personally, although I lean to the left, I haven't read very much by Chomsky. Only the book What Uncle Sam Wants (which is more of a pamphlet than a book) that recounts the turbulent history of South American countries and American influence there-in. I will make an effort of being subjective and fair in my critique on Tri's comments since it is unfeasible to make this an arena of anything but sensible debate. That having been said I would advise everyone to familiarise yourself with the earlier node before reading further.

On the Bombings pt. 1

Chomsky's emphasis on the August 20th 1998 bombings by U.S of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant is not without reason. Moreover Tri's first point in his argument is trivial speculation. He states that "If someone were to criticize Chomski for downplaying the attacks, he can, with mock innocence, point out that he explicitly said that the attacks were atrocities." for that matter if Chomsky were to be accused of misspelling Clinton's name he can point out that he didn't. As of January 22th 2004 the official death toll of the 9/11 attacks stands at 2,749 people. 2 It is unlikely to change and if so not by much. As crude as it seems, I feel obligated to clarify what Chomsky refers to as "Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext". I am not enthusiastic about comparing the loss of human lives. But first of all, do you know anything at all about the Republic of Sudan?

Sudan in a nutshell

According to the CIA World Factbook the population of Sudan was 35,079,814 (July 2000 est.) and then 38,114,160 (July 2003 est.) 3. That's an increase of 3,034,346 or 8.65% in three years which only goes to show how chaotic the state of Sudan is. Under background information in the 2000 version it says "Military dictatorships promulgating an Islamic government have mostly run the country since independence from the UK in 1956. Over the past two decades, a civil war pitting black Christians and animists in the south against the Arab-Muslims of the north has cost at least 1.5 million lives in war and famine-related deaths, as well as the displacement of millions of others.". A civil war has been raging in Sudan since it's independance from the Brits in 1956 with a decade long exception starting in 1972 with the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement. It broke out again in 1983. It is (today) essentially in-fighting between the forces of the national military of pro-islamic President Lt. Gen. Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and those of resurgent and leader of SPLA (aka SPLM) Dr. John Garang de Mabior. I won't go into who is the "good guy" as this node might swell a bit and as far as I can see reports of both factions tell of cruelty. It is estimated that at least 2.000.000 people have died as a result of the drawn-out civil war and 4.500.000 have been displaced. Some might have to brush up on geography 4.

al-Shifa chemical weapons

On the 20th August 1998 six Tomahawk missiles leveled the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum (the Sudan capital) to the ground. This was a response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 13 days earlier that killed around 300 people and injured a few thousand. The bombings were linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organisation and so was the al-Shifa plant. The official evidence for the allegations that the al-Shifa plant manufactured not medicine but EMPTA, a chemical necessary in the production of VX nerve gas and otherwise useless, was a soil sample supposedly obtained from a yard adjacent to the plant. This cupful of dirt was not made available for public verification which in itself is not reassuring of Mr. Clinton's just intentions. But guess what! All sorts of chemists, when interviewed, claimed that EMPTA has indeed other uses and "could just as easily have been from pesticides or insecticides".5 The alleged chemical weapons factory did in fact only manufacture human and vetinary medicine such as chloroquine tablets which are vital for the treatment of malaria. Richard Becker of Clark's IAC in a delegation to Sudan following the bombings assessed that the al-Shifa plant "had raised Sudan's self-sufficiency in pharmaceuticals from 3% to 50%", that it produced "60-90% of the country's drugs for treating the seven leading causes of death" as well as "all of the country's veterinary medicines.". 5 The al-Shifa plant was positioned in a suburban area, civilian casualties are extremely likely. A pre-emptive U.S. strike on a sovereign state can not be justified, not with a non-existant soil sample, so to speak. Whether al-Shifa was manufacturing a precursor chemical for the VX nerve gas or not may only be known to the few privileged members of powerful inner circles. The U.S. did not present a convincing case to justify this attack, the effects are sure to be long lasting and may have resulted (as of this writing) directly in the deaths of tens of thousands. 5

In light of this I think Chomsky's tacit comparison is not without merit. And yes, more would be known about this regrettable incident had the U.S. not vetoed a U.N. inquiry made by the League of Arab States.

Irrelevant deaths

Tri's intepretation of Chomsky's refering to the victims' by working class professions is unnecessarily political. I think that Chomsky is pointing out their innocence. The motive for these murders probably had preciously little to do with the victims personally. Sadly, such are the prices that some have to pay. Chomsky also emphasizes how horrendous the terrorist acts were, but Tri makes no note of that. In any case, Tri wastes space on a fairly inconsequential statement.

Who's afraid of a Jew?

Chomsky's next two sentences reflect on how individual freedom is likely to become less in the future, even in democratic societies. He fears especially for Palestinians. Tri points out that (statistically) this was an unnecessary worry but that some aspects of life seem to be more restricted. I have no wish to expand further on fatalities in Palestinian jihads or Israeli tyrannies. It is an open secret that prisoners are being kept in violation of their constitutional rights by the U.S. goverment in Guantanamo bay. But Tri is optimistic all will be well, I wish I could share that opinion.

Complete spectrum dominance

Chomsky is yet, again making a perceptive observation that Tri twists around with distorted logic. For a long time nuclear weapons have been political weapons. Means for leverage on the international arena. There has been nuclear armed peace since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Simply said, nobody is dumb enough to provoke the wrath of everyone else. Which is certainly what will occur if somebody decides to evaporate a city of ten millions or so. North Korea is simply desperate to be taken serious. Chomsky is warning against excessive militarization, not making threats vanish magically. The missile defense system currently being developed by the U.S. army and NASA is a little adventurous, maybe even over-ambitious. I think terrorists are more likely to be practical when contemplating means of mass murder. There are other weapons such as Boeing 747s, dirty bombs, nerve gasses in their armory.

Dubya's popularity

Regretfully, Tri has made another blunder in his analysis. Whereas Chomsky voices his fears that an oppurtunity is presented to "the hard jingoist right" to make haste and apply unfair alterations to the judical system. Tri likes to think that Chomsky is somehow exempting leftist? bigots. Bigotry can exist under all sorts of guises, they don't really need excuses to harass their citizens which is all too evident in countries dubbed rogue states or third world. The cause for concern is the shrinking sphere of freedom in our free, democratic societies. Tri adds insult to injury by insinuating that Chomsky benefitted financially by publishing a book shortly after the 9/11 attacks and therefore approves of them?

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk is a Middle East news correspondant for The Independent. 6 I haven't read anything of his and find myself unable to either approve of or discredit him. Why Tri deems it necessary to draw our attention to his beating by Afghan refugees as proof of his incompetent "insight" into the region and culture" escapes me altogether. Seems to me that any one of us might happen to be in the wrong dark lit alley at the wrong time.


I think Chomsky's 2 year old statement does him credit. He expresses his condolences for the sufferings of people worldwide and encourages us to understand why they happened and continue to happen. I think Tri is far off track.

(1) "On the Bombings" -
(2) "New York Settles on a Number That Defines Tragedy: 2,749 Dead in Trade Center Attack" -
(3) "CIA World Factbook: Sudan" -
(4) The world map as some percieve it -
(5) "United States Terrorism in the Sudan" -
(6) "News" -

Sources not cited:
"US policy on Sudan is inept and patrisan" -
Plotting a communist revolution - (6 years old)
"The Clinton View of Iraq-al Qaeda Ties" -