Larry Wilkerson says Americans must defeat Trump, but he fears the Democratic Party’s militarists influence on Biden’s foreign policy – On theAnalysis.news podcast with Paul Jay
Hi, I’m Paul Jay, and welcome to the analysis podcast. On April 19th, the Biden campaign released a video attacking Trump for being soft on China. Or rolling over, as the ad says, it’s been critiqued in many quarters as racist, xenophobic, warmongering, trying to out Trump, Trump.
Some on the left who opposed Sanders endorsement of Biden point to the ad as evidence that there’s not that much difference between Biden and Trump on foreign policy. Here’s a clip from the ad.
Biden campaign ad
Here are the facts. Joe Biden warned the nation in January that Trump had left us unprepared for a pandemic. Then Biden told Trump he should insist on having American health experts on the ground in China. I would be on the phone with China, making it clear we are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what’s going on. But Trump rolled over for the Chinese.
He took their word for it. The president tweeted: China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. I spoke with President Xi and they’re working very, very hard. I think it’s going to work out fine.
Trump praised the Chinese fifteen times in January and February as the Corona virus spread across the world.
A tough situation. I think they’re doing a very good job. I think that China will do a very good job.
Trump never got a CDC team on the ground in China and the travel ban he brags about. Trump let in 40,000 travelers from China .after he signed it, not exactly airtight. Look, around 22 million Americans are out of work and we have more officially reported cases and deaths than any other country. Donald Trump left this country unprepared and unprotected for the worst public health and economic crisis in our lifetime. And now we’re paying the price.
So here you have the Biden campaign repeating what the Democratic Party did over the Russia gate, Russia issue and trying to outflank from the right. Trump on Russia. Now they’re trying to outflank Trump in terms of the level of militarism or at least rhetoric in that regard. Will it have any better effect for Biden than the Russia stuff did? Because that seemed to more or less wind up in the end, rolling off Trump like water off the back of a duck.
Now, joining us to give us his take on these issues is retired colonel, Army colonel, former and former chief of staff for Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, where he teaches now at the College of William and Mary.
Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.
Thanks for having me, Paul.
The question boils down to at least when it comes to foreign policy. Is there much difference between a Biden and a Trump? Because, as you know, some people on the left are saying this ad is a example, that there isn’t that much difference.
I think there’s a stark difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And that’s mainly because I think Trump is, as you indicated, a would be fascist. More frightful than Trump himself, though, or the people right around Trump, who are everything from the fundamentalist rapture seeking secretary of state, who is fixated on Iran to the declare of a new Cold War with China. Secretary Defense Mark Esper. There are far more dangerous than Trump, particularly with his hands off sort of attitude.
But after saying that and after saying that, I think the nation needs to get rid of Trump in whatever way it can. I subscribe to your view and teach your view, as a matter of fact, that there isn’t much difference between the principal leadership of the Democratic Party and that of the Republican Party, with the caveat that the Republican Party ,Mike Lofgren, has pointed out recently, has become the party of death, the cult of death. I think that’s true.
So in that sense, the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell and all the rest of them arrayed behind him or a disaster for this for this country waiting to happen, not unlike the disaster in 1850, which I would contend was the last time we had both. Not both, but we had a corrupted Supreme Court, a corrupted legislature and a corrupted executive. And you know what happened after that in 1860. So we’re in a critical period right now that says get rid of Trump under any circumstances whatsoever.
Figure out a way to get rid of Trump. And if Biden’s the only way to do that, that’s fine. But we have to recognize that all we’re putting in the White House is a more sophisticated, less tending towards authoritarianism and fascism individual than Donald Trump. This, after all, is the same group of people who have subscribed to, advocated, supported some 20 years now, we have had a war just as much as the Republicans have.
And as damaging to the country, they have supported equally and sometimes more forcefully, this profligate spending that we have today that sees us now with an aggregate debt that is more than 100 percent of our gross domestic product. Either side of this political equation, if you will, is leading the country into disaster. The Democrats perhaps a little bit more slowly than the Republicans, but nonetheless. They represent the oligarchy, they represent a plutocracy that represents the special interests that are driving this country over a cliff.
I’m going to try to represent the argument of people who don’t agree with you, because mostly I do.
Their counter to that is that as long as one keeps playing this game or only voting either for the lesser evil, as Chomsky calls it, and Chomsky does advocate for voting for the lesser evil, that you never build anything else and that you don’t develop politics independent of the Democratic Party that could, in theory, be more transformative. What do you make of that?
I think that’s a fair statement, but I have a little bit of hope, even a slight bit of optimism that what Bernie Sanders generated in the previous election and then what he continued to generate perhaps with not quite as much youthful exuberance across the country, but nonetheless, still there, has impacted the Democratic Party to the extent, and I think this is why Bernie somewhat early threw his support behind Joe Biden, has generated the kind of acceptance within the body whole of the Democratic Party that Bernie wanted to generate.
Now, whether that comes to fruition or not is anyone’s surmise right now. And what I mean by that is Bernie has forced the Democratic Party, the establishment, the Menendez ‘s Pelosi’s, the Bidens, to understand, at least in part, that what he started with, his movement is so significant politically that if they don’t recognize at least parts of it, they’re going to be lost. And eventually, as lost as the Republicans are. So that’s my one little holdout, my one bit of optimism, my one hope with regard to picking the lesser evil.
I vote for that instantly just to get rid of the greater evil we have in the White House right now. But if I have any hope about that lesser evil changing and changing positively, it is what Sanders and his movement have forced upon the Democratic Party leadership.
The Democratic Party is not monolithic because nothing is. And when Obama got elected, I was very critical of all of his speeches, all of his policy propositions. I played a game with myself of actually reading Obama’s speeches and not watching because he’s so charming when he speaks.
Everyone used to read into him what they wanted to hear. When you actually read the speeches on paper, you can see there’s just you middle of the road, Democratic Party establishment politics.
That being said, I always said I had one actual hope for Obama, and that he would be rational on Iran. And I think he was. I think he wasn’t as rational as one could have hoped, but he was certainly more rational than anyone else in the foreign policy establishment that had any power. And the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t such a bad thing for the world. It was a good thing for the world. I think Biden supported that.
Now, Biden did vote for the Iraq war and Obama didn’t. So what camp in that Democratic Party is Biden really? And the split on the Iran deal, I think, is illustrative of the of the issue, which is Chuck Schumer. And that whole wing of the party was very much against the Iran deal or super hawkish, very closely allied with Netanyahu and the militarists and Obama stood up to that. And Biden strongly supported Obama in that.
It’s been reported that Biden did not support this massive new investment in nuclear weapons, a trillion dollars over 30 years or most of that is apparently going to be in the first 10.
But Biden was against that and didn’t think there should have been that concession given because that came out of some negotiations with the Republican Party. Biden supported ending the sanctions on Cuba. But then you’ve got this ad where this to my mind, this is racist and jingoist and xenophobic and trying to outflank Trump from the right. Now, is this just some stupid electioneering? Because in the final analysis, Biden will continue the Obama policy towards China, which was called the Asia pivot.
You know, there’s a broad containment policy. On the other hand, not likely to be a provocation in the South China Sea, as Trump has suggested. And certainly Steve Bannon, his adviser, openly advocates. So what is Biden? You know, where does he fall in terms of this? You know, the real hawkish militarist side of the Democratic Party, or a slightly more rational side?
Well, you just put your finger on it. There are people, individuals. That’s Joe Biden. And then there’s a party. Joe Biden and Barack Obama both reflected what Bill Clinton did to the Democratic Party, which was essentially to haul it out of its progressive shoes and put it in this square middle. And when you go into square middle in America, you immediately bowed down to the predatory capitalist state and to a certain extent, the national security state, the oligarchy, as some would call it.
But Joe Biden is, from my experience with him, and it’s quite a lengthy experience over the time of Powell’s chairmanship. And then the time of Powell Secretariat, we had probably as many dealings, if not more, with Joe Biden as we did, for example, with Sam Nunn or with Dick Lugar or any other of the particular minority members, minority leaders or majority leaders of those very important committees like the Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committees in both houses and so forth.
Biden was the go to guy when you wanted a reasonable assessment of a foreign policy issue, not Dick Lugar. Powell actually got a phone calls from Condy Rice telling him, why don’t you talk to Dick? You know, he’s a Republican. And Powell would say, well, Condy dear, Joe knows the issues. Dick doesn’t. So Biden as an individual is not necessarily the kind of character that I would use to describe the Democratic Party leadership as a whole, including Bill and Hillary and Menendez and Schumer and a host of others.
But they have to operate. And Joe is no different. He has to operate within the space that he has in the Democratic Party. Is he willing to go further? Yes, I think he is. Is he willing to risk it? Yes, I think he is. But not to the extent perhaps that’s necessary to really effect change. That’s where my optimism begins to dim. I had the same concerns about Barack Obama as you did. And find only one or two things that he did in his eight years, very different from the very disastrous things, for example, that Bill Clinton did during his eight years, which included turning over the United States economy lock, stock and barrel to Bob Rubin and Goldman Sachs and brought about the problem in 2007, eight, nine, the so-called Great Recession. We’ve been in the hands of, quote, Goldman Sachs, unquote, ever since. The difference with Biden can be described in an anecdotel way with regard to his much ballyhooed vote on the Iraq war.
I know why Joe Biden, Joe Biden wound up voting for the second Iraq war. He looked back at Sam Nunn, whom Colin Powell had really caused to lose his political clout. Not intentionally, but Powell had turned to Nunn and said at the beginning of the first Gulf War, the period right after Saddam had invaded Kuwait and said,
“Help me with this. We need to do sanctions. We don’t need to do war. And Nunn bought it and Nunn began in the Senate to try and do that.
Well, that turned out to be a disaster. Once the president decided he was going to go to war, went to the Congress, got their support, got the U.N. support, and the war was so resoundingly successful that ended Nunn’s political career and ended any hopes he could run for president because he had been supportive not of the war, but of sanctions. Joe, looked back on that and said in 2002 and early 2003, I can’t do that.
I’ll lose the same way because it’s the same country. It’s the same military, both sides. And it’s gonna be another resounding victory. So I can’t ruin myself by being opposed to this war. Oh, bad decision, Joe. You were wrong about that. It turned out to be a disaster. Probably the greatest strategic disaster since World War Two for the United States. Maybe the greatest in our history. So I know why Joe made that decision, though, and I can understand the politics of it.
So that’s not a disqualifier for me. The disqualifier for me, if that’s the right term is the whole Democratic Party, its whole foundation, based in part on Wall Street, in part on the predatory capitalist state in general, Menendez, Schumer, its support, as you indicated, of Bibi Netanyahu without hardly asking any questions. That’s my problem with the Democratic Party. And that’s my problem with the Republican Party. And you throw on top of that their fiscal irresponsibility, which now approaches Roman, you know, the magnitude of Rome’s fiscal irresponsibility.
We’re just teetering on the brink right now. And neither political party, mainstream political party has a clue how to get off that brink. Not only that, they’re so sold to the leadership of that brink, whether it’s Charles Coch on the one hand or the CEO of Lockheed Martin on the other, that they couldn’t get off, that they wanted to because that’s where their political grease is found. That’s how they maintain political power. That’s how they stay in office.
That’s how they rule is with these people’s support, influence, significant influence and special interest impact. That’s the only way they can do it. Will Joe, as an individual break out from that from time to time? Yes, I think he will. Did he break out in his support of the Iran deal? Yes. We forget, as we were working on and I was integral to this, I was even called to the White House to be thanked for my help on the JCP away that nuclear deal with Iran.
Did we have problems in the Congress? You bet we did. There was never any real wholesale or even majority approval of that deal in the Congress, which is one reason why Donald Trump had no problem negating it, violating the deal and backing out of it. There was no real majority support in the Congress for this deal on either side of the aisle, Democrat or Republican. And some of the most vicious underminers, underminers of it were for people like Chuck Schumer.
So would Joe be able to break out of that from time to time, as Obama did on the very narrowly passed, if you will, a nuclear deal with Iran that’s now collapsed. Probably . But will he have the support and the kind of political capital necessary to sustain that breakout? That’s got to be looked at issue by issue, foreign policy, domestic policy and so forth. I suspect he might have some success, but I doubt if you’ll have a whole lot more success than Barack Obama did.
After all, Barack Obama was a young, energetic dude. And Joe is you know, he’s teetering on the brink himself. So I’m really concerned that that kind of individual character, which I do find in Joe. we’ll be able to sustain itself for the long haul/ That will depend, I think, a lot on the powerful person or lack of power, a person whom he selects to be his vice president, who might well, as we all know, be the president before it’s over with.
Not because of an election, but because Joe can’t handle it anymore. Actually goes to the grave. I mean, this is not a young chicken we’re talking about here, which might be his biggest disadvantage. So in the long run, in the long run, I have to say, I have some hope for Senator Biden, but it’s not much more hope than I had for Barack Obama and Barack Obama in less than a year or two. Disappointed me majorly.
Except on Iran.
Yeah. Well, there are a couple other things that Barack Obama did, too. Not least of which was after Libya figuring things out and basically not getting get us into another mess like Libya was even dispatching Samantha Power to New York to be the ambassador to the United Nations so he could get her out of his hair. Where is the Pentagon and the sort of majority of the professional state or majority, the Pentagon, let me ask, because none of these things are monolithic either, on the Iran nuclear deal.
They seem to support the Obama approach. And if that’s true, then perhaps they would support a Biden continuing on that path. Oh, I think that’s true.
And you’ve put your finger on it. I think the best way I could summarize the leadership of the military, all services today not turn out to civilians now, Esper and that group or a different different ballgame altogether. But if you’re talking about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Milley, or any of the service chiefs, the Joint Chiefs and General or any of the three and four stars, you’re talking about brain dead people, basically, they have become such advocates of money, 750 billion plus annually , that that’s all they know how to talk about more money.
The American taxpayer must give us more money, more money, more money. They have such a polluted Pentagon right now with that money, including the OCO funds, the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, which are really a gigantic 50 plus billion dollar slush funds, which they’ve had now since about 9/11. They have been so polluted by this money that they cannot think creatively, imaginatively. They can’t even think in terms of strategy and the kinds of things that the Pentagon does best, which is a real deficit right now for the country.
The real talent in the military right now is that the colonel, lieutenant colonel, major level, and it’s being very disenchanted by the braindead generals and admirals above it. So when you say the military and what his views are, you have to couch whatever answer you give in that appreciation of the senior leadership and what I would call the mid-level leadership. It’s a very discontented military right now. I think Captain Crozier’s dismissal, the skipper of USS Roosevelt CVN 71 over the Corona virus episode, is just a tempest in a teapot.
It’s an indicator of what’s happening in the military right now. If you encounter a really good leader, and he runs up against the senior leadership, he’s almost always going to have his legs cut out from under him and he’s going to be dismissed one way or another, or he’s going to have to Cow to, and then become one of the brain dead to add leadership if he happens to make it that far removed. I remember Chuck Hagel talking about this with Powell many years ago.
Hagel at that time was on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he was looking at all the two and three stars that he was signing off on to get their second and their third star. And he asked Powell, he said, look, I don’t see a single individual or male or female whom I would want to be a service chief of four star or a member of the Joint Chiefs in terms of the vice chairman of the chairman. Four stars, two, of course.
I don’t see a single one. And Powell said, right. There aren’t any. Well, we’re living with those people today and we’re living living with the generations that followed them. We really don’t have, we haven’t won a war since 1945, Paul. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a vivid reason for that. We have leaders who walk into Afghanistan and walk out of Afghanistan, leaders who walk into Baghdad and walk out of Baghdad. Petraeus and McLaren. You name McChrystal, you name the leaders. None of them ever suffered at all for having not won anything. In fact, having created chaos and disaster. So we have a disaster at the Pentagon right now in that respect. To answer your question, I hope, is that the professional nature of the military at that middle level officer component will sustain it, even if it were, for example, asked to do something quite untoward with regard to the civil military relationship by this tending towards fossils to and authoritarianism, President Donald Trump.
And I’ve been looking at that hard with a group of experts in terms of what might happen in November. And some of the things we’re contemplating for November are quite stunningly bad.
When the secretary of defense justified this seven, almost eight hundred billion dollar military budget, it’s in all likelihood actually more than that.
He used three words to justify it. China, China and China.
He announced a new Cold War. I mean, Esper announced, very publicly, a new Cold War. And he had no inhibitions about doing it.
And this drunk with money, I think, was your phrase or something. Now that the rationale and justification for the enormous amounts of money flowing through the Pentagon to arms manufacturers in an article I pointed out, are all essentially controlled and owned by Wall Street institutional investors, starting with BlackRock and Vanguard. I’m going to keep talking about them.
But at any rate, given the necessity of this big existential enemy, enemy to justify this expense, you don’t you don’t fight terror. You know, terrorists in the Middle East with aircraft carriers. So you need this kind of big existential threat. How dangerous is this buildup that this focus on the South China Sea? The military strategy strategists are quoted as talking in all seriousness about what a war with China would look like. And then that raises the whole question of what is the U.S.nuclear strategy? As people listen to the analysis.news and other other places, you know. Daniel Ellsberg keeps talking about how we’re still on a 10 second hair trigger. You start getting confrontations. So it is so tense with China as they’re talking about and could easily happen. It wouldn’t take a heck of a lot even for something accidental to break out. What what what is the thinking of these people?
You put your finger on it when you talked about what Eisenhower, as you well know, called the military industrial complex, which has become so much vaster and wider and more powerful today. And you may have seen in The New York Times there was an investor who was advising people based on some of the things you just said that Asper said about China and based on some of the other aspects of what’s happening in the world today, including the pandemic, that it was really neat time to invest in companies like Lockheed Martin and Grumman and so forth.
Someone sent it to me this morning and I’m reading it and I’m going. Holy mackerel. We have arrived. We have arrived. The gray lady, the nation’s premier newspaper, is carrying a, an article by an investment advisement company group that is recommending investment in the merchants of death, whom this country has produced, the predatory capitalists who sell weapons and weapons systems and all their accoutrement. That’s it. That’s what we are. We are a warfare state.
Our raison d’être is waging war. My students, Paul, have lived their entire lives now in a nation at war. It is just second hand for them to understand. This is a nation at war. The influences that bring this about are manifest in front of our faces every day from the ones we can name, like writing on an Grumman and Boeing and Lockheed Martin at the top of the peak to Exxon Mobil, which sells fossil fuels to the if it were a state.
The fifty fourth among some 200 states in the world user of fossil fuels, the Department of Defense. This is where we are today. This is the kind of country that we have become, a country whose main purpose in life is to kill other people for state purposes. And on top of all of that, the people we use to do that are the people who are more or less attracted to it by the mercenary pay that creates the all volunteer force.
So if you want a classic example of how empires build up the hubris, the arrogance, the. We can do anything. The you’re powerless and I’m powerful. So I can sanction you. I can wage economic warfare against you. I think I saw the other day. We are waging economic warfare against about a third of the world’s population. From Venezuela to Iran to Russia. We are staggeringly arrogant today and we’re going to go staggeringly down because of that arrogance.
And we just touched the tip of the iceberg really with regard to it. I’m right now looking at this virus from the perspective of this pandemic, from the perspective of what it might do in and of itself, but what it might also do with regard to these special interests. We’re talking about these very powerful special interests and held a simulation with my students yesterday, as a matter of fact, to our simulation, trying to get our hands around some of the other ramifications that might beset us because of this pandemic.
Some of them are positive, despite the fact that we might lose quite a few people. They’re positive in the fact that they might set some of this apparatus we’re describing and talking about right now back considerably. On the other hand, there’s every possibility that they might accelerate some of the nasty, pernicious influences that these different power centers have. So at the end of this, say, September or October, maybe around the election time, if that is the end of it, we may see a very different country.
The question is, which way? Negatively or positively?
On the question of Biden and foreign policy, I was kind of concerned, actually, that when Sanders gave the endorsement and they announced these six working groups, essentially all on domestic issues. There was not a working group or task force that came out of that Biden-Sanders negotiation on foreign policy. And that concerns me because that there clearly are some major differences between Sanders and Biden on foreign policy. And does that mean Biden wouldn’t agree to such a task force?
Because I would have assumed Sanders would have pushed for it.
Yeah. You know, it’s it’s kind of like the situation we had when Rumsfeld walked out of the Pentagon and Bob Gates walked into the Pentagon. We were talking about it, both uniformed military and retired military and civilians. We were talking about Bob had the easiest job in the world because the moment Bob walked into the Pentagon, the morale of the building skyrocketed just because Bob was there and Dom was gone. To a certain extent, I think, Joe, with his credentials in foreign policy, probably as good of credentials as anyone has in the Congress, to be sure.
But in the bureaucracy of leadership in general, Joe, could be quite a refresher or refreshing ingredient in this U.S. foreign policy business today, which has gone quite sour with Trump. And in that sense, I think that the analogy with Gates and Rumsfeld is apt, because when Joe comes in, the world is going to breathe a sigh of relief, not unlike the sigh of relief, for example, that produced the Nobel Peace Prize for no reason whatsoever, really for Barack Obama, simply because the world was so willing to accept this young man who seemed so different from the person who had preceded him and caused all the disaster in Iraq and so forth.
So I think the same kind of thing is going to happen with Joe, and he’s going to have to capitalize on that immediately. And turning to foreign policy, his forte is something I would expect him to do, and it’s not going to be difficult. All he’s got to do is pick up the phone and call Berlin and call Paris. Call London. Call Brussels. Call Tokyo. Call Beijing. Call Moscow. And the entire international relations game will be changed immediately because it’s Joe on the other end the line and not that idiot.
Donald Trump. Xi Jinping It’ll be a different relationship. Now, whether or not Joe can capitalize, capitalize on that and bring that dullard group of people on the other side of the river, call the U.S. Congress along with him is quite another matter. But that’s the reality of the situation at once, if you will, that Joe will be like Gates walking into the Pentagon. The morale of the world will rise considerably just because we’ve gotten rid of Donald, and we’ve got Joe.
Right. Just want to add one little note to that, and then I have another question.
The, I used to think of the military industrial complex as one thing and then you have sort of Wall Street and finance of another. And obviously there’s some mix there. But when you actually look now what’s happened since 07, 08 with the rise of these asset managers like BlackRock and Vanguard and State Street, who now between the three of them have 14 trillion dollars under management, which is more than the GDP of China. And Bloomberg thinks they’re going to have 20 million under management by 2030, which will be more than the GDP of the United States.
The concentration of ownership has taken a real leap.
And these three companies, along with smaller asset managers, they’re the ones that owned Lockheed Martin and Boeing and Rio and all the other ones you said. They’re the ones that had the controlling interest and all the companies. There’s about 18 major ones that make nuclear weapons and they impose a discipline on all of these companies that they wouldn’t have in any way. But they enforce that discipline right across the entire S&P 500 because these institutional investors control 90 percent of the S&P 500.
And Paul, let me let me point out one other thing out as missing. Misha Glenny has made clear in his book, like Mafia, the five to 10 trillion dollars of transnational crime generated profits in the world. That’s five to trend, 10 trillion. And I think measures a little low on that. I think it’s closer to fifteen trillion, is very much a part of the warp and woof of this this group of very wealthy institutions and financial advice and so forth and so on that you’re talking about.
They’re all complicit for the first time, I think, in the history of the human race. Five thousand years, we have complicity between corporate leadership, governments, banks and financing and international or transnational crime. They’re all complicit. They’re all making money.
And that is a very new development in a very dangerous development. The concentration of ownership and finance and control it wields over the national government and to a large extent, state and local. Roosevelt actually called that the definition of fascism.
Yeah, well, it could be. Marc Fisher has called it capitalist realism. He makes such statements, for example, in his book of that title, that what the Green Revolution has pointed out is that the political economic system under which we’re operating right now is not only not the best possible system to be operating under, it is a system leading us to planetary destruction.
He goes on in that vein. And it’s hard to argue with Mark because what he points out again and again and again is what this confluence of predatory capitalism and national security state, if you will, is creating, it’s creating the end of the human race in many respects.
And that’s my next, that’s my next question. Because the the part of the end of the human race that gets at least some attention is climate change. And Biden and others know, at least they talk about it, even if during the Obama administration it was the measures were way too minimalist or modest and Trump even did those. But the thing that almost never gets talked about is the threat of nuclear war. And I guess. Do you subscribe to the view, which is Chomsky and Ellsberg, but also their words that I gather they call them the four writers of the apocalypse, which were the former secretaries of state and such.
But all these people use this language, which is if we don’t have a massive reduction in nuclear weapons and treaties to achieve that and eventually lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons, then nuclear war, and they use this word, is inevitable. Well, inevitable means it’s 100 percent that at some point we’re going to be blown off the face of the earth.
Yeah, I. I agree. I would take exception when when Noam, if you were quoting him perfectly or not, but that we are somehow extending the period of nuclear danger. I think the period of nuclear danger ebbed considerably with the Moscow treaty in 2002 and are even helping the Russians destroy their warheads. That was the norm.
Noam agrees with that. And he talks about how these are being undone. Absolutely.
Absolutely. And Trump and the Pentagon, that he is in charge right now and the nuclear weapons complex, which is as powerful a part, maybe a niche part, but nonetheless as powerful a part of the military industrial complex as any. Why did we get statutory language to put the secretary of energy on the National Security Council in the 70s? We got it because the congressmen who advocated it and pushed it through the Congress, with no one else really caring, was the guy from New Mexico sitting over a lot of the nuclear weapons complex and therefore very interested in it.
So it wasn’t a move that made sense, rationally, though, I would submit it did. They guy who has the nuclear weapons ought to be on the on the council. It was really a move that was pure politics and pure politics, influenced by the special interest groups in the military industrial complex, in this case, the nuclear weapons complex. What’s happened, though, since the Moscow Treaty, particularly since Trump took over the White House was his ignorance of detail and not doing detail?
Is the military has had a group of people in it that has said, as they did in fifty fifty one and fifty two. This is just a bigger pop. This is just a weapon that has a bigger brain, especially with sophisticated technology like we have today, and these small yield nuclear weapons on the end of a missile that we can put a ballistic missile submarine, take a few of those strategic ones out, put these in. Oh, this is just fine.
And maybe even we ought to have the military in charge of these weapons instead of civilians like we’ve had since the creation of these weapons. Thank God, the last thing we want to do is put the military in operational control of these weapons. At the same time, we’ve had Putin on the other end of the spectrum, as it were saying, and identifying it in publicly disseminated military doctrine, that if a certain incursion in his sphere of influence occurs, read NATO, then he will use a small U.N.
nuclear weapon or two or three or four to blunt that particular penetration because he doesn’t have the wealth of precision guided munitions, conventional warheads, that we do, that NATO does. And so that’s how he’s. So that doctrine’s out there. He is going to use those weapons on the battlefield, too. So we counter. I don’t know if you saw the undersecretary defense before Trump relieved him and kicked him out. He made a statement about the ballistic missile submarines that we’re going to put forward these dudes on now, replacing the previous ballistic missiles that were strategic.
And we’re going to sail these submarines around and we’re going to counter Putin doing this because he’s going to shoot his weapon to blunt our penetration. Then we’re going to shoot ours because he shot his. The idea that this isn’t just escalatory is just pure poppycock. Of course it’s escalatory. And before you get through with it, you’ve got massive destruction and maybe the end of the human race brought about by all the things that we know a general exchange of nuclear weapons would bring on. So, yeah, I believe the atomic Bolton is right. We should be one minute from midnight, not two minutes. We are in a more dangerous period now. And what does the United States do? What we should be doing is multilaterally using these arms control agreements that we’ve had for some years now that have worked. And I would start with START. And I would say intermediate nuclear weapons treaty didn’t need to be discarded.
What it needed to do is bring in Israel, Pakistan, India, every nuclear weapon state. And it needed to bring them all in, kicking kicking and screaming as Israel would be brought in, for example. But threats need to be made to get these people in with the objective that they all be members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They all subscribe to the inspections regime of that treaty. And we work out these previously bilateral treaties like the INF Treaty, like the START treaty and so forth, so that every nuclear weapon state has a role in there.
And we multilateralize our arms control and make it much more effective rather than backing out of treaties and destroying them. Yes. Chomsky’s right. Yes, Daniel is right. We are in a very dangerous period right now. We’re in the period we’re in with Curtis L’May for example, when he wanted to do nukes on Cuba. This is the kind of leadership we have now in some areas, particularly in the Navy, the Air Force and to a certain extent in the Army.
But the Navy and the Air Force are the two leading advocates here, if you will. That battlefield utility has returned to nuclear weapons. That’s extremely dangerous, extremely dangerous. Let’s look at the China scenario. I played that war game at least 30 times. I’ve managed that war game at least a dozen times. Those war games, whether they start with Taiwan or they start with the South China Sea, an incident they’re in, or they start with some other incident that might occur, like on the Afghan border with China.
They invariably boil down to a fight between the U.S. Air Force and the Chinese PLAF, their Air Force and the U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy, DPLAN and the U.S. Navy. And what happens is both are attrited majorly over the course of three to four months. It doesn’t take long. You’ve got aircraft destroyed on both sides, ships destroyed on both sides, lots of casualties. And you come to a dilemma. The United States is not about to invade China.
You know, Princess Bride land more in Asia. Never would we invade China. Too much strategic depth. One point three, four billion people. And China can’t come to the United States. Not really. They don’t have the power projecting capability. They can’t really come too close to the United States, actually, and won’t be able to for years. So what do you do? Well, you sit down in these war games and you start thinking about nuclear weapons.
Let me just relate one I remember vividly from Maxwell Air Force Base, a joint war game. Here’s the U.S. side with the civilians being played or the civilians like the president, vice president, so forth, being played by former diplomats, former secretaries of state and so forth, making decisions. To get down to this point. I told you about where we have both treated each other quite badly. OK. Here’s the U.S. side. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, well, you know, we do have these Tee Lamb Dee’s
And at that time they were Tomahawk launched missiles, cruise missiles with a small nuclear warhead. I recommend we shoot ten or twelve of these at Chinese military facilities along the southern coast. They’ll stop and everything will stop. And we’ll get to the negotiating table. We’ll get what we want. Taiwan back or whatever. Oh, right, says a civilian. Who’s this guy happened to have been a former secretary of state, right? Right. They won’t shoot nuclear weapons back at us?
Then you get this kind of fuzzy looking face on the US general and then the civilian invariably says, okay, war game’s over. We’re not going there. In other words, every game I have ever simulated with China, every war game has wound up with the contemplation of using nuclear weapons because we can’t do it any other way. That is not a denouement that that anyone with any sanity should be seeking. And yet that’s where you head. That’s where you’re going If you start talking about fighting China.
When Ellsburg and a friend of his went to see the movie,Dr. Strangelove, and if anyone listening here hasn’t seen it yet, next thing you do is “Go watch that.” My students don’t need that. My students don’t even know what I’m talking about when I mentioned that. They really, When Ellsburg and his friends saw it, they walked out and said, “That was a documentary?
They couldn’t believe how truthful it was. And they found out later that the consultant to the scriptwriter actually used to work for British intelligence in the nuclear planning area, which is why I heard.
Yeah, but Ellsberg in his book, “Doomsday Machine,” he reports that at the time he worked for Rand Corporation as a nuclear war planner, he found out that the nuclear war strategy, vis a vis the Soviet Union at that time, we’re talking like 60, 61, was if there was a serious ground military confrontation in Europe with Russian troops, Soviet troops, it would automatically trigger a full scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Ticking. I can’t remember the number of 40, 50 major cities and an attack on China.
And there’s, he relates a story where there’s a briefing of very senior military officials. And one of the officers at the briefing says, ”Well, why China if it’s only a Soviet American confrontation? And the answer was, “I’m surprised you have to ask that or something like that.” Like, of course, we would attack China as well. Is this issue of escalating. Has the U.S. nuclear war strategy changed, or if there was that kind of military confrontation you just described in the South China Sea, does it automatically trigger a nuclear attack?
Those are all good questions and good points raised by the various people you mentioned. My reading of it. I was a prefix five officer in the army, which means I was basically nuclear capable of nuclear planning, nuclear weapons use and so forth. My reading of the evolution, if you will, of nuclear theory of of nuclear doctrine, was that we went from that period. I called it the Kurdish Lame period that I mentioned earlier.
And into that period that you’re talking about, early 60s, where we really made some quite idiotic statements. Looking back on the ultimate evolution of that doctrine to the ultimate evolution of that doctrine, which occurred roughly, I think mid 70s, to early 80s, and sparked some of the thinking, if you will. This might seem sort of ironical and indeed, perhaps it is in the first Reagan administration, and prompted Reagan ultimately to say, “Let’s go to zero with Gorbachev.”
Which I think and I may be somewhat alone in this among scholars of the Reagan administration, but I think it was Ronald Reagan’s goal from the very start. In other words, you’ve got to be really, really crazy and tough to get really, really to the point where you’re going to say to your counterpart in the Soviet Union, how about we go to zero? But you get to this point in the scholarly evolution of nuclear doctrine where people are looking at each other at Caltech, at Stanford, at Northwestern, at Harvard, at M.I.T.
and they’re saying to themselves, this is insanity. There’s no way you can stop this from going to utter destruction. So we better start thinking about really serious arms control and we better start thinking about things like stripping China away from Russia. Imagine that. And so you get this more rational strategic doctrine that culminates in my mind when Colin Powell and Rich Armitage rush off to Islamabad and Delhi in 2002 and encounter as they do so, probably the closest we’ve come to using nuclear weapons since 1961 and, 62.
By the way, I think the Berlin crisis was more serious than the Cuban crisis because Berlin was strategic to both sides. Cuba was anything but strategic to the Russians so they could surrender. Nonetheless, my point is we get to a situation that is not unlike that, and we get to a point in the evolution of the doctrine that displaying that doctrine literally to the Indians on the one side and the Pakistanis on the other side caused them to have to think twice about what they were doing and caused them to begin to do things in conjunction with us.
That made the situation between India and Pakistan a little more tolerable and a little less dangerous. Not to say that it isn’t still dangerous. But they had no escalatory doctrine until we essentially taught them that doctrine as it had evolved for us. And I think it’s safe to say for the Soviets, Russians, too, and they understood that you don’t just shoot 10 at them and they shoot 10 back at you. This is really, really taking a complex matter and reducing it ad absurdism.
But you 10 shoot at them, they shoot 20 back at you. Then you shoot 40 at them. Then they shoot 100 back at you. And before you know it, you’re all dead. Yeah, I mean, you know, the only way that’s the only way that scenario works is if on both sides there only are 10. Well. Unfortunately for any of us . Of course, tens enough to essentially end the world anyway.
Well, unfortunately for India and Pakistan as well, more than 10. Matter of fact, Pakistan is busy making about 10 every month right now, tactical weapons, but both have close to two hundred. So you’re looking at a situation where escalation means at the end of the day and it would be the end of the day, maybe the end of the day for Colorado, too, because we know now the winds out of that south, out of the subcontinent will affect things happening in Colorado and Utah and so forth and so on.
You know what I’m talking about? Everything from nuclear winter to two years of no crops and so forth and so on, just from a nuclear exchange in the subcontinent.
So you’re looking at a recent recent study by I think his name is Roebuck, a climate scientist. He says a war between India and Pakistan is enough to have nuclear winter and end essentially human life on Earth.
Well, I think you’re right. I think I’ve seen the analysis. I’ve seen the data. Not for nothing. Did Richard Cohen run off quickly? We knew that they were they didn’t even have permits, permissive action locks on their weapons. Pals. All that means is they didn’t have a lock on the weapon. They required two keys and two individuals maintain those keys in order to operationalize those weapons. They didn’t have a doctrine. They didn’t have an escalation doctrine.
They had not thought about. What does it mean if he shoots a couple at me and I shoot a couple back at him?
We’ve been talking about escalation. But there is no one, I don’t think, that knows anything about nuclear weapons that can say there’s a zero risk of accidental nuclear war. It’s there is a risk. Who knows what the percent that risk is. But it certainly isn’t zero.
And Ellsberg, when I ask him then, if if there is a risk at all of ending life on Earth, how do these guys justify it? And he says his final conclusion about how this all gets justified is simply that the nuclear weapons program was essentially a commercial subsidy for the aerospace industry.
There’s some truth to that. And I think any scholar that’s looked at this art would tell you that there’s some truth to it. I hearken back to a conversation I had with Colin Powell when I first joined him.
He was a big advocate of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s obligation on the original nuclear powers. And that obligation was that we go to zero to Britain, France, the original nuclear powers, plus being the most formidable one, would go to zero. That’s our promise in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And that promise is supposed to be reciprocated from others by they’re not developing nuclear weapons or if they have developed them, not going any further. That’s the kind of path in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Obviously, we’re not living up to it. But in the Moscow treaty, we took a big step towards living up to it , which was a big a big selling point for that treaty for both Moscow and Washington. We’re talking about going from some 30 thousand nuclear warheads down to about twenty two hundred over a very short period of time. Powell said, we want to go to zero. Of course, we want to go to zero and probably Moscow would like to go to zero.
It would be better for the world if we all went to zero. Probably. There is no guarantee of that. But probably with regard to what you’re talking about, nuclear annihilation, it certainly would be better to go to zero. And then Powell said something I’ll never forget. He said the genie is out of the bottle. And as long as someone somewhere can fabricate a nuclear weapon, then we need to have a few. At that point, we put into action an analysis across very different entities.
One was civilian, one was military, and one was combination of the two. And all three of those analysis came up with a nuclear warhead total. Given the reality Powell had just expressed, there was quite lower than what we have now. In fact, it would probably shock you if I told you what the total was. That total was judged by all three of those groups as being sufficient for what was the total. And that’s what we, that’s what we want.
It’s classified, but it’s it’s very small. Much smaller than now. And, you know, you would have to go through arms control agreements, get some kind of guarantee that the Russians would do the same thing. The Chinese, though their stockpile is quite small, would do the same thing. And others, too. And you would have to have some kind of inspection regime that would verify that annually or more frequently, even if you thought that was necessary.
But that shows you what we could do. Then the reality struck us. The reality struck us with all these things, you know, as we were reducing the military in 1992 by one third. Twenty five percent, up to about 30 percent under Aspin. You can’t do it in the face of these special interests. You just can’t. They will not allow you. They own the Congress or key members of Congress, including the chairman of the two armed services committees.
They own all the levers of power in this country. So the best you can do is to so publicly embarrass them from time to time that you get. You get a little bit here and you get a little bit or so out there, or so out with them in the political arena from time to time, that you get a little bit here and you get a little bit there, but you’re never going to get much because they own this country. They have this country by the gonads.
They own it.
Well, if there’s ever a popular movement on a scale that could change this and perhaps as we head into such a deep economic crisis, we will see a spontaneous movement, an uprising of sorts of the unemployed, and hopefully they will be included in the demands of such a movement, not just defense of the unemployed, but also urgent action on climate change. But also, I hope, urgent action on reducing and then eliminating nuclear weapons. And one way, if you ever could possibly get to it, at least we could imagine it.
If there really was a popular government and a popular control of Congress, then why not nationalize or buy Raytheon and Boeing and buy the manufacturers of nuclear weapons and at least take the profit motive out of war?
And it’s I mean, it’s obvious that, you know, young working class kids go to fight and die to defend the American way and others get rich. And, of course, as I said in one of my articles, that is the American way.
You’re you’re basically. As one of my students pointed out the other day, when we were doing this very thing. We we had a three hour seminar on the, quote, nuclear weapon crisis, unquote.
You’re basically talking about revolution, I think, and probably a fairly bloody revolution. And God knows what would be the result, because most revolutions in human history don’t produce anything like what they were intended to produce when they started. And all you have to do is look at Michigan and Wisconsin and the people who are coming out in the streets. I saw a picture the other day of a limousine driving through the streets of Detroit and had a sign out the window.
And when you call that sign into focus on your computer, you saw the sign was in the colors of the Israeli flag. And on that sign, it said, Jews, go home. This is America. This is the main street of Detroit, Michigan. And you saw some of these people come out in opposition to the policies instituted by their governors or even by President Trump with regard to the epidemic, the pandemic with the corona virus. There’s lots of people in this country like that.
So you’re talking about these powers, knowing how to orchestrate these people. Look at Trump, look at how he’s orchestrating these people. Lessons have been learned from that. These people own, of the 300 to 400 million guns in this country, these people own the preponderant amount of them. So you’re talking about a revolution. That’s what you’re talking about. You’re talking about, as I say.
Well, I guess I guess what I’m imagining and I have no idea if this is possible. Is that an FDR kind of moment in the thirties? Because what FDR accomplished, the sort of things he talked about, that doesn’t mean FDR,
FDR in the final analysis at the end of World War Two, came to a conclusion, wasn’t for building out American global power and such. But what he did during the 30s was quite a departure. And I don’t know if we could get that moment again, but I would think if if we don’t, we’re not going to survive all this.
I think the most, the most pregnant moment, if you will, for that to occur, if it comes. Is what will be produced by the climate crisis when 50 to 60 percent of the American people suddenly because they’re knee-deep in water, either from excessive rains or sea rise or whatever, recognize the dimensions of the crisis. Will that be too late? Probably, but it will take a moment like that. FDR moment was the Great Depression and bread lines that stretch across the country, black clouds that we might we might, we might we might be there again.
We could be or soon we could be. There’s some reason to believe that a moment like that crisis moment like this a profoundly deep crisis moment could be upon us tomorrow morning or certainly within a decade or two. And then the question becomes, would we have the genius, the leadership, the talent, the energy, the Frances Perkins, for example, who really was behind a lot of the New Deal legislation? Would we have that? Would it would it show itself at that moment?
And would it show itself in a way that direct the American people would recognize and hurl into positions of power? That, to me, is a huge question.
Thanks very much for joining us, Larry. Thanks for having me, Paul. Good luck on this new endeavor.
Thank you. Thank you for joining us on the analysis podcast.