The Last Days of the American Republic
- Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
Tuesday, February 27th, 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. [includes
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 We Fight."
Chalmers Johnson joined me yesterday from San Diego. I began by asking
him about the title of his book, "Nemesis."
Chalmers Johnson, Author, scholar and leading critic of US foreign
policy. Retired professor of international relations at the University
of California, San Diego. He is also President of the Japan Policy
Research Institute. His new book is "Nemesis: The Last Days of the
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AMY GOODMAN: 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.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 divine mission.
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
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
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, you connect the breakdown of
constitutional government with militarism.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the signs of the breakdown of
constitutional government and how it links?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was he warned by?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Members of Congress. Republican memb--
AMY GOODMAN: And why were they opposed?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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
AMY GOODMAN: 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.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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,
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.
AMY GOODMAN: 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?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 far.
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
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.
AMY GOODMAN: 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.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 Central America.
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."
AMY GOODMAN: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: 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.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 it.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, in January, the Chinese launched their
first anti-satellite test, and I wanted to segue into that to the
militarization of space.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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
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.
AMY GOODMAN: What is a space Pearl Harbor?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 our bluff.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does Fort Greely, Alaska, fit into this, the silos?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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 expensive.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: 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
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything, Chalmers, that gives you hope?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: 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.
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