The U.S. establishment disdained Donald Trump because he didn’t know how to do the war-making thing, so he had to go through some tough boot camp training to learn the ropes, as filmmaker John Pilger told Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein
President Donald Trump has bathed in the praise from both Democrats and Republicans for his surprise missile attack on Syria last week, even as he prepared for a state dinner with the president of China at Trump’s elite Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
As U.S. policies now push the world closer to World War III, I interviewed John. Pilger, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who has just completed his 60th film for TV, which anticipates a global conflagration.
The Coming War on China, says Pilger, “reveals what the news doesn’t – that the world’s greatest military power, the United States, and the world’s second economic power, China, both nuclear-armed, are on the road to war.”
Dennis Bernstein: This is Trump’s first major foray into international relations and Pentagon guided missile diplomacy. Could you please talk about this?
John Pilger: Well, it’s very consistent, Dennis. My first reaction was career, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, and, of course, Syria. All the result of provocations. Provocations in complex situations. But provocations by the United States.
The United States is a war state and, very much like Israel, it doesn’t really, as far as the U.S. elite is concerned, it doesn’t really function properly without being on a major war footing. And the problem with Trump was that he didn’t, apparently, didn’t quite get this, at first. Well, now he’s got it. He’s been hauled into line. It seemed in the beginning that Trump wanted to do a deal, make peace with Russia. And he made some rather bellicose noises about China, and about the Middle East.
But he wasn’t really on message with those who control the U.S. in terms of its “relations,” so-called, and I use that word almost in a satirical way, that the CNN person who’s used it without the satirical intention. But, he didn’t understand that there has to be a permanent obeisance to a war industry, a state of war, a kind of state of managed chaos.
If there is a U.S. foreign policy, it is about division. It is about causing chaos, and keeping, as I heard somebody say, the pieces in the air. It is about fragmenting societies, and in that way you control them. And the suffering Middle East has been the result of that basically imperial policy, beginning, of course, with Britain and France, now controlled by the United States.
So, this is entirely consistent, in fact the United States has been bombing Syria for a very long time. Only recently, on the same day it bombed Mosul and caused the death of several hundred people, it bombed Syria. Its had forces in Syria, its proxies have been at work in Syria. It started the war in Syria.
Whatever uprising there might have been, let’s say there was among a certain class in Syria. The suffering in Syria is the result of a U.S. assault on that country. And Trump firing a weapon of choice, the coward’s weapon, Tomahawk missiles.
The U.S. really only ever attacks defenseless countries. I suppose we should draw some comfort from that because there are two nuclear armed powers out there, Russia and China, that are not defenseless. But Syria, as far as the U.S. is concerned, is defenseless. And its ships stand off in the eastern Mediterranean, and fire these horrific weapons at Syria, or its planes, from a great height. So, in one sense, I suppose the short answer to your question, Dennis, my first reaction is no change.
DB: No change. And it was a study to watch the way they yank him right into line. And, there’s some amazing things. I just want to throw you another question in the context of the press. Bob Parry of Consortiumnews pointed out, in a very powerful way, that when the New York Times did their story [April 5] about the history of the sarin gas and Syria. He pointed out they left out [the Syrian government’s alleged sarin attack in] 2013 The one [when] Obama was supposed to go flying into Syria. That was the red line one. The one that, it turns out, the reason why it’s not in the New York Times, on this round even though they championed it last time, is because they don’t know what the hell happened. And it could very have easily been the U.S.-supported rebels. And, nevertheless, it’s repeated, ad nauseam, as fact, 2013, he didn’t act in 2013; Trump is doing what Obama didn’t do.
JP: Yeah. Well, Bob Parry is one of the very few, in his Consortiumnews, who has outstandingly exposed the lies behind events in recent years. He’s one of the honorable exceptions. In one of his latest pieces he names – that wonderful expression “names and shames” – those on the New York Times, the associates of the disgraced Judith Miller, who helped to spread the fiction that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, in 2002-3. Michael B. Gordon and Anne Barnard, these are propagandists of a kind that I don’t think any tyranny really could match. They now inhabit mostly the so-called liberal press, they probably always did.
But we used to, some of us, used to think that perhaps there was some real journalism, within that area of the media, the liberal media. And there was the great celebration of Watergate . But, the two liberal newspapers, famous liberal newspapers of the United States, the Washington Post and the New York Times, are now its most virulent propagandist. Lie upon lie, every day. It’s not Fox News.
And this attack of Trump’s on Syria bears all the hallmarks of the media being part of it. Of having been tipped off, beforehand. Almost within minutes of the announcement, the media had pronounced the official line, completely suppressing the fact that in 2014 Syria, under U.N. supervision, destroyed all of its chemical arsenal. Have we heard that before?
Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors observing the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s chemicals arsenal. The same thing happened in Syria, in 2014. Moreover, they were destroyed under American observation, on an American ship. Where this so-called gas attack took place, there’s an absolute rat’s nest of jihadists. Jihadists who have been playing with, and I use that in a very dark way, playing with nerve gases and sarin and all these other wretched weapons, for some years now. There’s no doubt about that.
One only has to read the report by the distinguished MIT professor, Ted Postol, who I interviewed last year, at MIT. A man, who probably knows more about weapons, and how they’re fired, and their trajectories and so on, than anyone in the world, saying that the original so-called Assad chemical weapons attack could not have taken place. And he explains why, that they didn’t have the weapons, there wasn’t the distance, and so on. Seymour Hersh’s investigation of this made it clear.
And we can go on and on, Dennis, in refuting the pretext. And whatever the absolute truth of what happened there, it is a pretext. There’s no question about that because that’s the way the U.S. operates.
And, I would like to think that there are people now who can cast their minds back at least 14 years, to the beginning of that holocaust in Iraq, and understand that this is a repetition of that. If they go along with it, they’re going along with a kind of an epic crime. I think many people are not, actually. I take a rather more optimistic view.
I think the fact that we’re having this discussion, and there is a huge amount of dissent now across the World Wide Web, attempting to counter the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian. Basically, the war mongering liberal media that continues to grieve the loss of its candidate, Hillary Clinton, who, of course, would have attacked Syria much earlier. Now, they should be pleased. They have, Trump, as they say, has been pulled into line.
DB: John, I’ve got my … co-hosts here and they’d love to speak with you. I’d like to introduce you to my good brother, Francisco Herrera, our West Coast and Western Hemisphere troubadour.
Francisco Herrera: Thirteen-Fourteen years ago, as you were saying, we actually had a pretty successful effort at exposing the business of war, and the profiteering that goes on, with the brother of the person who is now the Department of Education’s head, Mrs. [Betsy] DeVos. Her brother [Erik Prince] is one of the profiteers from Blackwater.
I wanted to ask you speak a little bit about precisely that because I think, for me, what I see in this runaway business that we’re seeing is not warriors, is not valiant people. But it’s actually cowardly business people who make billions off of the deaths of working class folks. And when we were able to expose this, Blackwater, we had some good success. Would you speak a little bit to the business of a war?
JP: You see the reason that Trump, really, was opposed, during the U.S. election campaign, was not the fact that he might have been personally odious, [but] was that he was not completely on message.
For his own reasons, and I would think for very good business reasons, in terms of doing deals with the Russians, on gas, on the melting Arctic. And many of the very big business and strategic deals… he wanted to do a deal with Russia. He wanted to make peace with Russia. And that threatened the whole basis of the U.S. economy, if economy is the right word.
It is really the U.S. Monolith of War Making. It’s built on… the war making is built on NATO, which is itself, its very existence, is a provocation to war. So if you took NATO away, you’d take away the provocation to war, the threat of war. But keeping NATO is extremely important to the U.S. war making industries.
Ten of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers were backers of Hillary Clinton. All but one, actually, all but one, were backers of Hillary Clinton. Because she was the war candidate, on message. She was the one who could be trusted. Trump was unreliable. He was making these noises about doing deals with Russia.
I suspect that that’s probably gone now, that Trump… the monolith of the great war making institutions, and surveillance, and intelligence and so-called security institutions, the CIA, NSA, the Pentagon, of course, the State Department, though not as powerful now. All these now are really back in charge. The wheels are back on.
And controlling Trump is still going to be difficult. But I think they probably do have their man now. So, this is a long way, really, of answering your question that… the U.S. is made… the U.S. system is made for war.
And if you follow the trajectory of U.S. actions, and so-called foreign policy, it’s an absolute straight line from the Korean War. Professor Bruce Cummings, one of the best people in helping us understand the Korean War, suggests that, as he describes it, “The U.S.’s archipelago of empire began in the Korean War.” And if you follow that line all the way through the Cold War, and through the so-called post-Cold War. Attacks on various countries from Yugoslavia, to Libya, to Iraq, to Syria – all this is to satisfy what is a monolith of war making.
And that’s what Americans have to face. There’s a great deal of confusion and diffusion about this. As if some are good, and some are bad. I mean, Senator Bernie Sanders, to my knowledge never really ever spoke against this. He had a domestic policy, he was considered the enlightened candidate of the Democratic Party. But he never really addressed what is the most critical issue for Americans, and that how do they deal with, and how do they really counter, bring democracy to, dismantle this war making monolith? That’s the issue.
DB: Right. In a little bit we’re going to be talking about how this policy has impacted in Central and South America since the so-called Monroe Doctrine. It was sort of like the United States practiced in this hemisphere. […] John, I want to introduce you to our senior producer here at Flashpoints, Miguel Gavilan Molina.
Miguel Gavilan Molina: It’s good to hear you again on this show. But, I have one question and I’ve been really disturbed over…today and yesterday [April 6 and 7] with the revelations of the White House’s motors attacks on Syria. And that is the reemergence of Hillary Clinton. She absolutely disappeared, after the elections. She was like disappeared from the news, disappeared from stage.
And all of a sudden … she reappears, in a sense publicly pushing the current administration to take action on Syria. What does that mean? What does her reemergence mean to the country? Or, is it again, as you said earlier, it’s back to the same old-same old foreign policy?
JP: Well, she represents, more than Trump, the same old foreign policy. And I would have thought, and I’m only speculating here, that the Democratic section of the American power politics, and that would include most of the war-making institutions, really hope for an impeachment, of Trump. I think this is what they were hoping might happen. I’m not sure that will happen, actually, but I think that’s what they were hoping would happen. And they would get the result that they wanted all along, and that was Hillary Clinton as president. And, perhaps, they still imagine that can happen, or, that Trump will stumble, and make some grievous mistake, politically grievous mistake, and that the Democrats will step into the breach. I doubt that.
I think her reemergence is very interesting. She is the embodiment of the U.S. war making monolith that I’ve been describing. For example, she was the author of Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia, which he announced in 2011. And she was Secretary of State in 2009 when she really declared the South China Sea to be an area of U.S. security national interest. Before that, there was various disputes between China and its neighbors, but there wasn’t a big power opposition.
So, she created, with a lot of help from others, of course, a place of flashpoint in the South China Sea, which, ironically, Trump was later to exploit. So, it’s quite interesting to see how those regional disputes were converted into a potential for war between the United States and China. This is the war making monolith in action. And, as I say, Hillary Clinton really was, and is, the embodiment of that. Trump is doing his best to catch up.
DB: John, we were talking about Hillary Clinton, and it’s sort of now we’ve got that really almost a perfect hammer and anvil. Because it was Hillary Clinton that set up Central America with free trade, supported and sustained the coup in Honduras, that created this latest generation of forced migration. So Hillary chased them out and now Trump’s got the… it’s sort of the hammer and the anvil, waiting for them at the border. So, this is a big thing isn’t it?
JP: Yeah. What Hillary Clinton was doing what had been done before, you’re quite right. The Clintons were the deporters-in-chief. And every president has waged a kind of a war of attrition against the Spanish-American population in the United States. And, indeed, against Spanish-America. I mean, to understand the way America, the United States, that is, I should say the United States, conducts itself in the world you really have to go back to Latin America.
That’s where it began. That’s where manifest destiny began. That’s where the United States set up, really, a network of fascism. Chile, Brazil, Argentina. That’s where currently, I think the expression is “roll back,” and most of U.S. foreign policy seems to be devoted to roll back, to a regression of some kind.
And rolling back the extraordinary attempts by Latin Americans to reclaim their lives, their governments, their countries, their resources. That roll back is going on right now. It’s not fully succeeding but it’s making inroads. And that’s where, to understand… I mean, to understand British Imperialism you’ve got to go to India and how it began there. To understand American imperialism you really have to go to Latin America. Because that’s where it began.
Now, modern American imperialism certainly started after the Second World War, as I mentioned, in Korea. And Hillary Clinton has played a critical role, in there, both she and her husband, in Honduras, in Haiti, and throughout the rest of Latin America.
But, really, Dennis, we go back to Pinochet [in Chile], and Nixon, and Kissinger, and Galtieri [in Argentina], and the associations with American presidents, and the American elite. The Dulles brothers in Guatemala, the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, a social democratic government trying to do some modest things for its people, was overthrown during the Eisenhower years. But with Dulles, [Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles, leading the charge there. And, of course, with their own vested interest in the United Fruit Company.
So the connections of business and politics and then, increasingly, of armaments and technology, have created this monolith. But certainly its seed bed was Latin America. And it’s interesting, Dennis, I’m only guessing at this, that there’s a kind of vindictiveness towards Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, but I would say Spanish-Americans, within the United States, as expressed by Trump, most recently. And, of course, the background to this is the great suppressed part of U.S. history is the theft of a large part of Mexico.
DB: Right. Cinco de Mayo is coming up, here in the United States. It always plays big on this program. In terms of how that unfolded, clearly… I used to teach in Arizona, and I was always reminded that I was in Mexico, I wasn’t in Arizona, by my brothers and sisters there.
JP: Well, that’s very interesting because I’ve often felt that, when I’ve been in parts of the southwest of the United States, say going into Texas. That there’s something wrong here. This is the United States but it isn’t.
And the way that that theft, in a classic kind of colonial theft, of such a large part of the U.S.’s southern neighbor. The way it was portrayed through American culture, the truth of it was inverted. Hollywood created the myth that the Alamo, and all the rest of it, to create this specious history of heroism when in fact it was theft. And if you relate that inversion of the truth to what we’re seeing today, it’s interesting listening to your guest …talking about standing up to authority. I found that fascinating. It’s also standing up to the authority of propaganda. That always questioning, always trusting your own skepticism. But questioning it, not accepting the authority of the propaganda organ such as the media now, really must be described as.
DB: I would like to spend a few minutes with you talking about your film and maybe you can come in the door just saying a few things about what they could be talking about there in Mar-a-Lago, and just your thoughts about the U.S. relationship with China. Your film is all about this. You could also say just a couple things about your film, so people understand…
JP: Well, China is very aware of what I mentioned earlier. The so-called pivot to Asia. And that has meant the transfer of 2/3rds of U.S. Naval and Air Forces to the Asia-Pacific, with their target as China. It’s very aware that it is surrounded by 400 U.S. bases, armed with battle groups, missiles, bombers. This encirclement begins down here in Australia, goes all the way up through the Pacific, through Korea, Japan, and across Eurasia.
This is almost never mentioned in the news, the encirclement of China. And this has happened since China’s growth as a great economic power. The Chinese understand the danger, the threat. And everything that Xi and his entourage are doing in Florida, at the moment, is to offset that threat.
They have their own plans of development, which are quite extraordinary. But they see a threat from the United States. And it’s managing that threat, trying to control events, to understand Trump. Trump’s people include some very pro-Taiwan elements. That means, of course, the absurdity of the Cold War belief that China existed on this small island of Taiwan, instead of in China itself. So, they understand the threats. And there’s been many provocations, particularly in the encirclement, as I mentioned, of these bases. In response to that the Chinese have built air strips in the South China Sea on disputed islands.
And coming up in July, something, again, you’re very unlikely to read about is one of the biggest air/sea exercises called Operation Talisman Saber. And it will be rehearsing the blockade of the Straits of Malacca, the Long Box Straits… where all the lifelines of resources go to China. In other words, a blockade of China. So, Xi will have this in mind when he talks to Trump about managing this threat.
The last thing the Chinese want is any kind of war. Their whole commitment is business, development, resources, of building this great economic power on the ashes of, as they still describe in China, a century of humiliation, and that was the 19th and 20th century, when they were colonized, and attacked by Japan.
They take a view of history that we don’t understand. Whereas we think in terms of an eternal present, they think in centuries. And that’s what will be happening in Florida at the moment. They’re very well aware that America speaks not diplomatically but militarily. And, as this attack on Syria vividly demonstrated to the Chinese, while they were there, while they were in Florida. That’s what they will be trying to manage. … Anyone who wants to see The Coming War on China, bullfrogfilms.com, they’re the U.S.’s distributors. It’s always a pleasure to be on Flashpoints, Dennis.