Chalmers Johnson: "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic"
Chalmers Johnson: "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic"
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with the former CIA consultant, distinguished scholar, best-selling author, Chalmers Johnson. He's just published a new book. It's called Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. It's the last volume in his trilogy, which began with Blowback, went onto The Sorrows of Empire. In those two, Johnson argued American clandestine and military activity has led to unintended but direct disaster here in the
Chalmers Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of revenge, the punisher of hubris and arrogance in human beings. You may recall she is the one that led Narcissus to the pond and showed him his reflection, and he dove in and drowned. I chose the title, because it seems to me that she's present in our country right now, just waiting to make her -- to carry out her divine mission.
By the subtitle, I really do mean it. This is not just hype to sell books -- â€œThe Last Days of the
Iâ€™ve spent some time in the book talking about an alternative, namely that of the British Empire after World War II, in which it made the decision, not perfectly executed by any manner of means, but nonetheless made the decision to give up its empire in order to keep its democracy. It became apparent to the British quite late in the game that they could keep the jewel in their crown,
As I say, they didn't do it perfectly. There were tremendous atavistic fallbacks in the 1950s in the Anglo, French, Israeli attack on
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, you connect the breakdown of constitutional government with militarism.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the signs of the breakdown of constitutional government and how it links?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, yes. Militarism is the -- what the social side has called the â€œintervening variable,â€ the causative connection. That is to say, to maintain an empire requires a very large standing army, huge expenditures on arms that leads to a military-industrial complex, and generally speaking, a vicious cycle sets up of interests that lead to perpetual series of wars.
It goes back to probably the earliest warning ever delivered to us by our first president, George Washington, in his famous farewell address. Itâ€™s read at the opening of every new session of Congress.
It seems to me that this is also the same warning that Dwight Eisenhower gave in his famous farewell address of 1961, in which he, in quite vituperative language, quite undiplomatic language -- one ought to go back and read Eisenhower. He was truly alarmed when he spoke of the rise of a large arms industry that was beyond supervision, that was not under effective control of the interests of the military-industrial complex, a phrase that he coined. We know from his writings that he intended to say a military-industrial-congressional complex. He was warned off from going that far. But it's in that sense that I believe the nexus -- or, that is, the incompatibility between domestic democracy and foreign imperialism comes into being.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was he warned by?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Members of Congress. Republican memb--
AMY GOODMAN: And why were they opposed?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, they did not want to have their oversight abilities impugned. They weren't carrying them out very well. You must also say that Eisenhower was -- I think he's been overly praised for this. It was a heroic statement, but at the same time, he was the butcher of
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. We'll come back to him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we return to my interview with Chalmers Johnson -- his new book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic -- I asked him to talk about the expansion of
CHALMERS JOHNSON: According to the official count right now -- it's something called the Base Structure Report, which is an unclassified Pentagon inventory of real property owned around the world and the cost it would take to replace it -- there are right now 737 American military bases on every continent, in well over 130 countries. Some apologists from the Pentagon like to say, well, this is false, that we're counting Marine guards at embassies. I guarantee you that it's simply stupid. We don't have anything like 737 American embassies abroad, and all of these are genuine military bases with all of the problems that that involves.
In the southernmost
I first went to Okinawa in 1996. I was invited by then-Governor Ota in the wake of the rape incident. Iâ€™ve devoted my life to the study of Japan, but like many Japanese, many Japanese specialists, I had never been in Okinawa. I was shocked by what I saw. It was the British Raj. It was like Soviet troops living in East Germany, more comfortable than they would be back at, say, Oceanside, California, next door to Camp Pendleton. And it was a scandal in every sense. My first reaction -- Iâ€™ve not made a secret of it -- that I was, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, certainly a Cold Warrior. My first explanation was that this is simply off the beaten track, that people don't come down here and report it. As I began to study the network of bases around the world and the incidents that have gone with them and the military coups that have brought about regime change and governments that we approve of, I began to realize that Okinawa was not unusual; it was, unfortunately, typical.
These bases, as I say, are spread everywhere. The most recent manifestation of the American military empire is the decision by the Pentagon now, with presidential approval, of course, to create another regional command in Africa. This may either be at the base that we have in Djibouti at the Horn of Africa. It may well be in the Gulf of Guinea, where we are prospecting for oil, and the Navy would very much like to put ourselves there. It is not at all clear that we should have any form of American military presence in Africa, but we're going to have an enlarged one.
Invariably, remember what this means. Imperialism is a form of tyranny. It never rules through consent of the governed. It doesn't ask for the consent of the governed. We talk about the spread of democracy, but we're talking about the spread of democracy at the point of an assault rifle. That's a contradiction in terms. It doesn't work. Any self-respecting person being democratized in this manner starts thinking of retaliation. Nemesis becomes appropriate.
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, there have been major protests against US military bases. Recently in Vicenza in Italy, about 100,000 people protested. Ecuador announced that it would close the Manta Air Base, the military base there. What about the response, the resistance to this web of bases around the world?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, there is a genuine resistance and has been for a long time. As I say, in the case of Okinawa, there's been at least three different historical revolts against the American presence. There's collaboration between the Japanese government and the Pentagon to use this island, which is a Japanese version of Puerto Rico. It's a place that's always been discriminated against. It's the Japanese way of having their cake and eating it, too. They like the alliance with America, but they do not want American soldiers based anywhere near the citizens of mainland Japan. So they essentially dump them or quarantine them off into this island, where the population pays the cost.
This is true, what's going on in Italy right now, where there is tremendous resistance to the CIA rendition cases. That is, kidnapping people that we've identified and flying them secretly to countries where we know they will be tortured. There's right now something like twenty-five CIA officers by name who are under indictment by the Italian government for felonies committed by agents of the United States in Italy. And, indeed, we just did have these major demonstrations in Vicenza. The people there believe that with the enlargement of the base that is already there -- I mean, this is, after all, the old Palladian city, a city of great and famous architecture, that they would become a target of terrorism, of numerous other things.
We see the resistance in the form of Prime Minister Zapatero in Spain, that he promised the people that after he came to power, he would get out of Iraq, and he was one of the few who did deliver, who does remember that if democracy means anything, it means that public opinion matters, though in an awful lot of countries, it doesn't actually seem to be the case. But he has reduced radically the American military presence in Spain.
And it continues around the world. There is a growing irritation at the American colossus athwart the world, using its military muscle to do as it pleases. We see it right now, that people of the Persian Gulf are not being asked whether or not they want anywhere between two and four huge carrier task forces in the fifth fleet in CENTCOMâ€™s navy in the Persian Gulf, and all of which looks like preparation for an assault on Iran. We don't know that for certain by any manner of means, but there's plenty enough to make us suspicious.
Then you look back historically, probably there is no more anti-American democracy on earth than Greece. They will never forgive us for bringing to power the Greek colonels the in the late â€™60s and early â€™70s, and, of course, also establishing then numerous American military enclaves in Greece until the colonels themselves finally self-destructed by simply going too far.
And the cases are ubiquitous in Latin America, in Africa today. Probably still the most important area, of course, of military imperialism is the opening up of southern Eurasia, after it became available to foreign imperialistic pressure with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many important observers who have resigned their commissions from the Pentagon have made the case that the fundamental explanation for the war in Iraq was precisely to make it the new -- to replace the two old pillars of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The first pillar, Iran, collapsed, of course, with the revolution in 1979 against the Shah, who we had installed in power. The second pillar, Saudi Arabia, had become less and less useful to us, because of our own bungling. We put forces, military forces, ground forces, an air force, in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in 1991. This was unnecessary, it was stupid, it was arrogant. It caused antagonism among numerous patriotic Saudis, not least of whom, one was our former asset and colleague, Osama bin Laden -- that Saudi Arabia is charged with the defense of the two most sacred sites in Islam: Mecca and Medina. We ought to be able to do this ourselves without using infidel troops that know absolutely nothing about our religion, our country, our lifestyle, or anything else. Over time, the Saudis began to restrict the use of Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh. We actually closed down our major operations headquarters there just before the invasion of Iraq and moved it to Qatar.
And then we chose Iraq as the second most oil-rich country on earth, and as a place perfectly suited for our presence. I think many people have commented on it, Seymour Hersh notably, but I think, importantly, one of the reasons we had no exit plan from Iraq is that we didn't intend to leave. And certainly the evidence of it is the now series of at least five very, very large, heavily reinforced, long double runways, five air bases in Iraq, strategically located all over the country. You can never get our ambassador, the Department of Defense, the President, or anybody to say unequivocally we don't intend to have bases there. It's a subject on which Congress never, ever opens its mouth. Occasionally, military officers -- the commander of Air Force in CENTCOM has repeatedly, in his sort of off-hand way, when asked, â€œHow long do you think we'll be here?â€ and he usually says, â€œOh, at least a decade in these bases.â€ And then, we continue to reinforce them.
Now, then, weâ€™ve tried to build bases in Central Asia in the Caspian Basin oil-rich countries that were made independent -- not in any sense democracies -- made independent by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. We have now been thrown out of one of them for too much heavy-handed interference. And the price of our stay in Kyrgyzstan has quadrupled, much more than that actually. Itâ€™s gone from a few million dollars to well over $100 million. But we continue to play these games, and they are games, and the game is property called imperialism.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Chalmers Johnson. Now, Chalmers Johnson, you were a consultant for the CIA for a period through Richard Nixon, starting with Johnson in 1967, right through 1973. And Iâ€™m wondering how you see its use has changed. You talk about, and you write in your book about the Central Intelligence Agency, the president's private army.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: I say, at one point, we will never know peace until we abolish it, or, at any rate, restrict what is the monster that it's grown into. The National Security Act of 1947 lists five functions. It creates the Central Intelligence Agency. It lists five functions for it. The purpose, above all, was to prevent surprise attack, to prevent a recurrence of the attack, such as the one at Pearl Harbor. Of these five functions, four are various forms of information-gathering through open sources, espionage, signals intelligence, things of this sort. The fifth is simply a catchall, that the CIA will do anything that the National Security Council, namely the foreign affairs bureaucracy in the White House attached directly to the president orders it to do.
That's turned out to be the tail that wags the dog. Intelligence is not taken all that seriously. It's not that good. My function inside the agency in the late â€™60s, early â€™70s was in the Office of National Estimates. My wife used to ask me at times, â€œWhy are they so highly classified?â€ And I said, â€œWell, probably and mostly, simply because theyâ€™re the very best we can do, and they read like a sort of lowbrow foreign affairs article.â€ They're not full of great technical detail and certainty nothing on sources of intelligence.
But as the agency developed over time, and as it was made clear to the president, every president since Truman, made clear to them shortly after they were inaugurated, you have at your disposal a private army. It is totally secret. There is no form of oversight. There was no form of congressional oversight until the late 1970s, and it proved to be incompetent in the face of Iran-Contra and things like that. He can do anything you want to with it. You could order assassinations. You could order governments overthrown. You could order economies subverted that seemed to get in our way. You could instruct Latin American military officers in state terrorism. You can carry out extraordinary renditions and order the torture of people, despite the fact that it is a clear violation of American law and carries the death penalty if the torture victim should die, and they commonly do in the case of renditions to places like Egypt.
No president since Truman, once told that he has this power, has ever failed to use it. That became the route of rapid advancement within the CIA, dirty tricks, clandestine activities, the carrying out of the president's orders to overthrow somebody, starting -- the first one was the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. Itâ€™s from that, the After Action Report, which has only recently been declassified, that the word â€œblowbackâ€ that I used in the first of my three books on American foreign policy, that's where the word â€œblowbackâ€ comes from. It means retaliation for clandestine activities carried out abroad.
But these clandestine activities also have one other caveat on them: they are kept totally secret from the American public, so that when the retaliation does come, they're unable ever to put it in context, to see it in cause-and-effect terms. They usually lash out against the alleged perpetrators, usually simply inaugurating another cycle of blowback. The best example is easily 9/11 in 2001, which was clearly blowback for the largest clandestine operation we ever carried out, namely the recruiting, arming and sending into battle of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. But this is the way the CIA has evolved.
It's been responsible for the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and bringing to power probably the most odious dictator on either side in the Cold War, namely General Augusto Pinochet; the installation of the Greek colonels in the late â€˜60s and early â€™70s in Greece; the coups, one after another, in numerous Latin American countries, all under the cover of avoiding Soviet imperialism carried out by Fidel Castro, when the real purpose was to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company, and continued to exploit the extremely poor and essentially defenseless people of Central America.
The list is endless. The overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia, the bringing to power of General Suharto, then the elimination of General Suharto when he got on our nerves. It has a distinctly Roman quality to it. And this is why I -- moreover, there is no effective oversight. There are a few, often crooked congressmen, like Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who are charged with oversight. When Charlie Wilson, the congressman, long-sitting congressman from the Second District of Texas, was named chairman of the House Intelligence Oversight Committee during the Afghan period, he wrote at once to his pals in the CIA, â€œThe fox is in the henhouse. Gentlemen, do anything you want to.â€
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson has just finished his trilogy. The first was Blowback, then Sorrows of Empire, now Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. We'll be back with the conclusion of the interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the conclusion of my interview with Chalmers Johnson. Professor Johnson is a noted expert on Asia politics. He has authored a number of books on the Chinese revolution, on Japanese economic development. In his thirty years in the University of California system, Johnson served as chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. I asked him to talk about China's role as a growing world power.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Iâ€™m optimistic about China. I think that they have shown a remarkable movement toward moderation. I believe that the public supports them, because they've done something that the public wanted done and was extremely fearful about, namely the dismantling of a Leninist economy without reducing the conditions that occurred in Yeltsin's Russia, that China has -- itâ€™s unleashed its fantastic growth potential and is moving ahead with great power and insight.
There are many things that we do not like in the way this is developing, particularly the fear of China by the American neoconservatives. They have no alternative but to adjust to this. It's the same kind of adjustment that should have been made in the 20th century to the rise of new sources of power in Germany, in Russia, in Japan. The failure by the sated English-speaking powers -- above all, England and the United States -- to adjust led to savage and essentially worthless wars. But the Americans are again continuing to harp on China's growth, where, in fact, Iâ€™ve been impressed with the ease with which China has adjusted to the interests of countries that do not necessarily like China at all -- Indonesia, for example, Vietnam.
They are contiguously egging on the Japanese to be antagonistic toward China, which was the scene of their greatest war crimes during World War II, for which they have never adequately either responded or paid compensation. I wonder what foolishness is this. A war with China would have the same -- it would have the same configuration as the Vietnam War. We would certainly lose it.
The glue, the political glue of China today, the source of its legitimacy, is increasingly Chinese nationalism, which is passionately held. As the Hong Kong joke has it, China just had a couple of bad centuries, and it's back.
We have not been watching it with quite the hawk eyes we were during the first months of the Bush administration, when, after a spy incident in which the Chinese forced down one of our reconnaissance planes that was penetrating their coastal areas in an extremely aggressive manner -- if it had been a Chinese plane off of our coast, we would have shot it down; they simply forced it down, it was a loss of an airplane and one of their own pilots -- that, you'll recall, George Bush said on television that he would, if the Chinese ever menaced the island of Taiwan, he would use the full weight and force of the American military against China. This is insanity, genuine insanity. There's no way that -- I mean, if the Chinese defeated every single American, they'd still have 800 million of them left, and you simply have to adjust to that, not antagonize it, and I believe there's plenty of ample evidence that you can adjust to the Chinese.
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, in January, the Chinese launched their first anti-satellite test, and I wanted to segue into that to the militarization of space.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, precisely, I have a chapter in Nemesis that Iâ€™m extremely proud of called â€œThe Ultimate Imperialist Project: Outer Space.â€ It's about the congressional missile lobby, the fantastic waste of funds on things that we know don't work. But they're not intended to work. They're part of military Keynesianism, of maintaining our economy through military expenditures. They provide jobs in as many different constituencies as the military-industrial complex can place them.
We have arrogantly talked about full-spectrum dominance of control of the globe from outer space, the domination of the low and high orbits that are so necessary. We've all become so dependent upon them today for global positioning devices, telecommunications, mapping, weather forecasting, one thing after another. In fact, the Chinese, the Russians, the Europeans have been asking us repeatedly for decent international measures, international treaties, to prevent the weaponization of space, to prevent the growing catastrophe of orbiting debris that are extremely lethal to satellites, to -- as Sally Ride, one of the commanders of our space shuttle, she was in an incident in which a piece of paint, or in orbit -- that's at 17,000 miles an hour in low-earth orbit -- hit the windshield of the challenger and put a bad dent in it.
Now, if a piece of paint can do that, I hate to tell you what a lens cap or an old wrench or something like that -- so there's a whole bunch of them out there. At the Johnson Space Center, they keep a regular growing inventory of these old pieces of, some case, weaponry, some case, launch vehicles for satellites, things of this sort. They publish a very lovely little newsletter that talks about how a piece of an American space capsule from twenty years ago rear-ended a shot Chinese-launched vehicle and produced a few more debris. It's a catastrophe.
But instead, we've got -- there's no other word for it -- an arrogant, almost Roman, out-of-control Air Force that continues to serve the interests of the military-industrial complex, the space lobby, to build things that they know won't work.
AMY GOODMAN: What is a space Pearl Harbor?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: A space Pearl Harbor would mean, they believe, what the Chinese did in January, when they tested an anti-satellite weapon against one of their old and redundant satellites. Satellites do burn out. There's no way to repair them, so they simply shot it down with a rocket. This explosion produces massive amounts of debris, whizzing around the earth in low-earth orbit. If you put it higher into orbit, you would start killing off the main satellites on which, well, probably this television broadcast is going to depend on, too. And there's no way to ever get rid of things that are orbiting in high-earth orbit. Low-earth orbit, some of them will descend into the atmosphere and burn up.
But the Air Force has continuously used this so-called threat of our being blinded by -- because we have become so reliant on global positioning systems. Our so-called â€œsmart bombsâ€ depend on them, that weâ€™ve -- they're not very smart, and it's not as good a global positioning system as the peaceful one the Europeans are building called Galileo. They use it to say we must arm space, we must have anti-satellite weapons in space, we have rebuffed every effort to control this, and finding out the Chinese have called our bluff.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does Fort Greely, Alaska, fit into this, the silos?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, that is, there's three ways to shoot down an alleged incoming missile. This is the whole farce of whether there is a defense against a missile. I guarantee you there is no defense at all against the Topol-M, the Russian missile that goes into orbit extremely rapidly -- it goes into its arch extremely rapidly. It has a maneuvering ability that means that it's undetectable.
We're basically looking at very low-brow weapons that would be coming from a country like North Korea, in which we have three different ways of trying to intercept them. We used to only try to do with one under the Clinton administration. Under the enthusiasm of the current neoconservatives, we have three ways. One, on blastoff, this is extremely difficult to do, but we're trying to create a laser, carried in a Boeing 747, that would hit one. You've got to be virtually on top of the launch site in order to do so. Itâ€™s never worked. It probably doesn't work, and it's just expensive.
The much more common one would be to down the hostile missile, while it is in outer space, from having given up its launch vehicle and is now heading at very high speed toward the United States. This is what the interceptors that have been put in the ground at Fort Greely, Alaska, and a couple of them at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, are supposed to do. They have never once yet had a successful intercept. The radar is not there to actually track the allegedly hostile vehicle. As one senior Pentagon scientist said the other day, these are really essentially scarecrows, hoping that they would scare off the North Koreans.
This is a catastrophic misuse of resources against a small and failed communist state, North Korea. There is no easier thing on earth to detect than a hostile missile launch, and the proper approach to preventing that is deterrence. We have thought about it, worked on it, practiced it, studied it now for decades. The North Koreans have an excellent reputation for rationality. They know if they did launch such a vehicle at Japan or at the United States, they would disappear the next day in a retaliatory strike, and they don't do it.
It's why, in the case of Iran, the only logical thing to do is to learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. It's inevitable for a country now surrounded by nuclear powers -- the United States in the Persian Gulf, the Soviet Union, Israel, Pakistan and India. The Iranians are rationalists and recognize the only way you're ever going to dissuade people from using their nuclear power to intimidate us is a threat of retaliation. So we are developing our minimal deterrent, and we should learn to live with it.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Chalmers Johnson, you have just completed your trilogy. Your first book, Blowback, then Sorrows of Empire, and now finally Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. What is your prediction?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, I don't see any way out of it. I think it's gone too far. I think we are domestically too dependent on the military-industrial complex, that every time -- I mean, it's perfectly logical for any Secretary of Defense to try and close military bases that are redundant, that are useless, that are worn out, that go back to the Civil War. Any time he tries to do it, you produce an uproar in the surrounding community from newspapers, television, priests, local politicians: save our base.
The two mother hens of the Defense Facilities Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the people committed to taking care of our bases are easily Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Dianne Feinstein of California, the two states with the largest number of military bases, and those two senators would do anything in their power to keep them open. This is the insidious way in which the military-industrial complex has penetrated into our democracy and gravely weakened it, produced vested interests in what I call military Keynesianism, the use and manipulation of what is now three-quarters of a trillion dollars of the Defense budget, once you include all the other things that aren't included in just the single appropriation for the Department of Defense.
This is a -- it's out of control. We depend upon it, we like it, we live off of it. I cannot imagine any President of any party putting together the coalition of forces that could begin to break into these vested interests, any more than a Gorbachev was able to do it in his attempted reforms of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything, Chalmers, that gives you hope?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, that's exactly what we're doing this morning. That is, the only way -- you've got to reconstitute the constitutional system in America, or it is over. That is that empires -- once you go in the direction of empire, you ultimately lead to overstretch, bankruptcy, coalitions of nations hostile to your imperialism. We're well on that route.
The way that it might be stopped is by a mobilization of inattentive citizens. I don't know that that's going to happen. Iâ€™m extremely dubious, given the nature of conglomerate control of, say, the television networks in America for the sake of advertising revenue. We see Rupert Murdoch talking about buying a third of the Los Angeles Times. But, nonetheless, there is the internet, there is Amy Goodman, there are -- there's a lot more information than there was.
One of the things I have experienced in these three books is a much more receptive audience of alarmed Americans to Nemesis than to the previous two books, where there was considerable skepticism, so that one -- if we do see a renaissance of citizenship in America, then I believe we could recapture our government. If we continue politics as in the past, then I think there is no alternative but to say Nemesis is in the country, she's on the premises, and she is waiting to carry out her divine mission.
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, his new book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. It's the last volume in his Blowback trilogy, following the best-selling Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire.