The Empire Has No Clothes
October 28, 2004
David J. Theroux
Founder and President, The Independent Institute
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux and Im the President of the Independent Institute. I want to welcome you all to our Independent Policy Forum this evening.
The Independent Policy Forum is a regular series of lectures, seminars and debates that we hold here at our conference center in Oakland and elsewhere around the Bay Area, and around the country for that matter.
Our program tonight, as you know, is entitled The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed. And our speaker is the foreign policy expert Ivan Eland, who is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. Hes author of the new book by the same name, and this is a copy for those of you who have not seen it yet. We certainly hope that youll buy a copy before you leave.
In his book, Dr. Eland examines U.S. military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the war in Iraq.
Those of you who are new to the Independent Institute, hopefully you picked up a packet when you registered. The institute is a scholarly public policy research institute. We complete studies and produce books and other publications on a wide range of social and economic issues, including foreign policy issues and civil liberties issues.
The institute is devoted to adhering to the highest standards of independent academic inquiry. We welcome you to visit our website, which is at Independent.org. And at the site youll find information about upcoming events, new books, and many different studies. I think youll find its a treasure-trove on almost every issue there is.
Most Americans dont think of their government as an empire. But, in fact, the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since before the beginning of the 20th Century. Now increasingly through political intimidation and with the existence of over 700 and expanding number of bases worldwide, the U.S. holds sway over an area that dwarfs the great empires of world history.
The war in Iraq has produced, as many of you know, now almost 1,200 U.S. dead, at least 7,000 injured, an estimated 10,000 Iraqi civilian dead, costs approaching $200 billionmany of you may have noticed theres a proposal now to add another 70 billion to thatand no weapons of mass destruction.
Since the U.S. has launched its war on terror, the number of terrorist incidents worldwide has dramatically increased, and the U.S. is hated more than ever. As a result, a growing number of Americans are beginning to question U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast, and elsewhere, and we believe that Dr. Eland is an excellent person to discuss these issues.
How does the concept of empire fit with the principles of liberals, of conservatives, or people of no particular ideological orientation? What about the issue of so-called blowback and its effect on security and civil liberties at home and abroad?
At our policy forum this evening, Ivan will examine the motives behind U.S. foreign policy, the assumptions on which it is based, and a tradition of ideas, including that of the Founding Fathers vision of what a free republic should be and should not be.
Dr. Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty here at the Independent Institute. He received his Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. Hes been principle defense analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, Evaluator in Charge for National Security and Intelligence for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
His articles have appeared in more publications than I can list, but include Arms Control Today, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, Middle-East and International Review and others, as well as popular publications like the LA Times, USA Today, Washington Post and so on. And he regularly appears on local and national television.
One thing I also wanted to add is that on the 17th of this month, Ivan was invited to Italy to receive the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic from Mikhail Gorbachev for his work. And he was among a number of people to receive the medal, but his distinction is something that were very proud of. So Ivan? [Applause]
Director, Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute
Thank you, David. First of all Id like to thank everyone at the institute because everyone had a part in helping me produce this book or market it or provide the office and everything to write it, and the scholarly environment. So I need to thank everybody for that. And its been a real pleasure to work with everyone on the book.
Im just the author, but you have to have cover design, you have to have marketing, you have to have press, and on and on down the line. And so everyone at the institute has helped me in this endeavor and Im much grateful to them for that. And I dont want to list names because Ill leave somebody out, so Im just going to thank everybody at the same time because everybody had a part in it.
Now, the reason I wrote this book is because there have been a number of books on empire, and this term empire has been resuscitated because for many years people who used the term imperial or empire to describe American foreign policy were regarded as far-left, communist, etc.
But now, with the dawn of the Bush administration and the people who have influence, the so-called neoconservatives, they have used this term in a positive sense. They have said the U.S. has an empire, but they said thats a great thing.
And in fact, I disagree with almost everything the neoconservatives stand for, but in the dark cloud of the neoconservatives, theres a silver lining to that, and that is that theyve now joined the debate, I think, by using the word empire, because it is accurate, I believe, to describe the U.S. foreign policy, particularly since World War II.
It started, as David mentioned, with the Spanish-American War in 1898, but then we went back into more sensible foreign policy in periods after that. There was a backlash against the empire, and the true global empire came after World War II.
Both conservatives and liberals, the majority of both the conservative and the liberal side, believe in this empire. Theres a minority of liberals and conservatives and others who are opposed to the empire.
And I want to convert more people to the non-imperial side, to a policy of military restraint overseas. It doesnt mean that you dont ever take military action, but it means that youre much more restrained, and you adopt a policy thats more in concert with what the founders of this country, who were very suspicious of large standing armiesa policy which they would be more approving of, which of course, weve gotten away from.
What does the empire consist of? I go into this in the book. Do we really have an empire in the technical sense?
I dont like to spend too much time on this because people fall asleep. But I did examine the empirical literature, the academic literature on the subject. And even by fairly tight definitions of empire, the U.S. does qualify.
Its not the same as the Roman Empire or the British Empire where the troops marched in, they grabbed territory, they looted the precious metals, like the Spanish did, the gold and silver, or with preferential trade treatment with the colonies, one-sided trade arrangements like the British had. Or the Romans grabbed slavesthey grabbed all sorts of stuff from these territories.
We dont have that type of an empire per se. Ours is a much more informal empire consisting of military bases around the world, one-sided alliances where the United States provides most of the security for many countries around the world, and of course, profligate military interventions into the affairs of other countries.
And I was looking at a book that was written the other day about U.S. intervention around the world, and it was easier to count the number of countries we hadnt intervened in since World War II than it was the number we had. I mean, if you look at it as an American, most Americans arent aware of this, but theres just been a tremendous amount of monkeying around, either through CIA covert action, or overt military action in many countries around the world.
And so I decided to write this book because I think that liberals, conservatives, and all Americans should ask themselves if this policy really isnt out of date now, now that the Cold War is over, and that sort of thing.
So this informal empire, in my opinionmost empires didnt really pay for themselves. They were done for glory. And its mostly for glory of certain groups in the society. And the common people usually pay the price in high taxes, and many times with their lives, because of the imperial wars that are conducted to either maintain or expand the empire.
And I think our empire is more like ancient Sparta than anything else, where we have a loose control over our allies. We control essentially most elements of their foreign policy because they dontour objective is, and this is now pretty well stated in the National Security Strategy, that were trying to provide security so that other countries, including our allies, wont develop independent military capabilities. And our adversaries, were trying to intimidate them from challenging us by having so much military power that it would be fruitless to do so.
Of course, thats never worked over history, and its probably unlikely to work now. But anyway, thats the strategy of primacy that were now seeing.
The problem is that this military primacy, and most primacy and power, is based on economics, how healthy your economy is. And frankly, our large military budgets undercut that. And Ill discuss that a bit later.
But I think this is a misguided policy. And this empire has resulted in many ill effects, both internationally and here at home.
Now, I dont blame America for everything. Im not in the Blame America School. But I just think that we should be wiser because our policy, to me, is out of date. Were still on autopilot from the Cold War.
After the Cold War was over, one would think that we would have questioned some of these alliances that we hadwhich were designed to fight the Soviet Unionand we would ask ourselves if some of our rich allies couldnt pay more and do more for their own defense.
But instead were expanding the empire. Clinton intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo. This region of Europe was never considered vital, even during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was still there. And now, of course after the Soviet Union is gone, were now involved in this area, the Balkans area.
Clinton also went into Somalia and Haiti. And of course Bushs father went into Panama, invaded Panama, and Ive never really understood why they did that, other than an imperial notion that Noriega was a small dictator that was tweaking the administrations nose at the time.
And now, of course, we have the war on terror being used to go beyond fighting Al Qaeda to go into Iraq, to re-establish our alliance with the Philippines, to go into Georgia, which is in the former Soviet Union, to Yemen; to go into other places, to increase the drug war in Colombia, etc.
So our empire is expanding even as the primary threat, the Soviet Union, went away. And in fact one can say that it looks like, just on paper, that were moving into areas that the Soviet Union previously had. We also used this war on terror to go into Central Asia.
Now Central Asia is an interesting place because its in between China and Russia, two countries that we might want to contain in the future. So we now have temporary bases in Central Asia, but they look like theyre going to become permanent bases.
So we have this empire. And it was originally justified to fight the Soviet Union, although if you look at the historical documents, youll see that the leaders of the United States admitted that they overstated the Soviet threat.
The Soviet Union was very powerful militarily, but the real problemand this brings back my point where all power, cultural, military, other types of power, all flow from having economic power. The Soviet Union was always referred to as an Upper Volta with missiles.
And, of course, thats what eventually caved the Soviet Union in was over-extension. They had too much military spending and their communist economy creaked along and wasnt very effective at all.
Now, Im going to talk about U.S. overextension later, but lets keep that example in mind of excessive military spending andwow, thats very ambiance. [Laughter]. Yeah, turn those back on. I dont want anybody to fall asleep. [Laughter]
Im going to start with the conservatives. Therere probably conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and greens here. We usually get a pretty eclectic crowd, so Im not going to leave any side uncriticized here.
Why Conservatives Should Be Against Empire
So Ill start with the conservatives. Why should conservatives be against empire? Conservatives were more against empire before, during, and after World War I. In fact, they were really principally the ones who were against this sort of thing. And the reason that they were, and theyve kind of lost sight of that, is because military incursions and adventures overseas lead to big government at home.
And Im not just talking about national security spending. We all know that after 9/11, security spending went up. Im talking about domestic spending.
The permanent big government in the United States really didnt start until World War I. Of course, we had some big government in the Civil War, but it kind of went away, it was kind of temporary. Some of the things lasted. And the income tax was revisited later.
But the real big government started in World War I. And the reason for that was that was the first war that mobilized the entire U.S. economy.
So conservatives often blame FDR for creating big government, but really they should blame Woodrow Wilson, because Woodrow Wilson was the one who created the war economy. And when the New Deal came along, FDR merely brought back a lot of these agencies, renamed them, and even brought back some of the people to man them.
And, of course, in World War II the government increased even more than during the New Deal. So we can say that in the 20th Century, and really for the history of the world, war has led to big government. Its an us-versus-them mentality. Resources go from the private sector into the government.
Ill give you a modern example. In the modern presidency, lets say since 1960, the top three spendersand Im not talking about national security spending, Im talking about domestic spendingthe top spender was Lyndon Johnson. The second highest spending president is our current president. Im talking about domestic spending. The Republicans are supposed to be for small government, right? And of course the third was Richard Nixon.
Now, what do those three presidents have in common? Well, they all had a long war in their administration. Bush had the war on terror, and of course Johnson and Nixon had the Vietnam War.
Now, there are other presidents who spent lessReagan, Carter, Clinton. Those presidents had sporadic military actions, but had no long war. So even in the modern era we see that domestic spending rises.
An example would be when the President, our current president, said after 9/11, Well, we have to. He was justifying this huge farm bill and beef subsidies, and he said, Well, beef subsidies are a national security item because, after all, we have to eat. [Laughter] He said that.
Now, its very difficult to believe the administration on anything else when they come out with this. So I kind of stopped believing what they were saying at that point.
Now, of course, when you have big government, you have high taxes. The President has reduced taxes, but its really a fake tax cut, because you still have the spending. Youre going to have to pay for that spending somehow. Theyre either going to have to raise taxes, if you continue to borrow youre going to have high interest rates, etc. So there aint no free lunch, as Ronald Reagan said, so big government leads to big taxes.
So certainly the war alone is staggering. I was just in Washington, and I talked to the guy who actually keeps track of the cost of the war, and he said were spending at really a higher rate than in the press. Its about $80 to $90 billion a year, and he said it might even stretch to $100 billion a year. Thats absolutely staggering for a small war in a small country.
So if you have big government and high taxes, youre also going to have a drag on the economy, because you have all these resources that are being taken from the private sector and put into less productive military spending.
Conservatives are often free market until it comes to defense spending, and then they seem to be very pro-government. And if domestic spending is bad for the economy, in their view, then war spending should be the same because its government spending.
So there are all sorts of financial reasons why conservatives ought to be a little bit leery of the empire.
But one thing thats really, I think, a non-financial issue: many conservatives are Great Power conservatives. They want the United States to stand tall, be tough, etc.
However, we have a problem in that most empires over history have either been lost due to a direct military defeat, such as Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or if youre remembering World War II, even the people who won the war, some of themFrance and Britainlost their empires.
And they lost their empires because the war sapped their financial strength and they simply were worn out by the wars. And they lost their empire because they were over-extended.
So we have a big economy and our defense spending is about 3.5 percent of GDP. Thats the defense budget itself. When you add the Department of Energy, and nuclear weapons, you add foreign aid, you add veterans benefits, you add interest on the debt that you have to count for all the money thats borrowed for defense, you actually come up with about double that. Were spending probably about $800 billion on security. Oh, and Homeland Security as well, which has been increased recently to $40 billion per year.
Its running about 7 percent of GDP for security expenditures.
People say, well, we could probably still afford that. Its a tremendous drag on the economy, even the 7 percent. However, I think its worse than that, because we have commitments all over the world to defend NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, Israel, and Taiwan. Some of these are informal alliances, some of them are formal alliances. Most of them are left over from the Cold War. And make no mistake about ittheyre not going to be defending us, were going to be defending them.
So what we have here is a case of where we account for about 40 percent of the worlds military spending, but only 30 percent of the worlds economic power or GDP.
Now, were constantly referred to as a superpower or a hyperpower. And were certainly the most military powerful force the world has ever seen, both absolutely and relative to other countries. However, were really not a superpower economically, because there are many competitors that are closer to us in economic power than in military power.
So this 10 percent, the 40 versus the 30, is what I call overextension. And we have all these commitments
So its not just the 7 percent of GDP thats spent on defense and other security-related expenses. Its the overextension and the commitments that we could have.
Weve got troops in Afghanistan and Iraq right now. Our President really complained that Clinton was over-stretching the force, but the current president is really over-stretching the force, and these are just two small countries that are taking troops from South Korea, and theyll probably take troops from Europe to go into these areas, because, frankly, it doesnt look good in either theater for our forces at this point.
So we have to be careful, I think. Even Great Power conservatives should be a little careful because overextension, as I say, has brought down many empires. And were very overextended at the time, and I think we could even, at some point, lose our great power status. If you would have said to a Brit in 1913, when the British empire was pretty much at its height, that in 30-some years the British empire would be flat on its back and Britain would be barely a middling power, they would have laughed in your face. But thats exactly what happened.
And we see throughout history that the cycles of empires are shortening up. In other words, the life of empires is shortening up, and the British empire lasted 100-plus years. Our empire has lasted 50 years. Who knows? But were certainly in an overextended position right now.
The other problem that I have that I think that conservatives should be a little careful of is the unintended consequences of war. War is very unpredictable, as weve seen in Iraq.
And for instance, in the Cold War it seemed like a great idea in Afghanistan in the 1980sthe Carter administration started and Reagan administration picked it up with gleesupporting the Mujahadeen against the Soviet Union. We wanted to give the Soviet Union another Vietnam. Sounded like a great idea at the time. Afghanistan was never really all that strategic.
But what seemed like a great idea back then helped create one of the few severe threats to the homeland of the United States in the countrys history. So we have to be careful of these things, and war often unleashes a chain of events thats very unpredictable.
Why Liberals Should Be Against Empire
Now, if all you liberals are sitting in the audience saying, well, yeah, thats right, Im now going to start in on you for a while. [Laughter] Liberals get enamored with humanitarian interventions and we have quotes around the humanitarian, or at least I do, because many of these interventions are not very genuine.
Im limited on time here, so Ill just give a couple of examples. And Im going to use Clinton as an example, but there have been Republican presidents whove done the same thing.
Clinton is the modern champion of the number of interventions, major interventions. He intervened in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Somalia. And I would say that three of the four were not really humanitarian. Somalia was probably the only humanitarian intervention in the last 100 years, and Im about to get to that in a minute.
But what we see is that politicians dont wake up one morning and say, gee, I feel like kicking ass today. Maybe they do, but they dont say that publicly, right? [Laughter] So they have to come up with something else, right?
So Bill Clinton in 1995 came up with the idea that he was going to restore the democratically elected president Aristide in Haiti, and he was going to help the Haitians out. Of course, the U.S. military has been helping the Haitians out for about a century now, and the place seems to just get worse.
Actually the U.S. military has helped destroywell, I shouldnt pick on the military. Its been the political administrations that drive the military to do these things. But the interventions helped destroy many of Haitis institutions.
But in this particular case, the rhetoric was belied by the fact that there were streams of boat people coming over to Florida because of this instability. And of course the Florida congressional delegations were very unhappy with that. And of course, as we know, Floridas a key electoral state.
So we can only infer motives in this case, but it seemed like there were other things going on there besides just humanitarian missions. After all, if you wanted to be humanitarian, I would have just taken in the refugees. Much simpler.
So thats one example of where humanitarian interventions are not usually genuine. There may be a humanitarian strand in there, but its very questionable as to whether these things are actually being done for humanitarian reasons.
The other interesting thing is that in the truly mammoth genocides that weve seen, the U.S. and the Western world have not really been very effective in doing anything at all. Rwanda, 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed. In Cambodia, in the 1970s, a million people were killed.
And we see that at the time of the Rwanda episode, we were intervening in Bosnia, which, in comparative terms, was minor compared to what was going on in Rwanda.
But Bosnia was in Europe, and we perceived Europe as being much more strategic than Africa. So Madeline Albright said, well, were going to have to pick one or the other. And so we picked Bosnia instead of Rwanda.
If were intervening for humanitarian purposes, and thats the real motive, then we probably should intervene in the most severe cases, one would think, if thats the logic. So the fact that we havent done that, the United States hasnt done that, is very suspicious.
Now, lets take the Somalia case because I think that was a genuine humanitarian intervention. The original mission was to safeguard the relief supplies and provide military escorts for the relief supplies that were going into Somalia, because Somalia had a famine.
The problem was that once we get into these situations, oftentimes the military gets dragged into one side of the civil war or the other, and thats what happened in this case. And we started chasing around warlords, what we call mission creepthe mission expands once we get in there. And of course that led to 18 U.S. soldiers being killed, and of course, the U.S. abruptly withdrew and left the place much the way it was, if not worse.
Now, the same thing happened in Lebanon. We went in there for peacekeeping, but we started fighting on one side of the civil war, supplying, patrolling with the minority Christian government, and of course, the Islamic forces didnt like it, so they blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut.
So the other problem that we have with humanitarian missions is that the American people really dont support military missions overseas unless this has some demonstrable benefit to our security. And the politicians know this.
Now, lets take the case of Kosovo. President Clinton learned a lesson from Somaliaand his lesson was instead of not doing these things, he decided that he was going to do them, but not put troops on the ground.
Well, if you think thats kind of half-baked, it kind of was. And in Kosovo, the primary missionand Wes Clark who was the general at the time admitted thisthe primary goal in Kosovo was to reduce U.S. casualties.
Now, you say, well, thats a laudable goal. We dont want our soldiers getting killed. But the problem with that is we end up killing a lot more of the people that were trying to help, because Clinton wouldnt let the bombers go below 15,000 feet. Well, when you bomb from a higher altitude, you kill more people, innocents. And so what youre doing is youre implicitly trading off the lives of U.S. servicemen for the lives of the population.
Now, nobody likes to be confronted with that tradeoff, but that is essentially what the tradeoff is. And the reason that we need to reduce U.S. casualties is notof course, we care about the soldiers lives, but also the politicians know that if we take too many casualties, if theres problems, if the war lasts longer, theres not going to be support for it at home.
And so the politicians try to have it both ways. They want to do these military interventions, but they dont want to go in and take the casualties necessary to win.
I would argue that thats whats happening in Iraq. If we really wanted to take Fallujah and Ramadi and some of these towns, we could do so without killing a lot of people. But we would have to up the U.S. casualties, and of course, this war is now more unpopular, faster than Vietnam was.
So these are some of the problems that you have with these so-called humanitarian operations. And so in the book I explore alternatives to military action in such cases, preventative action in the developing world that could raise incomes, and maybe the use of regional peacekeepers, these sorts of things, regional organizations.
There are many alternatives. But we seem to reach for the military first in these situations, and in reality, we should make more of an effort to try to prevent these through other means, economic development, that sort of thing.
The other problem is when we try to take democracy and free markets to countries at the point of a gun, it rarely works. And neoconservative Max Boot, who is really for doing this, admitted that we hadnt had a very good track record in the developing world. The neoconservatives always point to Japan and Germany, but I dont want to go into the details here, but thats a much different situation than we have in developing countries.
So what we have, and Iraq is an excellent example of it, the rationale, or at least the rationale after there were no WMD and there was no link to Al Qaeda, was were going to democratize Iraq, and the domino theory of democracy is going to democratize the Middle East.
Well, the problem with that is that when you bring democracy and free markets at the point of a gun from top down, its very difficult to restructure an entire society.
The Bush administration has been criticized for mismanaging the occupation of Iraq, and thats certainly true. They have been guilty of that. But the real problem is that they thought they could do it in the first place.
And they had studies that showed that this is going to be very difficult. And frankly, the first Bush and Scowcroft wrote a book in the late 1990s saying, well, we didnt invade Baghdad becauseand then they proceeded to list all the problems that were now having there.
So restructuring societies is very difficult, and imposing our values on those societies, as great as our values arethe problem is that many of the countries, the people dont know that democracies and free markets are really nice and really bring a lot of benefits. And what happens is they associate the democracy and the free market with foreign invasion and occupation.
I guess its sort of like a neighbor coming over to your house, barging in, and saying, You know, I never liked the color of this room. I just hired a bunch of decorators to come over and remodel your dining room. Even if theyre bringing in fancy furniture and you really like what theyre doing, youre going, No. This is my house and I didnt ask for this.
Its a foreign invasion, and people dont like that. And they associate democracyand I think its going to be associatedwith foreign invasion and occupation.
Most experts who study these things say that you have to develop a culture for this before you get the system in place. I mean, our laws are just a reflection of our social culture, our political tolerance, and that sort of thing. And we dont have that culture yet in Iraq.
And Im not saying that the Iraqis cant eventually develop it, but I think they need to develop it on their own and we need to use the Eastern European model, whereby the people saw the U.S. as a beacon of liberty, knew our values, and adopted them on their own.
We may have to realize that we have this crusading mentality. We may have to realize that some people are going to take awhile, and that we dont get instant gratification by using force to spread our way of life.
And were not the first empire to do this. The Romans and the British also had these ideologies. They didnt just say were going to go in and conquer and plunder. They said, were bringing our form of governance, which they thought was superior, to those people.
And they may have had some superior forms of governance for the time, but this was not appreciated by the conquered peoples.
Now, I want to move into why everyone should be concerned with this. And I think this is the greatest drawback of empire that we can have, and its probably the least discussed in the press.
Why All Americans Should Be Against Empire
Empire leads to the erosion of the republic. The Roman republic was brought down by empire, and the Athenian democracy was undermined by overseas military adventures.
Now, what really happens? War always erodes civil liberties, every war weve ever had, because it lead to an us-versus-them mentality. If youre not for the war, youre unpatriotic, etc. And weve seen this in the war on terror with the USA PATRIOT Act and other erosions of civil liberties.
And of course this has happened in other wars as well. During Vietnam we had the FBI and the Army spying on domestic protest groups. So we really have to be careful that we dont end up ruining the republic with too many overseas military adventures.
Now, how has the republic been eroded, you ask? Well, if the founders came back today, they would see a much different system than the one that they conceived. In the old days, they figured that Congress and the states would be the most powerful in the system, the most powerful entities.
But now, ever since World War II, weve developed an imperial presidency. The presidents power has grown immensely. Part of this was in the Cold War when we thought that we needed instant decision-making in the case of a nuclear war, but it actually goes beyond that.
So we have this imperial presidency. Now Congress no longer declares war. This had gone out of fashion. Starting with the Korean War, we no longer declared war.
And the founders would just be appalled with that because one of the major tenets of the Constitution was that the Congress, the peoples branch, declared war.
And the reason they did that was because they saw in European states at the time, who were all ruled by kings, that the kings would launch these wars of personal aggrandizement. And who would end up paying the price? The people, through high taxes and through loss of their lives. And they thought that if we go to war, the king or, in our case, the Chief Executive or the President, should not be able to take the country to war by himself, or herself, and therefore we needed to have Congress declare war.
Well, now we have presidentsand the first President Bush stated before the Persian Gulf War that he didnt really need to ask Congress for a vote of authorization, but he would do so as a courtesy.
Well, the founders would just be appalled with that because they wanted to rein in the executive. And its very clear in the Constitutional debates that the president was supposed to execute the war once it was started, but that the Congress would declare war. In fact the president only had the power to initiate war in self-defense, and even if the country were attacked, the Congress, at the earliest possible date when they could meet, would need to ratify that. And so in any offensive war, which means war overseas not in defense of the country, that certainly had to be declared by Congress well in advance.
So these erosions of the balance of power between the branches and the checks and balances system have been great. Since the empire has been created, the imperial presidency is very powerful now.
One other thing. Another reason that everyone should be concerned is that empire is not necessarily security. The government is supposed to be protecting the citizens, yet the behavior of the government often is as a result of interest groups or the interest group of the government itself. And so government may not necessarily in all cases have the security of the people as its primary goal.
Well, all empires have experienced blowback. And the problem now is that the blowback is much more severe because we have people who are willing to commit suicide, and they can use modern communication and transportation to do so. And of course modern weapons, whether they be airliners or conventional explosives which were stolen from the bunker in Iraq, or biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
Its very clearand this has been very muddled up in the pressthe primary reason that bin Laden attacks the United States is because of its foreign policy. And he has consistently in his writings listed about four different thingsand this applies to Chechnya, Palestine, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf: in the Islamic faith, if a non-Islamic army invades your country, every Muslim is obligated to do what they can to repel the invader. And even moderate Muslims believe this.
Of course bin Laden is at the extreme, and he is very exorcised by the fact that the United States has a military presence in the Persian Gulf and also supports autocratic governments in the Middle East.
The question is, do we really need to do that anymore? And certainly I believe that we ought to go after Al Qaeda very, very aggressively, but we can do that through law enforcement. We can do it through intelligence. And if we have to, we can sometimes use military action, but probably in a more quiet way so we dont stir up the hornets nest.
And thats exactly what weve done in Iraq. The President says, Well, were fighting terrorists in Iraq so we dont have to fight them here.
Well, I used to go to the Pentagon all the time and speak with military people. And I had some of them tell me, yes, this is the way weve got to do it, the best defense is a good offense.
So I said to them, well, yes, but terrorism is a little different. Thats fine with a conventional enemy. You want to hold the enemy as far away as you can from the homeland. But in the case of terrorism, the terrorists can get behind enemy lines, so to speak, and come right into the core of the system and attack the United States.
So what do you do? Well, you go after the terrorists that attack you, but you dont stir up other groups by attacking them. And most of the groups on the U.S. terrorism list dont really focus their attacks on the United States. And most of them are local or regional groups.
So when the President says we have a war on terror, I dont believe in that. I believe in a war on Al Qaeda. And going into Iraq was exactly what bin Laden wanted Bush to do, because guerillas and terrorists are the weaker party, and when they hit the other side, they want the stronger party to overreact, so that the terrorists and guerillas could get more funding and more volunteers.
And of course we see volunteers streaming to Afghanistan against the Soviets. We see them streaming to Chechnya to fight the Russians. We see them now streaming into Palestine to fight the Israelis. And of course, we see them streaming into Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the United States.
So I say that what we really need to do is, in the long term after looking at this, what we need to do is we need to lower our target profile, meaning that when we decide whether to intervene militarily overseas, we need to consider, are these people really attacking us, and is this going to stir up more than its going to help? So we need to address that fact.
Now, during the Cold War, you could make some argument for intervention because of the Soviet enemy. Now, thats, of course, controversial, and thats probably a topic for another lecture, whether we really needed to go into Vietnam and go into backwaters like Afghanistan to battle the Soviets. But I suppose you can make a better argument for intervention during the Cold War.
Now the Cold War is over, and the advantages of all this intervention have gone down since we have no super power enemy. And in my view, the costs have gone up because you stir up groups that can attack your homeland.
So terrorism has gone form being a nuisance to being a strategic problem. And when John Kerry says hed like to get it back to a nuisance, I dont make fun of that because it was a nuisance at one point and it would be better if it would go back to that. Well probably never get rid of terrorism, but we could certainly reduce it.
And the problem is we have a huge country. Its the largest open society in the world. We have 7,500 miles of borders. We have over 100 nuclear power plants. We have thousands of shopping malls and sports stadiums. Were very target-rich.
And I think anyone who has worked in the intelligence community will tell you thatand theyll tell you very publiclythat they cant be perfect. And also all the Homeland Security expenses that can only do so much as well with all these targets.
So I think we need to address the question of whether we couldnt lower our target profile by reducing our military interventions, by reducing our military bases, etc., overseas.
This doesnt mean isolationism. People say, well, youre an isolationist. And I say no, Im not, because I believe in free trade, free cultural exchanges, etc. I just dont believe that we need to have such a militaristic policy.
Its very interesting. In this day and age, even the liberals are militaristic because whenever you have a humanitarian crisis, immediately you have people like Madeline Albright saying, well, gee, weve got this marvelous military, lets put it to use.
Chalmers Johnson has written in his book on empirehes a liberalhe said liberals have become very militaristic. And they really have, along with the conservatives.
So I think we need to look at other options before we rush into these things because certainly there are other alternatives.
We also need to ask ourselves when we intervene, who is this benefiting? Because we always get this, well, this is in our vital interests or were getting U.S. influence.
Well, Im a very specific person, and when we have a military intervention, I want to know specifically whats this going to do for us. Is this a national glory mission, or whats the story? Its costing us money, and it may not be improving our security, especially the Iraq endeavor. So we need to be a little less knee-jerk in our approach to things.
And fundamentally, as I mentioned earlier, most empires of old didnt even pay for themselves. The classical economists of the 1700s told the British government, basically, this empire doesnt pay for itself because if you just had free trade with countries, you paid the price for oil, in the modern sense, or paid the price for whatever commodity, you come out ahead. Because the price of oil, the price of gasoline, as high as it is in your tank, theyre not telling you the full price, because you have to pay for all those military forces over there that are defending the oil.
So the true price of these things is not conveyed to the public. The classical economists said to get all this preferential trade treatment and to stabilize these trading areas, you have to spend a lot of money on military power, and you have to spend a lot of money pacifying peoples who really dont want to be governed. And I think that would apply to the current Iraqi situation.
So I believe basically that our foreign policy is out of date and dangerous. Weve gone on, the policy has gone forward after the Cold War, but the Cold War enemy is gone.
And if you thought that the empire was set up to battle the Soviet Union, the one thing that goes against that is that after the Soviet Union went away, the empire expanded into all these other places, in addition to the fact that you have American policy-makers saying that the threat from the Soviet Union was overstated.
So I think we need to consider all these things. If Im criticizing the current policy, I need to come up with something better. So I would say we need to use the military as a last resort. We need to protect high-value areas of the world as a last resort, and gear up in East Asia.
But we can be the second line of defense. In every theater that is important to the U.S. government at this time, we have rich allies who are threatened by poorer countries. For instance, in Europeif you want to call Russia a threat, which its probably not right now, but thats what everyones looking to the futureif Russia would come back.
You have the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. Each has a gross domestic product thats bigger than Russias. In the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia has a gross domestic product thats bigger than either Iran or Saddams Iraq. And if you put the other Gulf oil states in there, it goes up even further. Their total economic power is much higher than either Iran or Saddams Iraq.
In South Korea we have a situation where the South Koreans have an economy thats 30 times that of the North, and yet were defending all these countries.
So if we say that the empires of old didnt pay, ours is even worse because we dont get to go in and loot the countries. We dont get to get slaves. We dont get gold and silver. And we dont even get preferential trade treatment. Not that we want slaves in this day and age, of course, but Im just saying we dont get anything from our empire, and in fact, our allies wont even open their markets for us.
So what do we get? Well, we have our leaders getting to be in the center of the summit photo. We get national glory. But the taxpayers are really paying a lot for this. And of course, we would use these resources for other things.
So what we could do is go more towards what I call a balanced or a last-resort strategy, which is you use your allies to do most of the heavy lifting, and they should because the European Union has a combined economy thats bigger than the United States, all the countries in the European Union. They could do more to defend themselves and be the first line of defense.
If theyre about to be taken over or a hegemonic power arises, such as a resurgent Russia, certainly the United States would probably have to get involved, but the European Union has a lot of economic power there, and theres no resurgent Russia in sight at this point.
And in the other area, China, of course, we have Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea who could perhaps create a regional alliance that would act as the first line of defense against China, with the same provision that if China becomes another imperial Japan, the United States would probably have to go along.
We have to watch China. No one knows for sure if Chinas going to become a threat or not. And if China becomes a democracy, it still could become a threat. And if China stays an autocracy, it may not become a threat. So we dont really know what Chinas going to do.
Now, youll notice that I left off the Persian Gulf, because I dont really think we need to defend oil, and I think many economists would agree with me. Unfortunately, the national security community does not consult economists because that would take away a rationale for having those forces that were defending there.
But I dont want to dwell on that. In fact, in the question and answer session we might we able to get into that. But I think that we need to start questioning these overseas alliances because these are alliances where we defend rich allies. They do not defend us.
So my general philosophy of life was best expressed by General Zinni, who opposed the war. He said the United States should make few enemies, but those that it does make it should treat harshly. And I think that we need to avoid making enemies, and so, hopefully, we wont have too many people to treat harshly. Certainly Al Qaedas one group that we cant overlook.
But my foreign policy goes back to the founders, and this is the traditional U.S. foreign policy. The last 50 years have actually been an aberration, because for the first 175 of our countrys history, we had this policy of military restraint. For most of the republic, we had a very small military, and a lot of those resources went into the building the colossus of the U.S. economy that we now have.
And I think the founders realized one fundamental thing that our current leaders didnt understand. And that is that we have a very unique security position here. In terms of conventional attacks by conventional armies, we have two great moats, or two great oceans as moats.
We have weak and friendly neighbors. And since the founders, we have thousands of nuclear warheads. No ones going to attack us or invade uswell, invading is pretty difficult.
We had trouble getting across the small body of water in between France and Britain during World War II, let alone across the Pacific. But even conventional attacks, we would incinerate any country that did that.
So what do we need to worry about? Well, we need to worry about terrorism. And certainly, Im all for fighting terrorists that attack us. But I think if we stayed out of unnecessary military adventures, we would make fewer enemies. And I think we have the luxury of going back to the founders policy of using military restraint.
And people say, well, how can you advocate that in an interdependent world? Well, the world is more interdependent in communication and transportation. But in certain aspects of security, its not more interdependent. Its less interdependent. In fact, cross-border aggression has been declining for decades.
And there are a couple reasons for that. The first one is that the nuclear weapons, which I just mentioned.
And the second is nationalism. Great powers are more hesitantat least smart great powersto go into countries because they know no matter how powerful you are militarily, its hard to govern people that dont want to be governed. And I think were seeing that to a great extent in Iraq.
So the cross-border aggressions are really the wars that we have to worry about in terms of security, not internal civil wars. And of course, these have been declining.
And we have this unique security position, a uniquely favorable security position, that weve always had. And its still valid in the modern era, and perhaps more so with nuclear weapons.
Of course, the terrorism is a problem, but terrorists cant be deterred or are harder to deter. But if we dont stir the hornets nest unnecessarily by going on excursions like Iraq, which I equate towell, an analogy would be if the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Nazis declare war on you, and you go attack Romaniabecause thats exactly what weve done.
We attacked a minor threat, and weve left the major threat, which is Al Qaeda. We transferred Special Forces and intelligence from Afghanistan to Iraq. Theres no question about the fact that we have a powerful U.S. military, but there are certain assets that are scarce. And those are some of the scarce assets.
The other problem is these excursions take policymakers attention, and they bog you down so that youre ineffective. And of course the big thing is that bin Laden has gained a couple of new recruits. Zarqawi in Iraq, and the Algerian groups, who were local, are now folding in with Al Qaeda. So hes picking up these local groups.
So I think Ill stop there. And I think the United States should be a shining example to the world, and I think we best do that by only intervening militarily where we absolutely need to. And we can be a beacon of liberty, and perhaps then we can spread democracy to the world. It may go slower, but I think well have a lot less problems in doing it, and people will accept it in the long run much better. Thank you. [Applause]
David J. Theroux
Thank you, Ivan. As you can see, he covered a lot of material, and theres a lot more that we can talk about. So just pause for one second while they change the videotape. Those of you who have questions, Alice has the microphone. And if you would hold the microphone horizontal, itll make it a little easier to be picked up.
Does anybody have a question? Yes?
There was a program on PBS. on the Iraq War and about the beginnings of the Bush administration wishing to invade Iraq. And apparently Wolfowitz was pushing for that very early on. And Im wondering if you have any idea why he particularly wanted to invade Iraq, because they didnt talk about the reasons why.
Well, Paul Wolfowitz, for people who are unfamiliar, is the Deputy Secretary of Defense. And hes really the architect of the Iraq strategy. And he is part of a group of what we call neoconservatives. And theyre essentially big-government conservatives. Theyre not like more fiscally conservative groups. Theyre for both big government domestically and overseas.
And I think one of the main things they want to do is to keep the U.S. as the number one country, the primacy doctrine. And also I think they want to help Israel. They think theyre helping Israel.
Im not sure they are helping Israel because if this all ends up in a civil war, they may not have helped Israel at all. But many of them, I think, are very pro-Israeli and they thought they were helping Israel by doing this.
Im not saying that was the only motivation for the invasion, but it certainly wasnt one of the three that they listed. The weapons of mass destructionnow, everyone thought, or many people thought that Iraq had both biological and chemical stockpiles of weapons. No one thought they had a nuclear weapon, but he was going towards that. That was the consensus. And I went from that basis before the war. I was against the war.
But one thing that I thought was the most interesting in the lead-up to the war is that Bob Graham, whos the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had the CIA declassify part of this report. And it reached a conclusion that even if Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, hed be unlikely to use them or give them to terrorists unless he was backed into a corner.
And I thought, the Presidents own CIA is saying this, and yet it was a story that made the press for two days and then everyone forgot about it. So we have these official rationales.
The second one was this link between Al Qaeda and Saddam, which of course has never been proven, and the intelligence community was always skeptical about that as well. But the neoconservatives kept pushing this. And, of course, the third one is to democratize Iraqwell, bring democracy and free markets.
But if you go by the actions of the U.S. on the ground, in terms of the weapons of mass destructionwhen they got to Iraq they didnt safeguard any of the facilities with weapons of mass destruction. So that would probably tell you that that wasnt the primary purpose of it.
In addition, if were taking democracy and free markets to Iraqweve cancelled local elections, weve censored the press, and weve given no-bid contracts. So theres no free market there. So up to this point, the United States hasnt really done a very good job in doing that.
And I think also the State Department did a study just before the war that said if Iraq had an election, it would most probably elect an Islamic government that the United States wouldnt like. So, I mean, the stated reasons never seemed to match up.
In addition, the real threatsif this was an imminent threat, the problem was even if Saddam in a worst case had nuclear weaponsI always say the weapons of mass destruction issue to me really never made any sense at all, because even if Saddam in the worst case had nuclear weapons, he would have a few nuclear weapons.
Well, North Koreas already got a few nuclear weapons, and Kim Jong-il is certainly more erratic and quirky, one might even say weird[Laughter]than Saddam Hussein was. Yet we can negotiate with him, but we couldnt negotiate with Saddam.
In addition, both Iran and North Korea were much further along in long-range missiles that could hit the U.S. and nuclear programs. In fact, as I say, North Korea already had nuclear warheads.
But even if Saddam had gotten these few nuclear warheads, I mean, the United States has thousands of nuclear warheads and it deterred radical Maoist China when they got them in the 60s, deterred the Soviet Union. We didnt adopt a preventative strategy against the Soviet Union or against China. And we let Pakistan become a nuclear power. And Pakistan is probably the most dangerous country in the whole world because they have a fundamentalist population, and if they would overthrow Musharraf, they would have nuclear weapons. So the threat things didnt really make any sense.
What role did oil play in the motive to go to war with Iraq?
Well, I think oil is always in the background. The two pillars of our Middle Eastern policy are oil and Israel. And I think Paul Wolfowitz even admitted on a couple of occasions that Iraq was different because of oil. In justifying the invasion, he said, Well, if we go into Iraq, we can get out of Saudi Arabia.
Which tells you something: that the U.S. government knows that when were in Saudi Arabia that that helped cause 9/11, and I think they wanted to get out of Saudi Arabia so they had to have bases near the oil in the Persian Gulf, and Iraq was a substitute for Saudi.
But we can only speculate as to why they went. But it didnt seem to me that the reasons that were given added up. Almost all of them, just one after the other, has fallen through.
There are so many threads of whats going on in modern-day society that would support all of what you said this evening. And of course it would be best if we could revert back to what General Washington said in his farewell address: Be friends with all countries and trade with them, but be impartial.
One thing that Ive read about the Iraq situation is that the United States government has imposed an income tax and social security numbers on the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And this is kind of a rhetorical question if you dont know, but if they have in fact done that, to supposedly spread democracy, whos collecting money?
I dont know anything about that. I dont think theyre probably making any money to tax. [Laughter] We have anotherright here.
I would like to get back to the concept of the imperial presidency. And I think that it did start around World War II. And Im wondering if events happen in the modern scene so rapidly that its very, very difficult to wait for Congress to debate certain threats that occur here or there throughout the world. My example is Truman and Korea.
I was with the first Marine division that landed at Inchon in Korea. And by the time that we got there, most of Korea had already been conquered by the North Koreans. And although China entered the war as well and trapped our division around the Chosin Reservoir, those soldiers were first-class fighting people, and they did a lot of damage, particularly to the 8th Army.
And so on one hand Truman did a great thing. He acted. And if we had waited for Congress to act, we probably never would have gone into Korea. And Im wondering if you would comment on the rapidity of events that happen in todays world that require very fast action. And maybe the imperial presidency, although Im against it, is a natural outcome of that.
Well, I think first of all were talking about Korea and not an attack on the United States. And shortly before the Korean War there were documents that the JCSthe Joint Chiefs of Staffand the Pentagon, they had planning guides, etc., which had basically written South Korea off as coming under Soviet influence, since its so close to the Communist areas. And then when the North Korea attacked, everyone went, oh, my God, weve got to do something about this.
youll remember that we said that it was outside our defense perimeter. We made the same mistake in Iraq. If we really wanted Iraq to stay out of Kuwait, we wouldnt have told Saddam, well, we dont get involved in inter-Arab territory disputes. I mean, we made the same mistake in Korea in 1950 as we did in 1991 in the Gulf War.
So wed have to decide if these things are strategic and take preventative measures, or we have to say that theyre not and dont do anything.
And I think the founders really knew that if the country was under attackand I think the Constitutional debates reflected thisor imminent attack was about to happen, the President did have the authority to do what was needed.
And in fact Thomas Jefferson did that very thing with the Barbary Pirates. They were attacking our ships, and Congress wasnt in session, so he sent the fleet. But after Congress got back into session, they gave him a resolution saying that he could employ this U.S. naval power against not only the country that was attacking us, but all the Barbary states if they had to.
Now, with the advent of nuclear weapons, you have 30 minutes for a missile to fly from the Soviet Union, or Russia, to the United States. The problem is we dont really have any defenses against missiles, so its very hard to activate the defenses. These things that Bush is putting in the ground to show that he has missile defense, they simply dont work, not yet. I mean, maybe they never will.
So nuclear weapons technology does affect things, but certainly if the United States is under attack, I think, or imminent threat of attack, the President, under the Constitution, in the original meaning, has ample authority to go ahead and do something. But if youre launching an offensive war overseas, that requires, at least according to the founders, a declaration of war.
Now, weve moved away from that. Even in the Korean case, Truman went up to the Congress and said, Do you think I should ask for a declaration of war? And the Congress told him no. Or at least, not the Congress but the Congressional Committee chairman. So there was plenty of time even then for the Congress to ratify.
And certainly if emergency matters need to be taken, the President has the authority to do that. But the President doesnt have the authority to attack other countries without a declaration of war. And I think the founders would really bridle at any suggestion that that was the case.
Certainly the nuclear weapons, I think, had a role in leading to the imperial presidency. But the question is, could we have avoided that? And I think we probably could. Even with nuclear weapons, we need to respect the founders intent.
And frankly, nuclear weapons, as bad as they are, theyve cut down the number of cross-border wars. So the problem is: if they are used, youve got a big problem then. But actually nuclear weapons have restrained wars simply because theyre so terrible, so technology is a two-edged sword in these things.
But I still think the founders conception of if the President needs to take emergency actions to defend the country, not to defend another country, then thats fine. But the problem is that it can be abused if youre talking about defending this and that overseas.
I just want to make one more point, and that is what youre talking about is a preemptive attack. Say you see our intelligence picks up that there is a foreign power or even a terrorist about ready to attack us. Certainly the President has a right to preemptive action to defend the country. Theres no doubt about that. But the problem is, Bushs doctrine is not really a preemptive doctrine. Its a preventative doctrine.
He invaded Iraq to prevent a future threat down the road. And no one in the international community, I dont think, would criticize a country for taking preemptive action. If you think youre going to be attacked because you pick up the fact that the enemy is taking ammunition to the front, or whatever theyre doing, its foolish to sit around and let them do that.
But the problem with the preventative war doctrine, which is really what the doctrine is, not preemptive war, is that it can be abused. And thats why the international community is so unnerved by Bushs action in Iraq, because he termed it a preemptive action, but there was no evidence that there was an imminent threat. Saddam didnt even have nuclear weapons and nobody really thought he did. And if he did, he didnt have the missiles to get them to the United States.
So I think we need to be careful when we distinguish these things, and preventative war is much different than preemptive war. OK. Lets go over here.
I think were all pretty clear on what President Bushs continued policy in Iraq would be. What would John Kerry be able to do differently? If we pull out, it seems like well create a void where maybe an insurgent government would come in. What options would John Kerry really have to make a difference in that area?
Well, I think its an illusion that there probably will be a different policy. But, I mean, my book is not aimed at criticizing the Bush administration. The books title is not The Emperor Has No Clothes. Its The Empire Has No Clothes. And frankly theres more continuity between presidents than there is difference.
And there may be some hope that Kerry would do less of this, because of his Vietnam experience, but, of course, we saw that that didnt seem to impair Bill Clinton from doing these types of things.
So Kerry has the problem that hes a Democrat, and Democrats are perceived as wimpy, and so therefore he has the Clinton problem of appearing to be a wimp, although less from a personal standpoint since he went to Vietnam and Clinton didnt. Because of Clintons draft-dodging record, he let the military do anything they wanted.
And so Kerry I think would be less constrained in a personal sense, but the Democrats often do these things because they want to appear tough. Like Kerry didnt oppose the war, because he doesnt think he could win.
And there are differences between the two candidates, but hardly any difference on Iraq policy. Kerry thinks hes going to get more multilateral help, and theyre less annoyed with him because he wasnt president, and he didnt tromp all over their egos.
But the problem is that the war is very unpopular in those countries, and they dont want their people at risk in Iraq, and they dont want to pay the money that the U.S. is pouring into a bottomless pit. And so the same set of factors is going to occur if Kerry takes office towards the end of January, as it is now.
And the security bureaucracies alsothe inertia, the status quo, the mindset in Washington is we have to tough this out, and that sort of thing. So I dont think its going to get any better.
The problem with Vietnam was it was sort of like an investor that bought a bad stock, and the investor cant bring him or herself to unload the stock and invest in something else. You ride it to the bottom because you just cantI cant believe that I made a big mistake. And Vietnam, we stayed in because of U.S. credibility, and if we had gotten out we would have lost credibility, but not as much as we lost in the end.
So now, my solution for Iraq is a partition or some decentralized government, because I think thats the only thing thats going to save the country. The factions will probably break the country apart.
In every case where an authoritarian regime, a multi-ethnic authoritarian regime has beenwell, you had the authoritarian cap popped off it, its broken up.
Now, sometimes its peaceful, like Czechoslovakia and most of the Soviet Union, but sometimes its not, like Yugoslavia. In this case I think its probably going to be more like Yugoslavia, but its hard to say. Certainly weve got a lot of groups with guns running around, and none of them trust each other, and all of them want control of the central government because they were all oppressed by the central government before, except for the Sunnis who did the oppressing, and now theyre afraid of the payback. [Laughter]
So what you need to do is create a decentralized central government that has very little power, and have the areas govern themselves, or completely partition the country. And thats not an ideal situation. There are drawbacks to that, but I think were in such a hole that thats probably going to be the only way out of it.
But I dont think Kerry will take that. I think hell probably continue with exactly what Bush is doing.
We have a history in the United States of where we criticize the other guys foreign policy in the campaign, and then we adopt it. From Truman to Eisenhower.
Remember Bush was going to run a more humble foreign policy? [Laughter] And he criticized Clinton for all these interventions, and what did he do? He does the same thing, only he takes it to another level.
Certainly Bushs policy is, I think, even more dangerous than Clintons. Clinton would intervene in places that were of little or no importance to U.S. security. But the problem with this invasion is that it has increased the threat to the homeland by stirring up the Islamic world.
And so I dont know what Kerry will do, and Im not sure that hes of the mindset to do anything different. I mean, it does give him a fresh start. If he were elected he could sayif he were smarthe would look at the documents for a couple days, and go, boy, this is worse than they were telling us, were getting out of here.
Because I think hes going to be in trouble if he is going to be another LBJ/Nixon situation where we change administrations, but its the same problem. Lets go right here.
Hi, Ivan. Id like to ask your thoughts about what I see as an imminent problem in the future, rather than Iraq, which I think will fade off the radar screens after the election no matter who wins, and that is the issue of the 4,000-pound gorilla in that region.
A true, old 4,000-year-old historical empire, Persia. Iran, a country creatingstansPakistan, Afghanistan, etc.is a threat potentially to not only this country and our empire but also to the world. And here we have a regime, which within probably six months, the intelligence estimates, will have thermonuclear weapons. Were looking at a proto-Nazi, essentially a fascist regime.
Niall Ferguson argues that there are only three, as you know, empires in the world today. We have the Western empireus. We have the Eastern empirethe Chinese, which is not really an expansionist empire, historically. And we have the tweedle-dees of the European Union, who are not really effective. So the only people, the only empire that can address this issue defaults to the United States. What, if anything, should we do about that?
Well, I think everyone was always so alarmed about Iraq, but Iran is a small country GDP-wise, and frankly, population-wise. Its bigger than Iraq, certainly, and its a much tougher nut to crack for an invasion because the areas bigger than Iraq and the terrain is more mountainous. And if you think the Iraqis are fighting, the Iranians have a deep-seated disdain for the U.S. So Im not sure what were going to do about it.
I got a briefing from the Pentagon that listed 12 nuclear programs, and these are not British, or French, or friendly nuclear programs, if you want to call them friendly. But these are threat nuclear programs. We had 12 nuclear programs. We had 13 countries with biological weapons, 16 with chemical weapons, and 26 with ballistic missiles. So if were going to run this type of preventative policy, its simply unsustainable. We cant even do it in one country.
So I think were probably going to have to live with more countries getting nuclear weapons. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Theyre Islamic and they could base a fundamentalist revolution, especially if Musharraf gets too tied to the U.S. That has inflamed the fundamentalists there.
So were probably going to have to face the fact that some countries that we really dont like have nuclear weapons. We faced that before: the Soviet Union, and as I say, radical Maoist China.
So I agree with your characterization that the Iranian government is not very good, but when we raise the term fascist, we always go back to Hitler. Hitler had a lot more economic power and was a much bigger threat than Iran or Iraq.
But every threat we hadwe had Milosevic was Hitler; we had Saddam was Hitler. Everybody was compared to Hitler. But these are very small countries economically, and their militaries arent very big.
And if they do get nuclear weapons, Im not sure theres much we can do about it because theyve gotten smart since the Osirak incident in 1981 where the Israelis took out the Iraqi reactor. They buried the facilities. They hid them. They put them in urban areas so we have to kill a lot of civilians if we want to bomb them.
And a lot of times we cant really find them. In Operation Desert Fox in 1998, Clinton said we were going to take out their weapons of mass destruction. Well, then the Pentagon got kind of alarmed by that because they were going to be held to that, so they leaked to the press, well, we cant really do that.
So then Clinton said, well, were going to undermine their ability to make weapons of mass destruction. And then the Pentagon said, wellmore leaks from the Pentagon. And the Pentagon came out and saidthen they had quotes from officers that saidwe dont really know where these things are. And, so, of course, there werent any apparently, so maybe thats why. [Laughter] But no, I mean, they had no idea where they were at the time so they could hit them with strikes.
So its a tough problem. The fact that we have thousands of warheads and can incinerate the country with just a few of them deters a lot of countries from doing things that they wouldnt normally do. They have a home address. The people that you really have to watch out for are the people that dont have a home address that you can incinerate, and those are the terrorists.
I think we only have time for one more question. This woman in back there.
You mentioned that in our Middle East policy, oil and Israel are two of the factors. And I wonder if you could talk about the reasons behind the United States stance on Israel.
Well, I feel that Israel is primarily a domestic issue here at home. Its not a strategic issue. I dont even believe we need to defend oil because of the economics of oil. But if you accept the fact that we need to defend oil, then being a friend of Israel is not a good idea, because the Arabs have the oil. Its very elementary.
This is not the only example of pressure groups driving U.S. policy. Bill Clinton was lukewarm about NATO expansion till he figured out that 5 percent to 10 percent of the voters in key Northeast, Midwestern states that the Democrats needed to win in 1994 and 1996 were ethnic Poles, ethnic Hungarians, and ethnic Czechs, so they drove the policy.
And he said, oh, well, why not? Lets expand NATO because these people want it. The same is true with the pressure groups on Israel in this country.
But you could halfway make an argument that Israel was a strategic ally and outpost during the Cold War. But you could have other allies in that region. It wouldnt necessarily have to be Israel. Now, Israel is the most westernized of the countries, and its the most democratic. But is it a strategic necessity?
The other thing is people imply that Israel will fall if the United States doesnt provide massive amounts of aid. But thats not historically true.
In fact, we only started aiding Israel massively in 1968. Well, Israels biggest military victories happened before then, and I would argue that the 1973 warthe Israelis won it barely militarily, and they lost it politically, and they lost the war in the early 80s in Lebanon. So if were helping them, theyre not doing any better militarily.
They have an excellent military, and they can defend themselves, plus they have probably 200 nuclear weapons. So the same that applies to us applies to them. If you have a nuclear arsenal, and nobody else has one in that region, your securityplus their largest enemy, Egypt, went away. Egypt was the most dangerous state to Israel simply because Egypts population is much greater than the other Arab countries. And Jordan is at peace, Egypt is at peace, and Syria didnt modernize its military after its Soviet benefactor went away. So Israel is reallythere are no existential threats to Israel.
You have this intifada, which is certainlyyou dont want your citizens to be blown up on busses and everything. But Israels not going away tomorrow. And even if we cut all the aid off to Israel, Israel would survive, and probably prosper, because their economy is dependent on this aid. And its a crutch. And if they took that away, the Israeli economy would probably do a lot better.
So I dont think its a strategic necessity to support Israel with $3 billion in aid every year. And frankly, it does contribute to the terrorism problem that we face. Its not the only reason, because frankly, bin Laden has added this as he went along in his writings. His main gripe is with our Soviet presence in the Holy Lands of the Persian Gulf. But Israel is a factor in blowback terrorism as well.
So I think thats all the time we have. So Id like to thank everybody for coming. [Applause]
David J. Theroux
I want to thank Ivan for his work. Again, those of you who dont have a copy of his book, there are copies upstairs and hed be delighted to autograph copies for you.
This debate is not going away, its simply intensifying, and were delighted to have Ivan involved and have you here to make tonight so successful. So thank you and we look forward to seeing you at our next event. Goodnight. [Applause]