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Pacific Rim Report No. 33, March 2004
An American Tragedy
A Conversation with Chalmers Johnson, conducted by Patrick Lloyd Hatcher


Chalmers Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, a non-profit research and public affairs organization devoted to public education concerning Japan and international relations in the Pacific. He taught for thirty years, 1962-1992, at the Berkeley and San Diego campuses of the University of California and held endowed chairs in Asian politics at both of them. At Berkeley he served as chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies and as chairman of the Department of Political Science. His B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in economics and political science are all from the University of California, Berkeley.

He first visited Japan in 1953 as a U.S. Navy officer and has lived and worked there with his wife, the anthropologist Sheila K. Johnson, every year between 1961 and 1998. Chalmers Johnson has been honored with fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Guggenheim Foundation; and in 1976 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has written numerous articles and reviews and some sixteen books, including Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power on the Chinese revolution, An Instance of Treason on Japan's most famous spy, Revolutionary Change on the theory of violent protest movements, and MITI and the Japanese Miracle on Japanese economic development. This last-named book laid the foundation for the 'revisionist' school of writers on Japan and because of it the Japanese press dubbed him the 'Godfather of revisionism.'

He was chairman of the academic advisory committee for the PBS television series "The Pacific Century," and he played a prominent role in the PBS "Frontline" documentary, "Losing the War with Japan." Both won Emmy awards. His most recent books are Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000) and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which was published by Metropolitan in January 2004. Blowback won the 2001 American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation.

Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, is a Kiriyama Distinguished Fellow at USF's Center for the Pacific Rim and a defense specialist. He authored The Suicide of an Elite: American Internationalists in Vietnam (Stanford, 1990).

We gratefully acknowledge The Koret Foundation whose generous support helped underwrite this event, and the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim that has made possible the publication of this issue of Pacific Rim Report.

Patrick Lloyd Hatcher (Hatcher): Chal, you say we have an empire. A rather famous man from Chicago, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, says we don't. Why are you right, and why is he wrong?

Chalmers Johnson (Johnson): The Department of Defense (DOD) acknowledges in its Base Structure Report 725 military bases in other peoples' countries. I think the military base has become the modern equivalent of the colony. They are spread from Greenland to Australia, from Japan to Latin America. One of the things that led to my writing Blowback was a visit to Okinawa in 1996 when I was invited by the then governor of the island, Ota Masahide, a former professor. This was in the wake of the incident on September 4, 1995, in which two US marines and a sailor from Camp Hansen abducted, beat, and raped a 12-year-old girl. It led to the largest demonstrations against the United States in Japan since the two countries signed their Security Treaty [in 1960]. We have been in Okinawa since 1945, with today 38 bases on an island smaller than Kauai, with 1.3 million people living around our troops. My first reaction visiting Okinawa was that this problem was exceptional, we just needed some new policies there. As a result of study of some of the other bases I concluded that no, it was typical. The only thing that is unusual about Okinawa is the large concentration of bases.

I should mention that when the DOD says there are 725 bases they leave out all the espionage bases that are secret. For example RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire [England] is the largest single espionage base that we run on earth. It monitors every single email, telephone, and fax that crosses the Atlantic. We also omit from the Base Structure Report all the other British bases which are disguised as Royal Air Force bases although there are no British troops on them. The report also omits all the bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the fourteen permanent bases being built in Iraq, and the three bases in Israel, which are hyper-secret. So, the total number of US bases in other peoples' countries probably rounds out to about 1000. These are lucrative spots for the military-industrial complex and they are not terribly uncomfortable for the people who live on them. This is the 'base world'--enclosed, with a special culture almost unknown to the American public, and unimaginably expensive. Colonel Hatcher once wrote a piece called Base-mania which pretty well describes that.

So, my answer to 'Rummy' Rumsfeld is that he is just plain wrong. That is to say, the DOD is not a 'department of defense' but an alternative seat of government that sits on the south bank of the Potomac River. Forty percent of its budget is secret so even if the Congress were honest, they couldn't possibly do oversight on it.  

Hatcher: So our new empire is basically made up of a large number of military and espionage bases. I don't think the audience knows very much about these bases, though, so why don't we take up one that you discuss in the book. Tell us about Camp Bondsteel, where it is located, and what it is like.

Johnson: Bondsteel is really one of the important US bases although it is not even mentioned in the Base Structure Report. The Army likes to say that there are only two man-made objects on earth that you can see from outer space; one is the Great Wall of China and the other is Camp Bondsteel. It was built in 1999, the most expensive base we have built since the Vietnam War, and built by Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. It is in southeastern Kosovo, that is, the Albanian enclave in Serbia, and allegedly we are in that area for peacekeeping purposes. You couldn't conceivably need a base of this sort for peacekeeping purposes, particularly when Bill Clinton, who put us there, said we would only stay for six months and then George Bush ran on a platform that we would not remain there. Why are we there? It is part of the military-petroleum complex. It lies directly astride the path of the planned pipeline that would bring oil from Central Asia, across the Black Sea, through Bulgaria and the Balkans and would exit through Albania into the Adriatic Sea.

Bondsteel is quite an amazing place. The soldiers there don't do KP ('kitchen patrol') anymore, they don't clean latrines; it is not like Army service used to be. All of these services are now supplied by Kellogg Brown and Root, and it is an extremely lucrative business for them.

Hatcher: Now that you've mentioned Bondsteel in such detail, a place where you can get a café latte or go to Burger King, you also mentioned Mr. Clinton. So apparently Democrats as well as Republicans have built this empire?

Johnson: Oh, no question about it! The empire in its formal sense goes back to the Spanish-American War, when we began to acquire places like the Philippines and Puerto Rico. The huge base complexes in Germany, Japan, Okinawa, and Italy of course derive from World War II. Once we acquire such places we almost never give them up. And we expand our system of bases with every war, except in the case of Vietnam, where we actually lost our bases. Since we lost the Vietnam War a few people--the Greeks, the Spaniards, and the Filipinos--took this as a sign of our decline and started getting rid of the American presence in their countries.

The empire has indeed been building for a long time. I think that the critical development is, though, the disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991 and our erroneous conclusion that we had won the Cold War, and that in some sense we had become a 'new Rome' as [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz has put it. We were now the colossus athwart the world; we could do anything and we didn't need friends; our watchword became that of the ancient Romans--"it matters not if they love us, so long as they fear us." Wolfowitz was writing this in 1992 before the first Bush administration lost power. It certainly is the view of the people who have come into power, particularly in the Pentagon, with the arrival of Bush 43, that is, the 43rd president.

I argue in Sorrows of Empire that actually Bill Clinton was the more skilled imperialist than the younger George Bush simply because he tended to disguise our growing empire under the rubrics of 'humanitarian intervention', and above all of 'globalization', whereas in the case of Bush he has not disguised his intent at all. He has made it clear to everyone that "we are coming after you." Between him and Cheney they have identified between 50 and 60 countries they would like to subject to regime change by the use of military force and this has probably done more to lead to nuclear proliferation than anything that one could imagine. I think it is now recognized throughout the Third World that what was wrong with Saddam Hussein was that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Had he had them, we would have been a lot more cautious. The North Koreans do have them and we have been a lot more prudent in dealing with them.

Hatcher: You brought up Paul Wolfowitz. Why don't we look at him for a minute. He is also a Ph.D., from a very great institution, the University of Chicago, and a very bright man. He is very honest in his approach; he says that the US ought to be running the world, that we would bring that world a decent amount of law and a decent amount of order. What is wrong with that argument?

Johnson: Well, it is illegitimate, above all. It is selective. Humanitarian intervention can be used as a justification, and indeed there are cases where the use of force is required to save human lives. The main point is who decides to do it. If we decide on our own, then it is not humanitarian intervention but imperialism. That is the technical term for it, when we intervene whenever we feel like it.

Moreover, as a professor of international relations I would say that one of the oldest traditions in international relations is the argument that the international order is by definition unstable. The issue is whether the instability affects your country or not. We have now intervened in Iraq in the name of those things that Wolfowitz mentions in such a way that we are trapped and can neither stay nor leave. If we stay, the casualties will continue to mount. Just this last week [January 19, 2004] they topped 500, which is the largest number of combat deaths since the Vietnam war, and they have continued to accelerate since that time. On the other hand, if we leave the country explodes into civil war and destabilizes not just Iraq but very possibly all of the Middle East. Therefore the United States will undoubtedly stay until it is forced out with its tail between its legs.

Hatcher: So your point is that Paul Wolfowitz and his colleagues made a wrong turn there, because you apparently would agree that if the United Nations had decided to intervene, things would have gone differently.

Johnson: Yes. It seems to me that this is precisely the issue: all of the serious attempts to develop international law, in which we have been at the forefront of since World War II, have demanded that there be legitimacy, moral acceptability, and an understanding among very diverse countries of what it is going on. In the case of Iraq, our government has demonstrated unbelievable ignorance about the nature of the country and about what the place would look like without Saddam Hussein.   I urge you, when you think of Iraq, to think of Stalin's Russia. Russia today is a much smaller place than the former Soviet Union was when it fell apart; it is a much smaller country with a GDP the size of the Netherlands. What held the larger version of it together was a very draconian, authoritarian figure.

Saddam, of course, was at one time in the CIA's computers as an asset of ours. We know he had weapons of mass destruction because we have the receipts. We armed him throughout the 1980s to fight Iran, and the messenger who delivered the stuff was Donald Rumsfeld, who was there in the days of Saddam's famous gassing of his own people, to which Rumsfeld had no objections until 20 years later.

Hatcher: Well, Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post doesn't agree with you. He thinks that unilateralism on the part of the United States has released our energy to do good with our tremendous military and economic power, and that unilateralism gets rid of those things that frustrate the ability of Americans to step forward and take a leadership position. I assume you do not agree with him.

Johnson: It seems to me that we were taking a leadership position throughout the period since the end of World War II. In the attempt to build an edifice of international law among diverse cultures--I mean genuinely diverse cultures--we did not previously have a president who invoked Matthew [12:30] "He that is not with me is against me," although interestingly, Lenin used to invoke this passage, too.

The other thing that you can say is that the overstretch of the empire of bases leads inevitably to militarism. Militarism is not defense of the country. Militarism is the corporate interest of the people in the military establishment. There has been no obligation to serve in the armed forces of the United States since 1973. The people who do it today do so as a career choice. When Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was wounded at Nasiriyah, was asked by one of the major news anchors why she joined the army, she said that she joined because she couldn't get a job at Wal-Mart in Palestine, West Virginia. I am not trying to be crude about it, but these are career decisions pure and simple.

Today in Atlanta if you want to be a police officer you need some college credits to take the police exam. If you are a veteran, this requirement is waved. Any number of young men think that being a police officer is an attractive job; if they join the army, once they get out they can take the police exam. But of course these people do not expect to be shot at. I live in San Diego and the latest scandal down there is 'green card marines'--recruiters crossing the border and telling young Mexican boys they will get a green card if they join the Marine Corps. They are then used in the front lines as those that shoot and get shot at. If they are killed--and many are--they are made US citizens posthumously. I see that the US has also been trying to recruit Eskimos in northern Canada.

You have to hustle to put together a volunteer army. In another couple of months 40% of the troops in Iraq will be either National Guard or reservists. The Army is over-stretched right now and we are waiting to see how further recruitment goes as the enlistments of current soldiers run out.

The militarism I am talking about goes beyond politics. I myself am convinced today that no matter who is president--and I believe that George Bush is in the process of defeating himself--he cannot exercise full control over the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, or the military industrial complex. Gorbachev tried to dismantle the Cold War apparatus in Russia in 1991, and he was stopped cold by vested interests in Russia's Cold War system. I believe that these vested interests are even stronger in the United States today. The largest munitions maker on earth, Lockheed Martin, had a profitability rate of well over 30% last year. When war gets that profitable, you are going to see more of it, and nobody is going to stop it. The politically well-connected capitalist in recent times has been in either the petroleum business or in international telecoms, but right now he is in the war business.

Hatcher: You are very hard on Ronald Reagan in your book. You criticize him for his decisions, both for the tilt towards Iraq in the 1980s when there was an Iran-Iraq war, and also for arming what he called the freedom fighters in Afghanistan. However, at the time all that Mr. Reagan could have known was that Iran seemed to be the greater danger and that its overrunning of Iraq would have been bad for US interests, so he tilted toward Iraq and gave them intelligence. In the case of Afghanistan he did not favor the Soviet army being there, and so he thought it was worthwhile helping those who wanted to fight against the Soviets. Some of those he helped turned out to be bad people, but should Mr. Reagan have known that by some process of precognition?

Johnson: These are perfectly legitimate questions but again, they assume that it is our business to interfere wherever these things go on. Let's talk just for a moment about Iran.

'Blowback' as a CIA term meaning 'payback' or 'retaliation' was first used in the after-action report on the overthrow of [Iranian premier Dr. Mohammad] Mossadeq in 1953, the first clandestine operation we ever carried out, for the sake of the British Petroleum Company. We declared Mossadeq to be a communist even though the pope would have been more likely to have fit that label. We replaced him with a repressive figure, Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was then overthrown in the Islamist revolution of 1979 by the ayatollahs who held our embassy staff in Tehran prisoner for over a year. Saddam Hussein, who had just come to power in that same year in Iraq, then went to war with Iran, both to distract Iraqis from what he was doing in his own country, and also to pursue his belief that the ayatollahs sat very lightly in the saddle and could be easily overthrown. Above all, he wanted to prevent the Islamicist revolution from spreading from Iran to the Shiite population in Iraq. In a very short time, however, the Iranians were instead defeating Saddam.

This is when we decided that the Iranians, whom we now saw as enemies because they had humiliated us in 1979, should not be allowed to win. We began to supply arms to Iraq through numerous clandestine routes--the so-called agricultural aid we sent to Sad-dam Hussein was mostly rockets and things of that sort. President Reagan sent Rumsfeld twice to Iraq to discuss these issues with Saddam. The State Department removed Iraq from the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations because if we hadn't done that it would have made it very difficult to continue supplying arms and intelligence to him. The Iran-Iraq war was unimaginably bloody, but by 1988 both parties had exhausted themselves. Given these circumstances, it seems to me that we have trouble now calling Saddam Hussein a 'bad guy, as he has been dubbed by the President.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, 'blowback' does not mean simply 'retaliation'. It means retaliation for actions carried out by our government against other people that were kept secret from the American public, thereby making it impossible for us to understand or put in context the retaliation when it comes. Two days after 9/11 the President asked, "Why do they hate us?" Well the people who could have explained it to him--Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Armitage, etc.--were all standing right next to him! These are the people who ran the largest clandestine operation we ever mounted-- the recruiting, training, and arming of Islamic freedom fighters from around the world to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This is when Osama bin Laden became an ally of ours. Bin Laden comes from a very wealthy Saudi Arabian construction family. He is the kind of person you would more commonly encounter on the ski slopes of Gstadt with a blond woman on his arm, or as a house guest at [the Bush family home at] Kennebunkport [Maine]. However, he was a devout Muslim, and joined the adventurous operation in Afghanistan to protect an Islamic country from the Soviet invasion. The CIA built the training camps at Khost where bin Laden trained the mujahideen. That is why we were able to attack them in 1998; we knew where they were because we had built them.

All this was well known to people in our government. Instead, the president declared that we were the victims of 'evil doers'. We didn't ask the most basic forensic question: what were the motives of the (mostly) Saudi Arabians hijackers who on 9/11 had flown airliners into New York's twin towers? Had you begun to inquire into their motives you would have ultimately come to the conclusion that some extremely high-ranking officials of the American government were at least partially responsible for the deaths of 3,000 of their fellow citizens. Did it serve our interests to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, supplying the mujahideen with virtually unlimited numbers of shoulder-held surface-to-air missile launchers? We have now so thoroughly contaminated the world with these that it is merely a matter of time before a 747 on its final approach into LAX is hit by one launched from the 405 Freeway.

The relevant euphemism, which the Department of Defense is so brilliant in coming up with now, is "mission myopia": we concentrated on a particular job but didn't look ahead to the unintended consequences that would develop down the road. What developed In Afghanistan was that once the Soviet Union was defeated in 1988 and withdrew--a withdrawal that contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991--we simply walked away. Our Islamist allies understood that our sole interest in them had been as cannon fodder against the Soviets. Afghanistan declined into a savage civil war and by 1992 Kabul looked like Hiroshima. Our eventual candidate to win the civil war was the Taliban, and we were indifferent to their serious human rights defects. The leaders of the Taliban were religious fundamentalists, and although the order they brought to Afghanistan was appropriate to about the 13th century, it was more than people had gotten during the civil war. There was one more thing that we wanted: an oil and gas pipeline from Tajikistan, across Afghanistan, emptying into the Arabian Sea though Pakistan, for the sake of the Union Oil Company of California. (It was only recently that we were told we had invaded Afghanistan to liberate Afghani women!) A remarkable group of Americans was being paid off in this oil development operation, including Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and many others. Baker Botts LLP, Baker's Texas law firm, has several attorneys in an office in Baku, Azerbaijan. I have been in Baku and I can tell you there is not much ordinary legal work there, but I also swam in the Caspian Sea and can confirm that it has a slightly oily quality to it.

Of course people have rationalized our activities in Afghanistan. We claim that we started to recruit the mujahideen only after the Soviet Union had actually invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979, in order to shore up a faltering pro-Soviet regime there. But we now have verification from [Robert] Gates, who was deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s, and from Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's National Security Advisor, that the so-called 'finding' (a decision that sets a CIA clandestine operation into motion) was actually signed by Carter in July of 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, in order to elicit a Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In a famous interview in the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski was asked about this and whether he felt bad about it all and he said that the defeat of the Soviet Union was ultimately more important than a few mad Muslims--something he might well regret by now. But Brzezinski is also a Polish nationalist, and he was very pleased with the way the Cold War turned out.

What I am saying here is that there is no such thing as clean hands. We used Afghanistan as a place to test a lot of weapons including the Stinger missile, which was first used there and which proved to be much better than the old Soviet SA-7 in bringing down an airplane. We were looking for something to shoot down Soviet 'Hind' helicopter gunships which were murderous on the mujahideen. We found it but we are now getting it aimed back against our helicopters in Iraq--same weapon, used many of the same people, a good literal example of 'blowback'.

The Islamist fighters in Afghanistan were outraged by what happened to their country and first attacked us at the World Trade Center in 1993. They did so again in 2001. Osama bin Laden was also outraged by the fact that in 1991 we had stationed troops in Saudi Arabia, allegedly to protect the ruling House of Fahd. He regarded this an insult to his religion because the Saudi king is responsible for the protection of the two most sacred sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina Bin Laden did not believe that infidels were needed to do this. I agree with him on that. Moreover, even if you did believe that US military force was needed there, we chose the wrong sort. We have 13 carrier task forces, and Saudi Arabia is surrounded by water. It would have been far easier to use some of these naval forces instead of putting troops on the ground at Prince Sultan Airbase.

Hatcher: When you started out at Berkeley as a young undergraduate you studied economics. There is an economist who writes in the New York Times, Paul Krugman, who suggests that this new empire of ours is going to cost a lot of money. Is he right?

Johnson: I think there is no doubt about it. I conclude my book by talking about four 'sorrows of empire' that, it seems to me, are now well established. First is 'perpetual war'. The president and the vice-president have identified, as I said earlier, between 50 and 60 targets. The second sorrow is 'the end of the republic'. The Constitution is in grave danger at the present time. Foe example, James Madison, by far the most important author of the Constitution, argued after it was ratified that the single most important clause was that the right to go to war was restricted and reserved to the elected representatives of the people; it should never be entrusted to a single man as it was too great a responsibility. Yet in October, 2002, our Congress voted to give that right to a single man, to use when he felt like it, including the use of nuclear weapons, and the following March he used it in a unilateral attack on Iraq. Similarly, Articles Four and Six of the Bill of Rights are, as we sit here talking, dead letters. That is, you do not have the right of habeas corpus, and you are not free from searches and seizures in your home without probable cause being established before a judge even if you are a native-born citizen. We will see how the Supreme Court deals with those issues as the cases come before it.

The third sorrow is 'lying'. There is a tendency by the government to lie to the public on various subjects, and there are many examples that I go into in my book. But perhaps the most obvious was the Secretary of State on February 5, 2003, speaking to the United Nations Security Council, with the Director of Central Intelligence sitting directly behind him, so as to add credibility. Colin Powell also tried to re-enact Adlai Stevenson's performance in the same room in 1962 when he brought in the U-2 pictures of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. We now know that everything Colin Powell said that day was a tissue of lies and as a result, no well-educated person can believe a word the Secretary of State has to say.

The fourth sorrow is the one you and Paul Krugman have alluded to: 'bankruptcy'. When I see where the national deficits are going at the present time I am reminded of Herbert Stein, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, who once said that things that can't go on forever, don't. Well, that is what we have today: expenditures that can't go on much longer. Even if everyone in the country is prepared to kiss off the Constitution--which sometimes I think they are--I guarantee you that bankruptcy is going to create a crisis, and it could happen tomorrow.

Hatcher: It is interesting what you said about the Supreme Court. I would like you to comment on this statement by the Chief Justice [William Rehnquist]: "In war the law speaks with a muted voice."

Johnson: In Korematsu v. the United States in 1944 [320US760] Justice [Felix] Frankfurter made the same point, arguing that there is nothing in the Constitution that can oblige the United States to lose a war. At the same time a much more distinguished jurist, Justice [Robert] Jackson, said that guilt is not inheritable. If you think there are citizens of Japanese ancestry in this country who are disloyal, that is what we have the FBI for; to go out and build a case against them. Jackson maintained you couldn't arrest every Japanese-American simply because you were in a war with Japan.

I think the danger in using Rehnquist's argument is, first of all, who says we are in a war? The president has invented this 'war on terrorism', but it is really something like the 'war on drugs', or a metaphor. There has been no declaration of war, and terrorism is not an object of war, it is a technique of war.

The thing that worries   me more is that [Vice-President Richard] Cheney and [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia, who are good friends, recently spent a week together shooting birds in Louisiana. There is a good deal of discussion in the Washington Post gossip columns on what they probably talked about. The most probable version is that the vice-president said to Scalia, "You would like to be Chief Justice, wouldn't you?" And Scalia said, "Yes, I would." And the vice president said, "If we don't get re-elected, you won't be. And if you mishandle the Guantánamo detainee cases, we might not get re-elected." That is the sort of thing that may be out there--a quid pro quo of the worst possible sort. It will be interesting to see if this Supreme Court, which appointed the current president to office, can now deal with the issues posed by the unintended consequences of Bush's actions.

Hatcher: Some of the people in this room probably thought that Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld was trying out for the comedy hour when he said that people must have misunderstood him when he talks about Europe because he means the 'new' Europe, not the 'old' Europe. And then suddenly we realized it wasn't comedy time. For instance, today apparently the Pentagon considers Bulgaria (and not France and Germany) our closest European ally. What's up in Bulgaria, Chalmers?

Johnson: Well, it is interesting that they are talking about moving the 70,000 troops and unbelievable numbers of buildings now in Germany to places like Romania and Bulgaria. This may be 'new' Europe, but it is also poor Europe. There is simply insufficient infrastructure there. A very pleasant lieutenant colonel In Germany pointed out the other day there was no place to put all these people in Constanta, Romania, or at Burgos Airport in Bulgaria, which we are the first foreigners to occupy since the German Luftwaffe used it in World War II. The US High Command has also said that no matter what troops are taken out of Germany, headquarters will remain there. The generals are not going to Romania. They want to stay close to the armed forces ski resort at Garmisch in the Bavarian alps, and other places like that. What is going on here, concretely, is not whether we can afford to move the bases in Germany to Bulgaria and Romania,   but the fact that Bulgaria and Romania have much less stringent environmental standards than Germany's. I don't expect to see any of these moves to happen very rapidly despite [Under Secretary of Defense for Policy] Douglas Feith's enthusiasm for this. There is no question that the Romanians and the Bulgarians are eager to see us come there. They did help us in refueling during the attack phase of the war in Iraq, and we are building bases there as we talk.

In fact there is a huge expansion of bases going on all over the world in preparation for implementing George Bush's preemptive war strategy, which requires that we move much closer than we are right now to what the administration is calling the 'arc of instability'--a phrase that basically means the old Third World. We are building a lot of bases and the ones in the 'new' Europe ones are part of this.

Hatcher: Some of the people in this room probably thought that Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld was trying out for the comedy hour when he said that people must have misunderstood him when he talks about Europe because he means the 'new' Europe, not the 'old' Europe. And then suddenly we realized it wasn't comedy time. For instance, today apparently the Pentagon considers Bulgaria (and not France and Germany) our closest European ally. What's up in Bulgaria, Chalmers?

Johnson: Well, it is interesting that they are talking about moving the 70,000 troops and unbelievable numbers of buildings now in Germany to places like Romania and Bulgaria. This may be 'new' Europe, but it is also poor Europe. There is simply insufficient infrastructure there. A very pleasant lieutenant colonel In Germany pointed out the other day there was no place to put all these people in Constanta, Romania, or at Burgos Airport in Bulgaria, which we are the first foreigners to occupy since the German Luftwaffe used it in World War II. The US High Command has also said that no matter what troops are taken out of Germany, headquarters will remain there. The generals are not going to Romania. They want to stay close to the armed forces ski resort at Garmisch in the Bavarian alps, and other places like that. What is going on here, concretely, is not whether we can afford to move the bases in Germany to Bulgaria and Romania,   but the fact that Bulgaria and Romania have much less stringent environmental standards than Germany's. I don't expect to see any of these moves to happen very rapidly despite [Under Secretary of Defense for Policy] Douglas Feith's enthusiasm for this. There is no question that the Romanians and the Bulgarians are eager to see us come there. They did help us in refueling during the attack phase of the war in Iraq, and we are building bases there as we talk.

In fact there is a huge expansion of bases going on all over the world in preparation for implementing George Bush's preemptive war strategy, which requires that we move much closer than we are right now to what the administration is calling the 'arc of instability'--a phrase that basically means the old Third World. We are building a lot of bases and the ones in the 'new' Europe ones are part of this.

Hatcher: It is also true that Bulgaria is closer to the Middle East, which is the place that these new bases seem designed to form an arc around. A colleague of yours at Harvard, Samuel Huntington, once wrote a very controversial book about a 'clash of civilizations'. Do you think this is actually what is happening to the American people, that they are being dragged into a kind of anti-Islamic military venture?

Johnson: I think to a certain extent the administration would like to turn it into a 'clash of civilizations' because it then becomes a matter of ineluctable forces facing each other, not 'blowback' from our secret actions during and after the Cold War. However, I don't believe it for a minute. I think the terrorists have very concrete grievances. We also know for certain that it is a mistake to use a high-tech military force like ours to try and eliminate terrorists, and that this makes the situation worse. Between 1993 and 2001, including the attacks of 9/11, Al Qaeda carried out five major bombings around the world. Since then, in two years, down to and including the HSBC bank and the British consulate in Istanbul in November 2003, they have carried out 17. In Rumsfeld's 'long hard slog' memo of last October he said we lacked a 'metric'--meaning a 'measure'--of our success against terrorism. Well, we have a metric, and we are losing.

Hatcher: Let us assume that the next man in the White House is the senator from Massachusetts and that he has to face all these issues. Mr. Kerry says, "All right, Chalmers, I believe everything you say, but we are still stuck. What should I do?"

Johnson: Reconstruct a Constitutional foreign policy. This means, among other things, enabling the Congress to exercise genuine oversight over the Department of Defense and the intelligence agencies, declassifying everything they do except for true operational details, ending the encroachments of the uniformed military on the civilian formulation and administration of our foreign policy, abolishing the system of regional military commands that have usurped the roles of our ambassadors, terminating the Department of Defense's 'black budget' and publicizing details of the intelligence agencies' budgets, enforcing the anti-trust laws against the military-industrial complex, and firing any secretary of defense who again claims the right personally to decide what citizens or foreigners are covered by the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners and civilians. These items are just a start.   

What appalls me is the degree to which the Democratic Party, even after Howard Dean came out and attacked the president over the war, has offered no alternative military strategy. They have not offered the kind of budget that we ought to have, the kind of constitutional foreign policy we should be carrying out, or policies to bring the intelligence agencies under control. I strongly suspect that the Democrats won't be able to do anything because you can't do oversight on organizations whose budgets you cannot access. Congress cannot get access to the budgets of the intelligence agencies or for 40% of the Defense Department. Yet the Constitution puts in its first clause [Art. I, Sec. 9, Cl. 7] that what makes this a democracy and gives the power of the purse to Congress is that the people are to expect   honest, straightforward, regular reports of the way in which their money has been spent. This has not been the case in the United States since World War II. The Manhattan Project started it; how much money was spent on those atomic bombs remains secret to this day. So, I don't believe that Mr. Kerry will succeed much beyond where we are today al-though he will mess around with the armed forces a little bit. What I truly fear is that the Pentagon is out of control.

I recently wrote a little piece comparing the decline of the Roman republic (i.e., the events that ensued after 44 BC and the killing of Julius Caesar in the senate) and the decline of the American republic. The study of history would suggest to us that a republic that inadvertently acquires an empire, as Rome did and as we have, soon discovers the unavoidable consequences of the militarism that accompanies an empire. The most common is the rise of a military populist--that is, of a Caesar, a Napoleon Bonaparte, a Juan Perón--a figure who represents the increasing interests and grievances of the "legionnaires", of the people who do the fighting out on the edges of the empire. The quid pro quo for such a figure is that he becomes "dictator for life."

Two weeks after I wrote this General Wesley Clark entered the Democratic race for president. Then a couple of weeks after that, former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks comes out and says that "one more terrorist incident in this country and we'll have to take over."

Hatcher: Chalmers, I have spent many a wonderful weekend at your house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, the elegant northern suburb of San Diego, and we have often talked about the fact that you are a "former Naval person," that you served in the US Navy as an officer. Now I can see you sitting down there as a huge aircraft carrier steams into view and turns around so that it is facing in the right direction. An airplane lands on its deck. Can you tell us how you felt at that moment and what went through your mind?

Johnson: On May 1, 2003, the USS Abraham Lincoln, in sight of San Diego harbor but with the cameras so positioned that it appeared to be out to sea, saw the president pretend to land a combat plane on its flight deck; and he then gave his most triumphalist speech ever.

I mention here as an aside that many will recall the famous propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl to celebrate the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934. The opening scenes are of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in his Fokker transport. When I saw President Bush landing on the Abraham Lincoln in his flight suit , I thought, "beware of egomaniacs that arrive by air."

My chief subsequent thought on this event was that probably May 1st was the turning point, when the onset of the decline and fall of the United States began. Since then it has been all downhill. We are bogged down in Iraq, and Afghanistan is well on its way to back toward the status it held before 9/11 as a breeding ground for terrorists and the world's largest opium producer.

President Bush has refused to pursue the policies of either the last administration or of all previous American administrations of trying to achieve an equitable agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has led to the fact that we now have absolutely no credibility in any Islamic country. And we are greatly endangering the future stability of Israel, as one hears repeatedly from Israeli newspapers like Ha'aretz that regard the settlements on the West Bank as a cancer destroying Israeli society. Meanwhile, we have had one of the worst jobless recovery in postwar history. All the jobs so far have gone into temporary work, health, and education; both the latter now being squeezed by budget cuts.

At the same time, China grew in 2003 at a rate of 9.1%. At Cancun in September we saw the emergence of the Group of 20, led by South Africa, China, India, and Brazil, which was founded to confront the US over the mistreatment of poor countries. I urge you to read the speech by Arundhati Roy at the end of the World Social Forum that just concluded in Bombay. She calls her speech, "Are the Turkeys Happy with Thanksgiving?" The author of The God of Small Things makes important points that no one else dares say but then once she's said them they become common knowledge and everyone accepts them. What she is really talking about here is the ceremony at which the president every year pardons one turkey and sends him off to live a happy on a farm while we eat the rest. She believes that this is the model for the way we select special elites from the Third World to serve our government. She refers to Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and herself, as "honorary turkeys" who do not get eaten because they have been taken up and pardoned by the president.

I bring this up because the 10 million people who publicly opposed the war on Iraq last year have not disappeared; they are still out there and in my view the rise of an anti-Bush peace movement of these proportions almost adds up to a new superpower slowly preparing to check the imperial juggernaut of the United States.

Hatcher: Since there are members of the Japan Society here I would like to hear your views on the fact that the Japanese prime minister and government are under pressure to send troops to Iraq and therefore make it more of a multi-national effort. What should the Japanese prime minister do?

Johnson: The Japanese have not offered much resistance to this pressure as they are one of our most secure satellites. Every Japanese prime minister, when he comes to power, the first thing he does is get on an airplane and report to Washington. Raymond Aron once referred to the leaders of the of the Soviet Union's satellites in Eastern Europe as "shameless mediocrities" and I have always thought that this was a pretty good description of the leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, too. They don't have to send troops to Iraq. I can almost predict that Japan will appear in Osama bin Laden's next tape. He is going to say, "You asked for it, baby. We can get you in Japan, we can get you in southern Iraq, we can try going after your embassies and consulates elsewhere." What is particularly tragic about this, though, is that it is being done without any reform of the Japanese constitution's Article 9, which prohibits these activities, suggesting that Japan is simply lawless.

But, indeed, Japan has been pressured quite heavily by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to add to the 'coalition of the paid off' and to join the war in Iraq. I am sure they will regret it. The reaction in Japan when the first Self-Defense Forces troops are killed will be severe. And they didn't have to do it any more than the British or the Australians had to join our 'might makes right' foreign policy. One of the absolute certain consequences for Britain is that it has lost its influence on the Continent for decades to come, if not forever.

Hatcher: I have three very easy questions from the audience: Are you preparing to be transported to Guantánamo Bay sometime soon? You didn't mention the Project for the New American Century, is that still an active entity? What sort of review did your book get in the Wall Street Journal?

Johnson: Actually I haven't been reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, although I can hardly believe that I got a nice review from the San Diego Union which is, after all, a Pentagon handout disguised as a newspaper....

Your other question is whether or not I should be intimidated by the thought of Guantánamo Bay. I don't think so. I think I am actually rather invulnerable, or so my former graduate students argue to me, saying "If you won't do anything, don't expect us to," their point being that I have already lived twice as long as Mozart. Moreover, often people ask me what should an individual do? Well, in America one of the things I think that does need to be done is to mobilize inattentive citizens who simply cannot get the news from our media. This is because entertainment conglomerates control the media, making it very difficult for people to be well informed. Very few of them know about the need to read antiwar.com every day, or to read the UK Guardian, or the Independent, or things of that sort to give you another view of the world. One of the things that I have done is to write books, but whether I should be singled out I rather doubt. My book is published in a series that Holt and Metropolitan Books have started called 'The American Empire Project'.

As for how I came to my current views, it was basically because of what happened after the demise of the Soviet Union. I regarded the Soviet Union as a genuine menace and when it disappeared in 1991--and it genuinely disappeared--I expected the traditional American response to the end of such a contest: a retrenchment, a closing of overseas military bases, and a peace dividend. Instead the U.S. government did everything in its power to shore up old Cold War structures and protect the interests of the military-industrial complex. Wolfowitz and company sought to find a replacement for the Soviet Union, which led to the creation of their "Project for the New American Century" (PNAC), which you mentioned in your question.

I felt that a very serious issue in my field had arisen. Was the Cold War a cover for something more basic, namely an American imperial project that had been going on since World War II? I have come to the conclusion that yes, that is the case. For example, there was nothing more convenient for American imperialism in Latin America than Fidel Castro. He allowed us to cloak our traditional imperialist activities in an anti-communist agenda.

The PNAC is a group of so-called 'neo-conservatives'--you all recognize the names of Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and people like that, including Rumsfeld and Cheney, and perhaps even Condoleezza Rice judging from some of the things she has been involved with.  

When the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 Gen. Brent Scowcroft, [President George H.W.] Bush's national security advisor, asked for serious work at the Pentagon on how to reduce the size of the military establishment after its raison d'être had suddenly collapsed. Wolfowitz was in charge of writing this report and he produced a piece in 1992 describing a 'Pax Americana'. In it he says it must be American policy to maintain absolute military hegemony over every nation on earth. The report, when it first appeared, was discredited. The people who were involved in writing it, however, as they left office during the Clinton administration, started this lobby called the Project for the New American Century. They have their own web site (www.newamericancentury.org) where you can read their documents and see what they have in mind.

The point is that the PNAC still exists and it is now enormously influential. I think one of the great distinctions between the first and second Bush administrations is that all of these people served in the first, but they were never that influential. Gen. Scowcroft as National Security Adviser kept them under control. The distinction is that in the second Bush administration they are out of control.

 

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