Dems and GOP Fight About Domestic Spending — But Not About Huge Military Budgets

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.orgThe War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González. The United States is expected to spend $7 trillion on the Pentagon over the next ten-years. To put this number in perspective, the U.S. has more military spending each year than China, Russia and India combined.

Although Republicans and Democrats are at odds over the smaller Build back Better legislation, there is generally a bipartisan consensus on the military budget. We end today’s show with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept. His most recent article is headlined The War Party: From Bush to Obama, and Trump to Biden, U.S. Militarism Is the Great Unifier.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Welcome back, Jeremy, former producer at Democracy Now! Why don’t you lay out your thesis?

JEREMY SCAHILL:Oh, the anniversary of 9/11! I was asked to write pieces and make media appearances due to the work I had done throughout this War on Terror that culminated in the film and book. Dirty WarsWhere I was researching the CIAThe Joint Special Operations Command, this expanding drone program, and how the United States under Barack Obama had moved toward a radical attempt normalize and legitimize assassination. Juan and you know that the U.S. has engaged in assassination, and political assassination for many years. But presidents have found ways to conceal the fact that they authorized assassination. Under Obama, the term du jour was “targeted killing.” Now under Joe Biden we see them increasingly use the phrase “over-the-horizon operations.”

I hesitated to write anything about 9/11 because I came to the conclusion we obsess too much over the impact of 9/11 on the world. It is obvious that the U.S.’s response to 9/11 altered geopolitical realities and impacted the future of countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the wider Middle East. I came to the conclusion that there is an inherent intellectual dishonesty in pretending that the United States wasn’t already on this path prior to 9/11.

What I want to do is to establish some basic facts that can be used as a basis to discuss the U.S. role. For example, prior to 9/11, the U.S. was already pursuing regime change in Iraq. The 1998 bipartisan Iraq Liberation Act, which codified regime change as the official policy for the United States government, was passed. It was largely the result of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century. Bernie Sanders, the then-Congressman in Washington, voted to make regime change the law in the United States.

Bill Clinton had already moved towards small wars, as they call them, and using remote deadly strikes, even though there weren’t really using weaponized drones during Clinton’s presidency. They were being developed, but they didn’t use them. They were using legacy systems such as cruise missiles to attack Afghanistan, and Iraq almost every three days during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Bill Clinton was the first person to assassinate or kill Osama bin Laden. You had a foreign strategy that was already moving towards a radical embrace of the notion that the U.S. has sovereign right to bomb any country in the world, regardless of what U.S. Congress said about it. In fact Joe Biden as a senator in the late 1990s was the chief congressional architect of Bill Clinton’s 78-day bombing campaign of then-Yugoslavia, which was done by Clinton over the explicit objection of the U.S. Congress.

These neocons, the Bush-Cheney government, are in power on 9/11. They are real Washington veterans. They were able to control the levers of power. They were also able to exploit the fear and anger of the American people during the 9/11 attacks. Amy, we saw the Democratic Party fall behind the Bush administration at every opportunity. Throughout eight years of Bush-Cheney’s presidency, the Democrats would raise hell about certain war issues and Iraq War. But when it really mattered, when the Patriot Act was the authorization for military force, and when it came to the Iraq War the Democratic Party’s kingpins supported and encouraged a militant neocon agenda.

We could talk endlessly about Barack Obama. In short, Barack Obama was a campaigner against Hillary Clinton in 2008. He also campaigned against John McCain, the notorious militarist, in 2008. One of the main reasons that his campaign caught so much attention was the notion that he represented something else than the bipartisan War Party. Obama let the government dictate what happens when he comes to power. CIAHe lets Donald Rumsfeld, the torture architects, off the hook. Then he radical expends some aspects of the so-called War on Terror, and uses his credibility, as a constitutional lawyer scholar, as the first Black president to use his credibility as someone who was perceived as being a different type of politician to push the U.S. military agenda on a militarist scale. BeyondImagine what John McCain would do, if he had the Democratic Party support him.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Are there any discernible differences that you can tell in the approaches to this imperial policy of the United States between the recent Democratic presidents—we are talking about obviously Clinton, Obama and Biden—and the Republican ones, the two Bushes and Trump? Are there different approaches to imperial rule between them?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. Let’s start with what I think is the most obvious issue that I think you could say it’s a good thing that Joe Biden did this, and that is the withdrawal from Afghanistan. There are serious concerns about the tactical withdrawal and what was seen at Kabul Airport. Congress will spend endless hours looking at this span of just a few days. In fact, I will predict they are going to spend more time looking at Biden’s withdrawal than they are going to spend looking at the catastrophic 20-year policy in Afghanistan.

Joe Biden was under tremendous pressure to keep the war against Afghanistan going, not only from his own party but also from the military brass. Biden deserves credit for standing up and resisting them. I’m not sure if Barack Obama was the commander-in chief during this period that he would have followed through on Biden’s call for a complete withdrawal of all conventional American forces. I do believe Joe Biden, a career politician with a focus on foreign policy, knew enough about the history to know that he would have taken a terrible gamble by keeping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. I think outside of Bernie Sanders, I think there were almost no Democratic candidates that would have had the spine to follow through on Trump’s withdrawal plan.

China is a bit of an issue because both the Democrats (and Republicans) are adopting an increasingly hostile stance. Trump’s rhetoric is something that world leaders can recognize as a bit of a lunatic. Biden and Tony Blinken as Secretary of State take a radical position on Taiwan, then they saber-rattling or do military exercises. It’s a completely different level. Although they have to engage in some theater about human rights, international law and due process, I believe the Democrats should be just as aggressive as the Republicans.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:It is interesting that the Biden administration placed so much emphasis on China’s threats in the early days. However, this was not the case for Russia and Ukraine. The Soviet Union collapsed over two decades ago and China has, despite its socialist façade, become the manufacturing center of global capitalism. Isn’t this renewed fear-mongering on the supposed threat from China and Russia simply a way to justify greater, as you say, government expenditures on the military complex, which then privatizes this stuff for the consumer market? I’m thinking, for instance, of drones. Since their inception as a military tool, drones have become a major consumer market.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, absolutely. I think Xi Jinping has been adamant in his recent comments, especially after his virtual summit meeting with Joe Biden. He seems to be pointing out that the United States is adopting a neo-Cold War position. He is absolutely right. I do see it in a similar vein to you. China, Russia and the United States are all engaged in a classic capitalist struggle to control natural resources around the globe. Take a look at what’s happening on Africa. China is involved in large-scale construction projects. You can also see Chinese manufactured drones appearing in various conflicts. The United States is essentially trying to overthrow the Ethiopian government through diplomatic or back channels. But the United States, China and Russia are engaged with each other in a serious strategic struggle for control over natural resources in various regions of the world.

What I believe is happening because of NATOexpansion, of Biden being a tremendouslyhawkish figure on Ukraine, and basically daring Vladimir Putin stand up to NATOYou run the risk that what is ultimately the elite business classes of the world’s expanding will have their battles spilling into overt military conflict. China is particularly concerned about the aggressive U.S. position. China would love to be able to essentially divvy up the globe for its dominance in different regions. The United States will not accept this. The U.S. position is pushing China to form an even closer alliance with Russia, similar to the Cold War relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Jeremy Scahill and I just want to note that Jeremy is sitting in front of perhaps the most famous antiwar painting ever, antiwar, anti-fascist painting, and that is Pablo Picasso’s GuernicaThe destruction of Guernica, a Spanish city, by the German- and Italian fascist forces supporting Franco. Picasso was Spanish but he lived in Paris, and said that his painting could not be returned to Spain while Franco was still in power. But that’s not what I want to ask you about, Jeremy. I wanted to ask about the headlined article you wrote. U.S. Absolves Drone Killers and Persecutes Whistleblowers. Can you speak about the last drone strike in Afghanistan that was reported by the U.S. during its withdrawal? And what did whistleblowers do with it?

JEREMY SCAHILL:Joe Biden made it clear that the United States will still be able strike remotely when he announced the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is a terrible and horrifying flashback to many of those incidents during the Obama era, when the Biden Administration authorized a drone strike against what they claimed was an unmanned vehicle. ISIS operatives. You just had this terrorist attack on the Kabul Airport during the withdrawal. We now know from the surveillance feed that drone operators were viewing that at least one child was present and they continued with the strike. Seventeen of the ten victims of that strike were children. Ten of those killed were civilians.

Now Daniel Hale has been convicted for leaking top-secret documents as well as secret documents on drone program. He is currently serving nearly four years in federal prison in a Kafkaesque communications unit. One of the revelations that Daniel Hale made that was published by The InterceptIt was stated that, at times, U.S. “targeted killing operations” in Afghanistan resulted in nine deaths out of ten. We don’t know their identities. They could have entirely been innocent civilians or they could have just been people the United States didn’t know, but that the United States would preemptively categorize them as enemies killed in action. This was also what happened in the initial strike, except that ten of the ten victims were civilians. Everyone knows that the person who worked for an American aid organization was among the victims of this strike.

The Pentagon then did its own investigation and exonerated itself from any crimes. This is the bipartisan self exoneration machine that has fueled U.S. military operations all over the globe. Joe Biden was an Obama administration member. This global octopus had lethal tentacles that could strike wherever. Daniel Hale should be released. He is an American hero because he revealed what we now see going on under Joe Biden.

AMY GOODMAN:We would like to thank you, Jeremy, for being with our team. We are going to link your piece. He’s a senior correspondent and editor at large at The Intercept. The latest piece
The War Party: From Bush to Obama, and Trump to Biden, U.S. Militarism Is the Great UnifierHis piece as well U.S. Absolves Drone Killers and Persecutes Whistleblowers.

Tune into Democracy Now!Thursday will mark our 25th Anniversary with an hour-long special focusing on show highlights over the past quarter-century. And on Friday, we speak to Mansoor Adayfi who was imprisoned at Guantánamo for more than a decade. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan González. Thank you so much for joining us.