How to stop World War III

On Tuesday, I joined Rania Khalek on her BreakThrough News show Dispatches to talk about the war in Ukraine and the dangerous rush for escalation.

You can watch the whole episode above.

In the first 24 hours since our conversation was streamed live, it has been viewed more than 50,000 times. To me that’s an indication of the hunger for analysis and context that mainstream media are just not offering amid the fog of propaganda.

Here, I want to provide some key points from our conversation and some additional context.

The current atmosphere reminds me of the terrifying period right after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

At that time, if anyone asked why this happened, how it happened, what led to this point and what were the policies of the United States that could have created the conditions for it, they were immediately accused of justifying the 9/11 attacks.

Analysis, thought, hesitation, made you an enemy. Nothing was permitted to interfere with the march to war – first in Afghanistan, then Iraq.

But if many people who bought the rationales for those wars knew then what they know now, would they still have supported the “Global War on Terror”?

The Russian attack on Ukraine – overwhelmingly condemned by the UN General Assembly on Wednesday – is another “9/11” moment, first for Ukrainians who are experiencing the trauma, terror and violence faced by any population subjected to military aggression – whether it be in Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia or indeed, since 2014 in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

But it is also a 9/11 moment in that any response has the potential to shape the world for decades.

This time it is arguably even more dangerous, because it comes with a not negligible risk of nuclear war.

Missing context

Khalek and I talked about the wall-to-wall propaganda that is playing on emotions and justifiable outrage about Russia’s invasion to steer the public to accept that the only possible response is military escalation – pumping American and European weapons and “volunteer” fighters into the field.

But first we gave some context about what laid the ground for this crisis.

This includes the betrayal of the numerous Western assurances to Soviet leaders at the end of the Cold War that the NATO military alliance would not expand eastwards.

I pointed out that a stern warning that NATO expansion would lead to a catastrophic confrontation with Russia was issued more than two decades ago – not from an antiwar leftist – but by George Kennan, the mastermind of the US Cold War strategy of “containment” against the Soviet Union.

We also talked about University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer’s prescient 2015 prediction that Ukraine would be “wrecked” if its leaders continued to allow the country to be used by the US as a pawn against Russia.

He said that the US should support neutrality for Ukraine.

(You can watch the whole of Mearsheimer’s 2015 lecture here.)

“Unintended consequences”

That context is important, but so is reflecting on the catastrophic results of US wars and interventions, especially the post-9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, just months after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the collapse of the Washington-backed puppet regime in Kabul, there is a headlong rush into another potential disaster in Europe.

How can anyone argue? How can anyone deny that the Russian threat is real and imminent, just like the catastrophic threat of terrorism in 2001?

Preventing the escalation of this war is not just about sparing the people of Ukraine from violence and suffering no one should endure, but halting a possible march towards World War III.

I pointed out that Hillary Clinton, who has supported or participated in so many calamitous US wars and interventions, including in Syria, Iraq and Libya, is now salivating for a repetition in Ukraine.

The blueprint is the US strategy against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The architect of that policy, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, described the goal as “to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible.”

“It didn’t end well for the Russians,” Clinton told MSNBC this week. “But the fact is, that a very motivated, and then funded, and armed insurgency basically drove the Russians out of Afghanistan.”

What Clinton did not mention is that it didn’t end well for the people of Afghanistan either.

They have suffered more than 40 years of war, including the 20-year US invasion and occupation. Now the people there are just being left to starve.

The former secretary of state did allude to “other unintended consequences” of the US policy of pouring billions of dollars of weapons and insurgents into Afghanistan. What those might be, she did not say on this occasion.

However, years ago, while urging continued support for the US occupation in Afghanistan, she was more explicit.

“To be fair, we helped to create the problem we’re now fighting,” she told a Fox News interviewer. She added:

“Because, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we had this brilliant idea that we were going to come to Pakistan and create a force of Mujahideen, equip them with Stinger missiles and everything else, to go after the Soviets inside Afghanistan, and we were successful. The Soviets left Afghanistan, and we said ‘great, goodbye,’ leaving these trained people who were fanatical in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving them well armed, creating a mess, frankly that at the time, we didn’t really recognize because we were so happy to see the Soviet Union fall.”

One of those “fanatics” and “unintended consequences” was none other than Usama Bin Laden, whom the US accuses of planning the 9/11 attacks.

But whatever realization Clinton came to a few years ago is now forgotten.

In her interview on MSNBC this week, she seems eager for a repeat of the Afghan “success” – and she’s not the only one.

Her proverbial tears, shed for “Afghan women and girls” as recently as January, have dried up and she’s beating the war drums.

Comparing Ukraine with Afghanistan, Clinton told MSNBC that the latter is “the model that people are now looking towards.”

“If there can be sufficient armaments that get in, and they should be able to get in, along some of the borders between other nations and Ukraine … that can continue to stymie Russia.”

“We have to provide sufficient armaments for the Ukraine military and volunteers,” she asserted.

She’s ready to feed that country’s people into the meat grinder of a superpower proxy war, but the strategy is just the same – and the “unintended consequences” potentially just as disastrous – even if we avoid a nuclear holocaust.

This time the battle-hardened, well-trained fanatics will be extremists from all over Europe and beyond, drawn by Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, among other far-right groups in Ukraine that have enjoyed US support since Washington used them to engineer a coup in 2014.

Give peace a chance (seriously)

So what is the alternative? I told Rania Khalek that whatever criticisms anyone may have of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, there were two notable things.

Zelensky, a former comedian with no political experience, was elected in a landslide victory in 2019 on a promise to end the war in the Donbas region through negotiations with Russia.

“I am ready to do a deal with the devil so that not one more person dies,” he said.

That willingness has not however been enough, as the United States has not been willing to give up Ukraine as a weapon against Russia.

As prominent US Democratic Party lawmaker Adam Schiff put it in 2020, “The United States aids Ukraine and her people so that they can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.”

Such language, incidentally, has been a regular refrain in the “War on Terror.”

Justifying, the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in a 2007 speech, for instance, President George W. Bush declared, “We will fight them [terrorists] over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.”

Yet even as his country is being invaded, and as he rallies international support and the morale of his people, Zelensky has engaged in talks with Russia and expresses willingness for them to continue.

That may be a reflection of the military reality: Russia is overwhelmingly dominant. But in negotiations, the field might be more even.

Russia would be on one side of the table, and on the other side would be Ukraine, backed by its many powerful allies.

Instead of escalating the war as Washington and the Europeans are rushing to do, why isn’t there a massive effort from the so-called friends of Ukraine to support negotiations?

The negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are being treated as a sideshow by the “West,” if not being undermined entirely.

They should be the center of focus, first to stop the killing and destruction in Ukraine, which in war always falls hardest on civilians, but will also devastate families in Russia who can be no more eager to see their sons dying.

However, a durable political solution would require Western willingness to take Russia’s longstanding concerns about NATO expansion seriously.

Ukraine has already said it is willing to discuss abandoning its bid to join NATO and return to the neutral status it held prior to the Washington-backed 2014 coup.

The stakes could not be higher.

Recall that the US government propagandized its population to support the March 2003 invasion of Iraq with lurid scaremongering about weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice notoriously said months before the invasion, sidestepping the total lack of evidence for US claims.

Unlike Iraq’s mythical weapons, Russian and American nuclear weapons do exist, and this time we face the real possibility of mushroom clouds. Even if it is remote, that is just not acceptable.

The way to avoid it is urgent, serious, full-scale international diplomacy that deals comprehensively with Europe’s lingering post-Cold War conflicts.

Europeans must practice what they preach to the rest of the world: War solves nothing, you must settle your differences peacefully.

That, not escalation and intervention, is what all of us, especially on the left, must demand.

Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.




Zelensky is a man in way over his head (no military or war time command experience). Hard to say if he's capable of not letting the fog of ware cloud his judgment. Remember he was elected on a platform of resuming diplomacy with Russia.
I'm obviously giving him the benefit of the doubt and adopting a charitable reading to his actions as I see his position (surrounded by proxy nazi militias - which the "western" "press" conveniently omits from the narrative) as extremely unenviable. One can only hope Russia is playing Chess while the "west" is playing checkers. Exhibitionism has never been a defining attribute of the Russians.
If Zelensky has an ounce (32 Grams) of sense in him and if he truly cares about his country he will take a lesson from recent memory (2 decades of imperial conquest and theft in the global south) and realise what's happening in Ukraine right now is not much different (in principle) from what happened in Syria: Hegemony maintenance and fossil fuel logistics/economy (trading currency).

"The negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are being treated as a sideshow by the “West,” if not being undermined entirely." -
That's the whole point, you can't go by what the "west" is ever claiming to be going on.

On a different note.. If I told you a story about a distant planet where a geriatric man who used to be deliberately vicious and calculating and who is now barely capable of forming subsequent coherent sentences and who's son is for all intents and purposes a loser and in that story that man was thought of by the highly educated portion that planet's society as the leader of their world surely you'd laugh me out of the building!
Or if you dug deep enough you'd realise it couldn't be any other way. The political class always has to be subservient under the Capitalist regime. There is no room for people capable (or willing) of forming their own opinions out of minimal moral decency in the 'holes' of power.

Capitalism is the problem.


Thank you, Prof. Abunimah and Ms. Khalek!


- a rare unique example of a rational analysis of the current crisis both in depth and breadth. Strongly recommend everyone watch this excellent video.