"I Love the US Republic, and I Hate the US Empire": Johan Galtung on the War in Afghanistan and How to Get Out

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We turn now to the second part of my interview with Johan Galtung. Known as a founder of the field of peace and conflict studies, he’s spent the past half-century pursuing nonviolent conflict resolution in international relations. His latest book is The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?: Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism or US Blossoming? I spoke to him last week about his prediction of the collapse of US empire in ten years, by 2020. In this second part of our interview, Galtung discusses his assessment of President Obama, the US corporate media and more. But we began with the war in Afghanistan, where he has worked extensively in attempts at conflict resolution. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to part two of my interview with Johan Galtung. Known as the founder of peace studies, he spent the past half-century pursuing nonviolent conflict resolution in international relations. His latest book is The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?: Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism of US Blossoming?

I spoke to him last week about his prediction of the collapse of the US Empire in ten years, he says, by 2020. In the second part of our interview, Galtung discusses his assessment of President Obama, the US corporate media and more. But we began with the war in Afghanistan, where he’s worked extensively in attempts at conflict resolution.

    JOHAN GALTUNG: Now let’s look at it from a Washington point of view: pursuing a victory which will never happen. I’ll say why: 1.56 billion Muslims are dedicated to the idea of defending Islam when trampled upon. Some of them are traveling to Afghanistan. Some of them are doing it somewhere else in other ways. Those ways can become quite disagreeable, as you know.

    Point two, there is no capitulation in Islam to infidels. It doesn’t exist. To fight against Christians and Jews — you take the mini-empire of Israel, the regional empire — is not an invitation to a violent confrontation that will end with a capitulation. In other words, the time perspective of the Muslim community is unlimited. I don’t think the time perspective of Washington is unlimited. So you can say, of course, who has the longer time perspective will win. There may be some local capitulation, a white flag somewhere, but by and large the usual scenario of a tent, maybe, with a camping table, somebody diligently typing a couple of copies of a capitulation document and "please sign on the dotted line," forget about it. Forget about it. That’s not the way it happens these days.

    So, having said that, victory is out. Of course, the US will not be available for defeat, as, in a sense, it was in Vietnam in April 1975. So withdrawal is the likeliest thing, hoping desperately that the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police will take over the job, which they will, with my knowledge of the situation, not do. They will be aligning themselves with the next stage in Afghan history.

    But having mentioned this, there is of course a fourth possibility: United States participating in conflict resolution. So what we have been discussing here, Amy, in Washington in these sessions, have been the details of these five points and other points. And here I would like to enter with a basic point about mediation, we who mediate. I’m an NGO mediator. I’ve done this more than 120 times around the world, sometimes with some success, sometimes not, or to put it more optimistically, not yet success. OK, what we are trying to find out are the goals of the parties. What do they want? I mentioned the Taliban are dead against secularization. I find that legitimate. The US goal of a base, I find it illegitimate. The US goal of an oil pipeline and controlling it, I find it illegitimate, by means of war. But the US goal that no attack should come from Afghanistan, I find completely legitimate.

    I don’t think that’s what happened 9/11. I don’t think the attack came from Afghanistan, nor do I think Osama bin Laden’s role was very much important. I think it was essentially Saudi Arabian. It was a revenge for the oil treaty of March 1945, because it was totally against Wahhab perspectives on reality, that a good life is the life as lived at the time of the Prophet and, as the Prophet said when he expired in 632, "In this country there shall be no two religions." I’m, of course, in no way saying that all Saudi Arabians are of this opinion, but many are, even the royal house are divided down the middle. And if you then add to this, from 1990 onwards, staging US wars in the region, be it against the Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait, or be it against the Saddam Hussein — that was in 1991, February — the Saddam Hussein of 2003, 20 March, by Iraqi reckoning, staging it from Saudi Arabia, from the sacred land of the chosen people. Now, the US should know something about sacred land and chosen people, the metaphor that I took from Judaism, because at the time in 1620, at the time of the Mayflower, there was not much Zion on the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

    So, having said that, conflict resolution is the way. But that can only happen if you understand what the people want, legitimate goals in Afghanistan, and taking into consideration what, to my mind, is an absolutely legitimate goal from Washington — no attack shall emerge from Afghanistan. Even if it didn’t do so, and to best of my knowledge, in 2001, it could do it today, because the US has produced quite a lot of people who have reasons for hating the country. Now, having said that, I am not sure that the US is going to do this. And the reason for it is a limited US ability to see a conflict from the outside or from above, to take your intellectual helicopter and getting up above the conflict, see your own legitimacy and illegitimacy and the other side’s legitimacy and illegitimacy, starting thinking that maybe he has a point and then trying to see if there’s some reality that could accommodate all of it. Well, 243 military or political interventions since Thomas Jefferson — we are now perhaps at 245 — this is not a US foreign policy talent, in spite of the fact that there are so many wonderful Americans in this fantastic country, where I have lived much of my life, that have a fabulous ability to handle conflicts well.

    So, having said that, we come to alternative five for the US: to become irrelevant. Neither victory nor defeat, nor withdrawal, nor conflict resolution — becoming irrelevant. And that, of course, leads us to the question, who then is relevant? Countries in the region, Turkey. Turkey is led today by three people — the President, the Foreign Minister, and of course the Prime Minister — Davuto?lu, Erdogan, Gül — of an exceptional quality, I will call a team more in tune with what happens in the world than the people leading the United States of America at present. I’m not talking badly about Obama and Hillary Clinton; I’m just saying that those three, it’s very hard to come up to that level. Now, they are not becoming a regional power. They are now very high up on world diplomacy. They are not, as Washington Post is saying, turning against the West; they’re turning against the United States and Israel, turning against the US empire and the Israeli mini-empire after 1967, forty-three years ago, after the occupation, after the June War. You see, all over the region you find people saying that we can tolerate, we can live with — I mean, I talk with Hamas people, and I ask them, "Is there an Israel you can acknowledge, you can recognize?" And they say, by and large, 4 June, 1967, with some revisions. Well, Turkey is on that side, and they are making contacts now with Iran, with Afghanistan, Iran with Afghanistan, Iran with Turkey. So there you have a quite interesting triad coming up. Add to that Russia and China, not India. India is outside this game; it’s an unimportant country for the time being, in spite of its size, also now involved in a very deadly war and unable to find good solutions for the Naxalites — should learn from Nepal, although Nepal is also in difficulty of another kind. You can look at this, and then you can draw the conclusion: increasing US irrelevance. Well, you see, that’s how empires die. They die with a whimper, and usually not with a bang, as T.S. Eliot said.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Johan Galtung, whose latest book is called The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?

    He is known as the father of peace studies, a mediator around the world. Johan Galtung, I wanted to ask you about your assessment of President Obama, but first play a clip for you. This was President Obama speaking months ago at the US Military Academy at West Point, where he unveiled a plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. He gave this speech a week before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in the city, in the capital you were born, in Oslo.

      PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, the people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They have been confronted with occupation by the Soviet Union and then by foreign al-Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand: America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect, to isolate those who destroy, to strengthen those who build, to hasten the day when our troops will leave, and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner and never your patron.

    AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama. Your response?

    JOHAN GALTUNG: Totally unrealistic and extremely badly informed, and that from such an intelligent, such a charming man with such a brilliant rhetoric. Look, to be realistic here, one has to understand that almost all Afghans, after having been invaded five times in recent history — three times by the English, once by the Soviets, Russians, and once by the Americans — are sick and tired, absolutely, of being invaded. The idea that the Taliban should lay down their arms before the Americans withdraw is outside reality. The idea of a partnership in a country fundamentally, and to some extent fundamentalist, Muslim, that you can have a partnership and you can come with technical assistance projects, development projects that have not been blessed by Allah, is a great misunderstanding. You will cater to a small group of Westernized people in Kabul and a couple of other places. That’s the only thing you will reach.

    Now, where is the Obama plan for canceling the Bagram base? Where is the plan for giving the pipeline back to the people it should belong to? And that is not Unocal. I hear nothing of the kind. Now, this is just a part of imperial politics.

    What I do hear, with sympathy, is the idea of parity. But, you see, parity, with so-and-so-many soldiers in one of the lands, with no soldiers from that land in your own land, is not parity. I find — when I talk with Afghans, I find three motives, and I mentioned them already: number one, anti-secularization; number two, anti-Kabul, in favor of a much more decentralized country; number three, and very importantly, anti-being-invaded. So we have so-and-so-many million Afghans, and you have three motivations. You have very many of them with plus-three. I think you have very few with zero motivation.

    Dear Obama, out of touch with reality.

    AMY GOODMAN: We have just — in Afghanistan, the war in Afghanistan has just entered its 104th month. I believe the Vietnam War, the US involvement in the US war in Vietnam, was 103 months, making this now, Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. Johan Galtung, how can it end now? And I also want to ask you about Iraq and the media’s coverage and the role the media plays in all of this.

    JOHAN GALTUNG: John F. Kennedy sent the first US military specialists in 1961, and it ended 30 April, '75. If you take fourteen years and multiply by twelve, you get a little bit higher figure, but let's leave that outside.

    I think it will end, by and large, the same way as Vietnam. That means United States becoming irrelevant. That means that others will, behind the scene, play important roles. There will be negotiations. We are probably coming into a period where Taliban, at some point, will meet Americans. They will not go to a place — the Taliban — where they can easily be captured. To find that place where they can meet will not be so easy. There will be something similar to the talks between North Vietnam and the Americans. And to quote one important exchange of words in that remark, one of the last commanders in Vietnam on the American side said to the top person in North Vietnam, "You were never able to beat us in any open battle." And the North Vietnamese response was "Correct, but it is irrelevant." You can be a superpower as much as you want. You’re up against a force, incidentally, which has enormous amounts of world support. That simply is superior. So, instead of playing it with a ladder up to a helicopter on top of the embassy, I would guess that the Obama double plan — on the one hand, 30,000 more in; on the other hand, withdrawal, an invitation for the Taliban to look at their watch and wait, of course — will play itself out in a way very similar to Vietnam.

    And in the meantime, others will be working. There were lots of non-governmental people working —- Pugwash, for instance. I was a member of that one. I know a little bit about what happened. France played a certain role, no doubt about it. Russia played a role. China played a role. And what happened then, when the 30 April, 1975, was all over, was that the two Vietnams came together like that, and the thing handled itself. Afghanistan will handle itself. United States will have to receive a relatively high number of people who, after this is over, will find themselves on the wrong side of the divide. Many of them will, like good chameleons, change color in the meantime.

    I think much of the key to the solution is in a conference for the security and cooperation of Central Asia, modeled, if you will, on the Helsinki Conference that led to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. United States played a role in that one, but also sabotaged it by deploying its, I would say, ridiculous missiles back starting in the mid—'70s, and by the mid-'80s they had been deployed, thereby postponing the end of the Cold War, by the insight of most of the people that I know, by at least ten years. Well, there could still be sabotage actions from the US side. Could be. But this is more or less the scenario I would have. Vietnam is the model.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll come back to our interview with peace studies founder Johan Galtung in a minute. This is Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies. He was born in Oslo. When the Nazis occupied Norway, his father — a physician, prominent politician, vice mayor of Oslo, and a member of the resistance — was sent to a concentration camp. I asked Johan Galtung for his assessment of the US media’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    JOHAN GALTUNG: I would wish that Al Jazeera could be visible in the USA in a more prominent way than as channel 275 on Comcast. You see, what Al Jazeera does is the following. It is not left-wing, not at all. I’ve been interviewed a couple of times, three times. I know how they operate. It’s multi-angular. You don’t present anything unless you have that Afghan position, that Afghan position, that US position, that Iranian position, or that Turkish position. You present that. And it comes, and all the people who are being interviewed are grilled by very talented people — that also happens in other channels — and it is then left to the viewers to draw their conclusion.

    So what I find is that the discourse, as it’s cut by the US, is almost infantile. For instance, the figure terrorist. Look, I’m approaching eighty. The Germans came and occupied our country in 1940. I was nine. I still remember how our resistance movement was referred to as terrorist, Goebbels. Terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.

    AMY GOODMAN: The Norwegians.

    JOHAN GALTUNG: Yes, it was people not in uniform attacking him. That is true. It was our resistance. It’s very hard to see it otherwise.

    AMY GOODMAN: The Norwegians referred to as terrorists by the Nazis.

    JOHAN GALTUNG: Precisely. And, of course, it was true that some used tactics — it’s a tactic, terrorism is a tactic — that sometimes was unnecessarily violent. It’s also true that some of them were extremist communists. Very, very true. And they were hoping for the reward after the war that the people enthusiastically would vote them into government. No, they didn’t get that. But at the same time, they were respected for what they had done. So, that is one, if you will, stupidity that should stop.

    The other one is this inability to see the other side. Let us just look for a second into what happened on 9/11. I’ll give you in one sentence what about 100 dialogues around the world have led me to believe, including of course in countries very central to this. It was an extrajudicial execution of two buildings, probably heading for a third one — Langley, Virginia, CIA. Probably. Why? For having insulted Saudi Arabia, insulted economically by a pattern totally contrary to Wahhab visions of what is a valid economy, by having insulted the country militarily by the presence of nationals of totally different religions, infidels, and in the same time using the country for attacking another country, also Arab, also Muslim, a country that one can critique and criticize, but still a part of the ummah, the Muslim community.

    Now, if you look at this, look at it that way, then you suddenly start understanding why Osama bin Laden said in one of his famous speeches in October, after 9/11, said, "You are now suffering the humiliation we suffered more than eighty years ago." You take 2001, you subtract eighty, you come to 1921. But he said "more than," so let us subtract five more, as a maximum — 1916, '17, ’18. Sykes-Picot; 1917, Balfour Declaration; 1918, the occupation of Istanbul. I remember I was eating in my apartment in Manassas, close to Washington, where my wife and I live in much pleasure much of our lives. I was hitting Googling to find out how many US media had picked up what happened more than eighty years ago. Amy, I found zero.

    Now, the US is not very good at history. So that ridiculous formula, that we were attacked because people are envious and they're envious our democracy and so on, was the one that went all over in the media and has been intoxicating and, I would say, making for the highly unintelligent analysis.

    Now, what do you do? Imagine that what I say now is correct. Imagine that is more or less what happened and that it is consistent with what we have been told, that fifteen out of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi Arabians. Let’s imagine that’s correct. What do you do then? Maybe you go back to March 1945, and you look at the treaty. Maybe you have an Arabian-US commission to discuss it. Maybe at some point you don’t apologize. That is a tradition, which I don’t think so important. But maybe you say, for instance, that I wish it could be undone. Maybe you say that this was not the wisest thing we could have done onboard the aircraft carrier in the Suez Canal, with Ibn Saud, on the one hand, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the other — one of the last things before he expired on the 12th of April, 1945. Amy, you will now ask how can I remember that. That was the day my father was released from concentration camp, so it was a day with one shiny light and a very sad day. We admired and we loved Roosevelt, like most of the world loves America, but not US imperialism, you see.

    And since you asked me about the US media, look, this is a country with so many universities, so many educated people, brilliant people, charming people, wonderful people. I don’t understand why the mainstream media have to market that much stupidity.

    AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, you dedicate this book, your latest book, The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?, "to a country I love, the United States of America." You write, "You will swim so much better without that imperial albatross around your neck. Drown it before it drowns you, and let a thousand flowers blossom!" How —-

    JOHAN GALTUNG: I mean every word of it. I can even tell you that when I give talks about this, many places in the US, I put hand on heart and say, "I love the US republic, and I hate the US empire." You see, to many people, this doesn’t make sense. It’s called anti-American. No, no, no. I’ve had, I’ll tell you, people coming up to me saying that that remark relieved them of an enormous problem, namely, "I have so much difficulties with our foreign policy, our economic penetration, our cultural arrogance, our political maneuvering and arms twisting, and yet I love my country." And what I try to say is that these are two different things, and the albatross is around your neck. Get rid of it. Give it up. Do the following four things. Very quickly.

    Economically, trade for mutual benefit, fine, but equal benefit. And that means to examine the impact of your economic deals down to the last bottom, not only in a third world country, but maybe also in your own. Maybe you need some retraining of your economists to do that.

    Militarily, pull your bases back. Eight hundred in 150 countries is madness. And instead of all that, conflict resolution, conflict resolution, conflict resolution. There are so many places in the US now where the young generation is being trained in it. They’re doing brilliant steps forward. A Department of Peace was suggested by Dennis Kucinich, and I think about sixty-four congressmen and women are behind it, something like that. A brilliant conception. And I’ll tell you one thing. If the US had that one and even permitted it to shine, as the famous castle up on the hill, all the love for the US around the world would return. It would be just fabulous.

    Now, third thing, politically, no more arms twisting. Negotiation with the cards on the table, no threats, no nothing. No secret call by the US ambassador to UN, or whatever it is, to call in somebody and tell them that "if you do this and that, if you insist on this as your bargaining position, we will do something," and so on. I know so many such stories.

    Point four, get down from the idea of having a separate mandate from God, even a mandate to kill. The word is dialogue. The word is simply to say we have something that we can contribute -— and do you have from this marvelous, generous country. But others also have something. For instance, it seems that the Muslims have some good ideas about banking, like not lending more than 30 percent of your capital. Well, if your upper limit is 2,400 or something like that, then you’re a little bit high. And if that limit is considered too high and is abolished in 2004, and the sky is the limit, down it came. And it’ll come down again. US is today probably heading for a rather important crash and, in all probability, for a major devaluation of its currency.

    Well, let us leave that aside. Let us just say a new economic relations to other countries; conflict resolution instead of bases and invasions and interventions and Special Forces all around the world; negotiations with open cards, without tricks; and dialogue. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. All of the Americans I know very well, and many of them Jewish Americans, have extremely good talents for this. Why couldn’t that be more the tone and the tenor of US policy?

    AMY GOODMAN: We have two minutes before the satellite ends. Johan Galtung, as you leave the United States, what do you want to leave US — people here in the US with? Your thoughts?

    JOHAN GALTUNG: We’re making the distinction between the empire and the republic and that the republic could do beautifully without the empire, like so many others have done before them. I can give you general public opinion studies around the world, let us say, in Muslim countries. About 85 percent love the United States of America, like I and my Japanese wife do. About 85 percent hate US foreign policy. You see, take that seriously. Just have a look at your military, economic, political and cultural foreign policy. They can be changed. It’s even relatively easy. Make yourself a normal country. No exceptionalism, please. A normal, wonderful country. Maybe you will find it in your interest to make North America a region, a Mex-US-Can, a Mexico, United States, Canada. That could also be a shiny light, with Mexico as a bridge to a Latin America which is now finding its own ways outside the Organization of American States, a Latin American region. Well, put your fingers in the earth, find out where you are, and you will find marvelous rounds forward for an ever-better American republic.

AMY GOODMAN: Johan Galtung, founder of peace studies. His latest book is called The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What? You can get a DVD of today’s broadcast at

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