Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How do you assess the last redeployment of NATO troops in Georgia during the summit of the NATO in Warsaw? Are we really gone out of the Cold War?
Dr. Michael Brenner: The cardinal feature of the strategic situation is the dedication of NATO, inspired and guided by the United States, to extend Western hegemony eastwards. That has been the goal of successive American administrations. During the Yeltsin years, it seemed that it could achieved without conflict and with minimal friction – as exemplified by NATO’s expansion. The stated intention of the Bush administration was to add Georgia and Ukraine.It was stymied when some Western European allies dragged their heels in the wake of the 2008 conflict with Russia which had been provoked by the Tblisi government under Shakashvilli when its army attacked the breakaway region of Abkhazia with the full backing of the U.S. The goal has not change; it is the cost and the risk that has mounted as Putin has made it clear that he will not passively accept further expansion of NATO on Russia’s periphery. The debate within the Alliance turns on the estimation of that risk. No one is prepared, though, to contest the underlying premises of American strategic thinking. All Western European governments are headed by weak leaders with narrow, parochial agendas – mainly, getting reelected.
In a highly relevant article, you mentioned NATO military leaders who are making important statements up to declaration of war. Are the military out of control? If that’s the case, how do you explain it?
Obama has boxed himself into a corner by doing the following. One, he has appointed assertive hawks to high ranking positions both at the State Department (Victoria Nuland) and the Pentagon (General Breedlove). Two, his rhetoric conforms to their expansive view of American power and objectives even though he personally is not at all a risk taker. Three, his instinctive caution does not translate into either the laying down of clear guidelines or a disciplined diplomacy. As a consequence, people like Breedlove feel free to push the envelope and are not reined in. A recent story has revealed that Breedlove, while NATO commander, directed a campaign within the administration and its Brussels aimed at forcing the President to take more assertive measures re. Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics. His successor seems to have continued the project. Interestingly, the head of NATO’s Military Committee, General Pavel of the Czech Republic, has declared explicitly that Russia represents no military threat and that all the Alliance’s chest-thumping measures are unwarranted and pointless.
Where are the institutions such as Parliaments, the Congress, when the military declare war on who they want? Do these last obey to the States or to the lobbies of the military-industrial complex?
The military in the United States cannot declare war or publicly campaign for one. In this case, the hardline faction has been lobbying aggressively behind the scenes. There are others in the Pentagon, such as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey, who took quite a different view – especially in regard to Syria and also on Russia. Indeed, Dempsey singlehandedly blocked a CIA led effort to drasticly expand American support in the form of weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels – including al-Nusra. In effect, Dempsey and John Brennan fought a bureaucratic war to determine American policy while President Obama remained a passive bystander.
You’ve probably heard the recent statement of Tony Blair who insists to tell that the intervention in Iraq was a necessity. Don’t you think that the emergence of Daesh, and before it Al Qaeda, is a result of the strategic errors of Messrs Bush and Blair? Was the intervention in Iraq a necessity as asserted Tony Blair, or on the contrary, a disaster?
All credible observers with first hand knowledge of the Middle East, and who have followed events over the past thirteen years closely, agree that there is a direct causal connection between the invasion/occupation and the rise of Daesh. It is an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia which, in turn, was the increasingly radical reaction to the subordination of Sunnis in Iraq. It is a matter of historical fact that there was no al-Qaeda, no jihadist groups, in the country under Saddam. This is an instance where those who were egregiously wrong, in every respect, insist on writing their own fictitious history, rather than accept accountability for their misdeeds.
Aren’t Bush and Blair called to account for the intervention in Iraq, as Sarkozy and Cameron should be called to account for the intervention in Libya?
They should be but it hasn’t occurred in the United States. Let’s remember that it was the calculated decision of Barack Obama, upon entering the White House, to forget about Iraq. Let the past be past was his motto; let’s look to the future. This judgment reflected in part his own rather timid, conflict averse personality, in part a political calculation that prevailing sentiment in the United States was « to move on, » and the fear of a bitter backlash from Republicans and their Democratic accomplices alike if he did anything that would result in their condemnation. It didn’t work. America has not come to terms to what it did and the devils that it unleashed and now continues to wrestle with as a result. Moreover, that suspended national judgment leaves room for demagogues to use the rise of Daesh against him and to identify convenient scapegoats.
Do you think that the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) serves the peoples, particularly in Europe, or does it serve the world oligarchy?
TTIP is not really about trade. Its purpose is to create an autonomous legal and political space in which corporate interests reign supreme. Hence, it is the capstone of the neo-liberal project. The studied attempt to keep secret it negotiations and provisions, while involving directly business interests in its design, reflects the incontrovertible truth that the large majority of salaried workers will suffer. So, too, will environmental and humanitarian causes – including combatting global warming.
Under the TPP, corporations will be able to appeal the laws of nations to 3-member panels of arbitrators, with one arbitrator chosen by them and a second agreed to by both them and the nation whose laws they are seeking to overturn. See the chapter on « investment, » for how this works. It means that a foreign oil or mining corporation, for example, could overrule a U.S. environmental law by appealing to 2 out of 3 corporate lawyers on a secret panel.
The TPP puts a large number of disastrous policies in place without waiting for corporate arbitration. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to approve any applications to export liquefied « natural » gas — meaning more fracking, more destruction of the earth’s climate, more profits for those who’ve been writing this treaty in secret for years, but not more sustainability, environmental protection, or even U.S. energy « independence. »
The TPP could require the United States to import food that doesn’t meet U.S. safety standards. Any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling, or additives that is higher than international standards could be challenged as an « illegal trade barrier. »
The TPP would threaten provisions included in Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ health programs to make medicines more affordable, as well as domestic patent and drug-pricing laws.
You are a geopolitical analyst and a researcher internationally recognized. In your opinion, is there sufficient genuine political will on the part of Western governments to fight terrorism?
Yes. What is lacking is balanced judgment. We have relied far too much on brawn rather than brains. Serial military interventions since 2001 have left us more exposed and terrorist groups both stronger and geographically more extensive. Terrorism in the West is, at its core, an Intelligence and police problem, albeit one of daunting scale. It cannot be uprooted abroad – as witness events in the United States. Abroad, the objective should be the avoidance of actions that inspire jihadist and recognizing that the movement has benefited from material and ideological support on a massive scale from Saudi Arabia, others in the Gulf and – more recently – Turkey. Instead of coddling those regimes, the West should put strong pressure on them to cease and desist.
You mentioned a coup in Brazil, what does not stop to say President Dilma Rousseff. Will the United States persist in their policy of fomenting permanent coups against democratically elected governments in Latin America? Will the old demons haunt the White House again and again? Is it in the long term interest of the United States to support illegitimate regimes?
Washington’s concerted efforts to undermine Leftist governments in Latin America are an expression of two things: unbridled hubris, and commercial interests. There are no real security concerns as during the Cold War (exaggerated even then). Che is dead and buried. America’s foreign policy establishment cannot abide opposition and criticism – whether provocative a la Chavez or simply disobedient a la Rousseff, Correa, etc. This bias has been exploited by corporate American interests, and their local allies, to mobilize American influence to restore to power the old oligarchs. It’s a senseless project that does much harm.
What is your assessment of the two terms of President Obama?
Barack Obama is a very conventional thinker. And he is a man who never will confront the self-assured wielders of Establishment power – whether in the Pentagon, the Intelligence agencies or Wall Street. So he whines about the power of the conventional wisdom and the consensus among the capitals power-brokers, but he has done nothing of consequence to change the national discourse. All he has managed to do is to resist passively when a some particularly dangerous and ill-conceived action is being pushed: e.g. attack Iran, send the U.S. Army into Syria. In truth, he shares the main premises that underlay the Bush foreign policy as expressed in his rhetoric about American exceptionalism, American destiny, and American indispensability – and in his readiness to pursue a new Cold War with Russia for which the United States is mainly responsible.
The electoral campaign takes place in a noxious climate in the United States. Which one of both candidates is the most dangerous for the humanity: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
They, too, share those premises. Hillary does so explicitly and is more of a hawk on means than is Obama. Trump has deviated in his criticism of the Iraq invasion and has said some things about striking a deal with Putin. We should remember, though, that he is totally ignorant about world affairs. In addition, what he says today is simply an expression of what’s passing through a quite shallow mind at the moment. In the unlikely event that he is elected President, he probably will conform to the Establishment consensus while adding an element of reckless impetuosity. Choose your poison.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. Michael Brenner?
Dr. Michael Brenner is a recognized authority on risk assessment & management, American foreign policy, and geopolitics. He is an American Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a « Fellow » of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin an a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas until 2012. He publishes and teaches in the fields of American foreign policy, Euro-American relations, and the European Union.
Author of numerous books, and over 60 articles and published papers on a broad range of topics. These include books with Cambridge University Press (Nuclear Power and Non-Proliferation) and the Center For International Affairs at Harvard University (The Politics of International Monetary Reform); and publications in major journals in the United States and Europe, such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Foreign Policy, International Studies Quarterly, International Affairs, Survival, Politique Etrangere, and Internationale Politik. His most recent work is « Toward a More Independent Europe », Egmont Institute, Brussels.
Directed funded research projects with colleagues at leading universities and institutes in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, including the Sorbonne, Bonn University, King’s College –London, and Universita di Firenze.
Invited lecturer at major universities and institutions in the United States and abroad, including Georgetown University, UCLA, the National Defense University, the State Department, Sorbonne, École des Sciences Politiques, Royal Institute of International Affairs, University of London, German Council on Foreign Relations, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and Universita di Milano.
Consultant to United States Departments of Defense and State, Foreign Service Institute and Mellon Bank on multilateral diplomacy, peace keeping by multinational organizations, and political risk assessment.
Recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, United States Information Service, European Union Commission, NATO, and the Exxon Education Foundation.
Previous teaching and research appointments at Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Brookings Institution, University of California – San Diego, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the National Defense University.
Published in American Herald Tribune, July 14, 2016: http://ahtribune.com/politics/1067-michael-brenner.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.150716.htm