As tensions escalate between the United States and North Korea, the US government is particularly ill-equipped to carry out effective diplomacy, thanks to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the State Department. The US currently has no ambassador to South Korea, no secretary of Asian Pacific affairs and no secretary of East Asian affairs. For more on the dismantling of the US government, we speak to longtime journalist and activist Allan Nairn.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guest for the hour is the longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn. Allan, you were talking about a rightist revolution that is taking place right now. While President Trump speaks from his vacation home, his golf resort in Bedminster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is flying to Guam, making a surprise trip there. He said this was a very good week for the US and the international community. As the tension with North Korea escalates, there’s actually no US ambassador to South Korea, there’s no secretary of Asian Pacific affairs, there’s no secretary of East Asian affairs. Can you talk about the significance of this?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Trump says — and he’s said it repeatedly — that the world is exploiting the US, rather than the other way around. And maybe he believes that. If he believes that, then it makes sense to dismantle the instruments, the institutions that connect the US to the rest of the world, the instruments of US power and US exploitation, like the State Department. And he is dismantling the State Department to a significant extent. It’s remarkable. He’s looking to slash their budget by more than a third.
This comes from several places: one, that view of Trump; two, the fact that he is leading, in government, a coalition of various extreme-rightist factions — the Koch brothers types, the Chamber of Commerce types, the racists, the neofascists, all sorts of different groups. One of them is a group that’s ideologically descended from the old John Birch Society, which has always viewed the U.N. and the State Department as inherently evil. And they have managed to, in a sense, get control of State Department policy.
And that push dovetails with the efforts of the right-wing deficit hawks who want to slash the US budget overall. Now, they face — the Republicans face a deep problem in Congress, because, on the one hand, they want to slash spending, but, on the other hand, they want to massively expand the Pentagon budget. The solution, up to now — started during the Reagan years — has been to cut domestic discretionary spending and try to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but that’s becoming much more difficult now because of the grassroots activism, which is — which is fighting that. So, the State Department becomes a natural target, and they’re gutting it.
And this is one of the things that drives the establishment crazy, because the State Department is an instrument of US power, and Trump is in the process of tearing it up. There’s actually — there’s a very relevant quote from Edward Gibbon, the historian, in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and he’s talking about the empire in the second century. And he says, “They endeavored to convince mankind that their motive was not the temptation of conquest but was actuated by the love of order and justice.” You could say the exact same thing about the US today, what the US today says to the world. But Trump comes along and says, “Oh, yeah, it is about conquest. We want to take Iraq’s oil. We want to take Afghanistan’s minerals.” And, you know, that really damages US power, because it upsets people. They talk about the polls, which show a decline in world opinion of the US That’s actually world opinion getting more realistic vis-à-vis the US The basic Trump doctrine in international affairs is more violence, less hypocrisy; less talk about democracy, human rights, more straight-up violence. And the world is seeing this. And it makes — it has the long-term effect of potentially making the US less of a player.
AMY GOODMAN: Specifically, what does it mean not to have ambassadors in the world? And interestingly, the role of Rex Tillerson, who sometimes looks like he’s the restraining force on President Trump, this former CEO of the largest private oil corporation in the world, ExxonMobil, though he, too — what are his intentions for the State Department?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s kind of remarkable, because he has embraced the White House project of dismantling his own agency, the State Department. Now, there are others, like Pruitt at EPA, who 14 times had filed suit against the EPA and has always been saying publicly he wants to kill it. That’s his mission in life. And now Trump gave him the opportunity to go inside and kill it. Tillerson doesn’t come from that kind of background. Tillerson, in a sense, had his own private government, when he was running ExxonMobil. But now he’s embraced the idea of undermining his own agency. But at the same time, he seems to recognize the aspects of Trump’s rhetoric that make it harder for the US to hold its power internationally.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, is there anything that says — there’s a good deal of discussion saying, you know, what many people thought were laws were actually just norms that Trump is violating. That there should be embassies, is there anything to say, in every country? I mean, maybe the next step would be you don’t have ambassadors in different places. You know, you just have US corporations acting as US ambassadors in different places. They set their own rules.