New Delhi: Renowned author, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky — known for ruffling feathers with his dissident views — invited an onslaught of criticism last month for calling former US President Donald Trump the “one Western statesman of stature” who has laid out a “sensible” solution to the war in Ukraine.
Asked if it’s wise to pay heed to what Trump has to say about the war in Ukraine — considering the former US President’s murky history with the Ukrainian leadership — Chomsky told ThePrint in an email that it’s the contents of Trump’s remarks on Ukraine that are important, not Trump himself.
Trump had allegedly tried to extort Ukrainian President Zelenskyy into investigating Joe Biden’s son Hunter in 2019 in the run-up to the US Presidential election.
Chomsky’s remarks came as a surprise to many, considering that he has in the past described Trump as “dangerous”, even referring to him as “the worst criminal in human history”.
This isn’t the first time the American scholar has courted controversy. In the 1970s, Chomsky was accused of downplaying evidence of genocide in Cambodia during the radical Khmer Rouge movement in a 1977 paper he co-authored with American economist Edward Herman, titled ‘Distortions at Fourth Hand‘.
What did Chomsky say?
In an interview with YouTube channel EduKitchen on 27 April, Noam Chomsky kicked up a storm by lauding Trump’s push for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
“Fortunately, there is one statesman in the United States and Europe who has made a very sensible statement about how you can solve the crisis. Namely, by facilitating negotiations instead of undermining them, and moving towards establishing some kind of accommodation in Europe in which there are no military alliances — which is mutual accommodation,” Chomsky said.
“He didn’t say it, but it’s something like what George H. W. Bush — the first Bush, not the second — proposed in the early 90s, when after the collapse of the Soviet Union, [he] proposed what they called a partnership for peace, which would be open for Europeans generally or Asians as well. It wouldn’t eliminate NATO but he would live up to the promise that NATO would not expand to the east — a firm promise to [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev…,” he continued.
“So going back to the one Western statesman — he didn’t mention all of this but he suggested something similar: Move toward negotiations and diplomacy instead of escalating the war, try to see if you can bring about an accommodation which would be roughly along these lines. His name is Donald J Trump,” Chomsky concluded.
Here, he was referring to Trump’s statement that Russia and Ukraine should “figure out” a solution to the ongoing war.
Later in the same interview, the 93-year-old admitted that Trump is not his “favourite person” and is “the most dangerous person maybe in history”. But this did little to quell the criticism that followed.
Blake Hounshell, the editor of The New York Times’ ‘On Politics’ newsletter, termed Chomsky’s praise for Trump “political singularity”.
“Wow, after comparing Donald Trump to Hitler in 2020, Noam Chomsky now says Trump is the only statesman of stature pushing for a diplomatic solution to [the] Ukraine war rather than fuelling and prolonging it,” said Australian academic Michael Salla, who has conducted fieldwork in ethnic conflict zones such as East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Sri Lanka.
Chomsky on NATO expansion
“It’s certainly right to have moral outrage about Putin’s actions in Ukraine,” Chomsky had said in an interview with The New Statesman last month. However, he also called for outrage against the “horrible atrocities” that were a result of America’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In the interview with EduKitchen last month, the American scholar had cited the threat of NATO expansion to explain what might have led Russian President Vladimir Putin to take such drastic measures. This is a view Chomsky has reiterated many times, and it’s detailed in a 2014 article — written in the wake of Russia’s conquest of Crimea — titled ‘The Politics of Red Lines: Putin’s takeover of Crimea scares U.S. leaders because it challenges America’s global dominance’.
Calling Putin’s complaints “factually accurate”, Chomsky wrote: “When President Gorbachev accepted the unification of Germany as part of NATO — an astonishing concession in the light of history — there was a quid pro quo. Washington agreed that NATO would not move “one inch eastward,” referring to East Germany. The promise was immediately broken, and when Gorbachev complained, he was instructed that it was only a verbal promise, so without force.”
Here, he was referring to former US Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion. Baker, in a meeting with Gorbachev on 9 February 1990, three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, had promised that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted Germany’s unification.
Never codified in a bilateral treaty, these assurances lasted only during Bush’s term. And in 1997, the Clinton administration decided to throw open NATO’s gates by inviting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the military alliance with many other European states following suit.
Though not a political commentator, Pope Francis has also suggested that NATO “barking at” Russia’s door may have forced Putin’s hand.
However, some have argued that the idea of Western ‘betrayal’ of Russia over NATO expansion is a “myth”. Kristina Spohr, professor of international history at the London School of Economics, argues that the Warsaw Pact — Soviet Union’s counterbalance to NATO — was still in existence when Baker made the promise to Gorbachev, which is why NATO enlargement at that point in time was a “moot point”.
It has also been widely reported that the conflict in Ukraine has roots in 2014 when pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown following mass protests over his withdrawal from a deal for greater integration with the European Union. Chomsky has in the past referred to the protests as a “coup” carried out with “US support”.
“What happened in 2014, whatever one thinks of it, amounted to a coup with US support that replaced the Russia-oriented government by a Western-oriented one. That led Russia to annex Crimea, mainly to protect its sole warm water port and naval base, and apparently with the agreement of a considerable majority of the Crimean population,” he had said in an interview with Truthout in December 2021.
‘Biden calls for negotiations for Russia to concede total defeat’
Responding to criticism of his praise for Donald Trump, Chomsky said in an email to ThePrint: “We should be paying attention to the contents of comments that make sense. The issue is not Trump, but the contents of what he said — and the fact that western statesmen do not rise to that level of sanity.”
He added that unlike Trump, the Biden administration does not appear to be supporting peace negotiations as a way out of the war in Ukraine, and is rather focusing on sanctions on Russia.
“Biden, of course, calls for negotiations for Russia to concede total defeat. That’s not diplomacy,” Chomsky told ThePrint.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)