Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky: 'Education and organization' are the 'only tools' to stop 'environmental destruction' and 'terminal war'

Chomsky and Barsamian: What Hope Is There?

As I was reading today’s interview between David Barsamian of Alternative Radio and the remarkable Noam Chomsky, now 93 years old and still so much in and of our world, I had a “memory” flash of sorts. I wondered what, in his twenties, Tom Engelhardt would have thought of this ever more extreme planet if, as in one of the sci-fi novels he then read so avidly, he had been transported more than half a century into the future to this very America. And you know exactly the country I mean.

Admittedly, that Tom didn’t consider 1960s America — above all, his country’s horrific war in Vietnam — anything to brag about. Still, how would he feel to find himself in a land where most of the members of one major party believe, based on nothing, that the last presidential election was quite literally “stolen”; a country increasingly filled with extremist militias; one that spent four years with a mad and maddening president with, it seems, every intention of facing off one more time against Joe Biden who, in 2024, will be 82 years old. We’re talking about a candidate who, were he to win — or even somehow claim a lost election as his — could turn the U.S. into a proto-fascist state? (Honestly, speaking of the past, why didn’t all those Big Macs and Wendy’s Burgers take him down?)

And that, of course, would just be an introduction to a planet on which — forget the war still going on in Ukraine amid increasing fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin might consider using nuclear weapons for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were taken out in 1945 — week by week, month by month, the news only gets worse. It matters little whether you’re speaking about record droughts, fires, floods, storms, melting ice, rising sea levels, you name it, since these days it seems as if no horror we might dream up couldn’t become reality.

In such a context, let me introduce the young Tom Engelhardt to the four horsemen of the apocalypse of the twenty-first century and leave it to Noam Chomsky, interviewed by the superb David Barsamian for their new book, Notes on Resistance, to tell us where, in such a world, hope might still lie. Tom

Optimism of the Will – And the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

[The following is excerpted in shortened form from Chapter 9 of Notes on Resistance by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, published by Haymarket Books.]

David Barsamian: What we are facing is often described as unprecedented — a pandemic, climate catastrophe and, always lurking off center stage, nuclear annihilation. Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Noam Chomsky: I can add a fourth: the impending destruction of what remains of American democracy and the shift of the United States toward a deeply authoritarian, also proto-fascist, state, when the Republicans come back into office, which looks likely. So, that’s four horses.

And remember that the Republicans are the denialist party, committed to racing to climate destruction with abandon in the hands of the chief wrecker they now worship like a demigod. It’s bad news for the United States and for the world, given the power of this country.

Barsamian: The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance just issued the Global State of Democracy Report 2021. It says that the United States is a country where democracy is “backsliding.”

Chomsky: Very severely. The Republican Party is openly dedicated — it’s not even concealed — to undermining what remains of American democracy. They’re working very hard on it. Since the days of Richard Nixon, the Republicans have long understood that they’re fundamentally a minority party and not going to get votes by advertising their increasingly open commitment to the welfare of the ultrarich and the corporate sector. So, they’ve been long diverting attention to so-called cultural issues.

It began with Nixon’s Southern strategy. He realized that Democratic Party support for civil rights legislation, however limited, would lose them the southern Democrats, who were openly and overtly extreme racists. The Nixon administration capitalized on that with their Southern strategy, hinting, not so subtly, that the Republicans would become the party of white supremacy.

In subsequent years, they picked up other issues. It’s now the virtual definition of the party: so, let’s run on attacking Critical Race Theory — whatever that means! It’s a cover term, as their leading spokesmen have explained, for everything they can rally the public on: white supremacy, racism, misogyny, Christianity, anti-abortion rights.

Meanwhile, the leadership, with the aid of the right-wing Federalist Society, has been developing legal means — if you want to call it that — for the Republicans to ensure that, even as a minority party, they will be able to control the voting apparatus and the outcome of elections. They are exploiting radically undemocratic features built into the constitutional system and the structural advantages Republicans have as a party representing more scattered rural populations and the traditionally Christian, white nationalist population. Using such advantages, even with a minority of the vote, they should be able to maintain something like near-permanent power.

Actually, that permanence might not last long if Donald Trump, or a Trump clone, takes the presidency in 2024. It’s not likely then that the United States, not to speak of the world, will be able to escape the impact of the climate and environmental destruction they’re committed to accelerating.

Barsamian: We all saw what happened in Washington on January 6th. Do you see the possibility of civil unrest spreading? There are multiple militias across the country. Representative Paul Gosar of the great state of Arizona and Representative Lauren Boebert, of the great state of Colorado, among others, have made threatening statements inciting violence and hatred. The Internet is rife with conspiracy theories. What must we do?

Chomsky: It is very serious. In fact, maybe a third or so of Republicans think it may be necessary to use force to “save our country,” as they put it. “Save our country” has a clear meaning. If anyone didn’t understand it, Trump issued a call to people to mobilize to prevent the Democrats from swamping this country with criminals being let out of jails in other lands, lest they “replace” white Americans and carry out the destruction of America. The “great replacement” theory — that’s what “take away our country” means and it’s being used effectively by proto-fascist elements, Trump being the most extreme and most successful.

What can we do about it? The only tools available, like it or not, are education and organization. There’s no other way. It means trying to revive an authentic labor movement of the kind that, in the past, was in the forefront of moves toward social justice. It also means organizing other popular movements, carrying out educational efforts to combat the murderous anti-vaccine campaigns now going on, making sure that there are serious efforts to deal with the climate crisis, mobilizing against the bipartisan commitment to increase dangerous military spending and provocative actions against China, which could lead to a conflict nobody wants and end up in a terminal war.

You just have to keep working on this. There is no other way.

Barsamian: In the background is extreme inequality, which is off the charts. Why is the United States so unequal?

Chomsky: A lot of this has happened in the last 40 years as part of the neoliberal assault on America in which the Democrats, too, have participated, though not to the extent of the Republicans.

There is a fairly careful estimate of what’s called the transfer of wealth from the lower 90% of the population to the top 1% (actually, a fraction of them) during the four decades of this assault. A RAND Corporation study estimated it as close to $50 trillion. That’s not pennies — and it’s ongoing.

During the pandemic, the measures that were taken to save the economy from collapse led to the further enrichment of the very few. They also sort of maintained life for so many others, but the Republicans are busy trying to dismantle that part of the deal, leaving only the part that enriches the very few. That’s what they’re dedicated to.

Take ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. This goes back years. It’s an organization funded by almost the entire corporate sector, dedicated to hitting at the weak point in the constitutional system, the states. It’s very easy. It doesn’t take much to buy or impel legislative representatives at the state level, so ALEC has worked there to impose legislation that will foster the long-term efforts of those seeking to destroy democracy, increase radical inequality, and destroy the environment.

And one of the most important of those efforts is to get the states to legislate that they can’t even investigate — and certainly not punish — wage theft, which steals billions of dollars from workers every year by refusing to pay overtime as well as through other devices. There have been efforts to investigate it, but the business sector wants to stop them.

An analog at the national level is the attempt to ensure that the IRS not go after wealthy corporate tax cheats. At every level you can think of, this class war on the part of the masters, the corporate sector, the super-rich is raging with intensity. And they’re going to use every means they can to ensure that it goes on until they’ve succeeded in destroying not only American democracy, but the very possibility of survival as an organized society.

Barsamian: Corporate power seems unstoppable. The uber class of gazillionaires — Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk — are now flying into outer space. But I’m reminded of something that the novelist Ursula K. Le Guin said some years ago: “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable.” And then she added, “So did the divine right of kings.”

Chomsky: So did slavery. So did the principle that women are property, which lasted in the United States until the 1970s. So did laws against miscegenation so extreme that even the Nazis wouldn’t accept them, which lasted in the United States until the 1960s.

All kinds of horrors have existed. Over time, their power has been eroded but never completely eliminated. Slavery was abolished, but its remnants remain in new and vicious forms. It’s not slavery, but it’s horrifying enough. The idea that women are not persons has not only been formally overcome, but to a substantial extent in practice, too. Still, there’s plenty to do. The constitutional system was a step forward in the eighteenth century. Even the phrase “We the people” terrified the autocratic rulers of Europe, deeply concerned that the evils of democracy (what was then called republicanism) could spread and undermine civilized life. Well, it did spread — and civilized life continued, even improved.

So, yes, there are periods of regression and of progress, but the class war never ends, the masters never relent. They’re always looking for every opportunity and, if they’re the only participants in class struggle, we will indeed have regression. But they don’t have to be, any more than in the past.

Barsamian: In your Masters of Mankind book, you have an essay, “Can Civilization Survive Really Existing Capitalism?” You write, “Really existing capitalist democracy — RECD for short (pronounced ‘wrecked’)” is “radically incompatible” with democracy and add that “it seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive really existing capitalism and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. Could functioning democracy make a difference? Consideration of nonexistent systems can only be speculative, but I think there’s some reason to think so.” Tell me your reasons.

Chomsky: First of all, we live in this world, not in some world we would like to imagine. And in this world, if you simply think about the timescale for dealing with environmental destruction, it’s far shorter than the time that would be necessary to carry out the significant reshaping of our basic institutions. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the attempt to do so. You should be doing that all the time — working on ways to raise consciousness, raise understanding, and build the rudiments of future institutions in the present society.

At the same time, the measures to save us from self-destruction will have to take place within the basic framework of existing institutions — some modification of them without fundamental change. And it can be done. We know how it can be done.

Meanwhile, work should continue on overcoming the problem of RECD, really existing capitalist democracy, which in its basic nature is a death sentence and also deeply inhuman in its fundamental properties. So, let’s work on that, and at the same time, ensure that we save the possibility of achieving it by overcoming the immediate and urgent crisis we face.

Barsamian: Talk about the importance of independent progressive media like Democracy Now! and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. And may I say, Alternative Radio? Publishers like Verso, Haymarket, Monthly Review, City Lights, and The New Press. Magazines like Jacobin, The Nation, The Progressive, and In These Times. Online magazines like TomDispatch, The Intercept, and ScheerPost. Community radio stations like KGNU, WMNF, and KPFK. How important are they in countering the dominant corporate narrative?

Chomsky: What else is going to counter it? They are the ones holding up the hope that we’ll be able to find ways to counter these highly harmful, destructive developments we’re discussing.

The core method is, of course, education. People have to come to understand what’s happening in the world. That requires the means to disseminate information and analysis, opening up opportunities for discussion, which you’re not going to find, for the most part, in the mainstream. Maybe occasionally at the margins. A lot of what we’ve been talking about is not discussed at all, or only marginally within the major media. So, these conversations have to be brought to the public through such channels. There is no other way.

Actually, there is another way: organization. It is possible and, in fact, easy to conduct educational and cultural programs inside organizations. That was one of the major contributions of the labor movement when it was a vibrant, lively institution, and one of the main reasons why President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were so determined to destroy labor, as they both did. Their first moves were attacks on the labor movement.

There were educational and cultural programs that brought people together to think about the world, to understand it, and develop ideas. It takes organization to do that. Doing that alone, as an isolated person, is extremely difficult.

Despite the corporate effort to beat back the unions, there was a lively, independent labor press in the United States as late as the 1950s, reaching lots of people, condemning the “bought priesthood,” as they called it, of the mainstream press. It took a long time to destroy that.

There’s a history in the United States of a vibrant, progressive labor press that goes back to the nineteenth century, when it was a major phenomenon. That can and should be revived as part of the revival of a militant, functioning labor movement at the forefront of progress toward social justice. It happened before and it can happen again. And independent media are a critical element of this.

When I was a kid in the 1930s and early 1940s, I could read Izzy Stone in the Philadelphia Record. It wasn’t the major journal in Philadelphia, but it was there. In the late 1940s, I could read him in the New York newspaper PM, which was an independent journal. It made a huge difference.

Later, the only way to read Stone was to subscribe to his newsletter. That was the independent media in the 1950s. In the 1960s, it began to pick up a little bit with the magazine Ramparts, radio programs like Danny Schechter’s on WBCN in Boston, and others like it.

And today, this continues around the country. The ones you mentioned are forces for independence, for thinking.

Barsamian: There are multiple mentions of Antonio Gramsci in two of your most recent books, Consequences of Capitalism and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal — specifically, of his comment, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Right now, though, the quote of his I’d like you to address is: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” Talk about his relevance today and the meaning of that quote.

Chomsky: Gramsci was a leading left labor activist in Italy around the late teens, early 1920s. He was very active in organizing left worker collectives. In Italy, the fascist government took over in the early 1920s. One of its first acts was to send Gramsci to prison. During his trial, the prosecutor stated: we have to silence this voice. (This gets us back to the importance of independent media, of course.) So, he was sent to prison.

While there, he wrote his Prison Notebooks. He wasn’t silenced, though the public couldn’t read him. He continued the work he had begun and in that writing were the quotes you cited.

In the early 1930s, he wrote that the old world was collapsing, while the new world had not yet risen and that, in the interim, they were facing morbid symptoms. Mussolini was one, Hitler another. Nazi Germany almost conquered large parts of the world. We came very close to that. The Russians defeated Hitler. Otherwise, half the world would probably have been run by Nazi Germany. But it was very close. Morbid symptoms were visible everywhere.

The adage you quoted, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” which became famous, came from the period when he was still able to publish. In his spirit, we must look at the world reasonably, without illusions, understand it, decide how to act, and recognize that there are grim portents. There are very dangerous things happening. That’s pessimism of the intellect. At the same time, we need to recognize that there are ways out, real opportunities. So, we have optimism of the will, meaning, we dedicate ourselves to using all the opportunities available — and they do exist — while working to overcome the morbid symptoms and move toward a more just and decent world.

Barsamian: In these dark times, it’s difficult for many to feel that there’s a bright future ahead. You’re always asked, what gives you hope? And I have to ask you the same question.

Chomsky: One thing that gives me hope is that people are struggling hard under very severe circumstances, much more severe than we can imagine, all over the world to achieve rights and justice. They don’t give up hope, so we certainly can’t.

The other is that there’s simply no option. The alternative is to say, okay, I’ll help the worst to happen. That’s one choice. The other is to say, I’ll try to do the best I can, what the farmers in India are doing, what poor and miserable peasants in Honduras are doing, and many others like them around the world. I’ll do that as best I can. And maybe we can get to a decent world in which people can feel that they can live without shame. A better world.

That’s not much of a choice, so we should be able to easily make it.

Noam Chomsky: How George Orwell's 'doublethink' became the way of the world

Chomsky and Barsamian, In Ukraine, Diplomacy Has Been Ruled Out

Can you even remember when it began? Doesn’t it seem like forever? And the timing — if forever can even be said to have timing — has been little short of miraculous (if, by miraculous, you mean catastrophic beyond measure). No, I’m not talking about the January 6th attack on the Capitol and everything that led up to and followed it, including the ongoing televised hearings. I’m talking about the war in Ukraine. You know, the story that for weeks ate the news alive, that every major TV network sent their top people, even anchors, to cover, and that now just grinds along somewhere on the distant edge of our newsfeeds and consciousness.

And yet, a seemingly never-ending war near the heart of Europe is also proving a disaster beyond measure globally, as Rajan Menon was perhaps the first to note right here at TomDispatch, threatening starvation across much of what used to be known as “the third world.” Meanwhile, barely noticed but more disastrous, the latest news on the carbon an embattled humanity is pouring into the atmosphere is anything but cheery. Yes, CO2 emissions actually dropped modestly in the worst Covid year, but rebounded strikingly in 2021. In fact, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced recently, we now have more carbon in the atmosphere than at any time in the last four million years. It’s now also officially hit a level 50% higher than that of the pre-industrial world. And just to let you know, in case you’re not living in an American west or southwest experiencing a megadrought the likes of which hasn’t been seen in at least 1,200 years (with record-setting temperatures landing last weekend), or haven’t been living through unprecedented heat waves in India, Pakistan, Spain, and elsewhere, this is not exactly cheery news.

Consider all of this context for the remarkable 93-year-old Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular, to put the Ukraine War in the largest and most devastating context possible. He did so recently in an interview entitled “Chronicles of Dissent” with Alternative Radio’s David Barsamian. Edited for length, it now appears at TomDispatch. Tom

Welcome to a Science-Fiction Planet: How George Orwell's Doublethink Became the Way of the World

David Barsamian: Let’s head into the most obvious nightmare of this moment, the war in Ukraine and its effects globally. But first a little background. Let’s start with President George H.W. Bush’s assurance to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch to the east” — and that pledge has been verified. My question to you is, why didn’t Gorbachev get that in writing?

Noam Chomsky: He accepted a gentleman’s agreement, which is not that uncommon in diplomacy. Shake-of-the-hand. Furthermore, having it on paper would have made no difference whatsoever. Treaties that are on paper are torn up all the time. What matters is good faith. And in fact, H.W. Bush, the first Bush, did honor the agreement explicitly. He even moved toward instituting a partnership in peace, which would accommodate the countries of Eurasia. NATO wouldn’t be disbanded but would be marginalized. Countries like Tajikistan, for example, could join without formally being part of NATO. And Gorbachev approved of that. It would have been a step toward creating what he called a common European home with no military alliances.

Clinton in his first couple of years also adhered to it. What the specialists say is that by about 1994, Clinton started to, as they put it, talk from both sides of his mouth. To the Russians he was saying: Yes, we’re going to adhere to the agreement. To the Polish community in the United States and other ethnic minorities, he was saying: Don’t worry, we’ll incorporate you within NATO. By about 1996-97, Clinton said this pretty explicitly to his friend Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whom he had helped win the 1996 election. He told Yeltsin: Don’t push too hard on this NATO business. We’re going to expand but I need it because of the ethnic vote in the United States.

In 1997, Clinton invited the so-called Visegrad countries — Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania — to join NATO. The Russians didn’t like it but didn’t make much of a fuss. Then the Baltic nations joined, again the same thing. In 2008, the second Bush, who was quite different from the first, invited Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Every U.S. diplomat understood very well that Georgia and Ukraine were red lines for Russia. They’ll tolerate the expansion elsewhere, but these are in their geostrategic heartland and they’re not going to tolerate expansion there. To continue with the story, the Maidan uprising took place in 2014, expelling the pro-Russian president and Ukraine moved toward the West.

From 2014, the U.S. and NATO began to pour arms into Ukraine — advanced weapons, military training, joint military exercises, moves to integrate Ukraine into the NATO military command. There’s no secret about this. It was quite open. Recently, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, bragged about it. He said: This is what we were doing since 2014. Well, of course, this is very consciously, highly provocative. They knew that they were encroaching on what every Russian leader regarded as an intolerable move. France and Germany vetoed it in 2008, but under U.S. pressure, it was kept on the agenda. And NATO, meaning the United States, moved to accelerate the de facto integration of Ukraine into the NATO military command.

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected with an overwhelming majority — I think about 70% of the vote — on a peace platform, a plan to implement peace with Eastern Ukraine and Russia, to settle the problem. He began to move forward on it and, in fact, tried to go to the Donbas, the Russian-oriented eastern region, to implement what’s called the Minsk II agreement. It would have meant a kind of federalization of Ukraine with a degree of autonomy for the Donbas, which is what they wanted. Something like Switzerland or Belgium. He was blocked by right-wing militias which threatened to murder him if he persisted with his effort.

Well, he’s a courageous man. He could have gone forward if he had had any backing from the United States. The U.S. refused. No backing, nothing, which meant he was left to hang out to dry and had to back off. The U.S. was intent on this policy of integrating Ukraine step by step into the NATO military command. That accelerated further when President Biden was elected. In September 2021, you could read it on the White House website. It wasn’t reported but, of course, the Russians knew it. Biden announced a program, a joint statement to accelerate the process of military training, military exercises, more weapons as part of what his administration called an “enhanced program” of preparation for NATO membership.

It accelerated further in November. This was all before the invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed what was called a charter, which essentially formalized and extended this arrangement. A spokesman for the State Department conceded that before the invasion, the U.S. refused to discuss any Russian security concerns. All of this is part of the background.

On February 24th, Putin invaded, a criminal invasion. These serious provocations provide no justification for it. If Putin had been a statesman, what he would have done is something quite different. He would have gone back to French President Emmanuel Macron, grasped his tentative proposals, and moved to try to reach an accommodation with Europe, to take steps toward a European common home.

The U.S., of course, has always been opposed to that. This goes way back in Cold War history to French President De Gaulle’s initiatives to establish an independent Europe. In his phrase “from the Atlantic to the Urals,” integrating Russia with the West, which was a very natural accommodation for trade reasons and, obviously, security reasons as well. So, had there been any statesmen within Putin’s narrow circle, they would have grasped Macron’s initiatives and experimented to see whether, in fact, they could integrate with Europe and avert the crisis. Instead, what he chose was a policy which, from the Russian point of view, was total imbecility. Apart from the criminality of the invasion, he chose a policy that drove Europe deep into the pocket of the United States. In fact, it is even inducing Sweden and Finland to join NATO — the worst possible outcome from the Russian point of view, quite apart from the criminality of the invasion, and the very serious losses that Russia is suffering because of that.

So, criminality and stupidity on the Kremlin side, severe provocation on the U.S. side. That’s the background that has led to this. Can we try to bring this horror to an end? Or should we try to perpetuate it? Those are the choices.

There’s only one way to bring it to an end. That’s diplomacy. Now, diplomacy, by definition, means both sides accept it. They don’t like it, but they accept it as the least bad option. It would offer Putin some kind of escape hatch. That’s one possibility. The other is just to drag it out and see how much everybody will suffer, how many Ukrainians will die, how much Russia will suffer, how many millions of people will starve to death in Asia and Africa, how much we’ll proceed toward heating the environment to the point where there will be no possibility for a livable human existence. Those are the options. Well, with near 100% unanimity, the United States and most of Europe want to pick the no-diplomacy option. It’s explicit. We have to keep going to hurt Russia.

You can read columns in the New York Times, the London Financial Times, all over Europe. A common refrain is: we’ve got to make sure that Russia suffers. It doesn’t matter what happens to Ukraine or anyone else. Of course, this gamble assumes that if Putin is pushed to the limit, with no escape, forced to admit defeat, he’ll accept that and not use the weapons he has to devastate Ukraine.

There are a lot of things that Russia hasn’t done. Western analysts are rather surprised by it. Namely, they’ve not attacked the supply lines from Poland that are pouring weapons into Ukraine. They certainly could do it. That would very soon bring them into direct confrontation with NATO, meaning the U.S. Where it goes from there, you can guess. Anyone who’s ever looked at war games knows where it’ll go — up the escalatory ladder toward terminal nuclear war.

So, those are the games we’re playing with the lives of Ukrainians, Asians, and Africans, the future of civilization, in order to weaken Russia, to make sure that they suffer enough. Well, if you want to play that game, be honest about it. There’s no moral basis for it. In fact, it’s morally horrendous. And the people who are standing on a high horse about how we’re upholding principle are moral imbeciles when you think about what’s involved.

Barsamian: In the media, and among the political class in the United States, and probably in Europe, there’s much moral outrage about Russian barbarity, war crimes, and atrocities. No doubt they are occurring as they do in every war. Don’t you find that moral outrage a bit selective though?

Chomsky: The moral outrage is quite in place. There should be moral outrage. But you go to the Global South, they just can’t believe what they’re seeing. They condemn the war, of course. It’s a deplorable crime of aggression. Then they look at the West and say: What are you guys talking about? This is what you do to us all the time.

It’s kind of astonishing to see the difference in commentary. So, you read the New York Times and their big thinker, Thomas Friedman. He wrote a column a couple of weeks ago in which he just threw up his hands in despair. He said: What can we do? How can we live in a world that has a war criminal? We’ve never experienced this since Hitler. There’s a war criminal in Russia. We’re at a loss as to how to act. We’ve never imagined the idea that there could be a war criminal anywhere.

When people in the Global South hear this, they don’t know whether to crack up in laughter or ridicule. We have war criminals walking all over Washington. Actually, we know how to deal with our war criminals. In fact, it happened on the twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Remember, this was an entirely unprovoked invasion, strongly opposed by world opinion. There was an interview with the perpetrator, George W. Bush, who then went on to invade Iraq, a major war criminal, in the style section of the Washington Post — an interview with, as they described it, this lovable goofy grandpa who was playing with his grandchildren, making jokes, showing off the portraits he painted of famous people he’d met. Just a beautiful, friendly environment.

So, we know how to deal with war criminals. Thomas Friedman is wrong. We deal with them very well.

Or take probably the major war criminal of the modern period, Henry Kissinger. We deal with him not only politely, but with great admiration. This is the man after all who transmitted the order to the Air Force, saying that there should be massive bombing of Cambodia — “anything that flies on anything that moves” was his phrase. I don’t know of a comparable example in the archival record of a call for mass genocide. And it was implemented with very intensive bombing of Cambodia. We don’t know much about it because we don’t investigate our own crimes. But Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, serious historians of Cambodia, have described it. Then there’s our role in overthrowing Salvador Allende’s government in Chile and instituting a vicious dictatorship there, and on and on. So, we do know how to deal with our war criminals.

Still, Thomas Friedman can’t imagine that there’s anything like Ukraine. Nor was there any commentary on what he wrote, which means it was regarded as quite reasonable. You can hardly use the word selectivity. It’s beyond astonishing. So, yes, the moral outrage is perfectly in place. It’s good that Americans are finally beginning to show some outrage about major war crimes committed by someone else.

Barsamian: I’ve got a little puzzle for you. It’s in two parts. Russia’s military is inept and incompetent. Its soldiers have very low morale and are poorly led. Its economy ranks with Italy’s and Spain’s. That’s one part. The other part is Russia is a military colossus that threatens to overwhelm us. So, we need more weapons. Let’s expand NATO. How do you reconcile those two contradictory thoughts?

Chomsky: Those two thoughts are standard in the entire West. I just had a long interview in Sweden about their plans to join NATO. I pointed out that Swedish leaders have two contradictory ideas, the two you mentioned. One, gloating over the fact that Russia has proven itself to be a paper tiger that can’t conquer cities a couple of miles from its border defended by a mostly citizens’ army. So, they’re completely militarily incompetent. The other thought is: they’re poised to conquer the West and destroy us.

George Orwell had a name for that. He called it doublethink, the capacity to have two contradictory ideas in your mind and believe both of them. Orwell mistakenly thought that was something you could only have in the ultra-totalitarian state he was satirizing in 1984. He was wrong. You can have it in free democratic societies. We’re seeing a dramatic example of it right now. Incidentally, this is not the first time.

Such doublethink is, for instance, characteristic of Cold War thinking. You go way back to the major Cold War document of those years, NSC-68 in 1950. Look at it carefully and it showed that Europe alone, quite apart from the United States, was militarily on a par with Russia. But of course, we still had to have a huge rearmament program to counter the Kremlin design for world conquest.

That’s one document and it was a conscious approach. Dean Acheson, one of the authors, later said that it’s necessary to be “clearer than truth,” his phrase, in order to bludgeon the mass mind of government. We want to drive through this huge military budget, so we have to be “clearer than truth” by concocting a slave state that’s about to conquer the world. Such thinking runs right through the Cold War. I could give you many other examples, but we’re seeing it again now quite dramatically. And the way you put it is exactly correct: these two ideas are consuming the West.

Barsamian: It’s also interesting that diplomat George Kennan foresaw the danger of NATO moving its borders east in a very prescient op-ed he wrote that appeared in The New York Times in 1997.

Chomsky: Kennan had also been opposed to NSC-68. In fact, he had been the director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff. He was kicked out and replaced by Paul Nitze. He was regarded as too soft for such a hard world. He was a hawk, radically anticommunist, pretty brutal himself with regard to U.S. positions, but he realized that military confrontation with Russia made no sense.

Russia, he thought, would ultimately collapse from internal contradictions, which turned out to be correct. But he was considered a dove all the way through. In 1952, he was in favor of the unification of Germany outside the NATO military alliance. That was actually Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin’s proposal as well. Kennan was ambassador to the Soviet Union and a Russia specialist.

Stalin’s initiative. Kennan’s proposal. Some Europeans supported it. It would have ended the Cold War. It would have meant a neutralized Germany, non-militarized and not part of any military bloc. It was almost totally ignored in Washington.

There was one foreign policy specialist, a respected one, James Warburg, who wrote a book about it. It’s worth reading. It’s called Germany: Key to Peace. In it, he urged that this idea be taken seriously. He was disregarded, ignored, ridiculed. I mentioned it a couple of times and was ridiculed as a lunatic, too. How could you believe Stalin? Well, the archives came out. Turns out he was apparently serious. You now read the leading Cold War historians, people like Melvin Leffler, and they recognize that there was a real opportunity for a peaceful settlement at the time, which was dismissed in favor of militarization, of a huge expansion of the military budget.

Now, let’s go to the Kennedy administration. When John Kennedy came into office, Nikita Khrushchev, leading Russia at the time, made a very important offer to carry out large-scale mutual reductions in offensive military weapons, which would have meant a sharp relaxation of tensions. The United States was far ahead militarily then. Khrushchev wanted to move toward economic development in Russia and understood that this was impossible in the context of a military confrontation with a far richer adversary. So, he first made that offer to President Dwight Eisenhower, who paid no attention. It was then offered to Kennedy and his administration responded with the largest peacetime buildup of military force in history — even though they knew that the United States was already far ahead.

The U.S. concocted a “missile gap.” Russia was about to overwhelm us with its advantage in missiles. Well, when the missile gap was exposed, it turned out to be in favor of the U.S. Russia had maybe four missiles exposed on an airbase somewhere.

You can go on and on like this. The security of the population is simply not a concern for policymakers. Security for the privileged, the rich, the corporate sector, arms manufacturers, yes, but not the rest of us. This doublethink is constant, sometimes conscious, sometimes not. It’s just what Orwell described, hyper-totalitarianism in a free society.

Barsamian: In an article in Truthout, you quote Eisenhower’s 1953 “Cross of Iron” speech. What did you find of interest there?

Chomsky: You should read it and you’ll see why it’s interesting. It’s the best speech he ever made. This was 1953 when he was just taking office. Basically, what he pointed out was that militarization was a tremendous attack on our own society. He — or whoever wrote the speech — put it pretty eloquently. One jet plane means this many fewer schools and hospitals. Every time we’re building up our military budget, we’re attacking ourselves.

He spelled it out in some detail, calling for a decline in the military budget. He had a pretty awful record himself, but in this respect he was right on target. And those words should be emblazoned in everyone’s memory. Recently, in fact, Biden proposed a huge military budget. Congress expanded it even beyond his wishes, which represents a major attack on our society, exactly as Eisenhower explained so many years ago.

The excuse: the claim that we have to defend ourselves from this paper tiger, so militarily incompetent it can’t move a couple of miles beyond its border without collapse. So, with a monstrous military budget, we have to severely harm ourselves and endanger the world, wasting enormous resources that will be necessary if we’re going to deal with the severe existential crises we face. Meanwhile, we pour taxpayer funds into the pockets of fossil-fuel producers so that they can continue to destroy the world as quickly as possible. That’s what we’re witnessing with the vast expansion of both fossil-fuel production and military expenditures. There are people who are happy about this. Go to the executive offices of Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, they’re ecstatic. It’s a bonanza for them. They’re even being given credit for it. Now, they’re being lauded for saving civilization by destroying the possibility for life on Earth. Forget the Global South. If you imagine some extraterrestrials, if they existed, they’d think we were all totally insane. And they’d be right.

'We've lost six years': Noam Chomsky says his generation betrayed its descendants — but there's still hope

This month will mark a critical juncture in the struggle to avoid climate catastrophe. At the COP26 global climate summit kicking off next week in Glasgow, Scotland, negotiators will be faced with the urgent need to get the world economy off the business-as-usual track that will take the Earth up to and beyond 3 degrees Celsius of excess heating before this century's end, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet so far, the pledges of rich nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions have been far too weak to rein in the temperature rise. Meanwhile, the Biden administration's climate plans hang in the balance. If Congress fails to pass the reconciliation bill, the next opportunity for the United States to take effective climate action may not arise until it's too late.

For the past several decades, Noam Chomsky has been one of the most forceful and persuasive voices confronting injustice, inequity, and the threat posed by human-caused climate chaos to civilization and the Earth. I was eager to know Professor Chomsky's views on the roots of our current dire predicament and on humanity's prospects for emerging from this crisis into a livable future. He very graciously agreed to speak with me by way of a video chat. The text here is an abridged version of a conversation we had on October 1, 2021.

Professor Chomsky, now 92, is the author of numerous best-selling political works, translated into scores of languages. His critiques of power and advocacy on behalf of the political agency of the common person have inspired generations of activists and organizers. He has been institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976. His most recent books are Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance, with Marv Waterstone, and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, with Robert Pollin and C.J. Polychroniou.

— Stan Cox

Stan Cox: Most of the nations that will be meeting in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference on October 31-November 12, 2021, have made emissions-reduction pledges. For the most part, those pledges are wholly inadequate. What principles do you think should guide the effort to prevent climate catastrophe?

Noam Chomsky: The initiators of the Paris Agreement intended to have a binding treaty, not voluntary agreements, but there was an impediment. It's called the Republican Party. It was clear that the Republican Party would never accept any binding commitments. The Republican organization, which has lost any pretense of being a normal political party, is almost solely dedicated to the welfare of the super-rich and the corporate sector, and cares absolutely nothing about the population or the future of the world. The Republican organization would never have accepted a treaty. In response, the organizers reduced their goal to a voluntary agreement, which has all the difficulties that you mentioned.

We've lost six years, four under the Trump administration which was openly dedicated to maximizing the use of fossil fuels and dismantling the regulatory apparatus that, to some extent, had limited their lethal effects. To some extent, these regulations protected sectors of the population from pollution, mostly the poor and people of color. But they're the ones who, of course, face the main burden of pollution. It's the poor people of the world who live in what Trump called "shithole countries" that suffer the most; they have contributed the least to the disaster, and they suffer the worst.

It doesn't have to be this way. As you write in your new book, The Path to a Liveable Future, there is indeed a path to a livable future. There are ways to have responsible, sane, and racially just policies. It's up to all of us to demand them, something young people around the world are already doing.

Other countries have their own things to answer for, but the United States has one of the worst records in the world. The United States blocked the Paris Agreement before Trump eventually got into office. But it was under Trump's instructions that the United States pulled out of the agreement altogether.

If you look over at the more sane Democrats, who are far from guiltless, there are people called moderates like Senator Joe Manchin (DWV), the leading recipient of fossil-fuel funding, whose position is that of the fossil-fuel companies, which is, as he put it, no elimination, just innovation. That's Exxon Mobil's view, too: "Don't worry, we'll take care of you," they say. "We're a soulful corporation. We're investing in some futuristic ways to remove from the atmosphere the pollution that we're pouring into it. Everything's fine, just trust us." No elimination, just innovation, which may or may not come and if it does, it will probably be too late and too limited.

Take the IPCC report that just appeared. It was much more dire than previous ones and said we must eliminate fossil fuels step by step, every year, and be free of them completely within a few decades. A few days after the report was released, Joe Biden issued a plea to the OPEC oil cartel to increase production, which would lower gas prices in the United States and improve his position with the population. There was immediate euphoria in the petroleum journals. There's lots of profit to be made, but at what expense? It was nice to have the human species for a couple of hundred thousand years, but evidently that's long enough. After all, the average lifespan of a species on Earth is apparently around 100,000 years. So why should we break the record? Why organize for a just future for all when we can trash the planet helping rich corporations get richer?

SC: Ecological catastrophe is closing in on us largely because, as you once put it, "the entire socioeconomic system is based on production for profit and a growth imperative that cannot be sustained." However, it seems that only state authority can implement the necessary changes in ways that are equitable, fair, and just. Given the emergency we face, do you think that the U.S. government would be able to justify imposing national-resource constraints like rules for resource allocation or fair-shares rationing, policies that would necessarily limit the freedom of local communities and individuals in their material lives?

NC: Well, we have to face some realities. I would like to see a move towards a more free and just society — production for need rather than production for profit, working people able to control their own lives instead of subordinating themselves to masters for almost their entire waking life. The time required for succeeding at such efforts is simply too great for addressing this crisis. That means we need to solve this within the framework of existing institutions, which can be ameliorated.

The economic system of the last 40 years has been particularly destructive. It's inflicted a major assault on most of the population, resulting in a huge growth in inequality and attacks on democracy and the environment.

A livable future is possible. We don't have to live in a system in which the tax rules have been changed so that billionaires pay lower rates than working people. We don't have to live in a form of state capitalism in which the lower 90% of income earners have been robbed of approximately $50 trillion, for the benefit of a fraction of 1%. That's the estimate of the RAND Corporation, a serious underestimate if we look at other devices that have been used. There are ways of reforming the existing system within basically the same framework of institutions. I think they ought to change, but it would have to be over a longer timescale.

The question is: Can we prevent climate catastrophe within the framework of less savage state capitalist institutions? I think there's a reason to believe that we can, and there are very careful, detailed proposals as to how to do it, including ones in your new book, as well as the proposals of my friend and co-author, economist Robert Pollin, who's worked many of these things out in great detail. Jeffrey Sachs, another fine economist, using somewhat different models, has come to pretty much the same conclusions. These are pretty much along lines of proposals of the International Energy Association, by no means a radical organization, one that grew out of the energy corporations. But they all have essentially the same picture.

There's, in fact, even a congressional resolution by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey which outlines proposals that are pretty close to this. And I think it's all within the range of feasibility. Their cost estimates of 2% to 3% of GDP, with feasible efforts, would not only address the crisis, but would create a more livable future, one without pollution, without traffic jams, and with more constructive, productive work, better jobs. All of this is possible.

But there are serious barriers — the fossil-fuel industries, the banks, the other major institutions, which are designed to maximize profit and not care about anything else. After all, that was the announced slogan of the neoliberal period — the economic guru Milton Friedman's pronouncement that corporations have no responsibility to the public or to the workforce, that their total responsibility is to maximize profit for the few.

For public-relations reasons, fossil-fuel corporations like ExxonMobil often portray themselves as soulful and benevolent, working day and night for the benefit of the common good. It's called greenwashing.

SC: Some of the most widely discussed methods for capturing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would consume vast quantities of biomass produced on hundreds of millions or billions of acres, thereby threatening ecosystems and food production, largely in low-income, low-emissions nations. A group of ethicists and other scholars recently wrote that a "core principle" of climate justice is that "the urgent, basic needs of poor people and poor countries ought to be secured against the effects of climate change and of measures taken to limit" climate change. That would seem to clearly rule out these "emit carbon now, capture it later" plans, and there are other examples of what we might call "climate-mitigation imperialism." Do you think that the world may be faced with more and more of this sort of exploitation as temperatures rise? And what do you think about these proposals for bioenergy and carbon capture?

NC: It's totally immoral, but it's standard practice. Where does waste go? It doesn't go in your backyard, it goes to places like Somalia that can't protect themselves. The European Union, for example, has been dumping its atomic wastes and other pollution off the coast of Somalia, harming the fishing areas and local industries. It's horrendous.

The latest IPCC report calls for an end to fossil fuels. The hope is that we can avert the worst and reach a sustainable economy within a couple of decades. If we don't do that, we will reach irreversible tipping points and the people most vulnerable — those least responsible for the crisis — will suffer first and most severely from the consequences. People living in the plains of Bangladesh, for example, where powerful cyclones cause extraordinary damage. People living in India, where the temperature can go over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Many may witness parts of the world becoming unlivable.

There were recent reports by Israeli geoscientists condemning its government for not taking account of the effect of the policies they are pursuing, including developing new gas fields in the Mediterranean. They developed an analysis that indicated that, within a couple of decades, over the summer, the Mediterranean would be reaching the heat of a Jacuzzi, and the low-lying plains would be inundated. People would still live in Jerusalem and Ramallah, but flooding would impact much of the population. Why not change course to prevent this?

SC: The neoclassical economics underlying these injustices lives on in economic climate models known as "integrated assessment models," which come down to cost-benefit analyses based on the so-called social cost of carbon. With these projections, are economists seeking to gamble away the right of future generations to a decent life?

NC: We have no right to gamble with the lives of the people in South Asia, in Africa, or people in vulnerable communities in the United States. You want to do analyses like that in your academic seminar? OK, go ahead. But don't dare translate it into policy. Don't dare to do that.

There's a striking difference between physicists and economists. Physicists don't say, hey, let's try an experiment that might destroy the world, because it would be interesting to see what would happen. But economists do that. On the basis of neoclassical theories, they instituted a major revolution in world affairs in the early 1980s that took off with Carter, and accelerated with Reagan and Thatcher. Given the power of the United States compared with the rest of the world, the neoliberal assault, a major experiment in economic theory, had a devastating result. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. Their motto has been, "Government is the problem."

That doesn't mean you eliminate decisions; it just means you transfer them. Decisions still have to be made. If they're not made by government, which is, in a limited way, under popular influence, they will be made by concentrations of private power, which have no accountability to the public. And following the Friedman instructions, have no responsibility to the society that gave them the gift of incorporation. They have only the imperative of self-enrichment.

Margaret Thatcher then comes along and says there is no such thing as society, just atomized individuals who are somehow managing in the market. Of course, there is a small footnote that she didn't bother to add: for the rich and powerful, there is plenty of society. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, ALEC, all kinds of others. They get together, they defend themselves, and so on. There is plenty of society for them, just not for the rest of us. Most people have to face the ravages of the market. And, of course, the rich don't. Corporations count on a powerful state to bail them out every time there's some trouble. The rich have to have the powerful state — as well as its police powers — to be sure nobody gets in their way.

SC:Where do you see hope?

NC: Young people. In September, there was an international climate strike; hundreds of thousands of young people came out to demand an end to environmental destruction. Greta Thunberg recently stood up at the Davos meeting of the great and powerful and gave them a sober talk on what they're doing. "How dare you," she said, "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words." You have betrayed us. Those are words that should be seared into everyone's consciousness, particularly people of my generation who have betrayed them and continue to betray the youth of the world and the countries of the world.

We now have a struggle. It can be won, but the longer it's delayed, the more difficult it'll be. If we'd come to terms with this ten years ago, the cost would have been much less. If the U.S. hadn't been the only country to refuse the Kyoto Protocol, it would have been much easier. Well, the longer we wait, the more we'll betray our children and our grandchildren. Those are the choices. I don't have many years; others of you do. The possibility for a just and sustainable future exists, and there's plenty that we can do to get there before it's too late.

Copyright 2021 Stan Cox

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands(the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works, translated into scores of languages. He has been institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976. His most recent books are Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance, with Marv Waterstone, and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, with Robert Pollin and C.J. Polychroniou.

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Stan Cox, senior scientist at The Land Institute, is the author of The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic, just published, and The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can, featuring a forward by Noam Chomsky.

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Chomsky and Prashad: The reality behind the US 'withdrawal' from Afghanistan

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was criminal. It was criminal because of the immense force used to demolish Afghanistan's physical infrastructure and to break open its social bonds.

On October 11, 2001, journalist Anatol Lieven interviewed the Afghan leader Abdul Haq in Peshawar, Pakistan. Haq, who led part of the resistance against the Taliban, was getting ready to return to Afghanistan under the cover of the U.S. aerial bombardments. He was, however, not pleased with the way the United States had decided to prosecute the war. "Military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult—especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed," Abdul Haq told Lieven. The war would go on for 20 years, and at least 71,344 civilians would lose their lives during this period.

Abdul Haq told Lieven that "the best thing would be for the U.S. to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise, there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and badly affecting the whole region." These are prescient words, but Haq knew no one was listening to him. "Probably," he told Lieven, "the U.S. has already made up its mind what to do, and any recommendations by me will be too late."

After 20 years of the incredible destruction caused by this war, and after inflaming animosity between "all the Afghan groups," the United States has returned to the exact policy prescription of Abdul Haq: political dialogue.

Abdul Haq returned to Afghanistan and was killed by the Taliban on October 26, 2001. His advice is now out-of-date. In September 2001, the various protagonists in Afghanistan—including the Taliban—were ready to talk. They did so partly because they feared that the looming U.S. warplanes would open the doors to hell for Afghanistan. Now, 20 years later, the gulf between the Taliban and the others has widened. Appetite for negotiations simply does not exist any longer.

Civil War

On April 14, 2021, the speaker of Afghanistan's parliament—Mir Rahman Rahmani—warned that his country is on the brink of a "civil war." Kabul's political circles have been bristling with conversations about a civil war when the United States withdraws by September 11. This is why on April 15, during a press conference held in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Sharif Amiry of TOLOnews asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the possibility of a civil war. Blinken answered, "I don't think that it is in anyone's interest, to say the least, for Afghanistan to descend into a civil war, into a long war. And even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that."

In fact, Afghanistan has been in a civil war for half a century, at least since the creation of the mujahideen—including Abdul Haq—to battle the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government (1978-1992). This civil war was intensified by the U.S. support of Afghanistan's most conservative and extreme right-wing elements, groups that would become part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist factions. Never once has the United States offered a path to peace during this period; instead, it has always shown an eagerness at each turn to use the immensity of the U.S. force to control the outcome in Kabul.

Withdrawal?

Even this withdrawal, which was announced in late April 2021 and began on May 1, is not as clear-cut as it seems. "It's time for American troops to come home," announced U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14, 2021. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Defense clarified that 2,500 troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. In a March 14 article, meanwhile, the New York Times had noted that the U.S. has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan even though "[p]ublicly, 2,500 U.S. troops are said to be in the country." The undercount by the Pentagon is obscurantism. A report by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, furthermore, noted that the United States has about 16,000 contractors on the ground in Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services, which most likely include military support. None of these contractors—or the additional undisclosed 1,000 U.S. troops—are slated for withdrawal, nor will aerial bombardment—including drone strikes—end, and there will be no end to special forces missions either.

On April 21, Blinken said that the United States would provide nearly $300 million to the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani. Ghani, who—like his predecessor Hamid Karzai—often appears to be more of a mayor of Kabul than the president of Afghanistan, is being outflanked by his rivals. Kabul is buzzing with talk of post-withdrawal governments, including a proposal by Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to form a government that he would lead and that would not include the Taliban. The U.S., meanwhile, has consented to the idea that the Taliban should have a role in the government; it is now being said openly that the Biden administration believes the Taliban would "govern less harshly" than it did from 1996 to 2001.

The United States, it appears, is willing to allow the Taliban to return to power with two caveats: first, that the U.S. presence remains, and second, that the main rivals of the United States—namely China and Russia—have no role in Kabul. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Chennai, India, where she proposed the creation of a New Silk Road Initiative that linked Central Asia through Afghanistan and via the ports of India; the purpose of this initiative was to cut off Russia from its links in Central Asia and to prevent the establishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which now runs all the way to Turkey.

Stability is not in the cards for Afghanistan. In January, Vladimir Norov, former foreign minister of Uzbekistan and the current secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), addressed a webinar organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Norov said that Daesh or ISIS has been shifting its fighters from Syria to northern Afghanistan. This movement of extremist fighters is of concern not only to Afghanistan but also to Central Asia and to China. In 2020, the Washington Post revealed that the U.S. military had been providing aerial support for the Taliban as it made gains against ISIS fighters. Even if there is a peace deal with the Taliban, ISIS will destabilize it.

Forgotten Possibilities

Forgotten are the words of concern for Afghan women, words that provided legitimacy for the U.S. invasion in October 2001. Rasil Basu, a United Nations official, served as a senior adviser on women's development to the Afghan government from 1986 to 1988. The Afghan Constitution of 1987 provided women with equal rights, which allowed women's groups to struggle against patriarchal norms and fight for equality at work and at home. Because large numbers of men had died in the war, Basu told us, women went into several occupations. There were substantial gains for women's rights, including a rise in literacy rates. All this has been largely erased during the U.S. war over these past two decades.

Even before the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89, men who are now jockeying for power—such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—said that they would undo these gains. Basu remembered the shabanamas, notices that circulated to women and warned them to obey patriarchal norms (she submitted an opinion piece warning of this catastrophe to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, and to Ms. Magazine, all of whom rejected it).

Afghanistan's last communist head of government—Mohammed Najibullah (1987-1992)—submitted a National Reconciliation Policy, in which he put women's rights at the top of the agenda. It was rejected by the U.S.-backed Islamists, many of whom remain in positions of authority today.

No lessons have been learned from this history. The U.S. will "withdraw," but will also leave behind its assets to checkmate China and Russia. These geopolitical considerations eclipse any concern for the Afghan people.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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Chomsky and Prashad: Why we need a tribunal on governments' crimes against humanity during COVID

Warnings that the oxygen supply was running out in the city of Manaus, Brazil, came to local and federal government officials a week before the calamity led to the deaths by asphyxiation of patients afflicted with COVID-19. No modern state—such as Brazil—should have to admit that it did nothing when these warnings came in and simply allowed its own citizens to die for no reason.

A Supreme Court judge and the solicitor general have demanded that the Brazilian government act, but this has not moved Jair Bolsonaro's administration. Everything about this story—detailed in Solicitor General José Levi do Amaral's report—reveals the rot of privatization and incompetence. The local health officials knew in early January that there was going to be an oxygen shortage imminently, but their warning did not carry any weight. A private contractor who had the job of providing the oxygen informed the government six days before the city ran out of this crucial supply in the fight against COVID-19. Even with the contractor's information, the government did nothing; it would later say—against all scientific advice—that early treatment for coronavirus did not work. The insensitivity and incompetence of the government of Bolsonaro have led General Prosecutor Augusto Aras to call for a special probe. As Bolsonaro dithered, the government of Venezuela, in an act of solidarity, sent a shipment of oxygen to Manaus.

The latest development caused by the government's toxic mix of privatization, ineptitude, and callousness should strengthen the case brought by Brazil's health care unions against Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July. But the problem is not the fault of Bolsonaro alone or even of Brazil. The problem lies in the neoliberal governments, governments in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and others, governments whose commitments to profit-making firms and billionaires far outstrip their commitment to their own citizens or to their own constitutions. What we are seeing in countries such as Brazil is a crime against humanity.

It is time to impanel a citizens' tribunal to investigate the utter failure of the governments of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, and others to break the chain of the infection of COVID-19. Such a tribunal would collect the factual information that would ensure that we do not allow these states to tamper with the crime scene; the tribunal would provide the ICC with a firm foundation to do a forensic investigation of this crime against humanity when its own political suffocation is eased.

We should all be outraged. But, outrage is not a strong enough word.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Chomsky and Prashad: There are 3 major threats to life on Earth that we must address in 2021

Large parts of the world—outside of China and a few other countries—face a runaway virus, which has not been stopped because of criminal incompetence by governments. That these governments in wealthy countries cynically set aside the basic scientific protocols released by the World Health Organization and by scientific organizations reveals their malicious practice. Anything less than focused attention to managing the virus by testing, contact tracing, and isolation—and if this does not suffice, then imposing a temporary lockdown—is foolhardy. It is equally distressing that these richer countries have pursued a policy of "vaccine nationalism" by stockpiling vaccine candidates rather than a policy for the creation of a "people's vaccine." For the sake of humanity, it would be prudent to suspend intellectual property rules and develop a procedure to create universal vaccines for all people.

Although the pandemic is the principal issue on all of our minds, other major issues threaten the longevity of our species and of our planet. These include:

Nuclear Annihilation

In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, too close for comfort. The clock, created two years after the first atomic weapons were developed in 1945, is evaluated annually by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, who decide whether to move the minute hand or keep it in place. By the time they set the clock again, it may well be closer to annihilation. Already limited arms control treaties are being shredded as the major powers sit on close to 13,500 nuclear weapons (more than 90 percent of which are held by Russia and the United States alone). The yield of these weapons could easily make this planet even more uninhabitable. The United States Navy has already deployed low-yield tactical W76-2 nuclear warheads. Immediate moves toward nuclear disarmament must be forced onto the world's agenda. Hiroshima Day, commemorated each year on August 6, must become a more robust day of contemplation and protest.

Climate Catastrophe

A scientific paper published in 2018 came with a startling headline: "Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding." The authors found that atolls from the Seychelles to the Marshall Islands are liable to vanish. A 2019 United Nations (UN) report estimated that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Add to this the catastrophic wildfires and the severe bleaching of the coral reefs and it is clear that we no longer need to linger over clichés about one thing or another being a canary in the coal mine of climate catastrophe; the danger is not in the future, but in the present. It is essential for major powers—who utterly fail to shift from fossil fuels—to commit to the "common but differentiated responsibilities" approach established at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It is telling that countries such as Jamaica and Mongolia updated their climate plans to the UN before the end of 2020—as mandated by the Paris Agreement—even though these countries produce a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions. The funds that were committed to developing countries for their participation in the process have virtually dried up while external debt has ballooned. This shows a lack of basic seriousness from the "international community."

Neoliberal Destruction of the Social Contract

Countries in North America and Europe have eviscerated their public function as the state has been turned over to the profiteers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the avenues for social transformation in these parts of the world have been grotesquely hampered. Terrible social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that enables the billionaires to set policies that cause hunger rates to rise. Countries should not be judged by the words written in their constitutions but by their annual budgets; the U.S., for example, spends almost $1 trillion (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machine, while it spends a fraction of this on the public good (such as on health care, something evident during the pandemic). The foreign policies of Western countries seem to be well lubricated by arms deals: the United Arab Emirates and Morocco agreed to recognize Israel on the condition that they could purchase $23 billion and $1 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons, respectively. The rights of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi, and the Yemeni people did not factor into these deals. The use of illegal sanctions by the United States against 30 countries including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is a failure of the political system when the populations in the capitalist bloc are unable to force their governments—which are in many ways democratic in name only—to take a global perspective regarding this emergency. Rising rates of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is able to eradicate absolute poverty and largely eliminate hunger).

Nuclear annihilation and extinction by climate catastrophe are twin threats to the planet. Meanwhile, for victims of the neoliberal assault that has plagued the past generation, the short-term problems of sustaining their mere existence displace fundamental questions about the fate of our children and grandchildren.

Global problems of this scale require global cooperation. Pressured by the Third World states in the 1960s, the major powers agreed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, although they rejected the deeply important Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order of 1974. The balance of forces available to drive such a class agenda on the international stage is no longer there; political dynamics in the countries of the West, in particular, but also in the larger states of the developing world (such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa) are necessary to change the character of the governments. A robust internationalism is necessary to pay adequate and immediate attention to the perils of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, by climate catastrophe, and by social collapse. The tasks ahead are daunting, and they cannot be deferred.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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The United States has never been very happy with Costa Rica, despite its almost total subordination to the wishes of US corporations and Washington. Costa Rican social democracy and successes in state-guided development, unique in Central America, were a constant irritant. Concerns were relieved in the 1980s, as the huge debt and other problems gave the US government leverage to move Costa Rica closer to the "Central American mode" lauded by the press, but the Ticos still don't know their place. One problem arose in November 1991, when Costa Rica renewed its request to the US to extradite US rancher John Hull, who was charged with murder in the La Penca bombing in which six people were killed, as well as drug running and other crimes. This renewed call for extradition was particularly irritating because of the timing -- just as the US was orchestrating a vociferous PR campaign against Libya for its insistence on keeping to international law and arranging for trial of two Libyans accused of air terrorism either in its own courts or by a neutral country or agency, instead of handing them over to the US. The unfortunate coincidence did not disrupt the Washington-media campaign against Libya, thanks to the scrupulous suppression of the Costa Rican request.

Yet another Costa Rican crime was its expropriation of property of US citizens, for which it was duly punished by the freezing of promised economic assistance. The most serious case was the confiscation of the property of a US businessman by President Oscar Arias, who incorporated it into a national park. Costa Rica offered compensation, but not enough, Washington determined. The land was expropriated when it was found that it had been used by the CIA for an illegal air strip for resupplying US terrorist forces in Nicaragua. Arias's expropriation without adequate compensation is a crime that naturally calls for retribution by Washington -- and silence by the media, particularly as they are railing against Libyan terrorism.

The effrontery of the powerful often leaves one virtually speechless. 

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To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

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