Jerri-Lynn here: There are many reasons to despair at the choice US voters face in tomorrow’s election. The danger that either candidate will goad Russia or China, without respect to consequences, is perhaps the most immediate and frightening. While many media hounds chase the false scent of alleged Russian manipulation of Trump, the election, and Wikileaks, to name just a few of the crazy allegations being discussed, this more serious threat has not been pursued nearly as vigorously.
In this Real News Network interview, journalist John Pilger and TRNN’s Paul Jay discuss why the very real prospect of another World War is not taken seriously by the US media. Pilger argues that whoever is elected, tensions with China and Russia will escalate. I tidied up the rush transcript as best I could. Please excuse any remaining errors.
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
In a few days, Americans are going to decide who the next President of the United States is going to be. Of course, this is an issue of global concern, given that the United States considers itself hegemon of the world and acts that way. What will be the difference perhaps is the foreign policy of the next President, whatever it is, Clinton or Trump. Based on what we’ve seen the last few years and how does one assess all of this? I think we’re assessing the degree of danger to the world. There doesn’t seem to be any other measurement here.
Now joining us to discuss all of this is John Pilger. John joins us from London. John is an award- winning very celebrated filmmaker and journalist. His films have been broadcast on major broadcast platforms and channels around the world. His latest film is The Coming War on China, which will be released in December. Thanks very much for joining us John.
JOHN PILGER: You’re welcome.
JAY: So as I said in the opening, it’s a kind of a question of who is more dangerous. There doesn’t seem to be any question. I think in most thinking peoples minds that one way or the other, US foreign policy is going to be dangerous for people of the world, particularly in the Middle East but not only. What is your assessment in this moment?
PILGER: Well it’s always dangerous. I sometimes think that it’s extraordinary I’ve gotten to this stage in life and I haven’t been blown up by US foreign policy. But so we all of us outside the US quake before a US election. That said, the US isn’t run by presidents, it’s run by a vast national security machine and that hasn’t changed in the last 15 years or so. I think the other 2 candidates. One is clearly a rogue candidate and that’s Donald Trump and the other, Hillary Clinton, is the candidate of this vast national security machine.
I think what’s been a pity for all of us outside the United States and indeed for all Americans, is that the hysteria over Donald Trump has obscured the fact that Hillary Clinton may well turn out to be one of the more dangerous presidents, assuming she does win as the polls suggest, though she may not of course. Because she is the president. She is almost the embodiment of a status quo that since 9/11 has left us all in a very precarious state. It’s left the Middle East in a precarious state. But above all, it’s brought us to the brink of some kind of very serious confrontation with Russia and the taunting of Russia, the intimidation of Russia is now unabated and just over the horizon there is a similar baiting of the other great nuclear power, China.
Now this issue which of course amounts to the prospect of another world war, even another nuclear war, have not been touched on.
Well they have been touched on. Ironically in the first debate, Donald Trump was asked about this and he said words to the effect, words that I would not go nuclear. I would not do a first strike. This wasn’t used. It wasn’t published.
Now I would’ve thought for whatever it’s worth, he might not have meant it. Trump says a lot of things he doesn’t mean. Contradicts himself. But I would’ve thought that difference between Trump and Clinton on the issue of nuclear war, of war and peace was pretty critical. At least an issue to be debated. But it wasn’t.
JAY: Yeah, the American media is totally involved in this salacious part of Trump’s history and as usual, not very interested in any issues of polices of substance. You can find things on both of these candidates that would give one the chills. Starting with Trump, the great danger of Trump is that it won’t be President Trump, it will be President Pence. Pence has been asked who he’s going to model his Vice Presidency after and he says Cheney and in terms of foreign policy outlook, there seems to be no difference between him and Cheney.
PILGER: Well, what’s the difference between any of them frankly? I mean neocon is a terrible word but it describes them all. Trump is perhaps more interesting because he seems to have upset all the establishment. The CIA wants him beaten, the Pentagon wants him beaten, the State Department wants him beaten, even his own party wants him beaten. I mean something recommends him and just his enemies do. So, whether there is a difference I think there’s a difference of that much. I do emphasize this, that as you mentioned all these salacious stories about Trump but you know what do people want? Do they want to hear salacious stories or do they want to hear about the prospects of war and peace? Do they want to hear about whether we’re entering an extremely dangerous period in relation to Russia or not?
These issues have not been addressed and I don’t think theres any doubt that Clinton who has very unusually named a cabinet already in a sense and a very good article by one of the independent journalists in Washington, Gareth Porter, listed these people and they’re all war hawks. And she said it in the last debate. Im going to have a no-fly zone in Syria. That means attacking Russian planes.
JAY: I think there’s no doubt whichever of these people get elected president, in spite of Trump’s rhetoric and if you look at what Pence says, I think both Clinton and I will say a Pence Trump, and I put Pence first because I think that’s the more likely scenario, are going to be looking for provocations with Russia. Both Clinton and Pence are using Russian rhetoric to try and engage but using more than rhetoric. There’s this very interesting WikiLeaks that I don’t think has received nearly enough attention which shows something about the State Department under Clinton’s mentality.
It said in the WikiLeaks that it’s not said who it’s to or from but when I asked some of the people we know who have some expertise in this, they say it sounds like a State Department briefing. It says to get the Israelis in support or not in active opposition to the Iran deal we need to get rid of Assad. And essentially– and one assumes the reason for getting that will please Israel is to undermine Hezbollah– but it kind of shows what drives a lot of State Department thinking and I don’t think it’s a big stretch to think it drives Clinton thinking.
PILGER: Yeah, well, she hasn’t hidden it. She’s had an obsequious relationship with Israel– it’s well known. Her tough talking, her militarist talking, is all out there in the open. She’s made it clear that she’s going to face off Vladimir Putin. She’s going to talk tough to the Chinese. As a kind of insanity about all this. I mean US foreign policy is actually run in a straight line since 1945. But it’s become more extreme in the last 10-15 years. That’s what worries most of us outside the United States and ought to worry those of you in the United States that it’s become so extreme now. So extreme that the prospect of an accidental war at the very least. Here we are at centenaries of the first world war where all the lessons of there are glaring out at us of not quite accidental war. Intended war that lit up and became a slaughter partly by accident. I don’t for a moment think that this verbose provocateur who is currently the Defense Secretary, Mr. Carter, who is forever shouting his militarist slogans around the world. I don’t for a moment think that he actually wants nuclear war. But he sure is trying to bring it on. I’ve never known anything quite like his constant aggression. And this campaign of sending out these admirals and generals. Like Admiral Harry Harris in the Pacific speaking like Lord Palmerston in the 19th century. You know how much he runs from the world. You know what you say from Bollywood to Hollywood. You know these rather absurd people but with very great power.
JAY: The overall agenda of American dominance I don’t think changes much between the various administrations or parties. But do you not think sometimes individual and specific agendas within the complexity of the America elites plays a role? I’ll give you a couple examples. First of all, Cheney clearly drove the Iraq war. John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent said there was a morning meeting with the heads of all the major agencies and top Pentagon officials in the year leading up to the Iraq War and that that completely quite out of the ordinary, that morning phone call was chaired by Dick Cheney. And that in that phone call, and Kiriakou was apparently on it sometimes with some of the CIA people, most of the heads of agencies, most of the officialdom of the military complex were against invading Iraq. Cheney actually threatened these people saying resign or do what you’re ordered to.
There are times when specific agendas can take hold. Like for example the people I guess that what the Real News, they heard us talk about Project for New American Century often enough. The very far right type of agenda. The other one where I think it did make a difference is if you look at the Obama-McCain election. This is not to say Obama has not been aggressive and has not committed war crimes because he has. On the other hand, this is John Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran McCain and Obama does make a deal with Iran. I mean there are differences within these corridors of power which are sometimes important are there not?
PILGER: Obama decided not to attack Iran. I don’t know about making a deal with Iran. They decided not to attack Iran. Attacking Iran would’ve been a disaster of course for the people of Iran and in the Middle East. But it would’ve also been a disaster for the United States.
JAY: As the Iraq War was.
PILGER: He decided not to attack them. So yes, but Obama has run probably more wars simultaneously than any other president. He’s run probably the most comprehensive terror campaign in his drone warfare of assassination. You know we can sit here and say that one is slightly better.
JAY: I wouldn’t even use the word better. I would say in specific circumstances.
PILGER: I was searching. I was going to say less insane than the other. Sure. But in the end, here we are in 2016 in a presidential campaign and I’ve covered 4 US presidential campaigns and I thought no you couldn’t have Nixon as president. Well looking back on Nixon compared with some of the others who have come since, maybe a little less insane there. I don’t know. But here we are in 2016 with this political freak show in the United States that spells great danger for all of us.
JAY: John talk a little bit about the film you’re working on and why you think there’s such a looming confrontation with China, what’s driving it?
PILGER: Well it’s not what I think. The evidence is very clear. I mean Obama, the one who’s done the deals, hes announced that he went to Australia in 2011 and announced what was known as the pivot to Asia and that was the deployment, the transfer of almost two-thirds of US naval forces into the Asia Pacific region by the year 2020. And at the moment there are 400 US bases ringing China. They start in Australia and they go all the way through Asia, up through the Pacific, Korea, Japan, across Eurasia, Afghanistan, India. If you look at them on a map, you can understand why the Chinese have apparently changed their nuclear policy to a first strike policy. They never had that. They used to keep the missiles and warheads separate. They don’t anymore.
In the informed literature, the Journal of Concerned Scientists and there have been a number of articles that have described in some detail how the Chinese have changed their nuclear profile. They’re worried. I was there not long ago and I spoke to a number of strategists and people are worried– rather confused actually– but worried and some of them are quite angry. The whole building of air strips on the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea was a defensive move. Last year the United States conducted possibly the biggest naval exercise in history. Talisman Saber in which it rehearsed a blockade across the Malacca Straits through which comes 80% of China’s oil and its raw materials.
The Chinese understand all of this. They know all of this. If it’s not explained to us through our media, they certainly know about it. This kind of provocation against China has been almost, I wouldn’t say a sideshow but it’s another chapter. The first chapter of course is the provocation of Russia. And that is probably the most dangerous. Does anyone in the United States know what the Russians are thinking? What people in Russia are thinking? That they’re having civil drill exercises. What the Russian press is saying? What people think about this?
There is a sense in much of Russia that the United States is about to attack them. This is very, very dangerous because it puts a country in a defensive position, and that’s when accidents can happen. There is no debate about this in what is it? Constitutionally the free-est place in the world, in the United States? Nothing. Read the New York Times for the last couple of days. It’s become a sort of Cold War propaganda sheet. Stories that are clearly nonsense.
JAY: The objective seems to be one would think to weaken Putin but if anything’s going to strengthen Putin it’s this kind of threat that creates an increased amount of nationalism and such.
PILGER: Well I don’t know if it will strengthen Putin at all. I don’t know enough about Russia. But the little I do know suggests that Putin is one of those who is always talking about being a partner of the United States. He does want to be a partner. He sees Russia’s future in Europe. There are others in Russia who have had enough of the talk of partnership and who drink in a deep well of Russian nationalism and Russian memory of all their great invasions of their country. So, I don’t know whether it strengthens Putin or not. Perhaps it doesn’t. Whatever it is, it’s dangerous.
JAY: You mean in other ways it could be strengthening far more nationalists and fascistic forces that could actually-
PILGER: Well not fascistic. In fact, there are plenty of fascists in Ukraine. You wouldn’t know that reading the US press. There was a coup in 2014. Fascist led. Paid for by the United States. The truth of that is inverted and it has Russia invading Ukraine. I mean couldn’t make it up but that’s the received wisdom. Now I’m not sure about the fascistic elements in Russia but there could be militarist elements and there could be those in the very powerful national security sector in Russia that say we have to prepare and they are preparing of course. Their weapons industry has been developing in a very sophisticated way in the last few years. Their air defenses and so on. But this is all war preparation. You know whether it’s Clinton or Trump it’s deeply worrying and deeply disturbing when reckless politicians like Hillary Clinton can stand up and beat every war drum that is put in front of them. That’s reckless.
JAY: Alright thanks very much for joining us, John.
PILGER: You’re welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.