Events are unfolding at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we are looking to our most respected and renowned thought leaders for an honest assessment of both U.S. foreign and military policy to offer their most current thoughts and insights. We know they have some ideas for improving the prospects for peace.
Coleen Rowley is an attorney, peace activist and whistleblower. She’s a retired FBI Special Agent and former FBI Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel. For her exposure of the FBI’s pre-911 failures, she was named one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. We are extremely honored that she took the time to talk to us and share her views. Her responses below are exactly as she provided.
The questions here are not philosophical or abstract. They focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time. They directly address the role of the U.S. in the escalating tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We also probe the role of everyday citizens in affecting the relationship the U.S. now has and will have with the rest of the world community.
Here is what Coleen Rowley had to say.
Q. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has recently put the hands of its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight. Midnight means all out war, probably nuclear holocaust. This is the closest it has ever been. Do you agree with this dire assessment?
A. This “clock” that began in 1947 was set at 100 seconds to “midnight” in January 2020 and left unchanged in January 2021. I certainly agree with the Bulletin’s current dire assessment that we are closer to nuclear holocaust then ever before in history, including during the long “Cold War” with the Soviet Union when several nuclear “close calls” occurred due to tense stand-offs like the Cuban Missile Crisis, accidents and military misperceptions. This meant that we likely came within minutes of “accidentally” destroying the world as we know it several times. It’s hard to imagine that, as a practical matter, the Bulletin can set the hands any closer at this point in an effort to make oblivious people aware of the danger. And unfortunately, many if not most U.S.-NATO military officials and government politicians remain committed to dangerous policies such as “First Use” and “hair trigger alert,” seemingly unworried about the high risk.
Q. The U.S. always portrays itself as the greatest force on the planet for peace, justice, human rights, racial equality, etc. Polls tell us that most other nations actually regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to stability. What in your view is the truth here?
A. The U.S., often working with NATO, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships as well as dangerous, even terrorist proxy forces has been responsible for toppling dozens of governments—even democratically elected ones—killing millions of people, mostly civilians, and turning many more into refugees after having destroyed cities, farmland, bodies of water, etc all over the world. The U.S. has even periodically stooped to using terrorist groups as its proxies and the U.S. military is one, if not the biggest polluters and contributors to climate change. No wonder the rest of the world considers the U.S.’ quest for world domination the greatest threat to peace and, in Martin Luther King Jr’s words, the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
Q. Here’s a chicken-or-egg question: The U.S. accuses both Russia and China of rapidly expanding their military capabilities, claiming its own posturing and increase in weaponry is a response to its hostile adversaries, Russia and China. Both Russia and China claim they are merely responding to intimidation and military threats posed by the U.S. What’s your view? Do Russia and China have imperial ambitions or are they just trying to defend themselves against what they see as an increasingly aggressive U.S. military?
A. History shows that after WWII, the U.S. alone emerged relatively unscathed and then embarked on plans for “full spectrum dominance.” Whereas Russia and China were in shambles and had all they could do to slowly recover. It’s only in the last few decades that China was miraculously able to reduce the poverty of the majority of its citizens. Lots of historians and foreign policy studies have documented these facts.
Q. The U.S. always denies that it has imperial ambitions. Most unbiased experts say that by any objective standards, the U.S. is an empire — indeed the most powerful, sprawling empire in history. Does the U.S. have to be an empire to be successful in the world and effectively protect and serve its citizenry?
A. You’re asking someone who, over a decade ago, painted a bright orange banner warning: “End American Empire Before It Ends Us.” Beginning in around 2000, Chalmers Johnson began similar (but more wordy) warnings about the rise and fall of empires throughout history. He wrote of the “Sorrows of Empire,” of “Blowback” and the internal corruption rot from constant, perpetual war inherent in trying to maintain “Pax Americana” supremacy. It hardly matters, however, what I or other knowledgeable scholars have written or have long realized about this fools’ errand of a militaristic Sparta, because the powerful elites who run this country are blinded by the hubris of belief in their own exceptionalism. I’m afraid millions more people–if not human civilization as we know it—is doomed unless a miracle occurs deterring the “Powers That Shouldn’t Be,” convincing them to give up their foolish pursuit of more power and wealth.
Q. The highest ranking commanders of the U.S. military recently sounded the alarm. They have concluded that the U.S. — widely regarded as the most formidable military power in history — can’t defeat either Russia or China in a war. These military commanders are saying we need to dramatically increase our military capabilities. What do you make of this claim and the resulting demand for more DOD spending?
A. That assessment could be made by a kindergarten child at this point, given how the U.S. has not “won” any of its recent wars, beginning with Vietnam, Korea and the post 9-11 wars on Afghanistan/Iraq/Libya/Syria, etc. It’s true the U.S. can bomb and kill millions of people, destroy entire foreign countries and take their surviving populations “back into the stone age.” But the U.S. military has been unable to defeat even very poor “Third World” countries and groups of people around the world who have often fought back asymmetrically making US armaments and bombs useless except for killing and destruction (AND most importantly for war profiteering).
The notion that the U.S. can “win” a war that will almost certainly go quickly nuclear with any of the other nuclear superpowers, or with as the military labels them, “peer competitors,” is insane but it’s undoubtedly firmly embraced.
Q. In 2009, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced a reset with Russia, heralding greater cooperation and understanding. By 2014, Obama had made a sharp reversal. A sweeping regime of sanctions has since been imposed on Russia to cripple its economy. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats now relentlessly demonize Russia and Putin, blaming them for every imaginable ill. Both in the media and from official pronouncements by government officials, Russia has become the favorite whipping boy for both the U.S. and its “special friend”, Great Britain. Why? What happened?
A. A few years after 9/11 and commencing the wars planned to take out the governments of 7 countries in the Mid-east, some U.S. strategic planners recognized that the United States had become bogged down and stuck in unwinnable and very costly quagmires offering little strategic value/benefit to the U.S. whereas the main “peer” rivals of the U.S. had grown stronger during the time the U.S. was wasting its resources, moral “leadership” authority, etc. Obviously the two remaining superpowers that stood in the way of U.S.-NATO (and other vassals and allies’) dreams of hegemonic, unilateral control of the world were Russia (due to its military power) and China (due to its considerable economic power).
Of course during this same time period of post 9-11 wars on the Mid-east, there was also ample time for Russia and China to witness the U.S. imperialist trajectory, its illegal wars of aggression, blatant disregard for international law and the U.S. military’s declared game plans constantly listing/shuffling its top threats and “enemies” for targeting. This drove Russia and China to align ever more closely and they reacted in a number of defensive ways, trying to draw other countries into closer defensive postures/alliance, trying to reduce U.S.’ economic power (and its unilateral power to economically sanction and blockade countries targeted for “regime change”) derived from possessing/controlling the world’s “reserve currency,” etc.
Subsequently the U.S. has been trying, albeit rather unsuccessfully, to put a wedge between the Russia-China Alliance. As a side note, the two party system that resulted in a switch of power in the U.S. in 2016 played its own role in a kind of see-saw way. After Democrats Obama-Clinton declared their “pivot” to take on China, I think their plan got upset when they found themselves going after Russia instead after Hillary’s right-hand assistant, neo-con official Victoria Nuland-orchestrated the coup in Ukraine which led to Crimea voting to go back to Russia and then a kind of civil war breaking out in the Donbass. Obama reacted by slapping all the diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia. Then Trump and the Republican operatives came in, seeking to undermine the Dems by trying to make it seem as if they’d favor Russia and instead target China as the top enemy.
The bottom line is I think most Russian and Chinese analysts saw through this game at play and any U.S. notion of putting a wedge between the two remaining superpowers was never going to succeed. In fact, who knows, the Russians and Chinese may even have helped botch this U.S. game plan whereby the U.S. could take on one of them at a time.
Q. The number of spy missions, nuclear-armed bomber flights, and war games near Russia’s borders have vastly increased over the past year. Same with China. Is all of this just business-as-usual geopolitical posturing? Or does it represent a dangerous escalation and a new ominous direction in U.S. strategic positioning? What is the justification for what Russia and China see as provocations and aggressiveness, if not actual preparation for a war?
A. I think we are witnessing a dangerous escalation borne of reckless desperation and the inability to give up on these dreams of exercising sole unilateral superpower (instead of backing down and living in a world of multilateral power sharing). You can’t say this in the U.S. of course and no mainstream corporate media ever will, but I don’t see any legitimate justification for these dangerous military provocations of the two other nuclear superpowers.
Q. Between the FONOPS in the South China Sea and the recently expressed enthusiasm for Taiwan’s independence, the risk of military conflict with China keeps increasing. Where is this headed? If People’s Republic of China decides to use military force for full reunification of Taiwan, do you see the U.S. going to war in an attempt to prevent it?
A. There appears to be some difference of opinion within military official ranks as to whether to go to war with China over Taiwan. I don’t necessarily see China provoking war by using military force to “reunify” with Taiwan. More likely the U.S. Navy patrolling close to Chinese territory or close to Chinese forces might provoke a violent incident, even if this “accidentally” occurs. And then it’s anybody’s guess as to whether either side can back down.
Q. The U.S. against the clear objections of the government in Syria is occupying valuable land, stealing the country’s oil, and preventing access to the most agriculturally productive region, effectively starving the population. The world sees this for what it is, a cruel game sacrificing innocent people for some perceived geopolitical advantage. Is this the kind of reputation the U.S. wants? Or does it simply no longer care what the rest of the world community thinks?
A. I don’t think the U.S. has cared for a long time what the rest of the world community thinks. Long before Trump’s ego-centric and “bull in the China Shop” brutish style removed all the veneer, revealing outright promotion of “unilateralism,” U.S. leaders had been launching illegal wars of aggression and “regime change” coups all over the world. Most recently the US has cloaked its illegal use of military and economic blockade force as a kind unilateral policing of the world under the specious “Right to Protect pretext. This seems to fool Americans but not people in the rest of the world. The targeting of Syria for regime change is an especially sad example of U.S. destruction, see our op-ed: It’s Time to End the U.S. War on Syria, Not Restart It – CounterPunch.org (which op-ed, by the way, several mainstream newspapers refused to publish).
Q. In a democracy, at least in theory citizens have a say in all matters of public policy. Yet, in the end none of the recent military campaigns and undeclared wars seem to achieve much popular favor or support. What is and what should be the role of everyday citizens in determining the foreign policy and military priorities of the country? Or are such matters better left to the “experts”?
A. Not only do the American people have little say in their government’s foreign policy that includes wars and regime change operations around the world, but they are effectively propagandized (via tacit collaboration between the Military Industrial Complex, government politicians and the corporate media) and thus easily manipulated into war fever (at least in the short term) anytime those in power decide to launch war. After all, Nazi leader Goering was proven correct over and over when he explained how easy it is to get people to go along, even in a democracy (to effectively turn otherwise good people into monsters), by “just telling them they are being attacked.” The banality of evil is solidly in place.
Congress has also proven totally vulnerable to the war profiteer/contractor lobbying and power gained over politicians through campaign donations so they too have long abdicated their power under the Constitution to authorize (or remove congressional authorization of) wars the Administration starts or wants to start. What Eisenhower warned has come to pass far worse than he could have ever imagined.
Our 2018 op-ed (which again 15 different mainstream newspapers refused to publish) explains the effective “recipe” that’s been created after the Vietnam War to wage “perpetual war.” Recipe Concocted for Perpetual War is a Bitter One – Consortiumnews
Q. Related to that, the citizenry and most of Congress are kept in the dark with respect to special missions, proxy funding, CIA operations, and swaths of unknown unknowns constituting psyops, cyber ops, and regime change ops, all done in our name as U.S. citizens. The funds to support this sprawling “dark world” of sabotage and terror being inflicted on the rest of the planet, is also a secret. Now there’s pervasive spying on U.S. citizens right here at home. What place does any of this have in “the land of the free”? Does this mean government of the people, by the people, for the people is just a sham?
A. I think you’ve answered your own question! I will just add that the military, intelligence community and government’s excessive and wrongful secrecy has only grown far worse under the need to cover up war crimes and other illegal action on the part of government officials. This has resulted in the use/abuse of the 1917 Espionage Act, now being employed as a kind of Sedition law to put numerous whistleblowers in prison such as Daniel Hale who revealed how US drones are killing innocent civilians (click here to cover up U.S. torture and finally the ending of freedom of the press by jailing news publishers (like Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks) or writers of any info the U.S. deems against its interests in waging wars.
Q. Recently we’ve seen some token but precedent-setting direct payments to citizens in the form of Covid relief. There is also the ongoing discussion about reparations to descendants of slaves. If it could be unequivocally established that the government has abused DOD funding, misused and squandered vast sums of money to promote unjustified wars, purchase unneeded equipment, unnecessarily expand U.S. military presence across the globe, and regularly lied to the American public to manufacture consent for these misadventures and fraudulent activities, practical and political considerations aside, do you see any constitutional or other legal barriers to the public identifying, expecting, or even demanding proper compensation? A cash refund or citizen reparations for massive, authenticated abuse of power?
A. I don’t see any constitutional or other legal barriers. And I don’t think it would be that hard to establish the actual facts justifying reparations for the trillions of taxpayers’ dollars already squandered by government warhawks (almost all of them suffering from serious MIC conflicts of interest).
Unfortunately I’m quite sure, however, that even plain vanilla corruption/abuse of authority between arms and military contractors that could be addressed under the old “False Claims Act” has been mostly thus far swept under the rug. So the practical and political considerations would pose the more significant challenge.
We are grateful to Coleen Rowley for her thought-provoking views. The interview was arranged by John Rachel, Director of the Peace Dividend Project. This effort embraces a powerful, unprecedented, end-to-end strategy for challenging the tyranny of neocon warmongers in Washington DC, ending the endless wars, and reversing the self-destructive foreign policy and military paradigm which now poisons U.S. relations with the rest of the world. Ms. Rowley has also agreed to be interviewed for the full-length Peace Dividend documentary film, a devastating indictment of the corruption and fraud built into our excessive military budgets and imperial overreach. This movie will inform, unite and empower everyday citizens to have a voice in determining the future they want for themselves and their children.