November 23, 2010

Chalmers Johnson, my favorite intellectual (hero!), has died ...

So I'll be rounding up videos and eulogies today.  I guess that will be my way of holding a wake.

He will be sorely missed.

Fortunately, what he was saying was not that of the commentator but as the man who exposed history and consequence so that we ourselves could analyze our hopes, dreams and failures.  He was our teacher - and while so doing taught us that WE must be the change as we will feel the consequences of decades of bad policies.  America cannot hold onto an empire.

The first offering, therefore, are the startlingly true comments he makes about McCain and Obama in this interview transcript where he speaks to Paul Jay.  The link to the video, again, is here.

In Part 4 of his series of interviews with Chalmers Johnson, Senior Editor Paul Jay asks the renowned author to weigh-in on the two presidential hopefuls in the upcoming US election. Chalmers shares his skepticism about the real power that any president has over the conduct of the US on the world stage, before critiquing the visions and advisory teams being unveiled by both Obama and McCain.


Chalmers Johnson, Visionary Scholar on Empire and Decline of America Passes Away
The Nation / By John Nichols
Chalmers Johnson died on November 20, 2010.
With one word, "blowback," Chalmers Johnson explained the folly of empire in the modern age.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September11, 2001, true American patriots—as opposed to the jingoists and profiteers whose madness and greed would steer a republic to ruin—needed a new language for a new age. They got it from Johnson. His 2000 book, Blowback,: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Macmillan), he took an old espionage term—which referred to the violent, unintended consequences of covert (and sometimes not so covert) operations that are suffered even by superpowers such as the United States—became an essential text for those who sought to explain the attacks and to forge sounder and more responsible foreign policies for the future.
Johnson, who has died at age 79, was no liberal idealist. He was the an old Asian hand who had chaired the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California-Berkeley from 1967 to 1972 and then served as president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute. In other words, he was a man of the world who knew how the world worked. And what he tried to explain, to political leaders and citizens, was that the old ways of empire building (and maintaining) no longer worked in an age of instant communications, jet travel and doomsday weaponry. "In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world," Johnson explained in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, another of his series of three books on imperialism and empire, which became best sellers in the period after the 9-11 attacks. "The concept 'blowback' does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes—as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001—the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. In the first book in this trilogy, I tried to provide some of the historical background for understanding the dilemmas we as a nation confront today, although I focused more on Asia—the area of my academic training—than on the Middle East." Johnson, a frequent contributor to The Nation in his later years, argued in his most impressive book, The Sorrows of Empire, that Americans needed to recognize something that their leaders denied: that the United States, a nation founded in opposition to empire, had become an empire.
"The Sorrows of Empire was written during the American preparations for and launching of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq," he explained. "I began to study our continuous military buildup since World War II and the 737 military bases we currently maintain in other people's countries. This empire of bases is the concrete manifestation of our global hegemony, and many of the blowback-inducing wars we have conducted had as their true purpose the sustaining and expanding of this network. We do not think of these overseas deployments as a form of empire; in fact, most Americans do not give them any thought at all until something truly shocking, such as the treatment of prisoners a Guantanamo Bay, brings them to our attention. But the people living next door to these bases and dealing with the swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape their women certainly think of them as imperial enclaves, just as the people of ancient Iberia or nineteenth-century India knew that they were victims of foreign colonization." Johnson, in his last years, became a hero to old-right conservatives and new-left radicals, who recognized the truth of his observations about "the sorrows (of empire that are) already invading our lives, which (are) likely to be our fate for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional government, endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally bankruptcy."
"The United States today is like a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most spectacular falls in North America," Johnson warned. "A few people on board have begun to pick up a slight hiss in the background, to observe a faint haze of mist in the air on their glasses, to note that the river current seems to be running slightly faster. But no one yet seems to have realized that it is almost too late to head for shore. Like the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, Nazi, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires in the last century, we are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to plunge over it."

Johnson knew his history—not just the history of empires that had fallen, but of the American experiment. Many of his truest and most cherished reference points came from the republic's founding. We shared a passion for a James Madison's writings on the perils of imperialism in general. In particular, that passion took us to Madison's great 1795 line from Political Observations: "Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended… War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them…”

Chalmers Johnson, a true son of the wisest and best of the founding generation, spoke the language of James Madison, when he argued that a republic could not maintain more than 700 military bases on foreign soil and retain its own freedom. It was a Madisonian impulse that caused Johnson to warn us that: “As militarism, the arrogance of power, and the euphemisms required to justify imperialism inevitably conflict with America’s democratic structure of government and distort its culture and basic values, I fear that we will lose our country.”
It is a similarly Madisonian impulse, or what remains of it, that will cause genuine patriots to read Johnson as they do the founders for generations to come.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome to Part 4 of our series of interviews with journalist and author Chalmers Johnson. Chalmers joins us by phone from San Diego. He's the author of the renowned Blowback trilogy, former advisor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Thank you for joining us again, Chalmers.
JAY: So let's take a look at Obama and McCain, their foreign policy, and their relationship to the military-industrial complex. And we're going to start with Barack Obama. One of the things that, I guess, told me something about Obama was the controversy with Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright was pilloried for saying "chickens come home to roost," and everyone knew that meant blowback, and it made everyone who knew anything think of Chalmers Johnson. But Barack Obama slammed Reverend Wright and disassociated himself from the chickens-come-home-to-roost thesis. Just a positioning he had to take for pragmatic campaign reasons? Or is it something he believes?
JOHNSON: Well, this is what the kind of minds of the Stephanopouloses of this world would say, that that's what he had to do, that's the way it works in this country. If that's the way it works in this country, then we're a doomed country. If this were, say, 1985 and I'd said to you that four years from now the Soviet Union won't exist, you'd have said, "This guy's not reliable. I just don't trust him." Well, they don't exist. Russia is a much smaller place than the Soviet Union used to be. It happens, and it happens very rapidly. And the same kind of pressures on the former Soviet Union are on us right now, and we're not responding to them any cleverer. Gorbachev was in fact probably wiser than anybody we've got in our government, in that he was quite willing to forgo these crummy satellites that Stalin had created in East Europe.
JAY: Talk about Obama. Do you see some signs in Obama's foreign policy that give you some reason for optimism?
JOHNSON: No, I don't. I mean, there's [inaudible] the political system failed us in getting us into this trap, in getting us totally owned by the military-industrial complex and 16 secret intelligence agencies that are the personal praetorian guards of the president. That is to say, I don't believe any president, when it really came push to shove, can stand up to the powerful influences of the military-industrial complex and the Central Intelligence Agency today. They are beyond normal workings of our government. We were warned by President Eisenhower. We didn't pay attention. The warnings have come home to roost right now. The only thing that matters, though, I believe, in this area, is the quality and kind of advise, advisors, opinions, discussions that will be available to Obama. He, unfortunately, so far is not very encouraging. He's taken a bunch of old Democratic hacks of the Madeleine Albright variety and seems to be putting them back together again. They didn't do a very good job once before; it's unlikely that they would do any better a job now. All we can say is that this may also be simply Democratic Party decorating of the halls, and that instead, that as you begin to inquire into the real apparatus of Barack Obama, that he does have quite good and younger, capable, knowledgeable people able to give him good advice, that there are people inside the government and dissidents within the CIA that are quite capable of providing intelligent information today on which to make decisions. And the thing that's impressive about it, the reason I'm for him, is that I have a close colleague in the Yale Law School who went to school with him and she knows him. She doesn't like politicians at all; she doesn't trust them. She says, "All I can say about Obama is that he is extremely intelligent." I believe that is about all you can ask for right now and that he's doing his best to prepare for it. But he's making some bad mistakes by talking about Afghanistan as a good war and we need to just simply have something like what has now been called by the press a "surge."
JAY: And he's picking up all the kind of rhetoric. He calls Venezuela a "rogue nation." I mean, what has Venezuela done that makes it a rogue nation other than oppose US policy? But that doesn't make you rogue, though.
JOHNSON: Right. It's crazy. During the past decade, Latin America has simply gone away from us. There's only one nation left that would dare even sit down to dinner with us, and that's Colombia. We are being thrown out of the base in Manta in Ecuador. The president of Ecuador said, "You can keep your base if you'll give me a base in New Jersey."
JAY: The way things are going, New Jersey might in five or six years be willing to make that deal.
JOHNSON: [inaudible] certainly say, if you want one, you may have one.
JAY: It may be anybody that wants to buy and get a piece of America in exchange for cash will get it. So on Obama's side, intelligent, and I guess one could say rational after eight years of what a lot of people think is irrationality. Let's go to McCain. McCain has surrounded himself with people like James Woolsey, who wanted to bomb Syria during the Israeli-Lebanese War. He's got Randy Scheunemann, who lobbied for Georgia. So if we start looking at what is a significant difference between Obama and McCain, what conclusions do you come to?
JOHNSON: Well, I think in the case of McCain he looks like a standard GI-issue of a neocon, of people who have not been following what's been going on in the world, who do not understand the way world politics works, who have delusions of Roman grandeur, who sound like the air force, with the full-spectrum dominance and this kind of tone they like to intone these days, which are largely nonsense.
JAY: McCain's been talking about a proposal he calls "the League of Democracies." What do you think of this proposal, which essentially is to exclude Russia, China, and have American allies in some organization that could perhaps even authorize the use of military force?
JOHNSON: I think the biggest falling-out among the nations of the world in thinking about the United States occurs among the main democratic allies of ours in Western Europe, that no Western European politician could think of walking into such a league, with the possible exception of an Englishman who was still desperately trying to have some little influence, as if they were still a major empire. When you think about how pitiful Tony Blair has turned out to be in terms of the influence that Britain might have had in the world compared with the actual influence it has now, it's been a disaster. Britain showed us after World War II that it is possible for an empire to give up its empire. We normally teach that no empire every voluntarily gives up, that we aren't going to give up our 700-and-something military bases. We are going to, and we're going to start losing them pretty fast, too. Nonetheless, Britain did understand after World War II that you can't continue to rule India using Nazi methods. They began to understand, no matter how you [inaudible], how many clever characters you hire at the American Enterprise Institute to talk it up, empire is a pure form of tyranny. It never rules through consent, and least of all does an empire that basically grows out of the barrel of a gun as ours does.
JAY: So what you're suggesting is the financial crunch is going to force the disassembling of the empire.
JOHNSON: Well, I could think of a lot of other things that might. I mean, very slowly you begin to think of those old Roman fears that a world of enemies is combining against us. There's a lot of nations out there now that are on the move, that are beginning to think of ways to frustrate, to check and even checkmate the United States. We see it, probably, in Latin America, we see it in the growing restiveness over status of forces agreements on our bases, and things of this sort. But basically my wife needled me one day and said, "Can't you come up with something more optimistic than war?" And I said, "Yeah, I'll come up with something more optimistic. Let's try bankruptcy."
JAY: There's some studies to show that Hitler launched World War II more or less when he realized Germany was on the road to bankruptcy, and the only thing left was war to cover up the consequences of bankruptcy.
JOHNSON: Well, they did go bankrupt in 1923.
JAY: But I'm talking in '39-40. The German economy was at its weakest at the time he launched the war, because one of the motivations for the war being the lack of ability to provide consumer goods and services to the German people.
JOHNSON: Well, it's an old classic of history to use war to cover up these hopeless domestic failures precisely is what is scary about the United States right now.
JAY: So I guess it's up to us; it's up to us and the people watching.
JOHNSON: And that's why I like to be on a program like this. I don't believe in wasting my time. But I'm sure this is not going to come out of the normal workings of the political system. It's going to require the mobilization of the public to understand what they're about to lose, and once they lose it they'll never get it back.
JAY: Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Johnson.
JOHNSON: Thank you for inviting me.
JAY: Thank you. And thank you for joining us. And we hope and plan to talk to Chalmers Johnson again soon.

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