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Russia and China are responding to “perceived US unilateralism and interventionism” – Paul Jay joins Taya Graham to analyze the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community

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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, reporting for The Real News Network.

There is a 42-page statement called the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, and it is causing controversy. This is a critical report that reflects the thinking of all the American intelligence agencies on threats posed to U.S. security. But some of the key points seem to be at odds with the policies of the Trump administration, and in fact, they may exaggerate the balance of power.

Here to discuss this with me is Paul Jay, the editor-in-chief. So, Paul, we’re going to focus on this report. First, give me some of your takeaways from it.

PAUL JAY: Well, there’s a lot in this report. And I haven’t read the whole report. But something jumps out at me which is simply being completely underreported in the corporate media. I would say two big issues. Number one, the reportage, the analysis of the report on Iran continues the view of the American intelligence agencies that Iran is not building a bomb. And that has been lost in the coverage of the report. Now, you can find it in some of the newspaper reporting, but especially on CNN and MSNBC they’ve been focusing on the reports talking about North Korea not really wanting to give up its bomb program. They’ve been talking about the lack of discussion about that there isn’t a national security threat at the Mexican-American border, so why have a wall.

Which is all true. That’s what is and isn’t in the report. But it’s by far not the most significant stuff in the report. And I think the most significant piece of the report is the part about Iran. You do find this, to some extent, in the print. And you know, you can find it in a New York Times article, Washington Post article, kind of where the elites get their news. But where the mass audience gets their news you barely hear that according to this report Iran is not building a bomb. It has not violated the nuclear agreement with the United States and the other European countries.

And here’s a quote from the report. “We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device. However, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to reverse some of Iran’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commitments.” That’s the deal made with Obama.

So, essentially, it’s the abrogation of the treaty that’s causing the possibility that Iran might start to develop some kind of movement towards a nuclear weapon. So it’s Trump that’s created the situation that’s made the world more dangerous, if, in fact, Iran actually even has a plan to move towards a nuclear weapon, which is entirely not clear, because back in–and let me just say, there’s a long history of American governments, and certainly the media, completely ignoring what the American intelligence community says about Iranian nuclear weapons. Back in 2007 there was a national intelligence estimate which, in defiance of the Bush administration at the time, the same way this one kind of upsets the Trump administration, said that Iran had stopped building a bomb in 2003 and that there is no evidence that there was a weapons program after 2003.

And as far as I understand, I’m no expert on this, but my understanding, talking to experts, that there has never been any evidence that they are building a bomb. There may be some evidence that they were approaching the potential of a breakout possibility. But even Joe Biden said, and anyone that followed this, said it would take a year to five years to actually go from the breakout to actually accomplishing a bomb. Which is–when you listen to the Trump administration, you listen to people like Lindsey Graham, or even people on the Democratic Party side like Chuck Schumer, and certainly Netanyahu in Israel, the idea is they’re furiously making a bomb in Iran. And that even after this agreement with Obama they were secretly making a bomb. It’s really ridiculous.

TAYA GRAHAM: So if Trump and Netanyahu are absolutely disagreeing with this report–they’re saying that Iran is not living up to its part of this agreement–what kind of impact is this report going to have when the Trump administration, its policies, everything he says completely contradicts it?

PAUL JAY: Well, I think their approach will be the way the Bush administration dealt with the earlier national intelligence estimate, which is to bury it, to ignore it. And this is what happened in the–already, as I say, on CNN and MSNBC, the mass media is already not even talking about this Iran provision. But there’s an important part of the report–and we’ve been saying this on The Real News for a long time–they’re not really concerned, ‘they’ being the military-industrial complex, the foreign policy complex, the congressional-foreign policy-military-industrial complex, they’re not really worried about a nuclear weapons program in Iran because they know there never really has been one that’s anywhere near a bomb, even if they were trying, which is not clear. What they really are concerned is about Iran’s regional strength; the power of Iran in the region and its U.S. foreign policy not to allow contending regional powers. They don’t like it in the Middle East in that area with Iran. They don’t like the fact that Russia is a power in that region. They certainly don’t like China as a power in Asia. But they particularly don’t like Iran as a power outside the American sphere of influence.

So what they’re really concerned about Iran is that Iran is developing the capability of defending itself against regime change. And so here’s another quote from the report.

“Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat,” get this, “pose a threat to countries across the Middle East. Iran’s work on a space launch vehicle, including on its [simorg],” I’m sure I’m pronouncing it incorrectly, “shortens the timeline to an ICBM because as SOVs and ICBMs use similar technologies.” They don’t like that Iran is developing enough ballistic missile power–not nuclear, conventional, but still formidable–that if they’re attacked, the counterattack will be very significant. And those missiles might hit Saudi Arabia, those missiles might hit Israel. They might hit American bases in one place or another. But it’s clearly defensive. In a million years one cannot imagine that Iran will start firing missiles at either Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or an American base as a first strike. Because what happens next? There’s no Iran after that. I mean, it’s clear that the United States–to some extent Israel. I don’t know if it goes nuclear. But even if it stays conventional there’d be little left of an Iran if there is an all-out bombing assault on Iran, which would surely follow an offensive first strike by Iran against any of the U.S. allies or countries within their sphere of influence.

And that’s a theme that actually runs throughout the report. The so-called adversaries of the United States–Russia, China, Iran–are actually in a defensive posture.

TAYA GRAHAM: I wanted to ask you about that, because when I was looking at this report it talks about China having defensive development, and developing a second strike capability. But isn’t the U.S. actually developing first strike capability? Why is it being framed in this way?

PAUL JAY: Well, let’s start with the first point. If you look at the report–and they describe both Chinese and Russian intent–it’s clearly also defensive.

Here are some quotes from the report. Right from the very beginning, in the forward to the report, it says this: China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s. Now, that’s very significant. There’s been a lot of contention between Russia and China, certainly during the times of Mao Tse tung and the Soviet Union. China denounced the Soviet Union, and there-it almost came close to war at times. And there are some disputed territories between Russia and China. The militaries have faced off against each other. There’s there’s a lot of, you know, reasons, sort of, why they could be contending, but they’re not. They’re becoming more allied with each other. And why? Here’s–it says in the report. “The relationship is likely to strengthen in the coming year as some of their interests and threat perceptions converge.” Get the word ‘perceptions,’ as if it’s not real. And here’s the next sentence; again the word ‘perception,’ sort of. “Particularly regarding perceived U.S. unilateralism and interventionism.” As if this is only perceived; you know, there’s no real interventions going on. I mean, what’s going on in Venezuela is just a perception, it’s not an intervention. The recognition of the Honduran coup is not an intervention, it’s just a perception. I mean, we can go on in terms of-

TAYA GRAHAM: The framing is very interesting.

PAUL JAY: The American unilateralism and interventionism, from Syria–and go on and on. Anyway, let me continue reading. “Perceived U.S. unilateralism, interventionism, and Western promotion of democratic values and human rights.” Well, of course, that’s what the United States–when they project power it’s always about democratic values and human rights. We know what that really means. It’s the democratic values, the democratic right that American capital gets to go wherever it wants to go. And if American capital isn’t dominant then it’s not democratic. If they really gave a damn about democracy and human rights, then how is the pillars of power in the Middle East for the United States Saudi Arabia? Where’s the democratic values? Israel and the occupation? Where’s the democratic values? And you can go on from there. And all these nurturing of these right wing governments in Latin America now. I mean, the guy–the new president of Brazil is threatening to be Philippines-like, like Duerte, and starting arrests and shooting people.

And so democratic values is simply about the ability of American capital to be dominant. And they don’t actually give a damn what the political institutions for the people of those countries are. It’s all rhetoric.

TAYA GRAHAM: So couldn’t people make the argument that there really are expansionistic policies on the part of Russia and China? For example, Russia’s pushing into Crimea and the Ukraine. And then China actually has an economic strategy called the 2025 plan that’s this huge economic push. Couldn’t you make the argument they are making expansionist plans as well?

PAUL JAY: Well, in general, no doubt.


PAUL JAY: Russia is a capitalist power, and China is a state capitalist power. And it’s the nature of big capitalist powers to expand. So in a general way, absolutely. I think Crimea is a very exceptional case, even Kissinger said that, because of the history that Crimea was given by the Soviet Union to the Ukraine, and they took it back. And one can argue that it wasn’t done properly, or not. But it’s a very exceptional story, Crimea.

But as a mid-sized capitalist power, does it want to expand? Of course it does. I mean, Canada wants to expand. Canada has banks in the Caribbean. Canadian mining companies are all over South America, Latin America, completely ruining the environment, involved in developing the corrupt politics of the local oligarchy. It’s in the very nature of capitalist powers of one size or another to want to expand. They’re ruled by elites and oligarchies who want to be the winning monopolies, the most successful rich people in the world. And you know, the Chinese billionaires compete with the American billionaires, and so on.

So yeah, of course they want to expand. But in this–at least in this historical period, it could change. The dominant power, and certainly the dominant military power, is the United States. There’s simply no comparison. And none of these countries, whether it’s China, or Russia, or Canada, have committed crimes against international law against humanity. You can’t even compare to what the United States has done. If you take the Iraq war-

TAYA GRAHAM: You can’t say they haven’t committed crimes against international law.

PAUL JAY: I’m not saying they have. I’m taking up the scale. You can’t compare. The United States, in terms of the Iraq War, in terms of acquiring and nurturing the Saudis and Turkish interventions in Syria, which destroyed Syria–I mean, the U.S. policy has more or less destroyed Syria, destroyed Iraq, destroyed Libya. I mean, there’s nothing the other powers–listen, if history had been different, and it may be different–you know, who knows where China, you know, where the balance of forces will be in 50 years, or 75 years. It’s not like in some nature of the DNA that Americans are evil. It’s the dominant power. And the dominant power fights to maintain its dominance. And if China was the dominant power, you know, who knows what they might do. But they’re not the dominant power.

And we, as people who are–and peoples of the world that are getting destroyed by these U.S. policies need to speak out. And at the moment, when Russia and China push back on U.S. policies, like over Venezuela, where they are refusing to play ball on recognizing this imposter as president and don’t want to recognize or support American interference in Venezuela, I don’t know what their intention is. And I’m not saying there is something pure about the intent. But it doesn’t matter, because right now in the balance of forces it’s very important to defend the principle of non-interference. And given where the balance of forces are, even this report makes it clear that Russia and China are in a defensive posture, not an aggressive posture, towards the United States. And that’s a critical concept for Americans to get, because the narrative of the military-industrial complex right from World War II on is that we Americans are, you know, the Soviets are out to get us. The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming. They’re on the attack. They’re going to take over Europe. They’re going to take over the United States.

But like, you asked about China. So here’s another quote from the report. Well, one of the things it says about China is China has the ability to launch cyber attacks that caused localized temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure, such as disruption of a natural gas pipe pipeline for days to weeks in the United States. Now, imagine, why and when would China ever want to disrupt natural gas pipelines in the United States? Let’s assume this is true. They have that capacity. China owns more than $1 trillion of U.S. debt. The whole GDP of China is somewhere north of $12 trillion. One twelfth of the whole GDP of China is tied up in owning American T bills. Do they want to destroy the American economy? How much of China’s economy is dependent on the American market for products? I mean, this trade war that’s going on now, it’s hurting the Chinese economy just to have these tariffs. You’re going to destroy your market and cut off, disrupt natural gas pipelines for days to weeks only as a defensive measure. Only as a second strike capability. It would never be, you know, oh, we want to destroy America because we hate your values. I mean, what a crock. There’s another example.

So maybe the most overt recognition of China in a defensive posture in relationship to the United States–and remember that that Steve Bannon–and this is Trump’s real ideology, and Bannon’s the real person that articulates, I think, what Trump believes–sees China as the real threat to the United States. But this report defies that idea in this way. And here’s the quote.

“China continues its multi-year effort to modernize its nuclear missile forces, including deploying sea-based weapons, improving its road-mobile and silo-based weapons, and testing hypersonic glide vehicles.” Here’s the key line. “These new capabilities are intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent by providing a second strike capability,” get that, second strike capability, “and a way to overcome missile defenses.”

Second strike capability means you’re ready to defend yourself against a first strike. There’s no attempt on the part of China to develop first strike technology.

TAYA GRAHAM: So my question is why is the media focusing so much on China’s defensive position, them developing second strike capability, as opposed to looking at the U.S. developing first strike capability?

PAUL JAY: Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s–that goes to the very heart of the whole mythology of American foreign policy, and almost all the media buys into this, that America is this defender of democracy, and were always threatened because of our values. And these non-democracies would like to destroy us, and all this.

The truth is the country that’s really developing first strike capabilities is the United States. It’s not new. It’s from the very beginning of the development of the nuclear arsenals. People should watch the series I did with Daniel Ellsberg. It may be one of the most important things we’ve ever done on The Real News Network. And Ellsberg makes it clear that in the late 1950s, into 1960, ’61, when they were talking about a missile gap–you know, they said the Russians had, like, a thousand missiles, and the United States only has 200, and we’re going to get destroyed. And it turned out that the Soviet Union had four missiles at the time, and never had neither a plan to try to dominate the world through a nuclear threat, and also never had a plan to invade Western Europe, the whole rationale for NATO, and all that. A total crock.

But who is got, what, 600 or more military bases all over the world? Who is developing nuclear weapons with first strike capability? And very concerning, and Trump has ordered a new nuclear weapon which has already gone into production, which is a new, very low-yield nuclear weapon, but something around half of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Which means they really have some intent to use this on the battlefield, or at least to threaten somebody with it. And I don’t think they’re going to threaten Russia and China with it. This is to threaten like an Iran that if you screw with us, you don’t do what we want, you don’t submit. Because will Russia and China step in with an all-out nuclear war that will end life on Earth? And it will. Any–even the small H-bomb war ends life on Earth, as far as we know. But a small low-yield bomb dropped into an Iran, maybe Russia and China don’t do anything about it. And so it becomes a real weapon to threaten mid-sized powers that don’t want to come under American dominance.

And that weapon’s actually in production as we speak. They’re getting ready to let go–and it’s not the first small tactical bomb the United States has created. But if I understand it correctly it’s smaller, which makes it more usable.

TAYA GRAHAM: Well, that is incredibly disturbing, but … That’s incredibly disturbing. But what’s interesting is that Elizabeth Warren has just crafted a No First Use bill. So there is some push in the United States to make this pledge, no, we are not going to be the ones to first use any sort of nuclear weapons. How does that work now that you’ve just told me about this sort of small size or mid-sized nuclear weapon that President Trump is currently working on? How does a no-first-use bill work with that knowledge?

PAUL JAY: Exactly. I mean, it’s Warren, and I believe Lee and Markey, have this bill. It would say there’s no point building these if they were to pass a bill that says no first strike. You get rid of this stuff because then you can’t threaten people. And then if you, you know, if we pass a bill like that then you say, well, let’s not spend money on these small tactical bombs, because they are only first strike weapons. Of course, the only real solution is there has to be a massive reduction in the nuclear stockpile. Not what the United States and Russia are planning to do, which is spend about a trillion dollars over the next 30 years, most of it in the next 10 years, to enlarge and upgrade and modernize their nuclear weapons–when it would take 10 or 15 to end life on Earth.

And in fact, it’s interesting. According to Daniel Ellsberg, China is actually only building a handful. They’ve only got a very small number of bombs.

TAYA GRAHAM: You only need a handful.

PAUL JAY: You only need a handful. So why build these great big arsenals? Because it makes money. Because the companies that are making this stuff are making a fortune making these weapons. And the problem is they’re making money, but the more you increase the numbers of these bombs, the more you increase the possibility of accidental use of these bombs. I don’t think anybody’s mad enough in any of any country, frankly, to start a war that ends all life on Earth in a deliberate, conscious way. But the possibility of accidental accidental nuclear war goes up the more bombs you got. And we’re building more and more. It’s a very dangerous situation, and it’s very good to see Warren and these others supporting a bill like that, because for a long time people have just been in denial about the threat of this.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now, let me switch gears a little bit and ask you about Venezuela. Where does Venezuela show up in this report on security threats?

PAUL JAY: Well, it doesn’t. That’s the whole point. And the whole idea of non-interference is you’re only allowed to take measures against the country if it’s threatening you. And that’s why at the UN a lot of the countries that oppose the American position on Venezuela were saying you’re violating the UN Charter, because Venezuela is no threat to you. Well, there’s no–there’s nothing in this report that Venezuela is a threat to the United States. So again, it’s an aggressive posture by the United States that’s the problem. Whatever the problems are of the Maduro government it’s up to the Venezuelans to figure it out.

TAYA GRAHAM: OK, Paul, well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

TAYA GRAHAM: And thank you for joining me at The Real News Network.

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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.