Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 22, 2020

Noam Chomsky jumps the shark on Syria

Filed under: Chomsky,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:51 pm

One might say that Noam Chomsky can be excused for stupidity since he is now 91 and clearly a victim of the aging process, as are eventually all of us. However, when it comes to Syria, he has speaking foolishly since 2015. I say “speaking” since he seems to have the lost the ability to write substantive articles. Most of the pearls of wisdom are plucked from interviews with his fans at myriad websites. Like fellow professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, whose “articles” in The Nation were transcribed from chats with far-right WABC personality John Bachelor, anything “written” by Chomsky is a transcription.

The first sign that not all was right was an interview he gave at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in 2015.

You’ll find him saying that Russian intervention in Syria could not be considered imperialism because Assad invited him in. With that benchmark, the American intervention in Vietnam was not imperialism either, since it was “invited” in by the South Vietnamese government. He condemns Saudi Arabia for supporting “the jihadi movement” but doesn’t bother to consider the Iranian and Hizbollah intervention since ostensibly their Shi’ite fundamentalism is benign. Like many on the left, including me, Chomsky was speaking against American intervention. It’s too bad that he reduced everybody opposed to Assad as inevitably coming under the authority of “jihadis”. Perhaps if the CIA had not intervened in 2012 to block the shipment of MANPAD’s to the FSA, the rebels would have been a position to create a new government that met with Chomsky’s approval.

Two years later, after Assad’s air force used a sarin gas missile in Khan Sheikhoun that killed 92 people, Chomsky stuck his foot in his mouth again. Speaking at UMass Amherst on April 13, he told the gathering that “actually we don’t [know what happened]”. He invoked Theodore Postol, whom he regarded as “one of the most sophisticated and successful analysts of military strategic issues”. He was satisfied that Postol had reviewed the White House Intelligence Report “in detail” and tore it “to shreds.”

It turns out that Postol turned in an article expanding on his initial reaction to Khan Sheikhoun to a journal titled Science & Global Security, upon whose editorial board he sits. After doing the peer review that such journals must follow, they decided to reject it. A statement on their website states:

To ensure the high standards of editorial control, integrity, and rigor that this journal has always sought to maintain, we conducted an independent internal review of the editorial process for this manuscript. This review identified a number of issues with the peer-review and revision process. As a result, the editors have decided to withhold the publication of this article to examine whether the editors can rectify the problems that we identified.

One doubts that this matters much to Chomsky since his esteem for Postol transcends scholarly norms, especially when it comes to the nasty jihadis in Khan Sheikhoun. Why bother getting upset over 92 of their supporters being gassed to death, when they might have received funding from Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Chomsky has gotten involved with “investigations” proving that the chlorine gas attack in Douma in 2018 was a “false flag”. As part of the propaganda offensive by Wikileaks, an open letter was signed by former OPCW director José Bustani, Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk. They hoped that their good names would help draw attention to “alternative hypotheses on how the alleged chlorine munitions came to be found in the two apartment buildings.” It is sad that these model citizens’ reputations will be stained forever by serving such filthy ends.

In a recent gaffe-filled interview with Grayzone’s Aaron Maté, he tries to take the high ground as a free speech absolutist and anti-imperialist. Grayzone has published numerous articles absolving Assad and Chomsky seemed happy to carry their water. In the interview, Chomsky was indignant that the UN Security Council voted against hearing testimony from José Bustani, the former head of the OPCW who has joined the Wikileaks Douma “false flag” brigade.

Chomsky saw a pattern here. There was a nefarious conspiracy to silence whistleblowers who, after all, were only corroborating what an expert in the region had already established. Chomsky told Maté, “Well what happened certainly arouses very severe suspicions. The OPCW came out with a report blaming Syria for a chemical attack. Reporters like Robert Fisk and others thought it was pretty shady at the time, but didn’t know.”

Actually, it was Fisk’s reporting that was shady and it only shows how out of touch Chomsky was to uphold it. Richard Hall, a former editor at the Independent, where Fisk’s reporting appears, took to Twitter to debunk Fisk’s reporting:

Robert Fisk is allowed access to Douma before OCPW inspectors are allowed in. Doesn’t speak to any witnesses of the attack, only a doctor who didn’t see it, but says everyone “knows what happened.”

Fisk seems perplexed why victims of the attack did not hang around in Douma when the government took over the area. And doesn’t seriously deal with the fact that those who stayed behind might not be able to speak freely.

Fisk is among a handful of journalists given regular access by Syrian government. He and others are shepherded in on minded trips when it is useful for the government. Journalists who do make it in and write something that counters the government narrative are not allowed back.

Fisk notes in his piece that he was granted access to the site before chemical weapons inspectors. As were a number of other journalists who — let’s be generous here — toe the government line. That feels like an attempt to muddy the waters ahead of an independent investigation.

As for Douma itself, the whole notion of a “false flag” can only be maintained by assuming a scenario that defies reason. If you believe that bearded bad guys manually placed chlorine tanks in a Douma apartment building on April 7, 2018, you must be able to answer such questions:

  • If the Jaish el-Islam (the Army of Islam that controlled Douma) was capable of weaponizing chlorine gas tanks, why wouldn’t they have used them in confrontations with Assad’s military especially since it was closing in on them in 2018? According to Tobias Schneider and Theresa Lütkefend of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute, there have been 336 chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012. They attribute two percent of them to ISIS and all the rest to the dictatorship. A search in Nexis for “chlorine & attack & Syria” in Lexis-Nexis will return 5,404 articles sorted by relevance. After a review of the first twenty-five, I found not a single one referring to rebel usage. You’re welcome to work your way through the remaining 5,379.
  • Procuring chlorine tanks might have been relatively easy, but how could Jaish el-Islam construct the fins, harness, axis, and wheels that are necessary for both loading into and then dropping them from helicopters? If you are going to frame Assad, you’d better be in a position to replicate the weapon he has been using for at least five years. Would Henderson and Alex argue that the pictures of the two weaponized chlorine tanks seen in the OPCW report were photoshopped? If not, how do you construct the fins, harness, axis and wheels from scratch? Did Jaish el-Islam make them in a machine shop? As someone with a night school diploma in lathe and milling machine from my days colonizing industry, I can tell you that this is not an easy task during constant bombardment and electrical blackouts.
  • The Jaish el-Islam had to use a pneumatic drill or sledgehammers to create large holes in concrete ceilings or find apartments that had them already. If the apartment already had a hole, what accounted for the rubble on the floor beneath it? And what about the attention such tools would draw during a heavy-duty penetration of concrete ceilings? The racket would be enough to awaken the dead. Furthermore, what would their neighbors make of them hauling 300-pound chlorine tanks to the building and up the stairs? Clunkety-clunkety-clunk. Anybody spotting them would figure out that they were up to no good, especially since Douma tenement buildings were not likely to have rooftop swimming pools in need of sterilization.
  • To make sure that the forty to fifty people who were to become sacrificial lambs in this unlikely false flag operation, the Jaish el-Islam had to prevent them from fleeing from the bottom floors, where they had taken refuge. But what if they tried to flee the minute chlorine gas was detected? If anybody escaped, wouldn’t they finger Jaish el-Islam ? How would Jaish el-Islam not lose all support immediately? The Jaish el-Islam might have been authoritarian, but it was not about to risk its reputation killing innocent civilians, especially those they were supposed to be protecting. Groups like the Jaish el-Islam were not the same as ISIS, after all. In Idlib today, there are frequent protests against hard-core Islamist groups. Less than a month ago, hundreds of people in Idlib protested against the self-proclaimed National Salvation Government, an affiliate of the Jaish el-Islam . Not a single person was injured or killed. By the standards of Baathist or ISIS rule, they are enjoying freedoms that remain as tangible gains of the revolution that began in 2011.

I tried to raise these questions with Chomsky in an email. He showed zero interest in engaging with the problems raised by a false flag. Back in 1967, he wrote an article in the NY Review of Books titled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. It was about how subservient intellectual culture was to power. I guess when the power is Russian or Syrian, it’s not as bad as if it was American. Here he is, now in his 90s, chatting it up with Grayzone, some of the most rapacious and cynical supporters of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping on the left. Grayzone goes so far as to deny repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This would disqualify them in my eyes for an interview. Maybe Noam’s standards are lower than mine, despite his infinite self-regard.

Maybe Chomsky should reread “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” to get his head straightened out. It’s never too late.


  1. Does Chomsky really “deny repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang”? I mean I believe you but If so that’s just beyond the Pale.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 23, 2020 @ 12:18 am

  2. I’ll have to make that clearer. He did not but he is legitimizing a website that supports the repression of the Uyghurs.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 23, 2020 @ 12:28 am

  3. ” Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute,”… an NGO funded by the German government.. Bullshit source for a bullshit article.

    Comment by Georges — October 23, 2020 @ 1:11 am

  4. I don’t give a crap what you think of the Global Policy Institute but I defy your tankie ass to refute this:

    A search in Nexis for “chlorine & attack & Syria” in Lexis-Nexis will return 5,404 articles sorted by relevance. After a review of the first twenty-five, I found not a single one referring to rebel usage.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 23, 2020 @ 1:31 am

  5. Who the fuck was present to verify 5404 chlorine attacks or whatever the number is ? Only the terrorists or parties sympathetic to the head choppers ! Totally unreliable.

    Comment by Georges — October 23, 2020 @ 1:45 am

  6. Yeah, everybody knows that SANA and RT.com are the place to go for unbiased reporting.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 23, 2020 @ 11:31 am

  7. “Only the terrorists or parties sympathetic to the head choppers.” Yes, why am I not surprised that primitive racism is the best Assad apologists can come up with?

    Comment by mkaradjis — October 24, 2020 @ 5:09 am

  8. Workers have no side in the intercommunal slaughter of the near East. It has literally nothing to do with class struggle. It’s petty tyrants battling each other with blood of regular people.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — October 25, 2020 @ 2:00 pm

  9. Thanks for reminding us that you are a genuine communist revolutionary. We don’t get such proclamations on the Internet very often.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 25, 2020 @ 2:09 pm

  10. never got passed the third or fourth graph. makes chomsky look good. marxist? groucho maybe.

    Comment by frank scott — November 28, 2020 @ 8:57 pm

  11. What a fucking stupid-head.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2020 @ 9:53 pm

  12. […] the sky, how did they get there? The best take-down I have seen of this issue was that penned by Louis Proyect, in this article on the Douma issue. It is so to the point that I will quote a significant chunk of it here, one more aspect for […]

    Pingback by Assad’s 2018 chemical massacre in Douma: Why conspiracy claims make no sense – Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis — January 2, 2021 @ 1:41 am

  13. I saw your post on https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/11/22/douma-chlorine-gas-and-occams-razor/

    I wanted to (perhaps) inform you of the actual reason the United States is bombing Syria.

    A company called Genie Energy engineered an agreement with Israel in early 2013 to mine the oil resources of the Golan Heights. That is one of the main motivations, and Syria has Russia’s only middle eastern military base and the US would like to get rid of that. The plan appears to put in a pipeline from the Golan to Turkey to supply the EU. Meanwhile the US overthrew Ukraine (partially) to prevent the Nordstream II from becoming operational, and has done everything it could to prevent the Turkish Stream from becoming operational – including a failed coup.

    Nothing I’ve said is incorrect. Check it.

    You might also be interested in looking up who is on the strategic advisory board of Genie Energy.

    The US couldn’t care a bit if Assad was ACTUALLY murdering his citizens, they sure didn’t care when Saddam Hussein was doing this when Iraq was at war with Iran – the United States used their permanent status on the security council to stymie any investigation into it. More recently the US bombed Libya “to prevent a humanitarian crisis” which left it in civil war with operating slavery markets. The US uses “human rights” exclusively as an excuse to justify whatever mass murdering they are engaging in.

    The United States simply wants to control all petroleum sales and extraction where they can. Israel wants to expand their territory. It’s ENTIRELY irrelevant what Assad is doing or isn’t doing – it’s just an excuse for the US to bomb the nation, and build a pipeline over the graves of a destroyed nation and a bunch bodies.

    This is the obvious plan. The Project for the New American Century was blatantly obvious about it.

    Think Assad is horrible? Ask an Libyan, or Iraqi if they are better or worse off since the US blew up their nations. I never understand why people pontificate and so rarely talk to the people who lived through both eras. The United States only improves the lives of people they bomb, as an accident. That’s not even part of their goal, it’s coincidental when it happens.

    Comment by rich_wicks — April 26, 2021 @ 4:36 am

  14. A company called Genie Energy engineered an agreement with Israel in early 2013 to mine the oil resources of the Golan Heights. That is one of the main motivations, and Syria has Russia’s only middle eastern military base and the US would like to get rid of that.

    Haaretz, April 23, 2021
    Analysis | Israel and Russia Find Common Interest in Syria: Keep Assad on Top, for Now
    by Zvi Bar’el
    It was an interesting development Wednesday: The Syrian missile that crashed near Ashalim in the Negev, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Dimona nuclear reactor, wasn’t intercepted by the Israeli systems meant to do just that.

    This might make clear that the main threat to Israel isn’t necessarily the prime minister’s PR machine that hasn’t eschewed a confrontation with the Biden administration.

    Israel operates freely in the airspace over Syria and Lebanon, attacks the heart of Iran’s nuclear production facilities, bombs near Damascus and on the Syria-Iraq border, and hovers over Beirut. But it’s not immune to missiles – fired accidentally or not – from the Gaza Strip.

    The central pillar of Israeli strategy against these threats is actually tactical. Threatening rhetoric and surgical strikes, even if they eliminate heads of organizations, scientists and military facilities – including nuclear ones – haven’t changed the strategic threat much. It’s actually the official agreements, such as those signed between Israel and Arab countries, or unofficial ones, such as those between Israel and Hamas, that have increased security.

    Syria is a good example of an enemy country that still toes the line of heated confrontation against Israel. Still, despite the Iranian presence, Syria isn’t seen as a strategic threat, and not just because of its limited military capabilities. The relationship between Israel and Syria has been strengthened by understandings between Israel and Russia, and recently with the Gulf states, especially the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which were added as anchors to guarantee quiet with Syria because of their renewed ties with the Syrian regime.


    Comment by louisproyect — April 26, 2021 @ 12:57 pm

  15. […] perspective on Syrian people’s struggle. See for example the pieces by Idrees Ahmad and Louis Proyect (I have some issues with both individuals, but their documenting work is valuable nonetheless, at […]

    Pingback by (Against) Chomsky’s Dangerous Bullshit: Summary/Resources – Ravenwood — January 26, 2022 @ 5:55 pm

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