Paul Gottinger: I’d like to start with something that Obama said at his inauguration on Monday. He stated, “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crises abroad.” My question for you is how much longer do you think the US will remain the unrivaled military superpower of the world?
William Blum: Well, not forever. I can’t predict when it will come to an end. I can hardly wait. But there’s no way of knowing. What [Obama’s] attitudes and those words indicate is that there’s not going to be any change at all in the next four years. The empire will still prowl the world looking for new conquests.
PG: It has been reported in Mother Jones, US News, and Christian Science Monitor that there is a quiet transformation underway of the US military base empire. US Military bases are changing from large permanent bases from the cold war era to smaller ‘lily pad’ bases. Can you comment on this transformation and the reason for the shift?
WB: I’m actually not aware of that change and I don’t know what it means. I’m sure it doesn’t mean that they’re going to intervene less often. They will just intervene in some other way, for which they won’t need a giant base. This may have to do with the expanded use of drones. It’s quite possible with the use of drones they can get away with smaller bases. I’m sure it’s just a tactical thing, for me it doesn’t indicate any change at all in the imperial designs of the American empire.
PG: Can you comment on how drones have changed the way the US wages war?
WB: They used to assassinate people with guns in some hotel room or dark ally, or elsewhere. But now they do it from above with a drone. I have compiled a list of more than 50 foreign leaders who the US has attempted to assassinate. So, assassinating people is nothing new for them and there’s not a change in policy that I can see. It does make it easier because they don’t risk their own people. Again this is just a cosmetic thing; there’s no change in policy.
PG: Given your extensive knowledge of US military and CIA interventions, how do you think US corporate and transnational corporate interests influence US foreign policy?
WB: The international corporations have a lot of feedback into the administration, much more than you or I do–that’s for sure. But they also have more than feedback. They have money. They keep people like Obama in power. When you give millions of dollars in physical contributions you expect something in return. Obama is completely aware of it. This is common knowledge and common sense. So, there shouldn’t be any surprise that any President will cater to the needs of these international corporations. This is especially true of the ones that are in the military area. They reap huge benefits. Like one of the reasons the US has expanded NATO so much is because every new member of NATO has to spend something like 2 billion dollars on new military equipment to reach a certain standard of NATO. And the US companies, not surprisingly, sell more of this equipment to these new members than any other nation. That’s one example of the many ways in which US foreign policy benefits these multinationals.
PG: Jeremy Scahill writing in The Nation has stated that there has been a substantial transformation in the CIA since 9/11. He writes the CIA has transformed from an intelligence agency to one that performs paramilitary activities. What are your thoughts?
WB: I would agree that’s what happened. Although, that’s not entirely new. The CIA was engaged in paramilitary activities a long way back. In China in the 1940s and early 1950s the CIA was attempting to aid in the overthrow of the communist government. There are other examples I can give. It’s more open now than it ever was. In the example I just mentioned and others I could the CIA was very covert. It was only years later that the information came out. Now the CIA fears no publicity and it just goes in as the CIA and acts like it’s the defense department. That’s a change.
PG: I’d like to ask you about Obama’s ‘Asian Pivot’ and specifically about a group of islands north of Taiwan called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. The area has caused some tension between Japan and China with the New York Times reporting on January 10, 2013 that Japan scrambled F-15 Fighter jets and China dispatched J-10 Fighter jets to the island. Under a longstanding security treaty with Japan, the United States is obligated to defend these Japanese islands. Do you think the US would get involved in a military confrontation in the area?
WB: There’s not going to be a war between Japan and China. There may be an incident involving an airplane here or there, but there’s not going to be a war and if there was a war I can’t predict what the US would do. I would guess nothing. They certainly wouldn’t get involved militarily.
PG: More generally with the ‘Asian Pivot’ do you see any potential for a serious military confrontation with China or do you think that is unlikely?
WB: As much as the US intervenes it rarely picks on a country which can defend itself and China is one of those countries. I don’t think the US will actually intervene militarily against China. China can shoot down US planes and retaliate in many ways on the sea, on the land, and in the air. It’s easy to invade and bomb Iraq, Libya, Iran, and so on. But China is something quite different. Actually, Iran may be an exception. They certainly have been hinting at all kinds of new weapon developments and if it’s not hyperbole they may have protected themselves from a US invasion. We’ll see.
PG: What do you think is behind the movement of more US military personnel to the Pacific if you don’t think a military attack on China is likely? Is it just posturing?
WB: The US has also made countless moves against Russia in the past ten years. The US is almost surrounding Russia. In the Cold War it did many similar things. The US is constantly looking to surround its potential enemies. Russia and China are the only two nations in the world that pose a real threat to the US Empire and its unlimited expansion. So the US, almost as a reflex, surrounds these countries with bases and allies. Whether they would use it, is something else. It’s a form of intimidation. Just to let these countries know they can’t do anything they want. They have to take into account the power of the United States.
PG: I was wondering if you could give some context for the US and French involvement in Mali now?
WB: In all the coverage of Mali there is one point which is largely ignored by the mainstream media. The fact that the Islamists that are fighting France and who engaged in the kidnapping of the foreign workers (at the Tigantourine gas facility in Algeria) have made it very clear that what really bothers them is the French invasion of Mali. Which was an outrageous act. France thinks it can do whatever it wants in Africa, or at least in its former French colonies. This is not a simple act of terrorism. These people angry at what the Western imperialists think they can get away with. For once the Islamists are reacting in a very appropriate way. That has been lost completely in the mainstream media.
PG: In a previous interview we did with Norman Finkelstein, he called what’s happening in Syria essentially a proxy war with regional and global powers involved. How do you see what’s happening in Syria?
WB: I see the situation as very similar to Libya. This is a government that the US wants removed from power, as it does with almost any third world country that is not a good client and not a believer in the Holy Triumvirate (the US, EU, and NATO). Any country that dares to stand up to the Triumvirate is marked for extinction. This was the case in Libya with Gaddafi. Assad is not a good client. Plus, the fact that Israel has wanted him out of power for a long time. Those are two sufficient reasons for the US and the nations in NATO to get involved. I think the only reason the US has not had soldiers on the ground or gotten involved more so far is that, for once, the US is a bit shy about being on the same side as terrorists. In Libya it really backfired. Their allies assassinated the American ambassador and a few CIA people. The US may have learned something, which is unusual. Which is not to get too close to Al Qaeda type terrorists. That’s probably why the US has kept some distance. In Syria there is probably a civil war and partly a Jihad from outside the country. The so-called rebels in Syria have a large number of Jihadists from all over the Middle East and North Africa. That changes it from a civil war to something more international. It’s a combination of Jihadists and Syrian rebels with their own national reasons to overthrow Assad.
PG: Can you describe the current situation in Afghanistan? How much of the country is under NATO control and how devastated is the country?
WB: I don’t know what percentage. Whatever it is I know it’s not a happy land for the people of Afghanistan or for the NATO forces. I mean there are more suicides amongst American soldiers than there are combat deaths. That is an amazing statistic. There may be no historical precedent for that. That by itself would be an overriding argument for the US to get the hell out of there. But they don’t care. Such statistics bother the average citizen, but our leaders are not the same as you and I. They don’t really care about such things. This is really hard for American people to believe. Their leaders, including Obama, don’t care about the suffering of the GIs. No matter what they say. They can’t come out and say ‘we don’t care about the fate of the GIs.’ They have to express their great sympathy and attachment for them and call them heroes and this and that, but this isn’t to be taken with any seriousness.
PG: The Obama administration officially ended the Iraq war at the end of 2011, but the US is still heavily involved in the country. Can you talk about the continued US military presence in the country?
WB: You have to keep in mind what they have next door in Kuwait and other places. They’re close enough to intervene if they have to. But it’s a good thing that they’re out because they were killing many people. In addition to what the Iraqis were doing and still are doing to each other. The US was doing even worse things. It’s a good thing that they’re out. And of course we’re not losing as many GIs there as before. But, nothing is final. The US military is close enough to come back into Iraq if they want in probably a day’s notice. The main reason they left was because of Wikileaks. The exposure of Wikileaks made it just impossible for the Iraqi government to give the US what it insisted it had to have–that is, criminal immunity for its soldiers. The US insists upon this wherever they station their forces in the world. The US will not take the chance of their soldiers being arrested for murder or other crimes if they can help it. The revelations by Wikileaks exposed so much horror that even the very corrupt government of Iraq had no choice by to refuse to concede to the demand of Washington to make the American soldiers exempt from prosecution.
PG: Switching to Latin America, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has said the CIA may try to assassinate him before his upcoming election. Given the US history of assassinations in the region do you think his concern is reasonable?
WB: It’s totally reasonable. I’m surprised they haven’t done it yet. I have a long list I’ve compiled of US assassination attempts of foreign leaders. There’s more than 50 leaders on it. There’s no reason why Correa should be exempt or feel safe. There was a coup attempt against him in 2010, which threatened to culminate in his assassination, but somehow he escaped. The only reason why the US may not attempt to assassinate him is that it would be too obvious. Like with Chavez of Venezuela. If either Chavez or Correa were assassinated the whole world would not except any alibi from Washington.
PG: The former president of Paraguay Fernando Lugo was ousted from power in June of 2012 in what has been called a ‘soft coup.’ Do you think the US played any role in this?
WB: I’m not certain. The Paraguayan parliament has enough right-wingers in it, as they’ve had for decades, for them to do it on their own. But I would guess, given past experiences, the coup plotters would not have gone ahead until they had the approval of Washington. In Honduras, the ones who overthrew the progressive government in 2009 first met with Washington in Honduras and in the US to get the approval. That’s standard procedure. So, I would assume in Paraguay that is what happened.
PG: There seems to be a greater degree of general independence in South America countries from US dominance characterized by more left-leaning leaders and policies aimed at improving the lives of the poor. A prime example is Evo Morales in Bolivia who has nationalized Oil, Mining, Gas, and Communications and has reduced extreme poverty in the country. Why are these leaders being allowed this independence from the US when in the past they may have just been assassinated?
WB: The US has already overthrown two of these governments in Honduras and Paraguay. The US is not sitting back and allowing this to happen. It caught them by surprise to some extent. But I worry about all the others. I worry about Bolivia and Venezuela and so on. There’s other leftist governments besides the ones we mentioned who are not as outspoken. Like in Uruguay. The leader there is a leftist, but he has kept his comments to himself. He hasn’t attacked American imperialism like Chavez has, which may keep him in power a bit longer and may save his life. But I don’t know about the others. There are two down and about five or six more to go. The US is not going to sit back and rest on its laurels.
PG: What’s the legacy of the US funded death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras? How have the countries recovered and in what ways are the countries still impacted by the death squads?
WB: Of all the US interventions of the past 65 years, probably the most horrible one was in Guatemala and maybe El Salvador was second. The carnage in those two places was just extraordinary. The US overthrew a leftist government in Guatemala and in El Salvador it suppressed a leftist movement. The results in both cases were very, very bloody civil wars. The people of those two nations are still suffering from that. They may never recover. The countries had a chance to achieve a certain level of development, maybe escape mass poverty, under Arbenz in Guatemala and under the leftists in El Salvador, but the US said no and that’s put an end to those movements. I can’t say how long it will take before there is recuperation in either place.
PG: Jimmy Carter stated that he wanted US foreign policy to be guided by human rights. Would you say you’ve seen any difference between any presidents, Republican or Democrats, in their use of covert military actions or foreign policy in general?
WB: Jimmy Carter has become much more of a progressive out of office, than he ever was in office. In office they are all about the same. Carter was in office when the Sandinistas came to power and he did his best to sabotage their revolution in various ways. It’s only afterwards that he became a somewhat progressive person. Otherwise, there’s nothing to distinguish one democrat or republican from any other.
William Blum is the author of numerous books on US foreign Policy including Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s only Superpower (2000); Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (2008); and most recently, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy–The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (Feb. 5, 2013).