William Blum is a leading expert on American Foreign Policy. He left the State Department in 1967 because of his opposition to United States action in Vietnam. Blum has been a freelance journalist in the US, Europe and South America. He is the author of the well-known book, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Mark Zepezauer used Blum’s work as the inspiration for his well-known CIA’s Greatest Hits, published in 1994. Blum’s new book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else has been called “a remarkable collection that concentrates on matters of great significance” by Professor Noam Chomsky. It has also been reviewed by Professor Edward Herman who commented that the book “is brimming with wit and quotations that are both laughable and frightening.”
Daniel Falcone: Thank you for having this discussion with me, today. I appreciate it. Could we just talk about the book in terms of how this book is similar and different from your other books?
William Blum: Well, they all deal with US Foreign Policy; however, this book stems largely from my monthly Anti-Empire Report, which is dealing with events of the past five, ten years. My other books deal with events much longer ago, so Deadliest Export is more up to date.
You have more contemporary themes in here. There’s a section on President Obama, there’s a section on WikiLeaks, conspiracies – so how do these more recent issues compare with some issues you’ve already studied, or is this just the tradition following along as you see it in terms of foreign policy? For example, when you write about Barack Obama in here, are you saying this is business as usual in Washington in terms of…
I go into detail about why he’s very much a big disappointment to many people. Not to me, because I didn’t expect anything, but to many other people.
His civil liberties record and his foreign policy can be reactionary in some instances. Is there any saving grace in his domestic policy? Is there anything we can embrace about him as an individual in terms of his presidency, in terms of the domestic realm?
There’s nothing I admire about him. My main problem with him is that he doesn’t have any strong beliefs. He doesn’t believe strongly in anything except being President of the United States. The man is an empty shell in my opinion. He’ll go with whichever way the wind blows and if he seems more liberal than the Republicans, it’s only because he’s in power and they’re not. If Republicans were in power, their policies would be very similar to his. There’s not really a big difference between the two parties except one is on the out and one is on the in. And they switch that back and forth. So, the one on the out acts in a certain way, and the one on the in acts in a certain way; which makes them appear different, but, in terms of power, they’re both the same.
Could we call him a moderate Republican?
I’ve written that in European terms, he would be called a center-rightist. In the US, we would call him a centrist. I wouldn’t even call him a liberal because, although the liberals of the modern period are not very admirable, it’s not even a compliment if I said he was a liberal. He’s not like Lyndon Baines Johnson, the last liberal President maybe we had.
Weren’t some of Richard Nixon’s policies considered liberal?
Nixon was more liberal than Obama is, definitely. He created the EPA.
You start off Chapter 21 about President Obama in mentioning “the warning signs were all there, Obama and empire.” And then you start with this interesting story about the New Yorker of 2008 showing Obama “wearing Muslim garb in the oval office and the portrait of Bin Laden on the wall” and you give the scenario. It was a controversial cover. What was the idea of presenting this cartoon at the beginning of the chapter?
It is not educational. It deals with the cover of the New Yorker and discusses the public outrage over the cover, but I’m wondering why there is no outrage when Obama is called a progressive; for that is not an educational portrayal either.
You do write, “How much more educational for the American public and the world it would be to make fun of the idea that he is some kind of progressive..” I see your point. And you go on to discuss our intensified role in Afghanistan under Obama as well as his comment in the Chicago Tribune of 2004, where he supported Bush’s policy in Iraq at the later stages. Furthermore, you discuss his six major military strikes in the first 26 months of his first term. You also discuss extremism in the book and, if I may paraphrase, your definition of extremism for our country – in terms of foreign policy, is any nation that shows opposition to United States’ power. Is that how you’re categorizing extremism?
Occasionally what some supporters of foreign policy would have you believe is that yes, to take exception to our policies is to declare yourself an extremist.
How about when you discuss the public relations industry and its relationship to producing a war machine, or propaganda in the context of this book? How does one see through the propaganda? How can we identify it and what are the skills involved?
Republicans don’t want to say the US should not intervene here or there. And so, they’re finding some minor little aspect of it to harp on.
Knowledge is the skill. If you know enough, you can see through it. And if your mind is open enough – I mean, there are many people who are educated and knowledgeable, but they’re so invested in the idea that Obama will be the savior, if, for no other reason perhaps then desperation, to find someone who can save the left. They’re willing to overlook a lot of what he does so, knowledge is not a guarantee against being propagandized. If you know enough, you won’t allow your own emotions to overrule your common sense.
The media and some of the Republicans, who are being called obstructionists, seem to be dwelling on the Benghazi question in terms of United States security. The conservatives don’t seem to be opposed to having United States power abroad and its ruthless forces, but they are trying to say that Obama was not being truthful in the matter. It appears to be a very non-constructive issue; have you followed that at all?
I too followed it with a bit of confusion. I’m not sure what really bothers them. The main shortcoming and big crime of Obama’s intervention in Libya is the intervention itself. We overthrew the government, one of the few remaining secular governments in the Middle East. We overthrew it and with the help of Al Qaeda types; we wound up fighting on the same side as Al Qaeda for the fourth or fifth time in modern history. That is the main crime. This thing with Benghazi, it’s something invented by the Republicans and not because they’re upset by our intervention in Libya, that doesn’t bother them. Tracking the wording of the President is something which they can make some political fuel out of since they can’t argue the intervention per se, because they’re committed to American Imperialism themselves. Republicans don’t want to say the US should not intervene here or there. And so, they’re finding some minor little aspect of it to harp on. And I’m not sure what else they have in mind, when they keep raising this issue, except they want to challenge Obama and his presidency. It might all be in an effort to spoil or challenge Hillary Clinton. They can pin it on her because they expect her to be their next opponent for the White House.
Can you comment on the activities of the Pentagon, or the aspects of how we go around the world that require the Pentagon to be invested in a way of disseminating information to the public. I assume its task is to make policy look like it’s constructive foreign policy and not disastrous.
They’re basically conservative, but they hide behind this thing they call objectivity. And I’ve taken pleasure in thinking that many mainstream journalists have read my stuff and been envious that I have the freedom to write that way and they don’t.
That’s the same task faced by every agency of the government which has a connection to foreign policy. The same task faced by the mainstream media. They want to make it look good. They never use the word imperialism. They never say this is a big lie or it’s totally immoral, so they’re all on the same side. They all have to find ways of putting it in the best light. That’s the joint task of all these institutions. It’s as bad as World War I. These young people, they have little idea of the extreme acts of terrorism carried out by our Al Qaeda types. I’m sure the average American shares this view that suicide bombings are inhuman, but one can raise the same questions about the average American soldier. What’s been done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan is as horrible as anything done by Al Qaeda. So, we don’t have to look for Islamic brainwashing, we have American brainwashing.
Your writing style in this book is very interesting. You have a unique sense of humor in the book. You use metaphor; there’s sarcasm; there are clever analogies; cite Arabic opinion polls, State Department documents, and poetic expressions and you have literary references on the history of Rome, as well as various textured and colorful stories and quotations. It seems markedly different from your other writings.
No, it’s always been that way. I have to enjoy writing. I couldn’t write for the Washington Post. I mean, even if they wanted me, I could never follow their style which they call objective. I call it dishonest. They’re basically conservative, but they hide behind this thing they call objectivity. And I’ve taken pleasure in thinking that many mainstream journalists have read my stuff and been envious that I have the freedom to write that way and they don’t. So, that’s how I see it.
What can you tell me about Orlando Bosch and is that a name that Americans even know about?
Well, we’re lucky if any American knows his own name. Orlando Bosch was a baby doctor. And he was two things, a baby doctor and a mass murderer. And that’s an unusual combination, I would say. Most baby doctors are not mass murderers. But he and his partner, Luis Posada, blew up a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing, I forget how many people, but many people, including the entire young Cuban fencing team – all youngsters. And he justifies this because he’s at war with Cuba, total warfare. There’s no conceding one inch. And such a man, if he wasn’t anti-Cuban, would be reviled as a horrible person by Americans. But being he’s against Cuba, the city of Miami declared an Orlando Bosch day one year back in the ’70s, I think. It’s an amazing phenomenon. There are brainwashed Americans. Being against Cuba is what they were raised to be, to be against the entire idea of Cuba and especially in Florida, you can’t get anywhere without attacking Cuba and communism. So, it doesn’t even matter what they really believe. But, there were many people who think like Bosch does. And his partner in that crime who I just described, Posada, is still walking around free in Florida. Bosch died about a year ago. But Posada is still alive and walking free – a man who is a genuine mass murderer and terrorist and as long as he walks around free, anything our Presidents tell us about our war against terror is just propaganda.
A small section in the book is dedicated to Condoleezza Rice. That was surprising to see.
I was choosing things I had written before to include and I found so many things. Well, I found enough things about her that I wanted to include her with her own small chapter. And I think each of the items in that chapter has value and merit and shows the kind of person she is.
What kind of person?
But, should we give him credit for not having invaded Colombia? Or Paraguay? Or, Australia? I mean, you can name many countries he hasn’t invaded, so what is the big deal? I mean, we have really reached a bad stage if that’s the best we can say about a leader.
Who knows what she really believes, there’s so many like that in public office. She’s a concert pianist who at the same time has an out-of-tune amount of blood on her hands for her involvement in US murderous interventions in Iraq and elsewhere due to her lies. She was in the period, in 2002 to ’03, literally engaged in the build up to the war in Iraq, and the propaganda machine was in full action. She added her special touch, warning us of a “mushroom cloud,” if we didn’t intervene in Iraq, and she invoked the image of a mushroom cloud. We all know what that means. So, this, you have to wonder what she really believes.
How is the Obama Administration different in terms of its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan from Bush? Is there any difference?
Nothing that’s worth talking about. I don’t know of any.
Do you think that we should give the President some credit for keeping us out of a war with Iran?
First of all, that’s far from over. He still may go to war with Iran. But, should we give him credit for not having invaded Colombia? Or Paraguay? Or, Australia? I mean, you can name many countries he hasn’t invaded, so what is the big deal? I mean, we have really reached a bad stage if that’s the best we can say about a leader. He didn’t invade somebody. He didn’t drop bombs on 50 million people who have done no harm to America. Great. And in some circles it is thought he has engaged in war with Iran since he’s already caused the people of Iran great suffering with the toughest sanctions – more so than any country has ever experienced in the entire history of the world.
Iranians are suffering in many ways from our sanctions, so, he’s not exactly a humanitarian in this instance.
As far as Iran’s concerned, maybe we are at war with them, because if we interfere with them technologically, we…
Oh yeah, we have sabotaged their scientific work, we have assassinated scientists, we – and Israel has assassinated several of their scientists, you know, it’s hardly a great feather in the cap for America.
Just flying reconnaissance missions over in their space with Israeli aircraft or meddling with their computers or their technological infrastructure in a way that we would clearly say, if happening to us from Iran, would be an act of war on their part.
What’s your methodology in terms of your research?
I peruse the news very carefully. I spend about three hours every day reading the Washington Post, the paper edition. I spend a few hours reading stuff on the internet and other stuff and I come across something which needs to be explained to the American Public. So, I’m always looking to educate my readers and I look for such stories which can serve that purpose. And I try to bring in historical items which are seldom mentioned in the current news articles. And I have a wealth of historical items I can draw from. Because that’s what I’ve been writing for 30-40 years.
How important is it for progressives, or radicals to investigate the usage of drone warfare and the Obama Administration’s use of drones?
Well, it’s being investigated by many people – it’s not one of my specialties, but it’s an important one and there are people like Medea Benjamin. She has written a book on that and David Swanson has written about it a lot. So, they’re on top of it. I don’t feel the need to do my own extensive research into that question when it’s so well covered by such good people.
In Chapter Nine you discuss WikiLeaks. What are your thoughts and opinions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden?
I think they’re heroes. I give about 45-50 examples of the many released State Department documents, many of which are of very great interest to the world: it’s an amazing time that we live in. Well, these things were always kept secret. And the politicians and statesmen could go around spouting their usual lies and bullshit, and no one would know that they were not being honest. And now, we see, Manning has pulled the screen and when we see the Wizard of Oz, it’s very fascinating. She’s a real hero and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have done a lot of that. And Edward Snowden has done that as well. Although, I think the work done by Assange and Manning is even more interesting than what Snowden has done. Because it covers many more subjects. And Snowden has covered one subject very extensively – the NSA and its surveillance of the whole world. But the WikiLeak documents have covered many more subjects.
The WikiLeaks cover foreign and domestic?
Foreign and military.
It’s surprising to see many liberals opposed to Snowden and others like him for instance. Are you surprised by this?
No, that’s because they support the US Foreign Policies, not because they really believe that he is a traitor. If you don’t support US Foreign Policy, you have to welcome what he did. The coverage has been unusual, for example, a BBC reporter asked Assange, “How many women have you slept with?” An absurd question for anyone, in almost any context; if Assange had been raised on the streets of Brooklyn, he would then have responded: “Do you mean including your mother?” But the “liberal” media treated him like this constantly. I wrote that, “American progressives should also lose their quaint belief that the BBC is somehow a liberal broadcaster. Americans are such suckers for British accents, John Humphries, the presenter of BBC Today program asked Assange, ‘Are you a sexual predator?’ Assange said the suggestion was ridiculous, adding, ‘Of course not.’ Humphries then asked Assange how many women he had slept with. Would even Fox News have descended to that level?” So, in there, you see how even the liberal progressive or the liberal mainstream elite media like BBC can be very disappointing. And I have a section on NPR in the book it’s the same about them. NPR is the news portion headed by, or last I knew, a former executive with the Voice of America and other US International Stations from the Cold War which still exist. And this is the man who is in charge of NPR’s news.
Eric Holder and President Obama might say that the reason why we need to find Snowden and the reason why we have to punish people like Manning and Assange is because they are compromising the security of the United States Citizens. Is this correct?
Power hates to be embarrassed with the documents like the ones released by Bradley Manning.
But they don’t say how. I don’t feel any less secure because of what they did. In fact, our insecurity is a result of our foreign policy. And especially our violent acts included in the drone attacks. The terrorists of Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere have made it completely evident again and again and again, they’ve pointed out that this is the reason that American power is so hated. It’s plain common sense. If it was done to us, we would hate the people who did that also. And it’s not just Middle Eastern people – for the same thing happened in Latin America for decades. In the ’50s to the ’80s, the US was carrying out one bad policy after another against the people of Latin America. And what was the result? Numerous terrorist attacks against American targets, US Embassies, US Military personnel, and US Corporations. They are all targets of attacks in Latin America and for the same reason that we’re “attacked” by the Middle East.
Could it be said that the security threat is not the security of the United States and the citizens, it’s the insulation, the wall of insulation that power needs from its citizens. That’s the crux of the matter.
Yes, that’s right. It’s also embarrassing. That’s one way to put it, but it’s also embarrassing to be exposed like that. Power hates to be embarrassed with the documents like the ones released by Bradley Manning. It shows, for example, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, – shows his memo from the US Embassy telling explicitly how they have people in their back pocket and that he is willing to help the US in anything they wanted to do concerning atomic energy or nuclear weapons. It’s embarrassing to have this revealed. This supposedly independent agency with an independent head (a Japanese Director General) is simply not shy about admitting their undying loyalty to a US Foreign Policy. That’s embarrassing.
You write, “In 2009, Japanese diplomat, Yukiya Amano became the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays the leading role in the investigation of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons or is working only on peaceful civilian nuclear energy products. A US Embassy cable of October 2009 said Amano ‘took pains to emphasize his support for US strategic objectives for the agency.’ Amano reminded the American Ambassador on several occasions that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision from high level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
Well, that’s one of about 50 examples, and then there are many more, I didn’t include them all.
So, what do these cable leaks reveal in essence? How do they all relate to one another?
What they have in common is that they are things the US would not want the world to know about. It’s embarrassing for the imperial establishment members of the world. And that’s what they have in common.
In Chapter Ten, you mention conspiracies and say, “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a conspiracy.” And then you go on to say you believe in conspiracies . . . so do all of you. American and world history are full of conspiracies. Watergate was a conspiracy, the cover up of Watergate was a conspiracy, so was ENRON and Iran Contra, The October surprise really took place for a full year. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney conspired to invade Iraq while continually denying that they made any such decision.” So, conspiracy is a by-product of our foreign policy and how we conduct ourselves historically. Can you comment on this section? You don’t mean conspiracy in the sense that we can just call things conspiracy to avoid analyzing the reasoning for the intentions behind the activity?
The Pentagon learned for many years to be more secretive about what they were doing in their foreign policy and in their wars as a result of Vietnam.
Unfortunately, my readers suffer from this a lot. And they really annoy me that way. They are much more conspiracy-minded than I am. I took pains to point out in the book that I’m not opposed to the idea of conspiracies, far from it. But some people see a conspiracy in everything. No one ever dies a natural death with them. And everything that happens is related to, one way or another, to 9/11 or Vietnam or the Israeli lobby or something.
So, how are your conspiracies differentiated from the so called crazy conspiracies?
Well, I don’t go crazy about it. I mean, I draw the line where it makes sense, and when I cannot present evidence, I stop. They just don’t accept anything happening naturally.
What do you think people need to know about the 1960s? Or do you think the 1960s is taught correctly, or written about correctly?
I don’t know how it’s taught; I haven’t read so much, but it was very important in my life. It changed me completely, politically and socially. And it made me a writer, too. The ’60s included Vietnam, of course, and Vietnam played this major role in my life and the antiwar movement. There were a few million people like me in this country who were changed because of Vietnam. I’ve been in touch with them by email – many of them. The Pentagon learned for many years to be more secretive about what they were doing in their foreign policy and in their wars as a result of Vietnam. They closed up the free news dissemination a lot. And it’s only in recent years that some of that’s coming back. But, they’re much more cautious afterwards because the anti-war movement and the underground press, which I was part of. We used everything that came out of the Pentagon, every line we used it against them. That taught them a lesson that they have to be careful what they say, because there are people out there not fully brainwashed.
How about the Cold War in terms of the thesis of the Cold War and maybe the revisionist Cold War historians and how American Foreign Policy hasn’t really changed even after the demise of the Soviet Union. So, does that tell us that all along this became a figment of our imagination?
I love certain principles, like human rights and civil liberties and the society which puts people before profits and society which practices genuine democracy.
It tells us that the excuse given by our leaders for the interventions was to fight something called communism, and it tells us that that was false. Even after there was no communism, we were still intervening in the same way all over the world. We just have to have a war for the sake of the military and the corporations, maybe even the media, they need our wars. I quote, not in this book, but in my book Rogue State, I quote a general lamenting what people like him have lost because of the end of the Cold War. We knew what we were fighting for; we had stake; our team went out there; we had a game plan and we had this and that and now we have nothing. And he was really unhappy about the end of the Cold War. He was saying this in 1992 or ‘93.
It was an industry and indication of cultural performance; the fighting of the Cold War, perhaps. You write about patriotism. What’s the difference between patriotism and nationalism? Is there one?
I don’t care for either one, too much. But nationalism is probably worse. Nationalism is the belief that our country is better than any other, my country right or wrong. And that leads to all kinds of bad results. Patriotism, at its best, can mean that you want to improve the country. You want to support it, but you want it to be of a certain nature before you give it any more support. I was once asked after a talk I gave, by somebody, on a campus, “Do you love America?” And I said, “No.” And then there were giggles in the audience and then I explained I don’t love any country. I love certain principles, like human rights and civil liberties and the society which puts people before profits and society which practices genuine democracy. That’s what I love. It’s not any flag or national anthem or any one country.
You mention a story about Tony Bennett in a radio interview where he said the United States caused the 9/11 attacks because of its actions in the Persian Gulf, adding that President George W. Bush told him in 2005 the Iraq War was a mistake. And Bennett came under nasty fire and you mention Fox News discussing Bennett carefully, choosing its “comments charmingly as usual using words like insane, twisted-mind, absurd.” So, do you watch Fox News?
I’ve seen it, not a viewer but I read people who do watch it.
What does a media outlet like Fox tell us about our political spectrum or landscape? How has that altered the psyche?
You know it’s funny, there was one study made which showed that people who watched Fox News regularly know less about what’s happening in the world than people who watch no news whatsoever. That’s quite interesting I think and I’m not surprised. Do you see RTTV, “Russia Today” ever? It’s not perfect, nothing is, but in many areas, it’s very good and compared to the American mass media, it’s fantastic. And they interviewed me a few times, which I would never have with the American mass media except on the one odd and rare occasion when I was praised by someone like Osama Bin Laden. On such an extraordinary occasion, then I was interviewed by the mass media, Tucker Carlson, for one, and many times in the course of about 10 days or so. That was my 15 minutes of fame.
Didn’t someone ask you once, “What has Israel done to the Palestinians?”
Yes that was a radio interview and in the same week. A woman asked me “what did Israel ever do to the Palestinians?” I said to her, “have you been in coma for the past 50 years?”
What is the purpose of including a section on religion?
Well, you see, look on the front cover; the end of the title, the subtitle, and everything else. So that was my publisher’s idea.
Does religion help guide people’s analysis of foreign policy; especially American Foreign Policy?
Well, some people think it does; they think it’s Christ that has all the answers to their questions. I wrote a short while ago, not in this book but elsewhere, that bad people do bad things and good people do good things, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad things. And I was raised in an orthodox religious home.
Thanks again, Bill.