More on Greenwald, Chomsky, and Yglesias
I recently wrote about a joint appearance by Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (it wasn’t so much a “debate” or a “conversation” as it was a series of alternating monologues). This isn’t a highly read blog by any means, but I have earned a decent (for me) amount of traffic off of that post – people continue to run Google searches for “Chomsky Greenwald” or “Greenwald Yglesias” or “Greenwald Chomsky” or alterations on those, and it continue to receive a steady number of views.
I mentioned that both Chomsky and Greenwald took what I thought were dishonest and unfair shots at Matthew Yglesias. Yglesias has now caught wind of comments made by Chomsky in a different venue – in his acceptance speech for the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize – that closely echo the complaints made by Chomsky and Greenwald in Cambridge:
There were a few criticisms of Operation Geronimo – the name, the manner of its execution, and the implications. These elicited the usual furious condemnations, most unworthy of comment, though some were instructive. The most interesting was by the respected left-liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias. He patiently explained that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers,” so it is “amazingly naïve” to suggest that the US should obey international law or other conditions that we impose on the powerless. The words are not criticism, but applause; hence one can raise only tactical objections if the US invades other countries, murders and destroys with abandon, assassinates suspects at will, and otherwise fulfills its obligations in the service of mankind. If the traditional victims see matters somewhat differently, that merely reveals their moral and intellectual backwardness.
And Yglesias responds:
I think my initial claim was very clear, but I’ll state it again: International law, as it exists, was not written by pacifists, political radicals, or grassroots communities in small or weak states. It was, rather, written by political elites who are not committed to pacifism or radical politics via a process in which militarily strong states have disproportionate weight. Therefore, people who are committed to pacifism or radical politics shouldn’t be surprised to find that the existing body of international law often fails to support their policy ideas. The founding purpose of the United Nations Security Council is to create a mechanism to legitimize great powers’ desire to use violent force abroad over the objections of smaller states. Simply because something is legal doesn’t make it right. It’s totally illogical and immoral, for example, for the governments of Russia and France to have more weight in the U.N. than the government of India and Japan. But it’s not “illegal.” The existing legal framework is a compromise between the victors of World War II, not a vindication of abstract justice.
I have little faith that this explanation will lead Chomsky (or Greenwald) to change his mind, but for more, here is Jonathan Schwarz.