— Counter Punch/Mstyslav Cherno
FROM the human-caused climate catastrophe to a nuclear showdown between Washington and Moscow or Beijing, to fascism ascendant, three terrifying disasters loom over humanity like the shadow of death. These threats have lurked for some years, but the Ukraine war, facilitated by Joe Biden’s arrival in the white house in 2021 and his pronounced aggressiveness toward Moscow, shifted nuclear Armageddon to centre stage and pushed the doomsday clock close to midnight.
Trust between the Kremlin and western governments vanished long ago, so it’s hard to see how this calamity ever gets resolved. Russian officials watched the US fork over more than $30 billion in armament to Ukraine with billions more in the pipeline, arm neo-Nazis, whitewash them and cover Kiev’s government payroll. They’ve seen (and often destroyed) the weapons Washington sent. Those weapons would never include long-range missiles that could strike inside Russia, Biden promised. Well, that oath wasn’t worth the toilet paper it was written on. The U.S. would never provide Ukraine with tanks, Biden swore up and down – until he changed his mind. American fighter jets, he gave his word, would not fly in Ukraine. Well, now we see what his word is worth. What next? NATO troops in Ukraine? Because then the bombing of US, European and Russian cities will commence. It’s called World War III. Biden knows this. So do the Russians. And despite their loud protests in the face of this nonstop US escalation, they have become ominously quiet about their red lines.
Once upon a time in Bucharest back in 2008, Moscow basically told the west that if its neighbour Kiev joined NATO, that would be the end of Ukraine. Feckless Eurocrats and birdbrain American presidents did not listen. Years passed. Washington sponsored a coup against the duly, legally elected leader of Ukraine in 2014, then installed a west friendly, Russophobic regime, or perhaps more accurately a puppet, whose idiotic economic policies led to a population outflow of millions of Ukrainians, as Washington proceeded massively to arm and train far-right fanatics.
Through all of this, until December 2021, Moscow only protested about its red lines in general terms. It also periodically indicated it might snap. Then, in late 2021, the Kremlin sent detailed letters to Washington, listing Russian security concerns, chiefly that Ukraine should not join NATO. Moscow also was alarmed at the fate of Donbas Russians, 12,000 of whom Ukraine had slaughtered since 2014 and on whose borders Kiev had massed troops and, in early 2022, dramatically stepped up assaults, as noted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Such a deadly uptick signaled assault and possibly ethnic-cleansing for Russian-speaking Ukrainians. But the US blithely responded with hokum about NATO being a defensive organisation. Hokum any half-wit can see right through by looking at US missiles in Poland and Romania, two countries that border Russia.
Washington also insisted on every country’s sacred right to join NATO, though decades ago when Moscow mentioned joining, it got the cold shoulder; apparently Russia did not have that right. So the Kremlin could be excused for regarding NATO as a hostile military axis. Indeed, as our leading public intellectual Noam Chomsky said, ‘Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was clearly provoked, while the US invasion of Iraq was clearly unprovoked.’ (He also said whataboutism is ‘otherwise known as elementary honesty.’) Both invaders wrecked the target country, Russia more slowly, but make no mistake, that will be the outcome if this war doesn’t end soon.
The moral of the story is that if you can avoid war, that is a very good idea. If someone says ‘I will attack, if you don’t stop threatening me’, well, listen. The peacemakers are blessed, but sadly they were absent from the world’s imperial capital, Washington, in December of 2021. Currently they are absent everywhere they are needed, period.
So now, thanks to Biden, we stare down the barrel of nuclear war. The alternative in 2024 will likely be Trump, who promises accessories like martial law, a presidency for life, show trials of his political enemies and possibly nuclear war with China, in short, fascism. For this lousy choice we can blame our corrupt plutocracy and its media parasites. Put another way, those who rise to the top in Washington are not the cream of the crop, but the cream that curdled, years ago. Obama, Bush, Clinton – slick hustlers all, who slaughtered innocents across the globe, and all very short-sighted about anything other than looking out for the main chance, even if it meant bombing helpless residents of impoverished nations.
Meanwhile in the US imperial capital, blood-soaked neocons run the show. This led to events May 26, when Russia’s foreign ministry summoned US diplomats ‘over what it called ‘provocative statements’ by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’, according to RT. ‘The American official was de facto supporting Ukrainian strikes against Russian territory.’ Given that Sullivan’s up to his elbows in blood for his responsibility in this Ukrainian debacle, the blood of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and tens of thousands of Russian ones, I’m not surprised he was, de facto or otherwise, basically advocating World War III. Moscow called his endorsement of Ukrainian attacks on Russia ‘hypocritical and untruthful.’ That’s called understatement.
Sullivan, secretary of state Antony Blinken and his undersecretary Victoria Nuland are in charge in Washington, instead of the unfocussed, forgetful figurehead, Joe Biden, and they want war, for decades, if they so choose. Inauspiciously, sane, non-neocons now resign from the Biden regime en masse, a development covered in depth by Moon of Alabama May 25. Rick Waters, head of the state department’s ‘China House’ leaves his post. After the ridiculous spy balloon hysteria, with its wild delusions of assault and evil designs by a mortal enemy, Waters was one of the more rational actors, trying to limit the damage, reportedly emailing state department staff to postpone some sanctions and export controls on China, you know, moves that could have been viewed as, um, hostile.
Also dispiriting to those hoping to restrain imperial war schemes, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman announced her retirement. Sherman backed the original Iran nuclear pact and pushed hard to get an inept Biden administration to return to it, something, contrary to campaign promises, Biden couldn’t manage to do. As a result, the Middle East teeters constantly on the edge of regional war, which the pact would have helped prevent. Colin Kahl, a defense undersecretary departs this summer. He opposed escalating the US proxy war in Ukraine. Nor was he popular with lunatic Sinophobes. To make the loss of these realists even worse, Biden tapped a ferocious China hawk to head the joint chiefs of staff, thus replacing the less rabid though rather ineffectual Mark Milley. All these moves spell trouble. They mean maniacal warmongers run the empire.
So the situation has deteriorated dangerously, and this is what Chomsky predicted if Washington didn’t face the ‘ugly’ post-invasion choice of rewarding Moscow by enforcing Kiev’s neutrality and the Minsk Accords for the Donbas. No one has documented the US empire’s depravity as long and relentlessly as Chomsky. His new book, Illegitimate Authority, continues this effort, singling out the triad of cataclysms — climate collapse, nuclear war and fascism — thundering in humanity’s front yard like the crack of doom. These interviews, collected from Truthout, at first zero in on how rich countries burning oil, gas and coal have crushed anything resembling a normal climate, with a few that focus on rising fascism.
But when the book reaches early 2022, it shifts its emphasis to Ukraine. Chomsky is well aware of Washington’s provocations, while regarding Moscow’s response to them as criminal. He quotes Eastern Europe specialist Richard Sakwa: ‘NATO’s existence became justified by the need to manage threats provoked by its enlargement.’ Well, now NATO has provoked a threat that, according to one whose hands are red with blood from this war, Nuland, could last ‘16 years.’
Chomsky also addresses the imbecilic fantasy of regime change, noting that historically this has led to worse, more extreme leaders, for which he cites a convincing discussion by Andrew Cockburn. Chomsky called NATO dreams of overthrowing Vladimir Putin ‘foolish’, because someone far more menacing would very likely take over. Among Kremlin leaders, Putin is, in fact, a moderate, with far less of an appetite for war than the others who advocated invading Ukraine for years, while he demurred.
In March 2022, when neutral countries sponsored talks between Moscow and Kiev, Chomsky warned, ‘negotiations will get nowhere if the US persists in its adamant refusal to join… and if the press continues to insist that the public remain in the dark by refusing even to report Zelensky’s proposals.’ Well, nowhere is exactly where they went, thanks to the then UK prime minister, the buffoonish Boris Johnson, who jetted into Kiev, allegedly at Biden’s behest, and clarified to Zelensky that while the Ukrainian president might be ready for peace, the west was not. That scuttled the talks.
That’s where we are now. Washington just extracted itself from losing a 20-year military quagmire in Afghanistan. Now it’s up to its neck in a proxy war its boosters say could last decades. Unfortunately for the imperial team, its opponent in this latest bloodletting is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. This is not some helpless undeveloped country that Washington can bully and then prevaricate about pusillanimous American behaviour not amounting to a military defeat. Russia is a great power and a nuclear one. In 16 years of confrontation with it, a lot could go very, very wrong.
CounterPunch.org, June 9. Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Roman Summer.