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In this second part of the interview series with filmmaker and journalist Paul Jay, they assess Biden’s foreign policy since taking office. They also explore whether the fight for press freedom will continue if Julian Assange is extradited to the U.S., and why the national security state continues to pursue him despite the serious consequences for press freedom.
Thank you guys for tuning in to another episode of The Source. We are doing now part two with Paul Jay on U.S. foreign policy and Julian Assange. So in case you missed part one, make sure to go on our YouTube channel and click on part one because everything else that we’re going to talk about now is only going to make sense if you watch the first part. Paul Jay, thank you for joining us today.
Thanks very much.
In the last part, we focused on the rising threat of nuclear war with China and Russia. I want to take a step back and examine the bigger picture. How would you summarize [Joe] Biden’s foreign policy? You can also include China in this. Has it escalated with China, Iran, and Russia? How would you assess the situation at the moment?
Well, very dangerous. The United States is in a quandary. They don’t really know what to do. The big tech and finance desperately want at the Chinese market. The Chinese market is getting wealthier, and the consumer market is getting stronger and stronger. To be shut out of the Chinese market is unthinkable for sectors of American capital.
Other sections of the American economy— and this is where it gets contradictory because some of the ownership is the same in terms of the financial sector. But the military-industrial complex, they like all the tension with China, as I said in the earlier part; part one of our interview.
So there’s a lot of complicated processes going on. It’s not like there’s some grand cabal of leaders with a big rational plan. It’s very chaotic. It is not planned almost in any way. I mean, individually, the tech companies are well planned. Even the Pentagon has a plan, but they’re all at odds with each other. The overall economy and politics are really in chaos.
So in terms of the [Joe] Biden foreign policy, he hasn’t changed much from the [Donald] Trump foreign policy, in truth. I would say that he’s less aggressive on Iran, but he’s still holding to a lot of the sanctions or most of the sanctions on Iran. But at least they’re talking about the possibility of renewing the Iran agreement. That’s better than Trump.
I tend to believe [Mark] Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that Trump was actually seriously considering an attack on Iran as a kind of lead-up to the elections to create a rationale for, perhaps, not even having elections. I don’t think Milley quite went that far, but other people have suggested that or perhaps a rationale for not transferring power.
I think Trump was potentially more dangerous because he was also surrounded by people. Like at one time, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo; these are really dangerous. Some of them, Christian nationalists who actually like Pompeo, might even welcome the apocalypse.
I don’t know if Europeans, as crazy as Europe can get, I don’t know if they realize know-how nuts the United States is. From here, it makes Europe look sane, and I know you’re dealing with your own in Europe, the rise of fascism, fascist movements, I should say, and so on, and craziness in Eastern Europe. But, boy, I don’t think it holds a candle to what’s going on in the U.S. And given that the U.S. is the center of the capitalist world and has so many weapons at its disposal, it’s more dangerous.
So, there are contradictory processes going on, but that was true in the lead-up to World War II. There were lots of economic relations between Germany and the United States. As we know, General Motors, another auto manufacturer, was selling lots of vehicles to [Adolf] Hitler and even knowing he was militarizing.
So even if they knew they might go to war someday, and lots of Americans knew that it didn’t matter to them because war is profitable. So you make money in the lead-up to war. You make money during the war. Capitalism has been lurching from economic crisis to war since, what, the beginning of the 20th century? Has there been a decade where there hasn’t been either a major economic crisis or a major war? I’m not sure there’s been a decade.
Then go look at the American military. What exactly does this trillion dollars a year do for them? The classical left formation analysis, well, and it used to be true that imperialism uses its military power to secure raw materials and markets, and control the world as much as they can, and eventually, these countries bump into each other, and they fight. Of course, there’s still truth to that. But what exactly? This enormous military capacity of the United States, all the bases, all the aircraft carriers, all the air power, and so on, and so on. What the hell have they won?
Since World War II? They have lost. They didn’t win North Korea, which they really wanted to conquer and make part of the Western world. They lost that. They lost in Vietnam. They lost in Iraq. They lost in Afghanistan. Do you know where they won? Grenada. They don’t win major wars. The massive military footprint in Europe did not stop the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union never intended to invade Western Europe. What the hell would they do with it if they invaded? It’s impossible.
If direct invasion and colonization were really profitable; like is China going to invade Australia? Listen, if it was profitable to invade and colonize Australia, the Americans would have done it already. And they’re the ones that have the power. They can’t even invade Venezuela. How come they haven’t invaded and overthrown [Nicolás] Maduro? Oil. A government they hate. All the propaganda in the United States about how horrible he is. And by the way, I’m actually no Maduro fan myself, but not the way the Americans are. That being said, they can’t even invade Venezuela. Why? Because the Venezuelan people will rise up and fight them forever until they throw them the hell out. And there’s not enough money to be made out of invading Venezuela and fighting there because that’s the key to it. They don’t even care if they win wars.
It’s the process of the war itself that’s so profitable for the arms industries that you fight even if you know you’re going to lose. They knew they were going to lose Vietnam, but they fought for years. Why? Yes, partly oh, if we say we’ve lost, look at the prestige and strategic positioning we will lose. Don’t ever forget those phrases again. But they knew eventually they were going to lose. Why keep at it with millions of deaths of Vietnamese, and Cambodians, and Laotians? What is it, 55,000 deaths of American soldiers?
Money. Money-Making. Why did they keep fighting in Afghanistan for so long? I was in Afghanistan. I made a film there in 2002 called Return to Kandahar. People can watch it on my website. The solution to the Afghan war was so simple. If they really wanted to win, all you do is number one: most of the Taliban fighters couldn’t get a job, and the Taliban paid them partly out of money they made from poppies and who knows where else. Saudis and whatever. All you had to do was offer all the Taliban fighters jobs and cable TV or satellite TV. That would have been the end of the war.
You could have legalized the purchase of poppies. There was an excellent plan created, I forget the name of the organization, but they actually worked out in detail how the west or the Americans or the UN could buy the poppy crop and pay the farmers the same amount of money the Taliban and drug dealers were paying them and then sell those poppies to Pharma to turn into medical morphine and whatever.
Americans were not interested because war itself was the objective—the money-making of the war. The actual defeat of the Taliban was just this excuse to fight. And we can see now, eventually, it became a distraction after 20 years, and it was time to cut bait. And so they left, and they didn’t give a shit what happened there.
So the problem with this, if it was just about money-making, okay, you could say it’s dangerous, it’s a waste of money and all the rest of that. But it’s so much worse than that because of the nuclear aspect of this. I’ll just back up to the point. This enormous footprint of the military-industrial complex, it doesn’t even enforce American power unless I’m missing something because I can’t see where it worked.
Now, that’s not to say the Americans don’t have enormous power. They do. But it’s through their financial sector. It’s through the banking system. It’s through the American dollar reserve currency. It’s through the whole system of elites and all these countries who buy into the American capitalist world and enrich themselves as a result of it and their dependence on the United States to manage the capitalist world.
I was reading a really interesting document. A guy did an analysis of [Dwight D.] Eisenhower after World War II: his public language and his private language. And he made it very, very clear in one of his letters to a friend. The real danger here is that we don’t keep most of the world within the sphere of American capitalism. And he says, if we don’t, the American system can’t sustain itself. And that’s been the real issue. And what was the real threat to keeping those countries? It wasn’t militarization of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t the Soviets invading anybody. It wasn’t China invading anybody. The real threat, and it still is, was the aspiration of the peoples for socialism. That’s the threat. And if you actually listen to the Republican Party, even today, the number one speaking point is attacking socialism.
Now, of course, the Democratic Party isn’t socialist, and [Barack] Obama wasn’t, Biden isn’t, but why do they continue to want to demonize socialism? Because it’s so clear now, at least if anybody wants to look, that given the climate crisis and the danger of nuclear war, there’s no way out other than some kind of socialism because capitalism is absolutely out of solutions for these existential threats.
But just as this guy says in Taiwan, over Taiwan in 1958, oh, shit, the world may blow up, but, boy, we can’t lose strategic positioning and prestige. These elites, it’s the same thing in terms of climate. God, we’re not going to give up our wealth. We’re not going to give up being billionaires. So somehow, we’ll survive and fuck the world. So if we don’t get organized and make sure that people see the reality of their existence because— I can talk more about the U.S, but of course, and Canada, too, because I go back and forth, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s there or Europe or whatever.
Babies are born into a world they don’t choose, and their identities are created based on the culture, the society they grow up in. And there’s a very deliberate attempt to socialize kids in schools. In the U.S., every morning, they have to stand up and put their hand on their heart and say, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and the flag for flying. To the American state.
My kids went to school in the States. I told them they didn’t have to stand. It was so great because the teachers agreed with us and said, yeah, we don’t think they should have to stand either. But imagine in rural America and suburban America where kids grow up, their whole identity is caught up in being American. But it’s not in their own interest. If we don’t get through to workers in all of our countries and revitalize the unions and get people understanding how dangerous this moment is, what’s [Noam] Chomsky’s line? Organized human society ain’t going to be around very long.
Let us switch gears here now and move to a topic which some could say is the biggest press freedom case of the century, at least when it comes to Western society. And this is the case of Julian Assange. Once again, this topic has fallen to the backdrop, with the whole Corona coverage making headlines. You’ve been working together a lot with a legendary whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who published the Pentagon papers in the ’70s.
What similarities do you see between the case? And the second part of the question is if Julian Assange gets extradited to the United States, is there still a chance to win the fight for press freedom?
Well, in some ways, the prosecution, but the better word is the persecution of Julian Assange in some ways, is actually more significant than the Ellsberg case. Ellsberg actually did steal top-secret classified documents. And in theory, at least according to some American law, it was against the law. He knew what he was doing, and he was quite right to do it. One way or the other, it helped in the end, bring down [Richard] Nixon because they broke into his psychiatrist’s office and his case got turfed, and it led to the Watergate exposure and so on.
But what Ellsberg did or what [Edward] Snowden did that’s a kind of whistleblowing that, in theory, is illegal. I don’t agree with the laws. I think the public interest trumps those laws. But what Assange did, there’s no way it should be illegal. What Assange did was publish what the New York Times published and what newspapers around the world published.
And in fact, the Obama administration had decided not to prosecute Assange for exactly that reason because it meant that they, well, if we prosecute Assange, then we need to prosecute the New York Times or McClatchy or the Washington Post, who were all publishing stuff from WikiLeaks. And they decided, well, we’re not going to go there. And so they dropped it. And then Trump renews the prosecution, and Biden continues the prosecution. So what are they saying? Well, we know now, apparently, Trump went even further, and Pompeo were talking about how to kidnap Assange, how to kill Assange. And I think there’s kind of two parts here.
One is if the Obama administration reached the conclusion that if we prosecute Assange, we’ll have to prosecute these newspapers. Well, maybe that’s exactly the message they do want to send now to the newspapers. Maybe the real target here is the American press. It may be that they actually don’t care if they really extradite Assange or not. Maybe they would just like to keep this going and see if he doesn’t just die in jail in England. And the real threat is because we’re willing to go after Assange; you newspapers better realize if you ever do this again, someone actually gets serious national security, state secrets and gives them to you; if you publish them, we may go after you. Don’t think you’re immune from that because do the Americans really want a trial of Assange in the United States? It would be; talk about the trial of the century.
It would be U.S. foreign policy on trial. Assange would come there and say what he did was in the public interest. It was journalistic. He’d have 1,000 journalists come to testify on his behalf: U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, war crimes, all of it would have to come out. I don’t know how a judge could stop that defence; they may try. It’s hard to imagine that the Americans actually really want this trial.
So what do they want? Why is Biden pursuing the prosecution? It must be because the National Security State has said to Biden, we need to scare the shit out of anyone that tries to do this again. I don’t actually think they want to extradite Assange. They would like him to die in jail in England or something else terrible because the National Security State relies on a narrative, a fabric of lies to justify this massive military expenditure, wars of aggression, whether it’s Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, in the end, you name it.
The National Security State from day one, meaning the beginning of [Harry] Truman, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which again based on lies that they were necessary in order to win the war against Japan, which everyone I think more and less by now knows they were not necessary. So the lie begins with the atomic weapons, the Truman doctrine, basically, that American capitalism looks around after World War II. And this even begins with [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and says, you know what, we’re the only superpower. Now let’s mould the world in our image. Let’s impose the American system everywhere we can. And the number one threat, as I said, is socialism, is national liberation movements.
Now, early on, they may have actually thought the Soviet Union, in theory, could have been a real threat, but pretty early on, they realized it wasn’t. Ellsberg tells the story, a very important piece of this documentary I’m doing with him. Around 1960, I guess it is, when [John F.] Kennedy runs for President, he talks about the missile gap. And there’s this whole propaganda coming from the Air Force and Curtis LeMay and others that the Soviet Union has over around 1,000 ICBMs that can hit the United States. And the U.S. has maybe 100 or 200. And the missile gap is so much on the side of the Soviet Union that they might have a first strike. And there needs to be a massive plan to build nuclear weapons in the United States. Well, when they started flying U-2’s and satellites, they actually looked at how many ICBMs they really had; the Soviets had. And for people that don’t know this, it’s astounding they didn’t have 1,000; the Soviet Union had 4. One, two, three, four.
In fact, there was a missile gap entirely in favour of the United States. And when they realized that one, a very serious conversation started about a first strike against the Soviet Union. Two, it helped lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s one of the reasons Khrushchev, when they realized the Americans knew how they didn’t have ICBMs, put missiles in Cuba. And again, three, return to this point quickly, the fact that the Americans really seriously thought about a first strike when they didn’t have more than four ICBMs. They had lots of mid-range ballistic nuclear arm missiles, meaning they could take out Europe. And the Americans, at least many of the American leadership, didn’t give a shit if that happened.
So these lies, like lying about the number of the ICBMs, lying about the threat of the Soviet Union invading Western Europe, lying that the Soviet Union might attack, a first strike against the United States. When they start to realize that the Soviet Union is actually in a defensive posture, not offensive, the lies expand exponentially, and they now know, one: they actually don’t have to have this massive military strength because of the Soviet Union. So the whole essence of the National Security State is to maintain the fabric of lies.
Two, there really is a threat. The threat is people want socialism in many countries of the world. Nations want liberation. And, yeah, the Soviet Union did give a certain amount of support to those struggles. I have to say, not nearly as much as the Americans accused them of. A lot of the national liberation movements were very unhappy on how little support they got from the Soviet Union, and whether that was because they didn’t have the money or they didn’t want to provoke the United States. I don’t know. But they did do some.
So, yeah, the Soviet Union was the enemy, partly because of that. And partly, of course, it was this enormous population outside of the American-led capitalist world. And then China leaves the American-led capitalist world. So now you’ve got what, more than half the population of the world, I think, outside of American capitalism? That’s a big deal that eventually gets resolved. The fall of the Soviet Union and China became so incorporated into Western capitalism.
So the lying is at the heart of it. So if you go and get people really inside the National Security State and reveal the war crimes, the lying, the bullshit of the arms industry, that’s like putting a dagger into a place you’re not allowed to go. And I’ll go back to this point. I think the real target of the Assange persecution is the American press. Telling them, do this again, and we might very well come after you.
So this case of Assange is of extreme importance to press freedom. And as I say, even more than the Ellsberg case. The defence of Assange, the denunciation of this prosecution, and the fact that so many of the damn newspapers that actually did publish this stuff before won’t now defend Assange and keep quiet about what’s going on; it shows that it’s working. They are intimidating these people.
Paul Jay, journalist, filmmaker. Thank you so much for joining us for this two-part series.
My Pleasure again
And thank you guys for tuning in today. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel by clicking on the bell below and to donate so we can continue to produce independent and non-profit news and analysis. I’m your host, Zain Rosa. See you guys next time.
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