An Interview with William Blum
by Gary Corseri
Counterpunch (April 4 2006)
William Blum  left the State Department in 1967 because of his
opposition to what the United States was doing in Vietnam. He has been a freelance journalist in the United States, Europe and South America, and has been a recipient of a Project Censored award for "exemplary journalism". His books include Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)
(recommended by Osama bin Laden in his January, 2006 audiotape), Killing Hope: US
Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2 (Common Courage Press, 1995),
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press,
2004), and West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002).
Q. In his January 19 2006 audio tape message to the world, Osama bin
Laden stated: "If Bush carries on with his lies and oppression, it would be
useful for you to read the book, Rogue State". Then, he quoted the line in which
you write that you would end US interference in the nations of the world as soon
as you become president. Now, I've read Rogue State, and I know that your
projected first four days in office would actually be even more interesting than
that. How do you conceive the first four days of a Blum Administration?
A. The first day, I'll apologize - publicly and sincerely - to all the
widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, to all the many millions
of other victims of American imperialism. I would announce to the world
that America's global military interventions have come to an end. The second
day, I would tell Israel that it is no longer the 51st state, but, oddly
enough, a foreign country ... On the third day I would reduce the military
budget by at least ninety percent and use the savings to pay reparations to the
victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings, invasions and
sanctions.There would be more than enough money. One year's US military budget is
equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus was born. On
the fourth day, I'd be assassinated.
Q. Do you have any intention to renounce bin Laden's endorsement?
A. No. The political value of it outweighs any other consideration -
getting me on the mass media. As I've said to some of the people who interviewed
me, I'm part of a movement which has the very ambitious goal of slowing down -
if not stopping - the American Empire. To do that, we need to reach the
American people. And to reach them we need access to the mass media. So, for that reason,I'm very thankful.
Q. Why did bin Laden single out your book among all the others?
A. Partly because it was available in Arabic. I assume he read the
Arabic edition. Partly because it says things which he's been saying - that the
reason for anti-American terrorist acts have to do with past American foreign
policy, not with American religion or secular government or American music or
films or television. It's about our foreign policy. It's what we do to the world
that has created all these anti-American terrorists.
Q. Well, we're now into the fourth year of a
much worse war than the lightning-swift operation we were promised - do you still
hope and believe this is the "beginning of the end for the Empire"?
A. Oh yeah! The Empire is on its way out. The opposition is growing all
the time. The numbers of Americans will before too long reach a critical mass and
explode. I don't know exactly what form that explosion will take, but it's going
to happen. The Republicans are losing the support of many leading
conservatives.There must be ten leading conservatives who have come out in the past few months in no uncertain terms condemning the Bush Administration and their foreign policy. The end can't be too far away. Hopefully, they will not take the world with them.
Q. One of the debts I owe you - and I've now read Rogue State,
Freeing the World to Death, and Killing Hope - is that you contextualize and make
comprehensible so much of modern history. In Killing Hope, especially,
you tell the story of what Barbara Tuchman called "the march of folly", - but,
here, it's our unique folly, that of a superpower which enjoyed so much of the
world's good will after World War II, then squandered it.
Focussing on the Middle East, can you walk us through the idea of
"understandable retaliation"? Can you help us to see our foreign policy
through the insurgent's eye, the terrorist in Palestine, in Iraq, in
A. In my book, Rogue State, I have a list of some of the lesser "nice"
things done to the Middle East since the 1980's - so we're talking about some
25 years.I have about twenty items on this list. Just to name a few: the support
of corrupt and tyrannical governments from the Shah of Iran to the Saudis;
the shooting down of two Libyan planes in 1981; the bombing of Libya in
1986; the bombing of an Iranian ship in 1987; shooting down an Iranian passenger
plane in 1988 - it goes on - more bombings, more downing of planes, attacking
ships the habitual support of Israel, the habitual condemnation of Palestinian
resistance to this, ending with the devastation and occupation of Afghanistan and
Iraq in 2001 and 2003. That's a small sample of what we've done in the Middle
East in the past 20 years or so. So, it's not surprising that many people there
would be hell-bent on some kind of retaliation.
Q. You also have an extensive list of votes at the United Nations, where
we've practically stood alone, or with a single ally - more often than not,
Israel - against the wishes of the world.
A. Against the wishes of the other members of the UN, certainly 140 to
1; 139 to 2. Dozens and dozens of examples. And it's not just the voting
where we say "to hell with you" to the rest of the world. The US has gotten rid
of high UN officials when they wouldn't follow US bidding. Concerning the
environment, for example, we've gotten rid of more than one official who would not cater to US wishes. People like Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, from her position at the UN. I've got a long list in Freeing the World to Death.
Q. You've written that we need tore-define the Cold War, see it not as an East-West struggle but as a North-South struggle. I personally think that since the end of the Cold War we've been suffering from a sense of triumphalism - we defeated this major boogeyman, the Evil Empire, and ever since it's been hard for reason to prevail, for dissident voices to be heard - the idea of can-do America, the beneficent protector of civilization and democracy. But, if we re-calibrate, if we re-define the Cold War, as you suggest, then a very different picture emerges. Then we see more failures than successes. Can you help us to see the Cold War through your eyes?
A. I tend to view American foreign policy - and the whole world, in
fact, and all of life - I tend to view this from a moral point of view. Which is
not the sole province of people who are religious. One can be non-religious and
still have a very moral point of view. From a moral viewpoint, the world and
the US did not win anything by "winning the Cold War". The average person in
the former Soviet Union and satellites is much worse off today than they were under the Soviet Union. Like the average person in Iraq is much worse off today
than they were under Saddam Hussein - which says a great deal! US policy does not
make life better for people. They went around the world during the Cold War
stamping out one attempt after another at improving people's lives. The Cold War
has always been sold to us as, "We are the good guys and the Commies were
the bad guys and the good guys won". But it's a total fabrication. I have one
chapter in Freeing the World - I go from one year to the other in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, showing examples of the foolishness and the nonsense of the Cold War -
all the crazy things which the average person today under the age of thirty,
say, is hardly aware of. That was really an absurd period of US foreign policy
Q. You've written that we have "a foreign policy establishment committed to imperialist domination by any means necessary." (Therefore, we can assume that there's no real difference between Bush, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc.) Your books are as critical of Clinton and Carter as they are of both Bushes and Reagan. Many people have heard of the the Peter Principle, but you've got your own take on it. Please define it according to William Blum.
A. The Peter Principle was a book that came out in the 60s, maybe the 70s, which said that in a corporation or in some institution, an employe rises to the level of his incompetence and I suggested that in a foreign policy establishment committed to world domination at any price a person employed by that establishment reaches the highest level of cruelty that they can live with. To put it in simple terms, US foreign policy is cruel, it causes great hardship all over the world The people who carry out those policies rise in the institutions to the point where they reach a level of cruelty beyond which they can't go, where it's too much for their conscience. The cruelest ones claw their way to the top!
Q. You've said that they rise to the level of their amorality. And you make a distinction-you say it's not even that they're immoral, because they think they're fine. It's just that they have no morals-
A. They don't care Of course, everybody like that rationalizes that what they're doing is really for the betterment of the world, or at least of the American people.
Q. You cited Madeleine Albright's infamous statement to Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children under our sanctions was "worth it." You wrote: "These leaders are cruel because only those willing and able to be inordinately cruel and remorseless can hold positions of leadership in the foreign policy establishment." Following up on this-you've touched on this just now After the 9/11 attacks, many Americans asked in bewilderment, Why do they hate us? You address that. You write that there is a myth about America, woven so deeply into the fabric of our national consciousness that it's a given--and the myth is that, though we often make mistakes, our intentions, unlike those of other nations, are always honorable, we always mean well What is the genesis of that myth; how has it been perpetuated and how can we begin to dispell it, to lift the veil from our eyes, to understand the Cold War, etc., foreign policy, etc., to see the world clearly?
A. As to the genesis, I imagine it goes back to the founding of the nation. I mean, if you read the Declaration of Independence that really paints a picture of a very noble people engaging in a very noble undertaking. I have been moved by it. The whole world has been moved by it-
Q. You even mention that Ho Chi Minh cites our Declaration-
A. Ho Chi Minh used the opening words of our Declaration of Independence for his Constitution in Vietnam. Despite that, he was regarded as an enemy till we wiped out ... That shows the insanity of anti-Communism It didn't matter whether he admired our government and our way of life. He was a "Commie" and he had to be punished.
Q. My feeling is that the Declaration of Independence is a great document, but by the time we come to the Constitution, we've got something else entirely. Then we become a very conservative nation and it's all about property and so forth.
A. Even in the Constitution you have many famous phrases, beginning with "We the People" and so on.
Q. That's about the best thing in there, isn't it? Between The Preamble and the Bill of Rights, it's mostly about protecting property rights through the electoral college, limiting the franchise, etc.
A. I haven't checked it recently, maybe you're right Okay, let's stick with the Declaration that probably went a long way in instilling in Americans the belief that we mean so well I'm sure you can find that belief in other nations, but it's probably fed here more than anywhere else
Q. And I think that continuous feeding of the myth helps us understand how we get away with so much invidious foreign policy year after dreary year So, foreign policy, then you've written and spoken about our crusade during the Cold War How did our crusade against International Communism morph into our crusade against Islamic nationalism?
A. There's not much difference. They're both the Empire getting very upset with any obstacle in its way It doesn't matter who the people are. Often, people on the Left claim that our foreign policy is racist, that we invade and bomb people of color. But I don't share that view. The most sustained bombing since the 2nd World War was 78 days non-stop bombing of Yugoslavia-a white, Christian, European people I don't think the Powers-that-be in the U.S. are anti-Muslim. What individual leaders in Washington may think is one thing. Some of them, I'm sure, are racist-on a purely personal basis. But we cannot confuse that with the policies that come out of Washington. Those policies are color-blind and religion-blind, and they are aimed at stopping any obstacle to the expansion of the Empire.
Q. So, you don't see this as a Christian Fundamentalist-Zionist-Wall Street Alliance against the world?
A. It may be that-but it's not motivated by racism. The Christian Fundamentalists who support Bush and support Israel-- they're looking forward to-what's that term when you rise to Heaven?
A. They're looking forward to Rapture. And Rapture supposedly will come only after Armageddon and other things related to Israel. These fundamentalists tie in supporting Israel with the coming of Rapture. And that is not because of any anti-Muslim feelings per se or because of racism But, individually, I'm sure people like Cheney--I can't imagine him having any sort of tolerance for non-Christians or Muslims, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that that's what motivates US foreign policy.
Q. It's about power? It's about money?
A. It's about corporations. The corporation is the leading unit of these institutions. Ralph Nader has it right. Ralph Nader's whole campaign, his whole thrust, his writing is based on pointing out how the corporation infects and poisons every aspect of American life-domestic and foreign. It's the corporation which is the chief devil in this whole scenario.
Q. Getting back to our history, it's worth remembering that 1776 saw the Declaration of Independence and also Adam Smith's THE WEALTH OF NATIONS published the same year I'd like to have your reaction to some recent, official statements ... I often lament that we don't have reporters with your kind of historical background to question and rebut the spinmeisters, so here's your chance On March 28th, Donald Rumsfeld addressed the Army War College, where he said: "From time to time, one hears the claim that terrorist acts are reactions to particular American policies. That's not so. Their violence preceded by many years operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their violence will not stop until their ideology is confronted."
A. The US policies which are being retaliated against go back to the early 80's, well before 9/11. And there were retaliations well before 9/11. So, 9/11 is just the most outstanding example of this phenomenon which has been going on for over 25 years As I've mentioned elsewhere, it's the same phenomenon all over the world. From the 1950s through the 1980s in Latin America, the U.S. was doing terrible things-the same as they did in the Middle East. And in that period, some forty years, there were numerous anti-American attacks in Latin America-attacks upon US embasies, personnel from those embassies, and many bombings of US corporations. This happened in Latin America in the same way it's happening now in the Middle East, with the exception of suicide bombings. It works the same way all over the world.
Q. I'd like to talk a little more about how we act in the world. For example, your books indicate that we act through chicanery, bribery, assassinations, fraudulent elections, death squads, etc. And we disguise our actions. Would you tell us, for example,about the National Endowment for Democracy.
A. That's an organization that came out of a period in the 1970s when many misdeeds by the CIA and FBI were exposed. Almost every day there was some revelation about a serious misdeed. In the minds of the Power Elite, it reached a point where something had to be done. What was done-and, of course, nothing changed in our foreign policy-what was done was to form a new organization, one with a nice-sounding name, the National Endowment for Democracy, which would continue to do many of the things the CIA had been doing, but the N.E.D. would do them somewhat overtly, therefore, hopefully, losing the stigma attached to CIA covert activities. For the past 25 years or so, the N.E.D. has been carrying out operations all over the world, in the same fashion the CIA did-interfering in elections, overthrowing governments, suppressing movements not favored by Washington-they've been doing these somewhat openly. They hand out grants, and they publish lists of the grants they disburse, so in that sense it's open, one can see who's getting the money. Of course, they don't tell you how the money is actually spent or what the effect of that spending actually is. I've followed the money trail and document in my books how the grants don't further democracy, but just the opposite-the money is used to overthrow democratically elected governments.
Q. Again, we want to maintain the myth of our integrity, our good intentions, but your books reveal the other side I have another recent comment by Rumsfeld In a report in the March 29th UK TELEGRAPH, Rumsfeld was asked about the US/Iraqi raid on a Shia mosque resulting in the deaths of 21 unarmed worshippers and an imam. Rumsfeld disparaged the claims about unarmed worshippers being killed, responding, "The US government has not got to the point where we are as deft and clever and facile and quick as the enemy that is perfectly capable of lying, having it printed all over the world, and there's no penalty for having lied." Have we gotten to that point?
A. We got to it decades ago. There are many entire books based on the lies of George Bush and other leaders of the U.S. My books deal with many of the lies, but not so much on a personal basis. I've documented the lies involved in our foreign policy. We are the masters. I give many, many examples in my book, KILLING HOPE, of the lies we've employed. We have it down to a fine science, the way we would plant articles in newspapers-and we're still doing the same thing in Iraq. But now it's being revealed much sooner. Which is a good sign. That's one reason I can be optimistic. Things are exposed much sooner now than before.
Q. Thanks to the Internet?
A. That's one of the most hopeful developments!
Q. The last question relating to Rumsfeld At the Army War College, about critics of the war, he said: "They say that a retreat from Iraq would provide an American escape from the violence. However, we know that any reprieve would be short-lived The war that the terrorists began would continue, and free people would continue to be their targets."
A. This "war that the terrorists began," as he puts it, didn't exist before the American invasion and occupation. That by itself is reason enough to pull out. I think the violence would very quickly come to an end. I don't think the people of Iraq have a need for this kind of civil war. They have a need for peace and quiet and sovereignty. They certainly don't have sovereignty now. Just last week the White House gave a clear message that they don't want the man who is now Prime Minister, to continue in office!
Q. I've asked you to be a reporter at a press conference, now I'd like you to be a surgeon. You've written: "The American mind is, politically, so deeply formed that to liberate it would involve uncommon, and as yet perhaps undiscovered, philosophical and surgical skill." How can we go about liberating our minds?
A. As I said in a recent "Anti-Empire Report," those people who are beyond surgery or any kind of relief-I estimate their number at 15% of the population-- I suggest to activists to stop wasting their time on them. They will not change even if the Government comes into their homes and kidnaps their first-born and takes them away screaming The other 85% are capable of change if they get enough input. Some people can see how they've been lied to with a single example. Other people need to be continuously exposed-on television, at rallies-they need to hear certain messages again and again. That's why it's a good thing to keep repeating certain messages. I don't appreciate that argument that you shouldn't preach to the choir First of all, no one is born into the choir. So, it's okay if we repeat the same message in various media. I'm sure our numbers are increasing all the time. The polls show that I have faith that our numbers will increase to the point where we'll reach a critical mass and then there will be fusion or fission.
Q. I like your point about repetition. We take it as a given that the Big Lie is repeated over and over. Maybe we need to repeat the Big Truth over and over, too!
A. Some people have-even though they are on the surface good, loyal Americans--they have many underlying doubts which they've harbored for many years, and it takes just one spark to make them open their eyes for the "Ah ha!" moment. For some people it takes one spark, for others it takes a dozen. But we have to keep igniting those sparks!
Q. Two last questions I'd like your comments on what Bush is now calling-I suppose he thinks he's being witty-the "question du jour," US policy on immigration, guest workers, etc. How can Progressives turn this issue to our advantage?
A. You mean to the advantage of the immigrants? Not to our-
Q. Well, here's what I'm thinking I saw a half a million get into the streets in Los Angeles. And I'm thinking, one month before that, the best the anti-war movement could manage was 50,000 people in the streets. What's missing? Why aren't we linking up?
A. It's more personal with the immigration those people there, almost everyone of them-if not themselves, then their father or their brother or their son--was or is an illegal immigrant and it really hits home. It's like in Vietnam in the 60s with the draft that really hit home. It brought many parents out into the streets because they were afraid of their sons being called up. So, the answer to your question is that we have to find a personal angle and, in the absence of the race issue and the absence of the draft, that's not easy to find Even so, we had millions of people marching against the war-that's pretty good! On the question of immigration I've yet to see anyone pointing out what I pointed out in my "Anti-Empire Report" how many of these immigrants have come here to escape an economic situation made worse by US policies. They're escaping the results of US foreign policy in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras-so we do bear responsibility. It's not simply that they want something for nothing and have no right to anything. They've been hurt by our policies-even though the average immigrant is unaware of that! We owe them something because of our policies-including NAFTA.
Q. I'm talking about awareness, too. I think there's a lack of awareness on the part of the Left that the anti-war movement and the pro-immigration movement-if you want to call it that-have a linkage. And that linkage is-those policies. Those predatory-capitalist policies that are destroying the world.
A. And I wonder if, at the mass march in L.A., any of the speakers mentioned this? I imagine someone did, but I don't know.
Q. OK Last question: Your books describe an American government and media divorced from the everyday reality of the American public. You write about the "great irony" of the "free enterprise system." Most Americans have knee-jerk responses to words and phrases like "socialism" or "free markets," but when we don't use these highly-charged words and phrases but describe helpful social programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, a minimum wage, a living wage, unemployment compensation--we find a more positive range of attitudes Do Americans really believe in "free enterprise," and what is "the great irony"?
A. By a remarkable coincidence that's the name of one of the chapters in one of my books!
Q. You have the floor-
A. Yeah, I posit that question, and I answer it in the negative-I don't think they really do believe in "free enterprise" and that is "the great irony" since our leaders would have us believe that "free enterprise" is written into our genetic code. But you can show people that many of their attitudes are actually in conflict with the idea of "free enterprise." They are opposed to corporations coming into their neighborhoods and replacing their favorite coffee shop or pharmacy or what have you. They think that's a shame. But that's what corporations do. That's what they're supposed to do, they're supposed to expand, to grow-that's the nature of the beast. And if you don't accept that, then you're questioning the nature of the beast!
Q. Any final comments from William Blum, any message to the world?
A. Go to my website: www.killinghope.org . And buy lots of books.
Gary Corseri has taught in public schools, prisons and universities. His
workhas appeared at CommonDreams, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, The New York
Times,Village Voice, City Lights Review, Atlanta-PBS and 200 other sites and
publications. His books include, Manifestations (Xlibris Corporation,
2004) and Holy Grail, Holy Grail (Xlibris Corporation, 2002). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org