Andrew Bacevich ~ Photo: democracynow.org
Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been the only true global superpower, with US policymakers intervening freely anywhere around the world where they feel there are vital political or economic interests to be protected. Most of the time US policymakers seem to act without a clear strategy at hand and surely without feeling the need to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Such is the case, for instance, with the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. US policymakers also seem to be clueless about what to do with regard to several “hot spots” around the world, such as Libya and Syria, and it is rather clear that the US no longer has a coherent Middle East policy.
What type of a global power is this? I posed this question to retired colonel and military historian Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor who has authored scores of books on US foreign and military policy, including America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Breach of Trust, and The Limits of Power. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Bacevich explains how the militaristic nature of US foreign policy is a serious impediment to democracy and human rights.
C.J. Polychroniou: I’d like to start by asking you to outline the basic principles and guidelines of the current national military strategy of the United States.
Andrew Bacevich: There is no coherent strategy. US policy is based on articles of faith — things that members of the foreign policy establishment have come to believe, regardless of whether they are true or not. The most important of those articles is the conviction that the United States must “lead” — that the alternative to American leadership is a world that succumbs to anarchy. An important corollary is this: Leadership is best expressed by the possession and use of military power.
According to the current military strategy, US forces must be ready to confront threats whenever they appear. Is this a call for global intervention?
Almost, but not quite. Certainly, the United States intervenes more freely than any other nation on the planet. But it would be a mistake to think that policymakers view all regions of the world as having equal importance. Interventions tend to reflect whatever priorities happen to prevail in Washington at a particular moment. In recent decades, the Greater Middle East has claimed priority attention.
What’s really striking is Washington’s refusal or inability to take into account what this penchant for armed interventionism actually produces. No one in a position of authority can muster the gumption to pose these basic questions: Hey, how are we doing? Are we winning? Once US forces arrive on the scene, do things get better?
The current US military strategy calls for an upgrade of the nuclear arsenal. Does “first use” remain an essential component of US military doctrine?
It seems to, although for the life of me I cannot understand why. US nuclear policy remains frozen in the 1990s. Since the end of the Cold War, in concert with the Russians, we’ve made modest but not inconsequential reductions in the size of our nuclear arsenal. But there’s been no engagement with first order questions. Among the most important: Does the United States require nuclear weapons to maintain an adequate deterrent posture? Given the advances in highly lethal, very long range, very precise conventional weapons, I’d argue that the answer to that question is, no. Furthermore, as the only nation to have actually employed such weapons in anger, the United States has a profound interest and even a moral responsibility to work toward their abolition — which, of course, is precisely what the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obliges us to do. It’s long past time to take that obligation seriously. For those who insist that there is no alternative to American leadership, here’s a perfect opportunity for Washington to lead.
Does the US have, at the present time, a Middle East policy?
Not really, unless haphazardly responding to disorder in hopes of preventing things from getting worse still qualifies as a policy. Sadly, US efforts to “fix” the region have served only to make matters worse. Even more sadly, members of the policy world refuse to acknowledge that fundamental fact. So we just blunder on.
There is no evidence — none, zero, zilch — that the continued U.S. military assertiveness in that region will lead to a positive outcome. There is an abundance of evidence pointing in precisely the opposite direction.
Was the US less militaristic under the Obama administration than it was under the Bush administration?
It all depends on how you define “militaristic.” Certainly, President Obama reached the conclusion rather early on that invading and occupying countries with expectations of transforming them in ways favorable to the United States was a stupid idea. That said, Obama has shown no hesitation to use force and will bequeath to his successor several ongoing wars.
Obama has merely opted for different tactics, relying on air strikes, drones and special operations forces, rather than large numbers of boots on the ground. For the US, as measured by casualties sustained and dollars expended, costs are down in comparison to the George W. Bush years. Are the results any better? No, not really.
To what extent is the public in the US responsible for the uniqueness of the military culture in American society?
The public is responsible in this sense: The people have chosen merely to serve as cheerleaders. They do not seriously attend to the consequences and costs of US interventionism.
The unwillingness of Americans to attend seriously to the wars being waged in their names represents a judgment on present-day American democracy. That judgment is a highly negative one.
What will US involvement in world affairs look like under the Trump administration?
Truly, only God knows.
Trump’s understanding of the world is shallow. His familiarity with the principles of statecraft is negligible. His temperament is ill-suited to cool, considered decision making.
Much is likely to depend on the quality of advisers that he surrounds himself with. At the moment, he seems to favor generals. I for one do not find that encouraging.
Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins.
C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump managed to pull the biggest upset in US politics by tapping successfully into the anger of white voters and appealing to the lowest inclinations of people in a manner that would have probably impressed Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels himself.
But what exactly does Trump’s victory mean, and what can one expect from this megalomaniac when he takes over the reins of power on January 20, 2017? What is Trump’s political ideology, if any, and is “Trumpism” a movement? Will US foreign policy be any different under a Trump administration?
Some years ago, public intellectual Noam Chomsky warned that the political climate in the US was ripe for the rise of an authoritarian figure. Now, he shares his thoughts on the aftermath of this election, the moribund state of the US political system and why Trump is a real threat to the world and the planet in general.
C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout: Noam, the unthinkable has happened: In contrast to all forecasts, Donald Trump scored a decisive victory over Hillary Clinton, and the man that Michael Moore described as a “wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full-time sociopath” will be the next president of the United States. In your view, what were the deciding factors that led American voters to produce the biggest upset in the history of US politics?
Noam Chomsky: Before turning to this question, I think it is important to spend a few moments pondering just what happened on November 8, a date that might turn out to be one of the most important in human history, depending on how we react.
The most important news of November 8 was barely noted, a fact of some significance in itself.
On November 8, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) delivered a report at the international conference on climate change in Morocco (COP22) which was called in order to carry forward the Paris agreement of COP21. The WMO reported that the past five years were the hottest on record. It reported rising sea levels, soon to increase as a result of the unexpectedly rapid melting of polar ice, most ominously the huge Antarctic glaciers. Already, Arctic sea ice over the past five years is 28 percent below the average of the previous 29 years, not only raising sea levels, but also reducing the cooling effect of polar ice reflection of solar rays, thereby accelerating the grim effects of global warming. The WMO reported further that temperatures are approaching dangerously close to the goal established by COP21, along with other dire reports and forecasts.
Another event took place on November 8, which also may turn out to be of unusual historical significance for reasons that, once again, were barely noted.
On November 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.
Apart from the last phrase, all of this is uncontroversial. The last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous. But is it? The facts suggest otherwise. The Party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.
Is this an exaggeration? Consider what we have just been witnessing.
During the Republican primaries, every candidate denied that what is happening is happening — with the exception of the sensible moderates, like Jeb Bush, who said it’s all uncertain, but we don’t have to do anything because we’re producing more natural gas, thanks to fracking. Or John Kasich, who agreed that global warming is taking place, but added that “we are going to burn [coal] in Ohio and we are not going to apologize for it.”
The winning candidate, now the president-elect, calls for rapid increase in use of fossil fuels, including coal; dismantling of regulations; rejection of help to developing countries that are seeking to move to sustainable energy; and in general, racing to the cliff as fast as possible. Read more
C. J. Polychroniou & Marcus Rolle
What is the connection between economic globalization and climate change? Is globalization reversible? Can climate change be reversed? If so, how? In the interview that follows, two leading voices in the struggle for a safe planet and a sustainable future, Graciela Chichilnisky and Helena Norberg-Hodge, address these questions from their own unique perspectives and offer critical insights on how we can avert a climate change catastrophe.
A world renowned economist and mathematician, Graciela Chichilnisky is the architect of the Kyoto Protocol carbon market and cofounder and CEO of Global Thermostat, a disruptive, carbon negative technology company based in the Silicon Valley that removes carbon dioxide from the air. She is Professor of Economics and of Statistics at Columbia University and Visiting Professor of Economics at Stanford University. Helena Norberg-Hodge is the founder and director of Local Futures, a pioneer of the “new economics” movement. She is the producer and co-director of the award winning documentary “The Economics of Happiness” and recipient of the Goi Peace Award.
J. Polychroniou and Marcus Rolle: Climate change is the most daunting problem facing humanity today, and globalization seems to be accelerating it. In fact, the effects of climate change are moving faster than predicted as free trade agreements are proliferating, multinational corporations move their operations to developing countries in order to avoid stricter environmental rules at the home country, and export-oriented industrial agriculture has replaced local farming. Do you agree with the view that economic globalization bears responsibility for climate change?
Helena Norberg-Hodge: Absolutely. Globalization – or the deregulation of global trade and finance – has direct consequences for the climate. It promotes unnecessary long-distance transportation of goods, rampant consumerism, biological monocultures, energy-intensive technology use, and mass urbanization – which leads to ever-increasing fossil fuel consumption. It is also worth noting that a 2013 study found that two-thirds of the fossil fuels that have been burned over the last 150 years were burned by just 90 corporate entities, including companies such as Texaco and ExxonMobil.
With the help of corporate-funded think-tanks, there is a commonly-held belief that individual citizens’ consumption patterns, rather than the systemic changes in production because of globalization are to blame for climate change. This is a very narrow framing of the climate crisis, but it’s one that has gained a lot of credence in the media due to the support of Al Gore and others. Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly clear every day that there are inherent and predictable connections between the deregulation of transnational corporations and the climate crisis. And people are beginning to notice those connections.
So reversing the trend towards further globalization needs to be central to the climate movement.
Graciela Chichilnisky: Yes: globalization was led by the Breton Woods institutions that were founded after WWII to encourage and enforce a pattern of international trade duplicating colonialism at a global scale: deep and extensive extraction of resources from developing nations that were exported at low prices for consumption in industrial nations. This pattern of international trade can be seen as a global tragedy of the commons, since developing nations lack property rights on extractive resources and their governments are dependent of international organizations and therefore “permeable” This term was introduced by Natasha Chichilnisky-Heal who documented the “permeability” of governments in developing nations that are rich in extractive resources in the cases of Mongolia and Zambia, with examples on the direct role of the World Bank in the case of Rio Tinto and Mongolia’s copper mines, the largest in the world. Read more
C.J. Polychroniou & Lily Sage
Throughout most of the modern period, beginning with the era known as the Enlightenment, education was widely regarded as the most important asset for the building of a decent society. However, this value seems to have fallen out of favor in the contemporary period, perhaps as a reflection of the dominance of the neoliberal ideology, creating in the process a context where education has been increasingly reduced to the attainment of professional, specialized skills that cater to the needs of the business world.
What is the actual role of education and its link to democracy, to decent human relations and to a decent society? What defines a cultured and decent society? World-renowned linguist, social critic and activist Noam Chomsky shares his views on education and culture in this exclusive interview for Truthout.
C. J. Polychroniou: At least since the Enlightenment, education has been seen as one of the few opportunities for humanity to lift the veil of ignorance and create a better world. What are the actual connections between democracy and education, or are those links based mainly on a myth, as Neil Postman argued in The End of Education?
Noam Chomsky: I don’t think there is a simple answer. The actual state of education has both positive and negative elements, in this regard. An educated public is surely a prerequisite for a functioning democracy — where “educated” means not just informed but enabled to inquire freely and productively, the primary end of education. That goal is sometimes advanced, sometimes impeded, in actual practice, and to shift the balance in the right direction is a major task — a task of unusual importance in the United States, in part because of its unique power, in part because of ways in which it differs from other developed societies.
It is important to remember that although the richest country in the world for a long time, until World War II, the US was something of a cultural backwater. If one wanted to study advanced science or math, or to become a writer and artist, one would often be attracted to Europe. That changed with World War II for obvious reasons, but only for part of the population. To take what is arguably the most important question in human history, how to deal with climate change, one impediment is that in the US, 40 percent of the population sees it as no problem because Christ will return within the next few decades — symptomatic of many other pre-modern features of the society and culture.
Much of what prevails in today’s world is market-driven education, which is actually destroying public values and undermining the culture of democracy with its emphasis on competition, privatization and profit-making. As such, what model of education do you think holds the best promise for a better and peaceful world?
In the early days of the modern educational system, two models were sometimes counterposed. Education could be conceived as a vessel into which one pours water — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. Or it could be thought of as a thread, laid out by the instructor along which students proceed in their own ways, developing their capacities to “inquire and create” — the model advocated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the modern university system. Read more
C.J. Polychroniou & Marcus Rolle
As the climate change crisis continues unabated, it is becoming increasingly clear that the absence of global governance is a major factor in our failure to take necessary action for protecting the future of the planet. But an equally significant factor behind this failure is the dysfunctional state of the American political system as the global superpower’s elected officials continue to deny the global warming phenomenon and to insist on a business as usual approach vis a vis the environment in general and climate change in particular — in spite of the fact that the majority of the American people have a different view on the matter.
To what extent is the absence of global governance and the malfunctioning US democracy responsible for climate change? What will it take to turn things around and rescue humanity from an unmitigated disaster of its own making? Can technology provide a way out? These issues are debated below in a joined interview with two leading scholars: Graciela Chichilnisky, a world renowned economist and mathematician, Professor of Economics and of Statistics at Columbia University and Visiting Professor of Economics at Stanford University), and a leading force in the climate change battle (architect and author of the Kyoto Protocol Carbon Market, CEO and cofounder of Global Thermostat), and Heikki Patomaki, Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a leading authority in the field of global governance.
J. Polychroniou and Marcus Rolle: Climate change has emerged in early 21st century as the most critical global problem, although there still continues to be plenty of denial and inexcusable political inertia across the globe. In this context, to what extent is the difficulty of addressing climate change a problem related to the absence of global governance?
Heikki Patomaki: Global governance in this field is not entirely absent, as witnessed by the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, but it is seriously lacking in many important ways. A key reason for why proper global governance – or government – is needed is that individual state-actions and world markets are often poor in preventing unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted worldwide developments from happening. World markets and separate states may generate economic crises and downturns or global warming or other unsustainable developments. Without legitimate and well-functioning common institutions it is also difficult to take action against underdevelopment, uneven industrialization or growth, or global accumulation of privileges and power – all of which may also be self-reinforcing processes in the absence of proper countervailing responses. Moreover, these processes can also trigger and strengthen conflicts among states, which may lead to securitization, even to arms-race and wars.
We can talk about reflexive self-regulation when knowledge about the way the social systems – including the world system as a whole – function is applied recursively in interventions that aim at avoiding unwanted or achieving desired outcomes. But what is unwanted or desirable is always an ethico-political question. Not only are different anticipations about the possible and likely futures involved in the politics of climate change, but so are assumptions concerning justice or the extent to which either actual or administratively created simulated markets can regulate themselves.
Graciela Chichilnisky: Globalization emerged after World War II fostered by the Bretton Woods Institutions that were created in 1945: The World Bank, the IMF, the WTO. They provided governance of the world economy for the first time in history. The United Nations and its various organizations emerged in that same period, and offered diplomatic and political governance. But by their own design, the Bretton Woods institutions shaped the world economy, and, also by design, they were dominated by the United States, which emerged as the sole economic power after the destruction caused by WWII. It is not surprising, therefore, that the main obstacle for the global governance of climate change originates in the USA — in particular in the US Congress, which seems to be out of step with the American people. Economics, indeed industrialization as fostered by the Bretton Woods institutions and the USA as the chief supporter, is deeply anchored at the source of climate change. The Bretton Woods organizations enforced an economic model based on industrialization with deep and extensive overuse of natural resources of all types and particularly of fossil fuels as a source of energy. The world’s resources were extracted by developing nations and exported at low prices and overconsumed in the industrial nations. Climate change is a physical fact, but its origins are economic. There is nothing that can be done about climate unless we change our prevailing economic models and institutions including the overuse of global resources such as water, air, biodiversity, and fossil fuels. These are the economic factors at the source of the problem: the governance of the world economy we have is forcefully imposing a pattern of economic growth – and defining economic progress – in a way that may have been possible a hundred years ago but is no longer feasible now. Economic progress as defined by the Bretton Woods institutions will in all likelihood lead to catastrophic climate change and even to the extinction of the human species, destroying globally the sources of clean air, drinkable water, biodiversity, and a stable climate that are our basic needs for survival. We need to change the global governance of the world economy for our species to survive. The United Nations governance is anchored on the concept of nation states –it uses a “one nation one vote” principle, while the Bretton Woods institutions use “one dollar one vote”, governance is determined by the dollar amount that a nation controls. Nation states are a relatively new concept in human history, and there is nothing that a single nation can do by itself to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change which is a global phenomenon, since CO2 concentration is the same everywhere in the planet, whether it is measured in New York, in Beijing, in Madrid or in Buenos Aires it is always the same. Each continent has enough fossil fuels to cause climate change by itself, affecting the entire world, Africa could cause trillions of dollars in losses to the USA, for example, just by burning its own coal. The issue is global and cannot be resolved by any single nation: it is truly a global issue and our global governing institutions are not appropriate for the challenge. Lord Nicholas Stern said that Climate Change is “the biggest externality in the history of humankind” and yet our economic governing institutions are based on markets for private goods that completely disregard externalities. We need new global governing institutions and a new economic discipline focused on internalizing externalities in order to face the climate challenge. This is the global carbon market I designed and wrote into the Kyoto Protocol achieves for the atmosphere. Traditional economics with private goods and private markets, with governing institutions based on nation states and private market values do not make the cut.
C. J. Polychroniou
Few policies and programs designed to promote economic recovery and social reform have attracted as much attention as those associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelts New Deal during the 1930s when the U.S. economy had plunged into its worst economic crisis in its history. And with good reason: the New Deal programs, although initially opposed by the major financial and corporate interests of the country, partly out of horror that they represented a step towards socialism and partly out of fear that they would pose an obstacle to their profit-maximizing pursuits by narrowing the scope of labor exploitation, kept capitalism alive and staved off social unrest and rebellion. The New Deal planners achieved this by abandoning the myth of pro-market solutions to economic crises and relying instead on a set of massive government interventions.
Among other things, the New Deal programs centralized planning (National Industrial Recovery Act) and funded under this plan the construction of largescale public works (Public Works Administration) as a means of providing employment for millions of jobless workers, reformed the banking system with the Glass–Steagall Act, provided integrated solutions to the needs of the economies of several depressed Southern state (Tennessee Valley Authority) and set up a federally-guaranteed pension system (Social Security Act).
The New Deal programs provide a glowing example of how powerful the role of government can be in rescuing an economy from complete collapse, delivering relief to millions of lives tossed aside by a socio-economic system with an inherent tendency to treat people as if there were things, and reducing the gap between rich and poor.
The New Deal wasn’t a revolution, but it did save many people’s lives. It did not end the depression, but it might have (although this is still highly debatable) if FDR hadn’t decided in 1937 to cut back stimulus because of his concerns about inflation and the federal deficit. The New Deal also laid the basis for what could have been very positive changes in the years that followed, had it not been beaten back by the bitter class war fought by what Noam Chomsky calls the highly class conscious business classes,[i] assisted by the powerful weapon of anti-communist hysteria.
Thus, the New Deal is widely seen as one of the greatest experiments of active state intervention under capitalism, so its little wonder why the political thinking behind the New Deal-era projects is also regarded by many as an ideal model to inform policy intervention in todays world as the advanced capitalist economies are once again in the throes of a serious economic and social crisis marked by stagnant or anemic growth, rising unemployment and social exclusion, extreme levels of inequality, and rapidly declining standards of living.
While far from being thoroughly Keynesian, some of the New Deal projects fall firmly into counter-cyclical demand management schemes, especially some of the second New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration (1935-1943), and it is primarily these aspects of the New Deal experimental programs (including the Civil Conservation Corps) that serve as a guide to the call of many progressive and non-orthodox economists for the adoption of a New Deal for the 21st Century.[ii]
However, aside from the obvious question as to whether it is feasible to resurrect the reformist zeal of the New Deal in todays world, there are some annoying facts about active state intervention under capitalism as well as some disturbing realities about capitalism itself which cannot be overlooked or ignored by those committed to an alternative social order. Read more