One day after we came back, we had to go to the White House for a meeting on oil and the
balance of payments.
And who should be the Undersecretary of the Treasury but my old mentor from Standard Oil
who had explained to me how offshore banking centers worked.
He explained to Herman and me that he told the Saudi Arabians, “You can charge whatever
you want for oil.”
This was right after America quadrupled the price of grain to finance the Vietnam War
in 1972-73, and OPEC responded by quadrupling the price of oil.
The Undersecretary of the Treasury explained to me that they could charge whatever they
wanted for oil.
He knew that the higher they charged, the more the American companies would be able
to charge on domestic oil.
But the Saudis had to recycle all of their dollars into the United States, into Treasury
bonds or the stock market.
“You can’t buy American companies, you can only buy stocks or bonds, and you have to
price your oil in dollars.
If you don’t, we’ll consider that an act of war.”
So here I was right in the middle of understanding how imperialism really worked.
This was not what is in most textbooks.
Most don’t talk about the balance of payments, but the key to financial imperialism is the
balance of payments.
The United States fights to prevent other countries from going back to the gold standard,
because at the time America went off gold in August 1971, every American dollar bill
was backed 25% by gold at $35 an ounce.
Well, finally there was no more surplus gold, and that’s what forced America off gold.
Its price immediately went way up.
As an American citizen, I wasn’t allowed to buy gold.
So I knew it was coming but I couldn’t make any money off it.
Instead I bought Tibetan and Indian art, Asian art primarily.
To make a long story short, I became a financial advisor to the Canadian government as a result
of the stock brokerage work in Montreal.
They said, “We need somebody who knows the American stock and bond market”.
I was at that time the highest paid economist per diem in the United States for financial
So I got a call saying, “They’re going to want to hire you but there’s only one way
in which they can tell how intelligent you are.
Do you know about wine?”
When I grew up at the University of Chicago, the university paid its professors so badly
that to make more money, their ideal was to be a wine steward at the Pump Room, which
was the fancy restaurant in Chicago.
It was featured in the Blues Brothers comedy with John Belushi.
Anyway, I took a sommelier course, got a license, and brought two bottles, one Richebourg and
one La Tâche that I bought in the remainder carton at an uptown store.
I gave them to my host in Ottawa and the government guys said, “That’s the guy we want.”
So I wrote a study that Canada didn’t have to borrow money abroad for the provinces to
They could create their own money.
Basically, what I wrote was the first example of what’s now called Modern Monetary Theory,
that governments can create their own money, their own credit.
They don’t need a foreign-currency backing for it, and so all basically the same circular
flow analysis that I’d developed from my history of thought.
a Physiocratic analysis.
One of the top investment analysts for the Royal Bank decided to become the head of personnel.
He said he thought that it’s a personality problem that economists can’t understand how
the world works, that there’s a particular kind of dumb person that becomes an economist.
It’s a kind of autism, of thinking abstractly without a sense of economic reality.
So he got me an appointment with the Secretary of State of Canada.
In Canada the Secretary of State is in charge of education, films and culture.
So I became Canada’s cultural adviser, which is what I thought was fine all along, and
I wrote a report.
Around that time I also was an economic adviser to the
United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNITAR, writing their reports on
North/South debt, the foreign debt of third world countries, denominated in dollars, and
how this was deranging their economies.
They had a meeting in Mexico financed by the Mexican president and I was invited down there.
I gave a report saying that there was no way that the third-world debts can be paid.
My first job I worked on at Chase Manhattan was to estimate how much export revenue Argentina,
Brazil and Chile could make.
The idea was that all of their export earnings could enable them to pay interest on money
borrowed from US banks.
The idea was that the entire trade surplus should be pledged as debt service to the American
My job was to think how much that was, and what should Chase’s share be.
So, at the Mexican UNITAR conference, I said that these debts cannot be paid, therefore
they should not be paid, they should be canceled.
There was quite a stir over that.
Well at the end of the conference they had the rapporteurs summarizing the papers.
The US rapporteur said that Dr. Hudson has given a report saying that third-world countries
should export more in order to pay their debts.
I stood up slowly and said, “I must insist that the President of Mexico offer a public
explanation, apology to me and the conference.
This rapporteur has inverted and reversed everything I said.
I believe he has a covert purpose.
I’m pulling out the American delegation and I’m pulling out the Canadian delegation too.
We cannot be a part of this travesty.”
Then I walked out, wondering what’s gonna happen!
The Russian delegate came out laughing and said, “Ah!
You’ve dominated the whole conference.
You’ve made chaos out of it.
You’ve embarrassed the CIA.
This is fantastic.
Here’s my card in New York.”
Later that evening I was told, “You know, they’re looking for you to beat you up.”
Well as it happened an old girlfriend of mine was in a group who were in Mexico for an
They were surrealist artists from Amherst, and they were also doing a surrealist ballet.
So I went to the ballet with them and they said, “Look!
The thugs are there.”
So I hid out with them on the stage in their ballet.
The goons were looking in the audience and I was on the stage and we were all just surrealistic.
Nobody knew how to dance or anything, it was all just surrealistic.
And they, you know, the goons all went home.
I learned that if they can’t find you, they usually give up and leave you alone.
I went back to New York, but I realized that the debt issue was so controversial –
the idea that debt couldn’t be paid.
I spent about a year and I’d got through medieval period, Europe, World War One, and then even
Greece and Rome.
But then I found — it was about 1980, 1981, at that time I sold my house on the Lower
Side and moved into a loft near Wall Street which was very low price there at that time,
(I bought it for $20,000.
Later I sold it for $580,000 but that’s another story), it shows you the real estate in New
York, but at that time nobody wanted to live in lofts, and I wanted a big loft because
I had a big library at that time and a lot of art that I wanted to keep.
So basically I stopped working.
I realized that in the Bible there was the Jubilee Year and there were references to
Sumer and Babylonia and that there was a background of the biblical debt cancellations, almost
the same word for deror in Hebrew is andurarum in Babylonian.
I found that there was all this material and that had never been written in anywhere outside
of the field of assyriology.
There was no economic history of the ancient Near East, no economic history of Sumer and
It was all about religion and some culture, Gilgamesh and all that, but not what I was
most interested in, which was the debt cancellations.
So I wrote a draft of what I could find by 1984.
And one of my friends was the Ice Age archaeologist Alex Marshak.
Although he lived in New York, he was connected to Harvard’s Peabody Museum.
He showed it to the head of the Peabody, Karl Lamberg-Karlovsky, who told me, “This is great!
Nobody else is working on it.”
He appointed me a fellow of the Peabody Museum in Babylonian economic archeology.
I thought, “This is wonderful, this is really what I want to do.”
So I spent the next maybe three years writing the first draft of what became the book that’s
being published in a few months, “… and forgive them their debts”: Credit and Redemption
from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year.
I submitted it to the University of California Press.
They sent it to scholars to referee, who said that it was impossible that debts could be
Their argument was that if debts were cancelled, who would lend money?
That’s what Rabbi Hillel argued in the Judaic tradition.
I said, “Most debts were not the result of loans.
Most debts were when the crops would fail and the cultivators could not pay the palace
for the fees they’d run up, the rental fees for the land, the fees for the water, for
the draught animals, or the beer lady for the beer that they’d drunk.
So every ruler, when they would take the throne in Sumer and Babylonia, for a thousand years,
would start their rule by cancelling the debts with a clean slate, an amnesty.
It’s the same amnesty of the kind that Egypt’s Rosetta Stone commemorates.
Everybody knows that the Rosetta Stone has trilingual inscriptions of Greek, Egyptian
But few know that it’s a fiscal debt cancellation.
That’s what we call cognitive dissonance, people can’t imagine that the debts were cancelled.
I realized that this was very controversial, and so my Harvard colleague, Karl Lamberg-Karlovsky,
suggested that we hold a series of meetings, and asked me to organize them.
He said that we would hold a colloquium for each controversial chapter of my book.
We decided to have a meeting every two years, and invite every major specialist from early
Sumer, the Neo-Sumerian period, Babylonia, other Near Eastern realms, and Egypt.
Their role was to collect everything they had on whatever the meetings’ topic would
Since I was in New York, I worked with the leading Hebraic linguist Baruch Levine at
I needed someone who was respected in the linguistic field to invite people, because
most Sumerologists, readers of cuneiform, stayed away from economics, because the mainstream
economic idea of how society developed is as if Margaret Thatcher would have created
How would she have done it, or Milton Friedman, or what we call vulgar Marxists who think
that it was the idea that seemed plausible to Engels when he wrote The Origin of the
Family, Private Property and the State.
That’s not how early history actually occurred.
So the Sumerologists wouldn’t talk to economists.
But because I was now an archaeologist with Harvard in the anthropology department, they
agreed to come to the conference.
The first meeting, in 1994, was on privatization in the ancient Near East and classical antiquity.
Harvard published that.
Two years later, we moved on to the second volume, which was on land use and real estate
ownership: How did property ownership come into being.
Then, we had planned from the very beginning for the third colloquium volume.
That was on debt and economic renewal in the ancient Near East.
I asked for everything that people could find about debt cancellations.
We found that these occurred all the way through the first millennium.
Herodotus talked about debt cancellations in Babylonia.
It was a tradition remaining in the Near East for new rulers taking the throne to cancel
agrarian debts, to start their reign with the economy in balance.
Already in Hammurabi’s time 1750 BC, scribes would calculate the growth of compound interest,
and at that time it was 20% interest.
This growth diagram is the same exponential chart that I’d drawn up in the savings banks
in the 1960s to trace the growth of American debt.
So they were quite aware of the fact that debts couldn’t be paid and that, if you
insisted on them be paid, you would have debtors falling into bondage.
So they freed the bond servants, or for debtors had sold their means of self-support, the
land, they returned the land that had been sold under economic distress.
The word “distress” means the collateral that you’ve pledged to a creditor.
It’s an Irish term basically.
So we published that volume.
By that time I’d got the people Baruch and Karl and I had invited – the leaders of
their fields – agreeing with my interpretation.
We then followed it up with another meeting at the British Museum on the origins of money
and accounting, and the idea that money was created not for barter, not for trade in goods
and services, but to denominate debts.
If a cultivator owed a debt, how did he get money?
So we did the history of money.
Then, the one thing we hadn’t done finally was the origins of labor and what it was paid.
That took ten years to complete, and we found that the origins of labor was organized basically
in the palace economy, the palaces and temples.
The main use of such organized labor from the Neolithic and Bronze Age to classical
antiquity was to fight in the army and to work as corvée labor to build public infrastructure.
So how do you get a supply of labor?
You assign it land tenure.
Land rights were created to assign families enough to support themselves so that they
could perform corvée labor and fight in the army.
So taxes came first, then came land tenure, based on what labor you had to supply.
Attempts to substitute someone to work on the corvée became the basis for paying labor.
So all of the payments came from what today would be called the public sector.
That’s not really a very good term.
It was really the palatial sector, the palace and the temples, as opposed to the community-based
family on the land.
So we had a new analysis of the origins of property, not just individuals grabbing,
as Engels had thought.
Property was created by the public sector, by the palaces, as assignment of land as needed.
How much land area is needed in order to supply the labor for the public infrastructure, corvée
work and service in the army?
This was the reverse of what’s taught in economic textbooks today, which is, as I said, how
Margaret Thatcher and right-wingers and Donald Trump would have designed an economy if they
went back in a time machine.
So after organizing and editing these five volumes, I’m now writing my own popular version,
starting with a history of debt.
Then will come Temples of Enterprise, a series of books on classical antiquity.
I’m now following up with Greece and Rome.
Throughout early Greece and Rome, the main fight was between creditors and debtors.
Creditors ended up grabbing the land.
The same fight occurred all the way down through the Byzantine Empire.
The most divisive tension throughout history, from 3rd-millennium Sumer to 2nd-millennium
Babylonia to the 9th and 10th century in the Byzantine Empire is between the palace wanting
to collect taxes and have labor for the army, and creditors wanting this land and labor
This way of getting the economic surplus is not the way that Marx described it as being
obtained under capitalism, by employing labor to produce goods to sell at a profit.
It was by debt and taking interest in ultimately foreclosing in land, which was the real objective.
In the 9th century there was a big
fight against strong royal power.
It was sort of like Donald Trump and the Tea Party Republicans are fighting against the
state, like the privatization in the Soviet Union fighting against the state.
The Byzantine emperor invited general Bardas to a big meal.
The general said, “There’s only one thing that you should do if you want to end the
You have to tax the wealthy families so that they don’t have any surplus at all.
You have to give them so much burden that they can’t fight against you.
You have to prevent the polarization of wealth, because if you let the private sector make
an enormous amount of wealth, they’re going to try to fight against you and keep all the
wealth for themselves that you and the palace are now getting.”
This idea was expressed all the way back in the 7th century 6th century BC with Thrasybulus
and Periander of Corinth.
When Thrasybulus took Periander’s herald to a field of grain and said, “Here’s what you
The land was a field of grain and he took a scythe and he cut off the tops, to make
all the grain of equal height.
So Periander went back and exiled the wealthy families, seized their property.
There was probably a bit of fighting there, and that is basically the fight throughout
So that’s what I’ve been working on for the last 20 years.
Question: How did you take up the interest in Chinese economy?
Hudson: As Samir Amin said at the meeting yesterday, China is the economy that is trying
to be the exception to the Western economic model.
That model is forcing a choice between civilization and barbarism.
The West is moving rapidly into economic barbarism and militarism.
As you can see, the austerity program of the Euro is destroying the economy there.
The United States is cutting taxes on the rich, while indebting the working class very
The one country that is independent and not taking the advice of the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund is China.
So we’re hoping to do what we can to make the Chinese economy successfully resistant.
What that means is how is China going to handle its real estate, how is it going to handle
its debt, how is it going to handle its tax system.
What I’m trying to do is what David Harvey was trying to do in the speech he gave yesterday:
getting Chinese Marxists to read volume 2 and especially volume 3 of Capital, where
Marx discusses the dynamics of finance.
Marxism is much more than volume 1 of Capital.
You have to read volumes 2 and 3, and especially the elaboration that Marx wrote in the drafts
that he left for volumes 2 and 3, his Theories of Surplus Value where he discusses the history
of economic thought leading up to him.
You realize how Marx was the last great economist in the classical tradition.
He showed that capitalism itself is revolutionary, capitalism itself is driving forward, and
of course he expected it to lead toward socialism, as indeed it seemed to be doing in the nineteenth
But it’s not working out that way.
Everything changed in World War One.
Afterward you had an anti-classical economics, which really was an anti-Marxist economics.
The fight for marginalist theory, for Austrian theory, the fight for junk economics that
we have today, is basically a fight against Marxism, because Marx showed the logical conclusion
to which the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ricardo and Malthus, the conclusion
it was all leading was the synthesis that he made.
It was later developed by people like Thorstein Veblen and Simon Patten in the United States.
So I’m hoping that I can contribute what I can to help China’s economy to avoid the financialization
process and dynamic that is destroying the West.
Confessions of an Economic Hitman author John Perkins has a virtual sit down with Patrick Bet-David. Order his book https://amzn.to/3iDb1nL (New Confessions of an Economic Hitman)
About the guest: John Perkins is an American author. His best known book is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, in which Perkins claims to have played a role in an alleged process of economic colonization of Third World countries on behalf of what he portrays as a cabal of corporations, banks, and the United States government.
Other books by John Perkins:
– Touching the Jaguar https://amzn.to/3kwtfsG
– Confessions of an Economic Hitman https://amzn.to/33SX5la
1. China’s Unrestricted Warfare Could Lead to Collapse in One Year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXDiv…
2. China’s Silent Takeover While America’s Elite Slept
About Patrick Bet-David: CEO, author and Founder of Valuetainment Media. Patrick has interviewed athletes, notorious individuals, politicians, authors and entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
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Music selection used through agreement with Epidemic Sound http://bit.ly/2B8DxK1
“Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrates that the violence sanctioned by the Second Amendment was a key factor in transforming America into a ‘militaristic-capitalist’ powerhouse. . . . Dunbar-Ortiz’s unhealthy relationship with guns ended after about two years. America’s has lasted a lot longer, but in the wake of Stoneman Douglas, there might be reason, at last, for some very cautious optimism.”–Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
“There’s a new book that just came out that lays out a provocative argument for getting rid of the Second Amendment in its entirety, and the book asserts that the NRA has become a white nationalist organization.”–Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept
“Dunbar-Ortiz’s subtle deconstructions of the various works which contributed to our misunderstandings of the Second Amendment’s roots are vitally required reading, especially in our current era of daily mass shootings and political inaction toward better gun control. The white supremacy that Dunbar-Ortiz exposes with surgical exactness is the true foundation of the America we know today.”—Sezin Koehler, Wear Your Voice Magazine
“Loaded recognizes the central truth about our ‘gun culture’: that the privileged place of guns in American law and society is the by-product of the racial and class violence that has marked our history from its beginnings.”—Richard Slotkin, author of Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America
“From an eminent scholar comes this timely and urgent intervention on U.S. gun culture. Loaded is a high-impact assault on the idea that Second Amendment rights were ever intended for all Americans. A timely antidote to our national amnesia about the white supremacist and settler colonialist roots of the Second Amendment.”—Caroline Light, author of Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense
“Loaded unleashes a sweeping and unsettling history of gun laws in the United States, beginning with anti-Native militias and anti-Black slave patrols. From the roots of white men armed to forge the settler state, the Second Amendment evolved as a tool for protecting white, male property owners. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to uncover the long fetch of contemporary Second Amendment battles.”—Kelly Lytle Hernandez, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965
“Now, in Loaded, she widens her lens to propose that the addiction to violence characteristic of American domestic institutions also derives from the frontiersman’s belief in solving problems by killing. Whether expressed in individual cruelty like the collection of scalps or group barbarism by settler colonialists calling themselves ‘militias,’ violence has become an ever-widening theme of life in the United States.”—Staughton Lynd, author of Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution
“For anyone who believes we need more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ to address our national gun crisis, Loaded is required reading. Beyond the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz presents essential arguments missing from public debate. She forces readers to confront hard truths about the history of gun ownership, linking it to ongoing structures of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. These are the open secrets of North American history. It is our anxious denial as much as our public policies that perpetrate violence. Only by coming to peace with our history can we ever be at peace with ourselves. This, for me, is the great lesson of Loaded.”—Christina Heatherton, co-editor of Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter
“Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz’s Loaded argues U.S. history is quintessential gun history, and gun history is a history of racial terror and genocide. In other words, gun culture has never been about hunting. From crushing slave rebellions to Indigenous resistance, arming individual white settler men has always been the strategy for maintaining racial and class rule and for taking Indigenous land from the founding of the settler nation to the present. With clarity and urgency, Dunbar-Ortiz asks us not to think of our current moment as an exceptional era of mass-shootings. Instead, the very essence of the Second Amendment and the very project of U.S. ‘settler democracy’ has required immense violence that began with Indigenous genocide and has expanded to endless war-making across the globe. This is a must read for any student of U.S. history.”—Nick Estes, author of the forthcoming book Our History is the Future: Mni Wiconi and Native Liberation
“With her usual unassailable rigor for detail and deep perspective, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has potentially changed the debate about gun control in the United States. She meticulously and convincingly argues that U.S. gun culture—and the domestic and global massacres that have flowed from it—must be linked to an understanding of the ideological, historical, and practical role of guns in seizing Native American lands, black enslavement, and global imperialism. This is an essential work for policy-makers, street activists, and educators who are concerned with Second Amendment debates, #blacklivematters campaigns, global peace, and community-based security.”—Clarence Lusane, Chairman and Professor of Political Science at Howard University and author of The Black History of the White House
“Just what did the founding fathers intend the Second Amendment to do? Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s answer to that question will unsettle liberal gun control advocates and open-carry aficionados alike. She follows the bloodstains of today’s mass shootings back to the slave patrols and Indian Wars. There are no easy answers here, just the tough reckoning with history needed to navigate ourselves away from a future filled with more tragedies.“—James Tracy, co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
“Gun violence, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz compellingly shows, is as U.S. American as apple pie. This important book peels back the painful and bloody layers of gun culture in the United States, and exposes their deep roots in the killing and dispossession of Native peoples, slavery and its aftermath, and U.S. empire-making. They are roots with which all who are concerned with matters of justice, basic decency, and the enduring tragedy of the U.S. love affair with guns must grapple.”—Joseph Nevins, author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid
“Loaded is a masterful synthesis of the historical origins of violence and militarism in the US. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reminds us of what we’ve chosen to forget at our own peril: that from mass shootings to the routine deployment of violence against civilians by the US military, American violence flows from the normalization of racialized violence in our country’s founding history.”—Johanna Fernández, Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University, and author of the forthcoming book, When the World Was Their Stage: A History of the Young Lords Party, 1968–1976
“More than a history of the Second Amendment, this is a powerful history of the forging of white nationalism and empire through racist and naked violence. Explosively, it also shows how even liberal—and some leftist—pop culture icons have been complicit in the myth-making that has shrouded this potent historical truth.”—Gerarld Horne, author of The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has done an outstanding job of resituating the so-called gun debate into the context of race and settler colonialism. The result is that the discussion about individual gun ownership is no longer viewed as an abstract moral question and instead understood as standing at the very foundation of U.S. capitalism. My attention was captured from the first page.”—Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica Forum and syndicated writer
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides a brilliant decolonization of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. She describes how
- the ‘savage wars’ against Indigenous Peoples,
- slave patrols (which policing in the U.S. originates from),
- today’s mass shootings, and
- the rise in white Nationalism
are connected to the Second Amendment. This is a critically important work for all social science disciplines.”—Michael Yellow Bird, professor and director of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Studies at North Dakota State University
“This explosive, ground-breaking book dispels the confusion and shatters the sanctimony that surrounds the Second Amendment, revealing the colonial, racist core of the right to bear arms. You simply cannot understand the United States and its disastrous gun-mania without the brilliant Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz as a guide.”—Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age
“There is no more interesting historian of the United States than Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. And with Loaded she has done it again, taking a topic about which so much has already been written, distilling it down, turning it inside out, and allowing us to see American history anew.”—Walter Johnson, author of River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Mississippi Valley’s Cotton Kingdom
“Loaded is a compelling antidote to historical amnesia about the brutal origins of the United States’ unique ‘gun culture.’ Dunbar-Ortiz draws on decades of historical scholarship to illuminate the practice of Native genocide while framing the Second Amendment as the grounds for a violence-based nationalism.”—Caroline E. Light, “Public Books”
About the AuthorRoxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book The Great Sioux Nation was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indigenous peoples of the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva. Dunbar-Ortiz is the author or editor of many books, including her acclaimed An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. She is the recipient of the Cultural Freedom Prize for Lifetime Achievement by the Lannan Foundation, and she lives in San Francisco, CA.
Isn’t it remarkable that the establishment that created a system of slavery at home and supports corporate power abroad, including a recent coup in Bolivia.
The Agenda welcomes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, who over the past decade and a half has made his name as a columnist, activist and author. He’s been a vociferous public critic of presidents on both sides of the American political spectrum, and his latest book, ‘America, the Farewell Tour,’ is nothing short of a full-throated throttling of the political, social, and cultural state of his country.
The abandonment of Kurdish forces in northern Syria has reinforced already existing doubts in the region and around the world that the United States remains a reliable ally. Those doubts are well-founded, because the isolationism underlying the move is widely shared by the American public.
NEW YORK – There are several reasons why US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria, and leave the region’s Kurds vulnerable to neighboring Turkey’s military incursion, was a terrible one. The Kurdish forces in control of the region had been the principal US partner in the struggle against the Islamic State (ISIS). Trump’s abandonment of them reinforced already existing doubts in the region and around the world that the United States remains a reliable ally.
The decision also created conditions enabling hundreds, and potentially thousands, of ISIS terrorists in Kurdish-run prisons to go free – and presumably resume terrorist activities as soon as they are given the opportunity. It is more a question of when, not if, US forces will need to return to Syria to contend with a reconstituted ISIS (most likely without a local partner to bear the brunt of the fighting). In the meantime, the Kurds have turned to the Syrian government for protection against Turkish forces, a move that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime (backed by Russia and Iran) to reassert its control over much of the country. For its part, the US has lost most of what leverage it had to influence a political outcome in Syria.
Trump’s flawed decision seems to stem from his desire to make good on the promise he made during the 2016 election campaign to withdraw the US military from Syria and the Middle East more broadly. But this raises a larger question: given the negative impact of the move, why would he believe that it would prove to be popular at home?
One explanation is that Trump is confusing “endless wars” with an open-ended military presence. This confusion is costly. What the US was doing in northern Syria was smart and efficient. Kurdish forces assumed the bulk of the combat role against ISIS; the US contribution was modest and largely confined to advising and providing intelligence support. Moreover, the US presence restrained the actions of the Turks, Syrians, Russians, and Iranians. With the withdrawal of US troops, that restraint disappeared overnight.
More fundamentally, Trump’s decision taps into an old American tradition of isolationism, which has a lineage traceable to America’s Founding Fathers. It was in remission during the Cold War, but it has recently reemerged, fueled by the “intervention fatigue” triggered by the long and expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It gains additional traction from the widespread view in the country that many domestic needs – from infrastructure to health care and education – are going unmet. A lack of emphasis on foreign policy and the world in US schools and media is also contributing to this inward turn.
Trump’s “America First” slogan is premised on the idea that the costs of US world leadership far outweigh any benefits. The resources spent on activism abroad, according to this view, would be better spent at home.
However appealing such arguments may sound, the notion that the US can safely turn its back on the world and still thrive even as global order declines is seriously misguided. Trump has repeatedly claimed that Syria is not critical to America’s security, noting that it is thousands of miles away. But Americans learned the hard way on September 11, 2001, that distance is no guarantee of safety. Similarly, infectious disease, the effects of climate change, and efforts to subvert elections do not stop at national borders.
The costs of America’s global role are considerable by any measure. The defense budget alone now totals $700 billion annually, and intelligence, foreign aid, diplomacy, and maintaining a nuclear arsenal bring overall national security spending to over $800 billion. But as a percentage of GDP, this is well below the Cold War average. And history shows that the US economy nonetheless flourished even with this high level of spending.
To be sure, the US has many domestic shortcomings, from public education to health care, but for the most part these problems are not the result of a lack of spending. The country spends over twice the OECD average on health care, but Americans do not lead longer or healthier lives. Similarly, high spending on education does not yield better results than in countries that spend less. How money is spent is always more important than how much is spent.
But such facts are nearly irrelevant when it comes to the political debate. Many of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020 share at least some of his isolationist views, and opinion polls reveal that many Americans do, too. Trump is as much a reflection of America’s mood as its driver, and a certain degree of Trumpism – a desire to pull back from global commitments in general and military ones in particular – is likely to outlast the man.
At some point, things will change. History suggests that periods of retrenchment often end owing to some great geopolitical shock, followed by periods of exertion. The problem is that such shocks tend to be costly in terms of human lives and resources. But for now and the foreseeable future, the US is unlikely to conduct a foreign policy commensurate with its interests and strength.
Chomsky goes through some of the crimes of the post-war presidents. From 2003.