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The American Empire: Maintaining Hegemony Through Wars

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University.
US foreign Policy, Peter Kuznick, Ankita Mukhopadhyay, American foreign policy, Donald Trump, American presidents, US president, US hegemony, American Empire, US politics news

Washington, DC © RozenskiP

November 03, 2020 18:14 EDT

In January, the US assassinated Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force, in an airstrike on Iraqi soil. General Soleimani was seen as the main pillar of the regional resistance bulwark in Iran. He was revered by many Iranians as a brave defender of the nation and a mastermind of asymmetrical warfare — the cornerstone of Iran’s security doctrine.

His death sparked frenzy and unrest in the Middle Eastern country, further straining the US and Iran’s delicate relationship. The assassination of Soleimani revealed that the US was willing to go to any extent to prove its military might over its self-declared enemies.

Under President Donald Trump, the US has used several measures for the last few years to demonstrate American power over the world. From Soleimani’s killing to the imposing of tariffs on China to pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, the US has disrupted the world order and threatens to continue doing so.

Will Donald Trump’s Bad Deals Cost Him the Election?


In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington, DC. Kuznick speaks about the most important foreign policy areas for a US president, America’s raging desire to wage war, why the US has a fraught relationship with Iran, and how the US can mend its relationship with North Korea.

The transcript has been edited for clarity. This interview took place in early 2020.

Ankita Mukhopadhyay: With the US elections looming on the horizon, what should be the key areas of focus in foreign policy for the US president?

Peter Kuznick: The danger is that the new president of the US will be the old president. Trump will get reelected. However, Trump has not been as catastrophic when it comes to foreign policy as we feared he might be. He started off with a good idea, that the US and Russia should be friends. No one understands why he took that position, given that he is mostly wrong on everything else. Most of my Russian colleagues and friends were supporting Donald Trump during the 2016 election. I asked one member of the Russian Senate why did he and everyone else support Trump. He said because Trump wants to be friends with Russia.

I told him he was being naive as what Trump says and does usually has no connection. Hillary Clinton was terrible too in her own way. She was very hostile to Russia and too hawkish for my taste. But I believe she’s a reasonable, rational actor. Donald Trump is potentially quite reckless. If we see what he’s done — with the recent confrontation with Iran, be it the tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA), which Obama negotiated with the help of several other countries like Russia and China.

Trump wasted little time in tearing that up. He’s been pushing for a confrontation with Iran ever since. The danger is: Trump’s advisers didn’t agree on a lot of things, but what they agreed on is that they hate Iran. It was striking to me that Jim Mattis, who had been demoted by Obama because he was such a hawk when it came to Iran, was actually a restraining influence in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, said when he was fired that he was sick and tired of trying to be stopped on what [he] wanted to do against Iran. Tillerson referred to Trump as a fucking moron because of his hawkish policies.

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Let’s be optimistic that Trump is winning again. Whether he will lose depends on who the Democratic candidate is. My priorities are number one, the New START [Strategic Arms Reduction] treaty. The New START treaty is set to expire in February 2021. That would be a disaster. It will dismantle the world’s nuclear arms control architecture. It began with the US leaving the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty in 2002, it accelerated with the US pulling out of the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] treaty last year. The only thing in place is the New START treaty that puts limits on the number of nuclear warheads and delivery systems that both sides are allowed to maintain.

Trump intends to end this treaty. This is evident from his phone conversation with Putin. The Russian leader said to Trump, we should renew the New START treaty. Trump said hold on, he put down the phone and asked people in the room, what’s the New START treaty? He didn’t even know what it was. He got on the phone and said: It’s not a good treaty, we don’t want to renew it. Putin has been pushing ever since for the renewal. The US and Russia have about 93% of the world’s nuclear weapons between them. In March 2018, Putin revealed [Russia’s five most powerful] nuclear weapons, all of which can circumvent US missile defense. China has only 290 nuclear weapons, and China has a no-first-use policy. China is not a threat to the world order like the US and Russia. Now Trump says, we should rip the START treaty up.

In February 2018, the US released its nuclear posture review to expand the role of nuclear weapons. The problem of using nuclear weaponry goes back to the era of Barack Obama. Obama had implemented a trillion-dollar modernization program to make nuclear weapons more deadly. Trump inherited this, but he’s added more insanity.

Another area where Trump has been criminally reckless is global warming and climate change. The second thing the new US president should do is convene a new international conference on climate change. We have to do this as we can’t go along with the Paris Climate Accord — it’s far too minimal. We got to have a crash program to deal with this crisis.

If the new president doesn’t want to keynote the conference, let’s get Greta Thunberg to do it, but we need to take it as seriously as she takes it. There’s a lot more we can do beyond that. We have to deal with the militarization of the planet. We have to deal with the fact that the richest eight [people] of the world have more money than 3.8 billion people. There’s a crisis of epic proportions.

As a US president, I want to see the US military footprint drastically cut back. The US has 800 military bases in the world. Other countries have maybe 29 overseas military bases combined, while China has one. Right now, we have Trump saying make America great again, Putin saying make Russia great again, Xi Jinping saying make China great again, Narendra Modi saying make India great again. We have got nobody who thinks and speaks for the planet.

Mukhopadhyay: The US has been particularly stern with Iran’s nuclear policy, despite building its own nuclear arsenal. Trump has already torn up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). What will happen if Iran doesn’t rein in its nuclear program?

Kuznick: It was absolute insanity on Trump’s behalf to tear up the JCPOA deal. It was a good deal and it would have constrained Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years. During that time, we could have done many things to bring Iran back into the international community. They were supposed to get economic benefits as a result of the JCPOA, but Trump imposed more sanctions. The Europeans were furious because not only did Trump impose sanctions on Iran, but Trump threatened very harsh penalties on any country — including India — that continued to trade with Iran, especially for oil. The Europeans eventually tried to set up an alternative international banking system to trade with Iran outside of the US orbit.

The US goes around sanctioning everybody. It’s out of control. The sanctions against Russia, Europe, Iran, China — it’s crazy. People need to be sanctioning the US. When the US acts like a rogue power, the rest of the world needs to stop being cowards and hypocrites and employ the same standard the US applies on other countries.

Countries need to be standing up to the US. The US can’t be a pariah as much as it wants because it’s so powerful. I don’t like this cowardly behavior. In the US, TV commentators say Russian interference in the 2016 election was an act of war. It’s such hypocritical behavior. I don’t approve of Russia’s interference in US politics, but the US interferes in everybody’s elections. They have been doing so since 1947 when the CIA was founded. The commentators condemn what’s happening to the US, but they don’t see what the US is doing on a global scale.

On the Iran deal, we don’t get as much criticism as necessary for tearing this up and creating havoc. The US in the early 2000s, under George W. Bush, was itching for a war with Iran and wanted to take down Iran’s nuclear facilities using nuclear weapons. When that got exposed, the joint chief of staff threatened to resign and they took that proposal off the table.

Let’s back up a little bit to understand Iran. I will go back to 1990. In 1990, Charles Krauthammer, a leading neoconservative thinker, in the Henry Jackson address, called it America’s unipolar moment. He said that after the collapse of the Soviet empire, nobody can challenge the US — economically, geopolitically. The US must recognize that and assert itself everywhere.

Krauthammer said this unipolar moment could last 30-40 years. In 1993, neoconservative thinkers came up with a defense planning guidance so that no country should be allowed to emerge in any region to challenge the US globally. They walked back when this was released in The New York Times.

The neoconservatives cheered the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Krauthammer revisited his article and said that he underestimated the strength of the US. It’s the unipolar era. It’s going to last indefinitely. The neoconservatives were ecstatic. Even before the invasion of Iraq, on January 5, 2003, the NYT headline was, “American empire, get used to it.” Then we invade Iraq. Now they are saying, well we have got to have regime change in a lot of places. Start with Syria, Libya, Somalia and Lebanon.

Iran was always on everyone’s hitlist. Iran did abandon its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But US never abandoned its dream of overthrowing Iran.

Mukhopadhyay: Is the dissatisfaction with Iran and the JCPOA to do with overthrowing the government?

Kuznick: For that, we need to understand the American mentality. The Americans accuse Russia of interfering in the 2016 election. In fact, the Israelis interfered more than Russia in the 2016 election. Benjamin Netanyahu openly campaigned for Trump, opposed the JCPOA and addressed a joint session of Congress. Obama knew that he couldn’t even get the JCPOA passed through Congress as a treaty, with a two-third majority, so he had to say that it was a deal to get it through with a simple majority.

Once the Republicans got in there, one of the first things we wanted was to tear it up. Trump knew nothing about the deal, and he is an idiot. It’s a crisis of America’s own making. Trump said he will negotiate a better deal. He’s a disaster when it comes to negotiating, as we see with North Korea.

Then Iran responded, we got a couple of incidents in the Gulf there, shooting down an American drone — things were heating up already. The reason the US wanted to take the Korea issue of the table is to focus on Iran. The killing of Soleimani on January 3, 2020, was very dangerous and very reckless.

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I am glad that some people acted with diplomatic aplomb and eased the crisis there because many of us feared that we would go to war [with Iran]. It was a disaster for US policy and a disaster for the world.

What kind of principle do you establish that you can go around killing anyone with our drones (shame on Obama for legitimizing that) and even killing American citizens without due process. But to take out a leader of another country — the second most powerful and respected person in Iran, a top general — was to force Iran to take military action. Fortunately, Iran didn’t take Trump’s bait. Iran had a measured, limited response when they hit two American bases in retaliation.

At that time, had Iran retaliated in any other way, the US was set to strike. Iran has capabilities throughout the region — they can hit Israel, they can hit American bases, they can use Hezbollah, they have proxy bases in Syria. Fortunately, they didn’t do that. However, like India and Pakistan, this can erupt at any point.

Iran is going to retaliate at some time. Iranians were out on the street asking for military action against the US after the death of Soleimani. Americans need to understand that Iran is not Iraq. We underestimate what a war with Iran would mean. A war with Iran will be 10 times costlier than the war in Iraq was militarily and in terms of human lives. Iran is a bigger country, with 80 million people, much bigger capabilities and a much more competent military. If someone thinks that Iran is going to be like the “cakewalk” in Iraq (which we are still not out of, 17 years later), they are terribly mistaken.

Iran has increasingly abrogated its own part of the nuclear deal. It was a great deal. They shipped 97% of their nuclear material outside of Iran. They mothballed most of their centrifuges. They shut down the Iraq plutonium facility. Now, they are increasingly bringing more centrifuges, raising the level to which they can enrich, and this is a crisis of Trump’s making. It’s off the headlines in the US recently — that’s not going to last forever. There are people in this cabinet, in this administration, who believe that a war would be good for Trump’s reelection.

They might miscalculate that this may help them. This is why people were suspicious when Soleimani was assassinated. Why did Trump do this? Why did he do it now? Bush and Obama had looked into knocking off Soleimani and decided to not do it because the repercussions would be horrendous. The speculation around Trump is that he is trying to distract the people from the other crisis.

Mukhopadhyay: Why is waging war so important in American foreign policy? How does this war-centric mentality affect the US’ relationship with other countries?

Kuznick: The American empire is based on military presence everywhere. India would not define something that happens in Central America as part of its national security concerns. The US does. In January 2018, the US changed its national security strategy. Before that, the US said that global terrorism was the main threat to American national security. In January 2018, the US announced that Russia and China posed the greatest threat to national security.

The US under Trump sees the world as a zero-sum game. Anything that Russia or China gains anywhere is a loss to the US, in terms of trade, geopolitics or military. The US wants to maintain this global empire through Boeing, BAE, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and the American defense contractors.

For example, they make billions of dollars in weapon sales to India. India is a country that should not be spending billions of dollars in weapon sales when they have so many social needs. This is what [Dwight] Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex in 1961, that it has a disproportionate influence on American policymaking. Every drone shot is money in someone’s pocket.

One of the things we were hearing in the US Senate in the 1930s was to nationalize the defense sector. Why should people make money off killing? It makes no sense to me. The second level is American hegemony and American global domination. Look at America’s wars. The US wants to control the economy all over the world. Why are we involved in Central America and Afghanistan? It is estimated that Afghanistan has mineral resources worth a trillion dollars. Look at the rare earths, the pipelines that go through that region. On one hand, it’s just naked economics and that’s always a factor.

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Trump wants Iran’s oil, Syria’s oil and Iraq’s oil. He said that we should maintain our control over Syria’s oil. Which is why he shifted the American troops from the western part of Syria to the eastern part of Syria — to the oil-rich zone. That’s the way he feels. A lot of American policymakers feel the same way.

During the Iraq War, one of the most popular signs was, “what is our oil doing under their sand?” We wanted the Iraqi oil, we thought we deserved it. And this goes back to [Franklin D.] Roosevelt. In 1944, he said to Lord Halifax, the British ambassador, that Saudi oil will belong to the US, Iranian oil will belong to the British and we will share Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil. So, when Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalizes the oil industry in Iran, the British freak out and Americans freak out.

The problems with Iran run back to 1953, when the Central Intelligence Agency ran a coup to overthrow Mosaddegh. Why? Because the Anglo-Iranian oil company, which had 100% of Iranian oil, was giving the Iranians 16 cents on the dollar. The British were keeping 84 cents on the dollar. The Iranians were very impoverished as a result. Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia negotiated a new deal and they got 50 cents on the dollar. That infuriated the Iranians even further. They did what the British had done a few years earlier — they nationalized the oil industry. The British were outraged and decided they had to overthrow Mosaddegh.

Mosaddegh was immensely popular. He featured as Time magazine’s man of the year in 1951. The US ambassador in Tehran wrote back to Washington that Mosaddegh had the support of 95 to 98% of the Iranian people. He was a hero throughout the Middle East for standing up to the imperialists. [Harry] Truman hesitated, but in 1953, when Eisenhower took office, he ran Operation Ajax and overthrew Mosaddegh. They had terrorist gangs, the CIA bought out the military leaders — it was outrageous — and then they brought the shah.

The shah ruled for another 25 years through a brutal dictatorship. He used SAVAK, the Iranian intelligence agency, in order to impose domination in Iran, and then in 1979, the Iranians finally overthrew the shah and imposed their religious-nationalist regime under [Ruhollah] Khomeini. The people of Iran will obviously retaliate against the CIA. Especially after the US allowed the shah into the US for medical treatment.

[Jimmy] Carter had proposed that the Iranians should develop their own nuclear power industry. The US was giving them nuclear fuel and wanted to build 12 nuclear reactors in Iran. And then we say it’s outrageous, why do they need nuclear power when they have all this oil? We pushed them to do that.

The history of US-Iranian relations goes back further than 1979. If you look at the American media, when all this was happening, some people who were sensible traced it back to 1979. Any Iranian would trace it back to 1953. How would the Americans feel if Iran came here to depose a popular American president and replace him with a brutal dictator? The Iranians have got legitimate grievances against the US, not the other way around, obviously.

Americans don’t know history. Which is why we have a low attention span. Talk about America and the endless wars. Start with the two big ones. Americans don’t know anything about the Korean War. It’s called the forgotten war in the US. Americans don’t know that millions of people died in that war. The Americans bombed the crap out of both Koreas. In 1951, the British annual military yearbook said that because of America’s bombing, South Korea doesn’t exist as a country anymore.

We burned down almost all cities in South Korea and North Korea — and people were living in caves. It was horrific what the US did there. It was four times the number of bombs dropped in Japan and the Pacific in World War II.

That was a nightmare for the Koreans and they remember it. The Koreans have a very different historical memory. The North Koreans have drilled the war into their heads. There are billboards, museums about what the US did during the Korean War. It is a very different historical memory as compared to the Americans. The Americans have no historical memory.

Let me give you another example. The American and Russian understanding of World War II is completely different. For the US, World War II starts with Pearl Harbor. Then there’s a hiatus and we get involved a little in North Africa.

But the real war for the Americans begins on June 6, 1944, with D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. The Americans bravely take the beaches, which we did. The Americans march to Berlin, defeat the Germans, win the war in Europe and the Americans are the heroes of World War II.

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The Russian narrative is quite different. The war there begins with the German invasion [of the Soviet Union] on June 22, 1941, when they looked at the US for economic support for war material, which the US promised but couldn’t deliver. The US couldn’t deliver it because we thought that Europe is built on military industries and partly because of sabotage.

We promised them the second front in late May 1942, but we didn’t open it up till 1944. The Russians know who won the war in Europe.

The Germans lost 1 million on the western front, 6 million on the eastern front. I once did an anonymous survey with college students and I asked them: How many Americans died in World War II? The median answer I got was 90,000. OK, so they were just 300,000 off. I asked them: How many Soviets died in WW2? The median answer was 100,000. Which means they were only 27 million off.

Which means these kids know nothing about World War II, they can’t understand what the Cold War was about, they can’t understand Ukraine now. That’s what Americans suffer from — a complete lack of understanding of history. In 2007, the national report card found that American high school seniors performed the worst in US history. Only 12% of high school seniors were found to be proficient in US history. Not outstanding, just proficient.

What we found out from that survey is that even that number is bogus because only 2% could identify what the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case was about, even though it was obvious from the way the question was worded. It’s obvious that Americans are historically ignoramuses. That’s why Oliver Stone and I did the “Untold History” project to educate people about their own history.

Americans know nothing about the Korean War, they don’t even remember Vietnam anymore. When Robert McNamara, the former US secretary of defense, came into my class, he told the students that he now accepts the fact that 3.8 million Vietnamese died in the war. But common Americans have no understanding of that.

Mukhopadhyay: Not just Vietnam, even Laos and Cambodia saw a heavy death toll in the Vietnam war, right?

Kuznick: Laos, Cambodia — the whole region was a disaster. The Vietnam War memorial in Washington has got the names of 58,280 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. The tragedy of Vietnam is that 58,280 Americans died. What they should have on that memorial is the name of 3.8 million Vietnamese, along with millions of Cambodians and Laotians, British, Australians, South Koreans — everyone who died. Right now, the wall is 492-feet long. If they include the names of everyone who died, the wall would be eight-miles long.

The scary thing is that in a poll, 15-20% of students said that the Vietnam War was necessary to fight. These are 18 to 29-year-old people who love Bernie Sanders. These are the ones who are opposed to war generally, but they don’t know history.

Mukhopadhyay: Why do people have such contradictory views about war in the US?

Kuznick: Part of the reason you have these wars is: one, they are profitable; two, they allow the US to maintain hegemony; three, Americans are historically ignorant; four, they happen over there. Lindsey Graham had once said that if there’s war, they are dying over there, not here. Americans don’t get touched by these wars.

The wars are fought by a very small tiny fraction of the population of professional soldiers, who are not from the middle classes. They come from mostly poor, rural backgrounds. They are mostly young people who don’t have good prospects in life. They are not my college students, they are not people I know — that’s the case for most of the middle class in the US.

It’s always another war, in another place, with very few American casualties. A lot of Afghans die, a lot of Iraqis die. These wars allow the US to maintain its hegemony and there’s a lot of profit. We have got 800 bases around the world. In 2009, Chalmers Johnson called it the empire of bases. We justify that in part by finding enemies. Alexei Arbatov, the Russian-Soviet strategist, once said the Soviet Union did the worst possible thing to the US by collapsing because they left them with no enemy.

Once the Soviet Union collapsed, what did we do? We immediately intervened in Panama, overthrew the government there, we militarily intervened in Kuwait and Iraq. There is no enemy. We defined new enemies and we created them after the Soviet Union collapsed. There was a call to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, that was the goal. There was nothing to do with the nonsense about weapons of mass destruction which many people later exposed as a lie before the US invaded. This was just part of the US’ global agenda. The US doesn’t win these wars.

The US has not won a war since 1983 when the US invaded Grenada, which was Operation Urgent Fury. We were able to defeat a couple of Cuban construction workers, after which [Ronald] Reagan said, America is proud and standing on its feet again. We can destroy things, we blow them up, but we didn’t win. We have been fighting, not winning, in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. Iraq is finally wanting to throw the US out. We have a military meant for destroying things, for killing people, for blowing things up, but not for creating what is really needed.

Mukhopadhyay: A parallel I can draw is that both the US and India have not learned from history.

Kuznick: India has such a rich history. How Gandhi and [Jawaharlal] Nehru led the global fight against the Cold War. They led the fight against the nuclear arms race. It was Nehru who said that American leaders are self-centered lunatics who will blow anybody up who gets in their way. Do we see Modi standing up or welcoming world peace in any way? War can happen anytime.

Especially with these extreme nationalists in India and with the Pakistani military and intelligence community. Fortunately, both sides decided to hit each other in a way that wasn’t going to hurt last year, but the issue in Kashmir isn’t getting any better. The Indian army is twice as big and powerful as the Pakistani army. Indians would overrun the Pakistani army in the event of a war. Will Pakistan sit back and say, OK, you’re stronger and we surrender? No, they can use nuclear weapons. India will retaliate. We don’t know. There’s a real risk that it can escalate.

Latest studies show that a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used would create a nuclear winter, cities would burn, it would send 5 million tons of carbon and soot into the stratosphere.

Within two weeks, it would encircle the globe, destroy global agriculture, temperatures on Earth would plummet to freezing; this would last for 10 years and that alone could cause up to 2 billion deaths. We [the US] have 4,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 80 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. We are risking the future of our planet. We are dealing with that and the insanity of global warming. We have an existential crisis which requires real leadership right now. It’s too dangerous a world.

Mukhopadhyay: You criticized Trump’s policy on North Korea. What should the president have done instead, and what can be done to diffuse the tension in the Korean Peninsula?

Kuznick: North Korea is a difficult problem that requires diplomacy, not military action. I take it back to the 1994 deal that [Bill] Clinton had negotiated with North Korea. In 1994 and 2002, North Korea produced no plutonium and they abided by the nuclear deal. There was some suspicion about their nuclear program, but it wasn’t proven or confirmed. They deny it. That deal was very effective.

The George W. Bush administration blew that up. Bush announced the “axis of evil” — Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Rather than deal with North Korea diplomatically, he put it in crosshairs. North Korea was very nervous about the US overthrow of their government.

John Bolton, who is hated by North Koreans, said that the accusations against North Korea’s nuclear arsenal gave him the leverage to destroy the nuclear deal in 2002. He was happy that it happened. The North Koreans call Bolton human scum and a bloodsucker — and rightly so.

Then, in 2006, North Korea tested their first nuclear weapon. They have had six since then. Last year, they tested their nuclear bomb, which was 17 times more destructive than the bomb thrown on Hiroshima. The North Koreans said it wasn’t a fusion bomb but a fission bomb, a hydrogen bomb — it just blew up an entire mountain. Then they tested an inter-continental ballistic missile that seemed like it could hit the US. That gave Trump the excuse to give the threat to start fire and fury.

In 2017, it did seem like we were going to nuclear war and we seemed desperate to want to stop that. I was considering going to go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong Un and walk this back a little bit. We didn’t have to, as Trump decided to take a different tack. But I approved that Trump wanted to talk. I was glad that they met in Singapore. However, Trump has no diplomatic skills. That’s another powder cake ready to blow.

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North Korea has enormous military capabilities and missiles poised to strike Seoul, a city of 25 million people, 35 miles from their border. The US is running these war games with decapitation drills to overthrow the government in North Korea — which is insane. The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. I was upset with Trump for creating a crisis when it didn’t have to exist.

North Korea isn’t going to give up its nuclear arsenal. The North Koreans know that the only thing standing between them and being overthrown by the US is their nuclear weapons. When the US invaded Iraq, North Korea’s main newspaper said that Saddam made one big mistake: not having weapons of mass destruction. It was clear that North Koreans understood that and didn’t want to give up their weapons.

From the very beginning, when Trump is talking about denuclearization, it’s absurd and the wrong thing to demand from North Korea. The first thing we should do is foster an atmosphere of trust. How do we do that?

The Korean War has never ended. Instead of having a peace treaty at the end of the war, they signed an armistice. That war is still going on. One thing the North Koreans desperately want is a peace treaty to end that war. The second thing they want is for the US to stop their military exercises with South Korea.

The US is overmilitarized. We don’t need 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula — we don’t need all the military exercises that we do. The third thing they need is sanctions relief. The US is heavily sanctioning North Korea. Even the UN.

After the North Korea tests, China and Russia also supported the sanctions against North Korea. Everybody thinks that North Korea’s nuclear program is dangerous and that we should have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. I obviously support that. But the North Koreans are not going to do that — until they are integrated in the global system and they have a measure of trust that they are not under attack.

Would I like to see a different government in North Korea? Yes, I would. Do I want to see more freedom in North Korea? Yes, absolutely. The Korean people will have to do that. My friends in the South Korean embassy tell me the gross national standard of living, per capita gross domestic product in South Korea is 42 times as high as it is in North Korea. Vladimir Putin once said the North Koreans would rather eat grass than give up their nuclear program. Putin is right.

It’s still a dangerous situation. We have to ease the sanctions. Nothing else has worked. The US program of maximum pressure has not worked. When something doesn’t work, you don’t double down on it, you try a different direction.

You lift the sanctions on North Korea, say for six months, and see how they respond. Stephen Biegun, who is the US negotiator, was getting nowhere with the negotiations. The North Koreans don’t trust him and they don’t trust the US. Trump says absurd things like Kim Jong Un writes me love letters, we are in love. Trump doesn’t know what the term love means, he isn’t capable of love or empathy. But he wants to be flattered.

The meeting in Hanoi is pointless. To get North Koreans to reciprocate, you do need the pressure from Russia and they do need assurances that the US won’t do a regime change there. At least UN sanctions need to be lifted so that North Korea’s economy responds. There isn’t mass starvation there, but they are under economic hardship and duress.

It doesn’t make sense to me that a country where people barely spend time eating spend[s] so much money on weapons of mass destruction. It’s the insanity of our planet. Someone coming from another planet, looking at the Earth would say it’s insane to have a world where the richest eight [people] have more money than the poorest 3.8 billion. It’s insane to have a world that spends such vast amount of resources on perfecting the means of killing.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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