Video and Text Transcript
Speakers for the Session
Transcript of the video:
Helena Cobban (00:00:00):
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the third session of our webinar series, "The Ukraine crisis, building a just and peaceful world". Today it's Wednesday, March 9th, and our guests are Medea Benjamin and Marjorie Cohn. Erik Sperling, who was due to be with us, got caught in an airport. So we'll be hoping to schedule him again, maybe next Monday. I'll give Medea and Marjorie more complete introductions very soon, but for now, let me hand over to my co-host the distinguished international jurist Richard Falk.
Richard Falk (00:00:39):
Thank you, Helena. It's a real pleasure to welcome of Medea and Marjorie to our third session. And I very much look forward to their illuminating insights, which I'm sure are gonna follow these remarks. Let me stop there.
Helena Cobban (00:01:04):
Thanks Richard. Today's webinar is the third of a planned eight sessions in the two earlier sessions. Richard and I had extremely rich conversations that involved Vijay Prashad, the military expert Lyle Goldstein, Ambassador Charles Freeman, and "Nation" publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel. You can see the video of those sessions today's session, and a lot more information about this project at our website, www.justworldeducational.org.
Today's conversation will be fairly free flowing and is projected to last roughly 45 minutes. After that, there'll be a chance for questions from the attendees, which we ask you to put into the Q and A box. Also amidst these emotionally taxing times, we want to request civility from all attendees, both in the chat box, and if you're invited to be on air, on air as well. So now it's my huge pleasure to introduce, to give bigger introductions to our two guests. Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of both the women-led peace group Code Pink and the human rights group Global Exchange. She's the author of numerous articles and 10 books, including "Drone warfare: killing by remote control" and "Kingdom of the unjust: behind the US-Saudi connection." Her most recent book, "Inside Iran", is part of a continuing campaign to prevent a war with Iran and to promote normal trade and diplomatic relations. Medea, great have you with us!
You might want to unmute?
Medea Benjamin (00:02:55):
Nice to be with you.
Helena Cobban (00:02:59):
Okay. And Marjorie Cohn who has been with our programs before is a professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson school of law, where she taught from 1991 through 2016. And she's a former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Cohn currently lectures, writes, and provides commentary for local, regional, national, and international media outlets. She has edited and also contributed to anthologies on the United States and torture and the ethical and political issues around the use of military drones. And she's the sole author of a number of other relevant books on international affairs. So Marjorie, once again, I think you are with us from the west coast, is that right? Marjorie Cohn (00:03:48): That is correct. Thank you so much, Helena. And I'm just delighted and honored to be here with Richard and Medea and you.
Well, great. I would like to jump right in and ask you to provide your take on either the priorities for the peace and justice movement movement globally and in the US, or on the international law context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Marjorie Cohn (00:04:15):
Yes. Russia is currently waging a war of aggression in Ukraine. And I'm gonna talk about that, but I also wanna say that it's very important to put that in context of the history since the fall of the Soviet Union, the role of NATO, the involvement of the United States in the 2014 coup cetera. So I wanna qualify that, but nevertheless, Russia is violating the UN charter, which says very specifically that countries cannot use military force against other countries, unless they are acting in self defense after an armed attack or with the permission of the Security Council, neither of those things is the case here. Now the Security Council has the primary responsibility under the UN charter to maintain international peace and security. The Security Council did meet, and there was a draft resolution, but Russia, as one of the permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed that resolution.
So then, the General Assembly took up the matter under the Uniting for Peace resolution, which says that if the Security Council is deadlocked, the General Assembly can take action to restore international peace and security, and the General Assembly met and overwhelmingly-- and let me just say the General Assembly is the democratic arm of the United Nations system; there are 193 countries-- and so overwhelmingly the General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Russia to cease its aggression to immediately initiate a ceasefire, withdraw all military forces and also called on all the parties to enforce the Minsk agreements, which I'm sure we'll be talking about later, and protect civilians, and abide by international humanitarian law, which is of course the protection of civilians primarily, and to submit to diplomatic diplomatic-- well, diplomacy-- to settle the conflict. Now, do you want me to go into some of the background in the context, the political context at this point? Or should we talk about that a little bit later?
Helena Cobban (00:06:44):
I think talking about that a little bit later would be good. I mean, your explanation of the, kind of the international law context of this is really valuable. I don't know if Medea, would you like to jump into that and talk about how international law affects what grassroots activists should be doing here?
Medea Benjamin (00:07:06):
Well, as Marjorie and Richard know well, the US has not been a great complier with international law and really creates its own idea of what the rule of law should be, and it's "might makes right." And so it's very hard in this context: We certainly want to condemn Russia for violating international law but also want to bring up the many times that the US has violated international law. I think it's quite ironic to hear not only people like Condoleezza Rice and others saying that it's a war crime just to invade another country. But we also hear members of Congress and people in the administration saying we've got to take Putin to the international criminal court, something that the US it is not even a party to and sanctioned key members of the international criminal court when it even wanted to look into possible war crimes that the us might have committed in Afghanistan.
Medea Benjamin (00:08:13):
So there's a lot of hypocrisy in this, but I don't know if it's too big a jump but I did want to talk from the perspective of the grassroots because, Marjorie, we have to start out everything by saying Russia invaded in a totally illegal move, horrific what it is doing, our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine. The issue of, for a lot of people that would have considered themselves part of a peace movement becomes how much do you put the emphasis on the NATO as a provocation? And that has really divided the small peace movement that we have. You know, in the lead up to the Iraq war and during those years we had a huge peace movement of people coming out by the hundreds of thousands to protest, and globally by the millions.
This time around we called for people in the US on February 26th to come out and protest this crisis in Ukraine. And we got about 75 cities doing protests, small protests. We joined up then with our friends in the UK, the Stop the War coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the No to NATO coalition, which is an ongoing coalition that we as Code Pink have been working with for years and doing counter summits at all of their summits year after year. And we came together and formed a peace in Ukraine group. We called for global protest last Sunday, March 6th. We had them in about 150 cities, in some cities, quite large in most places small.
But there are, as you know, large protests against the Russian invasion that have been called by the Ukrainian community in the diaspora here in the United States, quite large ones in many cities, I've been going down to the White House. And it is difficult for people who do want to add in addition to "Russian troops out", "Ceasefire now", a call for "No expansion of NATO" because we actually get attacked when we go to some of these other rallies, because they're calling for more military intervention, no-fly zones and they have sign saying, you know, "Thank you NATO; We need more intervention!" I have a friend in Santa Cruz who just wrote to me and said this was the first pro-war peace rally I've ever been to. And so it has been very difficult. We have gone, some of our Code Pink people with our normal messages down to the White House and had long conversations with some of the Ukrainian Americans. And we understand where they're coming from.
Their loved ones are being killed, they're being displaced. They're they're, they're terrified. And we try to argue that more war is not the answer and how horrific it would be if this became an even wider war, and we know that there is the pending possibility of even a nuclear war. But when your family is being attacked and displaced of course you're thinking of the more immediate, and so it's been difficult. It's also difficult for those of us who have been opposed to NATO for many years to educate people about that history of NATO. We hear ad nauseam that NATO is a defensive alliance. And we know that NATO is an aggressive alliance, that it has been even in its most recent history, aggressive in the case of Afghanistan, supporting the US in the case of Iraq, being on the aggression side in the case of Libya.
But what we're hearing from the news media is this constant, constant refrain of NATO being defensive. And so it is hard to educate people about the real history of NATO and why this moment now, when NATO is gaining new status is actually very dangerous in the long term. We see that the divisions that existed in NATO for the time being right now have vanished. Thanks to Putin, NATO now has a new purpose and all of haranguing that the US has done especially under Trump but now under Biden as well of calling on NATO countries to spend more on their military has now become reality with all of the NATO countries quickly approving more money for their militaries. You know, it's a strange alliance when one of the goals is that you would increase your military spending to 2% of your gross domestic product, but that is indeed one of the goals of NATO.
And now they will be achieving that goal. And the last thing I want to say in terms of how difficult this is for the building of a peace movement, is that so much of the efforts of the anti-war groups has been to try to cut the Pentagon budget, and we've built up a strong alliance in the last year on the back of the disaster in Afghanistan, when it was Biden himself who revealed to the American people, that we were spending $300 million a day every day for 20 years on war in Afghanistan. Making people really start to question, wait, why were we doing that? And isn't this time then to move some of that money into the real needs of people to deal with COVID and healthcare, the climate crisis, student debt relief? And we had moved into working with other larger movements for addressing the climate crisis and issues like Medicare for all, to bring the Pentagon cuts issue into their movement ,and have been doing that quite successfully. And we see with a large faith-based movement, like the Poor People's Campaign, that the issue of cutting the Pentagon budget has been quite front and center in one of their demands. And I thought--
Helena Cobban (00:15:26):
Until, until now--
Medea Benjamin (00:15:27):
Until now. And so I thought, you know, this coming year was the year for us to have a little bit of success, you know, even if it was cutting the Pentagon budget by 1%, anything that would start us in the right direction. And so suddenly we're already seeing expedited calls for more money for the Pentagon, 14 billion dollars being added now to a must past budget that will be done by Friday. And the Democrats and the Republicans coming together to say we must give more money to the Pentagon, more military aid to Ukraine. And so I feel like we have gone backwards so much in terms of trying to call for, not only the cuts in the Pentagon budget, but demilitarization of our society in general. And then on a global scale with our friends in Europe, it's become very hard for them. So I think those are my opening remarks, and I look forward to the conversation.
Helena Cobban (00:16:32):
Great. Well, Richard, maybe you could come back.
Richard Falk (00:16:36):
Good. I agree really with everything that Marjorie and Medea have said and have said it very well. I think that Marjorie's emphasis on the degree to which the crisis was provoked by NATO and US behavior is very important to keep in mind, and that we always need to understand conflicts from the perspective of the other, if we really want to understand them in a way that is productive of a peace-oriented perspective. And I think that the other emphasis that Marjorie made on the clarity of Russia's violation of the prohibition on aggressive war, which is the core provision of the UN charter needs a little bit of clarification by reference to the Security Council, because although there's clarity in the charter the design of the UN enabled the five permanent members, which include of course, Russia to opt out of the obligations of the charter whenever their strategic interests collided. In other words, international law was deliberately subordinated to the primacy of geopolitics for the five most dangerous countries in the world.
And we shouldn't forget that because the UN is not a legalistic institution. The General Assembly is state centric and favors the promotion of national interest, national sovereignty, but it has no normal decision making power. It only has the power to recommend, and the international court of justice only has the power of advising, which really means that states as well as these permanent members have a broad discretion not to comply with international law. And this is I think reinforced by the fact that as Medea very eloquently expressed it, the US set precedents for years ever going back to the Vietnam war for disregarding the aggressive war prohibition and all that goes with it, including observing international humanitarian law and has supported Israel over the years in its violations of the elements of international law.
And, what's important to recognize is that there are two normative orders in world society, the normative order associated with international law in which the norms are set by agreement among sovereign states either through practice or through their explicit treaty making procedures. Whereas for the geopolitical norms, they're set by precedent; they're, they're not made by agreement. And therefore the, the precedents that the US set are really quite undermining of any kind of righteous indignation about what Russia has done even though from a Westphalian, international law point of view, it's a clear violation. And so one has this kind of tension, normative tension, embedded in international society. And it has been there ever since the modern way of states interacting has existed. It preceded the establishment of the UN. We used to talk about great powers and the substitution for great powers-- and great powers exercised complete discretion over the use of force. Great powers have been now replaced by the notion of P-5 or the permanent five members [of the security Council], but not entirely, because when you look really at the war/peace issues, it's more a P-2 or P-3 world. Significantly. And this is my last observation. Putin prior to the Ukrainian invasion said this will be the end of the unipolar world.
And one should remember that at the end of the Cold War, a very triumphalist attitude pervaded in the US in particular, talking about the end of history, talking about the enlargement of democracies, democracy promotion, all kinds of doctrines that justified or attempted to justify intervention and regime change in far-- ignoring the sovereign rights of members of the international community. So that one way of looking at the broader implications of this crisis is to say it's about restoring spheres of influence as they existed in a bipolar world. In other words, where balance was the geopolitical norm, not what it became after the Cold War, which was the US claiming to be a global security power with its sphere of influence as wide as the planet, and therefore in justifying encroachments around the borders of its geopolitical, rivals China and Russia. Another geopolitical norm that was sacrificed in this process was the idea of prudence and restraint. And it goes to what Medea was saying about how does one balance the tragedy, the humanitarian tragedies against the risks and dangers of a wider war, and that points to the desirability of prudent behavior on the part of the geopolitical actors. One is really vulnerable to their imprudence. And we're witnessing that both on the part of Moscow and Washington. Let me stop there.
Helena Cobban (00:25:42):
Excellent. Thank you so much, Richard. I think, you know, this whole point about the US having aspired to a unipolar like global governance role for itself is one that many Americans actually have internalized, that we think that the US is a force for good, and we do only humanitarian interventions, and we overlook, you know, wars launched by Israel or, or Saudi Arabia or our allies but focus on our opponents. And there's a lot of sort of, as, as we discussed on Monday with Chas Freeman, righteous indignation against Russia right now, and very little capacity for self reflection. And there is evidently a humanitarian crisis of massive proportion in Ukraine, and we can't help, but be, you know, emotionally connected to those people and their suffering. But then what do we do with that? Do we say, oh, we have to have more and bigger weapons. We have to launch this, you know, no-fly zone, which is actually a very-- it sounds very innocuous, but as, as Medea and Code Pink have pointed out a no-fly zone is actually a very aggressive movement, but, you know, that's what Zelensky many of his supporters are calling for. And the US is pumping weapons in there. So how do we take this very emotional moment and try to put it in a, in a peacemaking context. Marjorie, Medea, any ideas how we do that?
Marjorie Cohn (00:27:26):
I'd like to to, to just go back for a second, if it's, if that's okay, Helena, and talk about the geopolitical context for what we're witnessing now, because we don't hear that in the corporate media. We see these horrific images of displaced persons and civilians that are dying and this horrific war, but it's very important to really understand the historical context. And on February the 21st, the New York Times published an article on the front page, if you get the hard copy, above the fold, announcing that the United States is building a highly sensitive US military installation in Poland, just 100 miles from Russia's border, scheduled to begin operation this year. And this is a site from which the United States could deploy nuclear armed missiles. Now, some of you may remember the Cuban missile crisis when the Soviet Union had put missiles, nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles, not a hundred miles.
Granted it was ten miles less, 90 miles from the border of the United States. And we came very close to a nuclear war at that point. So it's very important to put yourself as Richard was saying, put yourself in the position of Russia, not to justify by any means Russia's violation of international law in launching this aggressive war. And these-- Russia is surrounded by NATO countries and by missile deployments from NATO and from the United States: nuclear missiles that could wipe it out in a moment. Poland, Romania, the Baltics, the Black Sea-- a clear threat to Russia. Now, as the USSR was breaking up in 1990, 19991, the US government promised the Soviet Union that it would not expand NATO eastward and Soviet leader, Mikhael Gorbachev agreed in return not to oppose the reunification of Germany.
Marjorie Cohn (00:29:56):
And yet by 1999, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic had all joined NATO. Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia joined in 2004. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania followed suit. And that US foreign policy guru, George Kennan, no radical he, warned expanding NATO eastward would be the most fateful error of American policy in the Cold War era. Now, let me just say that NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was formed as a defensive Alliance against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. It has never really functioned as a defense Alliance. It has functioned as an aggressive Alliance and as such, it violates the UN charter. The UN charter allows for regional arrangements for defensive purposes, not regional organizations for aggressive purposes and US-led NATO-- because the US does lead NATO, the head of NATO is always a high US general-- illegally invaded Belgrade in 1999, Iraq in 2002, Libya in 2011, Syria, et cetera, the list goes on and on and on.
Now in 1997, dozens of foreign policy veterans, including former defense secretary, Robert McNamara sent a joint letter to then-president Bill Clinton saying, quote, "the current US-led effort to expand NATO would be a policy error of historic proportions." They were warned. In 2008, WikiLeaks, that critical organization led by Julian Assange, who is now languishing in prison facing 175 years in prison for revealing US war crimes, Wikileaks leaked a cable from US ambassador to Moscow, William Burns, who is now the director of the CIA in the Biden administration. And that cable said that not only does Russia perceive encirclement and efforts to undermine its influence in the region, but also fears, unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences, which would seriously affect Russian security interest. And Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership could lead to a major split involving violence, a civil war, and Russia would have to decide whether to intervene, a decision Russia does not want to have to face.
In 2014, the US facilitated-- Victoria Nuland at the time who is now in the Biden administration again-- facilitated a coup, overthrew a democratically elected president in Ukraine. And that democratically elected president had resisted economic reforms that were sought by the International Monetary Fund to make Ukraine more enticing to investors: lowering wages, reducing the education and health sectors which compromised most of-- which was most of Ukrainian employment-- cutting natural gas subsidies that facilitated affordable energy for Ukrainians after the coup not coincidentally the new US-backed government cut heating subsidies in half and in return were rewarded with a $27 billion commitment from the IMF. Now, Putin was very clear in December of 2021 when he proposed two treaties, one between the Russian Federation and NATO, the other between the Russian Federation and the United States, basically calling on the west to halt NATO expansion, negotiate Ukrainian neutrality in the eastwest rivalry, remove US nuclear weapons from non-proliferating countries and remove missiles troops and bases near Russia. The US thumbed its nose at those proposals. Marjorie Cohn (00:34:12): And I'm not saying that Russia was justified by any means in its invasion and aggression in Ukraine, but Russia has come to this point because every step along the way, US-led NATO has refused to acknowledge Russia's real security concerns and how critical it is to Russia, not to expand NATO to Ukraine. And I wanna say the reason for that is that article five of the North Atlantic Treaty, which is the founding document of NATO, says that an attack on one NATO country means that the other NATO countries would respond with military force. And the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO country, that's the reason why the US and other NATO countries don't have troops right now in Ukraine. Although they're sending, as Medea said, massive amounts of weapons. So I think it's very, very important understanding the legalities and what Russia is doing violating the law, to put it into this geopolitical context so that we can understand going forward exactly what we need to do to change that.
Medea Benjamin (00:08:13):
Thank you, Marjorie that's really helpful. I mean, I think it's very important for all, especially younger people these days, to really learn about NATO, because, you know, when we were all coming up during or at the end of the Cold War or during the Cold War, we knew what NATO was. But people, especially in this country here in the United States, don't really know what it is. They know it's something to do with Europe and it maybe is linked to the EU or something like that. But now, you know, we're all getting a crash course in what NATO is, and it's, it's being portrayed as, you know, an essential shield for all of us in the "west". And I think it's really important to note that NATO is an embodiment of the west, it's the west in arms. And therefore, you know, you need to look at, at the whole role of the west historically and currently in world of affairs. Medea or, or Richard, do you wanna come in on that?
Richard Falk (00:36:32):
Can I make just a quick comment on NATO? I think one of the tragedies of the present is that NATO survived the end of the Cold War. It was really a Cold War relic and should have been disbanded. And we would have an entirely different world situation had that happened. And why it didn't happen, you know, and the Kosovo war was partly justified as a way of showing that NATO was needed even in a post-Cold War world. And that really distorted its initial pattern of justification. And I think we should revisit that failure to end NATO as part of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of any justification for needing a defensive alliance of this sort for the protection of Europe.
Medea Benjamin (00:37:42):
Can I just add there that the present situation has so strengthened NATO that even countries like Finland and Sweden are considering applying to NATO. And so instead of getting what the world needs, which is a disbanding of NATO,w we are getting a reinforced NATO with a lot more money that all of the NATO countries will be spending. And I want to go back to something that has been mentioned here, that would be a terrible escalation of NATO and particularly the US role which is the No-Fly zone. And I think we're at a very dangerous moment right now where Biden and his advisors understand just how dangerous it would be to implement or try to implement a no-fly zone. And knowing that, that would mean that the US and NATO countries would have to be ready to shoot down Russian airplanes and how it would get them directly involved in the war with Russia.
But the correlation of forces is a difficult one right now, because even though the White House is saying, no, we don't want to go there. There is a clamor. It's an interesting division. There are a number of heavyweights in the former generals and, and others who came out and said, now is the time for a nofly zone. There are members of Congress like Adam Kinzinger, the Republican who is saying now is the time for no-fly zone. There are others that are saying all options must be on the table. It is interesting that we have voices of reason coming from strange places like Senator Marco Rubio, or Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veterans herself, both saying that this would lay the foundations for world war III.
But what I'm hearing right now is a call for a limited no-fly zone. So they're trying to make it more specific. And this is such a slippery slope, which is why it is so important right now for us to be contacting the White House, contacting our Congress-people and saying no to this direct involvement of a no-fly zone. Because if those voices from Ukraine likes Zelensky, who is seen as the modern-day hero and getting standing ovations when he addressed the the, the British members of parliament: he is pushing for this. And I think there is just a lot of pressure on the White House right now. So that is something that scares me very much, Just as the efforts right now to get these MiG jets into Ukraine from Poland and the kind of behind-the-scenes trading of these weapons that are going on to make that happen...
So my hope is that the talks that are going to be happening tomorrow in Turkey which is the highest level of talks will actually push us in another direction. And Richard, when you're talking about Putin calling for this to sort of be the end of the unipolar world I guess he was thinking of Russia being in there, but what has really actually happened is giving more weight to China. And there is now the calls coming from many quarters for China to be the peacemaker in this. Of course, we've heard of about the offering of services from Israel and Saudi Arabia as peacekeepers. And I have to laugh at those offers, but I wouldn't put down the offer or the possibility of China. And I think that would give China tremendous prestige on the global scale that would go along with its incredible power as an economic force that has already been challenging the United States.
Russia is losing in all of this; no matter how it ends up, Russia is a loser. They're going to lose economically to tremendously by all of the money being spent on this, all of the sanctions that will be very hard to undo even if this war ends quickly, and in terms of just global prestige. So I do hope that there is some significant efforts underway inside Russia to hold Putin accountable for what he has done, because it will really affect Russia for many years to come.
Richard Falk (00:43:02):
Medea, can you imagine Washington accepting China as a mediating power, precisely for the reasons you suggest that it would give them greatly enhanced geopolitical stature to do so?
Medea Benjamin (00:43:19):
Yeah, it would be very difficult to see the US agreeing to that. On the other hand, I do think there is a lot of fear in the White House about where this could go and an understanding that while Biden has gotten a bump in the polls from the way he is seen as handling this that people don't wanna pay 4, 5, 6, $7 at the gas pump for gas. And that will have an impact in the poles as well. So I think that there is some desperation going on to figure out how to bring this to a close in a way that will not-- that will of course, you know, hurt Russia-- but will not take us into a wider war.
Marjorie Cohn (00:44:07):
It is very interesting to see the role that China has played because on the opening day of the Olympics, or right before the Olympics opened, Xi and Putin met and issued a statement, basically a very mutually supportive statement, and and the Security Council resolution that Russia vetoed was not vetoed by China, China abstained. And that is because it was crafted in a way to get support from China, taking it, taking the resolution out of Chapter Seven of the UN charter, which has to do with ordering military force and, and putting it under Chapter Six, which is non-military force. The US has moved very deliberately from fighting this so-called global war on terror, which it used as an excuse to kill millions of people, torture thousands of people you know, really take away many of our civil liberties, et cetera, moving toward countering Russia and China.
And so I think that, that Richard does-- I think that both Medea and Richard have very important points here. China could play an important role in terms of being a negotiator with what's happening and Zelensky is open, at least it was reported by ABC, that Zelensky has cooled down regarding NATO membership, and he's open to discussions about control of the Russian-backed separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine. He's open to that. So I, I think that we should not be overly pessimistic about the prospects for diplomacy. I think China has an important role to play, but Russia is going to have to see a much more balanced settlement, diplomatic settlement than has been seen already in the failed Security Council resolution and the General Assembly resolution that did go through.
And that would have to include a ceasefire, withdrawal, humanitarian aid. But also NATA would have to immediately cease its its provocations, no more military buildup, and the base in Poland, a hundred miles from the border of of Russia should not be opened. And interestingly I don't know how many people get the hard copy of the New York Times, but since that was reported that, that American military base a hundred miles from Russia on the front page of the New York times on February 21st, it there's been radio silence about it in the corporate media and almost no mention of it in the alternative media. And yet I think it is the elephant in the room; it's emblematic of the way Russia is feeling surrounded and threatened.
Helena Cobban (00:47:23):
So I just want to come back to what we discussed actually in our session on Monday where we did discuss the prospect of a Chinese mediating role with Ambassador Freeman and, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. And what we came up with was the idea that yes, China is in a unique position to do this, but maybe couldn't do it on its own without some kind of support from either the UN or the EU. But undoubtedly China has a new form of soft power in the world, which I'm hoping will become more relevant over the coming decades than raw military hard power. But, you know, nothing is guaranteed at this point.
And just one point about the no-fly zone going back to what Medea was saying you know, I think you just need to talk to the people of Libya about the way that the US and NATO exceeded the mandate they were given by the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone. And they went for complete regime change and wrecked the entire country with no accountability, nobody being held accountable for those terrible decisions made by Hillary Clinton and others. So I think whenever we're talking about no fly zone and Code Pink has been doing a great job of doing this, do mention Libya because that, that that's kind of the object lesson.
Now we do have a couple of questions here. Oh, one person is asking, Donald Smith is asking, how can we draw attention to US responsibility for the crisis without leaving ourselves open to being accused of being Putin apologists? Maybe for you, Medea?
Medea Benjamin (00:49:25):
Well, that is a very difficult thing. That's what you know, I was trying to get across when we ask people to mobilize in the streets or go to Congress. It's a position that has to be very clearly stated from the beginning that we are absolutely opposed to the invasion and we call for Russian troops out. I think without starting from there nobody's going to listen to us and then moving from there to talk about not only the great historical summary that Marjorie gave us but also talking about why that's important today, because there will be no negotiated solution that Russia will agree to, if it doesn't include the issues, not only about Ukraine not getting into NATO, but also about the way that NATO has so much taken over so much of those-- the countries that are close to the Eastern border.
So I think we have to just keep those two things together. And it is important when we talk to members of Congress that the NATO, the NATO responsibility is included because I'm already seeing, in fact, there was a piece in the New York Times that came out yesterday that talked about how people who are running for office now are starting to backtrack from positions they might have once held being more in the peace camp. But now being attacked so much by mostly the media, I would say, they are strengthening their support for NATO, strengthening their support for a very robust and growing Pentagon budget. And so we have to be the counterweight to that. If we want to be both relevant and stick to our positions about this world being way, way, way too militarized
Helena Cobban (00:51:46):
Yeah. It's a difficult thing to do, but I mean, many of us were attacked for being Saddam supporters back in the day or Hamas supporters. You know, if you, if you criticize a US war, you're gonna have all kinds of shit thrown at you. Pardon the French. Merde, I guess. So we have another question here from Kevin Gribroek (I'm sorry if I mangled your name) who says, it seems as if people on both the left and right want to avoid the issue of the neo-Nazi factor in Russia's decision to invade. Does either of you have something to say about that?
Marjorie Cohn (00:52:30):
Yes, there were documented neo-Nazi forces that participated in the 2014 coup and have continued, and are now part of the Ukrainian military to which the United States is giving, you know, huge amounts of, of support. And this is something that Putin has talked about and is poo-poo-ed in the corporate media, but I want to refer people to FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which is a very important source, which analyzes the corporate media, the alternate media, and, and is clear-eyed and is very independent. And they have-- FAIR, F-A-I-R-- have documented these neo-Nazi forces. I'm not saying that neo-Nazis control the entire Ukrainian government, but there is a significant significant presence of neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine. And that's what Putin is referring to.
Medea Benjamin (00:53:36):
I just wrote a piece about this that I'm going to share in the chat, if it's okay. That came out to day and we go through the history of the US support for these neo-Nazi groups. And the conclusion is one I think is important because we compare it to what happened with US support for Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria 10 years ago, and how we have ISIS today. And we end up saying, we shouldn't be surprised if the US alliance with these neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine, including the infusion of billions of dollars in sophisticated weapons, results in the future in some similarly violent blowback.
Helena Cobban (00:54:29):
Yes. And Max Blumenthal has a piece at the Grayzone recently in which he specifically looked at how Zelensky, who is being, you know, presented as one of the world's two Jewish heads of, of state or government, how it was that Zelensky did a deal with the neo-Nazis early in his term. So I think all of that is useful background. I think Richard may have left us. He told us he had to, I hope he might come back, but just for all of you out there who are not seeing him on the screen right now, he may or may not come back, but... he told us he would have to leave a little early. Anyway. one last question here I'd like to ask why is a democratic country like the United States imprisoning the publisher, Julian Assange, well it's technically being done in England, but it's at the behest of our Democratic Party president and his attorney general: why is that happening? And if so, why aren't the media letting the American people know what is going on? Take it away.
Marjorie Cohn (00:55:36):
I would like to answer that if I may. In 2010 Wiki leagues and Julian Assange had the gall to release information that they had received from whistleblower Chelsea Manning that documented US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan Guantanamo. And that is the basis for the charges now, the indictment against Julian Assange in the United States. When the Obama looked-- the Obama administration, which prosecuted more whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined-- convened a secret grand jury and considered indicting Julian Assange. they decided not to because of what has been, become known as the New York Times problem, because WikiLeaks didn't do anything different than what the New York Times, the Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Le Monde did, which was to publish this information, which is what investigative journalism does. And so Obama didn't indict him. Along comes Donald Trump and Pompeo was very upset about what happened in 2017, which was the WikiLeaks publication of secret CIA files about how they're surveilling and, and secretly [using] electronic surveillance against us.
So Pompeo was very upset and that led to a secret indictment of Julian Assange and calls for his extradition to the United States. But instead of following the policy of his good friend, Barack, whom Biden likes to attach his coattails to frequently, Biden continued Trump's attempt to get Julian Assange extradited to the United States. And there's an appeal now of denial of extradition that is being pursued by Biden. Julian Assange, as I said, is facing 175 years in prison for publishing that evidence of US war crimes. And yet we see, and as the, the questioner said, almost no coverage at all of Julian Assange in the corporate media. We see coverage in other countries, we see coverage in the alternative media. But we see almost no coverage in the corporate media. And I urge people to go to AssangeDefense org which is the premier organization in the US that is leading the fight to free Julian Assange.
And it's not just this one man whose future is at stake, who is in very, very frail health, thanks to his abuse and psychological torture suffered in incarceration. But also the very future of investigative journalism, of national security journalism, of the First Amendment, right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. That's what's at stake here. So I think it's, it's really critical that we support Julian Assange and put pressure in any way we can on our government to dismiss the extradition request, dismiss the appeal, and let him go free, and then commend him for his heroism and bravery.
Helena Cobban (00:58:54):
Thank you so much. That was so eloquent and true. I'm afraid that our--
Medea Benjamin (00:59:03):
I was just gonna add one thing is that, you know, we see the importance of leaks now in this issue around Ukraine, when we see the leaked phone call from Victoria Nuland to the us ambassador to Ukraine, when she's plotting, who's gonna be the next head of Ukraine. You know, without that kind of information, we don't know the machinations of our government behind the scene, and it makes it very difficult to understand the politics. And so these kinds of leaks are absolutely essential.
And I also just wanna add that the media has been so bad in the United States in all of this. I feel like the media is egging on the White House, is egging on the politicians, is really pushing: Why aren't you doing more? Why aren't you doing more? Why aren't you cutting off all trade with Russia? Why aren't you sending them [the Ukrainians], the real weapons that they need? Why aren't you creating this no-fly zone and it does such a disservice to the complexity of this issue. And almost never do I hear the media saying why aren't you Biden pushing harder for negotiations? Why aren't you calling upon this leader or that leader, or the other to convince Putin to sit down and get serious about talks? You don't see that kind of questioning. And so when you see the State of the Union and you hear Biden there's not a word about, "and I'm gonna do everything I can right now to make sure that negotiations happen right away, and that they're successful, and that there is going to be a ceasefire." No. So I would say, you know, this is so related to Julian Assange and, and how much he did to educate us about the US roles in Iraq and Afghanistan and how much we need not only WikiLeaks, but whistleblowers to help us understand and try to affect our own government's policies.
Helena Cobban (01:01:11):
Yeah, I think just on the media thing, you know, if we go back to 2003 and remember the role of the New York Times and many of its journalists and editors in just like egging on the campaign to invade Iraq. And where did that lead us? Where did that lead, you know, the American people or the Iraqi people or world peace? You know, this totally belligerent kind of America-first journalism is not actually journalism as I practiced it for many years. I'm afraid that we are coming to the end of our time here. We've got a lot more to talk about. So we're glad that we're going to continue to have two sessions per week with a revolving cast of guests here in this project through March 28th. And we hope our present guests will drop back in, as you are able. Attendees can find details of the whole upcoming schedule at our website, www.justworldeducational.org.
Next Monday, we're gonna have Bill Fletcher, Jr., who's a veteran African-American workers' rights and anti-war activist. And hopefully Eric Sperling, who was supposed to be with us today, or one of his colleagues we are not quite sure, and we have some more great guests. You can find details of all of them, if you go to the link that's on the front page of our website you will also find a donate button on our website. All of this stuff, pulling together, these wonderful people does cost a bit of money. Not that we're paying our guests, I have to say, so thank you for coming without honoraria or anything else, but just behind the scenes, you know, we do have bills to pay and such. And also for attendees as you leave the webinar, there will be an exit poll, and we really would like it if you could fill that out because the exit poll helps us plan our, our programming going forward. So now it's sort of a bittersweet moment for me to have to say goodbye to Marjorie Cohn and Medea Benjamin. Both of you have just really helped us all understand these issues a whole lot better. If either of you has last three words to say: What should people do after they've left this webinar?
Medea Benjamin (01:03:40):
I would encourage you to sign up at Codepink.org, if you're not members, because every week we have a new action. We keep really up to the minute on what's going on and give you some good direction in terms of what you can do to work for peace. And thank you so much for for this opportunity. Marjorie Cohn (01:04:01): And to quote the great Joe Hill three words, you said, "Don't mourn, organize!" And that means anything you can do: letters to the editor, peg them to a news story or an op-ed, keep them under 150 words. If yours doesn't get published, others from the same perspective will because they count up the letters. Call, write, email, text, barrage, your congressional representatives, the White House, and tell them exactly what is going on and try to, to blunt some of that very one sided coverage in, I don't wanna say the media, it's not the media because we are also part of the media. It's the corporate media. It's not the alternative media, it's the corporate media and we have to continue to refer to it as such, because there are many people such as Medea and I who work in the alternative media who are getting the truth out. So don't mourn, organize!
Helena Cobban (01:04:59):
Thank you both very much and see you and all the attendees again, soon, I hope.
Prof. Richard Falk
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