Image: Nero and the Roman Senate
"Well, if you and I had been holding this conversation in 1985 and I had said to you in four years from now, the Soviet Union won't exist, you would have probably thought, 'this is not a reliable observer.' Well, it's gone." Chalmers Johnson in an Interview with Mark Riley of Air America Radio
Hard Rain Journal 6-10-07: Chalmers Johnson on George Washington, Ron Paul, the False Iraq-as-Korea Meme, & the Fall of the Roman & Soviet Empires
It was deeply disturbing to hear Sen. Hillary Clinton say, in a recent debate, that the people of the USA were safer today than they were before 9/11. That reich-wing talking point is an insult to everyone in the US intelligence and law enforcement communities who struggled to get the Bush-Cheney national insecurity team to focus on the imminent threat from Bin Laden and Al Qaeda before 9/11, including all of those who thwarted the Millennium Plot attacks in 2000, and especially John P. O'Neill, the FBI counterintelligence expert who quit in frustration and went on to die in the collapse of the WTC on that awful morning. It is also an insult to everyone in the US intelligence, law enforcement, military and diplomatic communities who struggled after 9/11 to prevent the Bush-Cheney national insecurity team from squandering the good will of the world, and doing the recruitment work of Al Qaeda and other extremist cults for them, by invading and occupying Iraq, torturing our prisoners, whipping up "holy war" on both sides, etc.
Another false and grotesque meme currently in circulation asserts that our occupation of Iraq is somehow similar or will become similar to our presence in South Korea over the last fifty plus years. It is meant to achieve this desired effect in our intellectually malnourished populace -- "Oh yeah, Korea, well, that turned out alright."
Although Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn would offer a very different narrative of the Korean war, let us, for the sake of argument, accept the conventional wisdom -- let us say that the Korean war was a UN sanctioned military campaign to thwart an invasion from the North. Well, the US-UK invasion of Iraq was undertaken in direction violation of the UN Charter. Furthermore, Korea had already been partitioned. Iraq was not partitioned when the invasion was launched, is not as of yet partitioned, and could not be partitioned without horrific ethnic cleansing. In Korea, the enemy was clearly defined. The North Korean government was a totalitarian regime, backed by the Soviet Union and Red China. In Iraq, there is only chaos -- the Sunnis and Shias are killing each other, and both sides are killing the men and women of the US military. There is both a civil war and an insurgncy against an occupying force going on simultaneously. There is no clear mission, there are no clear lines, there are no sides. It is madness.
Well, at least, the political establishment of Beltwayistan -- including Sen. Clinton and all those Democrats who voted for the authorization to use force in 2002 -- are finally coming clean -- the plan never was to leave, the plan was to stay there all along. Those who voted for that authorization didn't just vote out of political expediency, they voted for empire.
Here is a transcript I made of an Air America Radio interview with Chalmers Johnson.
Johnson is the author of the Blowback trilogy: Blowback: Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. (Buy Nemesis from Buzzflash!) He is also a retired professor of Asian Studies at the University of California (San Diego). From 1968 to 1972, he served as a consultant to the Office of National Estimates of the Central Intelligence Agency.
I post it here to underscore the importance of Air America as an alternative news and analysis resource to counteract the Kool-Aid being pumped out over the air waves; and to draw your attention to dissident scholars and writers, like Johnson, Gore Vidal, and others, who are maintaining the true timeline of our history, even as it is being erased -- before our eyes.
In this interview, conducted by Mark Riley on the Air Americans show, Johnson delivers a profound message that all of us must take in and share with our friends, family and colleagues -- before it is too late, if it is not already.
Remember, remember -- 2 + 2 still equals 4.
-- Richard Power
Marc Riley, Air America: I gotta tell you the title of your latest book is scaring the beejesus out of me. And I gotta tell you I have been here for three years now on Air America, and I have seen, in my judgment, this incremental erosion of American rights, American freedoms, and America's prestige and moral authority in the world. But when you say "the last days of the American republic," you really are scaring me.
Chalmers Johnson: OK. I intend to. I scare myself. It is not just hype to sell books. The truth of the matter is that we are very close to the edge. What this book is about is a fundamental issue in Western history; namely, that there is no more unstable combination than a country, like the United States today, that is a domestic democracy and a foreign empire. You can be one, you can be the other, you can be an imperialist power, you can be a democratic power, you can't be both. The great historical example is the Roman republic, which the founders of the United States largely emulated. It was the first great, large-scale example of democracy anywhere in the world. It succumbed to imperialism, and above all to the inescapable accompaniment of imperialism, militarism. By militarism, we mean standing armies, we mean the Military-Industrial Complex, we mean a way of life, we mean people serving for twenty years or more, all of those issues that very powerfully, very inescapably erode, as George Washington said in his famous farewell address -- "the great enemy of liberty is standing armies, and it is the particular enemy of republican liberty." What he meant by this is that it tends to erode and destroy the separation of powers -- built into our Constitution -- between the Legislative, the Judiciary and the Executive branches. [These are] co-equal branches that were intended to prevent the rise of a dictator, of a tyrant. Militarism tends to erode this by transferring power ineluctably almost irresistibly to the Executive, to the Imperial Presidency. Money flows from the States to Washington, D.C., eroding Federalism. Within Washington, D.C., power flows to the Presidency, taxes flow to the Presidency, and the power to invoke secrets flows to the Presidency. We have, today, a President who goes around saying, repeatedly, "I am the Decider." I have to say you cannot imagine a more unconstitutional remark than that. We don't have a "Decider." The theory behind our Constitution is three co-equal branches that don't necessarily agree with each other, and that the politicians' job is to reconcile them. If it can't be done, we don't get policy coming out. Policy is the result [of that reconciliation]. Now this is how the Roman Republic was created too. There were two Consuls. They could each veto what the other did. Until finally at the end, after the death of Julius Caesar, there came to power, figures who decided to that the military was the most important issue in society, they dominated everything, all of the money went for them, and everything else, then these figures said, "I will champion [the military's] interests rather than those of the democratic Roman republic. All I want in return is life dictatorship." That is what happened, and that was the end. Democracy did not return to Rome for well over a thousand years. Those were the Dark Ages. That is what we're toying with today, getting awfully close to it.
Riley: That serious?
Johnson: Yes, with Defense budgets that are now taking forty percent of every tax dollar. We are spending more on the military establishment than all other countries on Earth combined. Bankruptcy looms. We are increasingly dependent on the military for our economic well-being. We don't manufacture much in this country anymore. We have lost three million manufacturing jobs just since George W. Bush became President. But one of the things we certainly manufacture is weapons. We are the world's largest manufacturer of weapons and munitions. It is starting to crowd out the civilian economy. That is what we do in this country. And moreover, with the active collaboration of a Congress that seems to have totally forgotten what it is supposed to be doing there; namely, they are much more interested in getting lucrative contracts and things of that sort into their districts than they are about examining whether or not we need the world we live in.
Riley: Professor Johnson, you know, most Americans would reject the terms "imperialist" or "empire" when referring to this country. Why are they wrong?
Johnson: Well, they are wrong because what we are talking about here is an empire of military bases. They simply don't have the facts, and the press has almost totally failed them, by not providing them the information they need to play the citizen's role imagined in our society; namely, citizens that are capable of doing elementary oversight on their government. We have 770 US military bases located in over 130 countries around the world. That is by the official Pentagon count -- in the base structure report, and the annual inventory of this sort of thing. The actual number once you add in the espionage bases, the ones that are disguised because they are too embarrassing, the bases in England that are just disguised as Royal Air Force bases, things of this sort, the number could go up to 1,000. [...]
Riley: Professor Chalmers Johnson, I want to ask you about something, when you talk about this proliferation of military bases, we hear President Bush say that he envisions Iraq ending up looking an awful lot like South Korea has looked for the last fifty to sixty years, which means a continuing, ongoing American military presence. Shouldn't we be worried about that?
Johnson: Am I worried about? Moreover, it would really worry the Koreans. There is no country where we have been more closely involved that is more desperately anti-American than Korea is today, with 90 American military bases located around the area. And we have been unbelievably rude and stupid about it. Our headquarters has been in downtown Seoul for the last 50 years, located in territory that were the original base for Japanese colonialism in the country. It would be hard to think of a more rude and impudent symbol. But Americans are just plain insensitive. They go around saying to themselves, "We do good," and that settles that. Well, there are very few people on Earth who believe that, least of all the South Koreans.
Riley: Aren't we being told were doing good? Why shouldn't we buy it?
Johnson: Of course, we're being told that. But the public is ill-informed. They are not much interested in history. It is not well-taught to them. They do not know much about it. We just saw it with Congressman Paul from Texas, in the Republican debate on Fox News, with Rudy Guiliani, in which [Paul] said "There is a pre-history before 9/11 of Osama bin Laden, we worked with him in Afghanistan in the 1980s."... We build a base for him. The CIA knows exactly where it is, they built it. Then after we abandoned him, and the Soviet Union withdrew in 1988, and the country descended into one of the worst civil wars ever recorded, he and his people thought they had decent allies in America and then discovered the truth that they didn't, they got even. They attacked us in 1993. He attacked our Air Force base in Saudi Arabia in 1995. He attacked our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. He attacked the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden in 2000. For George Tenet or Condoleeza Rice or for that matter for our boy emperor to pretend that he wasn't still there, and coming, is simply absurd. These are grounds for impeachment.
Riley: Like I said in the beginning, you're scaring me, but what can we do to fix any of this?
Johnson: Well, that really is the big problem -- whether it is too late? I for one cannot imagine any American president of either party who could literally stand up to the vested interests of the military-industrial complex, the sixteen secret intelligence agencies, the huge interests of the military establishment itself. We have what you and I are trying to do right now on this program -- mobilize inattentive citizens to what they may be just about to lose, and if they lose it they will never get it back. It is called our republican form of government, and we have been warned, we had the first warning ever was George Washington's farewell address, it is after all still read in every new session of Congress, but then Dwight Eisenhower's warning of 1961, when he left office, and invented the phrase "military-industrial complex," and told us about what it would do. He said, sure we've had imperialism in the past, but never have we had imperialism aligned with a huge, secret, powerful defense industry, [which is] corrupt as you can get. Today it has gone so far that half of the things we do for the defense establishment are being privatized ... We have 125,000 private contractors in Iraq right now, that's enough to keep the war going if Congress pulled every soldier out. These are the sorts of things that are out of control. And when an empire starts to go, today, they go very rapidly, they go with the speed of Fed Ex. Well, if you and I had been holding this conversation in 1985 and I had said to you in four years from now, the Soviet Union won't exist, you would have probably thought, "this is not a reliable observer." Well, it's gone. Russia is today a much smaller country than the former Soviet Union and it succumbed to exactly the same things that are now starting to assail us: Imperial over-stretch? 737 bases that have nothing to do with national defense. They're a boondoggle, a fantastically expensive one. We could at most use 37 of them. Domestic economic rigidity and lose of efficiency? Well, we see this daily as we lose jobs, succumb to competition from East Asia, depend upon the Chinese and the Japanese to lend us money to maintain our lifestyle. Inability to reform? We went crazy after the Cold War, saying we had won it. No, we both lost it. It is just that they were always poorer than we were, and they went first. But we are getting awfully close to it right now.
Air America Radio, John P. O'Neill, Korea, Iraq, Cold War, Fall of the Roman Empire,Chalmers Johnson, Cheney, Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton, Bush, Al Qaeda, 9/11, Richard Power, Words of Power