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Paul Jay speaks to Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, about the Military – Industrial Complex. Korb says Obama could start to unravel U.S. military hegemony by “not making military the first option to every problem,” and by increasing budgets of other agencies such as U.S.A.I.D. Taking down the Military – Industrial Complex would also counteract the Bush administration’s approach to national security, namely preemptive warfare.

Story Transcript

Obama and the Middle East Pt.4

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network and our series of interviews with Larry Korb. Larry is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and was an assistant defense secretary under Reagan. Thanks, Larry. So Eisenhower warned us. He said, “Beware of the military-industrial complex,” that the American economy and the American government have become so enmeshed in this military-productive sector—. And just for full disclosure, I think you worked for awhile with Raytheon, which was sort of [inaudible]

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Raytheon, yeah. I got fired after a couple of months for speaking out about some of these issues.

JAY: Well, that’s to your merit, in my opinion. In two ways, doesn’t Obama, if he wants to fulfill the promise of real change, have to take on the military-industrial complex in some form or other, and for two reasons? Number one, because all the stimulus has to get paid for, there’s going to be an enormous push of putting money into the domestic economy, and you can’t just print it. And the obvious place for money could come from is out of this industrial-military sector. But maybe even more importantly, so much of the foreign policy assumptions are based on this premise that America must have military supremacy and hegemony. And sometimes the word “leadership” gets used, but there’s a difference between leadership and hegemony. And most of the world see this hundreds of military bases and aircraft carriers all over the world. I mean, is there any way? Should Obama start to try to unravel some of this? And do you think he’s in any position to do it?

KORB: Well, I think he can do it in two ways, one of which—and even the Pentagon will support him on this—is not make military the first option to every problem and allow the military to solve problems that should be solved by agencies like the Agency for International Development. And the way you do that is you plus up their budgets, and you stop the growth in defense spending. Defense spending in real terms—and I’m not talking about the war, the war costs—have gone up over the last decade about 40 percent in real terms. In real terms, real dollars, now we’re spending more [than] at the height of the Reagan buildup, which was, theoretically, to bring the Soviet Union, a major superpower, to its knees. And the way you do that is that you stop building weapons that deal with threats from a bygone era. Secretary Gates, who has been kept on, has said he wants to stop the F-22, this new-generation fighter. The Air Force has about 183, they’d like 380, and he has said, and I think quite remarkably, “How many are you using of these against, you know, these insurgent groups that we’re fighting?” I think he has to follow through on that. The Navy is running into trouble with a ship called the DDG1000, which is a destroyer built to fight open-ocean warfare. We haven’t had any of that since World War II. We stopped production of those things. And I think that—.

JAY: And there’s a new round—at least there was, under Bush, a new round of nuclear weapons planning.

KORB: Well, there was. And I think Obama has said that—you know, one of the things that attracted me to him, that he wants to cut down on nuclear weapons and eliminate them if they can. And let me tell you something: if you were to take our nuclear arsenal and say, “Look, we’re going to go down to 1,000 right now—600 operational, 400 in reserve,” you would have the support of a lot of military leaders, and it would save you about $20 billion a year, and you would also enhance America’s ability to stop proliferation in, you know, countries we would like from getting nuclear weapons.

JAY: Should Obama? And is there any reason why America has to be the military-supreme in the world? Can you start to question some of these assumptions? Can the United States be more of one of many countries? Does it have to have—I think it’s over 1,000 bases?

KORB: Well, I think what the United States has to do is have a military that supports its interests. The problem with the Bush approach was that we have to be militarily dominant regardless. Well, what’s your purpose of it? And Pentagon has talked about “We’re building capabilities.” Capabilities for what? The first thing you’ve got to do is have a national security strategy. Now, if you read Bush’s national security strategy, it was based on the doctrine not of preemption, preventive war, which says the United States reserves the right to use military force against any nation that it thinks could be a threat to it. And that was the justification for going into Iraq. So you go back to the doctrine of, you know, preemption, obviously, if somebody’s about to attack you. But, you know, using military power to further political ends, to deal with real threats, I think once you do that, then you’ll undermine the basis for the military-industrial complex, ’cause if my goal is dominance, I can justify building anything. I mean, if I want to be dominant, got to stay ahead of everybody, why not, you know, build this, this, and—?

JAY: And can Obama do that? Can he afford to do it politically in terms of American politics? But one would think Americans are ready for such a thing now.

KORB: Well, I think he can do it. And one of the reasons I’d hoped that he kept Secretary Gates on, it’ll be easier for Secretary Gates, having been appointed by a Republican president and worked for two Republican president, to go and do this. After all, when Secretary Gates said, you know, “I think we got enough F-22s,” the Bush administration wouldn’t let him close down the production line. So Obama can let him close down the production.

JAY: But we haven’t. So far, at least in the election campaign, although we’ve heard Obama promise or say, “We need a new mindset,” I don’t think we’ve heard a new mindset when during the Georgia-Russia conflict, which I think most people now recognize that Saakashvili kind of started it with a provocation in South Ossetia, we saw during the campaign McCain says, “I looked in Putin’s eyes, and I see KGB,” but Obama said, “Well, maybe they’re not the Evil Empire, but I see them doing evil.” This encirclement of Russia, the push towards getting Ukraine, Georgia into NATO, missiles in Poland, radar in Czech Republic, do you think Obama should put a stop to that kind of thing?

KORB: Well, it’s interesting that you mention that, because after the election, then-president elect Obama spoke to the Polish prime minister, and he came out and he said, oh, he supported putting the missiles and the radars in Eastern Europe, and then Obama’s spokesman said, “No, no, no, no. He’s not.” And I suspect what you’re going to see is they’re going to take another look at that, and they’ll basically slow-walk it and say, “Well, of course we want to do this eventually, but, you know, the system’s not ready now, funds are tight, and Congress will not appropriate the money,” in the same way with Georgia and Ukraine, the expansion of NATO, and say, “Well, eventually we’d like to, you know, do it,” but it’s not a big issue. I mean, Bush forced it on the agenda at NATO. This was not something the alliance was looking for. So you pull back, and you do it in such a way that you send the right signal to the Russians, because we’ve got big interests with the Russians. Help in Iran—we need their help to put sanctions on Iran to get Iran to stop their nuclear development. And the other is we need their help in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. That’s our two main interests. You should not let putting, you know, a system in Eastern Europe or expanding NATO at this time [inaudible]

JAY: So if the objective shouldn’t be dominance, should there then be sometimes in this next phase, four-year phase, a major cut to the military budget? And do you think is there any indication that he’ll do this?

KORB: I think the first thing you’re going to do is basically going to not keep up this almost-double-digit growth each year. And the second thing is that you will use the military as a stimulus, but not to buy weapons systems: to do military construction, family housing, fix up your bases, improve the [inaudible] and put the money that you were going to spend, say, in 2011, ’12, or ’13, spend it in 2010. That will be the emphasis, rather than “Oh, gee, we need to build a fighter plane or a bomber that we don’t need.” Let me tell you, this administration that just left office has led to the most poorly managed Pentagon I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been studying this for 40 years. I mean, the cost growth in the weapons systems is just unbelievable. And they’ve got to bring that under control and manage the Pentagon, you know, better.

JAY: You campaigned for Obama. Now you can kind of step back. He’s been elected. It doesn’t look like you’re going to get a job there right away. If you had to put a bar, a litmus test, that we have a new foreign policy here or same old same-old, what will be the test of that?

KORB: I think the first thing is whether he follows through on his campaign promise to start taking the combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months. I think that’s going to be a very key indicator. And then the other thing is whether he’ll review, and as he said in the campaign, all of the weapons systems on the Pentagon drawing board to see, you know, what we should go ahead—.

JAY: And should he open up talks with Iran?

KORB: Oh, I think very definitely. You’re going to have to talk to Iran eventually. And that’s one of the things that attracted me to him, the fact that he recognized you’ve got to talk to your enemies. I mean, this idea that somehow—it reminded me, as we were talking earlier here about President Reagan, when he started talking to Gorbachev. People like Newt Gingrich, who went on to become the speaker of the House, called him Neville Chamberlain. I’m thinking, you’ve got to talk to the Soviets. Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, we all talked. Not that we liked them, but you have to negotiate with them.

JAY: Thanks very much, Larry.

KORB: Thank you.

JAY: And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Senior Adviser to the Center for Defense Information. He served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics) under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985. In that position, he administered about seventy percent of the Defense budget.