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Noam Chomsky & Vijay Prashad: U.S. Must Stop Undermining Negotiations with Russia to End Ukraine War

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Russia has launched its largest strikes on Ukraine in months, attacking civilian areas in Kyiv and nine other cities just two days after President Vladimir Putin had accused Ukraine of blowing up a key bridge connecting Russia to Crimea. As the war continues to escalate in Ukraine, we feature an interview recorded earlier this month with world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky in Brazil and political writer Vijay Prashad. Chomsky discusses why he thinks there is no major U.S. peace movement in response to the Ukraine war, and talks about the dangerous U.S. Senate policy on China and Taiwan, which he says, along with Ukraine, could end in a “terminal war.” Prashad also examines the destruction wrought in the Global South by Western so-called humanitarian invasion in the name of democracy, from Haiti to Libya. “You can’t bring democracy by warfare,” says Prashad. “You have to let people develop their own dignified histories.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Russia has launched its largest strikes on Ukraine in months, attacking Kyiv, Lviv and other cities. Today’s missile strikes come two days after Russia accused Ukraine of blowing up a key bridge connecting Russia to Crimea.

As the war in Ukraine continues to escalate, we return to our recent conversation with Vijay Prashad and Noam Chomsky, co-authors of the new book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. I spoke with them several weeks ago with Democracy Now!’s Juan González. Vijay Prashad is director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He joined us from New York. And Noam Chomsky joined us from Brazil, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century.

AMY GOODMAN: You both talk about allowing Russia and Ukraine to negotiate, but how does one do that? And talk about exactly what the U.S. can do now, Professor Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What the U.S. can do is stop acting to prevent negotiations. For a long time — there’s no time to review the record, but the position of the United States has been to try to undermine possibilities of negotiations. They’re not alone in this. So, if you take a look at the Macron-Putin discussions up to a few days before the invasion, President Macron was indeed trying very hard to avoid the invasion by offering various options for a peaceful settlement. Putin — we have the actual transcript of this: no guesswork. Putin was dismissive at the very end, couple of days before the invasion. He just dismissed it with contempt, said, “Sorry, I’ve got to go ice skating” — something like that. So, the U.S. is not alone, but its role has been to act to make negotiations harder to achieve, unlikely. That’s as recently as late April, as far as we know. Well, one thing the United States can do is stop acting like that, stop — drop the position, the official position, that the war must go on to weaken Russia severely, meaning no negotiations. Would that open the way to negotiations, diplomacy? Can’t be sure. There’s only one way to find out. That’s to try. If you don’t try, of course it won’t happen.

If I may, I’d like to add a word about something that was touched on but not developed sufficiently, in my view, and it’s highly significant: China. What’s happening with regard to China? It’s barely being reported, but it’s of supreme significance. There has been an agreement that’s held for 50 years. It’s called the One China policy, goes back to the '70s. The agreement is between U.S. and China that Taiwan is part of China — not in question. But neither party — U.S. or China — will act to disrupt the peaceful relations that persist. It's called strategic ambiguity. It’s held for 50 years. That’s a lot in world affairs. The United States is now undermining it. Pelosi’s reckless, stupid visit was one example, but more significant are two other things.

One is that the United States — this has accelerated under the Biden administration — is promoting a policy of what’s called encircling China with sentinel states — basically, U.S. satellites — heavily armed with weapons aimed at China, precision weapons, to encircle it to keep it from the aggression that’s contrived in the U.S. propaganda.

More significant still is what just happened a couple weeks ago. On September 14th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed proposed legislation, bipartisan, almost unanimous, virtually calling for a war with China — not their words, of course. If you read the resolution, it called for substantially enhancing U.S. armaments to China [sic], changing relations — to Taiwan, sorry — changing relations with Taiwan to elevate Taiwan to the level of a non-NATO partner, to be treated as any other sovereign country diplomatically, moving towards interoperability of weapon systems with the United States. If you pay attention to what was happening in Ukraine for the last decade or so, that’s pretty much the program that was followed by the United States to move towards integrating Ukraine de facto into the U.S.-NATO military system. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now proposing to do something quite similar with regard to Taiwan. It’s an extraordinary provocation, and it severely undermines the One China policy that had held. It’s barely discussed. In the background is the context of the encirclement program.

This, it’s as if the Senate, a bipartisan Senate, is hell-bent on involving the United States in two major wars, each of which could be a terminal war. All of this is going on. It’s not secret. It’s not being discussed. Again, it’s as if some kind of insanity is pervading the social and political atmosphere.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Vijay Prashad, the issue of humanitarian intervention. In the old days, the old 19th century imperialists and early 20th century imperialists went to Asia, Africa, Latin America to civilize the populations, supposedly. Now we are seeing repeatedly the United States resorting to armed conflicts for, quote, “humanitarian” reasons, to defend human rights, to preserve democracy. We saw that in Serbia, in Libya, in Syria. And we see the U.S. government agencies, like the National Endowment for Democracy, or U.S. government-funded agencies, USAID, now headed by Samantha Power, the champion of humanitarian intervention. Could you talk about how the United States basically funds civil society groups in various countries to foment opposition to governments that it is opposed to?

VIJAY PRASHAD: You know, Juan, I just reported a story from Haiti, which is undergoing a major set of protests. These protests have been going on for the past four years, getting very little attention around the world. People are on the streets. They are desperate. Fuel prices have gone up, escalated beyond belief. And there’s been no commentary about it, as well.

Ever since the assassination of the head of government, Mr. [Jovenel Moïse] — ever since his assassination, Ariel Henry has been placed on the — in the government by the United States. I mean, he was effectively put there by the so-called Core Group, led by the U.S. What’s interesting, when you look at his own record, he emerged in the struggle against Jean-Bertrand Aristide. You know, Mr. Aristide needs to be in The Guinness Book of World Records, because he’s the only world leader I know who has been couped twice by the United States. When Mr. Aristide, attempting desperately to produce a social democratic policy for Haiti — Haiti, a country which had the first revolution in the Americas, a real proletarian revolution, the first major revolution, it was strangled by the French. In fact, until the 1950s, Haiti had to pay indemnity. For what? For the people who had freed themselves, for, quote-unquote, “the slaves.” Well, Mr. Aristide was trying to drive a good policy and so on. Ariel Henry was funded by the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. Many of the actors who came into the anti-Aristide movement were financed by the United States government.

And then, eventually, when people like Ariel Henry, who fashions himself as a neurosurgeon but in fact is a pawn of the United States government, when they came into positions of high office, they NGO-ized Haiti. I mean, Haiti is a bastion of NGOs. They went along with the Obama administration to prevent the rise of minimum wage. At the time, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said, “Well, you know, we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage, because then, essentially, the unwashed will get money.” Well, that unwashed then went into gangs. Many of those gangs are, in some ways, the only organized force in Haiti. I mean, look at the destruction that so-called humanitarian intervention brought to Haiti.

You don’t have to go far from the United States to see it. You don’t have to go to Iraq, or you don’t have to go to Libya, countries destroyed by the U.S. wars in the name of democracy. I mean, when are people going to come to understand you can’t bring democracy by warfare? You have to negotiate with people. You have to let people develop their own dignified histories. You can’t bully countries into doing things. And by the way, there is no credibility for this, because, let’s face it, at the same time that the United States said that, “Oh, we are going to go to war in Libya to prevent an atrocity,” an atrocity which later Amnesty International found hadn’t happened, that was an entire hoax — at the same time as the United States was saying that, its principal ally in that conflict was in the Gulf, was Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where there are atrocities every day against working people, against people who come from South Asia, from the Philippines, and so on. There’s no concern about these workers who have to hand over their passport, get treated in a form of modern-day slavery. No concern about that. Where’s the credibility in this? It’s striking that people in the United States seem to fall into this trap over and over again, having faith in a government that feeds you the lie that it’s out there to promote democracy through warfare.

You want to see the detritus of this again, look at what’s happening in Haiti. There’s very little avenue out of this crisis for the Haitian people. And one of the elements, by the way, of this crisis is the U.S. pressure campaign on Venezuela, because Venezuela, through the scheme called Petrocaribe, was providing Haiti with cut-price energy, and because of the pressure campaign on Venezuela, Petrocaribe essentially fell apart, and Haiti has not been able to get the kind of energy it requires. So, I mean, it’s quite clear, if you look at the evidence, that these wars in the name of democracy or these wars in the name of humanitarian intervention simply don’t add up. Talk to the Haitians, talk to the Afghans, and you’ll understand how they see it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you about peace movements, or the absence of peace movements. During the Vietnam War, during the Iraq War, there were vibrant peace movements in the United States. But now during this war in Ukraine, even the most left-wing representatives in Congress and the Senate, whether it’s Bernie Sanders, AOC and others, have basically gone along with continuing to finance and pursue the support of this war in Ukraine. Your sense of the absence of a peace movement right now in the U.S.?

NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, we should be realistic about the peace movement in Vietnam and Iraq. In the case of Vietnam, it took years to develop any kind of a peace movement. By the time a significant peace movement had developed, by 1967, South Vietnam, which had been the main — or, was always the main target of attack, had been practically destroyed, to the point where the leading specialist on the topic, Bernard Fall — who was no dove, incidentally — warned that Vietnam may not survive as a cultural and historical entity under the most severe attacks that any country that size has ever suffered. By that time you began to get a peace movement — not much in Congress, incidentally, very little, and certainly not much among the great intellectual community. In fact, there never was a peace movement in those sectors. It was a popular peace movement, which did have an effect, after years and years of effort to develop it. And that’s when the United States was wiping out much of Indochina.

Case of the Iraq War is important. First time in history that there was a major protest against a war before it was officially launched. I say “officially,” because it was already underway. But then it declined. There was not much protest later, when the United States was carrying out horrendous atrocities in Iraq — Fallujah and other places, just horrifying atrocities. Very little protest.

In this case, the United States is not directly involved. It’s not bombing, hasn’t sent troops. It’s more indirect. So I don’t think it’s very surprising, in comparison with the others, that you don’t see much of a peace movement developing. You should. It’s there. But it’s vilified, of course. Anyone who opens their mouths and says, “Look, let’s try to end this horror” — the way most of the world wants, almost all the world — gets denounced, vilified, a “Putin supporter” and “commie rat,” and so on and so forth. And it’s even true for highly respected major war criminals, like Henry Kissinger. He tries to say it, immediately demonized. So, yes, it’s there, but it’s marginalized.

And the issue, I don’t think, is sending defensive weapons to Ukraine. I think that you can make a good case for that. The problem is what is not discussed: the continual — first of all, the long — program of the United States, for over a decade, to integrate Ukraine within the U.S.-NATO military system. That actually reached a point where U.S. military journals referred to Ukraine as a de facto member of NATO — obviously, the Russians could see it; everybody could see it who wanted to — policy which is now being pursued with regard to Taiwan. And then extending to the point where it is right now: War must continue until Russia is severely weakened. The implication? No negotiations. Events of last April are a case in point.

Well, there should be — there’s no — there are parts of the peace movement that are pursuing that, but they’re simply demonized. They don’t make it into the mainstream. Even parts of what’s called the left condemn them sharply. Of course, you have to — you can’t put any conditions on unconditional support for Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask both Vijay Prashad and then Noam Chomsky about Russians in the streets protesting, more than a thousand arrested, hundreds of thousands apparently leaving Russia now because of the mobilization that Putin has announced, over 300,000 people to be sent to Ukraine. Vijay Prashad, your thoughts?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, look, you know, we are with peace builders all over the world. And obviously, nobody wants to be involved in any kind of war conflict or anything like that. You know, when you have conscription, people are not interested. It’s quite clear that in Russia, in other parts of Eastern Europe, there’s dismay at this war. Nobody wants it. But it has been something that I think has been pushed and provoked, and people have been prodded into this. But it’s not something that you go into happily.

You know, I’m on my way, Amy, to Cuba, where the Cubans have suffered another hurricane. That’s Hurricane Ian. Within about 48 hours, they were able to get their grid back online. There are people, of course, unhappy that it took 48 hours. In Puerto Rico, by the way, it took two weeks. Still 250,000 people from Hurricane Fiona haven’t got their power back. But look at the way it works. People are suffering in Cuba from the impact of a hurricane. The United States won’t remove the blockade.

Of course people in Russia are against the war. They are also suffering in one way or the other. They don’t want to be conscripted. We need to fight for negotiations. We need to be peace builders in the world, not to accelerate conflict. And I think Noam is quite correct: Anybody who calls for peace, anybody who has a dissenting opinion is called now a purveyor of disinformation. I think this is a very dangerous situation we’ve got ourselves into, where those who are for peacebuilding are maligned, and those who are wanting to accelerate war are considered to be heroes of human rights. A very, very dangerous situation in the culture, where those who are peace builders simply cannot find a way to be heard or to be taken seriously. I think this is a problem for the culture, not just for our, you know, immediate conjuncture.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, your thoughts on this issue and the subtitle of your book, the very end of it, “the fragility of U.S. power”?

NOAM CHOMSKY: That is not the very distant background of all of these discussions. The Ukraine conflict has accelerated a process that has been developing of what is going to be the shape of the world ahead, what’s the structure of global society. There are conflicting visions. And the Ukraine — Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine has highlighted them. They go way back.

One of the most important developments in post-Second World War history, which is rarely discussed, is the effort of the Global South to find a place at the table. As decolonization was taking place, '60s, ’70s, under the leadership of African, Latin American, other significant, highly significant figures tried to create what they called a new international order. It involved UNCTAD in the United Nations, other new institutions, later BRICS, especially under Brazilian influence — tried to find a new international order and a new information order in which the Global South would have a place. It was crushed by violence and deceit. It's a major chapter of world history. Well, didn’t disappear, keeps reappearing. It’s now reappearing once again, very clearly, with the refusal of the Global South to go along with the U.S.-British policies in Europe. And, of course, they simply ridicule the claims about humanitarian intervention and support for democracy and the U.N. Charter among the leading — from the people who are the leading violators of all of these principles, as the South doesn’t have to be informed. They know about it from centuries of experience up to the present. So they simply ridicule it, including all the talk about humanitarian intervention.

Well, question is: Are we going to move towards a — they’re speaking very clear — after the collapse of the Soviet Union, will we have a unilateral world dominated by the United States as the sole of hegemonic power, as, of course, the U.S. wants? It’s called the Atlanticist vision, based on NATO, where the U.S. sets the rules — one vision of post-Soviet world affairs. The other is the vision that was advanced by Mikhail Gorbachev, goes back to Charles de Gaulle, Willy Brandt, Olof Palme, others throughout the Cold War period, who sought to create a Europe, or even a Eurasia, which would be an independent force in world affairs, not under the control of the United States, what was called in the Cold War years the Third World. Gorbachev’s picture was what he called a common European home, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, no military alliances, no victors, no defeated, cooperation on all sides, to move towards a kind of social democratic, united, cooperative region. That’s very much in the interests of the participants. U.S. is, of course, strongly opposed to it.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a tremendous gift to the United States. He offered to the U.S. on a silver platter what it’s always wanted: Europe subordinate, subservient, submitting to U.S. orders. Now, it’s not clear how long that will last. For Europe, Germany, the German-based industrial system, it’s a disaster. One of the most informed and astute international analysts, Thomas Palley, wrote recently that the marriage between Europe and Russia is a marriage made in heaven. They’re complementary. They need each other. The accommodation between Western Europe and Russia would open the way for Europe to have access, direct access, to the Belt and Road Initiative, which is unifying much of Eurasia under Chinese control to the huge Chinese market. They’re complementary in every respect and need each other. Well, how long will Europe agree to hang onto Washington’s coattails instead of moving towards something like the Gorbachev-de Gaulle-style European common home? That’s a major question in world affairs.

The debates over Ukraine are taking place against that context, which should not be forgotten. And, of course, always is the effort of the Global South to be heard. That’s most of the populated in the world, former colonial world, trying to break free of the shackles of the centuries-old colonial system. Shows itself in many ways. 1970s was a major period, an effort that was beaten back by the U.S. and other imperial powers. It’s reviving again. All of this is in the background, major questions. Ukraine focuses attention on it. What I mentioned about China and Taiwan, far too little discussed, is a major point of tension and threat that may bring the world down. We have to pay attention to them. The background issue is pretty simple. Either the great powers will find a way to accommodate and work together on our common problems, like global warming, nuclear war, pandemics and so on — either they will find a way to accommodate, or we all go down to disaster together. It’s as simple as that.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, co-authors of the new book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. To see more of our interview with them, go to democracynow.org.

Coming up, on this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we speak to the legendary singer and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, and we remember Sacheen Littlefeather, who spoke at the Oscars in 1973 on behalf of Marlon Brando, who boycotted the ceremony to protest Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans. Stay with us.

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