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Paul Jay, Senior Editor of the The Real News, says that Trump’s North Korea diplomacy overshadows both his administration’s war-mongering on Iran and Koreans’ decisive efforts to make peace. Jay also discusses the partisan liberal angst over the prospect of reducing the U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula

Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

Returning from his summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, President Trump tweeted that there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Now, that is premature, as negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have just begun. But the summit is a step forward. The leaders of the U.S. and North Korea met for the first time, and Trump even pledged to halt war games on the Korean Peninsula.

DONALD TRUMP: I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have right now 32000 soldiers in South Korea. And I’d like to be able to bring them back home. But that’s not part of the equation right now. At some point I hope it will be, but not right now. We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see that the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative.

AARON MATE: Now, one of the countries voicing skepticism of Trump’s commitment to peace in Korea is Iran, which, based on its recent experience with the nuclear deal and Trump, has warned Kim not to get his hopes up. And Iran’s concerns raised another question. Even if there is an eventual deal with North Korea, could Trump and the right-wing hawks around him use that triumph as a cover for a war against Tehran? Well, joining me to discuss is Paul Jay, senior editor here at The Real News.

All right, Paul. So, interesting dynamics going on around this Trump-Kim summit. You have got partisan Democrats and liberals here in the U.S. voicing alarm at the sight pf Kim being treated as an equal, and Trump raising the prospect of withdrawing U.S. troops, and even halting war games. But at the same time also, not much attention is being paid to maybe possible ulterior motives by Trump and his people, and how this summit could be used for their agenda, including in Iran. And this is a point that you raised to me earlier this week. And I’m wondering if you expand on your thoughts on this issue, what you think Trump and his people might be up to here.

PAUL JAY: Well, I think you can’t judge what’s going on in North Korea without putting it into the overall strategy of both U.S. foreign policy in general, and in particular this clique that’s in charge of the White House right now. And if you want to understand the overall strategy, one only needs to go back to the document in the late 1990s, I think it was ’98. There was organization created, of which John Bolton, the former national-, the current national security adviser, was one of the people that helped create this document called the Project for a New American Century. And people like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Cheney were all part of this vision, and we saw how this vision got executed during the Bush administration.

And that’s essentially a vision that in the, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is now a single superpower. The world is a single superpower world, and should stay that way. And number two, the United States should use its military power to reshape the world as it would like it to be. Most specifically, regime changes in various countries, which includes Syria, I believe including Libya, and of course, the big target was Iran. The, the current cabal, which I include Trump in, is very focused on Iran. It’s the single issue that was really different from the Obama administration, where the Obama administration saw that it was worth reaching a compromise with Iran on the nuclear issue and accepting that Iran is a regional power. Even in the debates, the primary debates when Obama was there in the vice presidential debates, Biden, they both talked about you need to accept that Iran is now a real regional power, and that’s how life is.

Well, this group around Trump and the people they represent do not want to accept Iran as a regional power. And that, of course, includes Saudi Arabia and Netanyahu’s Israel. They want to weaken Iran as much as possible, so that if, so if nothing else, it’s a weak regional power. And they are very open about the fact that they would much prefer regime change. And how you get to regime change in Iran is you try to destabilize the place. You try to have sectarian warfare in Iran. You try to create an Iraq out of Iran internally. I don’t think at this point they’re talking about troops in Iran, but the people around Trump, especially John Bolton and Pompeo, but especially Bolton, who knows what they’re thinking, because who would imagine invading Iraq? But John Bolton was one of the architects of that.

John Bolton is a war criminal. I say that in every sense of the word. John Bolton helped fabricate, knowingly fabricate, evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, excuse me, in order to instigate a war that led to the deaths of at least a million civilians, millions of refugees, and more or less destruction of the country. John Bolton has suggested the same thing for North Korea. He was certainly very much in favor of destroying Libya. And he’s very much for regime change in Iran.

So now look at the issue of Korea in all this. Well, one of the, excuse me, one of the points of that Project for a New American Century document was that the American people have war fatigue after Vietnam. It’s very hard to launch military adventures when the American people have enough of this stuff. And it actually says in the document, this is late 1990s, that without another Pearl Harbor kind of event, Americans won’t support this kind of, they don’t use the word aggressive war, but that, that’s what it was. And lo and behold, we get a Pearl Harbor event on September 11, 2001. We can have a whole other conversation about how and who and how that took place, and it’s worthy of much more conversation that’s ever taken place in mass media. But that being said, North Korea is not part of the strategic vision of this administration. Everything goes back to getting ready for preparing public opinion for Iran, the same way post 9/11 everything was about Iraq.

So even though the attacks, to a large extent, were organized from Afghanistan, al Qaeda, bin Laden from Afghanistan, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, the war in Afghanistan and the chase for bin Laden was very secondary. It was even half-hearted because we know from all kinds of books and articles, and people from the administration that have said so, it was always about invading Iraq. Well, now it’s all about Iran. And so of course it’s not another 9/11 event. What this is is a big propaganda event. So what we have is a mutually advantageous propaganda event that helps make Trump look like a peacemaker. He’s not a completely rabid war hawk, which clearly with Bolton and Pompeo and others there he looks like, and is.

And so they get a propaganda win, and the North Koreans get a propaganda win. And lost in all this is two things. One, the real yearning and desire of the peoples of both South and North Korea for a real, genuine rapprochement and an end to this almost-war. And of course the other, what’s being ignored is what they have planned, which is essentially the destruction, if they can achieve it, of Iran as a modern society.

AARON MATE: Let me ask you, though, about what you make then of the hawkish pushback that Trump is getting from the right. And that right in this case, this week at least, includes Democrats in terms of them being upset at the prospect of withdrawing U.S. troops from Korea. And let me actually play a clip. This is a sample, a good sample, of the sort of liberal discourse that’s been going on on MSNBC. And it comes from a former NATO Commander James Stavridis. And he explained what he saw as the real reasons for us the U.S. troop presence in South Korea.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: We ought to remember, our troops are there not as an act of goodwill to South Korea. They are there to enhance U.S. influence in the region, to ensure that we keep those sea lanes of communication open, that are trade can flow freely, that we have a voice in the events there. For the exact same reason that we still have about 50000 troops in Europe. They’re not there as an act of goodwill. They’re there to accomplish U.S. national security objectives. So we draw them down at risk to those objectives. And it is very short-sighted to say, oh, yeah, this will be a twofer. We can reduce tension and save some money by getting our troops off the peninsula. Not the right way to think about this one.

AARON MATE: That’s former NATO Commander James Stavridis speaking to MSNBC. And I should clarify, that wasn’t actually a great sample of liberal opinion because he actually was honest there, Paul. He’s saying that we’re not there in South Korea for goodwill, we’re there so we can have influence and have a voice, and keep sea lanes open for our own good. So I’m wondering, your thoughts on what he’s saying there, and the overall reaction of liberal hawks when it comes to the prospect of reducing the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

PAUL JAY: Well, first of all, I agree with you. I think what he said is a more or less honest appraisal of why troops are actually in South Korea, and Europe, for that matter. It is for the geopolitical strategic objectives of traditional U.S. foreign policy, and how they see that Brzezinskian chessboard playing out. And of course in South Korea, it’s all about China. And so to have so many troops so near China is not something Pentagon and traditional foreign policy people are at all interested in.

I think there’s something specific happening here. And one, well, let me just say on the question of the base, U.S. troops in South Korea, so far it’s just a propaganda event. Trump lies 50 times a day. He sees these kinds of pronouncements as just tactical moves in terms of how he communicates his whims of the day. Not to say they don’t have a bigger plan, which again I say is Iran. But it doesn’t mean anything that he can make a promise that someday they’ll take these troops out. It’s dangling something as the great negotiator. But there is something going on that’s a little specific about Trump. They are so focused on the issue of a war against Islam, although they call Islamic terrorism or extremism. It’s truthfully not at all a war against Islam, really, because if it was you couldn’t, they couldn’t be so allied with Saudi Arabia. It’s really, again, as I say, about Iran. They can’t, do not want a major regional power that isn’t under American control.

So every, every time you want to talk about anything to do with foreign policy, you’ve got to work your way back from what does this mean in terms of Iran, and what does it mean in terms of China? And that includes the Trump strategy towards Russia. The traditional foreign policy establishment wants to maintain this new Cold War with Russia because it serves the arms industry to have an existential threat. You don’t need a dozen multibillion dollar Ford-class aircraft carriers to fight ISIS. You need a big power threat. You can’t have these kind of military budgets without without a Russia, and then later at some point China. So far the narrative from, from the foreign policy establishment is more focused, focused on Russia because the economic intermingling with China is just so complicated that they can’t raise the level of tension with China to the level they require.

So this is what’s kind of interesting about Trump, is Trump wants to lower tensions with Russia partly because he was involved with Tillerson and Exxon and a big energy play they want to do in Russia. They want to reopen, Putin was ready to kind of reopen Russian oil fields, and kind of, he wants to get back into the G8, Putin. They wanted the sanctions lower, lifted. And Trump was willing to play with Putin on this because his target is Iran and China. So lower tensions with Russia get focused on your strategic, strategic objective. This does not play well with the traditional foreign policy establishment, the neocons, who are very linked to the arms industry.

And then the Democrats, many of whom themselves are up to their eyeballs with the arms industry themselves, and they see partisan advantage. Because there’s such, so many decades of Cold War and Russian rhetoric they can play that card to see if they can wound Trump electorally. This is why, I think, you see Rachel Maddow going on and on and on about Russiagate, and Russia this and Russia that. Because, well, first of all it’s a ratings win. Look at how MSNBC is doing. You know, Fox throws red meat to their base, and now MSNBC is throwing meat, red meat to people that hate Trump.

AARON MATE: Paul, Paul, speaking of which, let me play for you a clip from Rachel Maddow just last night connecting the North Korea issue to Russia.

RACHEL MADDOW: Russia has just this tiny little border, 11 mile long border, with North Korea, with one crossing on a train. And they’ve got a troubled and varied history over the decades with that country. But Russia is also increasingly straining at its borders right now, and shoving back U.S. and Western influence, especially U.S. and Western military presence anywhere near what it considers to be its own geopolitical interests. And one of the things that they have started to loudly insist on is that the U.S. drop those joint military exercises with South Korea. The U.S. has kept those going as a pillar of U.S. national security strategy for 70 years now. Until last night, when Trump casually announced that that’s over now, he’s doing away with those. Blindsided everybody involved, and gave North Korea something they desperately want and would do almost anything for, except he gave it to him for free. How come?

AARON MATE: Paul, so there you go. You have the top liberal cable news host not just lamenting the possible end of U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which he says have been going on for 70 years since, by the way, the U.S. basically destroyed most of North Korea, but then also putting the blame for that development by Trump on Russia.

PAUL JAY: I hadn’t seen that clip. And it’s honestly, it’s astounding to me. I have seen how Rachel Maddow has, who will say anything to try to get on this anti-Russia bandwagon. But to go so far as to call this massive troop buildup a pillar of-, in South Korea a pillar of national security? How does this defend the borders of America, to have thousands of troops extending American power into Asia? That’s not national security. That’s empire. That’s trying to control the world. That’s trying to have your influence to try to dominate Asia, and not allow China, which is, again, a regional power. Not a global power, but the United States doesn’t even want obvious regional powers to emerge. And she calls that national security like South Korea, North Korea is a threat to the United States. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Even the intercontinental ballistic missiles are obviously there for defensive purposes. At the very least for negotiating- at the most for negotiating purposes. I mean, to throw a few missiles America’s way. I mean, what’s the answer? It’s the end of North Korea. I mean, it’s ridiculous to consider it a threat. So what is the real threat? What, China?

This is this is the thinking of neoconservatives. It’s the thinking of the Project for a New American Century. Rachel Maddow, this Rachel Maddow, would be at home in the Cheney-Bush administration. But it’s all about partisan advantage, because oh, she’ll critique Bush-Cheney over the Iraq war. Actually, I don’t know where she was in the buildup to the Iraq war. I actually don’t know what side of it she was on.

AARON MATE: She opposed it. She opposed it back then. But that’s that’s, it speaks to where we are now.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. It’s just partisan advantage. It’s ratings. And it’s horrible. Because it’s, it’s getting people’s eye off the real threats, which is look at what Trump said when he went to the CIA. Just a few weeks after he’s inaugurated he goes to the CIA, makes a public speech. We have it on The Real News. More than once we’ve we’ve reported on this. And he says to the CIA, which had time you had some conflict with. This is his kiss and make up meeting. He says, he says, you guys, number one, are going to be able to, quote, fight without restraint. That means don’t worry about killing civilians. And two, he says, I’m quoting almost verbatim, I always said we should have grabbed the oil in Iraq, and haha, he laughs, I think you guys are going to have a second chance.

So the idea of destabilizing, stabilizing, weakening Iran, perhaps even going after the oil in Iraq, which is the greatest source of light crude in the world right now that isn’t being exploited anywhere near to the extent it could be, the reshaping of the Middle East, the regime changes they want. I mean, this is where we’ve got to be looking at. We can’t get-, you know, what is a con man? A con man is a magician, which is look over here, look over here, look over here, because over here is where the real thing’s happening. And everyone’s either playing along with this Trump game, or even worse, what Rachel Maddow, with, with a kind of liberal mask, is actually pushing a John Bolton kind of hawkishness about Russia.

AARON MATE: Paul Jay, senior editor of The Real News, thanks very much.

PAUL JAY: Any time.

AARON MATE: And by the way, we are launching our summer fundraising drive. We cannot do this content without you, our viewers, so please go to our website to support us. Thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Paul Jay

Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.