An Objective Look at US Foreign Policy: an Interview With Norman Solomon

Events continue to unfold at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we asked Norman Solomon for his most current thoughts. We focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time, specifically addressing the role of the U.S. in the tensions and its capacity to reduce them.

Norman Solomon is an American journalist, media critic, activist, and former U.S. congressional candidate. He is a longtime associate of the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. In 1997 he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy, which works to provide alternative sources for journalists, and serves as its executive director. Solomon is co-founder and national director of RootsAction. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions, and is the author of a dozen books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (2006) and Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State (2007).

We are looking for paradigm-shift ideas for improving the prospects for peace. His responses below are exactly as he provided.

Here is what Norman had to say.

We hear a lot of terms and acronyms bandied about. ‘Deep State’ … ‘MIC’ … ‘FIRE sector’ … ‘ruling elite’ … ‘oligarchy’ … ‘neocons’. Who actually defines and sets America’s geopolitical priorities and determines our foreign policy? Not “officially”.  Not constitutionally. But de facto?

Setting the boundaries of dominant discourse — with reiteration and omission — is crucial to guiding and determining U.S. foreign policy as well as discouraging the spread of dissent. The very notion that U.S. military spending is “defense” spending gets any discussion off to a badly distorted start. I wouldn’t be against spending that is truly for defense, but right now only a small proportion of the Pentagon budget deserves to be in that category. The U.S. maintains about 750 military bases overseas and is currently engaged in military operations in 80 countries. As I put it in a recent article for Truthout, “Leaders of the U.S. government never tire of reasserting their commitment to human rights and democracy. At the same time, they insist that an inexhaustible supply of adversaries is bent on harming the United States, which must not run away from forceful engagement with the world. But the actual U.S. agenda is to run the world.” It’s an agenda propelled and implemented largely by corporate power, with tremendous profits being made — mostly by huge corporations; military contracting is a sacred cash cow for the oligarchy. The warfare state is a corporate state.

We’ve had decades of international tensions. Recent developments have seen a sharp escalation in the potential for a major war. The U.S. apparently cannot be at peace. “Threats” against the homeland are allegedly increasing in number and severity. The trajectory of our relations with the rest of the world appears to be more confrontations, more enemies, more crises, more wars.

Is the world really that full of aggressors, bad actors, ruthless opponents? Or is there something in our own policies and attitudes toward other countries which put us at odds with them, thus making war inevitable and peace impossible?

It’s been said that the United States is in search of enemies, and certainly there’s an unending supply — especially when trying to run the world as much as you can. Of course the world is filled with many people and forces eager to concentrate undue power and oligarchic wealth in the hands of a few, and the United States is hardly responsible for that reality. That said, the U.S. government is the leading international lawbreaker and killer in this century — it’s really not a debatable fact, it’s a matter of looking at the numbers of deaths from the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq alone. “Do as we say, not as we do” has never been a very convincing message. What the world needs is a single standard of human rights and international law. Hypocrisy in Washington does not justify Russia’s murderous war on Ukraine, or vice versa.

Our leaders relentlessly talk about our “national interests” and our “national security”, warning that both are under constant assault. Yet, we spend more than the next nine countries combined on our military. Why does such colossal spending never seem to be enough?

Well, like capitalism itself, militarism is insatiable. The results of the drive for profits, however momentarily satisfying they might be, are never enough. It’s a kind of pathological gluttony. The greed for personal wealth and power is intertwined with similar institutional greed; when does a corporation say that the profits are too high or there’s no need to try to increase them in the future? Never. Meanwhile, people all over the world on a massive scale are suffering and dying from preventable diseases, lack of healthcare, malnutrition or outright starvation, and an environmental crisis including a climate emergency that keeps getting worse.

It’s evident that you, and the many individuals who follow you and support your work, believe that America’s direction in both the diplomatic sphere and in the current conflict zones represents exercise of government power gone awry. Can you paint for us in broad strokes the specific changes in our national priorities and policies you view as necessary for the U.S. to peacefully coexist with other nations, at the same time keeping us safe from malicious attacks on our security and rightful place in the world community?

Collective security among nations is the only hope for international peace and stability in the best sense of the word. The economic, environmental and health crises afflicting humanity right now truly know no borders. The U.S. government should practice what it preaches and stop asserting with action the prerogative to keep crossing borders and killing people. While vastly boosting expenditures to meet human needs with a wide array of social programs, the United States could cut its military budget in half right away and be not only just as secure but also more so. A good example is the U.S. ICBM force of 400 nuclear missiles in underground silos, on hair-trigger alert all the time. As Daniel Ellsberg explained this year, “No other strategic weapons besides ground-based ICBMs challenge a national leader to decide, absurdly within minutes, whether ‘to use them or lose them.’ They should not exist…. No other specific, concrete American action would go so far immediately to reduce the real risk of a false alarm in a crisis causing the near-extinction of humanity.”

The general public, especially when it’s aware of the self-sabotaging results of our current foreign policies and military posturing, clearly wants less war and militarism, preferring more peaceful alternatives on the world stage and greater concentration on solving the problems at home. As peace activists, we are thus more in line with the majority of citizens on issues of war and peace, than those currently in power.

What happens if we determine that those shaping current U.S. policy don’t care what the citizenry thinks, are simply not listening to us? What if we conclude that our Congress, for example, is completely deaf to the voice of the people? What do we do? What are our options then? As a thought leader and advocate of comprehensive reform, what do you propose?

Well, any thoughts that I or anyone else has, no matter how worthwhile, will be of limited value without the kind of grassroots organizing that can create meaningful change. Democracy has always been a combination of mirage and reality even in the best of times in the United States. Virtually every change for the better that we can be proud of in U.S. history came from the bottom up, not from the top down, of the existing power structures. The fight for democracy is never-ending. Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize!” There’s no better advice available in a few words. (I’m very glad to be working with colleagues at RootsAction, which now has 1.2 million online supporters, and I invite all readers to sign up for action alerts at Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the imperative need for militant nonviolent action. Progressive social movements that organize effectively with such an approach have enormous potential to help create a truly better world.