The Last Days
Of The American Republic
By Chalmers Johnson
& Amy Goodman
02 March, 2007
In his new book, CIA analyst,
distinguished scholar, and best-selling author Chalmers Johnson argues
that US military and economic overreach may actually lead to the nation's
collapse as a constitutional republic. It's the last volume in his Blowback
trilogy, following the best-selling "Blowback" and "The
Sorrows of Empire." In those two, Johnson argued American clandestine
and military activity has led to un-intended, but direct disaster here
in the United States.
Chalmers Johnson is a retired
professor of international relations at the University of California,
San Diego. He is also President of the Japan Policy Research Institute.
Johnson has written for several publications including Los Angeles Times,
the London Review of Books, Harper's Magazine, and The Nation. In 2005,
he was featured prominently in the award-winning documentary film, “Why
Today, we spend the hour with the former CIA consultant, distinguished
scholar, best-selling author, Chalmers Johnson. He's just published
a new book. It's called Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.
It's the last volume in his trilogy, which began with Blowback, went
onto The Sorrows of Empire. In those two, Johnson argued American clandestine
and military activity has led to unintended but direct disaster here
in the United States. In his new book, Johnson argues that US military
and economic overreach may actually lead to the nation's collapse as
a constitutional republic.
Chalmers Johnson is a retired
professor of international relations at the University of California,
San Diego. He's also president of the Japan Policy Research Institute.
He's written for a number of publications, including the Los Angeles
Times, The London Review of Books, Harper’s magazine and The Nation.
In 2005, he was featured prominently in the award-winning documentary,
Why We Fight. Chalmers Johnson joined me yesterday from San Diego. I
began by asking him about the title of his book, Nemesis.
Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of revenge, the punisher of hubris
and arrogance in human beings. You may recall she is the one that led
Narcissus to the pond and showed him his reflection, and he dove in
and drowned. I chose the title, because it seems to me that she's present
in our country right now, just waiting to make her -- to carry out her
By the subtitle, I really
do mean it. This is not just hype to sell books -- “The Last Days
of the American Republic.” I’m here concerned with a very
real, concrete problem in political analysis, namely that the political
system of the United States today, history tells us, is one of the most
unstable combinations there is -- that is, domestic democracy and foreign
empire -- that the choices are stark. A nation can be one or the other,
a democracy or an imperialist, but it can't be both. If it sticks to
imperialism, it will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much
of our system was modeled, like the old Roman Republic, it will lose
its democracy to a domestic dictatorship.
I’ve spent some time
in the book talking about an alternative, namely that of the British
Empire after World War II, in which it made the decision, not perfectly
executed by any manner of means, but nonetheless made the decision to
give up its empire in order to keep its democracy. It became apparent
to the British quite late in the game that they could keep the jewel
in their crown, India, only at the expense of administrative massacres,
of which they had carried them out often in India. In the wake of the
war against Nazism, which had just ended, it became, I think, obvious
to the British that in order to retain their empire, they would have
to become a tyranny, and they, therefore, I believe, properly chose,
admirably chose to give up their empire.
As I say, they didn't do
it perfectly. There were tremendous atavistic fallbacks in the 1950s
in the Anglo, French, Israeli attack on Egypt; in the repression of
the Kikuyu -- savage repression, really -- in Kenya; and then, of course,
the most obvious and weird atavism of them all, Tony Blair and his enthusiasm
for renewed British imperialism in Iraq. But nonetheless, it seems to
me that the history of Britain is clear that it gave up its empire in
order to remain a democracy. I believe this is something we should be
discussing very hard in the United States.
Chalmers Johnson, you connect the breakdown of constitutional government
Can you talk about the signs of the breakdown of constitutional government
and how it links?
Well, yes. Militarism is the -- what the social side has called the
“intervening variable,” the causative connection. That is
to say, to maintain an empire requires a very large standing army, huge
expenditures on arms that leads to a military-industrial complex, and
generally speaking, a vicious cycle sets up of interests that lead to
perpetual series of wars.
It goes back to probably
the earliest warning ever delivered to us by our first president, George
Washington, in his famous farewell address. It’s read at the opening
of every new session of Congress. Washington said that the great enemy
of the republic is standing armies; it is a particular enemy of republican
liberty. What he meant by it is that it breaks down the separation of
powers into an executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are
intended to check each other -- this is our most fundamental bulwark
against dictatorship and tyranny -- it causes it to break down, because
standing armies, militarism, military establishment, military-industrial
complex all draw power away from the rest of the country to Washington,
including taxes, that within Washington they draw it to the presidency,
and they begin to create an imperial presidency, who then implements
the military's desire for secrecy, making oversight of the government
almost impossible for a member of Congress, even, much less for a citizen.
It seems to me that this
is also the same warning that Dwight Eisenhower gave in his famous farewell
address of 1961, in which he, in quite vituperative language, quite
undiplomatic language -- one ought to go back and read Eisenhower. He
was truly alarmed when he spoke of the rise of a large arms industry
that was beyond supervision, that was not under effective control of
the interests of the military-industrial complex, a phrase that he coined.
We know from his writings that he intended to say a military-industrial-congressional
complex. He was warned off from going that far. But it's in that sense
that I believe the nexus -- or, that is, the incompatibility between
domestic democracy and foreign imperialism comes into being.
Who was he warned by?
Members of Congress. Republican memb--
And why were they opposed?
Well, they did not want to have their oversight abilities impugned.
They weren't carrying them out very well. You must also say that Eisenhower
was -- I think he's been overly praised for this. It was a heroic statement,
but at the same time, he was the butcher of Guatemala, the person who
authorized our first clandestine operation and one of the most tragic
that we ever did: the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953
for the sake of the British Petroleum Company. And he also presided
over the fantastic growth of the military-industrial complex, of the
lunatic oversupply of nuclear weapons, of the empowering of the Air
Force, and things of this sort. It seems to be only at the end that
he realized what a monster he had created.
Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.
We'll come back to him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As
we return to my interview with Chalmers Johnson -- his new book, Nemesis:
The Last Days of the American Republic -- I asked him to talk about
the expansion of US military bases around the globe.
According to the official count right now -- it's something
called the Base Structure Report, which is an unclassified Pentagon
inventory of real property owned around the world and the cost it would
take to replace it -- there are right now 737 American military bases
on every continent, in well over 130 countries. Some apologists from
the Pentagon like to say, well, this is false, that we're counting Marine
guards at embassies. I guarantee you that it's simply stupid. We don't
have anything like 737 American embassies abroad, and all of these are
genuine military bases with all of the problems that that involves.
In the southernmost prefecture
of Japan, Okinawa, site of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, there’s
a small island, smaller than Kawaii in the Hawaiian islands, with 1,300,000
Okinawans. There's thirty-seven American military bases there. The revolt
against them has been endemic for fifty years. The governor is always
saying to the local military commander, “You're living on the
side of a volcano that could explode at any time.” It has exploded
in the past. What this means is just an endless, nonstop series of sexually
violent crimes, drunken brawls, hit-and-run accidents, environmental
pollution, noise pollution, helicopters falling out of the air from
Futenma Marine Corps Air Base and falling onto the campus of Okinawa
International University. One thing after another. Back in 1995, we
had one of the most serious incidents, when two Marines and a sailor
abducted, beat and raped a twelve-year-old girl. This led to the largest
demonstrations against the United States since we signed the security
treaty with Japan decades ago. It's this kind of thing.
I first went to Okinawa in
1996. I was invited by then-Governor Ota in the wake of the rape incident.
I’ve devoted my life to the study of Japan, but like many Japanese,
many Japanese specialists, I had never been in Okinawa. I was shocked
by what I saw. It was the British Raj. It was like Soviet troops living
in East Germany, more comfortable than they would be back at, say, Oceanside,
California, next door to Camp Pendleton. And it was a scandal in every
sense. My first reaction -- I’ve not made a secret of it -- that
I was, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, certainly a Cold Warrior.
My first explanation was that this is simply off the beaten track, that
people don't come down here and report it. As I began to study the network
of bases around the world and the incidents that have gone with them
and the military coups that have brought about regime change and governments
that we approve of, I began to realize that Okinawa was not unusual;
it was, unfortunately, typical.
These bases, as I say, are
spread everywhere. The most recent manifestation of the American military
empire is the decision by the Pentagon now, with presidential approval,
of course, to create another regional command in Africa. This may either
be at the base that we have in Djibouti at the Horn of Africa. It may
well be in the Gulf of Guinea, where we are prospecting for oil, and
the Navy would very much like to put ourselves there. It is not at all
clear that we should have any form of American military presence in
Africa, but we're going to have an enlarged one.
Invariably, remember what
this means. Imperialism is a form of tyranny. It never rules through
consent of the governed. It doesn't ask for the consent of the governed.
We talk about the spread of democracy, but we're talking about the spread
of democracy at the point of an assault rifle. That's a contradiction
in terms. It doesn't work. Any self-respecting person being democratized
in this manner starts thinking of retaliation. Nemesis becomes appropriate.
Chalmers Johnson, there have been major protests against US military
bases. Recently in Vicenza in Italy, about 100,000 people protested.
Ecuador announced that it would close the Manta Air Base, the military
base there. What about the response, the resistance to this web of bases
around the world?
Well, there is a genuine resistance and has been for a long
time. As I say, in the case of Okinawa, there's been at least three
different historical revolts against the American presence. There's
collaboration between the Japanese government and the Pentagon to use
this island, which is a Japanese version of Puerto Rico. It's a place
that's always been discriminated against. It's the Japanese way of having
their cake and eating it, too. They like the alliance with America,
but they do not want American soldiers based anywhere near the citizens
of mainland Japan. So they essentially dump them or quarantine them
off into this island, where the population pays the cost.
This is true, what's going
on in Italy right now, where there is tremendous resistance to the CIA
rendition cases. That is, kidnapping people that we've identified and
flying them secretly to countries where we know they will be tortured.
There's right now something like twenty-five CIA officers by name who
are under indictment by the Italian government for felonies committed
by agents of the United States in Italy. And, indeed, we just did have
these major demonstrations in Vicenza. The people there believe that
with the enlargement of the base that is already there -- I mean, this
is, after all, the old Palladian city, a city of great and famous architecture,
that they would become a target of terrorism, of numerous other things.
We see the resistance in
the form of Prime Minister Zapatero in Spain, that he promised the people
that after he came to power, he would get out of Iraq, and he was one
of the few who did deliver, who does remember that if democracy means
anything, it means that public opinion matters, though in an awful lot
of countries, it doesn't actually seem to be the case. But he has reduced
radically the American military presence in Spain.
And it continues around the
world. There is a growing irritation at the American colossus athwart
the world, using its military muscle to do as it pleases. We see it
right now, that people of the Persian Gulf are not being asked whether
or not they want anywhere between two and four huge carrier task forces
in the fifth fleet in CENTCOM’s navy in the Persian Gulf, and
all of which looks like preparation for an assault on Iran. We don't
know that for certain by any manner of means, but there's plenty enough
to make us suspicious.
Then you look back historically,
probably there is no more anti-American democracy on earth than Greece.
They will never forgive us for bringing to power the Greek colonels
the in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and, of course, also
establishing then numerous American military enclaves in Greece until
the colonels themselves finally self-destructed by simply going too
And the cases are ubiquitous
in Latin America, in Africa today. Probably still the most important
area, of course, of military imperialism is the opening up of southern
Eurasia, after it became available to foreign imperialistic pressure
with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many important observers
who have resigned their commissions from the Pentagon have made the
case that the fundamental explanation for the war in Iraq was precisely
to make it the new -- to replace the two old pillars of American foreign
policy in the Middle East. The first pillar, Iran, collapsed, of course,
with the revolution in 1979 against the Shah, who we had installed in
power. The second pillar, Saudi Arabia, had become less and less useful
to us, because of our own bungling. We put forces, military forces,
ground forces, an air force, in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in 1991.
This was unnecessary, it was stupid, it was arrogant. It caused antagonism
among numerous patriotic Saudis, not least of whom, one was our former
asset and colleague, Osama bin Laden -- that Saudi Arabia is charged
with the defense of the two most sacred sites in Islam: Mecca and Medina.
We ought to be able to do this ourselves without using infidel troops
that know absolutely nothing about our religion, our country, our lifestyle,
or anything else. Over time, the Saudis began to restrict the use of
Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh. We actually closed down our major
operations headquarters there just before the invasion of Iraq and moved
it to Qatar.
And then we chose Iraq as
the second most oil-rich country on earth, and as a place perfectly
suited for our presence. I think many people have commented on it, Seymour
Hersh notably, but I think, importantly, one of the reasons we had no
exit plan from Iraq is that we didn't intend to leave. And certainly
the evidence of it is the now series of at least five very, very large,
heavily reinforced, long double runways, five air bases in Iraq, strategically
located all over the country. You can never get our ambassador, the
Department of Defense, the President, or anybody to say unequivocally
we don't intend to have bases there. It's a subject on which Congress
never, ever opens its mouth. Occasionally, military officers -- the
commander of Air Force in CENTCOM has repeatedly, in his sort of off-hand
way, when asked, “How long do you think we'll be here?”
and he usually says, “Oh, at least a decade in these bases.”
And then, we continue to reinforce them.
Now, then, we’ve tried
to build bases in Central Asia in the Caspian Basin oil-rich countries
that were made independent -- not in any sense democracies -- made independent
by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. We have now been thrown
out of one of them for too much heavy-handed interference. And the price
of our stay in Kyrgyzstan has quadrupled, much more than that actually.
It’s gone from a few million dollars to well over $100 million.
But we continue to play these games, and they are games, and the game
is property called imperialism.
We're talking to Chalmers Johnson. Now, Chalmers Johnson, you were a
consultant for the CIA for a period through Richard Nixon, starting
with Johnson in 1967, right through 1973. And I’m wondering how
you see its use has changed. You talk about, and you write in your book
about the Central Intelligence Agency, the president's private army.
I say, at one point, we will never know peace until we abolish it, or,
at any rate, restrict what is the monster that it's grown into. The
National Security Act of 1947 lists five functions. It creates the Central
Intelligence Agency. It lists five functions for it. The purpose, above
all, was to prevent surprise attack, to prevent a recurrence of the
attack, such as the one at Pearl Harbor. Of these five functions, four
are various forms of information-gathering through open sources, espionage,
signals intelligence, things of this sort. The fifth is simply a catchall,
that the CIA will do anything that the National Security Council, namely
the foreign affairs bureaucracy in the White House attached directly
to the president orders it to do.
That's turned out to be the
tail that wags the dog. Intelligence is not taken all that seriously.
It's not that good. My function inside the agency in the late ’60s,
early ’70s was in the Office of National Estimates. My wife used
to ask me at times, “Why are they so highly classified?”
And I said, “Well, probably and mostly, simply because they’re
the very best we can do, and they read like a sort of lowbrow foreign
affairs article.” They're not full of great technical detail and
certainty nothing on sources of intelligence.
But as the agency developed
over time, and as it was made clear to the president, every president
since Truman, made clear to them shortly after they were inaugurated,
you have at your disposal a private army. It is totally secret. There
is no form of oversight. There was no form of congressional oversight
until the late 1970s, and it proved to be incompetent in the face of
Iran-Contra and things like that. He can do anything you want to with
it. You could order assassinations. You could order governments overthrown.
You could order economies subverted that seemed to get in our way. You
could instruct Latin American military officers in state terrorism.
You can carry out extraordinary renditions and order the torture of
people, despite the fact that it is a clear violation of American law
and carries the death penalty if the torture victim should die, and
they commonly do in the case of renditions to places like Egypt.
No president since Truman,
once told that he has this power, has ever failed to use it. That became
the route of rapid advancement within the CIA, dirty tricks, clandestine
activities, the carrying out of the president's orders to overthrow
somebody, starting -- the first one was the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh
in Iran in 1953. It’s from that, the After Action Report, which
has only recently been declassified, that the word “blowback”
that I used in the first of my three books on American foreign policy,
that's where the word “blowback” comes from. It means retaliation
for clandestine activities carried out abroad.
But these clandestine activities
also have one other caveat on them: they are kept totally secret from
the American public, so that when the retaliation does come, they're
unable ever to put it in context, to see it in cause-and-effect terms.
They usually lash out against the alleged perpetrators, usually simply
inaugurating another cycle of blowback. The best example is easily 9/11
in 2001, which was clearly blowback for the largest clandestine operation
we ever carried out, namely the recruiting, arming and sending into
battle of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during
the 1980s. But this is the way the CIA has evolved.
It's been responsible for
the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and bringing to power probably
the most odious dictator on either side in the Cold War, namely General
Augusto Pinochet; the installation of the Greek colonels in the late
‘60s and early ’70s in Greece; the coups, one after another,
in numerous Latin American countries, all under the cover of avoiding
Soviet imperialism carried out by Fidel Castro, when the real purpose
was to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company, and continued
to exploit the extremely poor and essentially defenseless people of
The list is endless. The
overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia, the bringing to power of General
Suharto, then the elimination of General Suharto when he got on our
nerves. It has a distinctly Roman quality to it. And this is why I --
moreover, there is no effective oversight. There are a few, often crooked
congressmen, like Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who are charged
with oversight. When Charlie Wilson, the congressman, long-sitting congressman
from the Second District of Texas, was named chairman of the House Intelligence
Oversight Committee during the Afghan period, he wrote at once to his
pals in the CIA, “The fox is in the henhouse. Gentlemen, do anything
you want to.”
Chalmers Johnson has just finished his trilogy. The first was Blowback,
then Sorrows of Empire, now Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.
We'll be back with the conclusion of the interview in a minute.
We return to the conclusion of my interview with Chalmers Johnson. Professor
Johnson is a noted expert on Asia politics. He has authored a number
of books on the Chinese revolution, on Japanese economic development.
In his thirty years in the University of California system, Johnson
served as chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University
of California, Berkeley. I asked him to talk about China's role as a
growing world power.
I’m optimistic about China. I think that they have shown a remarkable
movement toward moderation. I believe that the public supports them,
because they've done something that the public wanted done and was extremely
fearful about, namely the dismantling of a Leninist economy without
reducing the conditions that occurred in Yeltsin's Russia, that China
has -- it’s unleashed its fantastic growth potential and is moving
ahead with great power and insight.
There are many things that
we do not like in the way this is developing, particularly the fear
of China by the American neoconservatives. They have no alternative
but to adjust to this. It's the same kind of adjustment that should
have been made in the 20th century to the rise of new sources of power
in Germany, in Russia, in Japan. The failure by the sated English-speaking
powers -- above all, England and the United States -- to adjust led
to savage and essentially worthless wars. But the Americans are again
continuing to harp on China's growth, where, in fact, I’ve been
impressed with the ease with which China has adjusted to the interests
of countries that do not necessarily like China at all -- Indonesia,
for example, Vietnam.
They are contiguously egging
on the Japanese to be antagonistic toward China, which was the scene
of their greatest war crimes during World War II, for which they have
never adequately either responded or paid compensation. I wonder what
foolishness is this. A war with China would have the same -- it would
have the same configuration as the Vietnam War. We would certainly lose
The glue, the political glue
of China today, the source of its legitimacy, is increasingly Chinese
nationalism, which is passionately held. As the Hong Kong joke has it,
China just had a couple of bad centuries, and it's back.
We have not been watching
it with quite the hawk eyes we were during the first months of the Bush
administration, when, after a spy incident in which the Chinese forced
down one of our reconnaissance planes that was penetrating their coastal
areas in an extremely aggressive manner -- if it had been a Chinese
plane off of our coast, we would have shot it down; they simply forced
it down, it was a loss of an airplane and one of their own pilots --
that, you'll recall, George Bush said on television that he would, if
the Chinese ever menaced the island of Taiwan, he would use the full
weight and force of the American military against China. This is insanity,
genuine insanity. There's no way that -- I mean, if the Chinese defeated
every single American, they'd still have 800 million of them left, and
you simply have to adjust to that, not antagonize it, and I believe
there's plenty of ample evidence that you can adjust to the Chinese.
Chalmers Johnson, in January, the Chinese launched their first anti-satellite
test, and I wanted to segue into that to the militarization of space.
Well, precisely, I have a chapter in Nemesis that I’m
extremely proud of called “The Ultimate Imperialist Project: Outer
Space.” It's about the congressional missile lobby, the fantastic
waste of funds on things that we know don't work. But they're not intended
to work. They're part of military Keynesianism, of maintaining our economy
through military expenditures. They provide jobs in as many different
constituencies as the military-industrial complex can place them.
We have arrogantly talked
about full-spectrum dominance of control of the globe from outer space,
the domination of the low and high orbits that are so necessary. We've
all become so dependent upon them today for global positioning devices,
telecommunications, mapping, weather forecasting, one thing after another.
In fact, the Chinese, the Russians, the Europeans have been asking us
repeatedly for decent international measures, international treaties,
to prevent the weaponization of space, to prevent the growing catastrophe
of orbiting debris that are extremely lethal to satellites, to -- as
Sally Ride, one of the commanders of our space shuttle, she was in an
incident in which a piece of paint, or in orbit -- that's at 17,000
miles an hour in low-earth orbit -- hit the windshield of the challenger
and put a bad dent in it.
Now, if a piece of paint
can do that, I hate to tell you what a lens cap or an old wrench or
something like that -- so there's a whole bunch of them out there. At
the Johnson Space Center, they keep a regular growing inventory of these
old pieces of, some case, weaponry, some case, launch vehicles for satellites,
things of this sort. They publish a very lovely little newsletter that
talks about how a piece of an American space capsule from twenty years
ago rear-ended a shot Chinese-launched vehicle and produced a few more
debris. It's a catastrophe.
But instead, we've got --
there's no other word for it -- an arrogant, almost Roman, out-of-control
Air Force that continues to serve the interests of the military-industrial
complex, the space lobby, to build things that they know won't work.
What is a space Pearl Harbor?
A space Pearl Harbor would mean, they believe, what the Chinese did
in January, when they tested an anti-satellite weapon against one of
their old and redundant satellites. Satellites do burn out. There's
no way to repair them, so they simply shot it down with a rocket. This
explosion produces massive amounts of debris, whizzing around the earth
in low-earth orbit. If you put it higher into orbit, you would start
killing off the main satellites on which, well, probably this television
broadcast is going to depend on, too. And there's no way to ever get
rid of things that are orbiting in high-earth orbit. Low-earth orbit,
some of them will descend into the atmosphere and burn up.
But the Air Force has continuously
used this so-called threat of our being blinded by -- because we have
become so reliant on global positioning systems. Our so-called “smart
bombs” depend on them, that we’ve -- they're not very smart,
and it's not as good a global positioning system as the peaceful one
the Europeans are building called Galileo. They use it to say we must
arm space, we must have anti-satellite weapons in space, we have rebuffed
every effort to control this, and finding out the Chinese have called
Where does Fort Greely, Alaska, fit into this, the silos?
Well, that is, there's three ways to shoot down an alleged incoming
missile. This is the whole farce of whether there is a defense against
a missile. I guarantee you there is no defense at all against the Topol-M,
the Russian missile that goes into orbit extremely rapidly -- it goes
into its arch extremely rapidly. It has a maneuvering ability that means
that it's undetectable.
We're basically looking at
very low-brow weapons that would be coming from a country like North
Korea, in which we have three different ways of trying to intercept
them. We used to only try to do with one under the Clinton administration.
Under the enthusiasm of the current neoconservatives, we have three
ways. One, on blastoff, this is extremely difficult to do, but we're
trying to create a laser, carried in a Boeing 747, that would hit one.
You've got to be virtually on top of the launch site in order to do
so. It’s never worked. It probably doesn't work, and it's just
The much more common one
would be to down the hostile missile, while it is in outer space, from
having given up its launch vehicle and is now heading at very high speed
toward the United States. This is what the interceptors that have been
put in the ground at Fort Greely, Alaska, and a couple of them at Vandenberg
Air Force Base in California, are supposed to do. They have never once
yet had a successful intercept. The radar is not there to actually track
the allegedly hostile vehicle. As one senior Pentagon scientist said
the other day, these are really essentially scarecrows, hoping that
they would scare off the North Koreans.
This is a catastrophic misuse
of resources against a small and failed communist state, North Korea.
There is no easier thing on earth to detect than a hostile missile launch,
and the proper approach to preventing that is deterrence. We have thought
about it, worked on it, practiced it, studied it now for decades. The
North Koreans have an excellent reputation for rationality. They know
if they did launch such a vehicle at Japan or at the United States,
they would disappear the next day in a retaliatory strike, and they
don't do it.
It's why, in the case of
Iran, the only logical thing to do is to learn to live with a nuclear-armed
Iran. It's inevitable for a country now surrounded by nuclear powers
-- the United States in the Persian Gulf, the Soviet Union, Israel,
Pakistan and India. The Iranians are rationalists and recognize the
only way you're ever going to dissuade people from using their nuclear
power to intimidate us is a threat of retaliation. So we are developing
our minimal deterrent, and we should learn to live with it.
Finally, Chalmers Johnson, you have just completed your trilogy. Your
first book, Blowback, then Sorrows of Empire, and now finally Nemesis:
The Last Days of the American Republic. What is your prediction?
Well, I don't see any way out of it. I think it's gone too far. I think
we are domestically too dependent on the military-industrial complex,
that every time -- I mean, it's perfectly logical for any Secretary
of Defense to try and close military bases that are redundant, that
are useless, that are worn out, that go back to the Civil War. Any time
he tries to do it, you produce an uproar in the surrounding community
from newspapers, television, priests, local politicians: save our base.
The two mother hens of the
Defense Facilities Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
the people committed to taking care of our bases are easily Kay Bailey
Hutchison of Texas and Dianne Feinstein of California, the two states
with the largest number of military bases, and those two senators would
do anything in their power to keep them open. This is the insidious
way in which the military-industrial complex has penetrated into our
democracy and gravely weakened it, produced vested interests in what
I call military Keynesianism, the use and manipulation of what is now
three-quarters of a trillion dollars of the Defense budget, once you
include all the other things that aren't included in just the single
appropriation for the Department of Defense.
This is a -- it's out of
control. We depend upon it, we like it, we live off of it. I cannot
imagine any President of any party putting together the coalition of
forces that could begin to break into these vested interests, any more
than a Gorbachev was able to do it in his attempted reforms of the Soviet
Union in the late 1980s.
Is there anything, Chalmers, that gives you hope?
Well, that's exactly what we're doing this morning. That is, the only
way -- you've got to reconstitute the constitutional system in America,
or it is over. That is that empires -- once you go in the direction
of empire, you ultimately lead to overstretch, bankruptcy, coalitions
of nations hostile to your imperialism. We're well on that route.
The way that it might be
stopped is by a mobilization of inattentive citizens. I don't know that
that's going to happen. I’m extremely dubious, given the nature
of conglomerate control of, say, the television networks in America
for the sake of advertising revenue. We see Rupert Murdoch talking about
buying a third of the Los Angeles Times. But, nonetheless, there is
the internet, there is Amy Goodman, there are -- there's a lot more
information than there was.
One of the things I have
experienced in these three books is a much more receptive audience of
alarmed Americans to Nemesis than to the previous two books, where there
was considerable skepticism, so that one -- if we do see a renaissance
of citizenship in America, then I believe we could recapture our government.
If we continue politics as in the past, then I think there is no alternative
but to say Nemesis is in the country, she's on the premises, and she
is waiting to carry out her divine mission.
Chalmers Johnson, his new book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American
Republic. It's the last volume in his Blowback trilogy, following the
best-selling Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire.