DONALD TRUMP HAS been in office almost two years, and the majority of media hours and column inches spent on his administration deal primarily with the Russia investigation, Stormy Daniels, and Trump’s personnel intrigue. It’s not that there isn’t great journalism being done on other issues. It’s that this narrow set of stories consume much of the energy and are on constant repeat pretty much everywhere in corporate media, except for Fox News, which generally broadcasts from an alternate reality.
On Intercepted, we have found it useful to occasionally step back from the daily grind of the Trump presidency and take stock of where we are and how we got here. My friend and colleague Allan Nairn is one of the sharpest analysts of the modern history of the American empire.
As a journalist, he played a significant role in exposing United States involvement in and sponsorship of brutal regimes and security forces around the globe. He survived the Dili massacre in East Timor in the early 1990s; he exposed the CIA’s financing of right-wing death squads in Haiti and the agency’s support for brutal military dictators in places like Guatemala and El Salvador; and he is perhaps the foremost expert in the world on the U.S. support for the genocidal regime of Suharto in Indonesia.
Allan was one of my heroes and role models when I first got into journalism in the mid-1990s. Last week was his second appearance on Intercepted, where we played an excerpt of the interview. Below is the full transcript of our conversation.
Jeremy Scahill: Allan Nairn, welcome back to Intercepted.
Allan Nairn: Thanks. Good to be with you.
JS: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I really get the sense, paying attention to the New York Times, Washington Post, major media outlets, that we seldom as a society step back and sort of say, “What’s the bigger picture of what has happened under Trump on a foreign policy level, on a domestic level, setting this in the context of broader American history?”
How do you assess where we are a year and a half into the Trump presidency?
AN: Well, Trump dragged a rightist revolution into power. It’s the Paul Ryan agenda which could never have gotten elected in its own right, because it’s anathema to most Americans — slashing Medicare, slashing social security, transferring trillions of dollars from the working people, and even the poor and the middle class to the very rich. Mitt Romney kind of tried to run on that and failed. Ryan, in his own right, could never get elected president. But Trump, with his genius for unleashing the beast in white America, touching these deep chords of racism that succeeded in turning a crucial number of previous white Obama voters into Trump voters, precisely, in large part, because of his racist appeals and his appeals to fear.
He succeeded in dragging the Republican Party into the White House with a minority of the votes. And this is a Republican Party that is one of the most radical mainstream political parties in all of American history, perhaps with the exception of the pro-secessionist Democrats at the time of the Civil War. And they’ve been in there, they’ve been implementing a rightist revolution, doing the massive transfer of wealth in part via the tax bill, but also an important part by systematically, agency by agency, trying to gut the constraints on large corporations and the oligarchs, regarding the environment, their treatment of labor, their ability to discriminate, their ability to commit fraud without fear of being sued by the public, increasing the rights of rich individuals to intervene in politics, decreasing the rights of collectives of working people to intervene in politics, like the Gorsuch-led Supreme Court decision just the other day, inhibiting the ability of workers to file class-action lawsuits against their employers.
It’s a systematic program that’s been in the works since 1980, really. In a sense, it dates back to the old Powell memorandum, where Powell, who later joined the Supreme Court, said we, the representatives of the rich, we’ve got to fight back against this new environmental movement, against this consumer movement, against the labor movement, and also implicitly against the Civil Rights movement. “These people have been making too many gains, we’ve got to organize ourselves.”
And they did! They created Heritage, and this whole other elaborate apparatus, and later the Koch Brothers came in, and they created ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. They sent people down to the state legislature. And they’ve been working on this program for decades.
And, now, as the Republican Party has evolved to the most radical extreme, Trump dragged them into power again. They happen to have control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. And they’ve been going around rigging the system so that a diminishing minority of people can hold power and continue to govern. Just as Trump was elected with a minority of the votes, they’re trying to set it up through a long list of tactics, including purging of voter rolls, voter suppression shortly before Election Day, gerrymandering, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, smaller and smaller numbers of people can win elections and retain power.
And, on the international —
JS: Before you get into that, you’re describing a system that sounds eerily similar to despotic, thuggish, gangster regimes that you’ve covered around the world and one of the aspects of the Trump presidency that I think is really standing out more and more is the embrace of the institutionalized corruption that exists in the United States and using official channels that have been legitimized, technically, under the law and its practice in both parties, but he’s merging all of that, that everyone does, with outright profiting off of the presidency through his properties — particularly through the hotel that he built and is making tens of millions of dollars, because all of these people are clamoring to stay there to impress Trump.
Set Trump’s moment in the context of other authoritarian regimes you’ve covered around the world.
AN: Well, what you just mentioned is a unique, personal twist of Trump, and it actually relates to one of the reasons why he won the election. And that is that Trump essentially came out and said: Look, the system is totally corrupt, I’m a crook, I’ve been part of this rigged system for years, I’ve been paying off the politicians, now I’m going to be your crook. I’m going to be fighting on your side.
People heard that, and it sounded a lot more credible to many people than Hillary saying: “Oh no, the system is not rigged! The system is not corrupt!” Those Wall Street contributions I take don’t affect my decisions. She said that first to Bernie, then to Trump.
She said: “In fact, Obama took more Wall Street contributions than I did.” People heard that and say, “Come on!” They hear Trump say, “Look, it’s crooked, I’m a crook, I’m going to be your crook — it sounds a little more plausible.”
And, in one sense, Trump is following through. He’s indeed demonstrating again that he’s a crook. But, of course, he’s not doing it on behalf of the working people who he claimed to be campaigning for.
However, that fact has only gotten through to a limited extent. If you look at Trump’s popularity now, it’s more or less within the normal range. His approval rating is in the low 40s, which is not shocking for an American president. If the facts of what he and the extremist Republican Party are doing now were being hammered day to day in the American press and coming through the TV, I think his ratings and the Republicans’ ratings would be in the 20s, if not lower, but that’s not coming through.
AN:Because, well, partly those who set the rhythm of repetition, the rhythm of what facts get repeated day to day, in the highest profile media outlets, and the rhythm of repetition is basically everything in politics. Because under the American system, there’s no centralized state censorship, unlike the old Soviet system. So, almost everything, almost every atrocity committed in the U.S. system is on the public record somewhere, it’s somewhere in a library, it’s somewhere in a posting on the Internet, somebody has done a good investigative piece on it. It’s all out there somewhere.
But unless it’s repeated, hammered away, day after day, on the big media outlets, it may be on the public record but it’s not in the public consciousness. And that’s all that matters in politics: What is in the public consciousness? And those that set the rhythm of repetition that determine the public consciousness — in this case, the media outlets like MSNBC and CNN, which today play an absolutely central role, even more important than the old Walter Cronkite broadcast back in the ’60s and ’70s, and [Dan] Rather in the ’80s, ’90s — they have seized on this Russia scandal as their theme. They want to attack Trump. They want to go after Trump. But they devote vast portions of their airtime to speculation about this Russiagate scandal, to the exclusion of hammering away on all these other themes about the outright decimation and crushing and theft of the American working class at the hands of this administration.
And a lot of people look at that, you know, all that Russia stuff and the Stormy Daniels and they say: “Well, yeah he’s a corrupt guy, he told us he was a corrupt guy. But, I don’t know if this is fair, I don’t know what they’re doing to him, I don’t know if this is entirely fair.” And it’s enabled him to keep his head above water politically in a way that he would not be able to do if just the hard, established, clear facts with no speculation were being hammered day after day about what he’s doing to the health of Americans, to the environment, to the basic rights of Americans.
JS: But what would you say to people like Adam Schiff, for instance, who is the vice chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the senior Democrat on it, or Rachel Maddow for that matter, on MSNBC, who has the number one primetime show on cable news, where they say: Yeah, Allan, we get that, but this is the only story in town if we’re talking about treason, if we’re talking about compromising of the Democratic electorate process. This has the potential to bring down a president of the United States and potentially result in criminal charges. This is the only story, Allan.
AN: I’d say: Pursue it, investigate it and then put it on the front burner when you’ve got the facts nailed down. Look, Trump is a guy who’s guilty of almost everything, in a meaningful sense. Yet, here, the Democrats have pinned the political future of the world on nailing him for the one thing of which he may in fact be innocent: Russia collusion. I mean, he’s guilty of just about everything else. But maybe there is no hard proof of Russia collusion. And my God, what a bitter, disgusting irony that would be if the whole edifice of opposition to Trump comes crashing down, if that speculative bet that that can be proven fails to pay off. It’s irresponsible to devote the majority of your political resources to that when so many other things are more substantively important, and also beyond debate.
Look what’s happening right now, today: There’s all this mess with Trump, you know, hitting back at the Justice Department and claiming that they used unfair procedures to go after him. It’s a morass. There doesn’t need to be any morass when you’re talking about what Trump and the Republicans are doing to the United States, and doing to the world. And once you get into these side, diversionary issues, that’s the political trap you walk into.
JS: If Trump is correct, and that’s a huge if — the if is doing the very heavy lifting there — but if it’s true that there was surveillance on individuals working on the Trump campaign, isn’t that scandalous? That U.S. intelligence would be infiltrating a political campaign and spying on its activities?
AN: Well, that would be, but that’s actually not the specific thing that’s charged. They were talking about this —
JS: Retired professor who was an informant for U.S. intelligence. And the Democrats are portraying this as like treasonous to reveal the identity. My colleague Glenn Greenwald named the individual that he believes is the source of this, but there’s also the reports that John Brennan had gone to the U.K. when he was head of the CIA, and that he got some information that GCHQ had obtained, that was sort of a backdoor way around, circumventing rules and laws, about during surveillance on American citizens.
I guess what I’m getting at is: What we know in the public record, do you think that Trump has any standing to say this is a “witch hunt” and I was treated in a way that no other candidate has been treated in American history?
AN: No! Trump has been treated with kid gloves and obviously, it’s self-evident, Hillary Clinton was treated much more unfairly than Trump during the campaign. I mean what Comey did at his press conference where he said, “Well, we can’t bring charges against her,” but then he denounced her for 20 minutes. And then later, at the very end, with his hand apparently being forced by the FBI agents who were loyal to Trump and who Giuliani had already come out and said, yeah, we’re going to come out with this big bombshell that’s going to bring down Hillary, and, in fact, they had it from the computer files of [Anthony] Weiner.
Comey reopening the investigation, that was very damaging to Hillary’s campaign. She was the one that was materially hurt by the actions of the FBI, not Trump.
JS: And yet, Comey is held up on liberal networks and on his, you know, media tour as this sort of defiant protector of the Democratic Republic who stood up to Trump.
AN: Yeah. It’s this odd consequence of the opportunism of the Democrats and liberals who have chosen to go down this road of the scandal. They end up having to elevate and glorify these traditionally very reactionary, repressive institutions, like the FBI and the CIA, that are by and large very loyal to the American principle that the U.S. has the right to kill civilians anywhere in the world whenever it wants to, if it feels it’s necessary for U.S. political purposes, and who, domestically, have been willing to engage in surveillance and repression against dissidents, and to cook up cases — in the most recent era, counterterrorism cases — often on the flimsiest of grounds.
And yet, in order to carry out this political program of pinning everything to Russiagate, they’ve had to elevate these people, including the very political people who served George Bush — Bush Jr. — as he went into Iraq, caused, in the end, as a result of his decision, the deaths of more than a million civilians, and set in train what emerged as the monster of ISIS, and the chaos that is still menacing the region and other parts of the world today. LolThey’re now having to elevate and glorify these people. It’s a disastrous political course.
JS: Let’s just remind people here: You have James Mattis, who is the defense secretary, who I think arguably is himself a war criminal for his activities in Iraq, in particular, but there’s a long career there.
AN: He ordered what became a wedding massacre, and then he defended it. He was asked, how long did he deliberate before that strike on the Syria-Iraq border? He said, “About 30 seconds.”
JS: Right. And then you have Mike Pompeo, who goes straight from his tenure at the CIA to now being secretary of state. You have John Bolton, in the non-Senate-confirmed position of national security adviser. And the most recent member of the team is now Gina Haspel who is known to have overseen a torture center in Thailand.
It seems like there has been a total takeover now of Trump’s war program by neoconservative elements and, in the case of Gina Haspel, someone with a 30-plus-year career working in the most unsavory, darkest operations in the U.S. intelligence community.
AN: Yeah. When you talk about the U.S. military and intelligence establishment — the killing machine, you could call it — there have always been different factions, different philosophies as to when and how to kill, but there’s always been a complete consensus about the idea that the U.S. has that right.
Trump himself, during the campaign, part of the reason he won was that he uttered a few truths that were absolute breakthroughs in the history of American politics, that just electrified the Republican primary and really all of American politics. He stood up in a debate with his Republican opponents and said, “Yeah, the Iraq war! That was based on a bunch of lies. The Bushes, they got us into that, and we got all our guys killed — for what? For nothing!” And it was like a bomb going off in American politics.
And all sorts of very conservative people, all sorts of veterans heard Trump say that and said: “Yeah! Hell yeah! He’s the one who’s telling it like it is.”
JS: But it also was the Super Bowl halftime interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, where O’Reilly says: “Putin’s a killer.” And Trump says: “A lot of killers out there.”
AN: Yeah. Yeah. “We kill people too,” Trump said. He found moments where truth was useful, and he used them to devastating political affect, to draw people to him. Just like his admission that the whole system was corrupt, that he was a crook, but he was going to be your crook.
But then, at other moments when the truth is no longer useful, he discards it very quickly and easily. Now it so happens that the faction from the American killing system that’s in control, people like Bolton, they’re the ones who get gusto from war. They’re kind of in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt who would talk about war as something that elevates the soul, how the spilling of blood is necessary for manhood and for national character. Bolton is in that tradition. There’s a large element of the old tradition of the whim of Kings, where you can go to war just for the hell of it because it’s fun, it’s amusing, it gets your juices flowing.
But, just before him was McMaster, who was from a very different school, which tries to be very calm, very sober, very rational and McMaster happened to be a big proponent of military occupation. That was a lot of his theme.
But in the end it doesn’t make a whole lot of differences. These are rather subtle distinctions. The main question is: Are you willing for the U.S. to use its vast powers to kill civilians? And for all of them, the answer is yes.
On the whole, the Trump administration has caused one significant change in the U.S. overseas killing policy and that is they have thrown away the constraints. The constraints that had been imposed by decades of activism, largely from the peace and human rights movements. Over the years, they’ve built up certain constraints on the use of American force, so that under Obama, for example, before certain bombing runs over Iraq and Syria, White House lawyers would have to evaluate things and say, “Well, if we kill 28 or less civilians with this bomb” — at one point that was the actual standard — “that’s permissible, but if it’s 32 civilians, that we won’t to allow that one.”
Trump came in and said: Screw that, take off all constraints, tell the commanders in the field they can kill as many civilians as they want. And, in fact, last year, in ’17, in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. and its partners, through their bombings killed about 6,000 civilians, which represents more than a 200 percent increase from the previous year and that’s not even including Afghanistan, where Trump has increased the U.S. military presence and the tempo of their activities in Yemen, which is perhaps the most outrageous case of all, or via Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the U.S. is directly participating in this bombing campaign, which, just the other day, massacred yet another wedding party and has brought this mess epidemic of cholera to the country, one of the worst and most intense in world history.
So Trump has made it even worse, even more unconstrained. And, again, these are the kinds of things that if these facts were on the TV every day, on MSNBC and CNN, and they were just being pounded, pounded, pounded, people would be reacting to that. More people would be out on the streets. I mean, it’s fantastic how much protest there has been in response to this rightist revolution, but it’s not even close to the amount that will actually be needed to stop in its tracks and reverse it.
JS: And the Democratic Party’s position, heading into the 2018 elections later this year, seems to just be “We’re not Trump.” And that platform largely is not about the issues that you’re talking about. It’s exclusively focused on this neo-Cold War mentality that Russia is the dangerous bear, again, that has risen, and it’s not about those issues that you’re talking about. And in fact, the opposite: We see the institutional Democratic Party going after progressive challengers to their corporate candidates — all across the country we see that happening.
AN: Yeah. There’s been the struggle for control of the Democratic Party ever since the Sanders candidacy and, on the whole, what you would call the Sanders forces, I mean basically those who are trying to do away with the old, or the model of recent decades in the Democratic Party, of relying on corporations and Wall Street and the consultant class to set policy. That movement has been basically falling short — I mean often by very narrow margins, just as Sanders was defeated by Hillary by a relatively narrow margin in race after race. For the DNC chairmanship, for control of the California Democratic Party, in many primaries, the anti-corporate forces come a few percentage points short, but it’s a very mixed and complex picture if you look at it district by district.
And that’s where things will be determined in November. This November congressional election is absolutely pivotal. It’s one of the decisive America elections in all of American history.
JS: How so?
AN: Because —
JS: I mean the obvious is that, to a lot of people, it would be obvious that if the Democrats wrestle control of Congress that they can move to impeachment proceedings against Trump. I mean, people are fast-forwarding past all sorts of other tactics you can use to obstruct a dangerous agenda, but that seems to be the writing on the wall: If we do this, we can impeach him.
AN: Yeah, well —
JS: Although Pelosi, as we know, is not a fan of impeachment.
AN: Well, rightly so, from a pragmatic political point of view. Let’s say the Democrats get control of the House and even get control of the Senate — if they get control of the Senate, it would be by one or two seats, maybe three seats at absolute best.
They get control of the House. OK, then they impeach Trump. Then it goes to the Senate. In order to convict Trump and remove him from office, you need a two-thirds majority of the Senate and that means that the Democrats, having taken control of the Senate by a couple seats, would need roughly an additional 15 Republican senators to vote to convict and remove Trump from office. That’s an extremely tall order.
Based on the currently known facts surrounding the Russian matter, no way in hell are they going to get those votes to remove Trump from office.
And remember what happened when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton and failed to remove him from office in the Senate? Clinton’s approval rating rose to an all-time high. He was in the stratosphere, because people felt he had been abused, including many rather conservative people who had voted against Bill Clinton. And he reached a peak of popularity that was only matched by moments like when Bush attacked Afghanistan, Bush Jr., after 9/11.
So the impeachment, it’s a very questionable road in practical terms. But if the Democrats do get control of the House, they can stop a whole series of additional Republican programs that would involve further gutting of the regulatory agencies, further massive transfers to Wall Street. They could have an important role in writing the national budget. And, especially if the get control of the Senate, the Senate in a sense will be even more important, because if they get control of the Senate, then they would have the potential to block new Trump Supreme Court nominees, and there’s a fair chance that Trump would have a shot at an additional one, or even two, Supreme Court nominees in the following two years of his term. And that can be an absolute disaster.
Because then we are already creating a situation now where Trump and McConnell have boasted accurately that they have put through a record number of circuit court judges, people who were selected quite meticulously by the Federalist Society for their extreme right judicial philosophy and for their ideological discipline and purity. I mean, these are not, it’s not like the old days where the Republicans might push forward someone like a [David] Souter, who would later turn out to shift ideologically once he got inside the court and become somewhat liberal.
JS: Right, we’ve seen that with Nixon appointees, Reagan appointees, Bush Sr. appointees — even George W. Bush.
AN: Yeah. It happened quite a few times. But now they have learned their lesson and they do this strict screening for ideological purity. It’s kind of like, you know, the selection of old Soviet commissars — they do not they do not slip up with these guys.
JS: You’re going to get your own show on MSNBC if you keep making these Soviet — no, go ahead!
AN: [Allan laughs.] So, the Democrats getting control of the House, and even more so the Senate, are absolutely crucial to stopping the rise of what really is, it’s already an extreme rightist movement that has control of the government, and what could become an incipient fascist movement given Trump’s own ideological inclinations.
And one thing I think that’s necessary for people who consider themselves decent is to apply a principle. In Indonesia, there’s this saying [Allan speaks Indonesian], which means essentially, “have a warm heart and a cold brain.”
So, when you’re dealing with something like politics, you have to think coldly and objectively. So, on the congressional level, you fight like hell to get a very good nominee. But if it so happens that the Democratic nominee in your district is a corrupt tool of the local corporations: Vote for him anyway, campaign for him anyway in this particular election, because that potential one-vote majority in the House, that potential one-vote majority in the Senate can save vast numbers of lives. It can make a difference in the entire future direction of the country. You have to be very calculating and tactical in seeing with clear eyes the political situation that is before us right now.
JS: What do you make of the latest revelation about this other meeting in Trump Tower? By the way, there were probably dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of meetings in Trump Tower of this nature, but the most recent one that the press focuses on involved Erik Prince, powerful Emiratis, this guy George Nader, who was — well he was a fixer that goes back to the Clinton administration, secretly negotiating deals between the United States and a variety of players in the Middle East. But the offerings that the Emiratis allegedly made to support the Trump campaign are being treated as something that came out of nowhere, when, in fact there’s a long track record that we know of Jared Kushner, because of his properties, the Trump organization because of their global business, of being very close to these Emiratis.
But what do you make of the tick-tock of stories like this, that it’s yet another piece of the pie? What does it show to you? Because to me it looks like we’re talking about old, dyed-in-the-wool corruption, bribery, business dealings, rather than Russian collusion.
AN: Yeah. I mean —
JS: It’s not necessarily an either/or.
AN: That particular meeting, you’re talking about Emiratis, you’re talking about an Israeli —
JS: That’s right, a social media specialist.
AN: — an Israeli specialist in manipulation of social media. It has little or nothing to do with the Russians. And part of the aspect is simple corruption by the Trump circle, which is arguably the most corrupt to come into the White House since the days of Teapot Dome.
But, more profoundly, you’re talking about the fact that foreign interference in U.S. elections is absolutely nothing new. And, objectively speaking, the foreign powers that have interfered in the U.S. political process the most and that have had the most clout, there are really three: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. I mean, those are the big three, in terms of funding think tanks, funding politicians, having political influence on politicians. And this has been the case for decades. The Emiratis are more recent entrants, but the Saudis and the Israelis have been playing this role in Washington for decades, and everybody in Washington knows it, and it’s been documented countless times. The Intercept has run a whole list of excellent stories documenting this in excruciating detail, one case after another, so that’s one aspect of the foreign role in U.S. elections.
Another broader aspect is: Of course it’s awful when regimes like this are able to further their aims with money. But in a broader sense, well, the U.S. president is kind of the president of the world, as those who celebrate the American system constantly remind us. A president’s decisions affect people all over the world. A president’s decisions can kill people all over the world, or save people all over the world, so why shouldn’t people in other countries have a say in the selection of the U.S. president?
Now, I can’t think of any good, clear solution to how to affect that, because you’re talking about a Democratic means of influencing the course of this behemoth that is U.S power, and it’s not clear to me how that would be done — but don’t be hypocritical when you get all pious and pretend to be shocked about foreigners wanting to have some impact on American politics, when American politics shapes much of the world. And specifically regarding Russia, and the Russian role.
Look at the history of U.S. election interference. In Philip Agee’s book about the CIA —
JS: Phillip Agee was a CIA operative, one of the people who was in charge of the operation to kill Che Guevara, and then he, in a very radical open way, blew the whistle on a variety of CIA operations around the world. And he died some years back. But go ahead.
AN: Right. And if you read his main book, “CIA Diary,” it’s actually kind of boring, because in most of it he’s not talking about the CIA assassinations and coups, of which there are many. He’s talking about the day-to-day grind work that he did in South America of planting fake stories in newspapers, of sowing dissension within political parties in order to influence elections in South America, in order to manipulate the politics of the various countries where the U.S. was operating — precisely the kind of things that the Russians apparently tried to do in the 2016 election using updated technology. And, I mean, it would be shocking if Putin didn’t try to do that.
And if you actually look at the specific history of Russia, it was U.S. election manipulation that indirectly brought Putin to power in the first place. In ’96, Yeltsin was on the, apparently on the verge of being defeated in the Russian presidential elections by the communists. The U.S. stepped in a massive way — and they weren’t shy about this, they boasted about it at the time — it was on the covers of magazines, it was all over the U.S. newspapers, through the IMF and through other channels they poured in massive amounts of money on Yeltsin’s behalf.
They actually sent over people who would work for Pete Wilson of California to help with the Yeltsin campaign. They mounted covert operations to help the Yeltsin campaign, and Yeltsin was dragged across the finish line and re-elected. And within three years of barely functioning, Yeltsin, who had been privatizing the economy, creating the class of Russian oligarchs that we talk about so much today and driving down — this is something that rarely happens in demographics — but the Russian living standards had actually fallen dramatically. Life expectancy had fallen dramatically; for women it fell by several years, for men it fell, I think, by almost seven years during this period. Astonishing, catastrophic stuff.
And Yeltsin then handed over to Putin. And part of Putin’s actual popularity, apart from his, you know, his dictatorial tactics and his massive use of domestic propaganda is the fact that he seemed to the public to reject that legacy and say, OK, we’re going to try to rebuild some of Russia. And it was all the outcome of that ’96 election where the U.S. covert election operations dragged Yeltsin into power.
JS: And, in fact, the Frontline documentary series that is exploring Vladimir Putin that was broadcast earlier this year, at the at one point in it when they show one of the last, if not the last meeting that Bill Clinton had with Yeltsin — according to that film, Yeltsin actually says to Clinton: You need to be very careful about this guy Putin that’s arrived on the scene.
So I mean, the history that you’re giving is both interesting and really important.
AN: And one thing that’s especially revealing, in the interim between his designation as Prime Minister Putin by Yeltsin and his final ascent as president, there occurred the Russian apartment block bombings in which hundreds of people were killed in Moscow and there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest —
AN: — that this was actually an operation by Putin to blame it on the Chechens.
JS: Kind of like a Reichstag fire.
AN: Yes. Exactly. Used as a pretext to launch the second Chechen war, which greatly consolidated his power and popularity. And it was after that, in the initial days of his rule that Putin was actually quite friendly with the U.S.; Putin was very pro-U.S. in the beginning and the U.S. was embracing Putin as they had embraced Yeltsin. Later on, the relationship became more distant and eventually soured, in part because the U.S. reneged on the promises they had made to Gorbachev and Yeltsin that they would not expand NATO up to the borders of Russia, which is something that spooked the Russians. The U.S. didn’t have much problem with the apartment-bomber Putin. It was only later when other issues arose that the U.S. slowly started to see him as an adversary.
JS: Well, and George W. Bush said he had seen into his soul and invited him to his ranch, and called him Pootie-Poot, and all of this — had the weird nickname for him.
But, you know, if you go back and you read, for instance, Donald Rumsfeld’s early speeches in the George W. Bush administration — Rumsfeld of course was both the youngest and oldest defense secretary in U.S. history — if you read what was he focused on and what the neo-cons were focused on, it was overwhelmingly on Russia and Cold War politics prior to 9/11. In fact, the day before 9/11, Rumsfeld gave a speech in which he was talking about a sort of new Cold War emerging with the Russians. Then 9/11 happens, and it’s neo-con Christmas and Hanukkah and everything combined into one.
But the agenda that we see now in the media outlets that you’re talking about regarding Russia feeds directly into the neo-con worldview as of September 10, 2001, that Russia is the major enemy of the United States and it’s part of why I think you’re seeing the “Never Trumpers,” the neo-cons like Bill Kristol or David Frum or Max Boot. They love this Russia stuff, because this has been part of their life’s work; it is the Cold War never should have ended, we need to redestroy, now, the Soviet Union in the form of Vladimir Putin.
AN: Yeah and I think many American voters look at that whole picture, and they say, “Gee, we really want to be embracing these same guys who brought us the Iraq War?”
JS: Well, they are being embraced.
AN: Yes they are.
JS: I can find them on the liberal media all the time.
AN: And it’s one reason why I think the liberals and the Democrats are not doing nearly as well in public esteem as you think they could be in this disastrous period of the Trump radical-rightest presidency. Because people, they look at Trump and they see a contradictory picture. On the one hand, he has these extreme warmongers like Bolton in his White House. But on the other hand, they have the vivid memory of Trump on the campaign trail just tearing the Bushes to shreds, and speaking some truth about what an outrage the whole Iraq War was.
And, actually, Korea is an interesting example of this, the way that Trump is able to disrupt politics and hold onto power and allow this rightist revolution to continue. On the one hand, he rejects Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which was a true achievement of Obama. It was a very reasonable interim solution to begin to address a difficult problem. And Trump categorically rejects that, partly because it was Obama. You’ve got to destroy everything that Obama did. And also because that goes along with the interests of his close allies, Saudi and Israel.
But then on North Korea, Trump stumbles into something. For months, he’s essentially threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, and also doing it, just as vocally as Trump, by the way, are the supposed adults, General Mattis and General McMaster, look at their quotes, about destroying all of North Korea. They’re not just talking about the regime, they’re talking about destroying all of North Korea during that period, and on all of their parts it was grossly irresponsible. That’s the kind of thing that should be grounds for impeachment of a president or a secretary of defense.
But then, because of who Trump is, in place of the staid, stable, aggressive evil of the establishment, you have the egomaniacal, megalomaniacal evil of Trump: Trump sees this opportunity arise when the South Koreans are visiting the White House, and they say: “Hey! Kim Jong-un has offered to sit down.” And Trump, his head popped in the room, he says, “Oh yeah?” And with his lizard brain, he grasped the fact, “Wow, photo op, imagine that, me and Kim Jong-un! Summit! Peace!” It just explodes in his head and Trump says: “Yeah. Tell him I’ll be there.”
JS: “You know, everybody’s talking about him getting the Nobel Peace Prize — I don’t know, you know, maybe.”
AN: And it’s the kind of thing that would have been inconceivable for any previous president. Yet it’s the right thing.
The U.S. system, for decades upon decades, has been evil in its willingness to kill civilians for political purposes, otherwise known as terrorism. But with Trump, you have a man atop that system who is, in a sense, in his persona, openly evil, in a way that previous presidents have not been. Previous presidents have come across as rational, reasonable guys. That’s part of one of the reason that they got elected president in the first place.
But now here you have Trump, with that unique personality, being willing to cast aside various principles of the old establishment. So he’s willing to say to the North Koreans: “Yeah, we’ll end the Korean War.”
How many Americans know that the Korean War is not over yet? I mean, of course, it’s a reasonable concession to say: Yeah, we’ll end the Korean War. Obama would never have considered it. Bush Jr. would never have considered it. These things are out of bounds.
Trump says: “Yeah, we’ll end the Korean War. Yeah, maybe we’ll cut back on those military exercises in the South. Yeah, maybe we’ll pull American nuclear forces back from the region.” He’s willing to contemplate these things all to seize the photo op, all for the glorification of his own ego —
JS: Right, he’s talking about like, a party, how it’s going to be a great one.
AN: It’s nuts in terms of the motivation, but it’s actually the right thing to do if you’re interested in averting a nuclear holocaust, if you’re interested in peace on the Korean peninsula, which is why the South Koreans, and Moon, the new president, are so enthusiastic about the whole thing. Because they see this as an opportunity to one, diminish the nuclear peril, and two, potentially open up North Korea to the world in a way that could finally lead to the slow dissolution of the absolutely horrible North Korean regime, one of the worst regimes in the world, but which has persisted quite well under the existing American establishment position of isolation.
So you have Trump, somewhat accidentally, stumbling into what is absolutely the right thing: The willingness to contemplate a peaceful solution on North Korea. And what is the reaction of many of the Democrats and liberals? It’s grudging. It’s nit-picking. It’s rejecting it. It’s saying, “Oh no, you can’t do that, you can’t do this.” And again, a lot of the public looks at that and says: Wait a minute. Wouldn’t nuclear peace with North Korea be a good thing? Why would that be a bad thing?
You can’t be partisan about these things. If the monster stumbles into something good, say, “OK, that’s a good thing.” It doesn’t automatically become a bad thing just because the monster did it.
And if, let’s say, the summit happens. If, let’s say, there’s a good outcome, which actually leads to some kind of peace with North Korea, that in itself, in and of itself would be fantastic, but it could also have even graver, more catastrophic consequences, because that could help the Republicans win the midterm elections, which would lead to even worse consequences following on for the whole world. But, that bad effect of helping the Republicans win the elections wouldn’t be the case if the Democrats and the liberals hadn’t positioned themselves on the other side as the enemies of nuclear peace with North Korea.
But they have now. And so if Trump manages to pull that off, it’ll be: Oh, the Trump position prevailed, the Democratic and liberal position was defeated. We got the Trump position, which is peace with North Korea. Gee, that looks better to me, maybe I’ll stick with the Republicans in my congressional vote — it’s totally unnecessary for the Democrats and liberals to take that position but they are and it’s yet another example of how their approach is inadvertently strengthening Trump and the radical rightist Republicans and creating even more peril for the working people of this country and for the entire world who are being devastated by this regime.
JS: Allan, our time is almost up, but I wanted to make sure to ask you actually about something that you wrote back in 2009, around the time when Obama supposedly banned torture — but, as we know, it wasn’t really a ban on torture. I just want to read from a post that you wrote on your website, allannairn.org. You said: “In today’s Thailand — a country that hardly comes to mind when most people think of torture — special police and militaries get U.S. gear and training for things like ‘target selection’ and then go out and torture Thai Malay Muslims in the rebel deep south, and also sometimes (mainly Buddhist) Burmese refugees and exploited northern and west coast workers.
Not long ago I visited a key Thai interrogator who spoke frankly about Army/police/intel torture and then closed our discussion by saying ‘Look at this,’ and invited me into his back room.”
What did he show you when you met with this Thai interrogator?
AN: Well, he had a room full of mementos and photos: photos of him with George W. Bush, certificates from the CIA Counterterrorism Center, from the FBI, him posing with the Israeli military next to a tank in the occupied territories and various interrogation implements used by Mossad, Shin Bet, the U.S., Singaporean intelligence. He remarked that shortly after a conversation he was on his way back to Langley. So this was clearly a guy who was an intimate partner of Western intelligence, and, at that time, when we spoke, it hadn’t yet come out about the CIA torture center in Thailand.
JS: The Cat’s Eye prison.
AN: Yeah, for the waterboarding, where the videos were taken, and where Haspel had supervisory authority and that later became so famous. That had not come out, and he did not mention that to me, but in retrospect now it seems likely that he may well have been the guy, given his central role in liaison with the Bush White House, not to mention with the Israelis.
JS: Do you know the man’s name?
JS: And you haven’t published it.
AN: No, but I spoke to him on a basis where I would not disclose his name. It seems rather likely that he was the one who actually set that up in the first place for the CIA.
But the main point of that article, back in ’09, regarding the Obama torture ban, and this is very relevant to the debate about Haspel, is that when we debate Haspel and the Thai torture center, we’re really talking about a tiny fraction of U.S.-sponsored torture worldwide and likewise the Obama torture ban only pertained to a tiny fraction of U.S.-sponsored torture worldwide. Because the Obama ban and the actual Haspel activities related to torture committed by actual U.S. citizens, actual U.S. personnel, be they CIA or be they military, who are the ones who lay the hands on the torture victim and do the waterboarding, or the suffocation, or the burning, or the cutting, or whatever.
In fact, in the vast majority of cases it is not directly U.S. citizens who do it, it’s U.S. clients. So it’s personnel from Thai intelligence, from Israeli intelligence, from the Palestinian Authority, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Colombia, from the Philippines, from Indonesia, et cetera, et cetera, cetera, on through dozens of countries, where the U.S. has sponsored, armed, paid for, trained and often, in cases of interrogation, directly supervised foreign nationalists as they carry out interrogations using torture, sometimes with questions fed to them by the American personnel.
So none of these things fall under the ambit of the Obama torture ban because Obama didn’t ban any of those activities. And, in fact, he didn’t even ban direct torture by American citizens conducted outside of war zones. His ban just pertained to war zones. When we talk about the Obama torture ban, or we talk about Haspel and the Americans who were doing these tortures under her command, we’re omitting 98 percent of the actual U.S.-backed torture that happens around the world and it continues happening to this day and we have to recognize that. We have to recognize those facts to be realistically discussing these issues.
JS: One final question: Rudy Giuliani, of course, is now playing a big role. At this exact moment that we’re talking, he still is working for Trump. But the first thing that came to my mind when the Giuliani moment sort of arrived, there have been several of them but this is probably his biggest moment in the Trump spotlight, was when this kerfuffle happened between him and his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, which is a powerhouse law firm, and Greenberg Traurig was sort of portrayed in the media as rejecting Giuliani and essentially firing him. You know he claims he left the firm.
But I know a bit about Greenberg Traurig, and then I notice on Twitter you posted just one fact about that firm, maybe you could share.
AN: Yeah, Giuliani’s old firm, Greenberg Traurig, is currently lobbying for the death squad-backed president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales. Morales was brought to power by the massacre generals. And these generals are now facing a remarkable, landmark, world historical series of trials brought by brave survivors and honest prosecutors before some honest judges in a very corrupt Guatemalan political system.
And they are actually, today, as we speak, there’s a trial going on, there’s a case called the Molina Theissen case; there’s the The Creompaz case. Molina Theissen involves the abduction and torture and murder of children. The Creompaz case involves a military base where hundreds upon hundreds of skeletons were discovered of villagers who had been abducted by the U.S.-backed Guatemalan army, and the CIA co-run G-2, and brought on American aircraft to this base where they were tortured and executed and dumped into mass graves.
There’s a genocide case ongoing against the former head of the G-2. I actually testified in that case on April 27, presenting evidence about the massacres in the Northwest Highlands in the ’80s, the assassinations and abductions by the CIA-backed G-2, and the complicity of this particular general, Rodrigo Sanchez, and the role of the U.S..
So these remarkable Guatemalans are bringing their own generals to trial for these atrocities. That’s the rule of law, by the way. The U.S. is still in a pre-civilized state. We do not yet have the rule of law in this country. We cannot conceive of doing what those Guatemalans are doing, bring their own generals, their own former rulers, General Ríos Montt, the former dictator was subject to such a trial for these atrocities. We could never do that to George W. Bush for Iraq or any other U.S. president or general — they’re more advanced than we are.
But these brave Guatemalans who are advancing these trials of the massacre generals and the death squad people and others who are advancing this extensive series of corruption trials against the oligarchs who’ve been draining the system and have brought Guatemala to a state where the rural hospitals don’t have medicines, where you can barely drive along the roads because the roads are so useless, people can’t bring their crops to market. The transportation system barely functions, the bus drivers face assassinations by gangs, many of which are run from inside prisons by former military people.
These corruption prosecutions, which are in part backed by a U.N.-sponsored special prosecutor, are shaking Guatemalan society to the core, and one of the targets of these corruption prosecutions is President Jimmy Morales himself, and he is actually facing what in Guatemalan law is called antejuicio. It somewhat resembles impeachment under the American system, but he’s in trouble politically, and to try to save his skin, and save the skin of other oligarchs, and save the skin of the massacre generals who brought him to power, he has hired Giuliani’s old law firm to lobby on his behalf in Washington, to try to undermine these prosecutors.
And also, on a related front, he’s also bringing in Israel. Jimmy, the president, was just flown to Israel to move the Guatemalan embassy to Jerusalem, the one country that directly followed the example of Trump. He and dozens of his colleagues, including some of the most notorious figures of the ultra-right in Guatemala, were flown on the plane of Sheldon Adelson, and they were, they were brought over to Israel, where they were fêted by Netanyahu for their moving of the embassy.
And Morales was doing this as a way to appeal directly to Trump, because — and this is where some complexity comes in, and people have to understand this in terms of how the U.S. system actually works — in recent years, much of the U.S. policy in Guatemala has actually been somewhat constructive, in dramatic contrast to previous years, where the U.S. was fully backing the Army and the death squads.
As a result of congressional pressure, which itself originated from the works, the work of people in the human rights and peace movements and anti-corruption movements, the U.S. had actually been supporting the U.N.-sponsored special prosecutor, it’s known is CICIG, which is the acronym for the agency, and had been giving some support to some of these landmark trials of the former massacre generals.
That policy was essentially shaped by congressional action. It stands in total contrast to the U.S. policy right next door in Honduras, where the U.S. has backed to the hilt the corrupt president Hernández, who just retained power in a fraudulent election, and who is hosting a major U.S. military base for the region.
So President Morales of Guatemala trying to undermine the existing U.S. policy, which is responding to congressional pressure, is trying to do it and run and get directly to Trump via Netanyahu, and now Sheldon Adelson, and also Rudy Giuliani’s old law firm.
And, I should add, another law firm close to Mike Pence. They’re also paying them.
JS: Yes. All of these things seem to be connected in the most insane ways, but that’s also just part of how this country functions, inside and outside. So, Allan Nairn, thank you very much for joining us.