Russia’s War Against Ukraine Has Accelerated the Doomsday Clock

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, there has been a lot of speculation about Russia’s military strategy and President Vladimir Putin’s geostrategic aims. Indeed, it is still unclear what Putin wants, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s repeated offers of a face-to-face meeting have been rejected by Moscow, although that could soon change. The destruction of Ukraine continues unabated while the United States and Europe increase their military spending. This is perhaps the most obvious indication yet that a new Cold War is underway. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (NATO), is strengthening its eastern front. Washington does not seem to be interested in constructive diplomacy in ending the war in Ukraine. In fact, President Joe Biden is adding fuel and to the fire by using highly inflamatory language against the Russian president.

In the interview that follows, world-renowned scholar and leading dissident Noam Chomsky delves into the latest developments concerning the war in Ukraine, but also takes us into a tour de force exposé of extreme selectivity in moral outrage on the part of the U.S. and, additionally, shares some of his insights into the contemporary political culture in the U.S., which includes the reshaping of the ideological universe of the Republican Party, political fervor and book banning.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the latest reports about the war in Ukraine indicate that Russia seems to be shifting its strategy, with an intent of partitioning the country “like North and South Korea,” according to some Ukrainian officials. NATO decided to reinforce its eastern frontier, as if Russia intends to invade Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia. Washington is still mum about peace in Ukraine. However, we also heard Biden engage into toxic masculinity talk in relation to Putin during his recent visit in Poland. This prompted Emmanuel Macron to warn against using inflammatory words as he actually tries to secure a ceasefire. In fact, even American veteran diplomat Richard Haass said that Biden’s words made a dangerous situation even more dangerous. This question is posed in all honesty: Does the U.S. ever believe that conflicts can be solved other than by intimidation or continuous force?

Noam Chomsky: There are many questions here that are important and worth more discussion than I can offer here. These questions will be covered in order.

There are two very different stories about the current military situation. The familiar one is provided by Ukraine’s military intelligence head, Gen. Kyrylo Budanov: Russia’s attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government has failed, so Russia is now retreating to the occupied south and east of the country, the Donbas region and the eastern Azov sea coast, planning a “Korean scenario.”

Col. General Sergey Rudskoy, head of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation tells a different of March 25): a rendition of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, though without the dramatic trappings:

The main goal of the “special military operation” was to defend the Donbass People’s Republic from the genocidal assaults of Ukrainian Nazis over the past eight years. Since Ukraine rejected diplomacy, it was necessary to extend the operation to “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine, destroying military targets with great care to spare civilians. The main goals have been achieved precisely according to plan. What remains is the full “liberation of Donbass.”

Two stories, one ending. I believe this is true.

The West adopts the first story, which is quite plausible. That is, it adopts the story that tells us that Russia is incapable of conquering cities a few miles from its border that are defended by what are limited military forces by world standards, supported by a citizen’s army.

Or does the West continue to tell this story? Its actions suggest that it prefers the version by General Rudskoy: An incredibly powerful and effective Russian military machine, which has quickly achieved its objectives against Ukraine, is now poised for invasion of Europe, possibly overwhelming NATO just as effectively. If so, it is necessary to reinforce NATO’s eastern front to prevent the impending invasion by this monstrous force.

Another possibility is that Washington wants to make sure that the great gift Putin has bestowed upon it by driving Europe into it, and that it is attempting to reinforce an eastern front it knows is safe from invasion.

Washington has not changed its position from the joint statement we discussed earlier. This crucially important policy statement extended Washington’s welcome to Ukraine to join NATO and “finalized a Strategic Defense Framework that creates a foundation for the enhancement of U.S.-Ukraine strategic defense and security cooperation” by providing Ukraine with advanced anti-tank and other weapons along with a “robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.”

There is much learned discussion plumbing the deep recesses of Putin’s twisted soul to discover why he decided to invade Ukraine. By moving on to criminal aggression, he carried a step forward the annual mobilizations on Ukraine’s borders in an effort to elicit some attention to his unanswered calls to consider Russia’s security concerns, which are recognized as significant by a host of top U.S. diplomats, CIA directors, and numerous others who have warned Washington of the foolishness of ignoring these concerns.

Perhaps exploring Putin’s soul is the right approach to understanding his decision in February 2022. Another possibility is possible. Perhaps he meant the statements he and other Russian leaders made about neutralizing Ukraine 25 years ago. And perhaps Putin, even though the highly provocative and provocative joint statement was silenced in the U.S.A, might have noticed and decided to escalate his disregarded annual efforts at direct aggression.

A possibility, perhaps.

The press reports that, “Ukraine is ready to declare neutrality, abandon its drive to join NATO and vow to not develop nuclear weapons if Russia withdraws troops and Kyiv receives security guarantee…”

This raises the question: Will the U.S. resign and accelerate efforts to save Ukraine from further misery, instead of interfering in these efforts by refusing participation in negotiations and maintaining its position of last September’s policy statement?

The question brings us to Biden’s ad-libbed call for Putin to be removed, offering Putin no escape. Biden’s statement, recognized to be a virtual declaration of war that could have horrifying consequences, did cause considerable consternation worldwide, not least among his staff, who hastened to ensure the world that his words didn’t mean what they said. Judging by the stance of his close circle on national security issues, it’s hard to be confident.

Biden has since explained that his comment was a spontaneous outburst of “moral outrage,” revulsion at the crimes of the “butcher” who rules Russia. Are there other current situations that might provoke moral outrage?

It’s not hard to think of cases. Afghanistan is one of the most frightening. Literally millions are facing starvation, a devastating tragedy. Although there is food available in the markets, people without access to banks must watch their children suffer.

Why? A major reason is that Washington is refusing to release Afghanistan’s funds, kept in New York banks in order to punish poor Afghans for daring to resist Washington’s 20-year war. Even worse are the official pretexts. The U.S. must withhold funds from starving Afghans if Americans want reparations to Afghans for their crimes of September 11. The Taliban offered total surrender, which would have meant that they would turn over the al Qaeda suspects. (They were not suspects at that time, but were in fact suspects long after the U.S. invasion. This was confirmed by the FBI. But the U.S. firmly responded with the edict that, “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders.” That was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, echoed by George W. Bush.

If there is any moral outrage about this current crime, it’s hard to detect. This is not the only instance. Are there lessons to be learned here? These lessons may be obvious, but they are worth a little more thought.

Moral outrage at Russian crimes in Ukraine can be justified and understandable. While it is understandable to feel extreme moral outrage, it is not justifiable. It is because it is so common.

It is hard to think of a more elementary moral principle than the Golden Rule — in the Jewish tradition, the rule that “what is hateful to you, do not do to others.”

There is no rule more basic or more frequently broken than any other. This is also true for a corollary. Energy and attention should be directed to the best areas where we can make a difference. With regard to international affairs, that typically means focusing on the actions of one’s own state, particularly in more or less democratic societies where citizens have some role in determining outcomes. We can deplore crimes in Myanmar [also known as Burma]We can’t do much to alleviate the sufferings and miseries in Myanmar, however. We could do much to help the poor victims who fled or were expelled. Rohingya in Bangladesh. But we don’t.

The observation can be generalized. This principle is quite elementary. It would be a gross understatement to claim that practice doesn’t conform to the principle.

It is not that the principle is not understood and respected by us. We love it when the principle is respected in societies of our enemies. We admire the Russians for their bravery in defying the Russian autocracy, and protesting the Russian invasion. It is a long tradition. We always valued Soviet dissidents, who condemned the crimes of their state and never cared about what others said, even when they applauded major U.S. crime. Similar with Iranian and Chinese dissidents. It is only when we apply the principle to ourselves that it can be even considered.

One of the most dramatic examples is the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. It can be criticized as a “strategic blunder” (according to Barack Obama) but not as what it was: unprovoked and murderous aggression, the “supreme international crime” according to the Nuremberg judgment.

The dramatic selection in moral outrage is therefore understandable. However, it is another outrage. It is not an American invention, although it can be used as a weak form of mitigation. Our predecessors as hegemonic empire powers were no different from Britain; it was arguably worse. However, there is now some hope after centuries of disgraceful behaviour.

Next, the question is: Does the U.S. ever believe that conflict can be solved peacefully? No doubt. There are many examples that merit a closer look. If we choose, there are many lessons to be learned about international affairs.

Right at this moment, we are all called upon to celebrate a remarkable example of U.S. initiative to resolve conflict by peaceful means: the ongoing “Negev Summit” of Israel and four Arab dictatorships, which will “expand the potential for peace and conflict resolution across the region,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Washington’s representative at the historic meeting.

The summit brings together some of the most violent and violent states in the U.S. orbit. It is based on Abraham Accords which formalized tacit relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with Morocco present implicitly through its satellite, the Bahrain dictatorship. They are joined by Egypt, currently suffering under the most severe dictatorship in its horrible history, with around 60,000 political prisoners, and brutal repression. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military assistance. It is unnecessary to examine the shambolic record of the top recipient, recently named the apartheid nation by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia share primary responsibility for what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis: Yemen. The official death toll was 370,000 last year. No one knows the actual death toll. The country is now facing mass starvation. Saudi Arabia has increased its blockade on the sole port that is used for fuel and food imports. The UN is issuing dire warnings, including that hundreds of thousands may starve. These warnings are being repeated by U.S. experts, including Bruce Riedel, formerly the Brookings Institution’s top CIA analyst on Middle East affairs for four presidents. He charges that the Saudi “offensive action” should be investigated as a war crime.

Without U.S. aircraft, training, intelligence, spares parts, and planes, the Emirati and Saudi Air Forces cannot function. The U.S. is the clear leader, even though Britain is part of the crime along with other Western countries.

Trump’s peace initiative welcomed the Moroccan dictatorship. In his last days in office, Donald Trump even formally recognized Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara in defiance of the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice — incidentally firming up Morocco’s virtual monopoly of potassium, a vital and irreplaceable resource, now within U.S. domains.

Authorizing of Morocco’s criminal annexation should have come as no surprise. It followed Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and of vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, in both cases in violation of Security Council orders. Trump’s support for violation of international law was undertaken in both cases in the splendid isolation that the U.S. often enjoys, as in its torture of Cuba for 60 years.

These are just further illustrations of the commitment to the “rule of law” and the sanctity of sovereignty that Washington has demonstrated for 70 years in Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Iraq, and on and on — the commitment that requires the U.S. to extend the welcome mat to Ukraine to join NATO.

The Abraham Accords were the inspiration for the summit we are celebrating now. Jared Kushner was responsible in implementing them. nominatedFor the Nobel Peace Prize (by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz).

The Abraham Accords and today’s Negev Summit are by no mean the first time that Washington has demonstrated its dedication to peaceful settlement of conflicts. After all, Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in bringing peace to Vietnam, shortly after issuing one of the most extraordinary calls for genocide in the diplomatic record: ”A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” The consequences were horrendous, but no matter.

Kissinger’s prize brings to mind the reported proposal by an Israeli physicist that [founder of Israel’s Likud party and former prime minister]Menachem Begin should be awarded the physics prize. When asked why, he said: “Look, he’s been granted the Peace Prize, so why not the Physics Prize?”

Sometimes the quip is just too sarcastic. Jimmy Carter was certainly deserving of the Peace Prize. The award committee however did not consider him worthy. emphasized that while still in office, President Carter’s “vital contribution to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt [was] in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Carter’s 1978 efforts were also no doubt undertaken with the best of intentions. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Menachem Begin did agree to abandon Israel’s project of settling the Egyptian Sinai but insisted that Palestinian rights should be excluded from the accords, and illegal settlement sharply increased under Ariel Sharon’s direction, always with vital U.S. aid and in violation of Security Council directives. As Israeli strategic analysts quickly noted, Israel’s removal of the Egyptian anti-terrorist freed it to escalate its attacks against Lebanon. This ultimately led to the U.S.-backed 1982 invasion of Lebanon that resulted in the death of approximately 20,000 Lebanese, Palestinians, and much of Lebanon being destroyed without any credible pretext.

Ronald Reagan finally directed Israel to stop its attack on Beirut, which was causing embarrassment around the world. It of course complied but maintained its control of South Lebanon with constant atrocities against what it called “terrorist villagers” resisting the brutal occupation. It also created a Khiam torture chamber, which was kept as an act of defiance after Israel was forced to withdraw through Hezbollah’s guerrilla warfare. It was destroyed by Israeli bombing, and I was allowed to go through it. This was to erase any memory of the crime.

Yes, there are instances when the U.S., just like other imperial hegemonic powers, seeks to resolve conflicts through peaceful means.

Back home, Republicans are backing up strong policies against Russia, although their “Great Leader” keeps changing his tune about Putin in order to stay in line with ongoing developments. This begs the question: Why is there still support for Russia and Putin among GOP members, particularly on the far right side of the political spectrum? What’s motivating the far right in the U.S. to break ranks with the Republican Party over Russia when the overwhelming majority of public opinion in the country is in support of Ukraine?

It’s not just Russia and Ukraine. While Europe has condemned Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” in Hungary, it has become the darling of much of the American right. Fox News and its prime broadcaster Tucker Carlson are in the lead, but other prominent “conservatives” are joining in with odes to the proto-fascist Christian nationalist regime that Orbán has imposed while shredding Hungarian freedom and democracy.

All of this reflects a conflict within the Republican Party — or to be more accurate, what remains of what was once a legitimate political party but is now ranked alongside of European parties with neo-fascist origins. Trump accelerated tendencies that trace back to Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the party 30 years ago. Trump is now being outflanked by right-leaning parties, which is difficult to imagine as recently as it was. Much of the leadership is drifting towards the Orbán model or beyond, bringing a worshipful mass base with them. This should be viewed against the backdrop of the party’s discussion over Russia/Ukraine.

GOP lawmakers are intensifying efforts to ban books on race, as if slavery and racial oppression in the U.S. are figments of one’s imagination instead of historical facts. Are these pushes to ban votes and ban books connected? These developments may be yet another sign that civil war is brewing in the U.S.

Book-banning is nothing new in the U.S. and suppressing votes of the “wrong” people is as American as apple pie, to borrow the cliché. They are now back with force as the Republican Organization, soon to regain power it seems, moves towards some kind of proto-fascism. Some analysts have made careful predictions about civil war. A serious internal crisis is already in the making. There has been much talk about the American decline. The main factor in American decline is internal. If we look deeper, much of the internal social decay results from the brutal impact of the neoliberal programs of the past 40 years, topics we’ve discussed before. It’s bad enough when Hungary drifts towards Christian nationalist proto-fascism. It’s a grave omen when this happens in the most powerful nation in world history.

Imposing harsh sanctions on countries that refuse to go along with Washington’s commands is a long-established tactic on the part of the U.S. Even scholars who live in countries subject to sanctions are considered undesirables. The U.S. political culture is not very open to dissident voices being heard in the public sphere. Would you like to comment on these fundamental features of the American political culture?

This is a too big topic to discuss here. It is too important to be discussed casually. But it’s worth remembering that, once again, it is nothing new. We all recall when the august Senate changed French fries to “freedom fries” in furious reaction to France’s impudent refusal to join in Washington’s criminal assault on Iraq. We might see something similar if President Macron of France (one of few reasonable voices in high-ranking Western circles) continues to call for moderation and for exploring diplomatic possibilities. The easy decline to fearmongering dates back even further, reaching comical depths when the U.S. entered World War I, and all things German immediately became anathema.

The plague you mentioned is not limited to the United States. I have a personal example. A colleague told me recently that an article of his was returned unread by a highly respected English philosophy journal. It contained a notice that the article could be rejected because he is a national of Iran.

Europe is strongly opposed to the sanctions. However, it subordinates to the Master as usual, even to the point of banning an article written by an Iranian philosopher. Putin’s great gift to Washington has been to intensify this subordination to power.

While I can provide many examples, some from my personal experience, it is important to remember that malignancy spreads far beyond the borders.

We live in dangerous times. We may recall that the Doomsday Clock abandoned minutes and shifted to seconds under Trump, and is now set at 100 seconds to midnight — termination. The clock was set by three analysts: nuclear war, environmental destruction and collapse of democracy and the free public sphere. This undermines the hope that educated and awakened citizens will force their governments to end the dual race to disaster.

These three disastrous tendencies have been made worse by the conflict in Ukraine. The nuclear threat has dramatically increased. The urgent need to reduce fossil fuel use was reversed by the adulation of the Russian destroyers of life for saving civilization. Democracy and a free public sphere is in perilous decline.

It is all too familiar with what happened 90 years ago, but the stakes today are much higher. The U.S. responded to the crisis with social democracy. This was largely due to the revival of the labor movement. Europe sank into fascist darkness.

Uncertainty surrounds what will happen in the future. It is up only to us to decide what happens next.