As President Trump’s administration continues to be rocked by investigations and scandals, we continue our conversation with award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn. We asked him to talk more about his assessment of the opening months of the Trump presidency.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn. I asked him to talk more about his assessment of the opening months of the Trump presidency.
ALLAN NAIRN: It’s not just the Trump presidency. It’s a right-wing revolution, which has captured control, up to this moment, of the presidency, the House, part of the Senate and now the Supreme Court. And if they abolish the legislative filibuster in the Senate, which they may, then they will have total, absolute control of all branches of government and will enter a radically new phase beyond anything that’s happened so far, because there will be absolutely no constraints on what they can do. The only constraints could be if they trip over themselves, as they have on some occasions up to now.
Trump brought in a collection, a coalition, of broadly rightist elements—racists, neofascists, the Republican establishment, the Koch brothers, oligarchs, all sorts of elements with their own very well-defined agendas for radical change in the U.S. Now, some points of those agendas clash, so that’s caused some of the problems—for example, on the repeal of Obamacare. But on 80 percent of things they agree, and they’re moving forward. They’ve already systematically started repealing constraints on pollution, constraints on police forces, that have been—had previously been placed under federal supervision because their involvement in killing of civilians, often with racist motivations. They are moving to give Wall Street and corporations complete license to commit crimes. Under the Obama-Clinton establishment, these corporate figures, when they committed crimes, would often end up having to pay a big settlement. They’d have to pay some billions of dollars to the Justice Department. Under Trump, not only will they not be criminally prosecuted, they won’t have to pay civil settlements, and they’ll be encouraged to do their worst. A very effective part of Trump’s campaign was saying—linking Clinton to Goldman Sachs. The Trump White House and government is stocked with Goldman Sachs people as no government ever before, even exceeding the Clinton team, which is—which is saying a lot.
On the international front, it’s not as if Trump is being digested by the security establishment. It’s that Trump is pushing the security establishment to become even more violent, to use cruder, less subtle tactics. Already, he has moved away from one key element of U.S. policy overseas, which is hypocrisy. The U.S. has always supported—the basic U.S. policy for decades has been, in country after country, to support the military and security forces as the primary U.S. interlocutors, but then, on top of that, to also support, when it’s convenient, when there’s no dangerous candidate, an elected government that can give some veneer and also some local social stability, and also, while on the one hand handing arms and training and political cover and intelligence to the armies and the security forces and the death squads, using the other hand to admonish them, saying, “Oh, that massacre you just did, using our weapons, using our training, you shouldn’t have done that massacre. That was a little—little bit excessive.” This is one reason why you often find resentment from U.S. clients regarding this hypocritical approach of the U.S., which is, after all, fundamentally supporting them. Trump strips away the hypocrisy. He continues to give the arms and the training and the intelligence and the political cover. But he does away with the aspect that the Obama administration, in particular, specialized in, was the hypocrisy, the criticism.
For example, when el-Sisi and the army seized power in Egypt, after two massive massacres of opponents, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, roughly a thousand people in each massacre, John Kerry said that they had moved to implement democracy. After the army and el-Sisi seized power in Egypt and did two massacres of roughly a thousand people each, of opponents and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, John Kerry said they had moved to implement democracy. The Obama administration continued military and intelligence aid to the el-Sisi government, but they cut some of it back, in protest of these massacres, and they made some human rights criticisms of the government.
Trump comes in, and he changes the approach. He revokes the criticisms. He fully restores and says he intends to increase the military aid, and he welcomes el-Sisi to the White House, embraces him, says they agree. And he does this, by the way, three days before he criticizes Assad, who for years worked with the CIA. The CIA would send abductees to Assad for interrogation and torture. Trump criticizes Assad and said he’s going after him, and then later he does bomb Syria. But Trump welcomes el-Sisi to the White House, and giving him the message, “Go for it. The U.S. is totally behind you. We are not going to criticize you.”
It’s the same approach to Israel. One reason why Israel and the Netanyahu administration is so delighted with Kerry—with Trump. Obama pushed through a massive, largest-ever weapons and aid and training package for the Israeli military, as the Israeli military was in the midst of tightening the repression in the West Bank, after they had, not too long before, done a massive slaughter with their air attack on Gaza. Obama did that. But at the same time he wagged his finger at Israel on certain issues, like settlements. Trump comes in and says no more finger wagging, and, to boot, we’re going to try to increase the military aid that props up the Israeli state even more, and we’re going to align politically with the elements in Israel, the settler elements, who are constantly attacking and berating Netanyahu for being too soft on the Palestinians. That’s who Trump’s new ambassador to Israel represents. And in country—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, David Friedman was approved. He was his bankruptcy lawyer. He now is the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. And he raised money for the settlements.
ALLAN NAIRN: And he openly aligns with the political elements in Israel who want expulsion and even more killing of the Palestinians. And this is the new Trump policy in country after country after country around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk specifically about the environment? I mean, talk about the Trump Cabinet, from Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, being secretary of state, to the Oklahoma attorney general—Oklahoma, which is now rocked by earthquakes—
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —which it never had in its past. It’s this—now has become the state of fracking. But the Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times, now head of the EPA, to Governor Perry, head of the Energy Department, who sat on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, that owns the Dakota Access pipeline.
ALLAN NAIRN: Right. Well, Trump has essentially sent subversives into the Cabinet, atop the agencies, to dismantle, destroy the agencies. In the words of Steve Bannon, to—how did he put it? To deconstruct the administrative state. Gorsuch, the new Supreme Court justice put in by Trump, his mother, Anne Gorsuch, was Reagan’s EPA administrator. She was one of two such Cabinet appointees sent in by Reagan to dismantle their respective departments. The other was the head of Interior. When I say “dismantle,” I mean dismantle all aspects of their work and regulations that run counter to the interests of corporations and polluters and may be favorable to the interests of what are seen as liberal or Democratic interest groups. Reagan only did that with two agencies: EPA and Interior. During the—when Rick Perry ran for president, he got in trouble, because, although he was openly touting similar dismantling of various government departments, including education, unfortunately for him, he couldn’t remember the whole list, so everybody laughed at him.
Now, with Trump in—and not just Trump, but Trump and the whole radical Republican rightist establishment—they’re trying to do it with every department, every department that has within its mission any kind of service to the poor, service protecting the rights of working people, protecting the rights of protesters, protecting the rights of women, or that has within its work any kinds of projects or regulations that inconvenience corporations and rich oligarchs. This administration is trying to dismantle those functions of government across the board. It is systematic. It is sweeping. And Bannon is entirely right when he makes the claim that it’s revolutionary. You know, he compared himself to Lenin, kind of a Lenin from the other direction, from the radical right. And it’s true. They are engaged in a truly revolutionary project. And it has to be stopped.
What you might say is the good news is that history is moving in a much faster pace now. Events have speeded up. Bigger change is possible faster than it was before. So it is conceivable that if there’s enough resistance from the streets, if there’s enough activism within the many corners of the system where concessions can be won, especially at the state and local level, especially within the Democratic Party, that’s backed up by mass disruption from below, it might be possible to reverse some of these revolutionary steps from the right, perhaps sooner than would have been the case in the slower historical conditions that prevailed before Trump.
But we’re in the midst of this massive crisis. And, you know, the damage assessment is months from coming in. We have just seen a tiny fraction now of the people in this country and overseas who are going to die preventable deaths as a result. For example, they’re going after programs run by the Agriculture Department and others that feed hungry kids in the United States. They want to kill them. They’re also going after programs in the U.S. foreign aid budget that feed starving people overseas. Now, the U.S. government does lots of bad things, but it’s also the case that the U.S. still is, to a certain extent, a democracy. And over years and years of struggle, activists have won certain concessions. And there are thousands upon thousands of passages in laws and programs within government that are the result not of corporate dictates, but of pressure from below, pressure from racial justice and labor and human rights and women’s rights activists, consumer rights, environmental justice. There have been victories won over the years, very hard-fought. And lots of these are put into legislation. They’re put into the functions of departments. And what Trump and the Republican coalition are trying to do is rip them out systematically, dismantle them systematically. And that’s what’s underway now. And many, many thousands of extra people will die in the U.S. and overseas as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: You have an enormous irony, where here you have President Trump accusing the Obama administration, President Obama himself, of surveilling him, of wiretapping him, yet, at the same time, in Congress, they roll back privacy protections, the whole internet privacy act that has now been written into law. Can you talk about the significance of this, which would seem to join right and left?
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. I’m actually a little surprised that the—what I guess is the—maybe the majority of the population, or at least the majority of younger people in the United States, who essentially live their lives online, are not completely up in arms about this, are not storming Washington about this, because what they’ve done is they’ve made it easier for online private, profit-making corporations to sell the most intimate details of your life. You’d think people would object to that.
But what it also shows is that much of this new government’s agenda is strictly corporate. Strictly corporate. Now, the Democratic Party is, of course, also dominated, at its elite level, by corporations and the rich, but the Democratic Party also has as its base all sorts of working and poor and activist constituencies that are against those corporate interests and the rich. And they fight it out. And the outcome of those fights is Democratic policy. In the new order, with this Trump Republican administration, it is straight corporate. And the only resistance that those corporations get is if some aspect of their agenda happens to clash with, impinge on the program of, say, the racists or the neofascists or a rival corporate faction. For example, the Kochs have disagreements with other oligarchs on various issues. But those are the only constraints on corporations. There is absolutely no constraint within this new Republican governing coalition from working people or poor people, even though Trump is making a big play to working people by addressing, in a way that the Democrats should have, but they never did, the realities that the U.S. working class has been gutted by the decades upon decades of bipartisan neoliberalism that was embraced by Obama and Clinton.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you talk about Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, their position in the White House, what they represent, the talk of the infighting between them and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Bannon comes from Goldman Sachs. Miller comes from the most openly racist part of the anti-immigrant movement, and after that, from the office of then senator, now attorney general, Jeff Sessions, one of the most openly racist—racist politicians in Washington. I was actually a little—I’ve actually been a little surprised that Bannon has lasted this long, not for any political reason, but just because a few weeks back they put him on the cover of Time magazine, and they started talking about him as the real president, and you wouldn’t think Trump would tolerate that kind of thing. Whether he stays or goes matters in a certain sense, because he’s obviously a very powerful adviser, but all it really matters for is the balance of the competing radical-rightist interests within the administration. So, for example, if the Bannon and the neofascist, racist people are edged aside a bit, maybe that means more power for the Koch brothers’ philosophy. Or maybe that means more power for the mainstream Goldman Sachs philosophy. Or maybe that means more power for the radical, intolerant religious right faction. Or maybe that means more powerful for whichever company or foreign interest made the biggest indirect payoff to Trump and his family that particular week. Whatever.
But the point is—the larger point is that that’s what this administration, and this Republican group that now controls Congress, consists of. All of these radical factions that mean increased suffering and increased death for the majority of people in this country and overseas, they are now in there. They are now inhabiting the state. And they sometimes clash among themselves. But whoever wins those internal clashes, the loser is poor people, working people, people who are targets of discrimination. And also, another loser is the chance to reverse these radical changes they’re making, because they’re—they’re very strategic. They’re trying to set it in stone. And now with a majority on the Supreme Court and perhaps the impending lifting of the legislative filibuster in the Senate, they will have the power to set it in stone, and a near absolute power within the federal establishment system.
AMY GOODMAN: Longtime, award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn has won many of the top honors in journalism, including the George Polk Award for his coverage of Haiti, as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Prize for International Reporting for his coverage of East Timor, as well as the duPont-Columbia Award. He’s written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The Nation, the New Republic, The Progressive. To see his conversation with Julian Assange on Democracy Now!, go to our website, democracynow.org.
AMY GOODMAN: As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Russia to talk about the war in Syria and other issues, we spend the hour with the longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn. For decades, Allan has covered the impact of U.S. foreign policy across the globe—in East Timor, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, as well as other countries. I spoke to Allan Nairn Monday, and we discussed the escalation of U.S. military operations across the Middle East, as well as the unique danger Trump poses both abroad and at home. I began by asking Allan Nairn about last week’s U.S. attack on a Syrian air base.
ALLAN NAIRN: It was an attack on an old U.S. partner, old U.S. torture partner, Assad. The chemical attack was a monstrous atrocity, but it wasn’t the most monstrous atrocity that was done in Syria probably that week or that month. The Assad regime routinely massacres civilians using conventional weapons. And also, the forces backed by the Gulf states and Turkey—Turkey of NATO, the Gulf States, U.S. allies—for a number of years were also using tactics that involved attacks on civilians. And some of them ended up morphing into ISIS.
This particular attack on the Syrian airfield, I don’t think, is going to save any lives in Syria, in terms of its effect on the conflict. It may save Trump, to a certain extent, politically. It was mainly an act of political theater. The U.S. establishment is an organism. And that organism, in an important respect, has a temperament that is similar to that of Trump. It gets satisfaction from displays of aggression. And if you look at the press coverage, you see that this attack has made them feel good, has made them feel better about themselves as leaders of the United States establishment. But it’s not saving lives in Syria. In fact, this particular U.S. attack was—was probably far—not the most deadly attack in Syria that the U.S. staged that week, that the U.S. staged last week. Although many people were calling for the U.S. to do this air attack on Syria, many apparently didn’t realize that the U.S. was already bombing Syria. In Syria and in Iraq, just over the recent weeks and months, U.S. air attacks have hit mosques, schools, apartment complexes, and killed many, many hundreds of civilians, so much so that the people who monitor this, like the Airwars group, have estimated that the U.S. has now surpassed Russia in its killing of civilians by bombing raids. So, this was—this was more of a symbolic strike.
As to the deeper issue of what can be done to stop this carnage, I’m not a pacifist. I think sometimes, unfortunately, tragically, force is necessary. Even violence is necessary to prevent more violence. If there were a military action that could stop this mass slaughter in Syria, I would support it. But there isn’t. Contrary to myth, most decisions regarding foreign policy are not hard. They’re easy. They’re easy. Don’t support the murderers. Don’t create a bureaucracy that, in order to survive, has to keep on killing in order to justify its own existence. But occasionally, now and then, you will get a situation where the choices are hard. And that is Syria today, because—in important part because of the inexcusable actions of various outside forces, including the U.S., Russia, Iran, the Gulf states, Turkey. Syria has reached a state of such collapse that there really is no clear, immediate way to stop, or at the moment even mitigate, the mass civilian killing. But, although it would be extremely difficult, you can imagine some steps that could be constructive—for example, getting all these various foreign powers out, stopping the influx of arms—even, on the dealmaking level, which the U.S. establishment likes and which Trump likes, even a deal between the U.S. and Russia, where, on the one hand, the U.S. agrees to stop the NATO expansion and the pressure on Russia, which is a violation of the agreement that Bush Sr. made with the Russians, in exchange for Russia cutting loose the Assad regime. Things like this could at least, perhaps, edge things in the right direction. But more airstrikes will not.
The fact that the U.S. bombed—U.S. bombs hit mosques, hit schools, hit apartment complexes, even, in some cases, hit wedding parties, such as in one famous massacre carried out by the forces of General Mattis, the Mukaradeeb wedding massacre, who’s now the defense secretary, within the U.S. system—
AMY GOODMAN: In?
ALLAN NAIRN: That was in Iraq, on the border near Syria. Within the U.S. system, those killings of civilians are excused, because the U.S. was not targeting those civilians per se. They just happened to be next to the targets, so they died in the explosion. So the U.S. system says it’s OK. That makes us morally different from Assad, from ISIS, from the Russians, etc. The Pentagon uses calculations, algorithms, before they make these airstrikes. They calculate how many civilians they predict will die by accident. So, in a certain sense, it’s an accident. But in another sense, if you were applying domestic criminal law standards, it wouldn’t be considered an accident. They could be charged with criminally negligent homicide. They could be charged with various kinds of manslaughter. And they make these calculations, and they say, “OK, if we drop this bomb, X number of people will die.” It used to be, during the attack on—the Bush attack on Iraq, that the standard was somewhere in the mid-twenties. Roughly 25 civilians could be—it would be OK to do an airstrike if it would only kill roughly 25 civilians. Now the calculations have changed. One thing that Trump, with the support of General Mattis, has done is he’s encouraged the Pentagon to say, “Oh, well, even if it’s more than 25, no problem. We will still go ahead with this—with this airstrike.” So, with those standards, some of which, by the way, were inspired by the Russian example, what the Russians call Grozny rules, just unrestrained bombing.
AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Allan Nairn. We’ll be back with him in a minute to talk about Iraq, Yemen, the Trump administration and more. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Andar Conmigo,” “Walk with Me,” by Raza Obrera. The group’s singer, Juan Manuel, is currently imprisoned and on hunger strike with hundreds of others at the GEO Group-owned Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The death toll from a recent U.S. airstrike in the Iraqi city of Mosul has risen to nearly 300 civilians, including many children. The Los Angeles Times has described the March 17th strike as among the deadliest incidents in decades of modern warfare. I asked investigative journalist Allan Nairn to talk about the airstrike in Mosul.
ALLAN NAIRN: Various U.S. defenses after that mass killing of civilians by the U.S. was reported were things like “It was an accident” or “We were targeting ISIS” or “ISIS was using civilians as human shields” or “We meant”—maybe most revealingly, “Yes, we meant to bomb the apartments, but we didn’t realize that ISIS had rigged them with explosions—with explosives. So when we deliberately bombed the apartment, that touched off the explosives, and that made the killing of the residents of the apartment complex even more extensive than we had—than we had planned on.” So, all those—all those defensive defenses turn on the idea that as long as you’re not targeting the civilians per se, it’s still permissible to kill civilians in mass.
And these are—if you go back in history, you find these justifications repeatedly. These are the same justifications that Israel used during their various assaults on Gaza, as they were bombing apartment buildings deliberately in Gaza, because, they would say, “Oh, well, yeah, we bombed that apartment building. But there was a Hamas guy in apartment 3B. Therefore it’s justified.” The human shield concept. Well, think of domestic police procedure. Let’s say there’s a hostage situation, there’s a criminal. They’ve just robbed a store, and they’ve grabbed the store clerk, and they’re holding them, and they’re holding a gun to the clerk’s head. Well, what do the police do? They don’t—they’re not supposed to throw a grenade and kill both the criminal and the hostage. They’re supposed to seek a way that will allow the hostage to go free. But what the U.S. military doctrine does is precisely the opposite. They say, “Oh, well, yeah, all these civilians died, but it wasn’t our fault, because they were being used as human shields by by our targets.”
Now, these standards I just described are long-standing U.S. standards. These standards were under effect under Obama, under Bush, all the way back. But with Trump—and this is the thing to be clear about—we’ve entered a new era, because now those kinds of rather intricate rationales no longer—no longer really apply. Under Trump, the military and the CIA are being encouraged, first, to make their own decisions on the ground as to where and when to bomb and drone, because, under Obama, many of these decisions were run through the White House bureaucracy, and there were lawyers, Obama lawyers, actually sitting there evaluating these various bombing plans, applying the criteria I just described, the criteria that, yes, allowed the killing of civilians, but that placed certain limits on it. Now, under Trump, they’re saying, “Don’t worry about the limits. Don’t worry about the lawyers. If you feel you need to bomb somewhere, go for it.” And therefore, the only constraint on these bombings is the feelings and the doctrine of the military commanders.
And it so happens that the man at the top of the Pentagon pyramid is General Mattis, who is famous for, among other reasons, one, doing the wedding massacre I just mentioned and, two, constantly articulating a doctrine that when you’re going after the bad guys, it’s fun to kill. You should kill with zest. If you go online, you can see a list of famous quotes from Mattis, that, it’s said, have endeared him to much of the military—and to both the Democrats and Republicans, by the way. In fact, it’s interesting. During the presidential election, Mattis was invited to speak at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, and he was, for a while, the preferred presidential candidate of the “Never Trump” people, the Bill Kristol anti-Trump Republicans. So he’s a consensus man of the establishment.
And Trump takes an approach that is even more unconstrained than that of Mattis. And—but we should say, in fairness, that it’s not just Trump who takes that approach. During the campaign, the Republican candidates were competing with each other to see who could sound more bloodthirsty. You know, Trump was always talking about bombing the hell out of them, but it was Ted Cruz who said he was going to make the desert glow with his bombings. And, you know, each one would try to top the other. And that’s where we are now.
So, this is going to give a license both to the U.S. military, also to law enforcement personnel within the United States, local police, people within ICE, people from the various police and Border Patrol unions, who in their public and political statements clearly represent, among law enforcement, the most racist, the most prone to violence, of these—of the law—the various law enforcement communities. They, plus U.S. clients overseas, in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in country after country after country after country around the world, because the U.S. has military and client relationships with more than a hundred countries around the world, depending on how you calculate it. Some could argue up to 170 countries around the world. The new message, the new U.S. guideline, is kill more, and don’t worry about criticism or occasional cutbacks in your aid from the U.S., because, as the press people ecstatically said after the Syria bombing run, there’s a new sheriff in town in the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: When you look at Syria, in response to what he saw on the ground in Syria, still he stands by his ban, his executive order, though judges have stopped it, that would not allow one Syrian refugee into the United States.
ALLAN NAIRN: I think it may well be true that in terms of Trump’s own emotional wiring, his mental wiring, maybe, you know, he did see those disgusting, gruesome videos of the tear gas attack, and maybe he said, “OK, we’ve got to attack Syria.” I can believe that. But I’m sure Trump also saw some other very famous images, like the one of the little boy, the refugee from the Mediterranean, face down on the shore as he had just drowned to death because the boat he was riding failed to reach shore in Europe, and countless, countless other images. And the policy response—I don’t know about the emotional response of Trump, but the policy response of Trump to that drowned boy on the shores, to say, “Screw the refugees”—in fact, to make that hatred toward the refugees one of the very pillars of, A, his presidential campaign and, B, his new government.
AMY GOODMAN: With the attacks, from Syria to Mosul in Iraq to Yemen, it wasn’t—what?—eight days before—after Donald Trump was inaugurated that the U.S. Navy SEAL strike happened in Yemen. Something like 25 civilians were killed, many of them children. And perhaps the reason we know about it is because a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed. That U.S. Navy SEAL’s father, William Owens, refused to meet President Trump, who surprised Owens when he came to Dover Air Base with his daughter Ivanka, his son’s body brought to the base. He was harshly critical of the raid. Mr. Owens said, “Why did he have to do this now, to move so quickly in his administration?” Can you talk about that first attack, if it was the first attack, and what it means to talk about these attacks as presidential initiation rites?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, first, the particulars of that attack, that attack was aimed to be targeting al-Qaeda, a local al-Qaeda affiliate. It’s worth noting that in Syria many of the rebels, who the U.S. has been backing and arming and training, often conduct joint operations with al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. And, indeed, a good number of them have joined up with al-Nusra. But on this raid, it took place in a context of a broader war and a broader assault, which on—on Yemen, on the Houthi armed rebel movement in Yemen, by Saudi Arabia. And in these raids, the Saudis are using U.S. planes. They’re using U.S. bombs. There are actually U.S. personnel sitting in the Saudi Air Force headquarters, helping them with targeting. And the Saudis are systematically targeting Yemeni civilians. After one particularly egregious and especially widely reported massacre on a funeral gathering, the U.S. admonished the Saudis. They criticized them. They temporarily froze and pulled back a bit of their aid. But now, under Trump, again, it’s full speed ahead with assaults on civilian targets by the Saudis in—in Yemen.
And if you look at the press, including outlets like MSNBC, various press outlets that are considered to be liberal, one of the main arguments they make is that a U.S. action is good when it pleases the Saudis. They always—there’s this constant line of criticism, which has been going on for decades, criticism against U.S. presidents who are considered to be too soft at a given moment. And that criticism is: You’re letting down our Middle Eastern allies, i.e. you’re letting down the Saudis. The journalists will say, “I’ve just been in the Middle East, and I’ve been talking to our allies there,” i.e. the Saudis, the Gulf states, “and they’re very unhappy, because they think the U.S. is not showing enough credibility. We’re letting them down”—i.e. the U.S. isn’t being violent enough. And that’s the context in which this attack on Yemen by the Special Forces took place.
As to why Trump authorized it in that way, I think a very important motivating factor, that is really underestimated by people, especially scholars, is the extent to which, when you have power, when you’re the king, a lot of the motivation for violence, for war, it’s not just interest. A lot of the motivation is fun, is thrill, is getting a charge out of ordering violence, and thrilling the public, exciting the courtiers around you, exciting the press around you. The recent reaction to the Syria attack is a very good example of that. I think to really understand how big powers operate, when it comes to going out and killing people, I mean, don’t just study their concrete interests, like, you know, mineral exports and geopolitics. Also study Shakespeare. Study the the whims of kings, because that’s what a lot of it is about. And if you look back at the debates in the campaign between Clinton and Trump, when they were talking about the violent system, they they did not disagree at all about the U.S. right to commit aggression, about the U.S. right to kill civilians. What they did disagree about was how those decisions would be made. Clinton invoked the traditional establishment criteria that I discussed before of, yes, you can bomb, but you can only kill up to 25 civilians with your bombing run. Trump invoked a different standard, saying, “I’ll attack whenever the hell I feel like it.” Both of them allow the killing of civilians, which is a crime.
AMY GOODMAN: And Trump saying, “I was just continuing what President Obama started”?
ALLAN NAIRN: In that sense, Trump does have a point, because it was Obama who started the support of the Saudi attack on—in Yemen and the general policy of U.S. sending—doing its own military-CIA strikes in Yemen. And, of course, U.S. support for the Saudi order and dominance in the region and for their violence goes back for many decades. And it’s also the case that Clinton would probably have done this strike on the Syria airfield, just as Trump did. In fact, a day or so before, she gave an interview to The New York Times where she was recommending strikes on the Syrian airfields.
AMY GOODMAN: No, actually, the interview that Hillary Clinton did was with Nicholas Kristof, and it was in the Women in the World conference. It was several hours before the attack took place.
ALLAN NAIRN: Just hours, uh-huh.
AMY GOODMAN: And that video clip of her saying, “Why doesn’t he bomb an airfield?” or “I would bomb an airfield,” was played before the attack took place.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. In fact, come to think of it, the way Trump operates, maybe Trump saw that—if that was publicly available—
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
ALLAN NAIRN: —maybe Trump saw that clip. That’s exactly the kind of thing that would set him off, say, “Oh, my god. I’ve got to at least match her, and maybe top her.” But this gets back to the more fundamental point that it’s really important to understand, which is, U.S. has this violent system, which is criminal, and it has had it for decades. It is willing to commit aggression and kill civilians in country after country after country. And all of those responsible for it should be judged by the same standards that we judge domestic killers. And by those standards, they should all be in prison, including the living U.S. presidents, including Hillary Clinton.
But Trump—now, that all said, Trump makes it even worse. Trump is bringing in a doctrine and a group of people who are in the process of and are definitely going to commit even more killings of civilians, even more aggression. And that’s why it was such—one of many reasons why it was such a catastrophe that Trump and the radical-right Republicans won, because it will make it even worse. And the argument which you hear going around, especially in some circles on the left, that, “Oh, they’re all bad. They’re equally bad,” it’s insane, and it’s irresponsible, given that now even more people are going to suffer as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn. We’ll be back with him in a minute, as he talks more about his assessment of the Trump presidency. Stay with us.