Events are unfolding at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we are looking to our most respected and renowned thought leaders for an honest assessment of both U.S. foreign and military policy to offer their most current thoughts and insights. We know they have some ideas for improving the prospects for peace.
Dan Kovalik is the author of critically-acclaimed No More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using ‘Humanitarian’ Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests, The Plot to Scapegoat Russia, The Plot to Attack Iran, The Plot to Control the World, and The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela and has been a labor and human rights lawyer since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1993. He has represented plaintiffs in ATS cases arising out of egregious human rights abuses in Colombia. He received the David W. Mills Mentoring Fellowship from Stanford Law School, and has lectured throughout the world. His responses below are exactly as he provided.
The questions here are not philosophical or abstract. They focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time. They directly address the role of the U.S. in the escalating tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We also probe the role of everyday citizens in affecting the relationship the U.S. now has and will have with the rest of the world community.
Here is what Dan Kovalik had to say.
Q. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has recently put the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight. Midnight means all out war, probably nuclear holocaust. This is the closest it has every been. Do you agree with this dire assessment?
Yes, of course. First of all, after the tragic collapse of the USSR and the assumption of the Soviet Union’s weaponry by the respective, numerous former Soviet Republics, the chances for accidental nuclear war increased greatly.The West recognized this immediately and had offered to help the various Republics secure these weapons, but of course quickly reneged on this promise, making the world ever more dangerous. In addition, the US over the years has taken a more and more aggressive policy towards Russia and China – both nuclear states of course – intensifying the encirclement of Russia through NATO and increasing its provocative acts against China in the South China Sea. The chances for a Third World War are greater than ever, and with this the risk of accidental or intentional nuclear war. Finally, we have the elephant in the Middle Eastern living room – Israel – which is a nuclear power without declaring itself to be one. The chances that Israel will file a nuclear weapon to protect its advantage in the Middle East seems a real possibility, especially as the world is beginning to awaken to and reject Israel’s cruel domination of the Palestinian Territories. Israel is left with nothing but brute force to carry out its will, and its nuclear weapons are the greatest fount of this force.
Q. The U.S. always portrays itself as the greatest force on the planet for peace, justice, human rights, racial equality, etc. Polls tell us that most other nations actually regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to stability. What in your view is the truth here?
This is undoubtedly true as international polls acknowledge and as Martin Luther King opined years ago with his famous statement that “the US is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”Jimmy Carter has recently stated this truth, proclaiming that the US is the most war-like nation in the history of the world. The US has more military bases around the world by far than any Empire in history, with over 800 such bases around the globe. Meanwhile, the US is at war in numerous theatres in one way or another. In total, the US is waging wars, mostly through Special Forces and private contractors, in at least 80 different countries. And, these wars, carried out exclusively in the developing world of the Global South, are invariably being waged against people of color to deprive them of their right of self-determination and their right to manage and benefit from their own natural resources. These conflicts are making the targeted countries less safe, less stable and less prosperous, and that is the goal. The US has decided that the best way to open up the world to maximum exploitation is by sowing chaos and destroying states abroad in order to take away any resistance to the ability of US corporations to extract valuable resources and exploit labor without limit. The US is also engaging in such operations through proxies when it is not doing it directly. One of the more notable examples of this is the DRC where the US has been using African proxies (especially Rwanda and Uganda) to plunder that country beyond recognition. The result is over 6 million dead – a Holocaustal figure which highlights just how brutal the US Empire has become.
Q. Here’s a chicken-or-egg question: The U.S. accuses both Russia and China of rapidly expanding their military capabilities, claiming its own posturing and increase in weaponry is a response to its hostile adversaries, Russia and China. Both Russia and China claim they are merely responding to intimidation and military threats posed by the U.S. What’s your view? Do Russia and China have imperial ambitions or are they just trying to defend themselves against what they see as an increasingly aggressive U.S. military?
It is undoubtedly true that Russia and China have their own ambitions for increasing power, prestige and influence in the world. However, Russia and China do so largely through means of offering development and infrastructure assistance and business relations to developing countries rather than by dropping bombs on other nations.The US takes the quite opposite tack, opting instead to wage war against other countries to obtain their ends. Indeed, it is almost laughable that the US government and media panic over China’s “vaccine diplomacy” and Belt and Road Project – two examples of influence-building through constructive means – when the US is bombing other countries into oblivion. It is the US which is the threat to China and Russia, and not the other way around. It is the US which has troops up to the Russian frontier; Russia does not have analogous troops along the US frontier, for this would be unthinkable. It is the US which is provoking China through military manoeuvres in the South China Sea; China is not doing the same off the US coasts. As is its usual wont, the US is projecting its own sins upon others (in this case, China and Russia) so as to deflect blame and soul-searching for its own crimes.
Q. The U.S. always denies that it has imperial ambitions. Most unbiased experts say that by any objective standards, the U.S. is an empire — indeed the most powerful, sprawling empire in history. Does the U.S. have to be an empire to be successful in the world and effectively protect and serve its citizenry?
The US is undoubtedly the greatest Empire that has ever existed in the history of humankind. However, the fact is that the maintenance of this Empire, in addition to devastating the lives of millions of people around the world, is actually counterproductive to the well-being of the American people.First of all, the US is spending over $1 trillion a year to maintain this Empire. These are monies which could otherwise be used to meet the needs of the American people by fixing and maintaining the US’s own crumbling infrastructure, and to provide healthcare, food, affordable education, housing and a social safety net to the millions of Americans in dire need of such things. In addition, the maintenance of the Empire through war as the US has opted to do has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of mostly working-class Americans who have been sent to kill, die and/or be maimed abroad. American soldiers who manage to return from the numerous imperial conflicts often return broken, physically and/or emotionally, causing hardships for themselves, their families and their communities. The wars always come home in numerous, devastating ways and this too is a terrible result of Empire.
And of course, as the Democratic Party wisely stated in its party platform of 1900, “no nation can long endure half republic and half empire . . . .” By now, it is fair to say that the US is no longer a republic; that the Republic has indeed fallen to the Empire. We now have a country in which wars are waged without public consent, and many times without even public knowledge. The US government and compliant press actively collude to keep the American public in the dark about US military operations and motives. This was most recently revealed in the “Afghanistan Papers” which showed that, to a person, those leading the war in Afghanistan actively lied to the American people about the purposes of the war and the prospects for success. Trillions of dollars of US taxpayer dollars were, consequently, funnelled into the coffers of arms manufacturers and private military contractors on a war of twenty years which only the leaders knew was unwinnable because their was no real objective beyond enriching the private defence industry. That is, the war was not meant to be won, it was meant to be unending as George Orwell once pointed out. In this way, truth and democracy, and the well-being of the American people, were undermined. And Afghanistan is just one of many such wars built on lies and deception. We are left, as Jimmy Carter recently acknowledged, with no functioning democracy in our country. Instead, we have a military-industrial complex posing as a republic.
Q. The highest ranking commanders of the U.S. military recently sounded the alarm. They have concluded that the U.S. — widely regarded as the most formidable military power in history — can’t defeat either Russia or China in a war. These military commanders are saying we need to dramatically increase our military capabilities. What do you make of this claim and the resulting demand for more DOD spending?
Such statements are simply madness, rivalling that of the crazy Generals in Dr. Strangelove. While it may be true that the US could not militarily defeat Russia and China, this begs the question of why the US would ever need to defeat them. In this new Cold War in which we are living, it is clear that it is the US which is the aggressor. Russia and China, both of which have known the devastation of war in ways which the US cannot even fathom, have no interest in starting a world conflagration. Indeed, as Jimmy Carter, speaking specifically of China to then President Trump, it is because China has waged no war since 1953 that it has been able to develop so quickly and to build the world’s greatest speed trains. Where are our speed trains, Carter then asked Trump. Of course, there are none because all of our resources are tied up in war. This illustrates the respective priorities of these countries – China (and Russia as well) spending much less on their militaries in order to use their resources to build their economies and infrastructure, and the US having the exact opposite priorities. All of this reveals that the US does not need to build its military to confront China and Russia unless it is the US which is planning to attack these countries. And if that is indeed the plan, we are all doomed.
Q. In 2009, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced a reset with Russia, heralding greater cooperation and understanding. By 2014, Obama had made a sharp reversal. A sweeping regime of sanctions has since been imposed on Russia to cripple its economy. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats now relentlessly demonize Russia and Putin, blaming them for every imaginable ill. Both in the media and from official pronouncements by government officials, Russia has become the favorite whipping boy for both the U.S. and its “special friend”, Great Britain. Why? What happened?
This is a good question.I think that the break with Russia came when Russia would not go along with, and indeed actively opposed the US foray into Syria. Recall that Russia had assented to a limited intervention by the US/NATO in Libya in 2011 by abstaining on UN Security Council resolutions which, by their terms, allowed for NATO to set up a no-fly zone over Libya and to protect (all) Libyan civilians. This abstention, and China’s too, were conditioned upon NATO refraining from a grander regime-change operation in Libya. Of course, as we all know, as soon as NATO started intervening in Libya in March of 2011, it made it clear that regime-change was the end game. And, true to this aim, NATO bombed Libya continuously from March to October of 2011 until Gaddafi was toppled and then murdered. Chaos, destruction and even human slavery followed this operation. Russia, and particularly Vladimir Putin, saw this as a huge betrayal. Apparently, Putin watched the video of the brutal sodomizing and killing of Gaddafi twice and with horror. He vowed he would never allow such a thing to happen again, and specifically, he vowed that he would not let the US get away with this in Syria as it was then beginning to do. Putin’s military intervention to counter the US/Israel/Gulf States intervention in Syria is what led to Obama and Clinton to take an adversarial role towards Russia and Putin. Their regime-change plans for Syria were foiled by Russia, and they would never forgive Russia and Putin for this.
Q. The number of spy missions, nuclear-armed bomber flights, and war games near Russia’s borders have vastly increased over the past year. Same with China. Is all of this just business-as-usual geopolitical posturing? Or does it represent a dangerous escalation and a new ominous direction in U.S. strategic positioning? What is the justification for what Russia and China see as provocations and aggressiveness, if not actual preparation for a war?
It is very clear that the US is preparing for war with Russia and/or China, and US leaders are not shy in saying so. Thus, in 2018, Defense News ran a story openly stating that Pentagon was redesigning its forces specifically to plan for war with Russia and China. Many have opined, and I agree, that Trump’s attempt to withdraw from Afghanistan, and Biden’s carrying out this withdrawal, are part of this re-focus on Russia and China; that the US is planning to withdraw forces from the Middle East so it can focus on these two greater adversaries. The next war, if we cannot mobilize to prevent it, will be a world war between the US and one or maybe both of these countries. The powers-that-be in the US know now that the US cannot compete with China, and to a lesser extent Russia. China is now the dominant economic power in the world, and has increasingly greater diplomatic prestige than the US. The only way the US can change this, our leaders believe, is by brute force. Of course, this could lead to nuclear conflagration and the end of the world, and thus must be opposed with every fiber of our being.
Q. Between the FONOPS in the South China Sea and the recently expressed enthusiasm for Taiwan’s independence, the risk of military conflict with China keeps increasing. Where is this headed? If People’s Republic of China decides to use military force for full reunification of Taiwan, do you see the U.S. going to war in an attempt to prevent it?
It could very well be the case that the dispute over Taiwan will be the pretext for the war that the US is seeking with China.While Taiwan is not really the issue – it is China’s dominant economic power which is – a dispute over Taiwan could be the excuse the US will use to start a war. We must be very vigilant about this.
Q. The U.S. against the clear objections of the government in Syria is occupying valuable land, stealing the country’s oil, and preventing access to the most agriculturally productive region, effectively starving the population. The world sees this for what it is, a cruel game sacrificing innocent people for some perceived geopolitical advantage. Is this the kind of reputation the U.S. wants? Or does it simply no longer care what the rest of the world community thinks?
The US gave up long ago on carrying what the world thinks about its actions.The US government has taken us into war against one country after another (Vietnam, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya . . . ) as most of the world has looked on in horror and disapproval. The US has made it clear that it will do what it wants around the world because it has the military might to do so; it doesn’t need the approval of the UN Security Council or the nations of the world. And, the US has gone out of its way to show this, for example in the former Yugoslavia and the second Gulf War in which it flouted international law and opinion by simply refusing to seek UN Security Council for its military interventions. The US is now a full-on rogue nation, and proudly so, pulling out of the International Court of Justice and even sanctioning the International Criminal Court for daring to state its intention to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan. The US continues to stand nearly alone in such things as unconditionally supporting Israel’s brutal occupation over Palestine and in its blockade of Cuba. The US does so just as it stood nearly alone in supporting Apartheid in South Africa until the bitter end. The US believes that it’s might makes right, and it manifests this belief with reckless abandon.
Q. In a democracy, at least in theory citizens have a say in all matters of public policy. Yet, in the end none of the recent military campaigns and undeclared wars seem to achieve much popular favor or support. What is and what should be the role of everyday citizens in determining the foreign policy and military priorities of the country? Or are such matters better left to the “experts”?
Of course, in a real democracy, it is the people who should decide whether or not to go to war. Indeed, this is one of the most important and fateful decisions a country can make, and it is therefore the people – the ones who bear the brunt of the war’s costs and effects – who must decide this. Our so-called “experts” – the Robert McNamara’s, the Donald Rumsfeld’s and the Dick Cheney’s – have proven time and again how little expertise and how little sanity and rational judgment they have when it comes to deciding whether and how to prosecute war.Such “experts” are nothing but war criminals who should have been jailed at The Hague rather than lauded as elder statesemen.
Q. Related to that, the citizenry and most of Congress are kept in the dark with respect to special missions, proxy funding, CIA operations, and swaths of unknown unknowns constituting psyops, cyber ops, and regime change ops, all done in our name as U.S. citizens. The funds to support this sprawling “dark world” of sabotage and terror being inflicted on the rest of the planet, is also a secret. Now there’s pervasive spying on U.S. citizens right here at home. What place does any of this have in “the land of the free”? Does this mean government of the people, by the people, for the people is just a sham?
The US War against Vietnam really taught us how much contempt the US government has for its people.We learned from The Pentagon Papers how US leaders viewed the American people, and especially those in the peace movement, as the enemy which needed to be effectively propagandized, silence or suppressed. The Afghanistan Papers showed us the same. When US wars are waged, the targets of the war – e.g., the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Afghans, the Syrians – know what is happening to them, know who is doing it to them and why it is being done. The goal of US domestic intelligence and propaganda operations are aimed at making sure that the American people do not have such an awareness, and that those who do have such awareness are marginalized and silenced. But there is some hope one should have from this recognition. This should prove to us what apparently the US warlords already know – that an informed and mobilized American citizenry can prevent and stop a war. This is quite a comforting thought. We must only make this thought a reality.
Q. Recently we’ve seen some token but precedent-setting direct payments to citizens in the form of Covid relief. There is also the ongoing discussion about reparations to descendants of slaves. If it could be unequivocally established that the government has abused DOD funding, misused and squandered vast sums of money to promote unjustified wars, purchase unneeded equipment, unnecessarily expand U.S. military presence across the globe, and regularly lied to the American public to manufacture consent for these misadventures and fraudulent activities, practical and political considerations aside, do you see any constitutional or other legal barriers to the public identifying, expecting, or even demanding proper compensation? A cash refund or citizen reparations for massive, authenticated abuse of power?
Well, first and foremost, the US owes a great debt to the peoples of the countries it has waged war against.The US is legally and morally obligated to compensate these countries for the infrastructure it has destroyed; the millions of lives that it has destroyed; the babies who continue to be born with birth defects from the chemical and biological agents dropped by the US; and the environmental harms caused. In terms of the US population, all of the veterans and their families are certainly owed reparations for the harms they have endured in the process of fighting wars which they agreed to fight based on lies and deceptions told to them by the US government and media. Compensation is also owed to those who have suffered from drug addiction made possible and indeed likely by the drugs brought into this country as part and parcel of US wars (e.g., those in the inner city who succumbed to the addiction to cocaine which the CIA helped peddle in order to fund the Contras, and those who became addicted to the Afghan heroine which became abundant as a consequence of the US defeat of the Taliban in 2001). Such reparations do not seem fanciful to me at all. Indeed, I believe that there is a good case to be made that all of the weapons manufacturers and private military contractors should be disgorged of the trillions of dollars they made from these wars based on lies, and these monies should be used to compensate the types of victims described above, and to rebuild the infrastructure and health and education systems which were left to rot as the resources needed to build and maintain them were siphoned off by these merchants of death.